Travel Like The President? New Series Shows How

Travel Like

The Travel Channel kicks off its newest series of specials called “Travel Like…” next month to
take us behind the scenes with “Travel Like a President,” hosted by NBC’s Peter Alexander.

Going along for the ride on Air Force One and beyond, the hour-long special shows us what it takes to keep the commander in chief on track with a demanding travel schedule.

“We are excited about the ‘Travel Like…’ umbrella series as we will have the opportunity to explore and share many unique travel experiences from a fresh and unexpected perspective,” said Andy Singer, General Manager, Travel Channel in a Broadway World article.

“Our first special, ‘Travel Like a President,’ is designed to give viewers an all-access, unprecedented look at the enormous level of detail and thought that comes with the territory when you are the leader of the free world,” said Singer. “It’s meant to be informative yet entertaining … and perhaps inspire our viewers to embark on their very own presidential trip.”

Future specials in development include working titles such as, “Travel Like an Icon” and “Travel Like a Movie Star,” which will look at travel through the eyes of celebrities, rock musicians, actors and personalities, sharing their own stories of travel along with memories from the road.

“Travel Like A President” premieres on the Travel Channel Tuesday, October 2 at 8:00 p.m., ET/PT

… or you could watch this hour-long YouTube video from our friends at National Geographic, “Inside: Air Force One.”

[Flickr photo by Aram K]

President Obama’s Favorite Pizza Squares Off Against A College Favorite

pi pizza in st louisWho could resist trying a pizza fit for the President of the United States? Last week, I visited a friend in St. Louis and he mentioned that President Obama offended some in his adopted hometown of Chicago a few years ago by choosing a St. Louis pizzeria called Pi to cater a pizza party at the White House, after having tried and liked their pizza at a campaign event at the St. Louis Arch.

Any pizzeria worthy of the President’s admiration is one I want to try, but I was just in Italy for five weeks earlier this year and ate at Da Michele, a pizzeria that many consider to be the best in the world. The pizza at Da Michele is otherworldly and cheap too, so I was skeptical that Pi could measure up but was still eager to give it a shot.

We met at Pi’s Washington Avenue branch, which is in a stunning, high-ceilinged building in downtown St. Louis. My friend and I decided to split a large, thin-crust Central West End pizza, which comes with mozzarella, prosciutto, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a mountain of arugula.Pi’s thin-crust pizza has very tasty, super thin, almost crispy crust that I found to be outstanding. All of the ingredients were first-rate and the pizza melted in my mouth. For my taste, there was too much arugula and not enough prosciutto, but that’s splitting hairs.

My only complaint about this pizza is the portion and the price, $21. With crust this thin, I could practically eat the large by myself. I had four good-sized slices – half the pie – but I wasn’t full. It’s more than a little unfair to compare a pizza with a slew of toppings in St. Louis to a cheese pizza in Italy, but I’m going to do so anyways.

At Da Michele, the large cheese pizza is just over $6 and is so good you want to get a job at the place, or, better yet, move in upstairs to benefit from the aroma. Over the last decade or so, the gourmet pizza craze has hit every good-sized city in the U.S. to the point that you can get really good, wood-fire pizza fairly easily. But the prices can be ridiculous. In Italy, pizza is never expensive – never. And it shouldn’t be here either.

shakespeare's pizzaWith that ethos in mind, I tried another well-hyped Missouri pizzeria called Shakespeare’s, in Columbia just a few days after our Pi experience. I was just as anxious to try Shakespeare’s because fellow blogger Sean McLachlan wrote that it was “the best I’ve ever had and I’ve been to Rome.”

Shakespeare’s is located right next to the University of Missouri’s main campus in downtown Columbia and the unpretentious vibe couldn’t be more of a contrast to the sleek, trendy interior at Pi’s downtown location. We sat underneath a large sign advertising “Liquor, Guns & Ammo,” and I fell in love with the place after having a look at their homemade food pyramid, which values pizza, candy and my other favorite foods above broccoli and fruit.

We ordered a large sausage pizza and it was tasty, huge and cheap at $15.50. The circumference of the pizza was probably similar to the one at Pi, but the crust was more substantial and filling. That said, I thought that the pizza at Pi was a lot tastier. I ate every morsel of the crust at Pi, but the crust at Shakespeare’s was flavorless.

Verdict: Pi wins the Battle of Missouri for my taste, but even pizza fit for the President should cost less.

Note: Pi now has a location in D.C. as well.

(Photos: first photo by Stlbites on Flickr, second by Dave Seminara)

In Italy’s Heel, Obama’s A Rock Star

president obama dessert in italy named after obama pasticciotto He may be facing a tough reelection battle in the U.S., but in the heel of Italy, President Obama’s still a rock star. A friend of a friend who lives in Lecce, a picturesque city of baroque churches and crumbling stone dwellings in Puglia, told me that while in town I had to try a pasticciotto, a muffin-like treat that is peculiar to this region.

“We have one that’s named after Obama too,” she said. “Ask for a pasticciotto Oh-Bam-ah.”

“And people will know what I’m talking about?” I asked.

