Travel suggestions for a couple of kooks, svp?
December 19, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Two quirky gals, ten days in March, plenty of expiring FF miles but sadly just US $ to spend... where in the world should we go?

My best pal and I want to go away at the end of March for 7-10 days, using my expiring United or American airmiles to travel. But where? Help us, oh great hive mind.

We'll be flying out of LA. We are interested in architectural anomalies, folk art environments, fine and decorative arts pre-1900, gardens, decay, observing birds and animals, thrift shopping, walkable cities, good eats (but not fancy eats), puppetry, mummies, graveyards, caves, castles, weird museums, ghost stories, public transportation, places with strong regional identities not yet overwhelmed by modernity, friendly or at least not brigandish natives, not too crowded and places where our dollars will not be worthless.

We thought about Savannah, but it seems they have a big St. Patrick's celebration which will bring crowds and annoyance. We're thinking about Taninul, Mexico, where my pal found a ceremonial heart-cutting knife as a child, but wondering if it will hold our interest for a week+. (She does speak some Spanish.) Poland? Portugal? Istanbul? Hungary? Romania? Austria? Czech Republic? Spain?

Suggestions of mind-bendingly interesting places you think we should consider will be seriously entertained. Thanks!
posted by Scram to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ecuador. Otovalo is a market town dating from the Incans and the area around Otovalo is all folk art - each little village does its own thing. You can hire a driver and go to "the leather town" and then "the weaving town," and so on. You can go bird watching in Mindo or if you're truly adventurous, go to Kapawi. Of course, the Galapagos are there. I didn't go to the Southern Ecuadorian cities but rumor is that they've got nice architecture. Old Town in Quito has ever so slightly many beggars but it's also got a church where the whole front part is coated in gold. The floor boards in that church are five hundred years old (woooo, that's old, I'm so American). There are also some houses that used to be owned by rich people up for tours. From el Teleferico in Quito, you can hike out into the Paramo which is a kind of biome that we simply do not get in the States. The national museum in Ecuador has mummies and statues delicately labeled, "arte homosexual." It's one of the best cultural museums I've been to, ever. The people are nice, crime is minimal, and a week is hardly enough time. A little Spanish is just enough to get by. The food... well, no one goes to Ecuador for the food, but if you went I can recommend some restaurants in Quito. Plus, the best part is that Ecuador runs off the dollar so you don't even have to change your money.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2007


SEA, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos.
posted by dawdle at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2007


Seconding South America, perhaps Argentina. The dollar has been stable/gaining there, and it was pretty cheap to begin with. It's such a big country that you're likely to find exactly what you want with a little research.
posted by true at 9:37 AM on December 19, 2007


Prague is only good for about five days, IMHO. Very touristy. With what you have said, I would avoid it. (I enjoyed it, but it doesn't seem to be what you are looking for). Europe in general is expensive with the decline of the dollar.
posted by 6:1 at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2007


Lisbon would make a fine destination indeed. They've got you covered on the castle front, graveyards, architecture, walkability and public transportation. There may be caves nearby. I'm sure that you could make a day trip or two from there into the countryside to find places not touched by (too much) modernity. Portugal has been slow in catching up to the rest of Europe, so folk traditions are still strong. It was recently featured on this list, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend you take too much heed of their suggestions. (I found it to be mostly oriented towards the typical tourist, rather than the independent traveler, if you catch my drift.)

Morocco has a lot to offer as well: castles, caves, food, decay, gardens, etc. Don't stay in Tangiers. Avoid it altogether if possible. I'd recommend Fez, Chefchaouen and Essaouira The Moroccans are very friendly, but most of the men you will meet (and it will be men) will try, very aggressively to sell you something. It gets annoying, but it should be threatening.

You might also think about Chile. They have interesting architecture, mummies (the world's oldest!), Neruda's house-museums and pre-1900s art. Spend some time seeing said art and eating well in Santiago, then head out to Valparaiso for good seafood and the open air museum, among other things. Heading North will take you into mummy country and plenty of places with regional character. That said, in the smaller towns there may not be that much to do besides soaking up the ambiance. You could venture to fly out to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as well. Although, with only a week, you may be cutting it close.

I've heard great things about Turkey and Hungary, but have no personal experience. Lastly, I just spent some time walking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. In a week you could easily walk the last 100 km to Santiago and even make it out to Finisterre. Galicia is ripe with regional flavorYouTube, Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful city and you can't beat the food. If you're not into the whole walking bit, it would still make a great place to visit, especially if you include a dip down to Porto.

