Need a good beach read? Visitors to Tel Aviv‘s Metzizim Beach can now borrow books for reading on the sand. The city has launched the first beachside library, providing over 500 free book rentals in five languages, including English, Hebrew, Arabic, French and Russian. Prefer to read online? Tel Aviv is also one of the most connected cities, with more than 80 free Wi-Fi spots for public use on the beaches, boardwalk, in parks and in major tourist areas.
In celebration of Lonely Planet’s 40th anniversary, the famed guidebook publisher has launched a stylish partnership with traveler favorite shoe brand TOMS. The limited edition shoe features a variety of passport stamps on a neutral canvas, making it perfect for fashion-forward male and female travelers alike.
The shoe also celebrates the launch of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Responsible Travel, a mini-guidebook that offers tips for having a positive influence on the world while traveling.
We love TOMS shoes for travel, ourselves. They are lightweight, easy to pack in our carry-on, and most of all, comfortable. The brand is also famous for donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased, so it’s easy to feel good and give back while looking stylish.
There’s a catch, however. The shoe will only be available for winners of competitions on both brand’s websites and via social media between now and August 15.
When a trip is over, it’s always nice to open your suitcase and have a little bit of it still with you. I enjoy bringing gifts back to my wife and son so they can share my experiences. While on a recent trip to Slovenia and Italy, I kept an eye out for things they might like.
My trip started at a book festival in Gorizia, Italy. In between the book stalls of Italian publishers and the big tents where authors gave talks, I noticed several West African guys going around with backpacks full of used books for sale. They admitted they didn’t have work papers but they were still out pounding the pavement in the rain. This bit of entrepreneurship didn’t occur to the 12 percent of Italians who are unemployed. Or perhaps they couldn’t be bothered. The difference between people from the Third World and the First was never clearer.
One guy had a book on African cooking. Since my wife reads Italian and wants to learn how to cook African cuisine, I had found my first gift. I also picked up a couple of Italian cooking magazines in Venice. Selfish gifts? Oh yes. I’m looking forward to seeing some of these recipes on the dinner table!
In the unselfish gift category I got some Slovenian honey for my honey-loving honey. It’s a great choice as a gift because it tastes different in every region. I also brought back a bottle of Slovenian wine, another taste that varies from region to region.
Also popping out of my suitcase was a T-shirt for the kid. He loves it because there’s a “dragon” on it (actually it’s a griffin). A couple of refrigerator magnets made their way home too. You can never have too many refrigerator magnets, because you can never receive too many postcards and you need refrigerator magnets to hold them all.
It was a rainy Monday, just after 7 a.m., when I pulled into the parking lot at Keeneland, one of the nation’s most venerable thoroughbred racetracks. I had read that watching the horses morning workout was one of the best free things to do in Lexington, Kentucky, but on a dreary, wet day, I figured the horses would probably be lounging in their stables, nibbling on carrots or catching up on their sleep.
But before I even made my way into the beautiful, old track, which is a National Historic Landmark, I could see the horses gracefully galloping through the mud, impervious to the rain. I walked up into the track past rows of wet, empty benches and positioned myself against the rail. There were about a dozen horses and jockeys out on the track working out. I looked around the empty grandstands and realized that I was the only spectator.
As the jockeys trotted past me on horseback, each said, “Good morning” to me on their way by, but other than that the only noise in the place was the oddly soothing sound of the horses’ hooves clip-clopping in and out of the mud. But as the rain intensified, I made a rookie mistake in popping open my umbrella.
“No umbrellas!” barked one of the jockeys.
“They scare the horses,” called out another, perhaps noticing my perplexed expression.
I had no idea. Seeking shelter from the rain, I walked down toward a little building next to the track, and realized there was one other spectator in the house, a Latino in his 60s who introduced himself as James.
“I’m surprised they’re still working out in the rain,” I said to him.
“They work out every morning,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what the weather is.”
James told me that he had spent his entire life around horses and had moved to the area from New Mexico because he wanted to live in Lexington, a hotbed for thoroughbred racing. He said that he spent every morning at Keeneland, watching the horses.
“It’s not a bad way to spend your retirement,” he said. “You know there’s free coffee right down the way inside that building over there.”
Sure enough, there was free coffee, along with two track employees, one watching a horse race from Churchill Downs from the previous day, and another having a cup of coffee.
“So they really do this every day?” I asked the coffee drinker.
“We work every day except for Christmas,” he said.
The man confirmed that the horses work out on two tracks, on the big track from 5:30 until 10, and on a smaller one from 5:30 until 11. It’s always free, and anyone can roam around the grounds to check out the horses in their stables.
