Relive the History of Myanmar’s Colonial Capital at the Strand

“Beauty is meaningless unless it is shared,” wrote George Orwell in his novel “Burmese Days”. Entering the lobby of the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Orwell’s words come to mind. The harmony and welcoming atmosphere of the newly renovated colonial interior makes it the kind of place where friends gather and strangers become friends. Orwell might have had the same feeling.

Located in the heart of Yangon’s downtown and diplomatic district next to the Yangon River, the Strand Hotel is surrounded by a treasure trove of 19th-century colonial buildings and renowned Buddhist sites. If you’ve spent any time on London’s Strand, Yangon’s Strand will feel familiar. The British had a habit of replicating parts of their beloved London in the places they occupied. That’s why you can find Strand Roads sprinkled about the cities of the former Commonwealth, from Bombay to Hong Kong to Sydney to Singapore.

Iranian-born Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, ran successful trading companies in South America. With the opening of the Suez Canal the trade routes they depended on dried up, so the brothers packed up and headed east to try their luck elsewhere. They first founded the famous Singapore hotel, Raffles, and then opened The Strand in Yangon, in 1901. It has been a destination for dignitaries and celebrities ever since, including notables from the literary set, such as George Orwell, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Noel Coward.

The Colonial-era architecture of The Strand is both grand and impressive. Once through the heavy teak front doors, you find yourself in an impressive marble-floored atrium, overlooked by landings of two stories of guest suites above. Referred to simply as ‘The Lobby’, the atrium leads to three restaurants: ‘The Bar’, with its legendary Friday Happy Hour, which has for decades been an institution amongst the British ex-pat community; ‘The Café’, carries on the British tradition of high tea, daily, complete with homemade pastries; and ‘The Grill’ is a lavish dining room with vaulted ceilings, classic skylights, chandeliers and an exquisite fine-dining menu.

After checking in, we make our way up to our room which, based on the standards of modern efficient hotel accommodations, is more than generous. It feels like a small city apartment. Since at least the time of Orwell, a butler is always at the ready, sitting at his/her desk on your floor, ready to answer your questions and assist with whatever you might need.

Our visit to Yangon began as the hot season was kicking off, and Yangon gets very hot, so refreshment was never far from our minds. Fortunately, our arrival coincided with tea time in The Café. Our waiter, in traditional costume, ushered us to a table overlooking the busy Strand Road. Our seats were made of red and black lacquered rattan, inspired by the traditional lacquer techniques found throughout Myanmar. Large ceiling fans turned at a lazy pace, and in the lobby beyond, a young woman played the “Pattalar”, a staple instrument of traditional Myanmar music.

Our waitress suggests we try the Burmese high tea, a fusion of English high tea and Burmese dishes. It is served in a tower of black lacquer bowls that the waitress disassembled and placed on our table one by one, like a “food puzzle”–a great way of serving. I later bought one of these towers with a view towards serving guests of my own.

The Burmese version of high tea comes with tea-leaf salad and small plates laid out with exotic flowers and cookies. Just heavenly on a hot afternoon. We imagined ourselves killing time on a hot afternoon back in the days when Kipling and Orwell passed their time here. Even if you don’t stay at the Strand be sure to plan an afternoon tea break at The Café.

In the early evening, it’s off to “Sarkies” for a drink. The teakwood-panelled bar was, for over a century, the epicenter of social life in Yangon: a gathering place for adventurers, raconteurs, and explorers. Sitting at the bar you can imagine them, swapping stories over the classic Strand Sour cocktail.

Rounding out our day, we have dinner reservations at The Grill, where chef Chris Martena prepares a Mediterranean menu drawing on locally sourced ingredients. Chris came to The Strand from a post in Bangkok, and after stints in several European Michelin-starred restaurants.

Sourcing for ingredients can make or break a great restaurant, and for Chris it took a bit more than shopping to get produce that met his standards. He put his team to work finding farmers in the communities surrounding Yangon and them teaching them what to grow and how to grow it, to meet the restaurant’s needs throughout the year. His efforts have paid off–the menu at The Strand is excellent.

