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Hosts David Lytle and Kelly Regan reveal Frommer's top picks for where to travel in 2007 with help from fellow Frommer's staffers Jason Clampet and Eva Lesiak. Listen to the experts dish about history in Ethiopia, bargains in Tokyo, natural wonders in Glen Canyon and more. Listen in to discover why these 12 destinations deserve your time in 2007.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • Ethiopia: Axum, Lalibela, fly from Washington Dulles Airport.
  • Glen Canyon, Utah: Lake Powell, Boating, Bass fishing.
  • Krakow, Poland: Castles, cathedrals, the Sukiennice, Auschwitz, shopping district.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: St. Anthony's Falls, Walker Art Center, Weisman Art Museum, Lake of the Isles.
  • Okanogan Valley, British Columbia: Affordable alternative to Napa or Sonoma Valley for wine tasting, biking, kayaking, comparitive to Tuscany
  • Portland, Maine: A mix of urban and rural, visit Natasha's or Fourth Street restaurants.
  • Portland, Oregon: Biking, Kayaking, Mount Hood skiing, Willamette Valley, active nightlife, Sake Won.
  • Tokyo, Japan: Shimikitazawa, Omotesando, Akihabara, Yo Yogi Park.
  • Virgin Gorda: Little Dicks Bay, The Baths, tropical forests, mountains, beaches.
  • Panama: Rain forests adventure travel, snorkeling, Val Canbaru volcano, Eva Coweba National Park, Panama City.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

David Lytle: Hi, my name is David Lytle. Welcome to the Frommers.com podcast. Today we're going to talk about Frommer's picks for the top destinations of 2007. With me today is Kelly Regan, editorial director for Frommer's travel guides, Jason Clampet, online editor for Frommers.com, and Eva Lesiak, who works in marketing for Frommer's. Hi everybody.
All: Hello.
David: Just to get started, because we have a lot of destinations that we can talk about, I just want to go through the list, so that our listeners know what we're looking at for 2007. Some of these might be a surprise to people, too, and that's what we're hoping for. Frommer's top destinations for 2007 are, in no particular order: Ethiopia; Glen Canyon, Utah; Krakow; Minneapolis; the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia; Asheville, North Carolina; Panama; Portland, Oregon; and Portland, Maine; Tokyo; Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, and Zurich, Switzerland. Let's talk about Ethiopia. I think that's a fairly surprising pick for a travel destination. I think that tends to fall off of people's radar. What do you think, Kelly?
Kelly Regan: Yeah, I think so too, David, this first destination on the list is perhaps the most surprising, but I think over the past five or six years, Ethiopia has finally emerged out of a difficult place where it suffered for years under political strife and economic hardship and famine. But I think that although the country is still very poor, there's a relative degree of stability now, and I think travelers are coming more and more to the country.

What some people might find surprising, is that it's revered for having a rich history as one of the first Christian kingdoms. There's a lot of really incredible religious architecture there, and in fact, there's a town in Ethiopia called Axum which is said to be the home of the ancient Ark of the Covenant. But among its more well-known and perhaps, really spectacular attractions, are these monolithic churches in a town called Lalibela. And these churches were all hewn out of these gigantic limestone slabs in the 11th and 12th centuries. So it's really one giant piece of rock that a church was completely carved out of. And there's one church in particular, called the Church of Saint George, which is named after the patron saint of Ethiopia, and the church is actually carved into the shape of a cross. And so I think to see it -- it's just a very impressive structure, and that it's been around for so many years is equally impressive.

David: Right. I know that in the past few years they've been doing a lot of archaeological excavations of these churches.
Kelly: Yeah. There's been a lot of excavation; there's been a lot of repatriation of a lot of the artifacts that were taken from Ethiopia, particularly during World War Two. You know, Mussolini, when he came through Ethiopia, took a lot of artifacts with him, and through a lot of negotiations they were able to return them to the country. And so I think that that's another sign that there's certainly going to be more to see and that the government is taking its heritage and the preservation of its heritage very seriously.

It's also surprisingly a popular adventure travel destination. We've been seeing a lot of information on bike tours of the region. The infrastructure is relatively reliable. It's a little bit of a hardy place to get around, but.

