June 21, 2011
Paris Outdoor Summer Events
Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog at www.eyepreferparis.com.
Paris sizzles in summer with loads of outdoor events all over the city. From a beach built on the Seine to fireworks at Versailles, summer promises to be most memorable.
Fete de la Musique
The summer solstice on June 21, the longest night of the year, is a time to celebrate the music of Paris. Fete de la Musique is an all night music festival held mostly outdoors in every neighborhood of the city.
Jazz, classical, rock, accordion music, hip-hop, Celtic music, and Corsican chants are just a smattering of the types of music that will be played. Started in 1982, Fete de la Musique was an initiative by the Minister of Culture to encourage amateur musicians to play their music. It is now the largest music festival in France with many other towns and city’s participating and has even spread its wings to other continents to become a world event. The fun begins at 6 p.m. and goes all night, so rock on in the parks, gardens, courtyards, streets, and squares of Paris.
Fete de La Musique
June 21 Starting at 6 p.m.
Click this link for the full information and programs
Did you know that Paris has a beach? Parisians can be seen basking in the sun on chaise lounges in their bikinis along the Seine, with no need to go to the Cote d’Azur for their St. Tropez tans. For the tenth year in a row the city of Paris will transform a section of a highway along the Seine into a beach, pouring over 6,000 tons along the banks. Not only can you work on your tan, but there are tons of other activities to enjoy including concerts, cafes, games of boule, tai-chi, sprinkle showers, ping-pong, ice cream vendors, and a swimming pool to cool off in. Remember to put on some suntan lotion.
Paris Plage 2011
July 21 to August 21
Open 8 a.m.- 12 p.m,
Grande Eaux and Jardins Musicaux and Grande Eaux Nocturnes at Versailles
Every summer at the historical Palace of Versailles, the former home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, you can explore the magnificent grounds and gardens with music in the background. Stroll through Le Notre’s classical gardens while being serenaded. At certain times the fountains jet their water high in the air to the rhythm of the music too.
In the evening it’s a much more seductive affair. The Louis XIV Royal Garden becomes a stunning visual feast. The gardens, groves, pools, and fountains are decorated with thousands of colored lights with dazzling installations of the Sun King, Louis XIV's flagship, which rise from the waters, to the lasers that will light up the sky and the spectacular vision of the giant Encelade. A very special experience that shouldn’t me missed if you are visiting Paris.
For dates and times:
By: Richard Nahem
June 07, 2011
On Site: Tanzania: Roughing It in Style
Whoops. In my last blog, I said that a group of zebras is called a “journey.” I was wrong: It’s called a dazzle. A group of giraffes is a “journey”…because, y’know, you can’t say “group” or “bunch” or “a lot” when referring to animals. It has to be things like “dazzle” and “journey” and “school” and “pod” and whatnot. I think zoologists just make these things up to confuse the rest of us.
So, then. After a lovely evening at the Manor House (it’s so nice to come in to your room after dinner and find not only that all the lavender strewn about at check-in has been changed to rose petals…but that there’s a hot water bottle keeping the bed warm), we set off for the Karibu Fair in Arusha, with a quick pause for lunch at the Coffee Lodge, a cute boutique property with swank cabins hidden among coffee bushes. The more contemporary suites have outdoor showers and flat-screen TVs (but no phones), while the more traditional cabins have phones but no TV. (Trade-offs, you know.)
At the Fair, we met with Yvonne Baldwin of Precision Air (the airline that flew us from Dar es Salaam to Mt. Kilimanjaro), who mentioned that the company will be launching direct flights to Johannesburg soon. This will mean that visitors can fly South African Airways to Joburg, and transfer to Precision directly to Arusha or Zanzibar or Mt. Kilimanjaro or anywhere else in Tanzania without stopping first in Dar es Salaam.
Geofrey Meena and Geofrey Tengeneza of the Tanzania Tourism Board told us that the Board is looking to make the U.S. Tanzania’s main tourism market. To that end, they are focusing on promoting cultural tourism, and giving visitors a chance to engage with locals of various tribes throughout the country. Elirehema Maturo and Joas Kahembe, respectively the development officer and chairman of the Tanzania Association of Cultural Tourism Organizers, said that they are teaching locals how to share their culture and heritage with visitors, and are guaranteeing experience standards. “You have a chance to see things you only see in museums live,” Kahembe said, adding that the human contact can lead to mutual understandings on both parts.
Even better, Maturo said, the Association is looking to help alleviate the poverty affecting different areas. Membership fees from each of the 28 companies in the Association support local communities, and Kahembe added that visitors can help the villages by donating either money or their time (for example, helping to build a house or work on a farm). In this way, he said, they can see the direct value of their contribution.
Oh, yes, Karibu is the first outdoor trade show I've ever attended. And the first one where I've ridden a camel around. (I'm not laughing in the picture below. I'm trying not to scream. Those camels are high, and if you remember, I'm terrified of heights.)
