Ricky Gervais’ travel show “An Idiot Abroad” hits US TV

Fresh off his Golden Globes controversy, British comedian Ricky Gervais’ latest project has hit US television. An Idiot Abroad is a travel show for non-travelers, featuring radio producer and comedy savant Karl Pilkington visiting the seven wonders of the world. If you’ve seen HBO’s animated podcast The Ricky Gervais show, you’re already familiar with Pilkington’s moronic and occasionally brilliant insights. After expressing little interest in global travel, Gervais and his comedy partner Steven Merchant decided to send Karl around the world (Merchant hopes to expand his horizons, Gervais just sees it as an elaborate practical joke).

In the first episode, Karl travels to China and expresses bafflement with Chinese street food, toilets, and even the Great Wall. The show’s funniest moments come when he experiences moments of culture shock and weirdness common to even the most seasoned travelers. I’d love to see Karl’s take on general travel problems – airport security, flying, and getting lost – as well as more of his interactions with local people around the world. He seems curious and open to the world, and has written a companion book for the series, which will culminate in an eighth episode with his thoughts and impressions about his travels.

An Idiot Abroad airs Saturdays at 10pm on the Science Channel and is available for download on iTunes. The next episode takes Karl to India to see the Taj Mahal.

Photo and video courtesy of The Science Channel.

Vote for the new Seven Wonders of Nature

A few years back there was an organized effort to select a New Seven Wonders of the World, which resulted in a list of seven amazing places that joined the Great Pyramids on a modern list of spectacular destinations. Now, a similar effort is being made to select a New Seven Wonders of Nature as well.

The process began not long after naming the New Seven Wonders, with more than 440 locations, in 200 countries being nominated. That list was eventually whittled down to 77 locations for the second round of voting, which resulted in 28 finalists which are now being considered.

Amongst the finalist are such iconic places as The Amazon Rainforest in South America, the Grand Canyon in the U.S., and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Those locations are well known and are likely to earn a spot on the list, although there are a few destinations that are just as spectacular, but are lesser known to the genearl public. Those places include Milford Sound in New Zealand, the Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan, and Jeju Island in Korea.

The organizers of the competition have made it easy to cast your votes for the New Seven Wonders of Nature, but just in case you need a little help, they’ve created a video showing you just how to make your selections. Voting will continue in 2011, with the officiall annoucement expected to come on November 11. (11/11/11)

If I were pressed to make my choices, my Seven Wonders would include The Amazon, The Great Barrier Reef, The Galapagos Islands, The Grand Canyon, Kilimanjaro, Angel Falls, and Jeju Island. What are yours picks?

Iraq opens Najaf airport, hopes to spur tourism

The Dalmatian Coast and Marrakech are so 2007 — you aren’t a real hipster traveler until you’ve visited Iraq’s newly accesible tourist destination: Najaf.

Officially opening its doors this month, Al-Hamza airport was just revamped by Kuwaiti investors and is now geared towards bringing in tourist dollars. Najaf, a southern city in Iraq, is home to the shrine of Iman Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and apparently attracts over nine million pilgrims each year. Their hope is that this airport will increase tourism by an additional ten percent.

Know what else might increase your tourism? Not being at war.

But perhaps this is an indication of the state of affairs in the war stricken country. As a country, when you’re able to concentrate some effort on development, infrastructure and tourism instead of security and defense, perhaps things are looking a little brighter.

As a destination, Iraq has plenty to offer. Before the war, the Antiquities Museum was supposed to be among the richest in the world, while what remains of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are allegedly in Al-Hillah.

Given the current conflict, I’m still a little hesitant to book my trip out to Iraq. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to take my children to see what’s left of Babylon.

Seven (new) natural wonders of the world: cast your vote!

The seven wonders of the world were one of my earliest inspirations for travel and learning. Seven is a manageable number, and it seemed plausible to see them all. Well, evidently there’s more than seven wonders, since earlier this year seven new ones were chosen. Over 100 million people participated in selecting the new destinations. Among the new person-made structures are Machu Picchu, Peru, and Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue. (The pyramids of Giza are the only structures carried over from the original list).

Now it’s time to nominate the seven new wonders of the natural world. Currently there are around 300 suggestions from 6 continents. Beginning in January 2009, people will be able to vote via mobile phone, Internet or telephone.

Original wonders include the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, and the Grand Canyon. What would you choose?

Thanks to munkeygirl on Flickr for the photo of the Great Barrier Reef.

Taj Mahal Did Reopen, but Watch Yourself in Agra

A little less than a month ago, Justin blogged about that the Taj Mahal closing due to the threat of religious riots in Agra. At the time, it was unclear about how long the Taj Mahal would close. It opened a few days later, although it seems that Agra remains a city where you should watch your back. Not in a totally paranoid kind of way, but like you would in any large city where the tourist dollar is highly regarded and the general population is relies heavily on that money.

When I was looking for info to see if the Taj Mahal had indeed reopened like I heard it had from a tech guy in India who was helping me get my computer in shape, I found this article that was posted just today. Wow, timely. According to the news, two Japanese female tourists were drugged and raped last week in Agra, something, of course, folks in India are appalled by. The men have been arrested.

Like Justin, the only time I ever felt a bit on edge when traveling in India was when we went to the Taj Mahal. The slew of people trying to sell you stuff between the taxi park and the Taj Mahal entrance is a bit overwhelming. We just kept plowing on through them though. I didn’t feel like anyone was going to hurt me, but simple nos and moving on wasn’t as effective as I would have liked.

Once inside the Taj Mahal, the experience turned into pure delight. Its status as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World is totally deserving. If you go, hire a guide because you’ll find out things about the architecture and history you might miss otherwise. Also, spring for the photographer. We didn’t and I regret it. First of all, getting a photographer to snap photos of you isn’t expensive, but once I found out how cheap it was, we didn’t have time to get the pictures taken and developed by the time we left. One favorite shot is standing in just the right spot so it looks like you are touching the top of the Taj Mahal with your finger. This photo by premasagar on Flickr is another optical illusion option.