They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:
Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)
Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?
We here at Gadling love maps and infographics, so we’re enjoying this tongue-in-cheek US map of stereotypes, ranging from “rainy hipsters” in the Northwest, to “old peeps” down in Florida by blogger and artist Haley Nahman. We’re a bit puzzled over some of the stereotypes such as the “fashion bloggers” in the Carolinas, but can’t argue with the “mountains and meadows and maybe some animals” in Montana and the Dakotas. Hawaii and Alaska aren’t included on this map, but I’d guess something involving “hula and LOST” and “Eskimos and strip clubs.” The artist is a “life of the party” Californian and seems to be partial to food and animal descriptions. Which stereotype of the US do you hail from?
There’s no question that having a baby changes you: your body, your lifestyle, even your shoe size. One thing I hoped not to change altogether was traveling, as long as it was reasonably safe and comfortable for me and the baby. From the beginning of my pregnancy in Istanbul, my doctor has okayed travel, as long as I get up to stretch frequently on flights and try not to overdo it. Most doctors (and mothers) agree that the second trimester is the most comfortable time for pregnant travel but the first trimester can be a good time as well (while you can still squeeze into pre-maternity clothes and walk without waddling) with a little extra precaution and a little more babying (of the mother, of course).
The first trimester of pregnancy is a tricky time for many women: the risk of miscarriage is highest up to 10 weeks, morning sickness is common, and hormones are running wild. It’s too early to tell anyone outside family or close friends and without a visible belly, it’s impossible for strangers to tell as well. At later points in your pregnancy, a baby bump acts as the international symbol for pregnancy and can make it much easier to express your condition when traveling abroad. If you travel in the early months before showing, you may want to learn the local language words for “I’m pregnant” to avoid a Bridget Jones-esque “mit kinder” scene if you need extra help while traveling.
Over this past December, my husband and I were looking for a good trip to take over the holidays, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant. Our location in Istanbul changes the list of short-haul destinations considerably from what we would have considered from New York, and we debated between a warm-weather beach destination (husband) or a snowy and “Christmassy” European city (me). We ruled out Egypt (not warm enough and not Christmassy), New Zealand (even less convenient to get to than from New York), and Sri Lanka (not enough time to plan properly and some risks of disease I couldn’t be vaccinated against). In the end, we chose…Russia.
Going to Russia in winter while pregnant may seem crazy to some, but for me it made sense: Moscow and St. Petersburg are a few hours from Istanbul by direct flight, my husband speaks fluent Russian in case of any problems, and there was no risk of malaria or eating any food that had spoiled in the sun. While it was cold and snowing during our trip and I couldn’t take advantage of some of Russia’s cold-weather remedies like vodka and saunas, a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a perfect mix of exotic and comfortable.
Nearly every cafe had a variety of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages for me to choose from, I even had non-alcoholic sangria, mojitos, and mulled wine in addition to fresh juices and herbal teas. Both cities are beautiful to explore in the snow, with plenty of museums and cafes to warm up in, and the New Year holiday displays made it festive.
If you are planning a trip to a foreign country while pregnant, it makes sense to keep in mind the following guidelines. Always discuss plans with your doctor before booking and err on the side of caution when choosing a destination.
Check airline restrictions – Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly internationally up to 28 weeks, after which you must provide a doctor’s note issued within a week or so of departure. 35 weeks (earlier for women carrying multiples) is the cutoff for nearly all airlines to prevent women from giving birth on board. Most US domestic carriers will allow pregnant women to fly up to the final month; hilariously, Continental will not let women board if “physical signs of labor are present” though they don’t specify what.
Consider travel insurance – If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you may want to look into supplementary medical travel insurance, but be sure it covers pregnancy as many policies do not. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country where English is not spoken, you may want to research the name of a clinic or doctor in case of emergency as well.
Be prepared for jet lag – Before pregnancy, I had little issues with jet lag, trying to get on local time as soon as possible. I discovered when flying back from the US to Turkey that it hits you much harder as a pregnant traveler, especially as you can’t use sleeping pills or alcohol to help you sleep. Factor this into your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to time changes.
Realize your limits have changed – On a usual trip, I’d be up early to walk around a city all day, have a late lunch (or maybe just a big afternoon beer) followed by more museums and exploration, and still be up for checking out the local nightlife. Once pregnant, I required more sleep and three solid meals a day (plus maybe some snacks, I am eating for two!), tired after walking short distances, and was ready to call it a night long before last call. If you have an itinerary, pare it down to the must-sees and double the time to see everything; better to take it easy and enjoy your trip than feel exhausted and sick.
Look for destinations that don’t require vaccinations – One of the first tests your doctor will give you after confirming pregnancy will be for immunizations to hepatitis and rubella. If you haven’t had the vaccines, they will have to wait until after the baby is born as they are not safe for pregnant women. I have not had the hepatitis vaccine yet, and thus have a greater risk of contracting it, which rules out much of Africa and southeast Asia for travel, but also means I must avoid raw vegetables including salad in Istanbul. Most other medications and vaccines commonly given to travelers before going to an area prone to Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow Fever are not advised for pregnant women. But there’s still a big world out there, check the CDC for destination-specific information.
