Tracking devices in hotel linens thwart thievery

In case you wondered, Big Brother is watching. In your hotel room. A Miami-based company, Linen Tracker, has patented a radio-frequency identification chip that keeps real-time inventory of frequently misplaced or stolen items such as hotel linens. Like, you know, that plushy robe you planned to take as a souvenir, or that Egyptian cotton pillowcase that sent you into such blissful slumber. The chips are also designed to help hotel managers and maids stock rooms and order supplies.

reports that three hotels, in New York, Miami and Honolulu, are using Linen Trackers, and the company’s executive vice president, William Serbin, sees a bright future for the devices. “Any given month, [hotels] can lose five to 20 percent of towels, sheets and robes. That gets expensive with the rising cost of cotton.”

Serbin was inspired by the sensors used on toll roads that he drove on in Florida. “We tweaked the technology, went through trial and error with different types of chips and put them in the correct place,” he explains. “Now, chip life exceeds 300 wash cycles.”

So far, the chips appear to be working: a handful of linen thieves have been apprehended, and asked to return the pilfered items to the hotel. Shame, it seems, is also an effective deterrent.

[Photo credit: Flicrk user C Ray Dancer]

Top 10 travel spots in the United States

So, Orbitz noted when we like to travel … but where do we go? The top 10 destinations in the country were mostly predictable, with big tourist-magnet cities dominating the list. There were a few surprises, according to the information supplied by Orbitz: Boston, for example, didn’t make the list, after having ranked ninth in 2009. Los Angeles, fifth in 2009, also fell off in 2010. New Orleans and Honolulu debuted last year.

In the top 10 U.S. destinations last year, average daily hotel rates rose, yet some spots, like Las Vegas and San Diego, still offered great bargains, with rates well below 2008 levels still.

So, which cities are among our 10 favorites? Let’s take a look below!

1. Las Vegas, Nevada: Vegas was hit hard by the financial crisis – expect to see some deals there for a while

2. New York, New York: how can the Big Apple not be an ongoing favorite?

3. Chicago, Illinois: the top city in the Midwest just had to make the list!4. San Francisco, California: forget Los Angeles, this is the place to see out west

5. San Diego, California: again, this is a great alternative to Tinseltown

6. Orlando, Florida: remember that there’s more to Orlando than the theme parks

7. Honolulu, Hawaii: if you’re going to spend some time on the beach, do it right

8. New Orleans, Louisiana: it may have taken a while, but the recovery following Hurricane Katrina is definitely under way

9. Washington, DC: the allure of the nation’s capital can never be resisted

10. Miami, Florida: where else can you see and sample so many great bodies in one place? You have to check this out!

[photo Fabrizio Monaco via Flickr]

Hawaii’s living ghosts: Retelling of lives at Hawaii cemeteries

In Hawai`i, everything in nature-trees, rocks, wind, rain-evokes a chicken-skin ghost story. It’s in the air, our blood, and retold on dark winter nights. The hair on the back of your neck will rise and prickle when you visit these spots.

Nuuanu Pali Lookout and the Old Pali Road

I grew up in Nu`uanu, the luxuriant valley that leads up to one of the best views of O`ahu, the Nu`uanu Pali Lookout. In 1795, King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands and drove O`ahu’s defending warriors up our valley. Rather than surrender, O`ahu’s warriors leapt 1000 feet from the Pali to their death. When the Pali Road was constructed in 1897, crews found the skulls and bones of over 800 men at the base of the Ko`olau Mountains.

During World War II, a few servicemen emboldened by alcohol leapt off the Pali. Powerful gale-force winds pushed the drunks back to safety. Lucky, they said. Our ghosts and gods, locals said.

Since ancient days the Old Pali Road was the only land route between Honolulu and the Windward side of the island. It was, and still is, a spooky road. Eerie winds whistle through the tree tunnel, waving vines drape from arching branches of the jungle forest, and leaves dart in the darkness like nervous fingers. At night we hush our voices and hold our breath until we emerge into the lights of Honolulu.