Happy trails!
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 9:54 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm in the Galapagos right now spending US$ and getting okay value for it. Of course this is the high season -- I'd expect you'd do even better in March.

It is definitely a lot more nature-y than funky though.
posted by tkolar at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2007


If you want to stay in the U.S., D.C. might be a good bet (fulfills just about all of your requirements).

However, if you go overseas, I totally second everything HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal said.
posted by General Malaise at 11:56 AM on December 19, 2007


You mentioned Poland in your question--if you are at all interested in going to Poland, I would definitely encourage you to go. I had no idea what to expect when I went last year to Krakow, and it was great. Krakow is beautiful and has a lot of history and interesting architecture--during the Soviet occupation, it was left alone and kind of neglected, so the lovely old buildings weren't torn down and replaced with blocky Soviet architecture like they were in Warsaw. One of the nice things about being in Krakow was that although there were tourists, it wasn't particularly touristy; I don't think it's reached Prague levels yet. The exchange on Canadian dollars last year was very good--as an American, I should think you'd be able to eat well and stay in comfy accommodations for a lot less than in other European cities. For example, we paid $24 for a fantastic three-course dinner for two in a really cool 100-year-old hotel. This included wine.

Sights to see in Krakow:

Wawel Hill--castle, cathedral
the Barbican
the Collegium Maius where Copernicus was a student
the Grand Square--St. Mary's Basilica is there
Kasimierz--the historical Jewish town

Near Krakow:

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
Wielickza Salt Mines (Metafilter FPP here)

I learned a few words of Polish before going--hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, how much, where is, and some numbers. Not many people spoke English outside of the big tourist sites, but it really didn't matter. People were overwhelmingly helpful and tolerant of my efforts at communication.

This is a good article on Krakow from the NYT (not sure if registration might be required).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Puerto Rico might be a good option for you. San Juan is touristy, but the island is small, and you can get a bus or drive around to any place of interest. Since they're a commonwealth, it's US$ all the way. Stick to the interiors and away from larger cities and you'll still find people who farm, and a general cultural richness.

My family lives in the mountainous northwest. It's gorgeous.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2007


Puerto Rico is great! But it isn't much cheaper than the US, of course. If you're trying to stretch money, Argentina or some other Latin American countries would take your money a lot further.
posted by waylaid at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2007


Savannah has every one of the things you asked for, but since you seem put off by St.Patty's maybe you should look into Charleston. It is very similar to Savannah and no St.Patricks's Day crazyness. You could also spend a few days there and then head to Savannah since they are only about three hours away from each other. St. Augustine might also suit you guys, but it is smaller and there is less to explore.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:01 PM on December 19, 2007


These are great, thanks! I'll share this post with my companion tonight and get her thoughts. Please keep 'em coming if there are any other ideas afield. I do think Southeast Asia is for another trip--we've both been to Europe and Latin America and would be comfortable navigating most anywhere there, but SEA seems daunting, and we'd rather travel there with someone experienced.
posted by Scram at 5:06 PM on December 19, 2007


New Orleans seems like it would fit your bill....perhaps you could do it and Savannah? (Ask the airlines for an "open-jaw" ticket.

New York and upstate is always fun.

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Seems like it would be a great, not crowded time to go.

If you could, also think about Budapest or Turkey -- have not been to either but people rave.

If you want, try to get the miles to go to Cairo, stay at a fancy hotel and see the Pyramids. You can also see Sharm el Sheik (sp?). I actually can't vouch for anything I've mentioned here except New York, so go and let us live vicariously. :) And, remember, you can fly into and return from a different city on a single miles ticket.
posted by skepticallypleased at 6:01 PM on December 19, 2007


Seconding Ecuador. Spent two weeks there this summer and fell in love. I recommend the town of Banos, very peaceful touristy town surrounded by waterfalls. Lots of hiking, biking, river rafting, and jungle trips in the area. When I was there the town was deserted because the road was washed out, I have heard it can get quite crowded with tourists though. Still, it is a piece of heaven.

In Quito, definitely stay in the old city. The new city can seem very soulless (very go go capitalism, ie the only place you'll see American chains), and you are advised not to walk anywhere after dark. You may be set upon by begging children in the Old City, but it is safer and much more charming.

Enjoy!
posted by yellowbinder at 12:24 AM on December 20, 2007


We always felt "on guard" Old Town even during the day, but we felt perfectly safe running around Mariscal in New Town after dark. It was an interesting mix of backpacker and ultratrendy Ecuadorians, too. If you wind up going, feel free to message for specific soulful recommendations.
posted by arabelladragon at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2007


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