We spent the night at the Lake Duluti Lodge, a gorgeous boutique hotel with isolated private cabins tucked away in the woods. The Lodge is surrounded by an electric fence, so it's safe to walk around at night, and the rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi. (Bless them!) When we arrived, the soaking tubs in our bathrooms were already half-full of cool water and suds so we could wash off the day's dust before dinner--which was truly wonderful; with small portions of meat or fish and family-style side dishes. (The chicken and steak were delicious, though the fish got mixed reviews. We all devoured the samosas, though.)
The next morning, we caught a tiny Regional Air flight (we’re talking Twin Otter propeller plane that can probably hold about 20 people max) right into the heart of the Serengeti, where we drove for hours with Ephata and another guide, Leakey, who found us a leopard in a tree with a recent kill. As we drove across the plains, we also saw zebras splashing in watering holes, hippos fighting, lions napping (surrounded by zebras—maybe they weren’t hungry?) and plenty of wildebeests. The migration was in full force, and some areas of the plains were just covered with wildebeests marching in a line, or milling around under trees.
We had lunch at the Serengeti Explorer Camp, a semi-permanent tented camping experience that follows the migration throughout the plains. The tents had beds, running water and flush toilets, and we even saw how they turned a large metal box into an oven with some hot coals.
After lunch, we headed into the Grumeti Reserve and met our Singita guide, Saitoti Kuwai, who asked us to call him Toti. We said goodbye to Ephata and Leakey and headed over to Singita’s Faru Faru lodge, a very chic property overlooking a large watering hole where lots of animals come to drink. The cabins have outdoor showers, and all look out over the hillside, guaranteeing not only great views but absolute privacy.
We continued on to the Singita Explore Camp, which just formally launched a week ago. The Camp is a fully mobile camping experience that makes roughing it seem quite luxurious. The tents have some electricity (car batteries and solar panels keep a handful of lights burning, and other lanterns are battery-operated), as well as running water and even hot showers (though the hot water must be requested in advance). And, of course, they have killer views: Visitors can leave their tent flaps open to watch the sunrise from their beds in the morning. The food at the camp was delicious, and not just in the way that dining alfresco usually is. (Plenty of chicken, grilled beef, stewed vegetables and other goodies were available.) Before dinner, we sat around a campfire and roasted some raw dough into hot bread, which we dipped in a nice chili sauce. (Soooo much more grown-up than marshmallows and graham crackers…though there’s nothing wrong with marshmallows and graham crackers either, come to think of it.)
A word about the tents: Bugs will get inside. It just can’t be avoided—this is camping, after all. But the beds are surrounded by zippered mosquito netting, and nothing got through that, so if your clients are squeamish at all, assure them that they won’t be bothered while they sleep, and that they will have a wonderful, world-class experience. (Seriously. I don’t think Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt had it this good when they were on their safaris.)
Camp manager Retief Jordaan (pictured below) said that currently, the camp can be set up in a week, though he hopes to get that down to three days with practice. Visitors can reserve the camp for $1,300 per person per night, whether it’s just a couple (perfect honeymoon!) or a family reunion of up to 12 people. They’ll get a full staff to tend to whatever they need, guards to escort them around after dark, full board (including drinks) and game drives. It’s a tremendous value when you consider what goes into setting up all the tents (they are all fully furnished, and there are dining tents and lounge tents at guests’ disposal as well—and the lounge tents even have electricity for recharging camera batteries).
After a light breakfast around the campfire in the morning, we set off for another game drive as we made our way to the Sabora Tented Camp for an alfresco brunch. These tents are permanently installed, and might be a better option for those who want a camping experience without actually camping out. The tents have a very Victorian ambiance (dark reds and rich woods), and zebras will come right up to graze on the campgrounds. (Brunch, by the way, was delicious—who would have thought brie would go so well with French toast?)
Back out for another game drive, where we saw another leopard in a tree (deceptively cute—we dubbed him Fluffy) and a cheetah napping in the shade of a tree. As the sun started to set, we drove up a hill to the Sasakwa Lodge, one of Singita’s most opulent options in the game reserve. The cabins are decorated in a decidedly colonial style, and all have private plunge pools overlooking the plains. (Wonderful perk for North American visitors: Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free from the cabins.) As most of my group was assigned two-bedroom cabins to share, my roommate and I watched the sunset from the heated plunge pool and listened to the crickets chirping before heading off to a lovely lantern-lit dinner.
(NB: If you book Sasakwa for your clients, be sure to remind the reservations department that your clients want real privacy while they’re there. My group had some problems with doors being opened unexpectedly.)
Before sunrise, we gathered early for coffee on the verandah before heading out for one last game drive (our fourth of the trip overall), where we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, Cape buffalo and yet more wildebeests. (Even Toti was impressed by the number of animals and the cacophony they made.) All too soon, we headed back and gathered up our gear to fly back to Arusha (Singita has an airstrip not 20 minutes from the Sasakwa lodge) and lunch at the Mount Meru Hotel, which was renovated last year and seems set to be the main business hotel of the region.
