After a long summer day at the beach, you’ll likely have tiny grains of sand everywhere. They invade your beach bag, your car and your hotel room. The most frequent culprit of this spread of beachy mess is a towel, which unavoidably gets loaded with clumps of sandy particles — until now. An Australian man has invented a “sand resistant” towel that has an underside with a waterproof nylon base. The top side is just like a regular towel, a normal cotton terry cloth that is soft and able to soak up moisture (so you can still dry off). Of course, the top side can still get sandy if you throw sand on it, but if you’re careful enough the towel could solve all your sand woes. If it’s an idea you’d like to get behind, the towel is currently being funded by an Indiegogo campaign.
I’ve wanted to visit Venice all my life. Who wouldn’t? It has the reputation of being the most beautiful city in the world, and with my love of architecture my first glimpse of it was going to be a lifelong memory.
After a rainy week in Slovenia, I arrived in Venice on a gloriously cloudless afternoon. I had less than 24 hours in the city before family obligations would take me home. After checking into the Hotel Alex, a basic but wonderfully central one-star hotel, I left my camera in my room and headed out.
Wait, I left my camera in my room? Yep. I wanted to savor Venice without the distraction of trying to create abstract memories. Living in the moment is one of the five reasons to leave your camera at home.
(Of course I did take photos on my second day, otherwise my editor would have had an aneurysm. Those are coming up tomorrow.)
With so little time I was free to enjoy Venice without a must-see list. My time was too short to visit even a tenth of the places I knew I wanted to see, let alone all those I didn’t. So I saw nothing, or more precisely I saw whatever the city gave me. I decided to take a suggestion from Stephen Graham’s classic travel book The Gentle Art of Tramping and go on a zigzag walk. A zigzag walk is a simple travel plan. You start by taking a left. Then at the first opportunity take a right. Then left. Repeat. You will soon be happily lost and seeing things you never thought you would.
Taking a left out of the hotel brought me to a strange little bookshop with a “Going out of Business” sign in its window and a display of odd books with titles like Il Libro dei Vampiri. I’d come across Venice’s only occult bookshop, which was about to close after 24 years because the owner was retiring. I had a pleasant chat with one of the employees, helping him plan his first trip to London, and bought a worry stone for a friend. These are little jasper stones with a groove worn in one side. You rub the groove to reduce stress. My friend is a government employee in a European country and is inextricably linked to her nation’s slow slide into the Dark Ages. If anyone needs a worry stone, she does.The bookshop had sucked me in so quickly I hadn’t even seen anything of Venice yet, so I determined not to go into another shop for a while and wound my way through the city’s narrow lanes, my gaze lifting above the shopfronts to admire carved balustrades and Renaissance coats of arms set into a background of faded, flaked paint from which the rich Italian sunlight was able to coax a hint of its former brilliance.
Luckily I looked down as well as up, because another left took me down a dank little alley that ended abruptly at a narrow canal. There was no railing or sign. The pavement simply ended.
A gondola glided by so close I could have touched it, its wake slapping against the mossy stone foundations of the buildings to either side of me. Water dripped from a carved cornice above to fall into the canal with a loud ploink.
It was quiet here. I was alone and the sounds of the city sounded muffled and distant. Leaning against the wall, I looked out and saw a white marble bridge arching over the canal a few feet away. The map could have told me its name but I didn’t bother to check. People filed past while a gondolier wearing the trademark straw hat and black-and-white striped shirt sat on the railing calling out, “Gondola ride. . .gondola ride. . .”
On a zigzag walk if you come to a dead end you retrace your steps until you can make a another turn. That took me from the cool seclusion of the alley to the warm, crowded sunlit bridge. I sat down near the gondolier and looked down the canal flanked by tall, narrow houses decaying in that graceful Mediterranean manner. Burgundy and peach paint flaked off to reveal islands of plaster or brick, or clung onto their backing long enough to fade to near whiteness. On windowsills and rooftop terraces were sprays of greens and reds and yellows from carefully tended houseplants.
