Mmmm, now that's eel!

If you're planning to be in Japan in time for the eel-eating season, be careful if someone offers you an Unagi Nobori.

That's Japanese for "surging eel," or "sudden spike," depending upon who's doing the translating. It's a drink made by Japan Tobacco Inc. that just went on the market in anticipation of the annual eel season.

The yellow, non-alcoholic drink is being marketed as a nutritional supplement carbonated beverage. It contains extracts from the head and bones of eel and five vitamins -- A, B1, B2, D and E -- contained in the fish. Consumers will be slurping it up on the next traditional eel day, August 5 this year.
Unagi (Japanese eel) recipes
Japanese fish
• Run Your Own Unagi Restaurant (game)
Dowd's Guides


Introducing the Urban Bourbon Trail

William M. Dowd photo

LOUISVILLE, KY -- The American Whiskey Trail, which was created by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) several years ago, covers a meandering path connecting places in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

However, more localized trails now are popping up. The Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau has just launched what it calls the "Urban Bourbon Trail." And it, in turn, was created to complement the Kentucky Bourbon Trail recently designated by the Kentucky Distiller’s Association and Kentucky Department of Tourism.

The American Whiskey Trail covers a range of distilleries, historic hostelries, museums and other tourist sites. The Urban Bourbon Trail directs visitors to eight Louisville establishments that feature Kentucky whiskey, most of them in the city's vibrant 4th Street Live! district. Five are in hotels.

The Urban Bourbon Trail has a free passport program you can pick up at the city visitors center, 4th Street and Jefferson (502/379-6109). You can tour the entire Trail over any period of time you want, get the passport stamped when you visit each location and purchase a drink or food there, then redeem the completed passport at the visitors center for a T-shirt and a chance at a premium giveaway.

The Trail spots:

• Seelbach Hotel: This is a meticulously restored example of the golden age of grand hotels. Check my story "The grande dames of Southern hospitality" for a closer look at the historic spot.

• Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar & Lounge: A logical name for a city that hosts the Kentucky Derby. It's an old-fashioned style place, located in the Galt House Hotel & Suites and offering 165 varieties of bourbon.

• Proof on Main: This establishment is, in a sense, 5-in-1. It's part of the fascinating 21c Museum, a combination hotel, restaurant, lounge and museum housed in five historic buildings. Go here for my story and photos.

• Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge: You actually can get a lot more than Maker's Mark bourbon in this lively spot in the heart of the Fourth Street Live! entertainment neighborhood. Tends toward a younger crowd taking advantage of the looong bar for conversation.

• Blu: Located in the Downtown Marriott hotel, this contemporary spot offers dozens of bourbons, bourbon flights and bourbon-infused appetizers.

• The Brown: This landmark hotel built in the 1920s is a Louisville landmark with a glitzy lobby bar.

• Park Place on Main: A private line of Woodford Reserve bourbons is among the many offerings -- including very nice bourbon flights -- in the lounge, along with all sorts of bourbon-infused appetizers.

• Bourbons Bistro: The only stop on the Trail that is outside downtown, but that doesn't mean it's not worth traveling two miles to see Historic Frankfort Avenue. The spot offers 130 bourbons and in 2006 was named Whisky Magazine's “American Icon of Whiskey” among bars and restaurants.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
• Tale tales and tastings on the Whiskey Trail
Hiking the American Whiskey Trail
Dowd's Guides

Brit pubs will have to offer shorter wines

Brits and visitors alike will be seeing new offerings in UK pubs and restaurants that serve wine.

The change: Addition of a smaller, 125ml serving to go with the usual 175 and 250ml sizes.

The change is a result of a campaign by Greg Mulholland, Member of Parliament for North Leeds, who introduced a Private Member’s Bill in January that requires all pubs to offer the smaller serve.

“In the last few years there has been a clear move to ‘trade up’ wine glass measures and phase out smaller glass sizes, the result being that often drinkers do not know how many units of alcohol they are consuming," Mulholland told the Morning Advertiser, a publication that calls itself "Officially the pub trade's favourite."

“Requiring pubs and bars to sell smaller wine glasses, as well as the larger sizes, would increase consumer choice at the same time as being a simple and effective method of increasing alcohol awareness and encouraging responsible drinking, and I am very pleased that the government has recognized this.”