David: It's not a leisure travel destination by any means.
Kelly: It's not. Yeah. But for independent-minded travelers I think it's a wonderful choice. And something people might know is that getting there from the US is relatively simple. You can fly to Addis Ababa, which is the capital, from Washington Dulles Airport. Usually you have a stop over in Rome, but even other airlines, such as Continental, Alitalia, and even Emirates Air will also fly from the US to Ethiopia. So it's a destination to watch, and one that's increasingly easy to get to.
David: Moving on to something that's a little bit more benign, although not without its own controversy, is Glen Canyon, Utah. Glen Canyon is home to Lake Powell, which was created in 1963 when they opened the Glen Canyon Dam, basically backing up the Colorado River and flooding the canyon. Now, over the past few years, what's been happening is that Lake Powell is evaporating. This is really one of those see-it-now destinations because the water levels are going down so low, the canyon is becoming exposed again.
Kelly: Right. And you're seeing a lot of stuff that you wouldn't have normally seen for decades.
David: Right, exactly. The water levels have been down by around 140 feet. I mean, that's a pretty dramatic drop. But there is a little bit of controversy, because there are groups like the Sierra club, or the Lake Powell Institute, which they're all for draining the lake, and there are groups on the other side who want to have it re-flooded to fill the lake back up, because -- and not surprisingly, because how large Lake Powell is -- it covers portions of two states -- boating is very popular, and it's part of the local economy. It's a popular vacation idea to rent a houseboat. Which is really cheap to do, actually.
Kelly: And there's a lot of fishing there, too. People do bass fishing, I believe.
David: Ironically, though, to see these formations, the easiest way to see them is by boat on water, yet the water levels are going down. So we're encouraging people to consider, for a domestic vacation, to head into Glen Canyon and seeing while it lasts. Because if Lake Powell is re-flooded this isn't going to be visible for a long time, or if it all evaporates, you're not going to be able to see it easily.
Kelly: It's going to much more difficult to see these really spectacular rock formations.
David: Right, exactly. Because you are going to have to do it on land, and it's not necessarily navigable from the land. Now, one of our European destinations that we've selected is Krakow. And we have Eva here particularly to talk about it because she has family who's from there.
Eva: Yup. I have been to Poland several times in my lifetime for extended periods of time, so I've gotten to visit all of the hot spots, you know Krakow and Warsaw, which, in the polish tongue are Krakov and Varshava. Krakow was the former capital of Poland until about 1609, So it was the capital for a good solid 600 years or so, then the capital moved to Warsaw.

Krakow still has a great, great deal of history that's extant. Because a lot of other places like Warsaw were really destroyed during World War 2, and Krakow actually didn't get destroyed because in 1945 the Nazis came in, but were called away to other things, so it remains standing. So it's really just an amazing historical example, because you have castles, and cathedrals, and there's a section of Krakow called Stare Miasto, which is the old town. And that's from the 11th century. So most of those buildings are as they were during that time. There's a big cathedral on that square that is St. Mary's basilica -- in Polish it's the Kosciol Mariacki -- and it is a big gothic cathedral. It's still an active church; you can go in for a mass and they've got the amazing pipe organs. Even if you're not someone who's totally religious or spiritual, just walking in there you get this sensation of something much bigger than you.

Kelly: Wow.
Eva: It's really just a gorgeous, gorgeous place. Another part of the history there there's also a lot of legend and myth but there are two towers of the basilica and one of them has kind of a lookout point. They have a bugle call everyday at noon and it's every hour on the hour as well. The noon one is broadcast throughout Poland on all the radio stations. But the history there is, I believe in the year 1241, there was a bugle lookout guy standing up in the tower and he saw the invading army of the Tartars coming. He started playing his bugle to warn everybody and right towards the end of the song he was shot through the throat by a Tartar archer. So now when they play this bugle call it ends abruptly where the bugler was shot through the throat in the legend.
David: Wow.
Eva: It's called the Hejnal Mariacki and it's just this kind of call that they do every day. Krakow has been named a UNESCO cultural site. Part of that Old Town area is an area called the Sukiennice, which directly translated is the Cloth Hall. It's another amazing architectural structure also built in probably the 13th or 14th century that used to be this huge mercantile hub. You walk there now and there's just people selling kind of touristy, fun things but lots of nice amber jewelry too. Still, to walk through there you're walking on cobblestones that are three times as old as the United States, so it's kind of interesting to have that feeling when you walk through. There's also a royal castle thrown in there for good measure; that's another one from the 11th century.

