Local newspapers make great gift wrap – Souvenir tip

When buying souvenirs in a foreign country, be sure to pick up a copy of the local newspaper. Even if you don’t speak the language printed, the newspaper makes interesting wrap for the gifts you’ll take home.

Bonus points if the recipient is studying foreign languages, as newspapers are good tools for practice.

Twelve random observations about Ethiopia

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been posting a series of articles about travel in Ethiopia. I’m about halfway through but I have some observations that don’t fit into anywhere but would be of interest to people considering a trip there. So here are a dozen facts about one of Africa’s most interesting countries.

1. When kids see you they’ll often shout out “Farenj!” (Foreigner!) It’s not meant in a bad way, and they’ll break into peals of laughter if you respond with “Habasha!” (Ethiopian!) This usually leads to a schoolbook conversation in English and much shaking of sticky hands.

Ethiopians love Facebook. At any one time at least half of the people in Internet cafes are using it.

Male friends will often hold hands or walk with their arms around each other’s shoulders, but homosexuality is frowned upon.

English-language newspapers are easy to find in the capital Addis Ababa, and virtually impossible to find anywhere else.

5. Some hotel restaurants will give foreigners menus listing only imitations of Western dishes, assuming they’re not interested in “National Food”. I recommend the “Papered Steak”.

Obama is incredibly popular here and everywhere else in Africa. There are Obama hotels, Obama electronics shops, even a brand of Obama ballpoint pens.

7. Harar Elephant Sanctuary has only one road, and the elephants avoid it.

8. Western charities bring over huge shipments of secondhand t-shirts from the West, so you’ll see Ethiopians wearing shirts advertising the Lake Champlain Monster, “Canada, Eh!”, and “John Kerry for President of France”.

9. Unattractive, poor, old, and handicapped characters are much more common on Ethiopian television than Western TV. Apparently Ethiopian drama isn’t afraid of reflecting reality.

Ethiopians generally don’t eat dessert with their meals, but don’t despair. There are lots of Italian-style pastry shops.

11. Amesaygenalo is the Amharic word for “thank you.” At six syllables it’s the longest word for thank you I’ve ever come across. I like a culture that doesn’t rush its thank yous.

. Ethiopia has a different calendar. Right now it’s the year 2002. The calendar has thirteen months and the day starts at six in the morning. The Ethiopian Tourism Ministry’s motto is, “Thirteen months of Sunshine” and one tour operator has the motto, “Come to Ethiopia and feel eight years younger!”

Next time: Lalibela, Ethiopia’s ancient jewel!

NY Times realizes Twitter is useful for travel

It takes the NY Times to catch up with the world around it … especially when technology is involved. Hey, the newspaper wouldn’t be in so much financial trouble if this weren’t the case. But, they don’t get it wrong; the reporters over there just take a bit longer to grasp what’s happening.

So, I was pretty psyched when I saw in the “Frugal Traveler” column that Twitter can be used to get dinner reservations – even when you’re on jury duty! Did you know that you can just peck a few characters into your cell phone or Blackberry and send it to thousands of people who might have an answer?

The Frugal Traveler is not ready to “Twitter [his] way across the country,” but the Gadling team is.

2008 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award Winners

The 2008 Society of American Travel Writers Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition recently announced its winners. In its 24th year running, the competition attracted 1,356 entries in 24 categories from which 81 winners were selected. The competition, named after American writer and traveler Lowell Thomas, is today considered to be one of the most prestigious awards in the world of travel journalism. The entries were judged by members of the Missouri School of Journalism Faculty.

National Geographic
and the Boston Globe took most of the awards, and freelance writer/photographer Christopher P. Baker won the Lowell Thomas travel journalist of the year. Other than him, and bronze winner of the same category — Sarah Wildman, all other winners are part of established travel titles such as the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, and a bunch of other American news titles.

You can find the list of gold winners with relevant links to their stories at the LA Times Daily Deal travel blog; the LA Times won a gold for the best travel section. A list of all the winners (gold, silver, and bronze, across all categories can be found on the Society of American Travel Writers website.

So, if you’re looking to read some good travel-writing, spend some time going through the links of the winners. The full list of winners has the titles of the winning stories so you can dig them up to read. I thought I would go through them all and give you my top three, but there are just too many good ones! Perhaps a good time-spend idea for a Sunday afternoon.

Papers From Everywhere

Even though I work in journalism, I have to say I
think our national papers often do a less than satisfactory job on international news. Sure, most of the major papers
have an international section, and their correspondents are out there doing the very best they can finding the key, big
stories in a place. But most of the time those stories are run because of the immediate importance or interest to
Americans and/or their readership. And the stories themselves can also often have a decidedly American bias. That’s
just an opinion. You’re free to disagree. But the point I’m making is that there is one hell of a lot of news happening
in other places that you never find out about in our own media.

So with that rambling preamble, let m
introduce you to a site (one of many out there, but I did find this one
particularly cool) that lists newspaper around the world. Maybe you’re taking a trip to Rio or Copenhagen, Denmark.
Perhaps it would behoove you to see what’s actually happening in those countries. Of course, in many cases you’d have
to speak the language to read the news. But many of these papers offer English version and/or have an English language
paper in general.