We hurried back to the Mt. Kilimanjaro airport (seriously, I had no idea Tanzania even had this many airports and landing strips!) and flew Precision Air back to Dar es Salaam, where we were smacked square in the face by urban culture shock after nearly a week in the wilderness and suburbs. We spent the night at the Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel, one of the top luxury properties in the area, and had a really wonderful pan-Asian dinner at their Orient restaurant. (Not that I’m complaining about the lovely African cuisine we’d enjoyed all week, mind you, but sometimes you just really want some sushi…and red Thai curry…and hot and sour soup. Pardon me, I’m getting hungry again.)
Which brings us up to this morning. I’m in the Johannesburg Airport right now, having flown here right at sunrise from Dar, and getting ready for the long flight back to New York. After a week in a very, very different world, and seeing things I never thought I’d see in my wildest dreams, the urban jungle of Manhattan is going to seem very strange.
June 03, 2011
On Site: Disneyland's Soundsational Summer Begins
Disneyland holds a lot of personal memories for me. Growing up in Southern California, it was an annual family vacation spot. Every year, we would travel to Disneyland to take in the same familiar rides, sights and sounds. But what's always struck me about Disneyland is that while many things are still the same as I remember them to be, they're also different, too.
Those differences can be attributed to the fact that the theme park is always changing and improving, and this year is no different. This month, Disneyland Resort is welcoming two new major rides and a brand-new parade, in addition to making improvements to the historic Disneyland Hotel and overhauling the Disney California Adventure Park.
Today, Travel Agent attended the opening ceremony of The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure. This "dark ride," which is located in Disney California Advenuture Park, takes guests through the world of Ariel from Disney's "The Little Mermaid," infusing the film's famed musical score and numbers throughout the ride. To celebrate the opening of the ride, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs welcomed the film's composer, Alan Menken, to the stage, as well as Jodi Benson, the original voice of the film's main character. Benson performed "Part of Your World" for more than 250 journalists who were in attendance to cover the grand opening.
Just before the Memorial Day weekend, Disneyland also welcomed its newest parade, Mickey's Soundsational Parade. The parade featured nine themed units, all with an emphasis on melodies and dance performances inspired by some of Disney's most popular films, from "The Lion King" to "Mary Poppins."
Tomorrow marks the official grand reopening of the Star Tours motion simulator ride in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. The ride has been updated with new storylines--more than 50 different onces to be exact--and now features eye-pooping 3-D technology.
Tomorrow is also when we'll get a recap stratight from Disney executives about all of the company's new projects--including the makeover of Disney California Adventure Park (expected for completion in April 2012), the debut of Aulani, A Disney Resort on Oahu in August and much more.
By: Deanna Ting
June 02, 2011
Tanzania: Arusha and Ngorongoro Crater
Whew. Busy and exhausting two days. In the last 48 hours, my group has arrived in (and left) Dar es Salaam, flown via propeller plane to Arusha, seen Mt. Kilimanjaro, driven for hours over all kinds of roads in an old-school 4X4, passed local villages and markets, watched traditional Masai herders with their cows and goats (and driven past their very-active traditional villages…these are not tourist attractions; these are real homes for real people) and driven into the Ngorongoro Crater, a mini bio-sphere with all of the Big Five (of which we saw four) and many other animals.
So…yes. Tired. Very tired.
Let’s see. We were up just after dawn in Dar es Salaam to catch our flight to Arusha on Precision Air, which was on a small propeller plane with the seats and windows below the wings rather than above them. We were met at Arusha-Mt. Kilimanjaro airport by Ephata Lotashu, a local and expert guide with the Africa Adventure Company. We had a quick tour of Serena Mountain Village, a hotel built in the middle of a coffee plantation, and of Gibb’s Farm, which is a combination extended-stay hotel and fully functioning farm. (The rooms at Gibb’s are all unique, and the furniture and art were all made by local artisans and artists.)
We drove on to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a 3,200-square-mile World Heritage Site with mountains, savannahs and forests filled with wildlife. As we headed up a mountain, Ephata told us to close our eyes. After a minute, we were ordered to look to our left and open our eyes. And when we did, the whole Ngorongoro Crater stretched out beneath us, nearly perfectly circular and largely flat. The Crater was formed by a long-extinct collapsed volcano, and the surrounding mountains serve as walls around the 102-square-mile floor.
Inside the crater is a good range of landscapes, which means all kinds of animals can live there quite well. Leopards hide in the forest with the baboons. Elephants wander in the tall grass. Cape buffalo stand around (like buffalo do) and get chased by the lions in the shorter grassy areas. Hippos wallow in the lakes and creeks, and rhinos nap wherever they want to, because who’s going to tell a rhino to move?
