Israel, Chile, Slovak Republic among countries with highest adventure travel potential

Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic are amongst the top adventure travel destinationA new study conducted by George Washington University, Vital Wave Consulting, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) shows that Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic led the way in adventure tourism in 2010. The study, which resulted in the third annual Adventure Tourism Development Index, uses a mix of quantitative data and expert surveys to rank nations from around the globe on their approach and commitment to sustainable adventure travel.

The study examines what researchers call the “ten pillars” of adventure tourism. Those pillars include such things as infrastructure, cultural resources, adventure activities, entrepreneurship, and more. When those factors were all examined and ranked accordingly, for each country, a score was calculated that resulted in rankings for both developed and developing nations.

So exactly which countries earned high marks in the latest Adventure Tourism Development Index? The top ten developing countries included the following: Israel, Slovak Republic, Chile, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Jordan, Romania and Latvia.Conversely, the top ten developed nations included: Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Austria.

The ATTA is quick to point out that these lists are not an indication of how well visited these countries currently are as adventure travel destinations, although some are already popular amongst travelers. Instead, it is a general rating on the climate that exists in these places that make it possible to support sustainable tourism now and into the future.

Judging from the list, it appears that Europe is well ahead of the game in terms of promoting sustainable travel. Both lists are dominated by countries from that continent, which could come as a surprise to many travelers.

To read the entire report click here.

Bud vs. Bud: Travel and the Great Beer War of the Last Century

Bud vs. Bud: The Great Beer War of the Last CenturyThere’s not enough beer in Bohemia to ever help you pronounce Ceske Budejovice, a Czech town located in southern Bohemia, about 100 miles from Prague. But there is at least one reason why you should go there.

Why? Let’s go back to the early 1870s, when soon-to-be major beer magnate Adolphus Busch and his friend/business partner Carl Conrad decided to do a European beer crawl, hitting the great centers of all things beer in Central Europe. Bohemians have long been known for their prowess in brewing (just go to the town of Pilsen, or Plzen in Czech, if you’re in doubt). Busch and Conrad made a special point to go to Ceske Budejovice because the town had a reputation for producing exceptionally good beer and the hops that grew in the fields around the it were (and still are) world renowned. Busch and Conrad sampled the local brew and were duly impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that Conrad bought the trademark for the name of one of the town’s famed beers, which was named after the town. Not Ceske Budejovice, but its German name. Before World War II many towns in Bohemia boasted a sizeable German population and thus, each town had a Czech and German name. Ceske Budejovice’s German name was–wait for it–Budweis.
By now, you can probably see where this is going. But with that trademark for the name of the town’s beer not only was an American beer named Budweiser born, but a century-long legal battle as well. The Czechs argued that they’d been brewing a beer called Budweiser (and, in Czech, Budvar) for centuries. Even though the actual Czech Budweiser/Budvar was founded after the trademark, they argued they had a geographical right to the name. Anheuser-Busch, though, would simply wave the trademark document at the Czechs and say–and I’m summarizing–sorry suckers!

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czech breweries were slowly privatized and then bought up by one of the three major multinational brewing corporations. Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Velkopopovicky Kozel and Gambrinus were sold to SABMiller; Starobrno and Krusovice to Heineken; and the Prague-based Staropramen to InBev (which now owns Anheuser-Busch, by the way), and so on. But the Czech government never privatized Budweiser/Budvar, fearing Anheuser Busch would buy the brewery and dismantle it, paving the way for complete European domination.

But all that came to an end in 2007 when the two companies formed a loose partnership. In an unpredictable turn of events Anheuser-Busch now distributes the Czech Budwieser in the United States. You’ll never find it under that name, though. An earlier ruling stated that Czech Budweiser could never be sold in the United States because of the possible trademark infringement. So the Czechs did something quite brilliant. For the beer sold in the United States, they changed the name from Budvar to Czechvar (not a brilliant name, if you ask me, though).

So while beer drinkers of America can finally sit back and actually drink the original Budweiser, I say make a pilgrimage to the town formerly known as Budweis. Brewery tours, in my opinion, are dull, but nothing beats sitting in a big beer hall like Masne Kramy, located in a former meat shop hall from the 16th century in the center of Ceske Budejovice, a huge chunk of pork in front of you and a mug of golden, fresh-from-the-brewery Budweiser–Czech Budweiser, that is.

Oh, and if anyone asks, it’s pronounced Ches-kay Boo-day-yo-vit-say.

