Go Away With ... Brian Culbertson
When musician Brian Culbertson and his wife take faraway vacations, they try to immerse themselves in the local culture by renting an apartment, rather than staying at a hotel. (Daniel Ray / May 13, 2014)
Q. What's your feeling about traveling so much for work?
A. I still love it. I've always loved traveling. It has definitely changed over the years as we all know it, but once you figure out ways to make it more pleasurable, it's great. No one loves the jet lag and everything, but once you get there and sleep for a day -- it's fantastic!
Q. Do you get recognized when you're walking about in a new city?
A. Occasionally someone in an airport working behind the counter or checking in bags might recognize me and it's always a great perk, 'cause they can help get you through the line faster, but it doesn't happen that often and I'm fine with that. I think that's one of the cool things about the genre of music I'm in. It's its own little niche. I could play a show to some really great fans, and then walk around without anyone recognizing me at all. So I can kind of sneak in with the population. We're not plastered all over television every day.
Q. What are your favorite vacation destinations?
A. Europe is the place for me. Florence, Paris and London.
Q. Do you speak any foreign languages?
A. No. My wife speaks Italian and French. She studied as an opera singer and learned languages for that initially. She has lived in Italy and France for many months at a time. So every time we go there, I pretty much just smile and nod. That's my role. My wife is American, but she has a worldly vibe about her. Sometimes when we're in Los Angeles, people will ask her, "What country are you from?"
Q. How planned out are your trips?
A. We never use an itinerary when we do Europe. A lot of people say, "We have two weeks. Let's do everything!" They'll want to see (Michelangelo's) David and Mona Lisa and visit all the museums and that sort of thing. We do the complete opposite. If we have 10 days, we will go to one city and try to become a local. We will literally get up and go to a cafe for 2-1/2 hours, sit, have an espresso and watch life happen. That's what we love to do. I might ask, "Hey, are you hungry?" And then we'll go find a restaurant on a tiny little street. We run into things.
Q. What are some other tips for getting the feel of a local?
A. We rent an apartment as opposed to staying at a hotel. That allows us to have laundry facilities and a kitchen. We like to go to the market and get new things and then cook for ourselves. That's fun as well, especially when you have the windows open, put on some music and hear everything that's going on outside.
Q. What untapped destination should people know about?
A. I think for a lot of West Coasters, Chicago is an untapped market. They are scared of Chicago. They're freaked out about the weather and they still think of Al Capone and mafia stuff. But when you get to Chicago, I honestly think it's the greatest city in the world. I've been to so many places and nothing really beats this.
Q. Where would you return to for the food?
A. Northern Italy! Florence was really interesting and had delicious food. I liked it better than Rome.
Q. Are you particular about the type of music that's played in restaurants?
A. I really don't like live bands during dinner. When you're out, you typically want to socialize. A lot of restaurants think a live jazz band is great, but it can be more annoying. I was in Hawaii recently and I love hanging out there. We went to a restaurant and they thought it would be great to put the musicians right next to the musicians. And I thought, "This is horribly loud." I couldn't talk to my friends. A guy was playing the ukulele and it was horrible. The food was great, though. I have been to one place where I really enjoyed it. The bar at the Four Seasons. They played some soft, straight-ahead jazz while we had some Scotch and that was great.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. The first trip that I remember was when I was eight. I went to Rhode Island to visit my grandmother. And I went by myself. I got on an airplane in Chicago and flew to Boston. My grandma picked me up and we drove to Newport. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The exhilaration of the thrust of the plane taking off was the best. I still remember it. I was so excited I started laughing. There was a really nice lady sitting next to me with a toddler on her lap and I just ended up talking to this lady during the whole trip. It was a great trip.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. I have not been to Africa. I've always wanted to do a safari of some sort. I hear Prague is amazing, and I've not been there. Budapest was awesome and I've heard it's even cooler than Budapest.
Q. Are you high maintenance on the road?
A. (Laughs) I can deal with most any kind of hotel room, as long as I have hot water and a quiet room. But given the choice, I'm definitely more of a luxury traveler. I like to be able to put my feet on clean carpet without wearing socks. I've done motels in my early days of touring. When you tour a lot, it's nice to have some sort of comfort level just 'cause touring can be very taxing on you. You just have to figure out what that level of comfort is and keep doing it. Because touring is not always glamorous.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at http://www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)
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