We continued on to Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, which sits right on the Crater’s rim and has some spectacular views of the landscape. (Also, there are no fences around the Lodge, so animals can and do wander around the cabins.) The Lodge could be best described as a mix of roughin’ it and upscale luxury: The food in the dining hall is varied and really delicious (whatever is on the menu, tell your clients to go for the local specialty. Try something new!), and the lobby has a swimming pool that overlooks the crater. The rooms also have floor-to-ceiling windows with rocking chairs and killer views…but they don’t have phones, and hot water is available only at certain hours. It’s a small price to pay for the convenient location and the (quite literally) awe-inspiring views, but some clients may need convincing.
We were awakened by loud knocking on the doors just before dawn (remember, no phones?), and had a lovely buffet breakfast in the main lodge (tell your clients to try the millet—it’s sort of like a porridge, but different) before checking out and heading into the Crater as the sun rose. Within minutes, we saw a herd of cape buffalo milling around in the road, and managed to see a pride of lions (feasting on another buffalo), two bull elephants and a sleepy rhino who had no intention of coming closer to the road to pose for photos.
While some private game reserves in South Africa allow off-road driving to track game, public parks like Ngorongoro do not, so Ephata could not drive across the flat grasslands to get a closer look at the rhinos and lions and other wildlife. And a word on that: The park is open to the public, so your clients can rent a car and drive into the Crater themselves if they want…but just as I wrote in South Africa, they shouldn’t. A trained guide will know how to respond to different wild animals, and unless your clients know how to tell if an elephant is showing dominance, they should hire a professional to show them around.
A highlight of the game drive came just as we left a rest area by the lake (where we had been watching hippos wallow). As we drove around a corner, we were suddenly face-to-face with a lioness…and we realized from the way she was sniffing the air and stealthily walking that she was on the prowl…and then we realized that what she smelled were the people still picnicking at the rest area…who had no idea she was there, much less hunting them. We (and a few other cars) drove back to the rest area and alerted the picnickers, who quickly jumped back into their cars, and we all followed the lioness as she set her sights on a journey of zebras (yes, a group of zebras is called a journey. Why they can’t just call ’em a herd or a group or a pack is beyond me, but there you go. A journey). We left her there watching the zebras and wondered how that whole circle-of-life drama played out.
Also: Oldupai Gorge (formerly known as Olduvai) is about an hour’s drive from the Crater, so history buffs should book time to visit the Gorge and spend some time in the museum. We couldn’t, alas, but your clients should definitely try if they have any interest in the history of human evolution.
And now we’re at the Ngorongoro Manor, a lovely little property (you guessed it) surrounded by coffee bushes. The cabins are huge (and have two-sided fireplaces); hot water is available all day long; and Wi-Fi is available in the lobby. They also have a wide range of activities that I’d love to try if we had more time here, like surprisingly affordable spa treatments ($70-$80 for an hour-long massage, $60 for 40-minute-long body scrubs, etc.), horseback riding ($25 per hour) and bicycle rides. Sadly, we’re checking out tomorrow morning, so I’ll report back later on how dinner at the lodge is.
Tomorrow: The Karibu trade show and a tour of Arusha.
June 01, 2011
Religious Art and History in Castilla y Leon, Spain
VALLADOLID, Spain -- My second and third days in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain last week were the first times I’ve seen more than 10 images of Christ on the cross without feeling like God was trying to tell me I did something wrong.
But after seeing two art exhibitions based on the “Passion of the Christ” and touring at least five historic churches in the towns of Valladolid, Medina de Rioseco and Medina del Campo, I started to think I did something right.
On day three of my press trip to the Casilla y Leon region of Spain, which is one 17 regions in Spain and is roughly the same size as Hungary, we made our way to the towns of Medina de Rioseco and Medina del Campo for a limited-time art exhibition of religious works throughout the world, called “Passio: Las Edades DL Hombre” (www.lasedades.es).
For art lovers looking to completely immerse themselves in the passion and graphic detail of European art, this exhibition was more than worth it. In fact, the cost, at least for an American, was practically laughable. It costs €3, roughly $5, for a ticket to two “Passio” exhibitions, one at the Santiago de los Caballeros church in Medina de Rioseco and the other at the Church of Santiago in Medina del Campo. The exhibition runs from now through November 6. To reserve tickets, agents can e-mail email@example.com.
While were in Medina de Rioseco, we also toured several other historical churches from the Church of Santa Maria, where Castilla y Leon’s version of the Sistine Chapel can be found on the walls and ceilings of this 15th century landmark.
We then made our way to the Museo de Samana Santa, a museum that was formerly the Church of Santa Cruz. This 16th century building was virtually restored in the 1950s after a devastating earthquake destroyed most of it. We then made our way to the Museo de San Francisco, formerly the San Francisco Convent, for another tour of a historic church and some more samples of beautiful religious sculptures culminating in yet another breathtaking, gold-finished altar.
