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Alistair's Traveler Profile

Current City: Alexandria, VA

Member Since: July 17, 2002

Last Login: January 30, 2013

Travel Quote

Back, you robots! Nobody ruins my family vacation but me, and... maybe the boy! - Homer J. Simpson, 2006

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My Destination Reviews & Ratings

This user rates Paris
Have been to Paris three times now. Can't say I fell in love with it, but it's definitely an amazing city. Do all the touristy stuff -- stroll along the Seine, climb the Eiffel Tower, hit up the Louvre, visit Versailles, head up to Montmartre -- but also plan to get off-the-beaten track to discover hidden Paris. Looking back, on all my visits, I wish I'd known some locals to show me the best bistros, clubs, and galleries. I feel like that may be the secret. People often claim that Parisians can be a bit haughty, but I think if you make an effort to get into their heads, you will discover what makes it such a magical place in which to live (also, speak the lingo, even just the basics!).
This user rates Mumbai (Bombay)
I was in Mumbai over ten years ago so bet things have changed a LOT, but I loved the energy and atmosphere of the place. The area around the Gateway of India archway was always bustling plus had loads of good restaurants, hotels, and cafes. We stayed at the Salvation Army hostel for a couple of nights, which was cheap but pretty grungy (I got bed bugs). My advice: pay a little extra for a hotel with clean sheets and air-conditioning. One fun thing about hostel was this is where Bollywood producers recruit extras when they need Westerners in a scene (my friend got a part in Hero Hindustani as "rude Westerner in queue"!). The boat ride out to Elephanta Island was a fun trip -- the grottoes and carvings here are amazing, though watch out for aggressive monkeys. Take a walk along the promenade in the evening and enjoy the crowds and sunset.
This user rates Grand Canyon
It's been said many times before, but visiting the Grand Canyon is every bit as exhilarating as its world wonder status suggests. The South Rim is definitely very busy and overrun with sightseers, so best advice is to pack some hiking boots (and water!) to hike one of the many trails into the canyon. The Bright Angel is the park's most popular and accessible route, bur for that reason does get crowded. I'd suggest catching the shuttle or walking the rim to the South Kaibab Trail, which offers stellar views and the prefect picnic spot at the Kaibab Plateau. Take your time coming up out of the canyon, and just be sure you carry enough water for the conditions (it gets hot down there -- I'm speaking from personal experience as my hiking companion got heat stroke and dehydration after we hiked down to the campground at Phantom Ranch!).
This user rates Amelia Island
Have been to Amelia Island three separate times, so obviously a solid four stars for me. We have always stayed at the Amelia Island Plantation Resort, which is a lovely property with everything you'd need in a vacation (albeit a bit spendy; shop at the local Harris Teeter to keep food costs down). Thing I really like about Amelia Island is the long stretch of near-deserted beach and lack of any significant high-rise development along the shore. Head up to Fernandina Beach for town-based activities and amenities, though my guess is you'll spend most of your time lazing on the beach or by the pool.
This user rates Disney World
Caveat: I visited Walt Disney World for a conference, so I really need to go back to experience it properly with my kids, no doubt a whole other experience. The Good: enjoyed boating on Bay Lake (in front of Contemporary Resort) and seeing all the amazing birdlife; the rides at Hollywood Studios are pretty awesome. The Bad: I found the Disney experience to be a bit heavy-handed and was ready to escape after a few days! If I go back, I'd choose to stay on the Disney campus again as it was all very convenient and leisurely with the shuttles, monorail, etc.
This user rates Venice
Venice is everything you'd expect (and even more so when you have some of those narrow little alleyways to yourself). My wife and I went in November and it just felt so magical, albeit a little chilly with the cold winds blowing off the lagoon. We spent much of our time wandering and ducking into little cafes and trattorias when hunger or fatigue struck. I really liked the art at the Peggy Guggenheim House, plus I'd highly recommend taking a tour at Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Here, you'll learn about masterpieces from Italian greats including Titian and Tintoretto. Loads of great romantic places to dine; our favorite was the Trattoria Corte Sconta, a mostly-seafood place. We stayed on the island of Lido, where you can find slightly cheaper hotel rates (especially out of season). It's not too bad getting to and fro on the water buses.
This user rates Jasper National Park