If that's getting a little too historical for you, you walk up the street and you're basically in a shopping district that's modernized. It still has cobblestone streets but you've got all these sort of western, new, modern stores right there. Poland joined the European Union is 2004 but they're not actually going to be using the Euro until 2007, I think January. So right now it's still a pretty good bargain to go. I think the exchange rate right now leaves you with like three zloty to a dollar. So you end up paying a third, you can just divide and you know what you'll be paying.

Also, from Krakow you can take day trips to Warsaw, Warszawa, which is now the modern capital that was rebuilt post World War II. It really is amazing. It's just this modern, beautiful capital with these beautiful modern buildings and they've managed to maintain some of the open areas so there are beautiful parks. There's one park that has a whole memorial to Chopin, who was actually Polish. They give live concerts in the middle of the day that are broadcasted to this entire park by a lake. That's one day trip you can take.

Another day trip you can take is to Auschwitz, which in Polish is called Oswiecim. Oswieci is a saint, so Oswiecim is kind of "to make saints" or "to make holy, " so it is sort of the testament to the people who perished there. You can take day trips to Oswiecim and there are many historical tours that you can take. I'm not familiar with any particular companies but I know that there are many, from students who are going for a summer semester there to just people who want to go learn and see. It can be kind of...

David: Harrowing.
Eva: ... harrowing, yeah, because they'll tell you about some of the things that were there, like these huge mounds like mountains of the shoes of the people who were killed to kind of have this sense of the horrors that happened there.
David: Right, exactly.
Eva: By the same token you can kind of see that the country has moved on from that point, as has most of Eastern Europe, I think. It's just very interesting.
David: Right. It's important to note that sometimes travel specifically is for educational purposes. It is to sometimes face the best or the worst of mankind and to try and understand that.
Eva: To remember so we don't forget.
David: Exactly.
Kelly: Right.
David: Moving on to our next destination, which is Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kelly I think you would like to talk about that because you have a particular attachment to it.
Kelly: Yeah, I do have a particular attachment to Minneapolis because I grew up there, so I think it's always one of the top destinations to go to. It's funny; I think so many people associate the city with this kind of "aw shucks" mentality that you find in movies like "Fargo" or Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion." But what I think is so fascinating about Minneapolis is that it's a Midwestern city that's reinventing itself in a very sort of cutting edge, aesthetically exciting way. I find it to be, for my money, a much more engaging city than a place like Chicago.

Minneapolis has always been known for having this beautiful city layout as it is on the banks of the Mississippi, but also for having a notable fine arts community. I think that it's really ratcheted that up several notches in the last two years with some very important gallery and theater openings. You know there was the expansion of the Walker Art Center last year and this year, back in June, the blockbuster new building opened, the new Guthrie Theater, which is now relocated on the banks of the Mississippi. The Guthrie has always been one of the best theater companies in the country and it's this fantastic new cutting edge design designed by Jean Nouvel, a French architect. It's this very kind of sleek, modern, blue steel building right on the banks of the river. The views of St. Anthony's Falls from the theater are spectacular. I would say that that's a huge reason to go.

David: It's following a trend of a lot of second and third tier American cities where they are consciously reinventing themselves, specifically with architecture.
Kelly: Right, exactly. The other thing that people might not know is that Frank Gehry, who of course designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao, years before that had designed a museum for the University of Minnesota called the Weisman Art Museum. Many people sort of look to that museum as almost an architectural foreshadowing of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Frank is planning an addition to the museum which will happen in the next few years. When you said second and third tier cities I was ready to bristle and say, "hey, watch who you're calling a second tier city pal." [laughing]
David: I meant no offense by that.

