Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Santiago, Chile

Less than a year after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in Chile, its capital, Santiago, has largely recovered, the economy continues to grow, and tourism is in an upswing.

Though the quake, which caused hundreds of casualties, was centered more than 200 miles away, many of Santiago’s older buildings were damaged, including the Museum of Fine Arts.

But the earthquake last year — and another in Chile last week that caused more panic than damage — seems to have only briefly paused a cultural shift that had begun to take hold in the city. Known as a buttoned-up place, Santiago has in recent years added modern museums, smartly designed hotels and sophisticated
 restaurants. The city has become decidedly more vibrant.

This year, it has even been chosen as the first foreign city to host a rather unbuttoned event: Lollapalooza. The 20-year-old American music festival picked Santiago for its first overseas outing because of its open space and the variety of cultural offerings, and because locals have a passion for contemporary music, said Lollapalooza’s founder, the musician Perry Farrell. The festival takes place in April in O’Higgins Park.
This musical awakening owes much to the government’s investment in the arts. The new Centro Gabriela Mistral, for example, a 200,000-square-foot center made of glass and weathering steel, has a varied calendar of concerts, dance performances, plays and art exhibits.

Perhaps the most remarkable cultural space to open in the last few years is the Museo de la Moda, a privately financed fashion museum inside a revamped 1960s Modernist mansion. It has a permanent collection of nearly 10,000 pieces of couture and memorabilia (of which 800 are typically on display), including a light-blue jacket worn in 1966 by John Lennon and a black strapless gown worn in 1981 by Diana, Princess of Wales.

Luxury hotels are not new to Santiago, but when the W opened in 2009, it was the first to feature truly modern design. The recently opened Aubrey is equally chic and much more intimate. With an attractive mix of vintage and new furniture (Tom Dixon lamps, 19th-century Parisian rugs, tufted leather sofas), the 15-room property raised the bar for boutique lodgings in the city. It occupies two renovated residences in the Bellavista neighborhood, a creative district where Lollapalooza’s fans would feel right at home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


We recently had the pleasant opportunity to visit several Sandals resorts in Jamaica.  No other resorts in the world include the combination of quality, choices and romantic settings that Sandals provides.  They bill themselves as a Luxury Included Vacation and from our experience that is certainly true.

As far as the Sandals properties we visited are concerned, the Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego is a favourite.  It is a fairly small with 197 rooms in 13 categories and has a British Colonial charm in a Caribbean setting that was very appealing. The main lobby, although not a large, soaring space, is very welcoming and tastefully decorated. It includes a refurbished piano bar and a concierge lounge.

The beach wasn’t very big but this is offset by the beach surrounding their private island which is located just offshore. A small boat ferries guests from the mainland to the island. The trip takes about 1 minute. The island contains its own pool, bar, restaurant and a clothing optional beach section on the back side of the island.

All of the rooms feature the mahogany furniture that Sandals is known for and are very tasteful and roomy. Regular rooms (not butler or concierge class) do not stock alcoholic beverages in room fridge. Only soft drinks, water and juices. The Royal Caribbean has recently completed swim-up river suites (they are gorgeous by the way) and has recently refurbished the lobby and concierge lounge and piano bar.

There are several dining options available on resort. Five restaurants, including the spectacular Thai restaurant on the private island offering something for everyone. The property also has 7 pools, two of which are swim up. Guests at Sandals Royal Caribbean are entitled t o full exchange privileges with Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Inn, both close by,  that offer an additional 7 restaurants.  Transfers are provided between resorts.

Overall Impressions: we really liked this resort. It is a quaint, intimate resort that has a very friendly, cozy feel. The rooms were quite large and comfortable with that signature carved mahogany furniture once expects at Sandals resorts. There are lots of little nooks and crannies if you want to get away from it all and open, public places if you want to be in the thick of things. The private island is quite lovely – an oasis of calm. The beach was quite small but there is the beach around the island and several pools on property.

Moving on to the next stop, we had the good fortune to visit the newest Sandals resort, Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa.  It’s a long transfer from the airport but the first impressions of the Whitehouse was WOW!! This is a gorgeous property. Upon arrival you are greeted with a face cloth to freshen up and a welcome cocktail. You are then escorted into the main lobby where the check in process is done. Here you are asked to fill in a registration paper and from there you are given your room information and keys. For (upscale) concierge rooms you are taken into a Suite Center for check in and a welcome cocktail. There is also a concierge Center that is open daily to assist with booking tours, car rentals or dinner reservations for those booked in a concierge room category.

We had the pleasure of having a butler suite.  I highly recommend you experience this level of service. With this option you are looked after from the moment you arrive. We were pleasantly greeted by our butler in the lobby and was chauffeured to our room. The butler is basically there to take care of all of your needs, whether you need drinks, towels, a plate of nachos while you are on the beach, a dinner reservation, a drive, your clothes pressed or washed, you name it they are there to do it for you. The guests are provided with a cell phone with their butler programmed into it in case they need anything at anytime. They are on duty from 7:00am until 10:00pm. These suites offer 24 hour rooms service as well.