My grandparents warned us, “Never carry pork on the Old Pali Road.” The unwise who did told how their car would die. Attempts to restart were futile. Sometimes an old woman or man would appear at the side of the road. If one offered them a ride, their passenger, and the pork, would disappear before they got to town.

When I was in college my boyfriend and I returned from a party in Kailua via the Old Pali Road. The police stopped us so they could carry up from the ravine below the bodies of four young Hawaiian men whose skin shone unusually pale in the moonlight, victims of an accident. At a beach bonfire with fellow students a year later, two brothers, Harvard medical students, told us they had just returned to Honolulu along the Old Pali Road and at a certain curve they heard knocking on their windshield, as if someone wanted to get in. The brothers immediately backed up. Unnerved, they slowly started forward but each time they reached that spot in the road, they heard knocking, and retreated. The fifth time, the younger brother shouted, “Just drive! No matter what, don’t stop! Go!” His older brother floored it back to Honolulu.

“Where exactly did you hear that knocking?” I asked. They were athletes and fraternity men, not easily frightened. They described the curve in the Old Pali Road and the ravine below, the exact spot where the four boys had crashed the year before. We Hawaiians gasped; the dead youths were looking for someone to take their place.

Hours: Daily during daylight hours; no entrance fee. $3 parking; portable toilets; trash cans; food concession; interpretive signage; no drinking water.

O`ahu Cemetery

O’ahu Cemetery offers one of the finest collections of 19th century graveyard art in Hawaii and is one of the known ghost haunts. Through the Sailor’s Home Society, seamen from New England, Australia, Scotland, Peru, and even Iowa were buried here in the 1800s alongside the most distinguished and powerful landowning families such as the Campbells, Castles, and Dillinghams. The only full-sized statue, of Maria Kahanamoku, sister of Olympian Duke Kahanamoku, looks gently down among the palm trees lining the interior road.

Take one of the occasional tours. Step back into Hawaii‘s culture and history marked by marble statuary, granite obelisks, sarcophagi, ornate Celtic crosses and cryptic symbols. These landscaped grounds from are one of the most important historic sites in the islands and at night, alive with voices.

In the early 1900s, my grandmother’s uncle told of returning to Honolulu after his round of deliveries on the Windward side. Whenever his horse and cart passed O`ahu Cemetery late at night he encountered ghost seamen, probably from the 1800s whaling days, playing cards right outside the cemetery wall on the corner of Judd Street and Nu`uanu Avenue. The salty spirits, furious at being disturbed, would yell at him. “Go away! Leave us alone! Begone!” Leaves whistled through their bodies when they rose and chased after my great-grand uncle, hurling stones and curses as he urged his horse, ‘Faster!”

To this day, my aunts and uncles drive out of their way to avoid this corner which is on their direct route home. www.O` 2162 Nu`uanu Avenue, Honolulu, HI. Phone 808-538-1538

Pu`u o Mahuka Heiau

High above the beach where surfers flock to surf the legendary 30 to 60 foot waves on the North Shore sits Pu`u o Mahuka Heiau, the largest religious site and temple on O`ahu. It covers almost 2 acres. As you drive up Pupukea Homestead Road off Kamehameha Highway you head up into the mountains through wild shrubbery. Nothing prepares you for what you are about to see.

Constructed in the 1600s, stacked lava rock walls from 3 to 6 feet in height define three walled enclosures. Within the walls were thatch and wood structures. It is conjectured this heiau was used as a sacrificial temple, perhaps for success in war. Situated on a ridge with a commanding view of Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline of O`ahu, signal fires from here could be seen as far as Kaua`i.

Stay outside the walls to avoid further damage to the site. You will see offerings of stones wrapped in ti leaves on the wall.

I’ve noted that at these Hawaiian heiaus, the air feels unusually still and no birds sing, as if it is still imbued with the sacredness of long ago. Everyone I bring here gets chicken-skin; the hairs on their neck and arms prickle as if the spirits of those who died here still roam. This is the ancient side of Hawaii, a layer most tourists miss.