Mark Hastings, communications director for the British Beer & Pub Association, claims requiring pubs to offer smaller measures will have “little or no impact on the quantity they drink, but would have an impact on their enjoyment.”

He noted this by saying that because buying in 125ml serves encourages people to re-order quickly -– meaning they purchase 250ml -- rather than “linger” with a 175ml glass. And, he said, 20-30% of wine bought in pubs is by the bottle, “which makes the size of glass irrelevant.”
The British Pub Guide
Brit Pubs On Endangered List
• Drop In For a Short One
Dowd's Guides


Rome bans snacking in some areas

If you plan to visit Rome's historic wonders this summer, don't pack a lunch.

The city has issued a ban on snacking near the sites in the city's historical center under penalty of fines ranging up to $80 US.

The reason: Too much litter and too many drunks and loiterers.

The ban was issued July 10 and goes into effect this weekend, running through the end of October. It follows an earlier crackdown on street vendors.

The no-snacking-near-monuments policy may be difficult to thoroughly enforce. Through the first five months of this year, an estimated 7.6 million foreign tourists have visted Rome.
Rome Historic Sites & Interpretive Centers
Dowd's Guides

US Airways dropping in-flight flicks

US Airways will stop showing movies on flights beginning in November.

The airline cites improved fuel efficiency as the reason since the movie systems weigh about 500 pounds each. In addition, since it costs $5 per person to rent headphones, usage has dropped as airfares have increased.

Movies now are shown only on flights scheduled to last 2½ hours or more.
Dowd's Guides

World's top 10 'bargain' hotels

Rising airline prices and gasoline costs are making travel a lot pricier for most people these days, but that doesn't mean you still can't get good lodgings at reasonable prices.

The top 10 list of best hotels charging $250 or less per night, compiled from reader responses to an annual poll by Travel + Leisure magazine, has just been released. (You can get all the categories online here.)

1. Domaine des Hauts de Loire
Onzain, France (shown above)

2. The Balsams Grand Resort
Dixville Notch, NH

3. Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver
Vancouver, Canada

4. Inn at the Market
Seattle, WA

5. Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers
Bangkok, Thailand

6. Fairmont Acapulco Princess
Acapulco, Mexico

7. Hotel Vintage Plaza
Portland, OR

8. Mena House Oberoi
Cairo, Egypt

9. Richmond Hill Inn
Asheville, NC

10. JW Marriott
Bangkok, Thailand
Dowd's Guides


What should you tip when served these things?

Do you know where to go to get a $71,000 cocktail? Or, a $25,000 ice cream sundae, $1,000 bagel, $3,700 pizza, $5,000 hamburger ...?

You can discover the paths you'll have to travel by checking a Trendhunter.com collection of 16 such things.

As the saying goes, "An extravagance is something that your spirit thinks is a necessity."

But, lest you jump to the conclusion this is all a wasteful extravagance, I should tell you that the majority of profits from sales of these items go to various charities.
Luxury Fever (book review)
Extravagance Quotes
• Dowd's Guides


Jamaica's latest attraction: A real bobsled run

When Jamaica came up with a bobsled team for the Winter Olympics Games in the 1980s and '90s, it tickled the collective funnybone of the world.

But the image has lingered long enough to intrigue Carnival Corp. It has partnered with Rain Forest Trams Ltd., a local bank and businessmen to develop Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain, a new eco-friendly attraction in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

The facility welcomed its first visitors in a "soft opening" this week, with grand opening events set for late July. Among other attractions are a chairlift journey over the countryside, a zip-line canopy trip through the treetops, an island culture and heritage center, as well as mountaintop dining and shopping venues.

Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica covers more than 100 acres, stretching from the Coast Road entrance near Dunn's River Falls to more than 700 feet above sea level at the peak of Mystic Mountain. The site supports a diverse ecosystem of natural springs, tropical foliage, native trees and a variety of colorful bird species.

The complex is accessible for cruise ship passengers as well as ground visitors.
• Jamaica TravelNet
Jamaican Cuisine
CIA World Factbook: Jamaica
Island In the Slum
• Dowd's Guides

Chivas to open for summer tours

LONGMORN, Scotland -- Chivas Brothers is opening its Scotch whisky distilleries here and in Allt a'Bhainne for limited summer visitor tours and tastings.