[laughter]

Kelly: It's funny; Minneapolis is a city that's known for its unforgiving weather. When you live there you pretty much decide you're going to be hibernating from November through March; the winters can be brutal. But for a city that has such harsh winters it's also a fantastic place to be outside.

The downtown area is dotted with lakes, and one of the most popular things to do is to go down to the lakes -- Lake of the Isles is one of the popular lakes -- and there are trails around the lakes. You can bike and jog, go roller-blading, or you can just hang out. The skyline is there in front of you...People really relish being outside, I think because they are inside so much of the time during the winter.

There's an exciting feel to Minneapolis now. There's the area down along the Mississippi where the Guthrie opened. It's now being redeveloped with lots of shops and restaurants and things. And I think it's a city where you can kind of feel the excitement in the air.

David: That's great. Another destination that we've chosen is Okanogan Valley in British Columbia. And I'll just talk about this briefly, because we have a lot of ground to cover -- literally. Basically, we picked this because it's a nice, affordable alternative to visiting some place like Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley.

It's been compared to Tuscany because of its mild climate and its gentle rolling hills. It's an agricultural region. But really, the big deal is all the vineyards that are there now. And it's a great place, like most wine countries, to get outside and do some biking, some hiking, some kayaking, and do some wine tasting as well.

And moving on from there, I'd like to talk about Portland, Maine. And Jason, if you could tell us a little bit about Portland, Maine and why people should go.

Jason: Sure. This kind of gets into the second or third tier cities. And I think with Portland, Maine it's -- I would say -- even a fifth or sixth... but in the same way that Portland, Oregon is great, it has a mix of both urban and rural elements. So that within minutes you can be driving along the coastline and then shortly after that you can be at an art house, theatre or a really good restaurant. They have a great food scene there. They have restaurants like Natasha's or Four Street, which show up in gourmet 'Best of' lists year after year.

At the same time it's become somewhat of a bedroom community. Where...Boston, there's an Amtrak train that goes down the coast a number of times a day. One of the first new Amtrak lines in a number of years.

In addition, it's also become a retirement community. Popular with people in their early 60s who are coming there because the University of Maine system offers basically free classes for any retiree. So you have people kind of starting their second life there. And it's very... it has some of the same problems with the cold as Chicago or another city like that. But it's a very, very active city, and for a small town, it's very rare. It's a very rare mix.

David: And doesn't Portland... Isn't it... they have three seasons, summer, the freeze and the thaw?
Jason: Yeah, yeah, and I think the summer is the shortest of the three.
David: And then moving to the other side of the country, we've also selected Portland, Oregon, which is named for Portland, Maine. Two of the founders of the city basically were from Portland, Maine and I forget where the other guy is from off the top of my head.
Jason: Do we know if they were being chased out?
David: No, they moved across the country to settle. But it was decided by a coin toss.

[Laughing]

Jason: Ok.
David: But, Portland, Oregon is this really fantastic small city. It's very environmentally friendly. They are conscious of not growing too large. They have really great zoning laws. Basically, if you're building any building in the city, the first floor must have windows into that building, so you're not going to be walking by anything that is a cinderblock wall. And it's to give it this sense of space. They're very appreciative of sort of the location that they are in the country.

They have a great farmers' market there every Saturday. That's just very nice, casual; great food, and just everybody's out and happy and walking around. They just redeveloped the waterfront on the river, where they hold outdoor concerts now. They've developed bike paths throughout the city.

And if you don't want to be in a city, you very quickly can get out, and you can go kayaking. You can drive an hour and be at Mount Hood to go skiing; to look at some WPA buildings that are there. You can also... they also have a near by wine country as well, called Willamette Valley. Which is becoming known for really great pinot noirs. You can take a day trip and you can just sort of tour through wine valley... to the wine country and be back in the city within 45 minutes.

They also have some great hotels there. Some locally owned chains. It's got an active nightlife. A lot of bands come out of Portland, Oregon. So if... Really, whatever your focus is for a vacation, you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to find it there. You can be as high-end as you want to. You can be as, you know, low-end and active and out there and...

