OnMedia: Traveling with your TV
You can't stick a TV travel show in your back pocket as you stroll the streets of some foreign city. But watching programs in advance can be a way to set the scene for a vacation.
I did it earlier this year for a trip to Brussels, Belgium.
It was a great location for my traveling companion, a wine drinker, and a beer drinker like me -- a compact, walkable European capital with good restaurants, a beautiful old square and a fine art museum.
My traditional way to prepare for a trip is to pick up a couple guidebooks, usually a Time Out, if one's available, and a Lonely Planet. But I'm also a regular viewer of travel shows, both on public TV and the Travel Channel.
The shows have a couple purposes. One is to take people to exotic locales that they'll never visit. But some shows are focused on travelers.
Before this year's Brussels trip, I watched episodes about the city on Samantha Brown's "Passport to Europe," Rick Steves' PBS show, and an old installment of Rachael Ray's "$40 a Day."
While specifics can change quickly when your traveling -- the Internet is best for hotels and a changing restaurant scene -- most of these shows presented a good overview of what the city had to offer.
And both Brown and Ray spent time in an establishment that became our regular breakfast spot: Le Pain Quotidien, daily bread. It's a chain that's actually spread to the U.S.
There was a location across the street from our hotel in Brussels' St. Catherine neighborhood and among its attraction -- along with wonderful bread and coffee -- was a communal table.
Both Brown and Ray focused on that table as a way to meet locals. At the very least, you're up close and personal with people you might not rub elbows with normally.
Ray's "$40 a Day" episode dates back to its first season, some eight years ago. So it's a bit surprising that anything holds up, other than the "feel" of the city.
I normally like "Rick Steves Europe" for his simple, straightforward travel advice. But he gives Brussels short shrift in an episode that focuses more on Bruges.
Still, he provided good information on Brussels' Museum of Ancient Art, and its great collection of Flemish works from the 14th to 18th centuries. It proved a great spot to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Brown's shows have some good overall information, but I'm not interested in watching her make chocolates in Brussels, and her focus on her hotel looks more like a way to get a free room. Ray's information is out of date and the shtick of $40 a day means she's on the cheap side of everything.
But you can get a feel for the cities she visits.
Collecting travel shows on the DVR has become part of my ritual before a trip. I've already started storing shows focusing on Barcelona, with tentative plans for a visit there next year.
On TV: Milwaukee Public TV airs the Wisconsin Lutheran College's Christmas concert tonight at 9 on Channel 36.
- ABC airs the animated "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas tonight at 7 p.m., on Channel 12, followed by the bloated Jim Carrey movie version at 7:30. Change the channel at 7:30.
- Carrey, by the way, will be the guest on the first 2011 installment of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on Jan. 8, the first time he's been on the show since 1996.
- Speaking of NBC, it's posted the first episode of new sitcom "Perfect Couples" on Hulu, if you didn't see it Monday night and want to preview the show before it joins the Thursday night lineup next month:
I'm with Bill Maher on this: Comedian Bill Maher posted a Christmas message on his Web site this week, taking on Oprah Winfrey and the two-day greedfest called "Oprah's Favorite Things."
Be warned that the language is a little rough:
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