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Travel Feature

Washington, DC A Tourist Capitol

New Yorkers should feel right at home in Washinton DC for numerous reasons ranging from culture, points of interest, fine restaurants, to a first class mass transit system. You really don’t need a car because Washington’s subway, better known as the Metro, can get you to almost anywhere in the Beltway. The trains are clean, the service is frequent, and it only costs $1.35 during off-peak hours.
      
Many of the most popular attractions in Washington do not charge admission. The National Zoo, located in the city’s tony Adams Morgan neighborhood, attracts millions of visitors each year who want to view its primate and big cats exhibits, and of course, the big draw, the great pandas from China. The zoo is quite hilly so be prepared for strenuous exercise if you want to see everything here.
      
One can spend weeks visiting all of the Smithsonian museums. My suggestion is to see the Museum of American History and the Natural History Museum first. The former places a lot of emphasis on pop culture. Among the displays here are the ruby red slippers that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz,” Fonzie’s leather jacket from “Happy Days,” and the chairs that Archie and Edith Bunker had in their fictional Rego Park living room from the classic ‘70s CBS breakthrough TV comedy, “All In The Family.” The latter, which has just gotten a lot of play from the recently released sequel to the Ben Stiller film, “Night At The Museum,” features numerous artifacts and fossils.
      
There are some novel and intriguing privately-owned museums as well. The Crime & Punishment Museum chronicles the history of organized crime in the United States, with particular emphasis on such 1930s gangsters as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow, to nefarious serial killers as Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy , Albert “The Boston Strangler” De Salvio and Ted Bundy. Of interest to Queens residents is an exhibit on the late Howard Beach “Dapper Don,” John Gotti, and a 1992 letter from David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz to an old friend in which he reminisces about the fun nights that they spent in taverns on Queens Boulevard. Fox Television’s popular Saturday night show, “America’s Most Wanted,” has its studio here.
   
A block away from the Crime & Punishment Museum is the International Spy Museum which looks at the history of espionage from the time of Benedict Arnold right up to today. The Spy Museum has plentiful information about Allies spies behind the Axis lines in World War II, to the CIA-KGB battles during the Cold War. The museum spares no details about such American traitors as Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker Lindh. On a lighter note, there is a lot of spy pop culture here including props from James Bond movies, as well as from such TV shows as “Get Smart,” “The Man From UNCLE” and “The Avengers.”
    
As a journalist, I have to admit that I am partial to the Newseum, the first museum dedicated to the history of news reporting, starting with the early days of the Gutenberg printing press right up to the Internet. The current front page of a daily newspaper from each American city is on display, as well as those capturing historic moments such as V-E Day, the JFK assassination, and 9/11. Photojournalism has a dedicated wing here as well.
    
On the Newseum’s second floor, visitors are apprised that community newspapers are thriving while their daily counterparts are in financial trouble. It would be nice if there was an exhibit dedicated to community weeklies instead of just getting a pat on the back.
     
The most somber, yet emotionally-moving, museum arguably in the world is the National Holocaust Museum which of course examines the hate-filled world of the Nazi Empire that cost millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Gentiles who dared to stand up to the Hilter regime their lives. The June 10, 2009 rifle attack on the Holocaust Museum by 88 year-old Nazi sympathizer James von Brunn that killed heroic security guard Stephen Johns is a reminder that hate is sadly very much alive. Ironically von Brunn’s despicable action is a stark reminder of why everyone should make at least one visit here.
       
There are no shortage of terrific dining experiences in DC. For those on a budget, Nando’s Peri-Peri Restaurant, has very tasty flame-grilled chicken and has quickly become a favorite of the business lunch crowd. A great way to spend an evening is to take a three-hour Odyssey dinner cruise. You get to enjoy both a four-course meal and a trip on the scenic Potomac that sails from Georgetown to Alexandria, Va. Finally, the Juniper Restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel is renowned for its Sunday brunch as well as for its local seafood dishes such as Maryland crab cake.  
      
The Fairmont Hotel is also a great place to stay. Located in the beautiful West End district that is home to lovely brownstones and several parks, and away from the DC hustle and bustle, the Fairmont is located near two Metro stops and is a short walk to hip Georgetown. There is also a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the center of the hotel that has been used for many a wedding.
    
