Go Away With … John Grogan

By Jae-Ha Kim
April 20, 2010

When John Grogan wrote Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, he knew he had written a good book. But he didn’t realize he had written a book that would become a phenomenon. The tale of Grogan’s naughty, but lovable dog, not only has spawned a movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, but also a series of children’s books starring the irrepressible Labrador Retriever. Grogan’s latest kids’ tome, Marley and the Kittens (HarperCollins), hits bookstores on April 27. Calling from his home in Coopersville, Penn., the 53-year-old author fills us in on his favorite stomping grounds.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. I’ve taken many vacations, but this trip I took last July was a true adventure. We traveled 10 days in British Columbia and Alaska. It was unguided–just five guys trekking 130 miles through wilderness. I have a good friend from college who is a great outdoorsman and lives in Alaska. Another friend is a police officer in Detroit. The last time we had traveled together was when the three of us went to Europe in 1981. We had talked about doing another trip ever since then. My friend recruited two of his Alaskan buddies and we all had a great time. I had been to Alaska once before and it’s sort of everything you can imagine. It’s bigger than life, magnificent, intimidating, gorgeous and scary all wrapped into one. It’s pretty invigorating. We agreed we should do this again — maybe every two years, though, instead of every two of three decades.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. We live in a very nice central location. We have a 20-acre mini farm about an hour north of Philadelphia and about an hour and 40 minutes due west of New York City. We can get on an express bus and be in Times Square in two hours. We love going into New York. We take the kids, see a show and walk around the Village and go through Central Park or whatever. Washington, D.C., and Boston are great, easy weekend getaways, too. The thing we’ve done for the last few summers is go to Montreal for the International Jazz Festival. It feels exotic, because it’s French speaking. It also feels safe there. They have a great botanical garden there as well.

Q. What are your favorite hotels and restaurants?

A. I just ate at Buddakan (www.buddakan.com) in Philadelphia. They serve Asian fusion that’s not too expensive. It’s a great environment without feeling too precious. There’s a hotel in Nashville called the Hermitage (www.thehermitagehotel.com) that has one of those great lobbies that you just want to camp out in and never leave. They have a really nice restaurant in the basement that feels like you’re in a beautiful wine cellar with vaulted ceilings. We also really like the Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-sf.com) in San Francisco. I usually ask to stay there if I’m sent for business. It’s a small chain that’s funky. I didn’t think I’d like the Phoenician (www.thephoenician.com) in Scottsdale ’cause it’s sort of a golf club kind of hotel but it was great. It’s luxurious and beautiful. They have this big deck that looks over the desert and huge fire pits going.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. I always have my books from the New York Times on Kindle, a good set of ear buds and about 1,200 songs on my iPhone. As long as I have music and stuff to read, no matter what the wait is it all works out.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. San Francisco, Montreal, Dublin, Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Sydney. That’s more than five, right? It’s so hard to choose. I feel like I’m home in Ireland. Venice is one of the most romantic places on Earth and everyone loves Paris. And the Australian people are wonderful and so welcoming. I grew up in Detroit right across from Canada so Australia feels like Canada to me.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. I don’t like to be overprepared. I like to maintain the element of surprise and, for me; a really great vacation in any city is to just get lost on foot. So that I feel like I can find my way back again, the first thing I do is get a map so I get my bearings and start off on foot. You can’t really get lost if your whole purpose is to explore.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. I haven’t been anywhere in Asia, so that’s really where I’d love to visit next. I’d love to see China, Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam. “Marley” is wildly popular in Brazil for some reason. About three-quarters of the email I get from outside the United States is from readers in Brazil.

Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?

A. I fit it better in some places than others. Amsterdam is one of those places where I feel I can blend right in and not stand out like an American tourist. Dutch students will ask me for directions. I also feel that I really know a community better if I use public transportation and see the real people who live there. I try to avoid taxis and take the tube or subway.

© 2010 JAE-HA KIM


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