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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cold Souls: Iced In in Memphis

This isn't the greatest weekend to visit Memphis. Most flights in and out of Memphis International Airport were canceled Friday, the Memphis Zoo was closed Friday and today, The Orpheum Theatre's performance of "Jersey Boys" was canceled Friday, Graceland – Graceland! – closed Friday, and galleries and museums ranging from Memphis Brooks Museum of Art to National Civil Rights Museum closed their doors for part or all of the weekend. At least the Grizzlies NBA game versus New Orleans is still on for tonight, although it will be interesting to see how light the crowd will be to see one of the league’s hottest teams (Memphis, not the Hornets).

I’m not going to get into the whole “why the South shuts down for snow argument” other than to say we don’t get snow. We get ice, the kind that weighs down tree limbs and drops them on power lines during the night.

I am curious what travelers in Memphis – and any other locale hammered to various degrees by this winter storm – are doing to make the best of their trips. I don’t have much advice to offer in these types of situations; I’ve never traveled somewhere only to see many of the sights I had hoped to see shut down because of weather. (A tornado warning while on a trip to Springfield, Ill., last March did force us into our Downtown hotel’s basement as we were checking out instead of making a quick visit to some of the shops and galleries near the new Lincoln Presidential Library before heading home.)

At least things seem to be thawing out pretty well here. Hopefully those who were able to get a flight into the city have been able to make the best of their time in Memphis.

Not that anyone should plan lodging around the what if’s of being stranded, but to me it’s one more reason to pick a hotel in the heart of the action. And in the case of Memphis, that’s Downtown, where I know several bars, clubs and restaurants remained open Friday night, some even offering specials. This also can be a good time to get to know the people in a city, namely those servers and bartenders. Those conversations, experiences and new relationships built among other “iced-in” patrons and workers can make a forgettable trip a memorable one.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Running in Memphis: Remembering Jeff Buckley

As I sit at my desk in Downtown Memphis, I can't ignore the excruciating pain pulsating through my left leg, the leftover effects of two hard runs this week, one of which was speed repeats over the very steep Auction Avenue Bridge to Mud Island. The bridge is short; it connects Downtown to Mud Island over the Wolf River Harbor. But it is fairly steep as it has to allow for barge and boat traffic to clear.

Anyway, I was doing this run a few days ago at sunset. I love sunsets – beaches, rivers, flat farmland – anywhere that shows the sun dipping below the horizon without obstructions. Memphis has great sunsets, just not a lot of vantage points to enjoy them. The peak of the Auction Avenue Bridge, however, certainly is one of them.

The reason I bring up Jeff Buckley is as I sit at my desk, Buckley’s music just randomly came up on my iPod, giving me my second reminder of that run. See, that harbor has much to do with the singer/songwriter who had only months before his death in 1997 moved to Memphis.

It was on this run a few days ago that I was reminded of Buckley while looking down at the water below. It was in those waters that Buckley, who was fully dressed and swimming in the harbor, disappeared. His body was found several days later. His drowning brought to an end the career of a brilliant musician.

I know you might be wondering how these random thoughts on running, the brilliant sunset over the Mississippi River and the greatness of Jeff Buckley have anything to do with local travel. I guess to me being a local traveler also means traveling within one’s city. I’m unable to travel nearly as much as I would like, but I’m blessed to live in a city that draws – I venture to guess – millions of visitors a year. It’s moments like this week’s when I could step out of my Downtown office, run a few blocks away and experience a brilliant sunset over the Mighty Mississippi that makes me glad I can be a local traveler in my hometown.

I encourage you to find those local experiences wherever you call home.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Beer Fests in Memphis

Just wanted to pass along a great story written by Eric Smith, senior reporter at The Daily News in Memphis (where I'm an editor). Two cool beer festivals are coming to the market in the spring, both of which will support important charities.

New Air Service: Memphis to Toronto

If you don't live in Memphis or visit Memphis, the news today that Air Canada is adding two daily nonstop flights between Memphis and Toronto probably doesn't register. 

But as a traveler living in Memphis, I think this is great news. Beginning May 17, Air Canada will launch direct service between the two cities. It's not cheap; If I did the flight selector correctly just now it's roughly $550 roundtrip. Delta Airlines, which has a domestic hub at Memphis International Airport, offers a couple of flight options for around $500 roundtrip. (I typed in the same May dates to get similar flight options.)