Assolutamente,” she said, reassuring me that I’d have no trouble getting my Obama treat.

We rented an apartment in the city, and I spent the following week wandering Lecce’s atmospheric streets, periodically ducking in and out of pasticerrias and bars asking for Obama pasticciottos. Sure enough, everyone knew exactly what I was after, but no one had them in stock.

But while I didn’t find any Obama pasticciottos during my first week in Lecce, I saw lots of young people, mostly girls, wearing the Stars and Stripes. I spent time in Italy in 2005, 2006 and 2007, during the George W. Bush years, and don’t remember seeing our flag very much, other than outside of hotels.italian girl draped in american flagOn a day trip to Otranto, we met a group of high school girls on a class trip from nearby Bari, and they wanted to know if we liked Taylor Swift, Robert Pattison and Obama, three of their favorites. For them, Obama wasn’t just a politician; he was a pop icon.

It seems as though the U.S. is back in fashion in Italy, at least among young people, but I don’t know how much of that is attributable to President Obama. And to be fair, Homer Simpson is probably just as popular if not more so.

On our fifth night in town, we stumbled across a place called the Obama Takeaway, a little fast food joint run by Indian immigrants, that features a likeness of Obama tucking into a sandwich (see accompanying photo) on its sign.

A young woman at the counter, who spoke English and introduced herself as Chiara DiPasquale, told us that they didn’t have Obama pasticciottos, but advised us that the most well known place to get them was in a small town called Campi Salentina, about twenty minutes outside of Lecce. Chiara thought that a few places in Lecce also sold them but wasn’t sure.

On our penultimate night in town, we walked by the Obama Takeaway again, and Chiara was standing out front, taking a break. I told her that we never found the Obama pasticciottos and she immediately promised to help.

obama takeaway restaurant named after obama“I think I know someone who can get you the Obamas,” she said furtively, as though we were discussing buying some crack. “But how many do you want?”

“As many as I can get my hands on,” I said, sounding a bit like an addict looking to score.

Chiara took my business card and said she’d email me. I assumed I’d never hear from her again, but a few hours later, I received her message.

“I found someone who will drive me out to Campi Salentina tomorrow to get the pasticciottos, how many should we pick up for you?”

We have no car in Italy and are at the mercy of the local public transport, which is woefully inadequate, so I told her that I wanted to make the pilgrimage out to the Obama pasticciotto place with them.

The following afternoon I met up with Chiara and her friend and fellow student at the Salento University, Marco Scigliutzo, who was driving a Skoda. After stopping for directions once in the small town, we pulled up in front of an ordinary looking shop that had a large American flag flying on the balcony overhead.

We walked inside and I was immediately struck by a likeness of a smiling Barrack Obama, waving his right hand while holding up a pasticciotto in the left. We’d come to the right place, but all I could see were rows of ordinary, vanilla colored pasticciotto.


But my fear that they were out of Obamas was quickly put to rest, as the counter person asked us how many Obamas we wanted. Could we see the product first, I thought, once again feeling a bit like a guy about to score a kilo of heroin.

Angelo Bisconti, the owner of the place, called Cheri, since 1994, came out with a tray of the little beauties and told us his story. He was inspired by Obama during the primary in 2008 and thought he was going to “change the world.” So he experimented with a special Obama pasticciotto in his honor. At first, he tried to make it with some vanilla and some chocolate, in honor of Obama’s multiracial background, but that didn’t work, so he went with a lava cake approach – chocolate on the outside and on the inside.

Bisconti said that he’d received a letter from the American consulate in Naples thanking him for making these wonderful treats and also mentioned that he went to the U.S. to promote his brand. He also sells bottles of Obama dessert wine with the President’s likeness for €10 a bottle. The Obamas have 457 calories and cost the equivalent of 65 cents. Bisconti claims that he sells about 1,000 of them per day.

The Obama pasticciotto didn’t disappoint. It tasted like a muffin on the exterior but then when we bit into them a bit further, an explosion of hot molten chocolate scorched our mouths. It tasted so good that my brain refused to process how hot the chocolate was, so I just kept chewing into it.

But once the whole thing was safely stuffed into my mouth, I suddenly realized that my gullet was on fire. I had to hop around a bit and get some water to cool off. But I was already addicted. These little beauties are awfully good.

Bisconti admitted that he wasn’t sure if Obama had a sweet tooth or not but said he was confident that the President would love the pasticciottos if he had a chance to try them. He said he sent the President a letter about them, but has yet to receive a response.

Bisconti said that other shops have tried to copy his recipe, but have failed. He claims to have the copyright to make Obama pasticciotto and could sue others who try to infringe on it. On the way back to Lecce, I wondered how someone could get a copyright to use a famous person’s likeness to sell gooey muffins.

“Couldn’t Obama sue him?” I asked Marco and Chiara.

“I think Obama has more important things to do than worry about a guy selling pasticciottos in Italy,” Marco said.

Santorum criticizes Obama for allowing Malia to attend class trip to Mexico

obama family photoThe is-Mexico-safe-or-isn’t-it debate spilled over into the 2012 presidential race on Tuesday as G.O.P. hopeful Rick Santorum criticized President Obama for allowing his 13-year-old daughter, Malia, to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, on a class trip.

