The Web really excels when it comes to helping travelers — real and the armchair variety.
Jewishrouts.com is an example. The specialized travel service jams a huge amount of information into a single Web site. The results are somewhat messy, but definitely useful if you're thinking about a vacation or honeymoon with a Jewish twist.
Despite the clutter, the site is relatively easy to navigate.
Buttons running vertically along the left side of the screen offer access to information about specific types of travel adventures — "heritage" tours, kosher cruises, Passover resorts, Jewish singles travel and the like.
Under the kosher cruises category, for instance, there are offerings for trips to Australia, the Caribbean and assorted destinations in the Orient.
For the hardier traveler, there's an "exotic Jewish tours" section featuring trips such as an Andean "bike challenge."
Across the top are buttons that lead to search engines for specific kinds of information.
So click on "food and wine" to get a directory of kosher restaurants around the world, and ads for things like kosher wines and olive oil.
Similarly, hit "accommodations" to bring up a search engine for hotels and bed and breakfasts.
But the format of the search engines is confusing; in many cases you have to make selections in several boxes to start an appropriate search.
But once you figure out the strange menus, there's a wealth of useful information here.
There's also a travel news section on the opening page offering information helpful to travelers. A recent edition included the latest State Department advisory on travel to the Middle East.
Bottom line: Jewishroutes.com offers plenty of good information, a worldwide reach, a lot of advertising and a sometimes confusing interface. Definitely a site with a lot of promise.
Check it out at www.jewishroutes.com.
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Also in the romantic vein, think Jewish composers, and you're probably going to think about Gershwin — a wonderful choice for any celebration. Since the centennial in 1998, the music of George Gershwin — born Gershovitz — has been enjoying a revival, thanks to concerts all over the world. In addition, the San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas has also brought new attention to Gershwin, through concerts and recordings. This site — filled with music and terrific pictures — will introduce Gershwin to a new generation.
Click onto the home page and you'll be treated to a dazzling rendition of "Lady Be Good" or another Gershwin classic. The home page opens with three choices: Gershwin's life, his music and information about the Gershwin centennial — which already took place, but never mind.
The most interesting section is the composer's biography, which documents his parents' flight from Russia to avoid conscription, George's childhood in Brooklyn and his early expertise — as a roller skater and neighborhood brawler, not a musician. The text is broken up by wonderful black-and-white pictures of Gershwin through the years.
Other sections include anecdotes, quotes about his life and music and information about his other career as a painter and art collector. Click on the Music section, and you'll be able to browse lyrics, listen to collections of Gershwin in MIDI format and see a complete listing of his songs and where they were first performed. Wherever you go on this site, you're serenaded by tasteful Gershwin renditions — a real piano, not beepy computer music.
There are also links to a discussion forum and other Gershwin-related sites. The Gershwin home page — who put it up is never revealed, although the person has an e-mail link — is classy, informative and easy to navigate. Check it out at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/penumbra1.
The writer is a Washington-based correspondent who has been writing about Jewish Web sites since the early 1990s. His columns alternate with those of Mark Mietkiewicz. Besser can be reached at email@example.com.