The tours, which will take place during August and September, will walk visitors through the malt making process. Douglas Callander, commercial heritage director for Chivas, said:

"Whisky enthusiasts visit Speyside from all over the world and are always keen to see working distilleries. The two distilleries, although very different in design and appearance, are both key to the production of Chivas Brothers Scotch whisky products."

The Longmorn distillery is situated in the plains of Laich of Moray while the Allt a'Bhainne distillery (above) is located in the valley of Glennrinnes and is one of Scotland's newer distilleries.

The visits are restricted to one group of 16 visitors per week and tickets cost $20 US per person.
Visiting the Speyside Region 
Scotch Whisky Association
Dowd's Guides


NYC dwellers urged to go ... home

Staten Island: Tourist Destination No. 1?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a program to increase tourism for the borough, kicking off a larger, citywide program aimed at encouraging New Yorkers to vacation at home.

A new, daily Gray Line "hop-on, hop-off" bus tour through Staten Island will begin Monday, July 14, to take tourists through sites such as the Staten Island Zoo and Fort Wadsworth. It also will introduce the borough to Gray Line which does not now service it.

"Millions of tourists already ride the free ferry each year, but most stop short of actually getting out of the terminal and exploring the borough," Bloomberg said at a news conference. "With gas prices driving up the cost of air travel and driving, there's never been a better time to go local and vacation right here in the Big Apple."

The larger program for intracity tourism will be called "Go Local," and will include more than 200 summer discounts at restaurants, at shops, and on tours throughout the city's five boroughs.
New York City Tourism
This Is New York
Dowd's Guides

NY shuffles alcohol laws

William M. Dowd photo

If you're a New Yorker, or plan to visit the Empire State, you'll find a slightly more relaxed legal attitude toward sales of alcoholic beverages. For one thing, wine tastings will be allowed to begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays, rather than having to hold off until noon.

That's sure to be popular with the state's wine industry, which ranks third in the nation behind only California and Oregon in wine production and is a major tourist draw. Previously, wineries could sell bottles of wine beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays, but couldn't allow tastings.

It is one of a handful of changes signed into law this week by Gov. David Patterson. The others:

• The New York State Wine and Culinary Center (seen above) in Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes is allowed to sell beers and distilled spirits produced in the state rather than being limited to wine.

• Wine now may be widely sold at the annual New York State Fair in Syracuse. It had been restricted to certain areas of the fair even though beer could be sold anywhere.

• Ice cream flavored with wine may be sold up to 5% alcohol.

• Owners of microbreweries that manufacture and sell beer at wholesale now also may own restaurants that sell alcohol.
• New York Wine & Culinary Center
Dowd's Guides


Another Riverwalk to try

What has 23 eating establishments and shares a name with San Antonio?

It's the Riverwalk Marketplace that just opened in New Orleans.

It's another sign that companies still are willing to invest in the city despite lingering woes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The project is the latest for America's Shopping Places, which has such complexes in 24 states.

The complex was constructed along the Mississippi River on the site of the 1984 World’s Fair, not far from the famous French Quarter and adjacent to the Morial Convention Center and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Riverwalk is home to the only downtown refund center for the Tax Free Shopping for International Visitors program. The refund center is located on the 2nd level offering convenient access to convention delegates as well as cruise ship passengers and personnel.
The Official New Orleans Web Site
• Great New Orleans Restaurants, from Gumbo Pages
Dowd's Guides

Coming in '09: The Great Wheel of China

Beijing hosts the Olympic Games this year, beginning on Aug. 8. That's a touch act to follow, so what does the Chinese capital city have on its agenda for 2009?

How about the world's largest Ferris wheel?

The Great Wheel of China, which will be built in Chaoyang Park where Olympic beach volleyball will be played next month, will stand 682 feet high, and and become the tallest and largest Ferris wheel in the world.

It is planned to have 48 air-conditioned cabins, each able to carry 40 passengers on a 30-minute once-around trip.

Here's a look at it:

Beijing Travel Tips
Best Places to Visit In China
ª Dowd's Guides


New maritime museum in German port

A renovated 10-story warehouse is home to the newest museum in the German port city of Hamburg.

The International Maritime Museum opened to the public this month, offering a collection of 1,000 model ships, 5,000 maritime paintings and various maritime artifacts.

The private enterprise is that of Peter Tamm, 80, who has been collecting such memorabilia for decades. It is a supplement to Hamburg's waterfront attractions such as canal tours and preserved ships open to the public. It also has museums of emigration and ship loading and unloading. Another museum, presently undergoing renovation, details the history of the customs service.