Washington is easy to get to via Amtrak (I recommend taking the Acela Express which is quite cheap on weekends). There are also several bus carriers such as Bolt, Megabus and
DC Trails that compete so fiercely that fares are frequently just $25 each way. For those in a hurry, both Delta and US Airways have hourly service from LaGuardia, while Forest Hills’ own JetBlue flies from JFK to Dulles Airport throughout the day.
     
For more information, log onto www.destinationdc.com or call the Washington Visitors Bureau at (202) 789-7000
       

Quick Tips On What To Do in Berlin

My German was schlect, but I could deduce from the "Willkommen in Ost-Berlin" sign that the east side of the breached Berlin Wall was now open for business. Was it ever.The Brandenberg Gate--Unter den Linden

We're talking February 1990, the first time that the Berlin International Film Festival was held in both halves of the city, and the first time in 20 years that East and West Berlin reestablished cultural links. I had taken a day's break from the Zoo Palast cinema for a train ride across the former divide and a strut down übercool Unter den Linden.
 
The boulevard was a little cracked, but the optimism seemed inviolable.
 
If hope was the theme of that bracingly forward-cocked era, now, 20 years hence, the mood has somewhat thickened. The capital of Germany eurozone's biggest economy — is braced for a drubbing, both by debt crisis and by unremitting snow.     
 
Of course, Berlin has been through considerably worse, and today's comparative blips won't keep her down. She remains a pulsing center of Kulture, Kaffeehäuses and Kitsch, and few places beat her for a smart mind bang.
 
Crammed among her 3.5 million residents and 341 square miles are myriad reasons to come visit (or to venture beyond the Kino, if you're already there for the Berlinale). Here are 10 of them:
 
Unter den Linden
You could do worse than to start, as I did, with Under the Limes. The east-west axis has pretty much all the check-list monuments for a walking history lesson, from the Hohenzollern dynasty, Weimar Republic and Third Reich on through to the German Democratic Republic (GDR). There's Greek antiquity to boot, what with that Acropolis Propylaea knock-off, the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate
Nothing says "national symbol" quite like Brandenburger Tor. During the Cold War it straddled no-man's land between East and West Germany. Also known as "The Gate of Peace," Berlin's triumphal arch was ground zero for celebrating the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989, two centuries after Frederick William II of Prussia commissioned it as a giant peace sign. That victory goddess riding atop was filched by Napoleon's troops as war booty, but eventually restored after the French took their lumps.

To the north of Brandenburg Gate stands the Reichstag, seat of the German parliament; Tiergarten park sprawls westward; and Friedrichstrasse offers serious shopping in the south. Enthusiasts of ancient civilization should venture east to: 

Museum Island
A billion-euro renovation is underway of Berlin's best spot for museum hopping. Museum Island (Museuminsel) spans five historic buildings in the Mitte district, wedged between the River Spree and Kupfergraben. The centerpiece is the Pergamon Museum, which houses the Ishtar Gate from Babylon and the towering Altar of Zeus. For now it is Germany's most popular museum, but the recently reopened New Museum (Neues Museum), with its bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, may soon inherit the boast.

Other islanders include the Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie), where key Impressionist and other 19th-century collections were consolidated after German reunification, and the Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie). Gobsmacked by its art and archeology, UNESCO added Museum Island to its roster of World Heritage Sites a decade ago.
Bodestraße 1-3
10178 Berlin
www.museen-berlin.de
 
Zoo-Aquarium
Tiergarten, mentioned above, translates as "Animal Garden" in German. Originally a royal hunting ground, it hosts the country's oldest and largest zoo. Giraffes, orang-utans and of course, Knut — the baby polar bear whose trademarking doubled the zoo's value at the Berlin Stock Exchange — count among the14,000 animals and 1,500 species padding around the Zoologischer Garten grounds.
 
A rhino's charge away is the aquarium. Its three-story menagerie contains endangered fish, amphibians, insects and reptiles lit artistically enough to win a cinematography prize at the Berlinale. (Most agree the crocodile hall is the showstopper.) Elsewhere lurk green iguanas, poison frogs and those smarter-than-the-average-invertebrates, octopuses.
Hardenberg Platz 8, Tiergarten
Budapester Straße 32
10787 Berlin
+49 030 25401-0
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Cultural Forum
A slightly longer rhino's charge away is the Cultural Forum (Kulturforum), a complex of museums, galleries and libraries. Heard of the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, perhaps? Or the New National Gallery, Mies van der Rohe's "temple of light and glass" housing the likes of Munch, Kirchner and Kokoschka? Surely Postdamer Platz, that gallery's famous street, rings a bell. The Cultural Forum was part of an ambitious development plan to stretch a "Mental Ribbon of Culture" across Berlin to the Museum Island. Sadly for the city and for architect Hans Bernard Scharoun, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 laid to waste that modernist vision.
New National Gallery
Potsdamer Strasse 50
10785 Berlin
+49 30 266 2651
 