What was not similar was the fact the Delta flight has layover options in Atlanta and Detroit, adding a couple hours and the hassle of changing planes to the experience.

So for now, cost-wise this new addition to the Memphis market doesn't mean much. But down the road, the competition will hopefully have an impact on prices. And Memphians can't complain about having another airline attempting to make inroads at Memphis International, where the scene has been dominated by Northwest and now it's parent company Delta for years. 

Who knows, maybe having another airline in Memphis, especially if it sees success, might help lure the ultimate to Memphis: Southwest Airlines. As Elvis once sang, "If I Could Dream."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sweet Sweetwater

It could be called a meat market; a gathering of Atlanta’s who’s who; a neighborhood bar – the one where everyone knows your name; a place to pregame; a perfect place for a blind date, first date or any date; guys’ night out; girls’ night out; an educational experience; somewhere to drown out your latest sorrows or wash away a tough week at work; laugh; cry; or just have a damn good time with friends.

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co.,, is all those things and more on Friday evenings when the working brewery opens its doors to the public from 5:30 to 7:30 and, for a measly 8 bucks, patrons can sample six half pints, all in a keepsake pint glass, while listening to live music in a crowd of a couple hundred of your closest friends and strangers.

Sweetwater is located in an industrial neighborhood on the north side of Downtown off Interstate 85. It’s a good spot for the 9 to 5 crowd heading home or preparing for a night out on the town. Want to learn how the place brews its 49,000 barrels a year? Tours are offered throughout the week and during happy hour. About the only downside to the location is it’s not near a MARTA line so if you plan to get tipsy you better call a cab. Otherwise, it’s a quick drive to anywhere in Downtown, Midtown and even Buckhead.

I love the idea of tasting fresh, local beer among a local crowd. I love the idea of hearing a local band playing outside where I can choose to hang out on the patio. The patio, by the way, is very dog-friendly with water bowls scattered around to help man’s best friend out during the hot Atlanta evenings.

Speaking of the heat, if you visit during the summer months – or winter for that matter – and want to head inside, there is a large room with an L-shaped bar and spacious – and clean – restrooms. There’s also an outdoor bar.

The negatives to this place? Well, I can only think of one, and that’s if you’re bothered by crowds. When I went on a pleasant fall evening it took about 20 minutes to move through the line to enter. The lines can build at the bars, but it never takes more than a minute or two to get a refill.

If you find yourself in Atlanta on a Friday evening, I can think of nothing better to do than support a local brewery.

Monday, January 25, 2010

One Morning in the Village

It’s 9 a.m. on a sunny but unseasonably cool August morning in the West Village. Not really early, but not exactly late in this New York neighborhood that seems to never really sleep. It’s definitely the right time for a cup of coffee and a bagel. But honestly, it seems there’s never a bad time for that combination in this city.

I like to schedule my days on a trip – that’s what OCD Type A personalities like myself do. If there’s not a scrap of paper, Post-It note or some other piece of paper with a to-do list or schedule scribbled on it, then let’s just say I’m not a happy person.

But on this, the third day of a seven-day trip last August in New York, it’s a casual day that “only” has stops scheduled for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by lunch reservations at Union Square CafĂ©, an afternoon of shopping and an after-hours event at MoMA. Like I said, a casual day.

But at this moment it’s New York sensory overload. I’ve just stepped out the front door of the old walk-up apartment building we’re lucky enough to call home for a week in the city. The first seconds after the large door slams loudly behind me I smell the cigarette smoke wafting only feet to my right from the mouth of a worker at the tiny dry cleaners nearby. To my left, at the busy intersection with Sixth Avenue, I feel the water hose mist from the guy spraying down the flowers at his corner shop. I’m standing in a daze of New Yorker delight in front of the neatly piled trash already waiting for that night’s pickup when the blare of horn beeping of what has to be 20 or 30 yellow cabs flying through the intersection brings me back to life.

But then I’m quickly reminded of the reason I’ve stepped out for a few minutes: a cup of coffee and a bagel, but not any bagel. We’re talking Bagels on the Square near Father Demo Square at Bleecker and Sixth. Look, I’m no expert on New York bagels. I mean, I don’t live there. I’ve only been to the city a few times. But when I bite into something that’s good, I know it. And the bagels at Bagels on the Square fit the bill, specifically the whole wheat bagel with strawberry cream cheese.

