Originally created 07/03/05

Travel briefs



Venus flytrap trail

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Sandy beaches, historic architecture and year-round fishing, golfing and boating are a few of the best-known attractions in the Wilmington-Cape Fear area of the North Carolina coast.

But some visitors will be fascinated by what may be the region's most unusual offering: a Venus flytrap trail.

The plant, which is native to the area, catches and eats live insects. But it stands less than 8 inches high - contrary to its portrayal in Hollywood as a giant man-eater.

Summer is prime viewing time for the flytrap. Just remember, you can look, but don't touch - the plants are surprisingly fragile and it's illegal to poach them.

In Wilmington, Venus flytraps and related carnivorous plants can be found at the Herbert Bluethenthal Memorial Wildflower Preserve on the University of North Carolina campus at 601 College Road in Wilmington; in the carnivorous plant gardens on the Waterwise Trail at Airlie Gardens, 300 Airlie Road; in the Bog Garden, at the arboretum at New Hanover County Cooperative Extension, 6206 Oleander Drive; and on the nature trail behind the Alderman Elementary School at Independence Boulevard and Canterbury Road.

Nearby, you'll find the plants on the Flytrap Trail at Carolina Beach State Park, 1010 State Park Road; in the Cape Fear Conservatory at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, 900 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach; on the Sand Ridge Nature Trail at Lake Waccamaw State Park, 40 miles west of Wilmington; in the Green Swamp Preserve near the town of Supply, about a half-hour from Wilmington.

You can buy one to take home at Flytrap Farms, also in the town of Supply at 1930 Civietown Road SW.

For more information about the area, visit www.gocapefearcoast.com.

TripAdvisor.com

NEEDHAM, Mass. (AP) - Where do you turn for advice when you're booking a hotel sight unseen?

One source for opinions on the good, the bad and the potentially ugly is TripAdvisor.com.

Search for a destination or hotel name and you'll find real travelers posting everything from horror stories about bedbugs and thefts, to glowing recommendations about wonderful service and breathtaking views.

The Web site started in February 2000. By January of this year, more than a million reviews and opinions had been posted, and by June, the number of posted reviews had doubled, allowing the Web site to celebrate having reached the 2 million mark.

In addition to those who write reviews, some 12 million people a month visit TripAdvisor to read what others are saying, according to comScore Media Metrix, a research firm.

Shelly Fowler of Phoenix travels a lot with her husband and for work, but hotels and restaurants were "always hit or miss" before she started using TripAdvisor a little over a year ago. "It was so nice to go online and know all the pros and cons of a hotel before you got there," said Fowler, who recently won a TripAdvisor contest for posting the best illustrated hotel review. "I don't book a hotel now without checking the reviews."

The Web site contains information on more than 200,000 hotels and attractions worldwide. You can also click through from TripAdvisor.com to book reservations for hotels and flights, or post a query on a TripAdvisor forum. Recent questions ranged from where to see bullfights in Mexico to what to do on a first-time visit to the Maine coast.

California drives

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - If you're visiting California this summer, you'll want to get a copy of "The Best of California Drives 2005" to help your trip.

The free, 36-page booklet has maps and suggested routes for itineraries ranging from the 185-mile Redwood Coast drive to the 261-mile Bakersfield Loop, which takes visitors from the agricultural Central Valley to the Kern River Valley and Lake Isabella.

The guide also includes a California Fun Spots card, which offers discounts at various attractions around the state, from Legoland to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to the San Diego Zoo and Universal Studios Hollywood.

You can order the guide online at www.visitcalifornia.com.

Kansas Cosmosphere

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - A new gallery at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center tells the story of early ventures into space from both the American and Russian perspective in side-by-side exhibits.

The 4,000-square-foot Mollett Early Spaceflight Gallery focuses on the race to space between the United States and Russia, and includes artifacts from the 1950s and '60s. One section of the half-million-dollar gallery even includes Soviet space flight failures that were hidden for years by the Communists.