One of the interesting things I found about Portland was that it has one of only three nationally made sakes in the country. There's a company called Sake Wan. And you can take tours of it; they have tastings. I definitely learned a lot about sake while I was there. They have a tasting room, they offer some cooking classes...

Kelly: And you actually remember what you learned?
David: I did.

[Laughing]

David: I sipped and spit.
Kelly: I guess it depends on how much sake you actually have.
David: Yeah. It's important to sip and spit, and not just drink it all. Because it definitely can be some pretty heady stuff.

Moving on from Portland, Oregon... We have a lot on the list here to cover. Jason do you want to talk about Tokyo? I know that you just moved there... moved from there recently.

Jason: Yeah, my wife and I have been spending a lot of time there over the past three years. We were on the west coast. So I think a lot of people forget how close, or don't know how close Japan is if you live on the west coast. There are direct flights from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, I believe even San Diego, that are as... don't take much longer than a flight from the east coast to, say, Italy. And so, it's very accessible.

The other thing that people... we always have stuck in our head is Tokyo is just so expensive. And I had the misfortune of being in London recently, where I had lost all of my money because it's just so expensive, and you know Tokyo is probably half the price of London, and -- I would say -- cheaper than New York now. So it's cheap, it's close and it's also really easy to get around.

I think one of the daunting things for a foreign country where you don't have the Latin alphabet is trying to figure out what all the signs are telling you. And in Tokyo most things are in the Latin alphabet as well as in Kanji. And the public transportation system is a great example of that. All the stops, have the Latin there, so you know where you're getting on and getting off. It's a very easy way, relatively affordable way to get around the city. It's cheaper -- a ride on the Tokyo subway is cheaper than a ride on the New York subway.

And it's just an exciting, vibrant city, with all sorts of different neighborhoods. You have kind of hip neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa, which has boutiques and small restaurants. You have Omotesando, which is kind of like the Fifth Avenue of the Champs Elysees. Or even the Akihabara, which is the electronic city, where any gadget freak will just go crazy...

Kelly: Their head will explode.

[Laughing]

David: Their head will explode and then they can replace it with a computer and you'll be even happier.

[laughter]

Jason: You can get unlocked phones, you can get flat panel TVs, and they let you know how you can get it back to your own country.

And so at the same time you have all these very active and crowded places, there are parks all throughout the city. You have Yo Yogi park which is kind of the Northwest of the center of the city, where you have no idea you're in the middle of one of the most densely populated towns in the world.

Just the diversity of experiences there is really kind of breathtaking for a first timer. Still very exciting and very rewarding.

David: Well, it sounds fantastic. It's one place that I've not been that's always on my list. And now that I'm on the west coast, definitely...
Jason: It's the thing to do.
David: Yeah, I'm putting it on my list for next year...

[laughter]

David: My own personal list.
Kelly: Yes.
Jason: I can hear you writing it down.

[laughter]

David: Moving on from there, sort of a nice relaxing destination that we picked, Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. It's the nice counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of something like St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, where you have a lot of cruise ships coming in. St. Thomas is sort of a jumping off place to get to other islands in the Caribbean from the US.

Your plane will land there and then you'll switch, and then you'll go over. A lot of people have condos and rental properties, and then you get to some place like Virgin Gorda, or even St. John in the British Virgin Islands, the pace just changes.

My initial access to it was on a sailboat, because friends and I regularly will take a sailing trip and one of the nice things about Virgin Gorda and the British Virgin Islands is that cruise ships cannot come into shore.

