Foreign travel has doubled in less than 20 years, but ‘Overbooked’ author Elizabeth Becker says our unsustainable summer trips are destroying the places we most love—like Venice, Cambodia, and the Taj Mahal.
What is your big idea?
The travel and tourism business deserves the recognition, respect, and regulation as one of the world’s biggest industries. We have to stop thinking of our vacations and getaways as a break from real life and see them as part of an economic behemoth that can make or break countries. It is already the world’s biggest employer, providing jobs for one out of 11 workers. It contributes $6.4 trillion to the global economy. If it were a country, travel and tourism would be the fifth biggest polluter. This explosive growth is recent. Since 1995 foreign travel has doubled and last year reached the historic number of 1 billion trips.
All that travel is rapidly transforming cultures, countries, and societies, sometimes for the better and often times not. France is a model for using tourism to nurture a culture. As part of their tourism industry, the French have protected their villages, historic cities, farms, arts, and landscapes. Tourists go there to feel French for a few weeks, and they have made France the most popular destination in the world, beating out the U.S. In turn, tourism is France’s biggest economic driver.
However, left unchecked and without proper regulations, tourism can destroy the places we most love. Exhibit A is Venice, an open-air masterpiece. But in the past decade the city of less than 60,000 inhabitants has been swamped with over 20 million visitors each year. The tourism boom is driving out the locals. They can’t afford the higher rents propelled by foreign demands and the authorities turning a blind eye to illegal renting and leasing. Now souvenir shops and high-end foreign boutiques are replacing local artisans and essential local services from schools to clinics to bakeries and green grocers. The United Nations says that Venice is in greater danger of being drowned by tourists than water. Locals call it the hollowing out of the city into an empty theme park. On some days, the crowds at the Taj Mahal are as thick as the first day of after-Christmas sales.
For centuries, six Christian sects have fought over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. And they’re not afraid to come to blows to claim it. Meet the Muslim men tasked with keeping the peace.
If you follow the boisterous groups of cross bearers and prayer-humming nuns who weave through the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, you’ll eventually end up in a rare clearing that holds one of Christianity’s holiest buildings: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Orthodox and Catholic Christians consider the complex to be built on the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the ancient structure is like no church you’ve ever seen: a layered, winding complex of various tombs, relics, and caverns.
Christian Orthodox pilgrims light candles as fire spreads through the crowd attending the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City in April 2011. (Oded Balilty/AP)
It’s also one of the most contentious sites in Christianity. Six Christian denominations—Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox—share jurisdiction of the cavernous church and have been notoriously unable to keep themselves from throwing punches at the slightest perceived offense. Warring factions can cause disastrous problems, so when the combative holy clerics threatened the protection of one of the religion’s holiest sites, there was only one way to keep the peace: find a neutral mediator.
Enter two Muslim men: Wajeeh Nuseibeh and Adeeb Joudeh. Since 1192, when a peace agreement was brokered, giving control of the front gates to Muslim gatekeepers, the ancestors of these two men have been the key holders and mediators for the sacred church. Each day since the accord, their families have opened the church to worshipers. The ritual begins around 4 a.m., when Joudeh delivers the cast-iron key to Nuseibeh, who unlocks the wooden doors to the church. When nightfall hits, the two reverse the ritual, locking it up for the night. The Muslim families have also been tasked with symbolic roles in holiday rituals, and they work as peacekeepers for the often-quarreling Christian sects.
The hiding place of a beloved thriller’s fictional hero inspired two of Britain’s greatest travel and nature writers on an unlikely journey. Edward Platt on Robert Macfarlane’s new bestseller—and old fashioned way of making books.
The series of journeys, both real and literary, that are the subject of Holloway—a book part-written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Stanley Donwood—began eight years ago, in the spring of 2005, when Macfarlane’s friend, Roger Deakin, rang him up to “relate a mystery and propose an adventure.”
"[The holloway] floats free of geography, and becomes a powerful metaphor: it’s a tunnel, a portal to the underworld, a rabbit burrow, a rifle barrel. It isn’t about one place." (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty )
Deakin, who lived in a moated Elizabethan manor-house in the Suffolk countryside until he died from cancer, aged 63 in 2006, was an environmentalist and writer, best-known for a wonderful book called Waterlog, in which he described his attempt to swim across Britain. He told Macfarlane that he had received a package in the post containing a handwritten letter, a “marked-up section” of a map of the county of Dorset, in southern England, and a few photocopied pages from Rogue Male, Geoffrey Household’s 1939 thriller, which Macfarlane describes as “one of the classics of the ‘hunted man genre’—a novel to rank with John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.”