The Sandals Whitehouse is broken up into three “villages”. There is the Italian, Dutch and French Villages, each village has their own pool and all rooms at this property are beachfront. The Italian Village is the closest to the main lobby area and the main courtyard where the restaurants and theatre are. The Dutch Village is the quietest village onsite and the French Village is where the action is with daily activities at this pool. Also all entry level rooms are located in the French Village.

 For dining there are 7 options: Italian, Asian, Caribbean, International, Tex Mex, a European Patisserie with delicious coffees and pastries and two beach club dining options that are resort casual. There are also 6 bars onsite including pool bars, piano bar, theatre bar and a beach bar. Also onsite there is a Business Center with internet access, telephone service. There is also a large conference rooms for private functions or meetings.

5 Top Tips to Frustration-free Travel

It’s common for many travellers to suffer post-travel regret. Whether it’s because of lost or stolen belongings, being taken for a ride, getting lost, or just suffering a poor travel experience. No one wants their memories of a long anticipated trip to be peppered with bad experiences, and fortunately there are some incredibly simple things you can do to lessen the chances of it happening.

1. Prepare before you go.
Obviously the more prepared you are for your trip; the less likely you are to suffer frustration when you arrive. A good start here is ensuring you have most of your plans pre-booked, particularly your accommodation. Usually when you arrive you’ll be exhausted, and often it will be in the evening, so as a minimum it’s a good idea to have your first night or two in each city booked. And check the city tourist websites prior to booking to see if there are local events being held at the time of your travel, as this can affect availability & price. Otherwise you can still bargain-hunt when pre-booking, by using a price-comparison site, or last minute engines.
Here are a few other items you shouldn’t leave home without.
- At least one power adapter for the country you’re visiting.
-Local guidebooks are invaluable for determining places to see, times & days of sight openings, places to eat, and the basic & words phrases you’ll need in that language to get by. If it’s a heavy guidebook, you may find removing the language pages & jotting other day trip details down is a good option. You can then carry them separately in your bag, which is a much lighter option to the whole book.
-Printed directions for the hotels you’re staying at. Google maps are perfect for this whether on foot or by vehicle.
-At least 2 ATM cards. Preferably 2 per person if you’re travelling with a mate. This way if one is rejected in certain countries, or worse gobbled up by a machine, you have a back-up. It’s usually worthwhile to take a credit card, but there are some cautions here. See more on this below.
2. Pack light – Pack right
One of the major frustrations when travelling can be either having too much luggage or the wrong kind. The all-time most important tip any regular traveller will give you is to pack light. Inevitably at some point even with planned travel, you will need to pull or carry your luggage. If there are two of you, this makes it somewhat easier. But remember there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a few souvenirs or other items while you’re there, so starting with a lot of luggage, will only make it more difficult later. Layer clothing is the best kind to take, with a good mix of easy wear t-shirts & singlets. Check expected temperatures before you go, but inevitably you’ll almost always need at least one warmer jacket. Choose one that is warm, but not too bulky. If you are travelling with a mate or spouse, combining your luggage into one medium or large case can be a great decision. If you find you’re picking up items on your travels, and running out of room, it’s usually extremely easy to pick up a cheap knock-off bag on wheels that will see you out til you get home. Starting out with just one main piece of luggage, makes sharing the load with a companion easier. This is also a much safer option, see more on this below.

3. Get the right travel gear
If you are travelling through a westernised country and are likely to be in built up areas, luggage on wheels is almost always the best option. It’s easier to pull luggage than carry it, and it’s more secure against serious thieves.
However for rural, remote areas or under-developed countries, a backpack is definitely best. It’s not only more practical if you’re getting around on foot more or transporting via boat or bus, it’s also a lower security risk in many of these places. You don’t want to draw attention to expensive-looking baggage, which could imply you have expensive contents. If you take a back-pack, make sure it’s sturdy, and can be kept secure. Don’t keep items of value in any external pockets.
The other major key to having fuss-free daily adventures is to make sure you have the right carry-bag. A long-strapped sling bag is best. Small backpacks of any description are a shining beacon to thieves, where your belongings are easily reached conveniently behind your back. You should have a bag you can cross over your shoulder. Ensuring it has a comfortable, strong strap. This bag will do a lot of walking with you, and hold most of your valuable items, so getting it right is a high priority. A zipped bag is mandatory, one which allows no gaps for sneaky hands. If it has a flap, ensure the zip under it is always fully closed, and the zip opening facing to your front. In this way, your valuables are carried at the front of your body, and near impossible to access by another person.
If you are travelling as a male & female, a satchel which is more uni-sex is ideal, because you can share carrying the load.