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Ask a Berliner where the "lipstick and powder box" is, and they'll point you toward Breit-Scheidplatz on Kurfürstendamm. (That's Ku'damm for short, one of Berlin's most famous avenues.) You're looking for a church. So here's the story behind the cheeky moniker: The original 19th-century church on the site, a vast red-sandstone affair, caught hell during World War II, and its replacement preserved the remaining walls and neo-Romanesque spire as a reminder of war's lesser virtues. Architect Egon Eierman's avant-garde design includes an octagonal hall illuminated by colored glass bricks. Check out what remains of the west tower, mosaic and reliefs that survived the bombing, and the plaque marking the 20th anniversary of a plot to assassinate Hitler.
Breitscheidplatz
Kurfurstendamm
10789 Berlin
+49 (0) 30 218 5023
 
Alexanderplatz
Originally called Ochsenmarkt, or "ox market," Alexanderplatz was rechristened when Russian Tzar Alexander I visited in 1805. But you can call it "Alex." If you've read Alfred Döblin's modernist novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz, or seen Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 15+ hour screen adaptation, you may expect the square to be a hotbed of ex-cons. Arguably, though, its greatest offender is a TV tower. Known as the Fernsehturm or Tele-spargel (toothpick), this high point of socialist architecture became an icon of East Berlin. Also wearing the style are the World Time Clock (Weltzeituhr), by Erich John, and the Fountain of International Friendship (Brunnen der Internationalen Freundschaft), by Walter Womacka and other artists. All three of these Alexanderplatz landmarks were built in 1969. What were their architects smoking?
 
Berliner Ensemble
For some of the most cinematic work you'll see during the Berlinale, head over to the live stage of the Berliner Ensemble. Lars von Trier, Jean-Luc Godard and Hal Hartley are but three directors whose films are influenced by the German playwright, poet and theater director. One of the town's most venerated theaters, Berliner Ensemble carries on the tradition of Brecht and his wife and collaborator, Helene Weigel. Following their deaths, it expanded its repertoire to the plays of other dramatists, though you may get lucky and catch a performance of Mother Courage and Her Children or The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
 Bertolt-Brecht-Platz 1
10117 Berlin
+49 (0)30 284-08-155
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
http://www.berliner-ensemble.com/   
 
Reichstag
Unless you fell asleep in History 101, you know that the home of the German parliament (Bundestag), all but fried in 1933. The textbook on who started the fire remains to be written, though the Communists got fingered, and Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party would soon Sig Heil its way to power. The neo-renaissance building was further blighted when the Soviets entered Berlin at the end of the war. Even when you look at the Reichstag now, it can be tough to forget that shot of a Red Army Soldier hoisting the Soviet flag. The most recent renovation, by Sir Norman Foster, added a glass dome over the plenary hall. That was completed in 1999, the year the Reichstag once again became the seat of parliament, signaling the shift of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin. Part of the Reichstag is open to the public, and you can even walk up to the top of the dome.
Platz der Republik 1
11011 Berlin-Tiergarten
+49 227 32 152
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.bundestag.de
 
Café Einstein Stammhaus
You can't leave Berlin without arguing philosophy at a café. Even if you don't do caffeine, come for some Apfelstrudel and 19th-century charm. There's plenty to consume among the red leather banquettes, parquet floors and hanging newspapers of this ultimate Berlin hangout that's actually Viennese. 
Kurfürstenstraße 58
10785 Berlin
+49 30 263919-0
www.cafeeinstein.com

Rollin’ Down To Raleigh

If you haven’t been there, it is easy to have an erroneous image of North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh. While there are still plenty of downtown mom-and-pop stores, the city is a far cry from the fictitious Mayberry of the 1960s TV classic, The Andy Griffith Show.

Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and has weathered the recession quite well. One resident described the city as “tees, trees, and Ph.Ds” because of the plentiful golf courses, the tall pines that line the city, and the scholars who live here because of both the number of universities in the area (Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State).