Make time to visit remote Jasper and you'll not only get to drive the awe-inspiring Icefields Parkway, you'll discover a town with more of a frontier vibe than dressed-up, touristy Banff and Lake Louise to the south. There's not a whole lot to do in town, though that's precisely the point, as many people you meet here will be gearing up for an expedition into the amazing wilds of Jasper National Park. The seven-day Skyline Trail is a once-in-a-lifetime route that'll take you through grizzly country, high along ridges and past sparkling Maligne Lake. Of course, there are plenty of other great day and overnight hikes. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is everything you'd imagine in a Canadian Rockies retreat -- and then some! Go in winter and highlights include skiing at friendly Marmot Basin plus ice hikes through moonlit Maligne Canyon.
This user rates Vancouver
Some sections of Vancouver are a bit sketchy late at night, including downtown's Granville Street entertainment drag, which surprised me given Vancouver's overall wholesome, good-living rep. That aside, it's a fun city in a fantastic setting. Stanley Park lives up to its billing; rent bikes to cruise the trail that rings the peninsula and pack a picnic for lunch in the park. Granville Island is fun for coffee-fueled shopping and people-watching. I also rate the Museum of Anthropology, which is on the campus of the University of British Columbia (bit of a hike, but worth the trip; if you're feeling bold, there's a picturesque nude beach off the back of the museum!). UBC also offers summer accommodation if you're looking for something a bit more affordable than what you might find closer to town (
This user rates Toronto
I thought Toronto looked a little rundown and frayed when I first visited, though it seems to be a city of multiple parts rather than someplace with an identifiable center (the towering CN Tower, notwithstanding). I enjoyed visiting the Distillery District, a revitalized area of red-brick grain warehouses that now house coffeeshops, artists' studios, and hipster bars. Talking of booze, the Steam Whistle Brewery is fun for a tour (do that instead of wasting your money going up the CN Tower). Kensington Market up toward the university is a fun place to browse and stroll, as is the big indoor market at St. Lawrence Market. The nearby Hothouse Cafe does a pretty good jazz brunch that'll fill you up before you go explore. In the summer, I'd recommend a sailing trip out to the Toronto Islands or renting a bike to cruise the waterfront trails.
This user rates Chattanooga
Chattanooga often wins plaudits as one of the U.S.'s most livable cities, although, after having visited a few times now, I'm not totally sold on its charms. The downtown area is very manageable and features family-friendly attractions like the aquarium (A+!) and Creative Discovery Museum. There's plenty of good eateries nearby; my two favorites are Table 2 and St. John's, both of which serve well-prepared nouveau American fare in atmospheric settings (try the Hot Rock fish flight at Table 2!). The hilltop Hunter Museum is also very cool. I haven't really been out in Chattanooga but have heard it's fun. By all accounts, the city has really flourished in the past decade, though I think its downtown still suffers from a lack of life and street traffic after hours. This is very much a driving city, which shows in all the traffic on I-24.
This user rates Santa Fe
My abiding memory of Santa Fe was drinking cocktails on the rooftop patio at the Coyote Cafe and looking out in the bluest, most vivid evening skies you can imagine. Yes, it's a Santa Fe cliche, but itall felt very Georgia O'Keeffe. Everything else to the downtown area around Santa Fe Plaza felt a bit fake and glossy -- lots of great art to browse and legions of rich-looking boomers and artsy types seemed to be the flavor. It gets a little grungier as you head away from the center. The Cowgirl BBQ on S. Guadalupe St. is a nice casual spot for quesadillas, wings, and beers in beer garden. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, located close to the Santa Fe Railyard Park and about a 15-minute walk from the downtown area. Good choice for lodging.
This user rates Amsterdam
Despite its progressive, anything-goes reputation, I found Amsterdam to be just a little too sleazy and grimy for my tastes. The area around the main train station is quite sketchy, and wandering through the red-light district basically left me feeling quite depressed after seeing men in raincoats leave the brothels and bored, lingerie-clad women standing in window boxes. There are some good clubs, bars, and an amazing variety of restaurants (and "coffeehouses"), so you are assured a good time if you know what you're looking for. Of course, it's not all about low culture as you can visit the Anne Frank House and explore some amazing museums like the Stedelijk and Van Gogh and Rembrandt collections. My advice would be to base yourself in the much prettier Hague and visit Amsterdam during a day trip. It's easy to get there on the train.
This user rates Hong Kong