More information here. Hours: Daily during daylight hours; no entrance fee; trash cans, interpretive signage & walkway; no drinking water.

Pam Chun’s award-winning first novel, The Money Dragon, was named one of 2002’s Best Books in Hawaii. Born and raised in Hawaii, she has been featured on NPR and has spoken at the Smithsonian. Read her blog on Red Room.

Top ten overrated U.S. travel destinations/attractions

Whether or not you’re an American, there are certain places that are on almost everyone’s must-visit list. Some tourist traps, like the Grand Canyon or Disneyland, are worth joining the masses and ponying up the entrance fee (although I just checked the Magic Kingdom’s website, and Mickey and friends are bilking the parents of children under nine for $68 a pop).

Other much-lauded, highly anticipated hot-spots are simply not worth the time and expense. This is, of course, highly subjective: one man’s Las Vegas dream vacation is another’s Third Circle of Hell. It can also be fun to visit certain craptacular or iconic landmarks.

The below list is a compilation of my picks, as well as those of other Gadling contributors, in no particular order. You may be offended, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

1. Hollywood
Unless you love freaks, junkies, hookers, crappy chain restaurants and stores, and stepping over human feces on the star-inlaid sidewalks, give it a miss.

2. Las Vegas
I understand the appeal of a lost weekend in Sin City, really. And I will not dispute the utter coolness of the Rat Pack, Vegas of yore. But in the name of all that is sacred and holy, why does the current incarnation of glorified excess and wasted natural resources exist, especially as a so-called family destination?

[Photo credit: Flickr user Douglas Carter Cole]3. Times Square
A dash of Hollywood Boulevard with a splash of Vegas and Orlando.

4. South Beach, Miami
At what point does silicone become redundant?

5. Atlantic City, New Jersey
The poor man’s Vegas

6. Orlando
Toll roads, herds of tourists, shrieking children, an abundance of nursing homes, and tacky corporate America, all in one tidy package.

7. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
It’s hard to hate on San Francisco, but the once-glorious Wharf is a shadow of its former self. Hooter’s, Pier 39, seafood stands hawking overpriced, previously-frozen Dungeness crab cocktail, aggressive panhandling, and vulgar souvenir shops kill the mood.

8. The Washington Monument
The nation’s preeminent phallic symbol is admittedly an impressive piece of architecture. It’s also possible to get a great view from the car en route to other, more interesting historic sites and tourist attractions.

9. Waikiki
There is so much more to Hawaii, including beaches that aren’t man-made.

10. Mt. Rushmore
Faces carved into rock. Moving on…

[Photo credits: Times Square, Flickr user Falling Heavens; Waikiki, Flickr user DiazWerks]

Planes, trains, or automobiles: local delicacies make memorable mobile meals

As a food and travel writer, I log a lot of air and land miles, but I can count on one hand how many airline meals I’ve eaten. Even as a kid-admittedly the most irritatingly picky eater on the planet-I refused to choke down in-flight chicken the texture of sawdust, or boiled-to-death pasta and vegetables. My parents, at their wit’s end, finally gave up. Ordering pizza the night before a plane trip became a ritual, because I’d eat the leftovers once airborne (after scraping off the sauce, but I digress).

In some ways, things have changed. I will now eat anything, often to the detriment of my health, for the purposes of work, or a good story. Dog, insects, horse; I don’t get all the fuss over the Donner Party. I will not, however, eat airline, train, heat-and-serve gas station, or ferry fare, unless I’m being paid to do so. I’m not trying to be a food snob. I just find institutional food repugnant, because it usually takes like ass. Don’t even get me started on the nutritional aspects. And in my defense, I have a serious weakness for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. No, I skip mass transit meals because one of the greatest joys of travel is trying new foods.

I prefer to use my captive travel time to savor local produce and products purchased from farmer’s markets, food halls, street food vendors, or take-away joints. It’s generally the best, as well as cheapest, way to eat on the go, and it’s a great way to experience the food culture of a country or region, even if you’ve never left the United States.