Household’s novel is narrated by an unnamed character who enters a European country “that resembles Germany,” as Macfarlane puts it in a new introduction to Rogue Male, and stalks an unnamed dictator “who resembles Hitler.” He is captured, tortured, and thrown off a cliff, but survives and escapes to England, where he takes refuge, in Dorset, in a sunken lane known as a holloway—a “route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll & rain-run have harrowed into the land.” Holloways are a feature of southern England, where the stone is soft. Most were originally drove roads, paths to market, or pilgrim paths. Some date back to the early Iron Age, and some lie fifteen or twenty feet beneath the surrounding fields—“more ravines than road.”
To understand Italy, you must ride its trains. Tim Parks tells the story of when his first-class ticket turned out to be anything but—and what this incident reveals about the Italian way of life.
Verona Porta Vescovo, a tiny station in a sleepy cul-de-sac on my side of town, is the kind of station where you hear a bell ring out before a train comes. It’s a lovely sound, urgent and old-fashioned as a black-and-white movie. The platforms are very long, very narrow, and generally deserted. To get to platform four, where trains depart for Verona and very occasionally Milan, where I teach, you have to walk across the lines. I love doing this. It gives a pleasant sense of transgression, of really being in the nitty-gritty.
Passengers at the Milano Centrale train station in 2010. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty)
There is no ticket office in Porta Vescovo, but in the waiting room you have to pass through from road to platform there is one ancient gray machine issuing regional tickets only, that is, for destinations within a range of something less than a hundred miles. There’s no touch-sensitive screen here, just a few sticky old buttons. Everything is coded in numbers. In particular, each station, and there are hundreds of them, is represented by three digits that you have to check on an interminable list to the side of the machine and then punch in with the buttons. Not to worry, though: five days out of seven this machine is not working. In which case you can buy your ticket in the station café.
But on Sunday the café is closed. And on Sunday the ticket machine never works. Sunday afternoon is when I now travel to Milan, to be there on time for a lesson Monday morning. The malfunctioning machine is a problem.
Beacher’s Madhouse is an insane nightclub replete with midgets, sideshow performers, and A-list attendees, including Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Plus, photos of the insanity.
What do Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, flying midgets, and a 6-foot 7-inch tranny stripper with massive mammaries have in common? On a given night, they can all be seen at Beacher’s Madhouse—a Los Angeles nightspot buried beneath the famed Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel that is a bizarre mélange of sideshow, musical theater, lux lounge, and one helluva good time.
It’s 11:30 p.m. on a warm Wednesday evening and the line outside of Beacher’s Madhouse stretches down a narrow corridor. Pass through a velvet rope—accompanied by a strict doorman—and into a 3,000-square foot red-hued theater replete with 15 oval-shaped tables, a tiny stage, and a bar lining the rear wall. Top-40 music is blaring and the crowd, most of whom are standing, is young, modish, and easy on the eyes. Midgets dressed like Oompa-Loompas are attached to zip lines and fly overhead, delivering bottles of liquor to table dwellers from “The Midget Bar” located next to the stage (one of them almost takes my co-worker’s head off, as a mash-up of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address plays). While the atmosphere is spring break, the pricing is decidedly upscale. Cheapskates need not apply.
The use of devices during takeoff and landing may soon be allowed.
Powering your smartphone on and off during a flight can be a battery-sucking pain. But there may be good news on the horizon. In September, the Federal Aviation Administration will listen to an industry working group’s findings which are expected to recommend allowing passengers to use their devices more freely during takeoff and landing. A member of the F.A.A.-assigned group says it will likely recommend using smartphones and tablets for data, but not talking, during takeoff and landing—if this usage is found not to interfere with the plane's flight instruments. The findings will be delivered to the agency in September.
Back in the 1960s at airports there were no scanners, body pat-downs or other security measures, but there were hijackers, hundreds of them. Emma Garman on Brendan Koerner’s wild flight, ‘The Skies Belong to Us,’ into those crazy days—and one couple’s ride from Los Angeles to Algeria.