My on-the-ground knowledge of Hong Kong is a little dated, but the city's hustle and bustle and dramatic setting is still very much unchanged. I loved riding the Peak Tram to get to the top of Victoria Peak and the amazing, amazing view of all those skyscrapers. There's a trail that circles the mountain that offers more great views of Central as well as the islands on the backside of Hong Kong island. Stanley Market is fun for a browse, though it's really quite touristy. Head over to Kowloon side on the Star Ferry and just wander the hectic streets filled with dim-sum joints, electronics stores, and even high-end brand name outlets. If you can, plan a trip out to Lamma, where you can find a few quiet-ish beaches as well as fishing villages serving yummy seafood.
This user rates Banff National Park
This is a stunning part of the world, with the town of Banff a mere pebble amidst a sea of wonders. Whether you arrive by car from Calgary or on the train that comes from Edmonton or Vancouver, the first glimpse of the towering Rocky Mountains peaks is breathtaking. Be sure to plan some time to get on the trails away from the roadside vistas and mountain overlooks. This place gets really, really crowded yet less than 5 percent of visitors stray more than a mile from their vehicles. Mount Royal Hotel, right on Banff Avenue, is a good choice for lodging, as is the Buffalo Mountain Lodge (though this is a little out of town). I've been in both summer and winter, and each season presents its own obvious delights. Pack those hiking boots! Evelyns in Banff is a nice spot for a coffee and a pastry before you go and explore.
This user rates Seattle
I enjoyed certain parts of Seattle, including the Underground Seattle tour and Pike Place Market, but overall left feeling that it was surprisingly dingy and rundown. This was a few years ago, so things may have changed, but I didn't ever feel all that comfortable in the downtown area. We never went up the Space Needle, which seemed like a huge ripoff; you can get some equally impressive views of the Space Needle, city skyline, and surrounding mountains and Puget Sound waterways from Kerry Park, a tiny little patch on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill with a killer panorama. Restaurants worth checking out include Wild Ginger (downtown) or the Agua Verde Cafe, which has an outdoor deck overlooking Portage Bay -- great for a summer cocktail!
This user rates Sevilla
Beautiful city to visit. We were here in the week before the big Semana Santa celebrations and there was such a great festival atmosphere. Highlights included the cathedral and views out over the city; the beautiful gardens and ornate archways and mosaics of the Alcazar; and wandering the narrow alleyways of the old Latin Quarter in search of great tapas. I wasn't expecting much from our visit to the bullring, the Plaza del Toros, but found the museum tour to be really interesting plus the stillness and vivid colors of the actual ring (without the crowds) to be quite moving. Top city, plus a great jumping-off point for other Andalusian towns including Cordoba and Granada.
This user rates London
London is unquestionably cool and jam-packed with things to do, whatever your interests, though it is expensive and can feel overwhelming. Best way to get a sense of the city and its different boroughs is to walk as much as you can. One of my favorite walks is to cross the Thames from the Houses of Parliament and walk along the South Bank past the Globe Theatre to the Tate Modern. Cross the pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral (not too far away, off Cheapside, there's a lovely pub called the Old Doctor Butler's Head). Another fun trip is the ferry down to Greenwich, which is also a good place to stay. Buy an Oyster card online ahead of time to save money on Tube and bus rides. If you make it out of Zone 1, try the pizza at La Porcetta or vegetarian Indian of Jai Krishna on the same street in Finsbury Park. Yum!
This user rates Cape Cod
We took our young son to Cape Cod one summer and discovered the hard way that there's few options here if the weather turns, as we did during a freak June Nor'easter. The good stuff is all pretty obvious: beautiful beach and crashing waves at Cape Cod National Seashore; kid-friendly shallows and tidepools on the bay side of the Cape at Skaket Beach; bike rides up the Cape Cod Rail-Trail. We did our best to occupy ourselves during the storm, but could only muster a disappointing trip to the Cape's one overpriced indoor swimming pool and a rain-soaked outing for ice cream in Chatham. We stayed at the well-situated Anchorage on the Cove in Eastham, which offers fairly basic cottage-style lodging with amenities including kayaks and canoes to explore the salt marshes right in front of the property.
This user rates Key West
My wife and I honeymooned in Key West and really enjoyed the town's artistic, quirky vibe. I thought the Mallory Square and Duval Street area was too tacky and overcrowded, especially when the cruise ships disgorged their day-trip passengers. This was the most obvious disappointment of our visit. We stayed at an excellent guesthouse called the Mermaid & Alligator, near the Hemingway House, which is also just round the corner from a fabulous restaurant called Seven Fish (we were there three nights and ate here twice!). Other highlights included cruising around the backstreets on bikes and out to places like the beach at Fort Zachary, plus the sailing trip we took to kayak the offshore mangroves and snorkel above nurse sharks and other exotic fish. The sunset during our sail home was a photo-op for the ages!