Be extra aware of food and water safety – Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning the average person, as the immune system is suppressed so it doesn’t reject the fetus. This is the reason most pregnant women are told to avoid sushi and food that is not prepared in sanitized conditions. Even adventurous eaters should play it safe while pregnant and drink bottled water when in doubt. I recently had an opportunity to visit Mumbai, India but after consulting with a few friends who had lived there, I worried I’d spend the trip inside my hotel room eating pre-packaged food. Again,
check the CDC and use the same common sense you’d use anytime while traveling: stick with food that is freshly prepared in restaurants full of people.
Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, travelling in the second trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country.Check here for further updates.
In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.
A glimpse at what Fairbanks offers during the winter
We’ve already discussed a number of amazing activities to do whilst in Anchorage during the winter, but what about Alaska’s second largest city? Fairbanks is about as northerly as it gets for a city in the United States, and those that brave the frigid winters here are most certainly a unique breed. But after taking my thin-skinned, Born In The South attitude up for a little Northern Exposure, I realized that the stereotypes are pretty misguided. For one, the days in Fairbanks during late February and early March are ideal in terms of light; the sun’s peeking out from around 8am to 6pm, just like everywhere else in the Lower 48. Those “it’s dark all day!” stories just don’t apply for the majority of the winter.
Oh, and -33 degrees Fahrenheit? It’s cold, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not deadly. The dry air up in these parts makes 33 below feel a lot less gripping than even five below on the East Coast. I wore basic ski gear most days, and while I definitely looked like a wuss-of-a-tourist, I was sufficiently warm. Granted, a heated Columbia Omni-Heat jacket and a stash of hand warmers don’t hurt, but I could’ve survived even without ’em. Fairbanks is a lovely place to visit in the winter, and frankly, it’s a place (and a season) that shouldn’t be missed by adventurers. Read on for a handful of suggestions to keep you entertained while visiting.1) Chena Hot Springs + “The” Ice Museum
It’s hard to believe that this “semi-remote” resort is still technically in Fairbanks. It’s a solid 60 miles from the city center, and you’ll only find it when you run into a dead end at the terminus of Chena Hot Springs Rd. Guests can choose from cabins or traditional hotel rooms, and while the latter isn’t lavish, having a television, hot shower, modern day plumbing and housekeeping is a package of luxuries not usually associated with a place that has hardly any contact with the real world. The star of this show are the hot springs; sprinting out to 146 degree waters in just a swimsuit sounds crazy. But mix in total darkness and a wind chill down to -40, and you’ve got one unmistakably awesome time. If you stay here, visits to the springs are gratis — if not, a $10 day pass is available. Stopping by with snow stacked up around the waters adds a lot of extra flair, and naturally, the Northern Lights make themselves visible on occasion here being that the nearest city lights are miles (and miles) away.
Speaking of the Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks is a great jumping-off point to see ’em. They’re a bit like rainbows and unicorns — it’s possible to see one or the other, but it ain’t everyday that they just pop their head out, yell, and wait for you to pay attention. I tried for three straight nights to see the Northern Lights, and it finally came down to parking my car on a hill in Fox, Alaska (north of Fairbanks) and waiting from 1:00am to 1:40am while fighting back the urge to sink into a deep sleep. At 1:40am, the lights came out to dance for a solid hour, and I spent those 60 minutes firing off long exposure shots on a tripod while freezing and trying to stand still as to not shake the DSLR. It was hands-down one of the most moving experiences of my life, and I’d do it again tomorrow with nary a shred of clothing on me if that’s what it came to. Keyword: persistence. Show up with at least three to five nights dedicated to Aurora hunting, and don’t give up too early!
%Gallery-118384% P.S. – Catch our guide to shooting the Northern Lights here.
Okay, so there’s a qualification here. The weather in Alaska, particularly during the winter, is about as unpredictable as it gets. Visiting one of the more remote villages in Alaska is a real treat, with Coldfoot, Wiseman, Bettles, Bethel and a host of others just a quick flight away. But if you’re looking to make a side trip out of Fairbanks, I’d recommend planning the excursion for early in your vacation, just in case winter weather forces you to cancel and reschedule. Also, you don’t want to get stuck in a place where you can’t access FAI. The more northerly cities are ideal for Northern Light viewing, and the Northern Alaska Tour Company offers quite a few jaunts to these more remote locations. Failing that, there’s a flightseeing adventure over to Denali, but be warned — thick clouds are generally blocking the peak during winter months.