Tamm also has a collection of 36,000 miniature ships. He also owns 1,000 larger naval-architecture models, some models in ivory and gold.
International Maritime Museum (in German)
Hamburg Travel Guide
• Dining in Hamburg
Hamburg History
Dowd's Guides

Russia plans tourist spacecraft

For those who really want to get away from it all, the news that the Russian space agency has contracted to build a Soyuz spacecraft for tourist use by 2011 may be good news.

"We have concluded an agreement with an investor to begin financing such a Soyuz vessel with an anticipated launch date of 2011," read a statement on the Roskosmos Web site.

The spacecraft will carry two passengers as well as a professional astronaut pilot. The identify of the private investor financing the project was not identified. However, Roskosmos completed a deal in June with private American company Space Adventures for a commercial flight to the International Space Station.

Space Adventures already has sent five tourists into space aboard a Soyuz (seen above).
Space Today.org
• Roskosmos
• Food in Space
• Dowd's Guides

Big Apple's big, pricey beer

The Gothamist is one handy Web site when it comes to keeping tabs on the many, many trends, fads and foibles in the Big Apple. Considering the size and activity level of the place, I can use all the help I can get in keeping up.

The latest drinking-related item it reports puts beer right up there with those ridiculously priced spirits and wines that crop up with great regularity. It's a $95 beer. Not for the keg or the case or the six-pack, but for "a" beer.

It's a 17-ounce Baladine Xyauyù being served at the Beer Table, an establishment in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Reports The Gothamist:

"The beer ... cannot be found anywhere else in New York, and takes three years to brew; something that Paul Kermizian, beer connoisseur and co-owner of Barcade and The Gutter, tells us factors in to what may seem like an inflated price tag.

"Iy is an extremely rare beer from a tiny artisanal brewery in Italy. Many craft breweries brew small batch beers such as this that are extremely time consuming and labor intensive. That, plus the skyrocketing costs of ingredients, puts the brewery in a position to have to charge a good deal more than they would for a typical pale ale. Often, breweries brew these beers for enjoyment and will likely only break even once all of it is sold.

"One thing to consider is that if a brewery makes a beer that takes three years to age, the beer is probably taking up precious tank space in a brewery already working in too small of a facility. Of the 22 bottles made available at the bar, four have been purchased so far.

"And if you want a taste of the top shelf for slightly less, there's also a rotating collection of about 100 obscure and artisanal beers (that) also includes a $64 Danish beer that changes its ingredients with each new batch and a handful of $50 brews."
NYC Beer Guide
• Dowd's Guides

Wine AND all this beer? What a festival!

You like beer, she likes wines. Or vice-versa. What to do during a busy summer festival season that offers one beverage-centric after another and you can’t hit them all?

Short of going your separate ways, you need to maximize your plannings.

On New York's Long Island, that quandary will be taken care of on August 9 when the “North Fork Craft Beer, BBQ and Wine Festival” is held at the picturesque Martha Clara Vineyard near Jamesport.

In addition to a variety of wines from the host vineyard, breweries listed to provide examples of their products include, in alphabetical order:

Blue Moon
Blue Point Brewing Co.
Boston Beer (Sam Adams)
Boulder Beer Co.
Brickhouse Brewery
Brooklyn Brewery
Butternuts Beer & Ale
Cape Ann Brewing
Clare Rose
Crop Circle
Doc’s Hard Cider
Flying Dog
Hacker Pschorr
Harlem Brewing Co.
John Harvard’s Brew House
Kona Brewing Co.
Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
Long Trail Brewing Co.
North Coast Brewery
Oskar Blues
Peak Organic Brewing Co.
Rogue Ales
Schwelmer Brewing
Shmaltz Brewing Co. (He’Brew Beer)
Sierra Nevada
Sly Fox
Smuttynose Brewing Co.
Southampton Publick House
Thomas Hooker Ales
Widmer Hefeweizen

Ticket details: VIP, $75 (advance purchase only). General admission, $50 (online purchase) and $70 (at the gate, if still available). Designated drivers, $10. Each attendee, except designated drivers, will receive a souvenir tasting glass. Each ticket also includes a BBQ sandwich choice and one side item. No one under 21 will be admitted.
Welcome to the North Fork
Dowd's Guides

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