Next morning, on the recommendation of several locals, we try “Mohinga”. Many consider it the national dish of Myanmar. The main ingredients are chickpea flour, crushed rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, fish paste and catfish, all cooked in a rich broth at a boil. Served with rice vermicelli and topped with an egg, it quickly became my favorite, and a daily routine for the rest of the trip.

A trip to Yangon is part local culture and part a visit to a former British colonial outpost that has long since fallen into decay. Until recently very little happened in the way of urban development and the city quietly and slowly aged. What is left is a rare example of a British Colonial city, a little worse for the wear but retaining much of its original look and feel. Yangon is now modernizing at a rapid clip so the old city is fading away. But for a few years, you can bask in the light of a Great Britain heyday. And there’s no better place to relive Yangon’s fragile history than at the mainstay of Yangon accommodation for over 100 years, The Strand. With its recent refresh, it will no doubt serve the good and great visitors to Yangon for at least 100 more.

Details

To find out more and to make a booking, go to; www.hotelthestrand.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Getaway to Spain, Via Arizona

If you’re anything like us, around the official end of winter you start to get a bit impatient for a little warmth and sunshine in your life. It seems like ages since you last enjoyed an infusion of Vitamin D from the center or our solar system.

In Europe, a quick trip to Spain usually does the trick. And in Spain, along with the sunshine and warmth, comes wonderful architecture, culture, and don’t forget the food! Much better than just sitting on a beach for a few days.

But Europe is a bit of a long haul for a short getaway. And we’ve found that for many of the things we love in Europe, there is a pretty good facsimile somewhere between sea and shining sea. So we went looking; and found a little bit of southern Spain neatly tucked away at the Omni Resort, “Montelucia” in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Inspired by the white-washed villages and sun-drenched hills of Andalusia in southern Spain, the resort was built in the lush Sonoran Desert to take advantage of the area’s more than 300 days of sunshine a year. There are amazing views of the nearby Camelback mountains, so close that you can take a quick hike in the morning or just before sunset.

The resort has a generous, rambling layout and never feels crowded. Just like you’d find in a small town in southern Spain on a lazy sunny afternoon. There are a variety of restaurants to suit different tastes and dining styles. We particularly liked the Prado restaurant with a menu focusing on Mediterranean cuisine and using all fresh seasonal ingredients. Of course, there is a great selection of Tapas on offer if you rather share some smaller dishes; many of which are cooked on Prado’s large wood-burning stove, adding to the Spanish flavor. Eating on the patio overlooking the “Alhambra Walkway” might just be the perfect spot for dinner while watching the sun go down.

Throughout the resort, there are many antique touches that really bring the feeling of Spain to your stay. Large historic rough-hewn terra-cotta “tinjas” (oil jars) that were found on a Cortijo (farm) in the region North East of Andalusia. The enormous Castillo Lucena doors prominent in the entry plaza are handcrafted in solid teak and feature a total of 72 framed, panels, as well as a small “zaguan” (door within a door), complete with traditional bronze ”clavos” (nails) typical of protective doors in southern Spain, meant to keep those inside safe from marauders coming across the plains of Andalusia.

Also featured in the plaza is an original Spanish bell that was once installed along the route of the El Camino Real, the original roadway that linked California’s Spanish missions. The bells substituted for road signs and of the original 450, over time most have been vandalized or stolen, the number has dwindled to a mere 80. Fortunate that one has been preserved here providing a link between The Omni and Spain’s great influence on our culture through their conquest of the Americas.


The Spanish call it “Puente” literally meaning bridge, but used to describe a long weekend. Make the Omni Resort at Montelucia your Puente to sun, relaxation and a taste of Spain.


Details

There are often great specials at the Omni Resort at Montelucia, so keep an eye out and plan your trip for when they are on offer. For details, directions and some special offers: www.omnihotels.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hanok Hotel Hagindang

A city founded on its legendary access to the cleanest and most pure water, Jeonju was the birthplace of the Joseon Empire, which reigned for five centuries. How can the qualities of water inspire an empire? Well, pure water makes the brightest, finest and most durable paper, and an empire spreads its influence with the documents it produces. So out of the wellspring of Jeonju flowed the story of an empire, capturing the attention of all the surrounding territories. And it was no small matter that the waters of Jeonju ensured that the local production of Makgeolli, a sweet-rice-based alcohol, was second to none. So, virtue or vice? Both it would seem played a role in propelling the Joseon Empire to greatness.