And today won’t be like my previous trip to Bagels on the Square when I learned the New York counter rule: Know what you’re ordering, or step the hell back; at least that’s the drill for this timid Southerner who doesn’t want to look like a tourist. On this morning, I’m a local in the Village.

But despite the fact I’m confident with the knowledge learned the day before, I’m thankful on this morning when I walk in and see there are a few customers at the counter ahead of me. We have a young professional-type wearing a sleek suit and stylish tie, hair jelled perfectly, shoulder bag flung perfectly over his chest and wearing a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor shoes. I mean, it sounds so stockbroker until you get to the shoes.

Then there’s a construction worker (there’s always a construction worker with hard hat in hand, right?), followed by some guy reading his New York Times and wearing the skinniest of skinny jeans and a tight knit shirt.

Then there’s me, the guy from Memphis who was fortunate enough to get a fifth-floor walkup in the Village for a week instead of one of those closet-sized expensive hotel rooms near Times Square wearing his, well, I’ll just say I did not have on the typical American tourist white tennis shoes.

After getting my bagel and coffee, I head to the nearby Father Demo Square where I find a random park bench, take a seat and watch this city of cities pass me by.

It’s a 10-minute snapshot of a random morning in New York. But that’s what traveling, specifically local traveling, is all about. Experiencing those everyday moments just like a local does.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Learning Everyday: An Intro to Fire Museums

Visiting a fire museum is not high on the list of sites to see for my art-loving wife or my history-buff self. So maybe it was good our introduction to the concept came while attending a birthday party at the Fire Museum of Memphis this weekend.

The museum has its share of historic trucks and equipment, which was pretty cool to check out. But the highlight of this museum – and I’m sure many worldwide like it – is the educational aspect. That’s where this museum has found its mission.

From the room simulator that shows an innocent fire starting and spreading quickly through a house while the room’s heat begins to get very unbearable to the maze teaching children how to escape a burning house, the museum does a great job. And when not learning about fire safety or the history of firefighting in Memphis, the museum offers plenty of play opportunities.

There are nearly 300 museums in North America devoted to firefighting, according to the Fire Museum Network. The network’s Web site,, lists museums in all 50 states, throughout Canada and in a number of other countries.

Some are basic rooms in working firehouses. Others are more elaborate, such as those that can be found in major cities that are housed in former firehouses.

I’ve been to a grand total of one. So I can’t speak as an expert on the subject. But I can say I was pleasantly surprised in the detail of the interactive exhibits and the number of historic trucks and other items.

The most important visitor on this trip, my 3-year-old son, gave the museum his approval. Two fire trucks and one ambulance with flashing lights and working steering wheels and switches was a perfect experience for a boy infatuated with all things cars and trucks.

If I’m on a weekend trip to New York am I going to visit the New York City Fire Museum? Probably not, but an extended stay, particularly if a certain toddler is in tow, and I can’t think of anything better.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Got Reservations? Avoid Lines to See Renaissance Masterpieces

Just because the Renaissance was some 500 years ago, it doesn't mean you have to wait for hours to see many of its masterpieces. But don't ever try getting into Florence, Italy’s Uffizi Gallery during peak tourist season without a reservation.

A few years back in planning a trip to Italy, I knew I needed to reserve a spot to get in to this museum featuring many of the Renaissance period’s great masterpieces. But when I called six weeks in advance there were no tour times available until two and a half hours before our train was set to depart for Venice.

I had a choice and I had to make it quick. We could skip the museum, which wasn’t much of an option with my art-obsessed wife, or we could make do with a quick hour and a half of seeing the highlights in the Uffizi before heading off to catch the train. For me, it was a no-brainer.

I mean, yes, I hope to make it back to Florence one day. But just in case one day becomes never or many years from now, I had to make that reservation. Looking back, I’m glad we did, but I do wish we would have had more time to see this wonderful museum.

But I certainly am very glad we were not among the visitors who we saw standing in line for 10-plus hours trying to get squeezed into the museum. Our reservation was exactly that, a reserved spot for two that meant we did not have to spend hours waiting to get in.

So what can you do to avoid this at the Uffizi or other popular attractions? Well, if you’re planning a trip to a foreign country chances are you are doing it a few months in advance. So pencil in a few hours for those “must see” attractions, go to a travel forum such as Trip Advisor and find out from that forum’s experts if reservations are a must for that attraction.