I made my way over to the smaller track, where a dozen or so jockeys and their magnificent horses were trotting about in a light, early morning drizzle. The only spectator was a trainer named Stephen Lyster, who told me that there were some 500-600 thoroughbred horses living in 72 barns at Keeneland. Stephen trains 22 horses and travels around the region with them for races.
He said that wealthy people hire trainers like him to care for their horses, and it’s an expensive endeavor- it costs about $3,000 per month to board a horse at Keeneland. Only a few very successful horses can actually turn a profit for the owner. He said that the high stakes caused some small tracks to fix races, but asserted that in Kentucky and other big-time horse racing states like New York, Florida and Arkansas, the races are clean.
The rain eventually tapered off and my wife and kids met me at the track. Stephen invited us back to their barn after the workout and gave us an opportunity to feed some of the ponies carrots. I loved having a chance to see these beautiful creatures – horses with names like Bold North, Seattle Devil, Run Marvin Run and Two Ferdy Somewhere – up close but the most serendipitous experience of the morning was still to come. Stephen mentioned that we should try the track kitchen, a cafeteria-style restaurant behind the stables.
“It’s cheap and really good,” he said.
Everyone has a different definition of “cheap” but in this case, Stephen wasn’t kidding. I looked up at the menu and thought I’d died and gone to cheapskate heaven. Here are a few examples of the cheap grub on offer.
Egg and cheese breakfast sandwich- $1.70
Bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich- $3.25
Sausage, egg and cheese breakfast burrito- $3.25
Four pancakes: $2.50
Two biscuits and gravy: $2.40
One egg: 90 cents
Breakfast special: scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, toast or biscuit, plus two of the following- potatoes, spiced apples, grits or gravy- $5.00
And things got even better when a gray-haired lady wearing a hat filled with racing pins said to me, “Hey, honey, wacha gunna have?” I don’t know why, but I like it when female servers address me as “honey,” and if I’m in the South, even better.
I ordered the breakfast burrito and assumed that, for the price, it would be puny or pre-made, but it was neither. The thing weighed about 4 pounds and was freshly made and superb. Manna from heaven at $3.25. As a variety of stable workers and trainers filed in and out of the place, I realized that the prices are low because they are catering to the people who work there every day, not tourists.
I know very little about horses and thoroughbred racing but I learned that Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other company, including 78 Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners, 19 Kentucky Derby winners; 21 Preakness winners and 17 Belmont winners. In April and October, Keeneland hosts elite caliber races and everyone – even college students – get all dressed up for the occasions.
It’s a beautiful place and if you’re a frugal traveler, like me, there is no better place to while away a morning.
A controversial plan to install a ladder on Mt. Everest has been met with a less than enthusiastic response from the mountaineering community. The mountain guides behind the proposal say that the ladder will help to alleviate traffic jams near the summit, while purists claim that it will detract from the overall challenge of the climb.
The plan was first made public this past weekend when Dawa Steven Sherpa, a prominent mountain guide and member of the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal, revealed that the organization was considering installing a ladder at the Hillary Step, a crucial point in the climb on Everest’s South Side. Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to scale it, the Hillary Step is located at 28,750 feet. The 40-foot rock wall has been the cause of bottlenecks in recent years as climbers attempt to negotiate the tricky route while wearing crampons and other heavy climbing gear. Since only one person can be on the ropes at any given time, others end up standing around watching and waiting for their turn. This can be especially dangerous due to the thin air, cold temperatures and weather conditions that have been known to change abruptly.
According to Dawa, the ladder would only be used by climbers who are descending, which would have little to no impact on the level of challenge related to the climb. It would simply direct the traffic heading down in a slightly different direction, thus eliminating congestion and diminishing traffic jams.But opponents of the plan say that those coming to the mountain should already know how to safely climb a relatively easy technical section such as the Hillary Step. They argue that the ladder will enable even more people to attempt Everest, bring more inexperienced and untested climbers to the mountain. Critics say that it could possibly even lead to further crowding in the future.
It should be noted that ladders are already used on certain sections of Everest. For instance, climbers on the South Side use them to traverse the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous section that would be nearly impossible to pass through without the aid of a ladder. On the North Side of the mountain, which falls inside China controlled Tibet, there is a permanent ladder installed at a place called the Second Step. That rock face is far more difficult than the Hillary Step however and without the ladder there, almost no one would successfully reach the top along that route.
Personally, I feel that if Nepal truly wants to make the mountain safer they should limit the number of permits that are issued each year. That won’t happen however, as the permits bring in a lot of money to a country that is otherwise extremely poor. Given the alternatives, I’d say adding the ladder is a wise move.