Before our legs fully gave out, we stored enough energy to tour the facilities of a 19th century bullfighting ring in Medina de Rioseco. The stadium holds about 5,000 people and host bullfighting exhibitions two times a year. It is held during the week of June 23-30, the Festival of St. John. Admission for a bullfighting exhibition is just €6-€10 and tickets can be bought the day of the event.
|Castillo de la Mota in Castilla y Leon, Spain|
Then we made our way about one hour away to the small town of Medina de Campo. We visited the famous castle, the Castillo de la Mota, which was finished in the 15th century and stand five floors, 40-meter high. It just opened for tourism about a year ago and costs €6 for a full tour.
The last day, spent in Valladolid, we made our way to yet another museum, Museo Nacional Colegio de San Gregorio, for more religious art, but this was really well done stuff. Each artist has their own interpretation of Christ and evokes a different emotion. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and closed on Mondays. The fee is €3. Visit www.museosangregorio.mcu.es. or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For either a first-timer to Spain or a frequent European traveler, my itinerary was perfect. I spent one full day in Madrid before making my way two hours west to the beautiful region of Castilla y Leon, where I sipped great wine and took in enough churches and religious art to last a lifetime.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more on Castilla y Leon, including the restaurants I dined at and the hotels I slept at.
By: Joe Pike
May 31, 2011
On Site: Tanzania: Day One
One of the most exciting things about visiting Africa is that no one region can prepare you for any other. Going to Morocco will not prepare you for South Africa, and South Africa will not prepare you for Tanzania. Just as European countries are widely different from one another, African nations each have distinct qualities that make each one a unique experience.
Just two weeks after returning from Indaba, I am back in Africa, though this time in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (And while South African Airways makes the 14+-hour New York-to-Johannesburg flight as comfortable and pleasant as a 14+-hour flight can be, making that trip twice in one month is rather exhausting.) Once we arrived in Joburg, we transferred to the International Departures lounge (your clients will have to go through security again, even though they don’t have to leave the terminal…unless we made a wrong turn somewhere…Hey, O.R. Tambo is a huge airport! It’s easy to get lost!) and caught the 3.5-hour flight to Dar es Salaam. (After New York to Joburg, Joburg to Dar es Salaam is a breeze.)
Disembarking from the plane, the heat and humidity pack a punch like…well, intense heat and humidity. (I shouldn’t call the heat “intense.” It’s warm…very warm…but the humidity is much like Hawaii’s, and the baggage claim area does not seem to be air conditioned.) Important: If your clients are planning to visit Tanzania, make sure they know that they will need to get a visa (which costs $100), but they can get it at the airport upon arrival if they don’t get one in advance.
Also good to know: U.S. dollars seem to be widely accepted in Tanzania, which eliminates the whole conversion problem. Be sure your clients know to bring plenty of single bills for tips and gratuities.
Once we got onto the highway, we began to see the city and its surrounding areas. The sun had already set (terrific view of the sunset from the plane, by the way), but many streetlights were not lit. Car headlights were the only illumination, and the beams caught the humid air to create a ghostly effect. As we pulled into the city, many buildings had no power, but people were still walking around the streets in the darkness. The effect is at once mysterious and beautiful, with shapes in the shadows and candles in windows creating an atmosphere that words just can’t quite describe.
And now I’m in the New Africa Hotel and Casino, where my group is only spending the night before heading off again early tomorrow morning. It seems like a very nice property—they have no problems with electricity here, and the rooms are plenty big. I just wish it were daylight already so I could get a better photograph of the view across the water.
May 31, 2011
International Tastes in Paris
|Paris is home to an eclectic range of tastes and cuisines, from Moroccan to Vietnamese. // (c) 2011 Richard Nahem|
Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog at www.eyepreferparis.com.
Even though most visitors to Paris love to indulge in having authentic French cuisine, the city has a rich and eclectic range of restaurants serving ethnic cuisine. Many former French colonies and countries that have a strong French influence, including Vietnam, Lebanon, Senegal and Morocco, are well represented with many restaurants spread all over Paris. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites.
404 & Andy Wahloo
Paris has a very large Moroccan community and its food is among the most popular in France. 404 is a chic, fun filled dining experience with authentic Moroccan food including tagines, cous cous, mezze and kabobs. The exotic lantern-lit space with furnishings and dark Berber wood imported from Morocco makes you feel you are dining in the heart of Marrakech. Next door is Andy Wahloo (from the same owners), which is a swinging bar and lounge with sophisticated cocktails, Moroccan-style tapas, and a DJ.
404 & Andy Wahloo
69 Rue des Gravilliers, 3rd Arrondissement
Reservations are recommended
Honest Mexican food has always been one of the hardest types of food to find in Paris, as the French are not keen on spicy food. Thankfully, Candeleria, a taqueria, is changing that with its delicious, piquant Mexican fare. Its tacos, burritos, guacamole, hot salsa and other delicacies are winning over the French big time and American expats are breathing a sigh of relief now that one of their favorite cuisines is readily available. Located in the trendy Northern Marais neighborhood, Candeleria is tiny with just a few tables but has takeout. Behind the restaurant is a hidden bar that serves elaborate cocktails, Mexican beer and tequila.