If one needs additional proof that Raleigh is anything but a hayseed town, it is only one of 14 American cities that has its own repertory theater, ballet, symphony and opera companies; all of which perform at the refurbished Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

City officials take understandable pride in referring to Raleigh as “the Smithsonian of the South” for its three major museums: the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the North Carolina Museum of Art. You can easily spend a full day in each and there is no admission charge.

The North Carolina Museum of History has diverse collections, to say the least. The exhibition on piracy through the ages, with particular attention paid to the state’s own 18th century legendary buccaneer, Blackbeard (real name: Edward Teach), has drawn large crowds. The second floor of the museum is home to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Among the familiar names are NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, baseball greats Hoyt Wilhelm, Gaylord Perry and Jim “Catfish” Hunter, and basketball stars Brad Dougherty and Buck Williams. Conspicuously missing however is Wilmington, NC native and UNC star Michael Jordan. Sports Hall of Fame officials insist that Jordan has to attend an induction banquet and he has so far refused to make the time.

Dinosaurs took a particular liking to North Carolina during the Jurassic age. The fossil remains of numerous types of dinosaurs are on display at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has sizable collections of American and European art from a wide array of periods as evidenced by paintings from Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Claude Monet, Jasper Johns and Georgia O’Keeffe to name a few.

Raleigh not only pleases art buffs but architectural aficionados as well. Its Oakwood section located just east of downtown is renowned for its numerous Victorian homes. While it is not exactly Forest Lawn, the Oakwood Cemetery is the final resting place for such notables as Senator Jesse Helms and famed college basketball coach and New York native Jimmy Valvano.

While Raleigh may be 21st century cosmopolitan in many ways, when it comes to dining it is still very traditional Old South. North Carolinians love their barbecue and if you have a hankering for ribs, brisket and BBQ chicken, there is no better place than The Pit Restaurant. It should be noted that North Carolina barbecue differs from the more familiar Memphis and Texas barbecue because vinegar is applied to the meats instead of sauces. If you want a tasty (though admittedly not very healthy) Southern-style breakfast, try Big Ed’s City Market where bacon, biscuits, and grits are served all day.  

Of course Raleigh has numerous restaurants and an increasing number of ethnic dining spots. If you want to have a sample dish from the city’s best eateries, I recommend the Taste of Carolina Gourmet Food Tour.

If you go to Raleigh in the summer be sure to catch a Carolina Mudcats game (the Cincinnati Reds’ Southern League affiliate) at beautiful Five County Stadium located in Zebulon, just a few miles outside of Raleigh. The Cattails Restaurant located on top of the stadium down the first base side is a luxury restaurant that would very much fit in at either Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. For $30 you can enjoy a buffet that features ribeye steak, Tilapia or grouper, grilled chicken, as well as salads and pasta dishes. Naturally, you couldn’t get that deal at either of our new stadiums.

Getting around in Raleigh is fairly easy even without a car. The “R” Line is a free bus that takes you around downtown and to the hip Glenwood South district that it is home to numerous boutiques as well as the lion’s share of Raleigh’s nightlife. You can also take the Raleigh Rickshaw pedicab whose knowledgeable drivers will tell you such fun trivia as where President Andrew Johnson was born and where Elvis Presley performed in town.

The area’s most luxurious hotel is the Umstead which is located in the Raleigh suburb of Cary. Its grounds, which include countless tall and fragrant Carolina pines, are spectacular. Another good choice is the Renaissance in the upscale North Hills neighborhood.

It takes only a little more than an hour to get to Raleigh by air from LaGuardia or Kennedy and there is frequent service from Delta, American, USAir and JetBlue.

the North Carolina Museum of History

the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

the North Carolina Museum of Art

Big Ed’s City Market

Five County Stadium

The Cattails Restaurant

The Umstead

The Renaissance

Raleigh Visitors Bureau
(800) 849-8499 or on the web go to: www.visitraleigh.com

Taking The Road To Tampa

Tampa is often overlooked by potential Florida vacationers because it lacks Miami’s glitz and is squarely in the shadow of Orlando, an hour drive east, when traffic moves on I-4. That is a shame because Tampa is far more relaxing to visit than the aforementioned Sunshine State neighbors and there's plenty to see and do here.