Big Apple Beer Gardens Making a Comeback

Big Apple beer gardens are making a comeback.Let us consider the beer garden. For many of us, the lasting imagine of this outdoor suds-flowing extravaganza is one of older gentlemen showing great prowess in swinging one-liter steins of beer while lederhosen-clad musicians hammer out polka tunes on accordions. Sausages are consumed. Women in dirndls patrol the aisles, six or eight mugs of beer clasped between their fingers, plopping them in front of anyone who’s swinging an empty.

This was far from the scene at the beer garden where I was imbibing late last week. There wasn’t an accordion or gray head in sight. Instead, MGMT blared from the speakers and young men (and women) in ironic t-shirts and baseball caps (one guy wearing an ’80s-era Milwaukie Brewers cap, fittingly enough), were laughing and toasting and slamming their empty pint glasses down. Here is where one might be tempted to insert a cliché phrase about this not being your vater‘s biergarten; I’ll resist. I was actually in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hipster mecca, and home of a a few new beer gardens.

Which is rather significant when put in the context of the history of New York’s outdoor drinking spots (a history surely everyone knows, right? Right). For decades, New York City had only one beer garden. Bohemian Hall (known to most New Yorkers as “the beer garden in Astoria”) is of Czech provenance, and opened in 1911, a time when beer culture was at an acme in the United States (more on that later). In the last few years, however, there has been an overflow of beer gardens opening in New York, a welcome sign for a city that has long lacked adequate outdoor drinking venues. Big Apple beer gardens are making a comeback.

But why was this suddenly happening? How is it that in the last few years several beer gardens have been blooming in New York? Here’s the exhaustive list: the Cologne-accented Loreley, Radegast, Goods, and Berry Park all in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the Eataly-owned rooftop La Birreria, The Lot, the Standard Biergarten (the latter two bookend the new High Line Park), BeerParc (in the Eventi Hotel) and Bier International, all in Manhattan; plus there’s Studio Square in Long Island City, Queens and Mission Dolores in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

“The first reason,” says Michael Momm, who owns the Loreley beer garden on the Lower East Side and its new sibling of the same name in Williamsburg, “is the craft beer movement. When I came here 25 years ago, you could only get beers like Becks and Heineken in a bottle. There’s so much more availability and awareness and interest in beer now.”

At one time there were hundreds of beer gardens just in Queens. Brooklyn boasted almost fifty breweries. In 1873, there were 4,000 breweries in the United States. But anti-German sentiment during and after World War I and Prohibition pretty much killed off beer culture in America. As Burkhard Bilger wrote in a fascinating profile in the New Yorker of Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head brewery owner, “Beer went from barrel to bottle and from saloon to home refrigerator, and only the largest companies could afford to manufacture and distribute it.” In 1965, Bilger notes, America had one craft brewery — Anchor Steam, in San Francisco; today there are over 1500. Craft beer, experts predict, will accounts for 20 percent of the beer market in the next decade.

Raj Moorjani and Hope Tarr noticed the sudden handful of beer gardens popping up (or, rather, that there were suddenly cool outdoor places to drink they’d never heard of, like Goods in Williamsburg) and checked to see if there was an app for that. There wasn’t and BeerGardensNYC was born, a New York City beer garden locator, which launched in September 2010. They agree the craft beer movement has a lot to do with the spread of beer gardens, but also say the recent recession has played a large role. “A group of people can go hangout at a beer garden and have a good time for cheap,” says Moorjani.

Tarr, a romance novelist and travel writer, adds: “A few years ago there was a lot of attention on classic cocktails. But now you have the same attention being drawn to something else. And that is beer and beer gardens. You don’t have to go to Germany to drink a good Radesberger Pilsner anymore.”

And cheers to that. Momm takes it a step further saying it’s “capitalism in action.”

“People see what works. We’ve had people come into Loreley asking about who our food purveyors are and where we buy our furniture. This is just what happens in the restaurant business.”

What will be next? Will beer gardens continue to blossom all over New York and beyond? Momm is about ready to open a Loreley in Los Angeles.

But here’s what I think: sandwiched beween Berry Park and Lorely is the brand new Spritzenhaus, a massive Bavarian-style beer hall. I’d be willing to bet a beer or two someone has come into Spritzenhaus already asking where they got their furniture.

Prague in pictures

Today’s featured summer travel destination has undergone a massive transformation in recent decades. Once regarded as an isolated capital on the red side of the Iron Curtain, it is now the sixth most visited European city behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. Having escaped the destructive aerial bombing campaigns of World War II, it is also one of the most immaculately preserved European cities.

