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Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels Debut in Chicago

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson just wants a damn cup of tea. Is that so hard to find?

When the 64-year-old tycoon is on the road, the answer, apparently, is yes. “Most hotels don’t serve a decent cup of tea at any hour, let alone after breakfast,” he says. How apt, then, that Branson’s new hotel serves breakfast—and properly made tea—23 hours a day.

The 250-room Virgin Hotels Chicago, which opened Thursday, occupies the Old Dearborn Bank Building, a 1928 Deco tower in the Loop. It’s the first property from the new Virgin Hotels brand—or, rather, the opening salvo. Hotels are a natural next move for the conglomerate three decades after its first foray into travel. It’s easy to forget what an outlier Virgin Atlantic was in 1984: a cheeky interloper in a room full of staid grown-ups. As Branson puts it, Virgin’s knack is for “entering stale markets where customers are being ripped off.” (Of note: the company just announced plans to launch a cruise line, too.)

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The Rebirth of Indonesia’s Sumba Island

Hiking

“Can you believe this place?” asked James McBride as he led the way to the beach.

“It sort of endorses your lunacy, in a funny way.” In his pink shirt and straw fedora, McBride was hopping over rice paddies like a giddy schoolboy. Every 50 yards we paused to take in another improbable view: rippling fields of emerald green, pandanus palms teetering on a clifftop, a rocky headland pummeled by surf.

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The Upside of Jet Lag

Upside of Jet Lag

Most people will tell you that sunset is the optimal time to visit Humayun’s Tomb, the red-sandstone-and-white-marble mausoleum in Delhi that inspired the Taj Mahal. (To my eyes it’s even more beautiful than its successor.) Me, I’m partial to sunrise. In this otherwise chaotic city, it’s one of the rare peaceful times to explore its acres of Persian-style gardens planted with mango and lemon trees.

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The Plane Truth: You Don't Really Know Someone Till You've Flown Together

Writer's on Flying

The first argument I had with the woman who became my wife concerned not punctuality, past romances, who pays for what, or any of the usual early-relationship bones of contention, but the proper response to a 3-3 seat configuration on a transcontinental flight.

I’m partial to windows, meaning I need a damn window seat, while Nilou is an aisle person. This being a full flight, I’d booked us a window and a middle, stupidly assuming she’d want to sit together.

“Wait—you didn’t get me the aisle?”

“And put a stranger between us? What good is that?”

“Good for my sanity is what it is.”

“But don’t you want to cuddle?”

“Not now I don’t.”

It was our first trip together, and it seemed destined to be our last. I love my wife to pieces, and think she feels the same, but at that particular moment, on that particular plane, it’s safe to say we loved each other a little less.

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Hotel Commonwealth Unveils Punk-Themed “Rat” Suite

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The Rat. Besides having the single best name for a nightclub ever—short for The Rathskeller, which no one ever once called it—the cramped and dingy Kenmore Square dungeon known as “The Rat” was Boston’s most celebrated and notorious rock club, in an era when Boston had one of the nation’s great rock scenes. Between 1974 and 1997—from the protean days of punk through its latter-day revival—every band that mattered passed through that scuzzy, smoky basement: The Ramones, the Talking Heads, the Police, R.E.M., Husker Du, and local heroes like the Cars, Mission of Burma, and the Pixies. The club’s former owner recalls to the Boston Globe the subzero February night when Metallica played at the Rat—for six people.

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Making a Splash: The New Park Hyatt New York

Park Hyatt New York

In Manhattan, where light and space are luxuries, the 25th-floor pool at the new Park Hyatt New York seems all the more indulgent. With its three-story windows and rippling marble walls, this sun-flooded aerie feels at once soaring and intimate. So does the hotel itself, thanks to the generous scale of the rooms and their residential-style details: a hand-painted mini-bar; a walnut desk-that’s-actually-a-desk. “We imagined a family of art collectors, native New Yorkers with confidence in their taste,” says Glenn Pushelberg of design firm Yabu Pushelberg. “Where would they live?” Apparently right across from Carnegie Hall—location being the ultimate luxury. $$$$

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Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterJLindberg.

Photo: Adam Friedberg

Why Are We Obsessed With Taking Travel Photos?

travel photos

Peter Jon Lindberg shot 10,438 photographs in the past 12 months alone. Now he wonders where our obsession with travel images is taking us.

The summer I turned 11, my parents and I spent three months traveling around Europe, driving a tiny Peugeot from Rome to Amsterdam. It was one of the seminal trips of my life, though I don’t really “remember” it in the visual sense.

We took not a single photograph.

My parents didn’t even pack a camera. They owned a camera; they just decided not to bring it. Recently I asked my mother why.

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What to do in Johannesburg, South Africa

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Don’t think of it as just a stopover; Johannesburg deserves serious exploration of its own.

Because downtown is back. For ages, visitors have sought refuge in the gated suburbs north of town, but inner-city crime rates are dropping and young urbanites are moving in. Walk down lively Juta Street in gritty-but-safe Braamfontein, where Dokter & Misses sells hand-cast ceramics and Afro-Deco furniture, then join the crowd for retro cocktails at the 108-year-old Kitchener’s Carvery Bar (27-11/403-0166; $).

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Zambia: Q&A with Grant Cumings

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This month’s T+L includes my feature story on Zambia, which some (like me) are calling Africa’s next great safari destination. One key reason: the lodgings themselves. While big-name international safari companies have made inroads in Zambia, the field is still defined by intimately scaled (and decidedly un-corporate) bush and river camps, which hew to a more authentic, back-to-basics feel, while still offering a “luxury” level of service. Many of these properties are owned and/or operated by native Zambians, who bring a decidedly personal touch to the endeavor. Case in point: Andy Hogg, co-founder of the Bushcamp Company, whose six stylish camps in South Luangwa National Park are profiled in my story. Then there’s Grant Cumings, whose family runs two excellent properties, Chiawa and Old Mondoro, in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park.

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Zambia: Packing for Safari

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As I prepared for my Zambian safari last fall, it wasn’t so much the hippos and crocodiles that worried me; it was the prospect of fitting everything I’d need (clothing, boots, camera gear, binoculars, etc., etc., etc.) into a single 25-pound duffel bag. That’s the typical (I say cruel and unusual) baggage limit on the tiny planes that deliver you into the African bush. And if you already suffer from a chronic overpacking disorder, the whole predicament can send you into flop sweats. After much worrying and winnowing down, I somehow made it work—with 2 pounds to spare, no less. (See below for my packing list.)

My other concern on safari? Looking like a total dork. As any veteran can tell you, there’s not exactly a surfeit of stylish options for safariwear (good lord, the very word). It’s a bland-on-beige world of elastic waistbands, unflattering pleats, and “patented anti-wicking fibers” the texture of Hefty bags. Then again, wearing a J. Crew polo and jeans on a bush walk makes you look (and feel) even sillier. Surely there was some happy medium—comfortable, practical safari clothing without the doofus factor?

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