Kelly: Right.
David: They have to anchor off, and you have to be, I can't think of the word now, tethered in? Is that right?
Kelly: I think, well, they put you on the smaller boats and then bring you into shore.
David: Exactly, I should know the word and it's totally just escaping me right now, I apologize for that. So you're not going to have this large crowd of people who come in on the cruise ships. If you've ever been in a destination that is a cruise port, you know the horrible feeling of the cruisers, the passengers that come in all at once...
Kelly: Disgorged.
David: They are disgorged; they swarm around everything. And it's nothing against them personally, but it's really shocking to have you know, especially if it's on a mega-ship, and you have suddenly thousands of people who are coming in to town for the four or five hours that they have in a port, and then they're gone. You never get that sensation on Virgin Gorda. Basically it was sort of a no-mans land for a while, and then Norman Rockefeller built a resort there, Little Dicks Bay.
Kelly: Right.
David: It sort of went from there. You have several very nice resorts, there are some smaller rental properties that you can rent from like Virbo.com. And it has some really great natural attractions on the, I believe the western end of the island is something called The Baths. And it's called that because its large rock formations and as the tide comes in water collects in between, and then the tide goes out and the water's trapped there, and it warms up, and you can spend hours just sort of wandering in through these tunnels formed by these caves that has this warm water in it, and it's a lovely beach.
Kelly: Right.
David: You can also rent a jeep, there's tropical forest, there's a mountain, or you can just go to a restaurant, look at the beach, have a beer, and some conch fritters and relax.
Kelly: Right. Before we go, I just wanted to say something about one of the destinations on our list.
David: Sure.
Kelly: Which is Panama, because we actually have a new first edition guide to Panama that's coming out in December this year, and I think what we're seeing is that this is a country that has much of the same appeal as a destination like Costa Rica.

It has rain forests, it has adventure travel, it has great snorkeling offshore, but it's a place where people are just starting to discover. And so I think the reason we have it on the list is to say it's another one of these "go now" destinations.

I think Costa Rica was like that for many years, and now has become uber-discovered, if you will. Panama still feels a little bit the secret. And there's just some fantastic aspects to being there. There's a volcano called Val Canbaru, it's part of a national park, it's 11,500 ft, and if you hike to the summit on a clear day you can see both oceans.

David: Oh wow.
Kelly: Yeah, it's a pretty spectacular feeling. And although the beaches in Panama proper are not anything to write home about, offshore on the Pacific coast there are about one thousand islands, and the Atlantic coast also has hundreds and hundreds of islands as well. And you have some fantastic tropical islands there for your beach experience.

You can go to Eva Coweba National Park, which was once, Eva Coweba was once a penal colony, and now it's a National Park. It has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific so you can go snorkeling, you'll see sharks, you'll see whales, you'll see turtles, and dolphins and some pretty spectacular marine life.

So I think of Panama as a destination that's definitely worth considering if you're looking for more of a wilderness experience, and Jason you have some familiarity with Panama City. I mean Panama City itself is a pretty interesting place, you know urban metropolis.

Jason: Yeah, I was going to say one of the other reasons we like it so much, in addition to kind of the Eco-resort element or all the natural wonders and the fact that you have water on both sides and such an exciting kind of meeting place. It's that you know Panama City itself is one of the most diverse towns in all of Central America, it has the heritage of the canal being built there, which brought in Chinese, French, Americans, descendants of slaves in the Caribbean, and descendants of all the other cultures that setup in the Caribbean.

So you have this really rich cultural legacy there, and also linguistically you have French and Spanish and English that are spoken quite regularly everywhere.

Kelly: Wow.
Jason: And so it's really kind of this little mini-melting pot that's brought about some really rich cultural rewards, and you can experience just through walking down the streets in the old part of Panama City, which is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
Kelly: Oh, okay.
Jason: It's very rich in that way.
Kelly: And another thing that people might not realize is that you can fly directly to Panama City from the US, you can go on American through Miami, you can go on Delta through Atlanta, other airlines like Mexicana will definitely fly there as well, so again it's a place that's easier to get to than most people might realize and there's a lot waiting there for people.
Jason: Right.
Kelly: And for more information you can check our Frommer's Panama Guide, which will be coming out, as I said, in December of this year.
David: Right, and on that note, as we've hit our wall of time here, you can also find information on all these destinations online on Frommers.com. I just want to say thank you to everybody.

[several acknowledgments]

David: And I'd like to thank our listeners for tuning in to us.
Kelly: This podcast is a production of Frommers.com, for more information on planning your trip, or to hear about the latest travel news and deals, visit us on the web at www.Frommers.com and be sure to email us at editor@frommermedia.com with any comments or suggestions.


Transcription by CastingWords