Naturally, with the city of Jeonju being a center of wealth and prestige, its urban development was top quality and, consequently, durable. So today it stands out as one of the few places visitors can get a taste of life as the Koreans of old would have lived it. From palace to humble home, shops to tea houses, all is on display to aid you in your journey back in time.

Sadly, during the 1970s, as Korea transitioned from a rural society to a modern high-tech industrial powerhouse, many of the traditional homes, or Hanoks as they are called, were demolished to make room for modern high-rise buildings to house the ever-growing population. It wasn’t until around 2000 that Koreans began to look more closely at their past and had a renewed interest in the traditional architecture of Hanoks. Many have been restored, and people of means are once again choosing to live Hanok-style to get back to tradition.

Some Hanoks now open their doors to curious tourists and Korean visitors, and the “Hanok Bed and Breakfast” has become a popular destination for spending a few days away from the city.

The term “Hanok” describes not only the structure of traditional Korean houses, but also their settings, their layouts, and how they relate to the seasons. A proper Hanok would be set against a mountain and face a river so that the energy would flow properly through the compound. This principal is called “Baesanimsu” or “Hanja” in Korean, which literally means ideal house. In cooler areas, Hanoks are built in a closed square to better retain the heat. In southern areas where the weather is warmer, they are laid out in an open “I“ form to allow air to flow more easily.

And where extra heat is needed in the winter, Koreans were one of the first cultures to develop a system for smoke-free indoor heating. The technique was known as “Ondol” and consisted of heating rocks that in turn warmed the floors of sleeping rooms, the smoke drawn out by chimneys well away from the building. Nowadays, floor heat in the old Hanoks is still in use, but the chimneys are mostly unused remnants, replaced by more efficient electrical floor heating.

We were fortunate to spend one night at “Hagindang”, a beautiful 100-year-old stately Hanok, that was once the home of an important Jeonju government official called Baek Nak-joong. Today Hagindang is still run by the Baek-Nak-joong family.

Upon entering the Hagindang Hanok, the mood is set by the quietly playing “Gugak”, traditional Korean music. A garden and Koi pond occupy the entry courtyard, and small bells, strategically placed around the property, chime here and there as the wind catches them—a peaceful setting, even on a cold winter’s day, as it was for our arrival.

Hagindang has several room options. At the center of the compound, the main house offers three rooms, with its own living room where breakfast is served. Beyond the main house is a block of additional rooms which were formerly the living quarters of the family.

Per custom, shoes are left at the door as your enter through sliding screens into a hallway and beyond to your room. This was our first traditional Korean Hanok experience and at first, we were confused by the lack of a bed in our room. But we quickly worked out that rolled up at the side of the room was a bed consisting of a futon-like mattress and comforter, covered with perfectly starched white linens and a small neck pillow that you unroll when ready to sleep. With our two beds unrolled on the toasty heated floor, we were ready to call it a night and quickly drifted off into Hanok dreamland.

The next morning we rose early and made our way to the breakfast room where we greeted our fellow guests and the kitchen team, with traditional Korean bow. Being the only Western tourists on this day, we were met with warm greetings and gentle instruction on how to navigate the breakfast ritual.

We take our seats at the low tables that are covered with a collection of classic white Korean porcelain dishes containing Kimchi, fish sauces and pickles. Freshly prepared little pancakes hot off the grill, and bowls of warm rice and tea were brought out as we sat. Noticing our confusion, our neighbors at the adjacent table showed us the ropes, gesturing what sauce to put on what. With no English spoken it all went amazingly well.

With a deeper understanding of Korean culture, having lived for a night as Koreans of old, we take another stroll around the garden before packing up for more Jeonju adventures.

Details

A few important details for your trip to Jeonju: Hagindang Hanok is a very popular place to stay so we suggest you book well in advance. It is also not so inexpensive so make this your splurge accommodation. It is a great experience for travelers interested in immersing themselves in the culture, and you will most likely be the only westerner which makes the experience all the better.  It is not luxurious in a five-star kind of way, but we cannot recommend it enough.