I sat there maybe five minutes and that gondolier must have had his picture taken a dozen times. Nobody took my picture. In fact I think they all framed me out of the shot. What, a dreamy eyed travel blogger doesn’t symbolize the essence of Venice?
Another zig and a zag brought me to San Paolo Apostolo with its unassuming 15th century exterior hiding a rich collection of art. But first I was drawn to the Romanesque bell tower, which for some reason was situated across the street from the church. Tufts of grass grew from between its crumbling bricks. A low door of thick, ancient oak barred entry. Above it was a Latin inscription. As the radio from the trinket shop across the street played Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds I ran my fingers over the faint letters, worn nearly smooth by centuries of weather and curious tourists. I made out the date 1459 and nothing more.
A pair of lions flanked the doorway. One was fighting a serpent, the other held in its forepaws a decapitated head that looked at me with a serene expression. I headed inside the church to admire the art, including a Last Supper by Tintoretto and Piazza’s St. Silvestri Baptizing the Emperor Constantine (an important moment in the death of paganism). Every church in Venice is an art gallery. Then I continued my jagged course across the city.
Or at least I tried. Canals and dead ends kept forcing me retrace my steps, and after another half hour I found myself back in front of my hotel just when I was in urgent need of a bathroom.
Angels watch over the tourist who abandons his timetable. Soon I was back on the streets. My camera remained in the hotel room.
After you’ve been traveling for a long period of time, there invariably comes the day when your suitcase starts to … well, it starts to stink.
That’s where a new generation of breathable, odor-free clothing comes in. Brands like Ibex, Patagonia, PrAna, Icebreaker and Horny Toad are coming out with exciting new fabrics like Ibex’s Synergy (a blend of merino wool and GOTS-certified organic cotton), PrAna’s Bliss (a nylon-spandex blend with UV protection) and Horny Toad’s Samba (a wrinkle-free blend of Tencel, organic cotton and spandex). Such fabrics were particularly developed for versatility and multiple wears – perfect for the pack-and-go nature of the road.
A bonus? In addition to keeping you free from sweat, the brands highlighted below are also sweatshop-free and committed to ethical and sustainable production. Read on and prepare to have your packing routine revolutionized.
Vermont-based Ibex describes itself as a “hiking-before-dawn,” “bike-to-work,” “coffee-in-front-of-the-woodstove” kind of company. Sounds like our kind of people!
Beyond that, Ibex produces a thoughtfully designed collection of activewear made from wool and natural fibers. Its new spring collection features a brand new fabric called “Synergy,” made from a blend of about 49% GOTS-certified organic cotton, 48% New Zealand merino wool and 4% Lycra. In particular, the merino wool helps your body manage moisture, regulate temperature and resist odors, while the cotton provides comfort and support, and the Lycra adds a touch of stretch.
Patagonia has developed a reputation for producing quality outdoors apparel with minimal harm to people and the environment. Perhaps its most popular outerwear collection features GORE-TEX – an innovative nylon fabric that is waterproof, windproof and breathable.
The GORE-TEX technology was invented in 1976, and the versatile fabric has since been used for consumer, industrial and medical purposes. GORE-TEX is particularly well suited as an outer lining for outdoors gear, since the fabric allows for superior protection against the wind and rain, while staying breathable. Patagonia’s more lightweight GORE-TEX products, like the Women’s Light Flyer Jacket, pack easily and make a smooth transition from the city to the mountains.
PrAna initially started out creating clothing for climbing and yoga, but after discovering that their garments worked in multiple scenarios, the California-based company changed its focus to creating “products with a purpose.”
Its new product line features the new “Bliss” fabric – a light, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying blend of 94% nylon and 6% Spandex, with a UPF rating of 40+ for sun protection. It is perfectly suited for travel bottoms, and the line currently includes capris, knickers, shorts, skirts and skorts.
Merino wool is one of those wonder fibers that can adapt to nearly every environment. Icebreaker‘s Merino is particularly good for travel, with ultra fine fibers to cut the itchiness generally associated with wool. When it’s cold out, the merino uses moisture to generate heat, but when it’s warm, the merino transports moisture away from the skin to be evaporated. The result is a breathable, lightweight fabric that is also odor-resistant.