We’re talking of course about Prague (Praha), the capital of the Czech Republic.

The former preserve of shoestringing backpackers in search of cheap lodging and copious amounts of beer, Prague has undergone a miraculous transformation from an industrial center to a full-fledged service economy. The city is now home to most major global travel brands, in addition to the first ever Michelin-starred restaurant in post-Communist Europe (Allegro).

For architecture fans, Prague is akin to a living museum. The medieval city center, home to one of the largest castles in the world, is nothing less than picture perfect at every angle. On that note, take a quick look at some of the gallery images below, and then keep reading to learn more about one of our favorite cities in Europe.

%Gallery-123977%Local legends dictate that Prague was founded in the 8th century, though it was the 14th century golden age that graced the city with its finest constructions. Under the reign of Charles IV (1316-1378), Prague was rebuilt and expanded as the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire. New Town, the Charles Bridge and the gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral all date from this gilded era.

We fully acknowledge the importance of a well-crafted itinerary. But there is also joy in wandering aimlessly while soaking up the surrounding ambiance. And that is indeed what you should do here. With nary a modern building in sight, central Prague’s cobblestone streets wind past whimsical Baroque facades awash in muted pastels. Add to the mix soaring arches, sweeping bridges, café-lined plazas and gaggles of street musicians to help set the tempo.

You do however still owe it to yourself to check off the major tourist drawcards. The classic route takes you from New Town across the Charles Bridge to Old Town en route to Prague Castle. Along the way, stop for a cappuccino in the Old Town Square, and linger long enough to view the astronomical clock in action. First activated in 1410, the world’s oldest running clock springs to life every hour. Figurines of the Apostles present themselves to crowds below while a skeleton representing Death solemnly strikes the time.

For a bit of culture, we’re big fans of the Mucha Museum, which celebrates the life and work of Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). Even if you don’t know his name off the top of your head, much of Mucha’s earlier work is widely recognizable. While living in Paris, Mucha produced distinctive advertisements, postcards and theater playbills depicting beautiful young women in classical robes surrounded by flowers. His later works were more nationalistic in sentiment, and focused on the history and culture of the Czech people.

In the post-Soviet era, consumption is the main driver of the Czech economy. For the casual tourist, this means row upon row of kitschy souvenir shop selling everything from imitation Red Army paraphernalia to carved crystal knick-knacks. If you’re looking for a bit more quality in your purchases, seek out the city’s renowned ceramic wares, or peruse antique shops for rare books and out-of-print stamps. Prague is also regarded as a high-end shopping destination, which means that global luxury brands are everywhere.

If you have a bit of youthful blood coursing through your veins, be sure to explore Prague after the sun goes down. Early evening is best spent building up your energy reserves with a hearty meal and a few calorie-rich pints. But the real fun begins in the twilight hours. The city still plays host to a few industrial techno clubs that occupy converted factories in the outskirts. Of course, as with the rest of Prague, the nightlife scene is all grown up. Closer to the city center, you’ll find upscale beer gardens, chic cocktail bars, live music venues and even hookah lounges.

How to get there Direct flights on Delta and Czech Airlines connect New York City to Prague. Prague is also connected by direct flights to most major European capitals. As such, a quick stop in Prague is fairly easy to combine with longer trips to the continent. Overland trips to Prague by euro rail and inter-city buses are also feasible.

Where to stay Summer vacation on the continent attracts hordes of travelers to Prague. In order to secure accommodation, book well in advance of your travel date, particularly if you plan to visit on a weekend or any time during August. Room choice is varied, but we’re partial to the city’s excellent selection of artsy boutique hotels and apartment-style residences. Note that prices have skyrocketed since the adoption of the euro, but on the whole Prague remains cheaper than many other European capitals.

What to eat Long gone are the days of nameless sausages and boiled cabbage washed down with ten cent pints of lager. Prague is undergoing a foodie revolution, and ravenously consuming the international cuisine it was denied for so long. With that said, Traditional Czech delicacies do remain, such as potato dumplings, fried cheeses, beef goulash and roast pork with sauerkraut. Czech beer is as good as ever, even though you should expect to fork over a few euros a pint. Pilsner Urquell and Budvar (the original Budweiser) are typically on the menu alongside local microbrews.

Need more inspiration? Check out the gallery of pictures below.

[All photos and gallery images are the author’s own original work.]