To organize our visit to Jeonju and Hagindang Hanok, we booked the Jeonju food tour with Ongofood Tours in Seoul. With our guide, we traveled down in the morning from Seoul on the high-speed train and then took the tour, then our guide dropped us off at the Hanok. The next day we explored more of the sights and spent a few hours watching and joining in with Koreans as they went about their favorite weekend activities, a real highlight of the trip.

Ongofood will be happy to book the Hanok for you when you inquire about the Jeonju tour. book

If you want to book the Hanok directly go to hanok.mobilefarms.com. The site is in Korean only but Google will translate it for you.

A great US-based travel agent specializing on South Korean tours is Good Day Tours. To find out about tours, and flights, and to subscribe to their customized tours email, go to gooddaytourusa.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Night Watch at the Great Columbia River

Their momentous journey at an end, Louis and Clark finally reached the mouth of the mighty Columbia river, catching sight of the Pacific in mid-November 1805.

Having achieved their goal the expedition’s thoughts turned quickly to making the return journey home. The men took to scanning the constantly churning waves where the Columbia thrusts its self into the Pacific for any signs of ships masts. Seeing nothing, they resigned themselves to winter on the Pacific coast and established Fort Clasop for some protection as they waited out the long cold winter months.

Today not too far from Fort Clasop is the charming seaside city of Astoria. And if you stand on the same shores that Louis and Clark did some 200 years ago there will be no shortage of ships on the horizon. The Columbia river is one of the busier shipping lanes in the pacific North West. But as a modern explorer, you can avail yourself of THE prime viewing spot at Astoria’s Cannery Pier Hotel.

Sitting on a pier, literally 600 feet out in the Columbia River, the upscale Cannery Pier Hotel puts you within hitting distance of all that is going on on the Columbia River, as well as all that quaint Astoria has to offer.

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The hotel inhabits the former Union Fish Cannery offering unparalleled views of the river, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, and across the river, Washington State. Each room features a private balcony and toasty fireplace as well as a variety of other amenities. It’s a cozy comfortable place to get away and recharge.

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The center of Astoria is just 10-minute walk. But if you would rather drive, the hotel offers local transportation in one of its vintage cars. Or take one of the bikes on offer for a quick pedal to town.

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In case you’re after an extra-relaxing stay, Cannery Pier Hotel has you covered with a day spa, hot tub, and fitness facilities. And don’t forget to avail yourself of the hotel’s complimentary evening wine hour and daily breakfast buffet.

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We had a great stay at Cannery Pier Hotel, keeping a look out from our crows-nest balcony on all the comings and goings on the mighty Columbia River, interspersed with trips into town for local shopping and some real dining treats. Astoria’s packed full of great activities for a weekend away and the Cannery Pier Hotel is a great place to headquarter your expedition to Astoria, where the Columbia meets the Pacific

Details

For details, directions and check on special offers go to; www.cannerypierhotel.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Spend the Weekend with Friends in the Catskills

Must I tell you that neither the Alps nor the Apennines, no, nor even Aetna itself, have dimmed, in my eyes, the beauty of our own Catskills? It seems to me that I look on American scenery, if it were possible, with increased pleasure. It has its own peculiar charm – a something not found elsewhere. I am content with nature: would that I were with art!

Thomas Cole

 

Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson River School of painting famously made this declaration in the early 19th century soon after returning from a grand tour through Italy and England.

The luscious green hills, mountains, and rivers of New York’s Catskills gave Cole ample cause to be inspired, even in comparison with the more traditionally fawned-over landscapes of Italy and England.

Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, you can see for yourself what Cole is talking about in his beautiful interpretations of the 19th century Catskills.

But let’s not rely too heavily on Cole’s word, because the Catskills are so easy to explore now, and much of the area harkens back to Cole’s time, with little development in-between. To put yourself in the middle of it, head to Bloomville and spend a few days at Table on Ten, where a contemporary group of creative New York City expats are finding inspiration in the Catskills’ rolling hills and unchanged towns.

Table on Ten has lovingly polished up an 1860s boarding house on the edge of Bloomville. That’s just a few years after Cole traveled these same roads. And the current landlord has made a conscious choice to allow the building to proudly show its stately age while putting it back into service as the boarding house it was intended to be.