4. Be travel wise
By following the above suggestions on luggage, you should hopefully have a limited amount of it which is always a far more secure way to travel. If you stop at anytime to make arrangements, always stay with your luggage, and if possible always keep a hand on it. Un-attended luggage is the No.1 kind to go missing in high traffic areas, such as train & bus stations. For this reason when travelling on trains over longer periods, you should keep your luggage close to you, or at least where you can see it. Ideally, get a compartment where you are guaranteed to have it with you.
Where possible you should carry your passports with you at all times. Even many hotel safe’s, unless it’s a reputable hotel, are not very secure. So aim to take things of value with you throughout the day. You should keep your valuables at the bottom of your carry bag, and in an internal zip compartment if you have one.
In many parts of the world credit card fraud is still rampant. Whilst you’ll usually want to take a credit card with you, try to use it sparingly to lessen the chances of the number falling into the wrong hands. It’s a good idea to try and pay for transportation, dining etc with cash withdrawn from an ATM. Do your best not to let your credit card leave your sight.
In certain countries, over-charging tourists is common, so be cautious. For hotels, take all paperwork detailing the room type with you, to help ensure you get what you’ve paid for. Scams can also occur in cafe’s, particularly with getting wine inferior to that which you’ve paid for. If in doubt query it before you consume it. If you are blatantly overcharged, stand your ground. And try to give close to exact money, so there’s no opportunity for them to conveniently keep the change.
In most under-developed countries, you can expect scams around every corner. From travel agencies, to people approaching you on the street. When you arrive, read the hotel information or speak to them about what dangers there may be in that area. Guidebooks will usually indicate which tour agencies don’t offer products as displayed, so peruse these before spending your money.

5. Be travel safe
In many cities all over the world, you can find yourself a target for those who prey on un-wary travellers. Be sensible, do your best not to look like a tourist. Pulling out maps in the middle of the street is a clear sign you’re a tourist, and an easy target. So try where possible to find a convenient spot to do this discretely, or make your plans over lunch. Waist bags worn outside your clothing are to thieves like a red-flag to a bull. There are far better ways of keeping your money close. If you’re not carrying a bag, choose a belt that goes under your clothes.
When walking from place to place, try to stick close to others, and avoid dark streets at night & quite alleys in the day. There’s usually another way you can go that’s populated, or catch transport.
Being street smart is fairly common sense. Stay aware, and cautious..and you’ll likely ward off any potential incidents. This doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid, but just remember you’re away from home, and as a tourist you’re at risk.
If you keep these few basic rules you should find you enjoy fairly fuss-free travel. Inevitably there will always be things that go wrong, and can’t be avoided. But don’t let them spoil your dream trip. Prepare well, be travel wise, and you’re very likely to have an adventure full of wonderful memories.

Monday, April 11, 2011


As thousands of environmentalists heckled world leaders in Copenhagen last month for the climate summit, a solitary unifying note could be heard amid the cacophony of discord: the Danish capital has already emerged as one of the world’s greenest — and maybe coolest — cities.

Copenhageners don’t simply preach the “progressive city” ethos, they live it. Long, flat urban thoroughfares are hemmed with bicycle paths where locals glide around the city, tourists saddle up on the free bikes that dot the city center, and fashion bloggers take notes on the latest cycle chic (see Over in the harbor district, a public bath at Osterbro, due to open in 2010, will complement the two swimming areas set off on Copenhagen’s inner harbor, a formerly polluted waterway recently transformed into the city’s summertime hub.
Away from all the modernism and the happy cyclists, cultural thrill-seekers are being coaxed to the once dangerous district of Norrebro, which has arguably become Copenhagen’s edgiest hub. A heady mix of hipsters, students and immigrants mingle in the cafes and galleries around the district’s focal square, Sankt Hans Torv, and the city’s young and excitable night owls can be found dancing in local clubs until the early hours.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seoul, Korea

Forget Tokyo. Design aficionados are now heading to Seoul.

They have been drawn by the Korean capital’s glammed-up cafes and restaurants, immaculate art galleries and monumental fashion palaces like the sprawling outpost of Milan’s 10 Corso Como and the widely noted Ann Demeulemeester store — an avant-garde Chia Pet covered in vegetation.

A cousin of mine visited here recently, it was probably his best visit in another country! The bullet trains are fantastic, interesting experience.
And now Seoul, under its design-obsessed mayor, Oh Se-hoon, is the 2010 World Design Capital. The title, bestowed by a prominent council of industrial designers, means a year’s worth of design parties, exhibitions, conferences and other revelries. Most are still being planned (go to for updates). A highlight will no doubt be the third annual Seoul Design Fair (Sept. 17 to Oct. 7), the city’s answer to the design weeks in Milan and New York, which last year drew 2.5 million people and featured a cavalcade of events under two enormous inflatable structures set up at the city’s Olympic stadium.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort And Spa

Summer's coming up! It's simply wonderful! I would tell anyone who can to go there, it's worth the money!
Great hotel - clean and beautiful outdoor environment. May have felt a bit overpriced if we hadn't gotten the Priceline rate. Loved the spa and had a wonderful experience but was unimpressed when they asked to add on an 18% gratuity when I was paying. (This was after they gave a discount on the package I chose).
Ultimate Hawaiian classic resort architecture and decor of Hawaiis golden age of 1920s and 1930s. The resort includes six restaurants and lounges, a water playground with waterfalls and waterslide, a five acre saltwater lagoon, tennis, ANARA spa and golf at Poipu Bay Resort.

Dreamy huh?