Travel Weekly staffer Nadine Godwin writes travel trivia book

Travel is a serious business, but for our lighter moments it abounds with quirky facts and odd statistics, more than enough trivia to fill a book.

Nadine Godwin, Travel Weekly editor at large, has written such a book, Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia.

Published in April by AFS Press in Lexington, Ky., it is believed to be the first book devoted exclusively to travel trivia. Its dozen chapters explore all manner of forgotten, forgettable and fun facts from all modes of travel and geography.

Did you know that the Michelin guides, the work of French tire-makers Andre and Edouard Michelin, were given away free for their first 20 years? Its true, and the two decades, by the way, were from 1900 to 1920.

You can be sure, because Godwin checked every fact in the book, from the New Zealand hill with the worlds longest place name (92 letters), to the southernmost town in the world (Ushuaia, Argentina), to the towns with the most taxicabs (Mexico City) and the fewest people (oddly, there were 15 cities in the 2000 U.S. census with populations of zero).

Minibar mystery

About the hardest fact to verify, Godwin recalled, was tracking down the origin of the hotel minibar. It took me ages and ages, she said.

The book credits the Four Seasons in Washington with installing the first modern minibar in the U.S. in 1978.

In Europe, however, minibars had already been around for more than a decade.

Theres more:

  • The optical electronic key card debuted in 1983.

  • There are 31,850 golf courses in the world.

  • United is credited with opening the first airline kitchen for in-flight meals, in 1936.

  • Barbados is the only other country in the world that can boast that George Washington slept here, and the house where he stayed on his only overseas trip is being renovated as a tourist attraction.

  • At 555 feet, the Washington Monument was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it was completed in 1884. It held that distinction for five years until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

    At 984 feet, the Eiffel Tower held the distinction for 41 years until the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) was completed in 1930. Alas, the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) took the prize a year later.
  • A few samples

    When asked how this improbable project got started, Godwin recalled that the idea originated with former ARTA president John Hawks, who was looking for some new titles for a venture in book promotion.

    Hawks came up with the idea of a book on travel trivia and asked Godwin to come up with a few samples.

    I wrote a few samples, she said, but I never stopped. It was fun.

    Among her favorite discoveries is that while Charles Lindbergh is credited for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he was actually the 68th man to fly nonstop across the ocean. Even a cat did it before Lindbergh -- twice.

    Another was the discovery that the ubiquitous chocolate on the hotel pillow originated around 1950 at the Mayfair Hotel (now the Roberts Mayfair) in St. Louis, and can be traced to Cary Grant.

    Evidently wooing a woman traveling companion, the film star created a trail of chocolates from the parlor of his suite into the bedroom, culminating with a note on the pillow.

    According to Travia, The story, told by the housekeeper, inspired the manager to place chocolates and good-night wishes on guest pillows.

    (And thanks to Cary Grant, by the way, Carnival Cruise Lines now doles out 16.5 million pieces of chocolate a year.)

    Fire ants?

    Godwin said she also got a lot of laughs compiling lists of wacky festivals, competitions and museum displays such as Houstons National Museum of Funeral History, the annual Roadkill Cook-Off in Marlinton, W. Va., and the Texas Fire Ant Festival.

    The problem with trivia, however, is that its practically infinite, and its always changing.

    Predictably, Godwin has stumbled upon new bits of travia since the book came out, such as a recent tip that a hotel in Germany bases its room rate, in part, on the weight of the traveler.

    Thats one I want to check out, she said.

    Included in the book is a disturbing bit of etymology that traces the word travel to a Latin root for torture or torment. In Old French it gave rise to travaillier, meaning to become tired or worn out.

    By the 14th century, travaillier had given rise to the English cousins, travel and travail. Ouch. 

    And heres a final bit of trivia thats not in the book: The title is a blending of the words travel and trivia, but who came up with that idea? Not the author. Godwin says the word was actually invented by the books illustrator, Liam Roberts.

    The book retails for $16.95 plus shipping. Excerpts and ordering instructions are at www.traveltriviabook.com. -- Bill Poling

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