Discovering which way is up

If your airline flight is delayed this winter because of icy runways, you may have Saskatchewan potash miners to thank for much of the inconvenience.


The phrase "Saskatchewan potash miners" doesn't come up much in conversation, but it certainly should be kept in mind these days. A shortage of potash, a form of potassium carbonate, caused by the 99-day miners strike this fall, has left many U.S. airports with low supplies of a key runway de-icer because they didn't buy sufficient advance quantities of it.

What other effects are we seeing from the strike? Well, as often happens during an extended strike, the timing was meant to be the worst possible for the business, which can be counter-productive for the strikers as well as the strikee. When 500 miners struck three mines owned by Potash Corp. they did so just as the company was pulling out all the stops to meet huge demand for potash-based fertilizer to boost crop yields in the face of rising food prices.

Now, airports, agri-business operations and other users of potash-based products are turning to alternative materials they are finding (a.) available, and (b.) often less costly.

So, the miners got most of what they wanted by putting a stranglehold on their employers, who themselves had been pulling in record profits, but in the long run may have shot themselves in the collective foot.

All of which reminds me of the beleaguered U.S. automakers and their highly-paid union workers. Their history consists of decades of demands for ridiculously high pay and perks and corporate waste and greed passed on to consumers. The auto consumers, just like the potash consumers, found alternatives -- buying Japanese and Korean cars, for example -- that were much more palatable.

How many times does a lesson have to be repeated before everyone learns a lesson?
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10 French survival words

Learn 10 French survival words compliments of The Travel Linguist. For a full list of instructional language DVDs, phrasebooks, audio CDs and downloads, click here.


Keeping track of Santa's flight

Few activities on this Christmas Eve can match the anticipation of awaiting a visit from Santa Claus.

If anyone you know is anxious about where the jolly old elf might be at any particular time, just click here to go to the NORAD Santa Tracker for all the particulars and some seasonal music.



A taste of the New Irish Cuisine

DUBLIN, Ireland -- One day into a motor tour of Ireland in search of something to overcome the negative stereotypes about Irish food and I was stumped.

I was here in the capital city, sitting with a traveling companion in the bar of the beautifully converted Clontarf Castle, site of one of the epic battles of the ancient Irish warrior king Brian Boru. We were trying to figure out where to find the best place for local food.

The hotel bell captain seemed a logical person to consult.

"Well," he said in all seriousness, "it depends on what sort of local food you're looking for. The best in the city is Italian, Thai or Chinese."

That was several years ago, and it's even truer today unless you're so far off the beaten path you're creating a new one. The difference is that the New Irish Cuisine, as it is capitalized in most Irish publications, also has begun making inroads into popular taste.

Much as I pride myself on my nearly 100 percent Irish heritage, I cringe -- as does my aorta -- when I think of some of the dishes that once were typically representative of Irish cuisine.

Finnan Haddie, a smoked fish and mashed potato dish. Dublin Coddle, featuring flour-coated pork sausage fried in bacon fat then cooked in cider with onions and potatos. Bacon and Egg Pie, which includes a half-dozen eggs and four ounces of lard. Carrageen Pudding, which is primarily dried seaweed and whipped heavy cream. Toad in the Hole, a bacon-wrapped sausage baked in mustard dough and covered in gravy. And endless platters and bowls of potatoes baked, mashed, fried, steamed, boiled, grilled, sauteed and whatever else one could think of to do with them.

But that was then. This is now, and my how things have changed.

Irish restaurants and modern Irish families are relying on such things as chicken, salmon, monkfish, lamb and vegetarian dishes in ever-increasing amounts, although the ubiquitous and versatile potato retains its place of honor in the Irish kitchen.

Dishes tend to be more of the "spa cuisine" variety, with less reliance on heavy creams and fats and more exploitation of the island's abundance of fresh produce. Some of the dishes still look heavy -- like the dishs shown above, cod sorrel (top) and colcannon (bottom) -- but light, alternative ingredients lessen the impact.

Ireland once had plenty of people and no money. Now, thanks to its leadership among European nations in the technological revolution, it has plenty of money and no people. To attract new ones and hold on to the ones it has, developing a modern, appealing cuisine has become an important task.

The island's two national food trade groups, Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) and Trade International Northern Ireland, are helping market Irish products worldwide and soliciting foreign investment in the industry under the promotional title "Ireland: The Food Island."