When I’m in Honolulu, I pick up the fat, juicy, char siu pork-stuffed manapua (steamed dumplings) from Libby Manapua (conveniently located en route to the airport). I’m not alone; the little shop’s pink cardboard cake boxes are a frequent site on inter-island and Mainland-bound flights.

In Naples, I’ve brought calzone and the makings for an impromptu insalata Caprese on the train, and done the same with majouba from Marseilles. On flights I’ve scarfed down Argentinean empanadas, Singaporean sticky rice stuffed with pork, and this soy custardy thing studded with slippery bits of florescent tapioca from Bangkok. I also load up on interesting snack foods: Peruvian cancha, fried fava beans in Ecuador, Mexican tamales, Vietnamese roasted chestnuts, and mochi from Asian groceries in Australia. And under no circumstances should you depart Miami without cuban pork sandwiches from Palacios de los Jugos, in Little Havana.

My favorite mobile meal, however, was a picnic I assembled for a 15-hour train ride from Provence to Madrid. I was staying in the village of Cassis, which is famed for its bustling farmers market. En route to the train station, I hit the market, picking up a couple of different crottins (small rounds of goat cheese), bread, pâté, sausage, and a handful of plump, crimson cherries. A bottle of Bandol rosè from the nearby village of the same name also helped to pass the time.

If you live somewhere known for its local ingredients or dishes, it’s just as easy to assemble a memorable meal to take en route to your destination. One of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received was when a chef friend dropped off a pre-flight bag lunch for me to take on a flight. In it were some of his favorite things from the Berkeley farmer’s market: a loaf of crusty, country-style levain, a round of chevre, and a fat, juicy peach. I arrived at my destination sated and happy. That’s the experience that made me stop making do with meals of soggy, lukewarm sandwiches from home, or Power Bars (although I always have plenty stashed in my day pack for emergency snacks).

A few tips on portable meals:

If you don’t travel light or are on a road trip, keep a small Tupperware container to hold fruit, to prevent it from bruising, or a single-serving-size insulated or neoprene bag to keep perishables cool.

If you backpack, as I do, you can still get away with carrying a few essentials: pocketknife (unless you’re carry-on only), and a wine opener. Carabiners are good to clip on your daypack, as they aid in holding purchases.

If you’ve purchased meat (even if it’s cured), dairy products, honey, or produce, be prepared to consume it en route- you won’t be able to take if off the plane or over borders. At least, not legally. This can also apply on domestic flights, usually in regard to produce.

Do be considerate of your seatmates. If you’re traveling Stateside, or in places where fragrant/heavily spiced cuisine isn’t the norm, skip it. Because hell on earth is being stuck on a plane next to someone eating a warm tuna sandwich. Also, it’s good form, as well as a cultural imperative in some countries, to offer your neighbors a little snack.

Most cultures have foods, such as a variation on dumplings, that are ideal for transit. In Asia and India, food hawkers often sell food on the train or in stations. These may be some of the best, most authentic eats you’ll find, but be forewarned that few things ruin a long train or bus ride like foodborne illness. Only buy fresh, hot food from busy vendors, bring bottled water, and carry a box of Imodium (seriously). Happy travels!

Chile-Citrus Olives

The whole point of travel picnics is to make do when you can’t cook, but I make these olives to take on road trips. They also make nice cocktail snacks or a casual accompaniment to a cheese plate. They’re typical of the type of prepared food you’ll find in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets.
serves 4

10 oz. dry cured or green olives, or combination of the two, such as Moroccan or Picholine
3 or 4 strips of orange peel (not zest- use a vegetable peeler to cut wide strips, avoiding any pith)
2 cloves garlic, gently crushed
2 pinches red chile flakes
1 to 2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium low heat, adding more olive oil if too dry. Warm until heated through, then remove from heat, transfer to small bowl, and allow to sit one hour, so flavors develop.