52 Rue de Saintonge, 3d Arrondissement
Le Dan Bau
Tucked away on a hilly, narrow street in Montmartre is a tiny gem amongst the tourist trap restaurants. Le Dan Bau serves fresh, authentic Vietnamese food with little fanfare. Simple and delicious, the best dishes are the pho, chicken with lemongrass sauce, steamed pork dumplings and curried stews. Prices are reasonable—under 25 euros per person—for the high quality of food that is offered.
Le Dan Bau
18 Rue des Trois Freres, 18th Arrondissement
Liza is a contemporary take on ancient Lebanese cuisine. The menu offers a rich selection of mezzes, or Lebanese finger foods, and other dishes including lamb cutlets, red mullet fish with fava beans and grilled kefta with hommos and cherry tomatoes. At the space, designer Hubert Fattal has created a modern dining room reminiscent of a warm and welcoming Beirut home with accents of mother of pearl, wood and copper. L for Liza is the takeout shop located next door with sandwiches, soups, mezze and scrumptious Lebanese pastries.
14 Rue de la Banque, 2nd Arrondissement
By: Richard Nahem
May 26, 2011
On Site: Castilla y Leon, The Spanish Wine Country
I'm currently on day two of a press trip to one of Spain's most famous wine regions, Castilla y Leon, which I learned in English means Castilla and Leon. Ok, that was a joke. But this region is anything but a joke, but rather something to marvel over. There is basically nothing but beautiful landscapes and wineries with some of the best whites and reds I've ever sipped and I've been everywhere from Chile and Argentina to Napa Valley, California.
Now, for a first time traveler to Spain, it's essential to start out in one of the country's more well-known cities, so the good folks at the tourist board had me fly in from New York to Madrid for the first day. I digested some of Madrid's top attractions from the Prado Museum, where you can see original works of Rembrandt, Borricelli and Fra Angelico and a host of other paintings by legendary artists for a mere €8, which is roughly $12, to the historic Retiro Park, where you can take in some true European scenes from the movies whether it be a sleek, elegant woman puffing on a cigarette or a young couple kissing on the grass.
I feel like my day in Madrid was the perfect primer for my adventure into the off-the-beaten path of Spain. I got great footnotes on one of the country's biggest cities before being ushered into one of its lesser-known regions. And this is something all agents should recommend to first-time Spain visitors. Do one or two days in Madrid and when they get what it's all about, recommend the two-hour bus drive north west to Castilla y Leon.
My first stop in this wine district brought me to the small village of Rueda, which is known for its white wines, although we sampled pretty much nothing but red wines during lunch.
Lunch was held at the Grupo Yllera (www.grupoyllera.com) winery, which is actually two wineries, the newer Group Yllera and the older, El Hilo de Ariadna winery. We had lunch at the older one, which dates back to the 14th century and has a greek mythology theme. It is based on the legend of Ariadna, which is basically a folk lore about the origins of wine in Spain and makes the tour very fantasy-like.
And although my preconceived notions of Spain, and Europe in general, were how expensive it was, this place is just €7 for a tour. The entrance fee includes a tour of both the new and the old wineries and samples of roughly 2-3 glasses of wine. For €40, your clients get the two tours, 2-3 glasses of wine, an authentic Spanish lunch and a bottle of wine to take home. I highly recommend the full tour.
Yllera wine is absolutely delicious and goes perfectly with the cuisine served, which was traditional Spanish meats - Iberian ham, Lomo, which is close to ham, but is basically the back of the pig and Salchichon, which is a salty, Spanish sausage. Yllera is exported to only a few U.S. destinations - New York, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and California.
I recommend the Bracamonte 2009 red wine and the sparking white wine, Cantosan, which you can purchase for just €8-€10 each.
Agents should note that when booking a tour for the weekend, they should book at least one month in advance since the weekends are incredibly busy here. In fact, the whole year is pretty much busy with 12,000 visitors coming here annually. It offers a 10-percent discount for groups of 20 or more, something popular at this place since it hosts many corporate meetings and local bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates from my trip to Spain's wine region.
By: Joe Pike
May 17, 2011
A Tour of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Following Indaba, I set out with Rung Button of ITT (International Travel and Tours) and her partner Julius Le Roux of Julnic Tours for an in-depth exploration of KwaZulu-Natal, the province where the legendary King Shaka Zulu once lived and reigned. The province is a microcosm of what South Africa has to offer, with bustling cities like Durban, national parks like Hluhluwe/Imfolozi, private game reserves and plenty of upscale hotels and resorts.