Statues of President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who were key figures in the Cold War, stand in one section of the gallery near a display of the "Iron Curtain." There's also a reproduction of a concrete bunker where NASA scientists watched the first manned launch into space, complete with a periscope that lets visitors see film of the launches as scientists might have seen them in the early 1960s.

Nearby, a door leads to a view of the museum's 100-foot-tall Titan rocket, which launched NASA's Gemini spacecraft.

For details, visit www.cosmo.org/.

Vermont cycling

BARRE, Vt. (AP) - Cyclists can take a ride back through time carved in the hillsides where generations of stoneworkers cut granite from more than 50 quarries, thanks to the Millstone Hill Touring Center.

The newly opened touring center, created by Barre native Pierre Couture, includes about 15 miles of twisting mountain bike and walking trails cut into the dense forests that lie in Websterville, Upper Graniteville and East Barre.

Starting out from the restored 1890s Carnes Barn off Websterville Road, which once housed draft horses that hauled granite, the trails go past old water-filled quarries, the rusting remnants of the granite trade, promontories and panoramic outlooks from the top of grout piles.

Yet few people imagined this hilltop spot as a tourist attraction.

"When I first started buying these old quarry lands, people shook their heads. I said I'm not buying the land, I'm buying the history," Couture told The Times Argus newspaper.

He was also buying his own history. His parents raised him on a 125-acre dairy farm that is now part of his 350 acres, which includes a restored barn that houses his Millstone Hill Lodge, a five-bedroom B&B.

All the trails were cut this spring. Although they are mostly single-track mountain bike paths geared toward technical riders, eventually Couture hopes to also create strolling trails for walkers and bird watchers, easier biking trails for kids and less accomplished riders, and winter snowshoe and backwoods cross-country trails.

The Millstone trails are a few miles from Montpelier, a half-hour's drive from Stowe and about 45 miles from Burlington. Go to www.millstonehill.com/ for details.

Greenbrier resort

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) - The Greenbrier has again received AAA Allied Group's Five Diamond Award.

The resort has won the award each year since its inception in 1976. That distinction is shared with only two other properties, the Camelback Inn Marriott Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., and The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The rating system represents a combination of the overall quality, the range of facilities, and the level of services offered. The ratings range from one diamond for the budget-minded consumer, to five diamonds for the ultimate in luxury.

More than 55,000 properties in North America are evaluated each year. Eighty-five properties received the Five Diamond Award this year.

Harry Potter

Forget pizza, Champagne and a tray of midnight snacks.

At midnight on July 15, a couple of hotels will be conjuring up a late-night delivery not normally offered by room service - a copy of the new Harry Potter book.

At the Charles Hotel in Boston, the "Harry Potter VI" package lets kids choose their room key out of a "Sorting Hat." After an outdoor showing of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" in the courtyard, guests can attend a late-night Potter party at the nearby Harvard Coop store, or head to their rooms to start reading the new "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which will be delivered to their doors at midnight. The package, which also includes a copy of the "Azkaban" DVD and some Droobles Best Blowing Gum, starts at $299; call (617) 864-1200 for details.

At the Affinia 50 Hotel in New York City, the "Harry Potter Book Party Package" includes a Harry Potter movie marathon in the hotel's Club Room, where chocolate frogs and other goodies will be served beginning at 11:30 p.m. At midnight, a wizard will appear to distribute books. The package starts at $339 and includes a copy of the book and continental breakfast. For details, call (866) 233-4642.

Pacific Surfliner

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Surf's up... and the train's coming.

The Pacific Surfliner is celebrating five years of service this summer as the second busiest route in the Amtrak system after the Northeast's Boston-to-Washington corridor.

The Surfliner runs up the Southern California coast with numerous daily roundtrips between San Diego and Los Angeles, and between Santa Barbara and San Diego. Stops include San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and San Luis Obispo.

The trains even have racks for surfboards.

Go to www.amtrak.com for schedules and ticket information.