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That landlord is Dutch native Inez Valk, who has made this part of the world her home. In the process she has provided us with an opportunity to dive into the Catskills experience, briefly abandoning our busy city lives.

Table on Ten’s three rooms are all well-appointed, with an aesthetic that is firmly rooted in the building’s history. Each room features a bit of the original (reclaimed wood details, record players and claw foot baths) and a bit of the new (comfy Muji linens, internet radios and Wi-Fi).

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The attic suite is more spacious, with an antique, free-standing bath tub, record collection and player, antique rugs, and a comfortable, large bed. I used to own records, but they have not figured in my music media repertoire for many many years. I had forgotten how great it is to put a record on the Victrola and enjoy the music. Okay, Victrolas are a bit before my time, but after we pulled Johnny Cash out of its sleeve, and pulled some drinks out of the ice chest, our Catskills weekend was rolling! A few “throwback” moments like these go a long way towards shocking you into a Catskills frame-of-mind that makes your time at Table on Ten magic!

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After settling in it was lunch time and we headed back downstairs to talk to the staff and treat ourselves to some of Table on Ten’s yummy daily specials. We topped it off with and all-American pie from Four and Twenty blackbirds in Brooklyn. The staff are super helpful and great for sending you out into the rolling hills with tips on good things to do, eat and see.

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We spent the afternoon exploring the area’s tiny towns–Andes, Bovina, and Delhi–and then made sure we were back in time for Table on Ten’s famous brick-oven pizza night.

Next morning, we headed down for breakfast and treated ourselves to a “Red Egg in a Pan” and “White Egg in a Pan”: two eggs baked in a tomato sauce or in a cream sauce, and served with buttered toast. Also on the menu: homemade granola, very delicious.

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Table on Ten is just the right thing for decompressing and getting a much-needed dose of nature in the wonderful rural Catskills.

Details

Table on Ten’s lodgings are very popular and weekends are booked way in advance. But fear not, you can book a Table on Ten room any day of the week, just make a note that the cafe is only open Thursday to Sunday. There are plenty of other great places to eat in the area and the Table on Ten staff will have recommendations, or you can just check out their website. If you want to join in on pizza night Friday and Saturdays, make sure you make a reservation.

For bookings and availability go to; www.tableonten.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hotel Sorrento

The historic Hotel Sorrento in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district has long attracted explorers and eccentrics. Apparel merchant Samuel Rosenberg built the Sorrento in 1909, but ran into financial difficulties soon after opening and decided agriculture was more to his taste. So he traded his new hotel for a 240-acre orchard along the Rogue River in Oregon.

A frequent visitor in the 1930s, Alice Toklas lived nearby in the wealthy First Hill neighborhood. Toklas was a patron and the companion of Gertrude Stein, whom she met in Europe. The two concocted the idea for Stein to write “The Autobiography of Alice Toklas” as something that might be a commercial success, which Stein desperately needed at the time. The book was a hit and Toklas also became a celebrity with the its success.

The Feel of Old Seattle at the Hotel Sorrento

The couple lived in Paris until Stein’s death in 1946. After Stein’s passing Toklas needed to make a living of her own. So drawing on lessons she had absorbed from Stein she wrote and published “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook”. One recipe became quite famous: a brownie containing nuts, fruit, spices, and marijuana. Yes, long before the drug wars of the 1980s marijuana was a quaint little herb whose medicinal qualities were quite commonly and happily used for all manner of ailments.

Speaking of good vibes, Ms. Toklas may have neglected to ever check out of the Sorrento. Reports of a female “ghost” occur regularly in and around room 408 and her presence is part of the hotel’s lore. To make Alice feel right at home the ground floor watering hole, the Dunbar Room, created a special cocktail in her honor. It’s a fresh concoction of elderflower, chamomile, honey, lemon juice and Lucid Absinthe Supérieuree. Give it a try. Maybe Alice will join you.

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There were several owners at the Sorrento over the years and the hotel slowly sank into relative obscurity. But with a recent change in management and a top-to-bottom refresh, the Sorrento is back in top form again.