A Stinky Tour Through the Czech Town of Olomouc

A Stinky Tour Through the Czech Town of OlomoucThe last thing I wanted to do before I got to Olomouc [pronounced Oh-low-moatz], a town in the north-eastern part of the Czech Republic, was eat cheese that reeked of unwashed feet. But there I was, in a village just outside of the historic university town, at a museum dedicated to the planet’s stinkiest milk derivative. Fans of Olomouc cheese–or, in Czech, Olomoucke tvaruzky–have cause for celebration: the European Union recently granted geographical indication (GI) status on this malodorous dairy product. Which means it now has something in common with Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and mozzarella bufala di Campana.

But GI status is where the commonalities end. Every time I’d come within five feet of Olomouc cheese in a Czech supermarket dairy counter, the foul smell would announce its presence to my nostrils. A friend in Prague once bet me to eat some. I lost. My mission, I decided during my visit to this off-the-radar town, was to finally fulfill the dare.

Noses have been wrinkling at the stench of Olomouc cheese for at least a half a millennia. Rudolf II, the eccentric 17th-centruy ruler of the Holy Roman Empire who made his home in Prague, is said to have been a fan. But Rudolf may have thrown me in with his pet lions if he knew my hesitation to try it.

So it was even odder that I standing in the epicenter of stank. As unlikely as a guy named Cletus at the opera; Dick Cheney participating in a drum circle; A New Yorker giving up a subway seat for a pregnant woman. Inside the cheese museum, a video in Czech went through hundreds of years of the cheese’s history, showing courageous women loading the jaundiced silver-dollar-size cakes of cheese from the conveyor belt to the basket while the triumphant soundtrack of Chariots of Fire played in the background. The excitable geriatric docent who showed us around the museum’s ancient cheese-making instruments should be awarded a medal – a golden nosey award, perhaps – for his enthusiasm for stinky cheese. When the tour was over, I took a deep breath, evved myself up to finally make good with the dare, and headed for the gift shop.

But the line was out the door. There is, it turns out, a lot more excitement for the Czech Republic’s only indigenous cheese than I thought. So instead, I huffed it back into town, not a scent of wicked-smelling cheese on my breath, in the hope of finding a shorter line. As I wandered Olomouc’s cobblestone streets, passing imposing Baroque churches and 18th-century palaces, I remembered something I’d heard about the city: after the Swedes ended their eight-year occupation of Olomouc in 1650 and moved on to other spoils in Europe, the town was in such disrepair–and who knows? Maybe they hated the cheese–that the ruling Austrian authorities considered completely wiping it out of existence.

Like the Swedes, the communists, who ruled the Czech lands for 41 years, did their part to mess up Olomouc, too. The once-Medieval astronomical clock on Horni Namesti (Upper Square) is not only the most beautiful socialist-themed astronomical clock in the world, it’s the only socialist-themed astronomical clock in the world. Built into the Renaissance-era town hall, the two-story mosaic and time-keeping device’s 12-inch figurines of barrel-chested workers and sinewy, bandana-clad women put on an hourly procession. There were, from what I could tell, no cheese mongers represented.

Later that day I met up with Tereza, a friend of a friend and Olomouc native.

As Tereza and I walked aimlessly, she pointed out sites of interest: Mozart once stayed here, Austrian Empress Maria Thereza there. Eventually, we ended up at the top of a church’s gothic bell tower, one of the highest points in the city.

I decided it was time for an indecent proposal. “Wanna get some cheese?” I asked.

“Olomouc cheese?” she responded, wrinkling her nose at the thought before slowly shaking her head. “You’re with the wrong person if you want to eat that stuff–it smells so bad that my dad has to keep it on the balcony.”

A sighed and then tried to hide my disappointment as Tereza changed the subject to Communist-era architecture. Strike two.

The next day, my last before heading to south Moravia, I sat down in a pub-like eatery hoping–praying to the God of stank–that Olomoucke tvaruzky would be on the menu. I spit out my best Slavic, the waiter nodded and, five minutes later, a harmonious chorus from the heavens raining down, a plate appeared in front of me. On it, were five golden disks of Olomouc cheese. That familiar, repulsive odor assaulted my sense of smell. But, I thought, I can at least leave here having scratched another dare off my list.

And with that, the Chariots of Fire theme playing in my head, I stabbed the first of the five cakes of cheese, loaded it in my mouth, and commenced chewing. It wasn’t bad, actually; not smelly to the taste; just to the nose. Like only one-day-old socks, not the month-old dirty socks my nose always detected.

I’m not sure I’d eat it again, but at least I can say I’ve tried the world’s stinkiest cheese.

As I walked to the train station, I began my next mission: finding breath mints.