Lengthy and intrusive airport security procedures, disquiet over the TSA’s more elaborate innovations notwithstanding, are largely accepted as a matter of routine nowadays, even when one is subjected to phone-tapping, garbage-sifting-level scrutiny. Last year, I took a flight from Germany to Israel on the latter’s flag carrier, El Al—known as the world’s most secure airline, with no successful hijackings since their first and only more than four decades ago—and I was “selected” as a suspicious passenger. Probably on account of being a lone female not in her country of origin, I was given a pre-check-in inquisition on matters including, but not limited to, my work, my family, my romantic status, my travel history, my reasons for visiting Israel, and whether or not I’d packed a bathing suit. The 30-minute conversation began to conclude only when I handed my smartphone to the uniformed interrogator, so he could read emails between me and the friend I’d arranged to meet in Tel Aviv.
Martin McNally hijacked this American Airlines 727 with a submachine gun hidden in a trombone case in St. Louis on June 23, 1972. (Fred Waters/AP)
Whose idea was it, he wondered, to take the trip? How long had we known each other? Under what circumstances had we first become acquainted? And did I know any Arabs or Muslims? Meanwhile his colleague, who’d stepped away to Google me and the publications I write for, signaled a gesture that apparently green-lit the next stage of assessment. Compared with explaining what, exactly, had compelled me to spend a few days sightseeing in the Holy Land, this part was easy: I watched as each of my possessions was removed from my baggage, briefly inspected, and scanned with an explosives detector—including the travel guides that, when mentioned during the cross-examination, clearly elicited a mental checkmark in the “probably a bona fide tourist” column. A 2009 trip to Morocco, on the other hand, earned me a tick in the “theoretical terrorist threat” column and a query as to whether I’d “kept in touch” with anyone from that country.
So I was stunned and amused to learn from Brendan I. Koerner’s riveting new book, The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, that back in the ’60s and early ’70s, airlines in the United States and many other countries barely employed any procedures to keep deadly weapons off aircraft, let alone investigated their passengers’ intercontinental alliances and swimwear. In the mood to commandeer a Boeing 727 and demand half a million dollars in ransom? All you had to do was board with your submachine gun in a trombone case, as Martin McNally did at St. Louis airport in 1972. Real and pretend bombs, hand grenades, loaded pistols, knives, large quantities of gasoline, all were freely carried onto planes in pockets and bags. “It was once possible,” writes Koerner, “to pass through an entire airport, from curbside to gate, without encountering a single inconvenience—no X-ray machines, no metal detectors, no uniformed security personnel with grabby hands and bitter dispositions.”
The burger takes over Milan.
The newest trend in Milan isn’t the latest style from Versace; it’s the tasty treat from accross the pond. Offering a sharp contrast to the traditional, many-coursed Italian meal, the comfort food and casual atmosphere typical of American eateries has rapidly gained popularity in Italy's fashion capital. The results are varied, with some chefs giving the burger a makeover using high-end ingredients and others fully embracing its tasty simplicity. Either way, we hope a few of those waif-like models will also catch the burger-fever.
List released by National Trust for Historic Preservation.
While the Astrodome may not be everybody’s cup of tea, it is a landmark for stadium design and is now one of 11 buildings designated as endangered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The list, which also includes the Gay Head lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard and the Pan American’s Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport, has worked to preserve and protect both landscapes and structures that represent American heritage that have fallen into serious disrepair.
From a submerged Bar Refaeli to a Mediterranean idyll, a voyeur’s look at the stars’ sun-soaked scenes.
Wildlife, storytelling, dung, and other things I encountered on my Zambian safari.
The bouillabaisse is just as tasty, but Europe’s 2013 Capital of Culture now has a lot more to offer. Anna Watson Carl reports.
More than a natural wonder, Cappadocia's formations have been a safe haven to many. Nina Strochlic reports.
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications, remembers the fun early days of travel guide writing, but says they're not over yet.
Miley Cyrus’ fav new haunt is Beacher’s Madhouse, the craziest club in Los Angeles.
Take the vacation of a lifetime—in beautiful North Korea? That’s Uri Tours’ pitch. Lloyd Grove reports.
In ‘Mapping Manhattan,’ explore the city via 75 New Yorkers’ personal geographies. By Allison McNearney.