Fortunately, the years of neglect meant that the Sorrento never suffered from any late 20th century “modernization”. So most of what you see today is original 1909 construction and interiors. It’s a fascinating snapshot of Seattle from over 100 years ago, when the Puget Sound and Olympics were laid out without interruption on the hotel’s front doorstep.

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The ground floor “Fireside Room”, with its distinctive Honduran wood paneling and grand green tiled fireplace depicting scenes from the serene Italian countryside, is worth a visit even if you are not staying at the hotel. For guests and neighborhood visitors alike it’s a great place to hang out, meet friends, or take in one of Sorrento’s events, which range from Jazz Combos to up-and-coming young singers. The events are free, so what are you waiting for!

Drawing on Sorrento’s more recent history, the lobby bar/bistro, the Dunbar Room, got its name from a ‘60s restaurant that used to occupy the top floor. Now with a new interior of black painted brick walls, Moroccan tiles, and classic Bistro furniture, it’s a place in which Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas might well have felt quite at home.

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Most importantly, the 76 rooms at the Sorrento are “20th century” sized, as opposed to the miniature spaces common in new hotels. Beds are naturally super comfortable.

We settled into the Fireside Room with a seat by the fire and spent the afternoon making our way through the scrumptious afternoon tea. With strength gathered, we headed out to explore around the hotel in the fabulous Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

Details

The Sorrento is a four-star hotel and a great value for a short getaway. Check online for special offers. In addition to Dunbar, nearby are many great places to eat, drink and experience the Seattle sights. For a listing of free concerts in the Fire Room, check the Culture Hub section of Sorrento’s website www.hotelsorrento.com. Stay tuned for more Seattle stories coming soon.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hotel V Nesplein

The Hotel V Nesplein is a recently opened, four star, 43 room hotel carved out of a former office building. The building has been lovingly restored and given new life by hoteliers and eleventh generation Amsterdamers Tom and Mirjam Espinosa. With the benefit of coming from a family who have been working in the hospitality business since the 1960s, Tom and Mirjam show their experience and passion in every detail in this their latest Amsterdam venture.

V is for Vacation

To give Hotel V its unique character, Tom and Mirjam have seamlessly mixed old world charm, quirky Dutch design, theatrical touches and a generous dose of comfort. This, along with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, makes Hotel V the perfect home base for your Amsterdam adventure.

Centrally located on the Nes, a quiet street just steps from the beautiful Dam Square, the hotel is a stones throw away from many popular landmarks and local sights. Whether traveling by bike, tram or on foot, exploring the city from here is a breeze.

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Make sure you try the aptly named “The Lobby” restaurant. There is a particularly good breakfast menu available to get you charged up for a day of sightseeing. After returning from a full day, we also enjoyed tucking into the “Flammkuchen”, a kind of pizza with a paper thin crust.

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The rooms are spacious with a distinctly Dutch modern decor; an easy blend of industrial chic with warm, comfortable colors and textures, along with some very smart details to temporarily accommodate your belongings. In our room we liked the worn leather chairs, bright yellow walls and especially the spacious bathroom, a rarity in many “boutique” hotels these days.

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For a quick euro-city getaway to Amsterdam, Hotel V Nesplein is just the place to organize your itinerary around. And with it being lovingly created, run and frequented by locals, your stay will be all the more immersive and enjoyable.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

For detailed information and reservations, go to; www.hotelvnesplein.nl

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Twin Farms Vermont

Arriving mid-morning on a glorious autumn day, we were greeted warmly by Brenda, the guest activities director. It had been a long drive and, noticing our need for nourishment, Brenda quickly fixed us up with some treats from the kitchen before leading us on a quick orientation walk around the property.

The story of Twin Farms begins with Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, and his equally famous second wife, author Dorothy Thompson. The story goes that Dorothy conditioned acceptance of Sinclair’s proposal on his providing them with a farm in Vermont. Sinclair was all too happy to oblige and sealed the deal with the purchase of an 18th century farmhouse, now called Twin Farms. This is the place they would call home for the span of their 14-year marriage.

Visiting Vermont Friends

Twin Farms was then acquired by the Twigg-Smith family. The Twigg-Smiths hail from the Hawaiian Islands, and were looking for a mainland country outpost for holidays and entertaining, and Twin Farms fit the bill to a tee. It was the perfect counterpoint to the equally idyllic but considerably warmer climes of Hawaii.