Tourists are being directed to culinary destination spots throughout the country, especially to the southern port city of Kinsale, a picturesque spot that has emerged as the country's gastronomic capital.

As Muirish Kennedy, Bord Bia's client services director, told Irish Connections magazine, "Ireland has changed drastically. ... The young sector is very much the driving force. The food companies here were started in the last 15 years. It's a young new generation that is much more aggressive, much more aware."

There is rarely a question about the quality of Irish agricultural and livestock products. Willing consumers abroad buy 90 percent of Ireland's annual output. The knock has been on what Irish cooks have done with those products at home.

Until the recent economic upsurge, dining out regularly was a rarity in most parts of Ireland, with fewer than 25 percent of people doing it compared to about 70 percent in the U.S. That mindset, which tends to discourage culinary experimenta tion, was perpetuated in the lives of Irish expatriates around the world. Thus, to many people the likes of Toad in the Hole still exemplifies Irish cuisine.

Couple the experiences younger, adventuresome Irish have had in traveling abroad with their higher wages and more disposable income and the demand for better food becomes even clearer.

The appetite for things Irish can be seen in a number of areas beyond industry trade shows. At the bookstores, for example, you can find titles that put to rest the foods of the famine and poverty years. Instead, we find "Elegant Irish Cooking: Recipes from the World's Foremost Irish Chefs," compiled by the noted Irish master chef Noel C. Cullen, now professor of culinary arts at Boston University. And, "The New Irish Table," a collection of recipes from restaurant and home cooks edited by Margaret M. Johnson who has written on Irish food for such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and the Irish Echo.

And, while they don't have the reputations of such world-renowned culinary schools as the Cordon Bleu in France or the Culinary Institute of America, Irish cooking schools are enjoying a growing reputation.

Noted chef Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School, operated at her Ballymaloe House Hotel in County Cork, is perhaps the brightest example. It has been the catalyst for several well-received cookbooks and the work of hundreds of graduates who took advantage of the organic farm and extensive gardens on the property.

The world of New Irish Cuisine is not limited to the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, where tourism is comparatively strong despite the continued violence in an around Belfast, 70 miles from there in County Fermanagh the Belle Isle School of Cookery is a big draw for residential or one-day classes.

It's situated on a wooded island in Lough Erne, a rural lake that is home to 11 islands owned by the same nobleman, the Duke of Abercorn.

To prove some things about Irish eating and drinking habits never change, the school's brochures brag about its proximity to many attractions -- particularly the Old Bushmills Distillery, at age 396 the oldest licensed distillery in the world, where the renowned Bushmills whiskey is produced.
• On the Road In Search of My Darby Duck
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About that early New Year party, mate ...

Heading for Australia to usher in the new year before it arrives here in the States or Europe -- that International Dateline thing, you know -- may lose some of its attraction this year.

According to The Age newspaper in rowdy Melbourne, some of the city's "biggest bars and nightclubs face closure and big fines as Victoria Police and Liquor Licensing Victoria clamp down on rogue operators in the lead-up to New Year's Eve. Almost 50 inner-city clubs have received final warning notices, with operators of about a dozen venues ordered to appear before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to defend their liquor licences.

"The clubs were found to have repeatedly breached a range of liquor licensing provisions, including serving alcohol to intoxicated or under-aged patrons, overcrowding and employing unregistered security staff."

[Get the full story by clicking here.]
Melbourne Nightlife
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The latest places to avoid

Rioting, natural disasters, general unrest and the fallout such things cause has put a number of usual tourist hotspots on the danger list. Among them:

East African coast

Plus, ongoing violence in Thailand (see video below) has helped prompt the resignation of the government.

• Traveler warnings
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Ethiopia banking on elephant guests

Want to get up close and sort of personal with a wild elephant? A lot of people do, and the Ethiopian government is hoping to take advantage of that to help boost tourism income.

The Babile wildlife sanctuary near Harar, 350 miles east of the capital city of Addis Ababa, is the first in the country to offer visits specifically for viewing elephants, whose numbers are in sharp decline. Right now there are only about 300 of them in the sanctuary.

