Walking along Edinburgh's Royal Mile, Peter and Angela Howard didn't look like ordinary tourists. For one thing, they kept punching numbers into a GPS unit as they made their way from Edinburgh Castle to the Queen's Palace. Eventually, the retirees from Watford, England, reached their goal: a 2.5cm-by-5cm plastic box attached by magnets to a drainpipe. Inside the box? A simple logbook where they registered their "find."
The Howards are participants in the new and fast-growing sport of geocaching, a 21st-century version of hide-and-seek. Geocachers use Global Positioning Systems to uncover hidden waterproof containers whose coordinates have been listed online. The sport was born in 2000, when changes to GPS satellites allowed civilians to use handheld units to pinpoint objects within a six-meter radius anywhere in the world. Today there are nearly 170,000 active caches in 215 countries. Some, like the Edinburgh cache, are in urban areas, but most are found out in the country--and can be reached only after hiking or even kayaking to remote places. The United States is the mecca for geocachers, but the U.K. has been coming on strong, with nearly 7,000 caches hidden around the country. Other global hot spots include Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
How can novice geocachers get their, er, bearings? TIP SHEET offers some clues:
Start Here: Jeremy Irish began geocaching.com to serve as the virtual home for enthusiasts. You'll find FAQs, bulletin boards and info about local groups to help you get started, as well as a ZIP code search to find the caches in your area.
Equipment: The most popular GPS units come from Garmin ( garmin.com ) and Magellan ( magellangps.com ), which offer models with geocaching modes that let you download cache data directly to your device. Another option is software from Trimble Outdoors ( trimbleoutdoors.com ), which turns your Nextel phone into a GPS.
Events/packages: Many geocachers search on their own, but you can also join group events. On June 10 and 11, Aussie geocachers will meet in New South Wales for the 24-hour Gold Rush Weekend. And then there's Germany's Delusion of Darkness (July 8-10), where cachers will hunt at night. In the United States, the Santa Maria Harbour Resort ( santamariafl.com ) in Florida has designed a vacation package that includes one to four days of geocaching via kayak along the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail.
For more information, check out two online magazines: the U.K.-based geocachingtoday.com and todayscacher.com , its U.S. counterpart. Happy hunting!
June is the perfect time to visit Venice, just before the tourist hordes take to the canals and bridges.
SEE the wondrous Peggy Guggenheim Collection of masterpieces by Picasso, Magritte and Kandinsky (10euro).
SHOP for beautiful handmade paper at Il Prato (Calle de le Ostreghe 2436).
EAT homemade penne with baby artichokes followed by freshest catch of the day at Alle Testiere (from 72 euro; 39-41-522-7220).
DRINK a spritz, the favorite local aperitif (Campari, white wine and soda water) at Bacaro Lounge Bar (39-41-296-0687).
SLEEP at Bauer Il Palazzo, a luxury waterside villa with its own private dock (from 430 euro; ilpalazzovenezia .com).
In the days before refrigerators, New Englanders used L.L. Bean's Boat and Tote bags to haul ice home from the rivers. That was back when totes were practical but frumpy. This summer, the workhorses are getting glammed up. L.L. Bean has rolled out shoulder bags in bright colors, like preppy pink and green. And high-end designers are riffing on the Bean classic to suit a more upscale crowd. Vanessa Bruno's hip cotton canvas bags come in pastel colors with sequin trim. Carolina Herrera has an elegant version with croc straps ($1,990). And Talene Reilly's is bright with a removable laptop case. It's chic yet utilitarian--a chip off the old block.