For example, about 40 minutes from Durban is Fairmont Zimbali, a luxury property with both a resort on the beach (and a few residential homes) as well as a lodge up in the rainforest. (The beach, it should be noted, is not safe for swimming at all, but is great for walking along. There are several pools at the resort and lodge for swimming.) Shuttles bring visitors into Durban for shopping and urban life, and the resort is ideal for families. Up the hill, the Lodge is an older property, but is much more suited to honeymooners and couples who want peace and quiet and nature right outside their door. The main dining room’s windows look out onto a solid wall of greenery, and it has a much more classic, intimate vibe.
We spent the night at a property called Coco-de-Mer Boutique Hotel, which has some wonderfully high-ceilinged rooms (and is right off the beach), but also has only a part-time reception desk. (This makes it very difficult to schedule wake-up calls before going to bed. Also, Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby, so this isn’t an ideal property for business clients.) I didn’t get a chance to try the sauna tub in my open-plan bathroom, but it looked lovely.
Up bright and early the next day (well, early, anyway), we set off for Eshowe, a small town with a school sponsored by ITT’s staff. We visited Zulufadder, the school, and got to see how the project is helping kids get the education and care they need. (And seriously, there is very little more adorable than a group of kids gathering around to see what a white person’s hair feels like, and proudly showing off their ABCs, and singing any songs they know…including Christmas carols.)
Continuing our Zulu-themed day, we went on to Shakaland, which was built as the set for the 1986 TV miniseries Shaka Zulu, and was later turned into a tourist attraction and a three-star Protea hotel with 55 traditional huts for guests to stay in. We walked through the recreated village and learned about traditional Zulu life, and attended a performance of traditional dances by the locals. (Even the little kids got up to dance, and apparently, the only thing cuter than five-year-olds gathering to feel your hair is several two-year-old stomping joyously to intense drumming.) Arts and crafts by local artisans are available for sale in the village, and we all stocked up on jewelry and household decorations.
Continuing north, we stopped off in the village of St. Lucia, a tiny town on the coast with only one real street that, we were told, occasionally gets hippos from the local river. The local park is also a good place to see crocodiles and go birding, and there are plenty of nature reserves nearby. The highest-rated hotel in the town is the Elephant Lake Hotel, a three-star property with a very nice bar overlooking the swimming pool. (There is a photo of a hippo drinking from the pool in the lobby. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the hippo ourselves, but we were told that he comes around regularly.)
The next morning, we were up before dawn to go on a drive through the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi National Park, the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see all of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). Within the first 20 minutes, with our guide Trevor, we saw rhino, a buffalo and an elephant, as well as numerous giraffes and nyalas. A moment or two later, we had a close (very close) encounter with the elephant when it decided to assert its dominance over the car, and several other elephants got rather uncomfortably close as we drove on.
I’m going to pause here to note that visitors to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi can legally go on self-drive tours through the park. Your clients can, if they want to, rent a car and go exploring at their own pace. But they shouldn’t. They really, really shouldn’t because there are some huge animals in the park that can cause a lot of damage, and unless your clients know how far away to stay from a napping lion or what to do when an elephant decides to take a stand against a car, they could get seriously hurt. Tell them to hire a trained guide for the day. Whatever it costs will cost much less than hospitalization…and besides, a guide can take them to all the best spots in the park, or help them find whatever they want to see.
Trevor, being a brilliant guide, knew exactly what to do when the elephant got too close, and backed away perfectly calmly. The elephant decided that we had been suitably submissive, and wandered off to continue its grazing. After we took our pictures, Trevor casually mentioned that the previous week, a self-drive visitor hadn’t backed off when an elephant got too close, and got his car flipped over for his trouble. (You see what I mean?)
Also, the park has rest areas where guests can relax and even set up a cookout (in Afrikaans, a braai), and Trevor made a traditional lunch for us by a riverside. (It’s fun, but just a little disturbing, to eat chicken skewers while listening to a hippo snort somewhere in the reeds nearby.)
We spent the night at the Ghost Mountain Inn, a four-star property with a lot of five-star elements (huge rooms, private verandas, floral gardens, deep soaking tubs and copious amounts of very tasty food). In the evening, local nightlife (cute little lizards and frogs) roam around the gardens and terraces (and, occasionally, the rooms), so warn your guests to watch where they step.
In the morning, we set off with Jean, a safari specialist at the inn, for a boatride on the nearby lake. Elephants, impala and buffalo were by the shore, and we got some terrific photos as we scooted around. Jean knows the animals of the area intimately (she called out to various elephants by name), and shared fun stories about various safaris she’s guided. (Jean is a really fun guide--ask for her when booking.)
After the boat ride, we set off to Amakhosi Safari Lodge, a five-star property on the Mkuze river. The cabins at the lodge are massive, with three rooms alone dedicated to bathroom facilities. (One room has a soaking tub, toilet and two sinks; another has a shower stall; and the third serves as a guest powder room.) The windows look out over the river, and wildlife (mostly warthogs--they’re cuter than you’d think!) wander around the site. We checked in and had high tea (no lunch at the lodge--more on that later) and set out on our evening drive.
