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Just a ramblin' man



Published: Sat, January 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By GARY A. WARNER

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Tales from another year on the road. Twelve months that included "red-state" rambles, masquerading as a squire at an English castle, sleeping at a San Diego hotel that literally swayed with the surf and looking for mini-balls in the Civil War killing fields of Shiloh, Tenn.

And maybe just a bit of Hawaii. OK, a lot of Hawaii.

At least no plagues of locusts -- for me. Tourists in Israel and Spain weren't so lucky this year.

Join me to take a look back at the good and bad of a year in travel, along with a compilation of what other list makers marked as the high points of 2004.

I'm writing this on an airplane, some 30,000 feet up in the air. Enjoying the rare pleasure I call "poor man's first class," an empty three-across economy-class row.

I've filled the space with my notebooks, guides, magazines and newspapers.

What better time and place to stretch out and recall the travel year that was.

Faced with an unusually busy year in the office and at home, and hamstrung with an anemic dollar that made a burger, fries and Coke in London more expensive than a motel room in Ohio, I opted for the traveling equivalent of comfort food.

No Siberia. No Patagonia. No Bora Bora or African safari as in years past.

As the police inspector played by Claude Rains said in "Casablanca": "Round up the usual suspects."

Hawaii. London. San Diego. Yosemite. New York. Las Vegas. Scotland.

There were some new adventures, like crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the maiden Southampton-to-New York run of the new seagoing brontosaurus Queen Mary 2.

But discoveries can come in even the most familiar of places. On a trip between Santa Catalina and Dana Point, Calif., with my son, I saw the most amazing sight I've seen in the 10 years I've been traveling for the Orange County Register: a pod of more than 600 dolphins, some shooting into the air and cackling with laughter, racing alongside our boat.

Here are my choices for the best moments and places from 2004:

FAVORITE ENTRY

Gliding past the Statue of Liberty, the gold leaf on her torch glinting in the dawn sun, on Queen Mary 2's maiden crossing from Southampton to New York City. Cunard may have tried to ruin the experience by blasting bad Billy Joel tunes, but the red, white and blue water spray from the fireboats, the waves from crowds on the New Jersey docks and the vision of the lower Manhattan skyline made me teary-eyed.

MOST BEAUTIFUL U.S. PLACE

Ash Cave, Ohio. America's state parks are some of its underappreciated treasures. While millions crowd into Yosemite and Yellowstone, state parks get a fraction of the visitors. I loved an autumn hike to Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park, a huge horseshoe-shaped recess in the rock, rimmed by hemlock trees.

MOST BEAUTIFUL FOREIGN PLACE

Glencoe, Scotland. On a frosty November day, I returned to the narrow valley where the McDonald clan was massacred in 1692. It's now a hiker's paradise, and the small hotel at the northern end of the rocky crags was a nightly meeting place where tales of icy lakes, steep crags and frigid streams were swapped over warm, thick soup and dark pints of Guinness stout.

MOST MOVING PLACE

Shiloh. I think the reason so many people find the Civil War battlefield in south central Tennessee so evocative is that unlike Antietam, Gettysburg or Manassas, the country around Shiloh hasn't changed much since the bloody day in April 1862 when the Yanks and Rebs fought and died.

FAVORITE U.S. CITY

Pittsburgh. The scrubbed-up, slightly upscale city of today hasn't totally erased the weave of steel-town-era neighborhoods built into the hills and valleys. But the beautiful new baseball and football stadiums on the once-decrepit north side have given the central core a new sparkle and energy.

FAVORITE FOREIGN CITY

Edinburgh, Scotland. I don't care much for the ostentatious, aggressively postmodern new Scottish Parliament building. But the old part of the city along the Royal Mile is one of the best walks of any European city.

FAVORITE MOTEL

Caliente Tropics, Palm Springs. I've driven by this 1964 classic for years as it went through a series of chain-motel owners. It's had a $2.2 million makeover, resurrecting it as perhaps the premier example of tiki motel architecture in the United States.

FAVORITE U.S. HOTEL

Mission Inn, Riverside. Another example of finding surprises in your own back yard. This bizarre, beautiful hotel seems to draw equal parts inspiration from the California missions and the surrealistic paintings of M.C. Escher.

FAVORITE FOREIGN HOTEL

Amberley Castle, near Arundel, England. On my way to embark on Queen Mary 2, I stayed the night in this gorgeous manor house set amid the ruins of a 900-year-old ancient castle. To walk along the ramparts is to feel the romantic pull of a perhaps-never-was world of kings, knights, minstrels and ladies.

FAVORITE U.S. BED AND BREAKFAST

Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono, Maui. Janice Fairbanks has refurbished a plantation-era house into a lovely place filled with flowers and quilts. Lots of ohana (family) and aloha spirit.