The African nation's government has invested in hotels, airports and other infrastructure, with an eye toward raising income from tourism by about 15% to around $200 million.
Paleo-tourism in Ethiopia
CIA World Factbook: Ethiopia
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NYC's star chefs to re-cook history

It's not news that New York City is filled with excellent chefs. What is news is the fact that 16 of them are joining forces to cook 19th Century banquets.

The "Vintage Dinner Series" will run from January through March 2009, beginning January 12 at Cafe des Artistes. There, the menu from the Danish film "Babette's Feast" (above), set in 1871, will be the model.

That means such dishes as tortoise soup, caviar with blinis and quails in pastry cases, and such beverages as Amontillado sherry, Veuve Cliquot champagne, Clos de Vougeot burgundy, port with the cheese and coffee with the rum baba dessert.

The series was organized by Tim and Nina Zagat of the Zagat Guides. The other participating restaurants:

• Bouley, January 15
• Picholine, January 21
• Adour at the St, Regis Hotel, January 25
• Chanterelle, January 27
• Daniel, February 3
• Blue Hill at Stone Barns, February 5
• Del Post, February 11
• Per Se, February 17
• La Grenouille, February 25
• Le Cirque, March 3
• Ouest, March 5
• Le Bernardin, March 9
• Gramercy Tavern, March 16
• Jean Georges, March 23
• Aureole, March 25

Stanley Lobel of Lobel's Meats and Dorian Mecir of Dorian's Seafood Market are assisting the restaurants in identifying cuts of meat, poultry, fish and drinks appropriate to the period.

Each restaurant involved in the project will present a prix fixe "Vintage Dinner Series" meal priced on par with its regular menu (food, drinks, tax and tip included). A portion of the proceeds will be donated to such charities as Meals on Wheels, City Harvest, Doctors Without Borders and the Alzheimer's Association.
Vintage Dinner Series details
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What happens in Mossman ...

Maybe, as the current phrase goes, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" needs to be broadened -- to include Australia.

Tony Fox, owner of the White Cockatoo resort in Mossman, Queensland, the north Australia state, said despite the global economic downturn his resort has been fully booked for a proposed month-long "rainforest nude party" in March 2009.

How does that sit with the local community? Says Mayor Val Schier, "I am not opposed to it as long as no laws are broken. As long as it is with consenting adults then there is no problem."

Fox's "clothes optional" resort also made headlines three years ago when his "partner-swapping parties" made headlines following public complaints, and subsequently were halted by the police.

"It doesn't take rocket science to work out what the party means," Fox said, explaining further his plan for the proposed “risqué” party where “anything goes" for a month. His holiday resort will be transformed to a “hedonism resort.” He said, "Tough economic times call for stiff measures."

All states and territories in Australia, except Queensland, have had designated clothing-optional beaches since South Australia declared the first, Maslin Beach near Adelaide, in 1975.

Australia, with its thousands of kilometers of deserted beaches, has a reputation for its nudist beach parties. Nude bathing occurs on a regular basis even on the most popular beaches. Some are designated as a legal clothing-optional beaches, but on others nudity is unofficially condoned, according to an Australia Web site guide to nude beaches.

[Go here for the full story.]
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Nazi resort to be opened to the public

From the Telegraph of London:

Germany is embroiled in a controversy over a monumental Nazi-era holiday resort on the German island of Ruegen that is to be opened to holidaymakers for the first time.

The giant complex of hotels in the Prora resort on the country's biggest island in the Baltic Sea was designed to house 20,000 tourists as part of Adolf Hitler's "Strength Through Joy" program to keep the German nation healthy.

The construction of the mammoth project began in 1936 but was abandoned in 1943 due to the war, and the five six-story concrete buildings on Ruegen's beautiful sandy beach were never opened to the public.

[Go here for the full story.]
Hitler's Eagle's Nest
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U.S. airlines may again cut seating

From Bloomberg.com:

U.S. airlines that pared seating capacity about 10% this year may deepen the cuts in 2009 to ensure the industry makes its first profit in a recession.

The pullback at big carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines may reach 8% and include non-U.S. markets where they’ve been expanding in the absence of discount rivals, according to six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“It’s coming,” said Kevin Crissey, a UBS Securities LLC analyst in New York. “You definitely want to see them out in advance of the difficulties. Err on the side of cutting and if you miss a bit of revenue, so be it. You don’t want to get run over by weak demand.”

New reductions would build on this year’s retrenchment, the U.S. industry’s most sweeping since the Sept. 11 (2001) terrorist attacks.

