Gadling reads the Sunday travel sections

I don’t think that the New York Times’s TMagazine probably counts as a Sunday section, but the Spring 2009 edition has just been published and it amounts to some of the better travel reads you’re going to find on the Internet these days.

I especially enjoyed John Wray’s long piece from Liechtenstein, the best thing I found online this weekend. He captures the oddness of this little principality — home to secretive banks, a thriving postal stamp industry and not much else — wonderfully. Liechtenstein’s smallness (it’s the sixth smallest country in the world) in fact is a boon to travel there: Where else can you go from the rugged Alps to a lush valley in about, oh, 10 minutes? You can see a lot of diversity in a small space, and what Wray probably gets the most right is how the sheer size of this place shapes the way people there view the outside world. Reading the piece made be remember my time in Liechtenstein: An exhilarating bike ride I once took from the high alpine town of Malbun to Triesen, screaming downhill all the way and hardly touching my brakes, and the sound of cowbells clinking in the dark of night as I walked late between Liechtenstein’s capital, Vaduz, and Schaan, its largest city (in Liechtenstein, it’s nothing to walk between towns and cities).
Judged against this piece — in other words, travel writing as a real window to a foreign place — this weekend’s travel sections were a little lame.

Still, although I’ve tauted the Financial Times in the past as a good place to look for travel narratives, I’m liking its weekend section more and more as time goes by. Today Oliver Balch travels in the footsteps of a Chilean poet I’d never heard of, Gabriela Mistral, and the result is an interesting journey through Chile’s Elqui Valley.

The best descriptive turn of phrase this weekend goes to Amanda Jones in the LA Times, where she details a trek through Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, a range she says looks like a “poorly healed scar” if viewed from above.

The New York Times’ proper travel section has a few stories. Matt Gross, the “Frugal Traveler,” reports on the best dining deal in Northern Italyaperitivi, the tables of delicious, free snacks that cafes and bars set out on around Happy Hour time that in some places, notably Milan, can amount to a whole meal. Costa Rica’s days as an unknown travel destination are long gone, but writers still flock to it for those “this country has it all” kinds of stories. Ethan Todras-Whitehall is only the latest, with his dispatch about heading there with his father. Michelle Higgins asks, ala Jon Krakauer and Mt. Everest, whether Antarctica isn’t getting a little too popular with tourists.

This seemed to be the weekend of writers loafing about on expensive safaris. The worst of the bunch is Shoba Narayan’s hunt for tigers and elephant’s in India published in the Washington Post. As if trying a little too hard to counter the recent “Slumdog Millionaire” hype, Narayan — who, we’re told, lives in Bangalore! — shows us an India of luxury resorts and comfy, Land Rover safaris during which you really have to be careful not to spill your masala chai on yourself. Fundamentally I don’t mind this, it’s just that she goes out of her way to brag about how expensive her amenities are (upwards of $800-$900 a night in one case). This makes the whole piece both seem rather insensitive to the realities of India (and I’m not talking ‘Slumdog’ here) and smack of a paid junket.

And then there is this sentence early in the dispatch about her resort: “I felt absurdly happy because of an additional amenity: The laundry service was free, or rather, it was included in Aman-i-Khas’s stratospheric rates.” Really, Shoba?!

David Abel fairs better during a journey across Southern Africa for the Boston Globe.

Back in the States, the Philadelphia Inquirer gets a jump start on spring by telling you how to enjoy the cherry blossoms of Washington, DC, soon to hit their glorious peak (and cherry blossom season in the District is really something to behold).

Finally, I headed over to the Miami Herald to see if travel writer/editor Jane Wooldridge had been anywhere interesting. I’ve admired her work in the past, and was hopeful at seeing her blog, Travels with Jane. Seeing a dispatch from a cruise conference and not much else, it seems Jane is maintaining a blog about the act of not traveling.