Take it from me, it is well worth the extra time and effort to research the sites you want to see, particularly if your time is limited. Other than that, well, you can plan a trip next time for the off-season.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Honest NYC panhandler

OK, I call this guy a panhandler, but he might just be someone who thought it would be funny to create this sign and have a seat. But I like his honesty, his humor and what appears to be an attempt for some beer.

And maybe he really was into the whole "Peace and Love and Lots of Hugs" plea. He was sitting at the John Lennon "Imagine" memorial in Central Park.

Not sure if he ever got that beer. But he sure looks happy.

Huey Lewis knows the heart of rock 'n' roll is still beating in Memphis (Yes, that's pretty lame). Huey has been in Memphis recording an album at Ardent Studios. check out for more. For those who don't know, Memphis music is still alive and well. While tourists flock to Sun Studio and Graceland, not to mention Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Rock 'n' Soul Museum and many other music-related spots, there are plenty of spots worth checking out in Memphis.

Who and What is the Local Traveler?

For those who don’t know me I’m Lance. I’m 33, married since the weekend of my college graduation and a father of a 3-year-old son. We live in Memphis (well, technically the suburb of Collierville, but I call myself a Memphian).
I love Memphis. I love everything about the city, even its flaws that have most people complaining about the city. Memphis is dirty, but in a good way. It has soul. It’s a soul that is not polished. It says, “Here I am. If you don’t like me then you can just bugger off because this is me.” If more Memphians would take on that attitude I think our inferiority complex would disappear.
But this blog does not exist to discuss the dirty soul of Memphis. I am a Memphian who loves to travel. Traveling is my dirty soul. I love traveling, I love dreaming of my future travels, I love planning my future travels. I even love planning other people’s travels.
I lived in Central Arkansas until moving to Memphis just before high school. Growing up, most of my travels consisted of basic trips to the Ozark Mountains.
But the summer following the first grade came The Trip: Two weeks in Florida, the first in Miami and Key West and the second in Orlando’s Mouseland. Despite spending two days straight in a car to get to Miami that trip transformed me. I remember picking up every brochure I came across. I had a very large box full of Florida brochures stuffed in my closet. For years after that trip, I spent hours at a time in my bedroom planning and dreaming of the next trip.
I love to travel and feel I’ve seen my fair share of places. I’ve been to many of this country’s major cities, roughly half the states and a handful of countries. I know people who have traveled much more than me and others who have barely traveled at all.
I don’t get jealous of other people – I’m pleased with my life. But to a degree I do envy those people who have had the opportunities to travel more frequently.
But I’m happy with the travels I have made. I feel sorry for those who have not left their homes to see what is out there.
You’d think I would have ended up as a travel agent or somehow work in the tourism industry, maybe even have a job that would have me traveling. But unfortunately I do not. I’m an editor at a business newspaper in Memphis. I’m a freelance writer, but I’ve never written articles related to my travels (I hope this changes that). I spent some time during college working at Graceland (yes, I was a tour guide at the second-most visited house in the U.S. behind the White House). But that time has been the closest I’ve come to collecting a paycheck from anything related to my love of travels.
With that in mind, this blog is a way for me to connect to that love.
What will I write about? Well, everything related to traveling. One day it might be my top 10 pizza places in New York followed by an essay on why people travel. I sometimes will give advice on Memphis tourism. Other times it will be about other places I’ve visited in the U.S. and in Europe. Maybe I’ll consider the pros and cons to staying at an all-inclusive resort.
Still other writings will be about places I hope to one day visit but haven’t yet stepped foot in. Just because I’ve never been to a locale doesn’t mean I haven’t already researched it to death. I haven't been to Miami in 25 years but I feel my knowledge of the best Cuban restaurants in the area, for example, can match the advice most South Floridians would give. When I or someone I know travels to a locale, I dive in and learn everything I can about that city. That was the case when my wife took a recent trip to South Beach.
You might ask what makes me an expert. Well, nothing, except for the fact that I have a passion for traveling. And, I was the Memphis Expert on Trip Advisor for a couple of years. I found myself way too busy then and had to relinquish that role.
But no, I certainly have not been certified by anyone to speak my mind about travels. You can choose to ignore everything I say. But whether you agree with my recommendations or not, I am just happy you have taken a minute to check in to see what the Local Traveler is about.
Anyway, that’s the Local Traveler in a nutshell: A person who would be happy if he could spend nearly every day of his life in a new place. I hope you are able to learn something about traveling by reading my thoughts.

The Local Traveler