This user rates Boston
I feel like I've been doing something wrong, but Boston has never really done it for me as a place to visit. I find the downtown area to be a grimy and grey and missing a lot of the historic charm for which Beantown is always lauded. OK, the neighborhoods around Cambridge, Somerville, and Back Bay have their charm, but as an out-of-towner I've never really found it a welcoming place to visit. Faneuil Hall just seemed crowded and over-touristy, an East Coast version of Fisherman's Wharf.
This user rates Quebec City
I was only in Quebec City for less than a day before heading up the St. Lawrence to Charlevoix, but its charms grow on you almost immediately. Think little old French-Canadian ladies walking around in fur coats, hipster twenty-somethings dressed to the nines, and patisseries and cafes that beg you stop and smell the coffee (Paillard on Rue St-Jean is one of the best). The narrow, cobblestone streets wind down from the iconic Chateau Frontenac to the historic Basse-Ville, where you'll find art galleries and a street filled with souvenir shops and ice-cream parlors. I felt like I managed to get a pretty good taste of the city in a few short hours, so would consider this a great place for a weekend escape rather than full-fledged vacation (that said, the province of Quebec is packed with highlights, including some banner national parks).
This user rates Washington, DC
I have been living in the DC area for over ten years and find it's a great place to be, given all the events, museums, and eclectic international flavors. The National Mall is obviously a great first stop, with my favorite museums being the Sackler (Asia art), Museum of Natural History Museum, and Museum of the American Indian (kids will love the ImagiNations zone). The zoo is also a perennial favorite. Away from the Mall, there are loads happening 'hoods with some fun restaurants and bars (U and P sts. are really fun, as is the area up around Columbia Heights). If you can, go for some local flavors too in places like Falls Church's Eden Center (Vietnamese pho and lemongrass chicken; nearby, XO Taste serves up tasty and cheap Hong Kong-style dishes).
This user rates New York City
Like many, I have visited New York City in various guises over the years: dirtbag student backpacker, young couple in love, father of young kids. And I think that's what is so great about NYC: its limitless capacity for surprise. My favorite thing to do is basically wander aimlessly and simply find something to do that feels right at the time. For specific recommendations, I like Top of the Rock for the views, the Staten Island ferry for skyline photo-ops, and strolling the avenues of grand apartments on either side of Central Park (you can but dream, right?!). The Affinia 50 hotel in Midtown is a good choice for families (there's also an excellent Japanese restaurant nearby, Seo Sushi). For something a bit cheaper, try the whimsical Pod Hotel (also Midtown), or the huge Hostelling International hostel on Amsterdam Avenue. Enjoy!
This user rates Orlando
My first and, to date, only visit to Orlando was limited to the Disney World campus, so I can't speak to whatever lay beyond the House of the Mouse. My impressions were quite mixed. The arrival at Orlando airport and then being immersed by the whole Disney magic spiel felt overbearing. Once there, I slowly got on my fun face, enjoying the roller coasters and rides at Disney's Hollywood Studios, boating and seeing the wildlife on Bay Lake by Disney's Contemporary Resort, and catching one of the nighttime spectaculars in Disney World. And then I left feeling slightly exhausted about how staged and completely artificial everything here felt. As I said, this wasn't a trip where I can claim to have experienced all there is to see and do around Orlando, but even just scratching the surface made me want to put the Band-Aid back on again.
This user rates Charlotte
I was in Charlotte for a big conference, so can't claim to have experienced all that there is to see and do in the city. Given the way that the Bank of America headquarters towers over all the other buildings in the downtown business district, this is quite an impressive landmark. However, it's also perhaps indicative of my lingering poor impression of Charlotte, as the downtown area felt completely dead and soulless once all the office workers headed back out to the suburbs around 6pm. To get away from the city's distinctly corporate vibe, I'd head to the South End district, which lies on the other side of the I-277 freeway loop. This growing arts-and-entertainment enclave is home to once-disused mills and warehouses that have since been converted into hipster bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and galleries.

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My Travel Questions

What's the best hike for kids in Yellowstone? | Asked on on January 19, 2012 at 08:21 PM | 1 response

Where's the best city to experience July 4th in the U.S.? | Asked on on June 17, 2011 at 07:33 PM | 6 responses

My Travel Answers

transportation services to the Deaville Beach Resort | Answered on on February 13, 2013 at 01:31 PM

Do I need a visa to travel to Australia? I am a US citizen | Answered on on February 13, 2013 at 01:26 PM

Gray whale watching on March 15-17 | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 01:15 PM

best of san francisco and wine country in 6 days | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 01:06 PM

Once in Colorado best family places for camping | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 11:10 AM

most scenic driving from ky to colorado | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Want to photograph the Northern Lights. Best place & best month? | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 10:42 AM

what to see on a roadtrip from nebraska to north carolina | Answered on on January 30, 2013 at 10:21 AM

What is there to do in Guam? | Answered on on January 11, 2013 at 02:58 PM

Where are we most likely to see Whooping Cranes other than at Aransas? | Answered on on January 11, 2013 at 02:45 PM

Where is the best camp site in gros morne | Answered on on January 09, 2013 at 01:28 PM

Are the hotels in the Turquoise coast large enough for families? | Answered on on January 09, 2013 at 01:02 PM

what outdoor activities are there in winter in calgary? | Answered on on January 09, 2013 at 09:26 AM

Sea World in January | Answered on on January 08, 2013 at 02:45 PM

accomodations within the allegheny forest? | Answered on on December 19, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Fly coach or business class to India? | Answered on on December 13, 2012 at 08:44 AM

Any Railway travelers out there? | Answered on on December 12, 2012 at 10:17 AM

vegas on a budget | Answered on on November 21, 2012 at 01:56 PM

I want to travel to Canada next year with friends we needed more info. | Answered on on November 21, 2012 at 01:41 PM

Where is the nudist beach in Cairn? | Answered on on November 21, 2012 at 01:02 PM

What is there to do in New Orleans for bachelorette party? | Answered on on October 29, 2012 at 01:54 PM

what season is best for Aurora Viewing in YN? | Answered on on October 22, 2012 at 03:26 PM

Is there a resort inside the park that has group programs for kids? | Answered on on October 17, 2012 at 01:21 PM

what is the best resort in the tulum area | Answered on on October 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM

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Likes and Dislikes

This user has not liked or disliked any attractions, hotels or ski resorts.