Way before Disney or Universal ever thought about placing a theme park in Florida, there was Busch Gardens. The attraction which put Tampa on the map is still going strong 50 years later. Busch Gardens is an interesting amalgam of zoological park, amusement park, and country fair. It has done a great job in showcasing endangered African primates and allowing them to breed, but what makes Busch Gardens famous is its not-for-the-faint-of-heart roller coasters, the Scorpion and SkeiKra, a 90-degree vertical drop ride that is almost as scary to watch as it is to ride. There are also plenty of musical revues presented throughout the day including guest acts from the past as Herman’s Hermits, Davy Jones, Chubby Checker and the Fifth Dimension.

While Busch Gardens is certainly worthy of a visit, a far less costly place to view wildlife is the Lowry Park Zoo, located just a few miles north of Busch on I-275, that is home to a large orangutan collection, as well as endangered species as the shoebill stork, and such sadly dwindling Florida natives as the red wolf, panther, and bobcat. Lowry Park is also one of the few zoos where visitors can feed any of the three giraffes. Arguably the most important work done by the zoo is that it operates as a trauma center for Florida’s largest aquatic mammal, the manatee. On a lighter note, a guilty pleasure that should be enjoyed is a cupcake at the zoo’s Sweet Shop.

Tampa’s other animal sanctuary is the Florida Aquarium located in the burgeoning Channelside district. The Florida Aquarium is not in the league, of say, the New York Aquarium or the National Aquarium in Baltimore since there are no whales or dolphins on view, but there are plenty of fish, stingrays, small sharks and turtles that are indigenous to the Sunshine State.

Channelside has Tampa’s newest tourist area, thanks not only to the presence of the Florida Aquarium but also for the airy Tampa Bay History Center which examines the city from its earliest to Seminole inhabitants to the present day metropolis that it has become.

Also drawing both locals and out-of-towners to the area is Channelside Bay Plaza, a shopping and entertainment complex whose anchor is Splitsville, an upscale bowling alley in the mold of Manhattan's Lucky Strike and Bowlmor, where you can eat gourmet meals at the lane as you try to knock down the pins.

Tampa’s most frequented neighborhood is historic Ybor City where over a century ago, Cuban emigres opened cigar factories. Today, hand-rolled cigars are still big business as countless tobacco shops line Seventh Avenue, but Ybor City has also become a center for Tampa nightlife. Centro Ybor, an entertainment complex that was modeled after Miami’s Coco Walk, is home to the city’s lone comedy club, the Improv, as well as to one of the largest multiplex movie theaters you’ll find outside of Times Square, and of course, numerous restaurants. An electric streetcar line connects Ybor City and Channelside.

Yankees fans know that their team holds spring training at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Tickets for the spring exhibition games are hard but not impossible to come by. Yankees fans can also watch the team’s minor leaguers practice for free. If you come to Tampa after spring training is over, you can still enjoy baseball at Steinbrenner Field as it is home to the Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League.

There is no shortage of excellent restaurants in Tampa that do not cost an arm and a leg. Hattricks is a downtown pub whose name is derived from the hockey term “hat trick” which is used when a player scores three goals in a game. Hattricks is a short walk from the St. Petersburg Times Forum where the NHL’s Lightning play (there are $8 tickets available for most games). I heartily recommend the grouper, a fish caught in the nearby Gulf waters.

While in Ybor City, I heartily recommend La Tropicana if you want inexpensive yet tasty Cuban cuisine, as well as the Green Iguana, a popular sports pub with a Key West theme. You can’t go wrong with any of their burgers and their conch chowder is not to be missed.

Tampa’s most famous restaurant is the touristy and overpriced Bern’s Steakhouse. A far better fine dining bet is Pelagia Trattoria located in Tampa’s premier shopping center, the International Mall. Executive chef Fabrizio Schenardi hails from Turin, Italy, but spent time in Sunnyside where he met his wife. Just as Queens is diverse, so is his menu. As you would expect, there a lot of Italian and Mediterranean options but his filet mignon is every bit as delicious as you would find at Bern’s.

You’ll find lodging in all price ranges in Tampa. The Tampa Renaissance and the Grand Hyatt are located near the Tampa Airport. Both hotels offer good value, have terrific views of the sunset over Tampa Bay, and are close to the Gulf beaches in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. If you want to be closer to the action, the Hampton Inn in Ybor City is a fine choice.

JetBlue has plenty of inexpensive daily flights to Tampa International from both JFK and LaGuardia.

For more information, call 800-44TAMPA or visit www.visittampabay.com

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