FAVORITE FOREIGN BED AND BREAKFAST

Bolebroke Water Mill, Hartfield, England. An old mill. Swans squawking in the field, beautiful old oaks. A perfect rest spot near the "Winnie-the-Pooh" sights just a half-hour south of London's Gatwick Airport.

FAVORITE FARM STAY

East Hill Farm, Massachusetts. You can milk a cow (or goat) and pick your own eggs for breakfast at this working farm about an hour northwest of Boston. Specializing in family visits and seniors groups, it's a rare place where all generations can be accepted and have fun.

FAVORITE BREAKFAST

Huevos rancheros -- eggs smothered in green and red chili on top of a flower tortilla -- served in the tiny back coffee shop of Duran's Pharmacy in Albuquerque, N.M. The antithesis of homogenized chain restaurants.

FAVORITE LUNCH

Carnitas (and a couple of great margaritas) at Las Casuelas Terraza in Palm Springs. I visited on a warm, clear winter day -- during the blazing summer, spray nozzles overhead keep diners cool.

FAVORITE DINNER

Stir-fry-style moi fish in black bean sauce at Mama's Fish House. The light, crusty fish once reserved for only the royal palate gets a regal treatment at Maui's -- and perhaps Hawaii's -- best fish house.

FAVORITE FOREIGN MEAL

Chicken biryani at Veeraswamy, London. At 76 years old, Veeraswamy is believed to be Britain's oldest Indian restaurant. After decades of decline, it has rejoined the ranks of the city's top eateries after a makeover by the west London innovators behind trendy Chutney Mary's. Gives new meaning to the term "posh spice."

FAVORITE SWIM

Natural pool at Puohokamoa Falls, Maui, Hawaii. Look for Mile Marker 11 on the road between Paia and Hana. The natural pool is cold -- and the rocks are slippery. I slipped and smashed my right wrist on the rocks. But it was worth it for a paddle around the crisply cool pool formed by a cascading waterfall. It's one of those tropical paradise moments right out of a bad credit-card commercial.

FAVORITE DOMESTIC FLIGHT

Aloha Airlines to Maui, Hawaii. Once again, Aloha tops the list. While the service is very good, the great draw of Aloha is that it flies direct from John Wayne Airport. No LAX is my idea of paradise.

FAVORITE FOREIGN FLIGHT

British Airways to London. An unexpected bump up to business class offered a too-rare glimpse into the world of flying civility. Space to stretch my legs and a seat that reclined almost to flat for a good night's sleep. Somewhere out there I hear the mooing of the cattle-car class back in coach and smile at my brief good fortune.

FAVORITE AIRPORT

Pittsburgh International Airport. The cutbacks by main tenant US Airways will likely make it more difficult for the airport to support the wonderfully wide variety of bookstores, clothiers and other shops in the best "mallport" in the country.

FAVORITE BEACH

Hamoa. A tree-fringed crescent just beyond Hana on the far side of Maui. Rarely crowded, always beautiful.

FAVORITE DRIVE

Following the remnants of the Lincoln Highway, the nation's first coast-to-coast road, across the heartland of Ohio. As with Route 66, the draw is the idea that once the most important roads in the country went through all the towns, rather than over or around them.

FAVORITE MASSAGE

Delivered by Darrell Lapulapu at the Four Seasons Hualalai, Hawaii. As the geckos chirped, Darrell unlocked the knots and steel bars that pass themselves off as my neck and shoulder muscles. Using a technique based on traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, Darrell gave me an intense tune-up, not the usual light-touch rub-a-dub-dub of a resort massage.

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD FLASHBACK

Playing Pooh Sticks in Hartfield, England. My mother read the "Winnie-the-Pooh" stories to me and I've read them dozens of times to my son and daughter. My only regret of visiting the Hundred Acre Wood and playing Pooh Sticks by the river was that neither of my children was along -- this time.

FAVORITE TRAVEL BOOK PUBLISHER

Santa Monica Press. With titles like "James Dean Died Here," "Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here" and "Tiki Road Trip," the small California publisher is making a name for itself with slightly off-kilter pop-culture guidebooks for those who would rather know the best graveyard in Los Angeles than the best boutique hotel.

FAVORITE EXIT

Leaving the Royal Hawaiian hotel in Honolulu, I step from the elevators and into the long lobby. At one end, beyond a wide pink arch, I catch a glimpse of the waves of Waikiki. A last, lingering look at the paradise I am about to lose. I turn from the bright sunshine and walk across the polished tiles to the grand old pink portico, where a taxi awaits and the man shutting the door behind me smiles and says, "Hope you come back soon."




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