Icebreaker’s line includes pieces for hiking, snow sports and fitness; check out its “Travel & Lifestyle” vertical for versatile travel-friendly gear in fun, bright colors.
Clothes from Santa Barbara-based Horny Toad are designed to be “an expression of ease” – just the kind of clothing we want to be wearing when we travel.
Its “Samba” line is particularly good for the road, with a knit fabric made from a blend of 48% Tencel, 48% organic cotton and 4% spandex. Tencel is a sustainable fiber made from eucalyptus trees, which is manufactured in a closed-loop system where nearly 100% of byproducts are recovered. But more importantly for travelers, Tencel helps to maintain body temperature, while preventing moisture from growing, for garments that dry easily and can be worn again and again.
When you’re on the mailing lists for the gear companies, you get some very odd things pitched your way as “perfect for travelers!” Sometimes the pitch is spot on, and you think, yeah, I would totally recommend that. But other times … uh, no – just no. Here are three strange ideas that came my way recently – you decide for yourself, but I’ll pass.
The Utilibrush: This project, funded through Kickstarter (why doesn’t this surprise me) solves a problem you didn’t know you had. It combines toothpaste, a reel of floss, a mirror, a cap you can use as a cup to rinse with, and, of course, a toothbrush. This all-in-one, handy device is good for approximately 40 uses (if you floss every day, I guess). The campaign is kind of amusing and the device is only 12 bucks, but you know what? I’m good with throwing those little tubes of toothpaste the dentist gives me into my carry-on.
The Sash Bag: “A modern take on the fanny pack.” I’m going to confess something – I own and still sometimes travel with a fanny pack. It’s earned its place in travel. I find a money belt about the most awkward piece of travel gear ever invented and my ancient fanny pack, sourced somewhere in the depths of the ’80s, fills that role if the type of traveling I’m doing requires it. Beyond that, I just carry a shoulder bag or a day pack. Dudes put the kind of stuff the Sash Bag is supposed to hold in their pockets. I’m taking a cue from the dudes.
The Earbud YoYo: Apparently, there’s an epidemic of accidents on the slopes caused by the annoying tangle of earbud cables. Now, don’t get me wrong, the annoyance of tangled earbuds is a legit, albeit first world, complaint. But what I do not need is an additional do-dad attached to the high-speed shred metal loving denizens of the slopes. What I need is for them to pay attention to what’s around them, not to focus on their own personal sound tracks. Yes, I’m old. Get off my (snow covered) lawn.
[Photo credit: Avrene via Flickr (Creative Commons)]
Traveling with food allergies requires an extra measure of caution for those affected. In the past, that caution may have kept them from sampling local fare, a big part of any travel experience. Now, a new smartphone add-on will allow allergy-suffering travelers to test their meal at restaurants, food trucks, sidewalk cafes or any other dining venue around the world.
I have a friend in the UK who has a fish/seafood allergy so severe that if she so much as smells fish, a reaction occurs. If a tiny speck of fish accidentally makes its way in or on to something she eats? Off to the hospital she goes. She is far from alone.
Unique food allergies, sensitivities or restrictions with reactions that can be severe, and even life-threatening, affect millions of people, both children and adults. While traveling, those affected can’t rely on others to help; the down side to them being wrong is just too much of a gamble.Airlines provide special meals for these travelers if notified in advance. Food labels can indicate potential problem ingredients. Asking servers what is in food can help too. But until now, nothing allergic travelers could do would guarantee food safety.
Using the cellphone’s built-in camera, the iTube, along with a smartphone app, runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity of a laboratory. Unlike other mobile devices that detect allergens, the iTube is easy to use and much less bulky, according to the UCLA researchers at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“We envision that this cellphone–based allergen testing platform could be very valuable, especially for parents, as well as for schools, restaurants and other public settings,” says Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering in the UCLA Newsroom.
Can’t wait for the iTube to hit the shelves of your favorite gear store? A Food Allergy Translation Card iPhone App may help while you wait, as we see in this video: