Friday, February 27, 2009

Travel Reading Roundup

Photo credit: Tara Donne, Condé Nast Traveler

The small-town daydreaming just won't let up. Below are three things I really enjoyed reading this week. And surprise, surprise, they all are paeans to rural living.

Fairy Land

An exceptionally good article in this month's Conde Nast Traveler about the rustic charm of Northwestern Connecticut, worlds away and yet only a two-hour drive from NYC. Read about treehouse communities, raw milk aficionados and more.

Vespa Vagabond

A friend sent me this blog about a Bay Area photographer who drove cross-country on her Vespa as part of a planned move to NYC. One slight hitch - she fell in love with a small town in Wyoming and decided to live there instead.

Daily Coyote

This is the continuation of Vespa Vagabond. Wondering what a 31-year-old city slicker does after moving to a town of 300 people in Wyoming? Adopt an orphaned coyote and take amazing pictures of him, naturally.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Vote on the Coolest Small Towns in America

Every year, Budget Travel surveys readers to gain ideas for their "Coolest Small Towns" fall issue. Then they filter the candidates using the following definition:

A Coolest Small Town is a town of under 10,000 residents that's beginning to draw attention—and new residents—because of the quality of life, arts, and restaurant scene, or proximity to nature. We want towns with an edge, so think avant-garde galleries, not country stores.

As you can see, I'm not alone in hankering for small town life with a slice of sophistication. Nor am I the only one who believes it exists!

We are now at the next step in selection process, where readers get to vote on the finalists. There are currently 22 towns in the running for 2009's Top Ten Coolest Small Towns, and I've only been to one: the wily, mountaintop bohemia that is Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

So my vote is no surprise. But yours is. Check out the finalists - from Silverton, Oregon, to Owego, New York - and place your vote here.

p.s. Anyone been to Onancock, Virginia? I feel sheepish that I'm not familiar with the lone candidate from my home state!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Promiscuous Girl: My Back-to-Back Upcoming Dates

Time to stop fawning over certain cities - and actually go on some real dates!

I am positively giddy to announce that I will be visiting my top geographical crush - Santa Fe, New Mexico - in just a week and a half. This will mark our second date, the first being more than a decade ago when I was young and naive and had no idea what I wanted in a place to live. Now, we will meet as consenting adults.

Will there still be an attraction? TBD. In the interest of full disclosure, I will also be flirting with Albuquerque and smaller enclaves in the Northern New Mexico area. My yearning for wide open spaces needs to be put through a reality check.

Immediately after, I will be heading to Austin, Texas, for a first date. Comparison shopping at its finest. Both cities are known for being progressive, artsy and eccentric, as you can tell from the slogans ("Keep Austin Weird" and "The City Different", respectively.) Both cities are a cheap, non-stop flight from LA. And of course, because they are located in neighboring states that border Mexico, there are some cultural and regional similarities. Let's just say my new cowgirl boots go with either place.

But one major difference is that Austin is more than 10 times larger than Santa Fe - 1.5 million people versus 75,000. I'm hoping the contrast will (pardon the pun) help me nail down my size requirements.

Yes, it may seem a little loose to go straight from one date to another. But life is busy. I can only take one week off work, and that means it's time for a little speed dating.

Will lightning strike in either place? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Final Impressions of Jax

I am heading back to California this weekend, so it's time to review my date with Jacksonville. Here are some observations...

Abbreviated – Locals don't say Jacksonville. They say Jax. Strangely, using the nickname immediately boosted my fondness for the place.

– I find it puzzling that I couldn’t get a direct flight to Jax when it’s the most populous city in Florida (1.4 million) and the 12th largest in the US. What gives? Perhaps Orlando, two hours away and home to a certain mouse house, has stolen its thunder?

Spread Out
– I thought LA was a sprawl, but Jax eclipses it. An oft-cited factoid is that it’s largest city in the US by land mass. Fortunately, you can take a major interstate highway (95 runs N/S; 10 runs E/W) to nearly every corner, though, so getting around is easy.

– Jax has many different sides. A sleek, riverfront downtown with high-rise towers. Older neighborhoods with live oaks and Spanish moss. Vanilla suburbs. Beach towns both tattered and upscale. Backcountry creeks and swamps. Very hard to generalize.

Large Middle Class
– From what I’ve seen, the low cost of living, diversified economy and abundance of affordable, decent housing makes for a thriving middle class here.

Militarized – With a Naval Air Station, a Naval Ship Base and a Marine Base, Jax has the third largest military presence after Norfolk, Virginia, and San Diego, California. The military is the largest employer and contributes $6.1 billion to the economy here.

Damn Cold – Jax is supposed to have a humid subtropical climate. Ha! It’s been in the 30s, 40s and 50s the last month due to the cold front sweeping the East Coast. Everyone says this is highly unusual, but it shows North Florida is affected by continental weather.

– As I mentioned in my last post, you’re not in Jax if you don’t see water. Thus, driving over countless bridges is a daily experience. One of the city’s nicknames is “Home of Seven Bridges,” as there are seven iconic bridges crossing the wide St. Johns River.

As for our chemistry, I'd have to rate it as purely platonic. No sparks. No signs of a future together. But that's okay. I have more dates lined up. Next up is Austin, Texas, the first weekend of March, and I'll admit - I already have butterflies.