[Go here for the full story.]
Airline Capacity Cuts Go Global
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Baja California crime wave continues

From the Los Angeles Times:

Blood continues to spill in Tijuana and and other border-area communities. And the debate rages on as to whether it's safe for surfers, campers, fishermen and other tourists to travel in northern Baja California.

First, the latest grim news: Nine human heads were found Sunday in Tijuana, along with a note tying the massacre to the ongoing war between rival drug gangs.

A day later, a report emerged describing November as the deadliest month during President Felipe Calderon's two years in office, with at least 701 killings linked to organized crime occurring throughout Mexico.

Tourists, by and large, have not been victimized.

[Go here for the full story.]
Travel to Mexican Border Towns
Four Good Reasons to Visit a Border Town
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Keel laid for huge cruise ship

Several years ago, off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, I was seated in a small watercraft, staring up in amazement at the size of one of the cruise ships anchored just outside the picturesque harbor.

It was like gawking at a Manhattan skyscraper from a bicycle. How big can they get?, I wondered at the time. Well, apparently the sky's the limit.

Workers for Royal Caribbean International today laid the keel of Allure of the Seas, the second of the Oasis-class cruise ships analysts say will redefine the industry.

The keel laying ceremony was held at STX Europe's shipyard in Turku, Finland.

When the cruise ship is launched in 2010, it will share the title of the world's largest and most revolutionary cruise ship with its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas.

It will span 16 decks, carry 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,700 staterooms. Both Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas will be based in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

The ship will have seven distinct themed areas, which will include such amenities as lush grounds open to the sky in Central Park (shown above), located in the center of the ship and spanning more than the length of a football field.

Central Park will be lined with boutiques and specialty restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining, and introduce balcony staterooms rising five decks above the storefronts and overlooking the park -- one of a few new categories of onboard accommodations made possible by the ship's unique design.
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Napa's COPIA center bankrupt but re-opening

April L. Dowd photo

The bad news: COPIA:The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts, which has been closed for several weeks, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The good news: It will reopen during the reorganization period.

The center, located in Napa, CA, said restructuring through a Chapter 11 filing will provide six months to achieve long-term sustainability. In the filing, Copia estimated its outstanding liabilities between $50 million and $100 million.

"We recently have taken intensive measures to overcome our deteriorating liquidity position," Copia CEO Garry McGuire said in a statement, referring to cost-cutting by making Copia less of a wine and food museum and more of an education institute.

Copia was the brainchild of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, who died in May at age 94. It has been financially troubled since its 2001 opening as a facility that includes museum exhibition space, a restaurant, expansive gardens, meeting rooms and art galleries. It has been closed in recent weeks, but will reopen during the restructuring.
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'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' lineup set

If you're planning to visit Scotland in 2009 to take advantage of the tourist-friendly events that are part of the year-long "Homecoming Scotland" program, make a note to sample the whisky bars of Edinburgh.

Ten of them have teamed up to attract visitors to the capital city and promote their whisky experience. The program, announced today, was created under the auspices of ScotlandWhisky, the country's national whisky tourism initiative.

“Edinburgh is rightly famous for its bars and ‘Whisky Bars of Edinburgh’ brings together 10 fantastic examples of where visitors can enjoy a dram in a traditional setting. Each bar has a great reputation for its Scotch Whisky range and staff that have passed the Scotch Whisky training school,” said Chris Conway of ScotlandWhisky.

The featured bars featured are accredited "Scotch Whisky Embassies." Each has a wide range of whiskies, including single malts, blends and rare bottlings, and a staff trained in whisky appreciation.

Although Edinburgh is renowned for its lively bar and cocktail lounge scene, similar programs are being developed for Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

The "Whisky Bars of Edinburgh" participants:

The Albannach, on The Royal Mile
Whiski, 119 High Street
Scotch Whisky Experience, 354 High Street
The Abbotsford, 3-5 Rose Street
Leslies Bar, 45 Ratcliffe Terrace
The Bow Bar, 80 West Bow
Stockbridge Tap, 2-4 Raeburn Place
Thomson's Bar, 182-184 Morrison Street
Teuchters, 26 William Street
Teuchters' Landing, 1c Docks Place
• Scotland's Most Expensive Cocktail
Scottish Tourist Board
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