I'm in Berlin for the annual ITB travel fair, and last night had one of those magical moments that sometime happen when we travel, a foruitous experience that can't be planned, only enjoyed. Kismet.
We were a small group of magazine people dining at Grill Royal, one of Berlin's restaurants of the moment, overlooking the Spree River from a quay just below fashionable Friedrichstrasse. The massive restaurant is renowned for its beef— entrecôte from Nebraska, Wagyu from Australia, specialty cuts from Argentina—a decidedly gourmet approach to steak. But the menu is varied, with choucroute (dressed sauerkraut), oysters from the island of Sylt, bouillabaisse, and other regional delicacies.
The restaurant decor is minimalist, with spotlighted artwork on the walls, massive columns, dark-wood banquettes. The real decoration comes from the diners themselves—chic, attractive, some young, others young-ish, all wearing fashions you'd find in the cutting-edge boutiques off Unter den Linden a few blocks away.
In a city that seems to have a catchy nickname for every neighborhood (NoLita, TriBeCa, the Flatiron, et al), no one seems to know exactly what to call that part of Manhattan around Sixth Avenue and 29th Street. A few blocks southeast of Madison Square Garden and a few blocks southwest of the Empire State Building, the neighborhood tenants are nondescript costume jewelers, button-sellers to the trade, and wholesale import companies, interspersed with mom-and-pop markets and the occasional martial-arts supply store.
“It’s an area that you pass through to get somewhere else, but I think we’re going to change all that,” says Thomas Mathes, general manager of Eventi, a new 54-story hotel managed by Kimpton Hotels and set to open on May 15. “We call the area North Chelsea.” Which may be stretching the map coordinates a bit, but in any event it’s more attractive than, say, Garment Center South.
I’m usually cynical about most travel marketing, which often emphasizes self-indulgence and cheap prices. Can’t it ever be uplifting, meaningful, and warm-hearted without being maudlin? Apparently, the answer is yes, it can. The new ad campaign for Colonial Williamsburg, the well-known historical restoration in Virginia, is all that and more. It just launched last week, and although I’ve seen only two of their commercials, if the rest of the campaign is up to that same quality level, it should win not only some awards, but some new visitors as well.
If this is the fifth dirtiest hotel in America, things may be better than they seem. The Quality Inn in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, found itself on the worst sort of list recently: TripAdvisor's 2010 Dirtiest Hotels in the United States. Reporters at the local newspaper, the Pocono Record, showed up with a video camera the next day and posted the results on You Tube. It's hard to discount the numerous bad reviews about the hotel found on Tripadvisor.com; some of the specific complaints are positively disgusting. Yet when you view the video, you wonder how the images could be so vastly different from the Tripadvisor user comments.
Mark Orwoll is Travel + Leisure's international correspondent.
The cruise industry’s largest trade organization let loose on critics of Royal Caribbean International today, saying that the cruise line is bringing relief aid to Haiti despite the ridicule and disdain that has been heaped on the company in the press and online message boards. Richard Sasso, chairman of the marketing committee of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told a press conference this morning that RCI should be praised for its efforts, not criticized.
The controversy began soon after last week’s earthquake in Haiti, when the cruise line announced that it would continue visits to the undamaged port of Labadee and its private resort on the north side of Haiti, about 60 miles from the ruins of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The port calls have been characterized by some in the press and in the blogosphere as an out-of-touch decision to allow sunbathers and umbrella-drink aficionados to lollygag in the tropical sun while the number of dead and dying increased daily on the other side of the country. In fact, according to Sasso, the decision was driven by the need to deliver food, water, and other supplies at a time when the country’s main port has been nearly destroyed and its airport hampered by having only one working runway.
“They didn’t have to go back to Labadee,” said Sasso, his voice rising in outrage as he addressed a crowd of reporters at the annual CLIA media update in New York City. “Not now, not next year, or in three years. They put themselves out there despite all the criticism.”
I recently returned from two weeks in Europe and the Middle East, and as always when I travel my thoughts were occupied by important issues and weighty matters—specifically, what to bring back as souvenirs.
That’s me and Pepper, just back from a stroll about the grounds of Chateau Orwoll. I’m wearing the Quantum Jacket from ScotteVest, or SeV, which I wish I had had with me a month ago during a two-week multi-country trip, because it’s the best travel jacket I’ve ever worn. The main reason it’s so great? Storage.
I took this picture with my Blackberry just before boarding train 024A, the Yunost or "Youth Express." The Yunost leaves Leningradsky Station at 12:30 p.m., just in time for the rudimentary lunch that is wrapped in plastic and placed on your seat before boarding. The targeted train, the Nevsky Express, follows the same route as the Yunost, leaving at 6:30 p.m. and arriving at 11 p.m., a far shorter journey than the Yunost's unimpressive travel time of 7 hours and 40 minutes. There's not much to see out the windows on the Nevsky at this time of year because it's pitch black by then, which must have made the terrorist blast all the more harrowing.
The Nevsky Express is somewhat more luxurious than the Yunost, but anyone who has traveled in Russia knows that luxury is a word with a loose definition in that part of the world. Both trains have only simple seating, no sleeping berths. Both serve the same bland sandwiches and chips. People on the Yunost as well as the Nevsky doze against the bundles of heavy coats ballooning from hooks by the windows. Both trains pass the same broad stretches of farmland edged by pine forest. Both edge past the same obscure sleepy villages and towns—Spirovo, Vyshny Volochek, and Uglovko, where the bombing took place.
On the Yunost I sat next to a soldier on leave. My conductor limped, and his hat was too big for his head. The car attendant, who sat in a private cabin near the samovar, looked at me suspiciously whenever I refilled my teacup. Two very pretty young women a few rows ahead of me giggled almost the entire trip. I don't know anything about the people who died on the Nevsky Express on Friday, but they can't have been much different from those on my train. Eager to visit family. Excited about touring the Hermitage Museum. Heading home on leave. Simply living their lives. Until they lost theirs.
Maybe it's a holdover from Communist days, when Soviet citizens patiently queued up to buy meat, vegetables, and other necessities of life from poorly stocked groceries, but lines seem to be part of Russian culture. The trick is knowing how to avoid them—and I recently learned how to avoid one of the most infamous: the line for tickets to St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. I’ve heard horror stories of people waiting in the ticket line for two or three hours during peak summer times, but even when I visited, on an Icy November day, the line was hundreds of people long by the time the museum opened its doors. But I was able to go straight in because I had already purchased my ticket, more than a week in advance, from the museum’s official website.
DUBAI—I've just arrived here for a conference, and everyone is talking about the city's new Metro, a futuristic elevated train that soars high above the desert floor as smoothly as a magic carpet over the Arabian sands.
Opened in September, the state-of-the-art system (the photo, left, was taken with my less-than-state-of-the-art phone camera) links Dubai airport with the Jebel Ali district on the far side of town, a distance of 31 miles. For much of its length, the line runs alongside busy busy busy Shaikh Zayed Road, one of the main thoroughfares. It's satisfying to be on one of the trains, clipping along at 55 mph, while below you Zayed Road is illuminated with thousands of brake lights as traffic crawls to a stop, which tends to happen more and more often these days.
The Dubai Metro is the longest automated driverless metro in the world—a source of pride in the United Arab Emirates but also a potential problem.