My Comments

@joseph the carpenter You're right, a lot has changed since I wrote this piece in 2010, particularly in Glasgow! Must confess to growing up as a 'Gers fan, so have felt their demise. Great to see Celtic doing so well in the Champions League this year, though. Would've loved to have been at Parkhead for their win against Barcelona!

Posted on Top Ten World Football (aka Soccer) Cities | January 30, 2013 at 01:13 PM | | 21 Comments

Thanks for your comment, @Baz81. Yes, QPR is now an addition to the EPL's roster of London clubs, though it wasn't when this article was first published in 2010. And for how much longer QPR will be there remains to be seen! ;)

Posted on Top Ten World Football (aka Soccer) Cities | December 19, 2012 at 12:55 PM | | 21 Comments

@The Voice of Reason Milan did make our list at #2. Manchester and Liverpool both ran London close, though we felt London deserved its place both as a world-class travel destination and the number of top-level clubs scattered around the capital (bear in mind, this article was published in 2010, too, so the soccer landscape in each of the listed cities has changed somewhat in the ensuing years!). Thanks for commenting!

Posted on Top Ten World Football (aka Soccer) Cities | July 25, 2012 at 01:01 PM | | 21 Comments

Gary, I did some online sleuthing using Google Earth based on info you gave, and I think the mountain you're looking at is Mount Robie Reid. This 6,873-foot peak lies to the northeast of the Golden Ears cluster of summits and overlooks Stave Lake. More info here:

Posted on Mountains of the World Photo Gallery | April 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM | | 3 Comments

Liz, sells a few audio CDs with Italian Christmas music, including Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas" (, an "Italian Christmas" compilation (, and an instrumental version of some of the season's most popular songs in "Christmas in Italy" 9 Links included above have sample audio files.

Posted on Italy Photo Gallery | December 14, 2011 at 08:38 AM | | 6 Comments

Simon, while I agree there's no denying Liverpool and Manchester are legendary footballing towns, London's selection came down to more than numbers and stadium capacities (the article was also written pre Torres' move to Chelsea and when West Ham were still in the Prem). London is also one of the world's great travel destinations, a key focus of the article. And in fairness, not sure you can characterize Arsenal or Chelsea fans as constituting a footballing minority. Thanks for the feedback!

Posted on Top Ten World Football (aka Soccer) Cities | November 30, 2011 at 10:53 AM | | 21 Comments

Time to get on the river!

Posted on The Most Scenic Rafting Rivers | August 25, 2011 at 11:13 PM | | 1 Comment

Hi Tasha, you can contact Wilderness at the Smokies at following link: (Their number is: 877-325-9453.) Here's a link to a review of the property on

Posted on Top 10 Water Park Resorts Photo Gallery | June 08, 2011 at 10:08 AM | | 3 Comments

I like that photo

Posted on Top Ten Day Hikes in the Southeast | March 31, 2011 at 11:40 PM | | 1 Comment

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My Favorite Articles

Mixing Might, Right, and Wrong

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Do recent headlines have you second-guessing your family's Mexico vacation? The good news is, you're not alone. The better news is, Mexico is still a safe destination for the savvy traveler. Follow our advice for a stress-free vacation south of the border.

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Before you pack up and head into the great unknown, it's best to do a little research about your far-flung destination and jet off with just a bit of preparation. Here is our guide on pre-trip prep, what to look out for while you're there, and how to protect yourself.

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West Sweden's Koster Islands have long been a summer haven for Swedes. Now, with the designation of the waters around these islands as the country's first marine national park, the locals' secret is out. We sent one of our writers to find out more.

Added on June 28, 2011 | from

Rain, wind, or shine, rip Southern Scotland’s 220-mile knobby-perfect network of forest trails

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