Villa rentals

NEW YORK (AP) - The word "villa" suggests a certain level of luxury and spaciousness. But you can rent properties that meet the definition for as little as $500 a week, depending on size, location and amenities, with the help of several Web sites.

The July issue of Travel+Leisure magazine is recommending six Web sites to help you find the perfect villa for your next vacation.

Of course, the sites also list five-star properties with weekly rents that exceed the average yearly salary, but affordable listings can be found too.

The Web sites are:

-AKchapters.com, which lists properties worldwide (including a few castles) with an emphasis on France and Italy; weekly prices range from $980 to $53,000.

-Homesaway.com, specializing in France, Italy and Spain; prices range from $5,500 to $30,000 a week.

-Rentvillas.com, with listings throughout Europe, from $500 to $75,000 a week. Helpful guest reviews that include categories such as "Enjoyed Most" and "Unpleasant Surprises."

-Vacationspot.com, which has worldwide listings but emphasizes U.S. properties including apartments and condos, with prices from $450 to $6,000 a week.

-Villasoftheworld.com, with a worldwide inventory ranging from $2,000 to $200,000 a week, including Mick Jagger's beachside bungalow for $13,000 a week on a private Caribbean island in the Grenadines.

-Wimco.com, specializing in the Caribbean and Europe, with weekly prices from $1,000 to $52,000.

Mansions

NEW YORK (AP) - Tour a famous mansion and you'll soak up history, culture, antiques, art, architecture, gardens and a compelling story about an interesting life - all in one destination, in an hour or two.

The July-August issue of Budget Travel has compiled a list of the 10 grandest mansions in the country. They are:

-Kykuit, built by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller in 1913 in Sleepy Hollow in New York's Hudson Valley, 25 miles north of Manhattan; (914) 631-9491.

-The Breakers, built in 1895 by a grandson of the railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt, in Newport, R.I.; (401) 847-1000.

-Shangri La, built in 1938 by tobacco heiress Doris Duke in Honolulu; (866) 385-3849.

-The Henry Ford Estate, built in 1915 by the auto baron in Dearborn, Mich.; (313) 593-5590.

-Aiken-Rhett House, built in 1817 by John Robinson, a shipping merchant, in Charleston, S.C.; (843) 723-1623.

-Winterthur, built in 1839 in Wilmington, Del., and renovated in the 1920s by an heir to the duPont chemical manufacturing fortune to house his enormous collection of art and furniture; (800) 448-3883.

-Biltmore Estate, built in 1895 by another Vanderbilt grandson, in Asheville, N.C.; (800) 624-1575.

-Monticello, built in 1769 by Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 984-9800.

-Hearst Castle, built in 1919 by publisher William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon, Calif.; (800) 444-4445.

-Oak Alley Plantation, built in 1839 by J.T. Roman, a sugarcane farmer, in Vacherie, La., about an hour from New Orleans; (800) 442-5539.

Trout fishing

NEW YORK (AP) - How do you catch trout in the West?

Let Field & Stream count the ways.

The outdoor magazine's July issue lists 50 rivers, lakes, hatches and other places where anglers can catch anything from an 8-inch brookie to a 30-pound rainbow.

Good places to bring your rod and tackle box include:

-In Wyoming, the South Fork Snake River; waterways in the Shoshone National Forest and Beartooth Plateau; and rivers in Yellowstone National Park, including the Gibbon, Madison, Firehole and Lamar.

-In Montana, the Kootenai River, the Flathead River, the Beaverhead River,

-In Colorado, the Elk River and lakes and creeks near Steamboat Springs.

-In Arizona, the Colorado River near Lees Ferry.

-In Utah, the Green River.

Other notable destinations for fisherman and would-be fishermen include the Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Mont., which has a flyfishing school for young anglers; and the A-Bar in Last Chance, Idaho, a hangout for fishermen trying their luck in the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.

For details on these locations and more recommendations for trout fishing destinations, check out the magazine.