“What I would say is that the president’s actions should reflect what his administration is saying,” Santorum said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck. “If the administration is saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it. You should set an example. I think that’s what presidents do. They set an example. And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there.”

On Monday, Agence France-Presse reported that Malia was on a school trip in the popular colonial city known for its arts scene and vibrant zocalo, with a phalanx of twenty-five Secret Service agents to protect her. According to Politico, a number of media outlets took down their stories about the trip in order to honor a long-standing pledge to protect the privacy of President Obama’s children. The White House confirmed today that Malia and her classmates weren’t harmed in yesterday’s earthquake, which was “felt strongly” in Oaxaca according to an expert cited in a USA Today piece.

A few thoughts…

Mexico is a big country — there are 31 states and more than 100 million inhabitants. A few weeks ago, I challenged the notion that Puerto Vallarta (PV) is unsafe for American tourists and my piece generated nearly 100 comments, most with strong opinions one way or the other. American snowbirds that live in PV, or travel there each winter, believe it’s safe, but many others have been scared off by media reports of violence and think it’s not worth the risk.

According to the New York Times, Mexico welcomed a record total of more than 22 million international visitors in 2011, most from the U.S. So unlike Senator Santorum, it seems that most Americans are able to differentiate between the safe and unsafe parts of Mexico.

The State Department hasn’t advised Americans to avoid the entire country. The notion that the Obama’s are sending their daughter into an area that the government has warned against visiting is factually incorrect. There is no advisory in effect for the state of Oaxaca. I’ve been to Oaxaca before and it’s one of the most vibrant, artsy towns in the country. There have been demonstrations there in years past and an American citizen was killed in one incident in 2006, but it’s generally a safe place, even by U.S. standards.
%Gallery-151129%Is there something inherently unpatriotic about traveling abroad? Several readers who commented on my PV post opined that they were avoiding Mexico and other foreign countries because our economy needed us to stay home and spend our money here.

I can see that point but I think that Americans need to leave the country every now and then. It helps us to appreciate what we have here, it allows us to better understand how others perceive us and it gives us ideas that we can replicate or avoid here. Besides, if you’re really concerned about supporting U.S. businesses, you can travel on an American carrier and stay at a U.S. owned hotel chain.

In my day, we took field trips to the zoo — if we were lucky. Kids are really spoiled these days. I have nieces and nephews who go to Europe for class trips. We used to go to amusement parks and zoos. For the record, I think it’s terrific that Malia Obama has a chance to travel to Oaxaca, a city that I like very much. I’m just a little jealous.

Vacation at your own risk. This is a class trip for a 13-year-old girl but politics and presidential family trips can be tricky. The recent PBS documentary on Bill Clinton noted that the family changed their vacation plans from Martha’s Vineyard to Wyoming because it was perceived as more Middle America. The administration even arranged a photo shoot of Bill riding a horse.

The Obamas like to vacation in Hawaii, where the President was born and spent much of his childhood. But don’t be surprised if his summer vacation this year involves a swing state or two. Some early guesses: Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks or Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photo via the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia via Flickr. Photos of Oaxaca by Dave Seminara.

President Obama creates new national park

President Obama has created a new national parkPresident Obama created a new national park yesterday when he invoked the Antiquities Act for the first time in his presidency. The Commander in Chief used his executive powers to designate Fort Monroe, located in Hampton, Virginia, as a national monument, thereby adding it to America’s National Park System.

The region has a long and storied history, that dates back to the early 1600’s when Dutch sailors first traded slaves the Old Point Comfort Peninsula, the future home of the fort. Later, many famous Americans would spend time inside its walls, including Robert E. Lee, who oversaw construction there during the 1800’s. Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Monroe for a time, penning his famous poem “Annabel Lee” inside the fortress. Harriet Tubman worked at the fort’s hospital, and Chief Blackhawk, who fought with the British during the War of 1812, was briefly imprisoned there, as was Confederate President Jefferson Davis following the end of the Civil War.

While the fortress may have started as an outpost for the slave trade, during the Civil War it became a symbol of hope for many African Americans. In 1861, the fort was occupied by Union soldiers when three escaped slaves arrived at the gates seeking asylum. The fort’s commander, General Benjamin Butler, took them in and refused to return them to Confederate General Charles Mallory. Soon, thousands more would flock to the place, earning it the name of “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler’s bold move marked the beginning of the end for slavery in Virgina.

The President’s proclamation not only includes the fort itself, but two miles of beachfront property and inland landscapes as well. Those environments are said to be excellent spaces for bird watching, hiking, camping and other outdoor pursuits. The newest park in the system offers both history and beauty in a single setting.

Naturally, the National Parks Conversation Association was quick to praise this move by the President, calling Fort Monroe “America’s next great urban national park.” The non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting America’s parks for future generations, and sees the inclusion of this park as a historical and economic boon to the surrounding communities.

Fort Monroe is the 396th park in the U.S. system. To find out more about the place click here.