30,000 square feet of classic and collector cars… in Fairbanks? It’s true! The Fountainhead Auto Museum is a real treasure here, being open just a couple of years and packed to the gills with automobiles that are steeped in history. The owners here care deeply about their collection, with over 70 in the stable and around 60 on the floor at any given time. During the winter, it’s open only on Sundays to the public, but tours can easily be arranged. You’ll even find an entire section of cars devoted to Alaska, including what’s believed to be the state’s first-ever automobile. All but three of their cars still runs, and each summer, the owners take ’em for a spin to keep everything lubricated and exercised. During my visit, I was floored with how much history has been maintained with each vehicle, and the condition of the collection is simply outstanding. If you’re a vehicle or history buff, this place is most certainly worth a stop. With just $8 required for entry, it feels a bit like a steal.
I’ve already given you a look at what to expect should you choose to participate in your own dog sled adventure in Fairbanks, but I just can’t help but reiterate how amazing this adventure is. It just feels Alaskan, and considering that both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod go down in the winter months, there’s no better time to start training. Those who can’t get enough during a $90 one-hour tour can sign up for a multiple-day mushing school, after which you may as well go ahead and start shopping for a home in the area. Seriously — fair warning that mushing is addictive. Ride at your own risk.
These are just a few of the many things to do in Fairbanks during the chilly winter months — if you have any recommendations of your own, feel free to share down in comments below!
My trip was sponsored by Alaska Travel Industry Association, but I was free to report as I saw fit. The opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.
In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.
Particularly in the winter, it’s pretty crucial that you stay warm and well fed while in Alaska. We can’t make any promises about the ease of the former, but we’ve got the latter completely under control. Believe it or not, The Last Frontier is a foodie’s paradise, with a vast number of outstanding local eateries to choose from. During my stay in Anchorage, I was told that there were some 16,000 restaurant permits floating around the greater ANC area, which likely means that you’ve more food options than lodging choices. I was also interested to find that a great many of Alaska’s best eateries are tucked into what we Lower 48ers would call “strip malls.” I’ll admit — prior to visiting AK, I’d visited all 49 of the other states, and strip mall food was rarely a hit. Not so in Alaska. Read on to find out five totally delectable places to eat in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas; who knows, your favorite hole-in-the-wall might be in there!
This place didn’t even serve food three years ago, but after being a dedicated brewery for a decade, the owners decided to try their hand at something new. Good thing they did. Located in the tiny town of Fox, Alaska (around 20 minutes outside of Fairbanks), this restaurant and brewery makes its own grub and beer, and it’s easily one of the best meals you’ll find in the greater FAI area. The design of the place is refreshing as well, and the public is welcome to take a tour of the connected brewery at no charge. Looking for a recommendation? The Pub Pommes to get things going, the Halibut Tacos to stuff you and a walk around the brewery to make you feel a little better for overeating.
Perched high atop Alyeska Hotel, this AAA Four Diamond restaurant is a serious treat — from both a visual and deliciousness standpoint. I’ve never been to a place with a more astonishing entrance. In order to get here, you’ll need to step foot into a scenic tram that lifts you up the mountainside in a matter of minutes. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges in Girdwood (~45 miles outside of Anchorage) are downright breathtaking, and the food inside may be even more so. Reserve a table with a windowside view, and feel free to opt for any of the (seriously amazing) fish dishes. You’re in Alaska, after all!
If you’ve heard of one restaurant in Alaska through the so-called grapevine, chances are it’s Moose’s Tooth. Situated in Anchorage, this place is widely known for having the best pizza in the state, maybe even the country. That’s a pretty tall claim, and after trying it for myself, I’d say the place mostly lives up to the hype. The vibe is laid back, the staff is warm and welcoming, and the service is top-notch. The food is truly world class; the only pizzas that I’ve had to rival this one in taste come from (the now defunct) Giordano’s in Chicago and Mellow Mushroom in North Carolina. Make no mistake — the sheer quantity of wild topping options is worth making a trip for, and I can guarantee you won’t leave disappointed.
Thai food… in Fairbanks? It’s true! In fact, Fairbanks is fairly well known for having a staggering array of Thai food options, and Lemongrass is a particularly delectable choice. As I alluded to earlier, this one’s tucked slyly within a strip mall of sorts, so it’s fairly easy to overlook. You’d be smart to look it up, though, as everything at the table I sat at drew wide smiles from those eating. Naturally, the Pad Thai was remarkable, so even if you aren’t feeling too adventurous, you can still snag a great Thai meal in Alaska.
I’ll be honest with you; this one’s worth stopping at just for the view. The food is delicious, mind you, but it’s a bit pricey and not quite as on-point as the grub at Seven Glaciers. But if you’re looking for the most impressive view of Anchorage from an eatery in the city, this is it. It’s located on the 20th (i.e. top) floor of The Captain Cook Hotel, and the overlook of the city (shown above) is simply astonishing. Be prepared to pay said view, though, and make absolutely sure you and your partner save room for the Bananas Foster dessert. That alone is worth making a reservation for.
Obviously, there are a lot more than five great places to eat in the state of Alaska. Southside Bistro, Bear Tooth Theater Pub and Middle Way Cafe all come highly recommended in the Anchorage area, while Big Daddy’s BBQ in Fairbanks calls itself the most northerly place to get southern barbecue. Got any other great recommendations for food in Alaska? Shout ’em out in the comments section below!