While Amakhosi is a Big Five game reserve, we mostly saw zebras, impala, giraffes, nyalas and warthogs (they grow on you after a while) until we drove up a mountain to a lake, where two lion brothers were napping after finishing a meal. We were able to get right up close to the cats for pictures, and watched as their third brother strolled right past the car to get a drink at the lake. (Since the cats barely paid any attention to us, it was a much less nerve-wracking experience than the episode with the elephants the previous day.) We stopped for sundowners (cocktails) and listened to our guide converse with the birds--there are over 420 species on the reserve, and the game drives can really be excellent for birdwatching.
Before dinner, we were treated to a performance of traditional dances by some local Zulu students around a campfire. (Because what’s dinner without a show?) The meal was served in the lodge’s main cabin, and was just lovely.
A word about meals at Amakhosi: Because of the timing of game drives, meals are arranged a bit strangely. Tea and biscuits are served at 6am before the first drive, and a full breakfast (more like a brunch) is served at around 9:30 or so upon return from the drive. Since a noon lunch would be silly so soon after a large meal, a high tea is served at around 2:30 or 3. The evening drive runs from around 5 to 8, and dinner is served upon return.
Another note: Internet access is only available in the reception area, and there is no cell phone signal at the reserve. This is a place for your clients to get away from it all, so if they’re planning on doing work while on vacation, gently dissuade them. They’ll be disconnected from the outside world here.
We were up before dawn for the morning drive, and watched a rhino jogging along the reserve’s airstrip (yes, they have their own landing strip--great for VIP clients with chartered planes). We didn’t see any other of the Big Five, but we got to watch jackals running and see numerous exotic birds before heading off back to Durban.
On the ride, we stopped off for some quick shopping at Zaminphilo, an outdoor market organized by local artists in Hluhlue. Unlike many other markets in South Africa, the vendors here don’t hassle shoppers to their stalls, and the prices are non-negotiable. (Very comforting for tourists unaccustomed to haggling...like yours truly.) The prices are very reasonable, and the artwork is really lovely. Encourage your clients to leave time for browsing.
Back at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, I got to spend a few minutes in South Africa Airway’s business class lounge before my flight to Johannesburg. There’s a nice bar with name-brand cocktails as well as a convenient business area (with international plugs!) in the middle of the space. Even for a quick visit, it was a nice way to wrap up the tour of KwaZulu-Natal.
May 17, 2011
On Site: Ancient Ruins, the Turkish Riviera and More in Turkey
While it’s only been about a day and a half since I landed in Izmir, Turkey, (http://www.travelagentcentral.com/europe/on-site-travel-agent-arrives-turkey) already this trip has been filled with plenty of unforgettable sights, sounds, tastes and experiences. Before embarking on this press trip, I admit that I didn’t know all that much about Izmir. Sure, I had heard of Istanbul and Cappadocia, but Izmir, well, that was really off the map in terms of my geographical radar. So, when I had the opportunity to travel here for Travel Agent, I couldn’t wait to find out more about it.
As Izmir’s third largest city behind the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul, Izmir (formerly known as Smyrna) is an important center of commerce that occupies a prime spot along the Eastern coast of the Aegean Sea. It is also home to historical sites that include the ruins of the ancient Ionian city of Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary and Pergamum, the first of the ancient world’s health centers.
After arriving in Izmir and dropping my belongings off at my hotel, I headed straight for Foça, a relaxed and picturesque seaside town. Docked along its marina, your clients will find dozens of small boats and yachts and packed waterfront cafes that specialize in seafood, naturally.
The following day, we were lucky enough to take a cruise along the Bay of Izmir, enjoying a traditional Turkish breakfast buffet as our ship, the Bergama, plied the calm waters. Shortly after, we headed for the House of the Virgin Mary, the site where many people believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, was brought to live by John the Apostle, in her later years before her Assumption. While there, I was surprised by the calm and stillness that permeated the air there. Shortly after, we traveled to Sirinçe, a small Ottoman village that is known for its olive oil, wine and charming inns, for a lunch with an amazing view of rolling vineyards and olive trees.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the day exploring the ancient ruins of Ephesus. While I’ve had the chance to personally visit many ruins from the ancient world—including Israel and Jordan—it always strikes me how I never tire of being able to see these sites firsthand. The settlement that we visited was packed with international tour groups. One of the most impressive structures that we saw was the Library at Ephesus, its elaborate façade still standing after so many thousands of years.
Today, we’re headed to Cesme for a relaxing day spent at the beach. Having just endured my first winter/spring in New York as a native Angeleno, I can definitely tell you this: I’m really looking forward to it.
Expect to read more postings from my week spent here in Izmir on TravelAgentCentral.com.
By: Deanna Ting