Evidently, Hawaii proved difficult to get away from and visits to Twin Farms were fewer than hoped. With all that Vermont beauty sitting idle for much of the year a plan was hatched to share their 300 acres of unspoiled countryside with the public.

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This kicked off a long-term project to gradually add additional accommodations for guests to the original 18th century farm house, while still maintaining the farm’s quiet, low-key country ethos. Accommodation has now expanded to twenty rooms, five in the main house and fifteen other cottages scattered around the property. Situated brilliantly so they are completely private, the cottages are scattered within easy walking distance of the main house.

The atmosphere at the farm is very laid back, never stuffy. The staff go out of their way to make your stay better than you had expected. And there is so much to do at Twin Farms that each guest’s experience can be unique. Interested in bees? They can show you their own beehives. Want to take a hike? A variety of trails start at the main house.

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In winter Twin Farms has its own slopes to ski and pond to skate on. Whether it be croquet, tennis, fly fishing, kayaking, yoga or a spa treatment, Twin Farms can arrange it for you. Anything else you would like? Just let the staff know and they will do their best to make it happen.

We had an idea that some biking and canoeing would be fun. Bikes shortly appeared with directions to a nice little lake about a mile from main house. We had the whole lake to ourselves that morning. It was a great way to work up a good appetite for lunch.

Twin Farm’s handy pre-arrival questionnaire means that by the time you check in the staff already knows most of what they need to make your stay run smoothly. Have any food preferences? By the time you sit down for your first meal the kitchen will already have been alerted and taken care of your requests.

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The food at Twin Farms is bountiful and artfully prepared. Chef Nathan Rich’s menu of seasonal, locally sourced dishes changes daily. Our first lunch was a fabulous mushroom dish featuring a variety of local fresh-picked fungi. And some of the food is sourced REALLY close by. Chef Rich maintains a kitchen garden that supplies fresh herbs and some other seasonal goodies. Be sure to stroll through the garden for a look at what may be part of Chef Rich’s next extravaganza.

Instead of eating in the house dining room, you can picnic at one of the many scenic spots around Twin Farms. Have the kitchen make up a basket for you and dine al fresco while enjoying the magnificent view.

Fun side note: The trailhead for many of Twin Farms hikes is on the old Connecticut postal road which runs right through the property. This trail was also used in the Revolutionary War by, amongst others, General Lafayette to make his way up through the colonies. The trail passes just a few steps from Twin Farms original 18th century front door, which had us wondering if the General might have had occasion to stop in for a rest, or maybe a meal!

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In the living room we noticed a beautiful half-finished wooden picture puzzle with a note attached saying “do not remove”. It seemed someone had a serious project going on there! After trying our hand at the infectious pursuit we discovered that a local company, Stave Puzzles, makes them, each piece of the puzzles meticulously cut by hand. It is unbelievably precise work.

Along with the food and the puzzles, a lot of what you see at Twin Farms is locally sourced. A notable example is the glassware and dinner service by renowned Vermont artisan Simon Pearce. Many of these items were designed specifically for Twin Farms. They are a great new addition, by the current custodians of Twin Farms, to the interior that has constantly evolved over some 300 years.

Staying at Twin Farms is very much like visiting a friend’s country home. One of the things I like about visiting friends is seeing the art and objects they collect and use to decorate their homes. Each piece is a memento of a past experience or connection with someone special. Hotels may have art but it is just not the same. The stories behind the art are missing.

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The Twigg-Smiths have an eclectic and fascinating collection. Throughout the property you stumble across works by artists like Hockney, Ruscha, Johns, Twombly, Butterfield, Stella, Dine, to name a few, and other pieces from less famous or unknown origins that are appreciated purely for their curious form or unique character. The staff know many of the stories behind the works so don’t hesitate to ask about anything that takes your fancy. I am sure the piece will be even more intriguing once you know the story behind it.

Another thing the Twigg-Smiths brought back from their travels was the Japanese bathing tradition of Furo or Ofuro. Constructed on the property is a working bath house with water perfectly heated to the traditional 38 degrees. As is the Japanese way, au naturel bathing is at your option, so another very important tradition has been developed at Twin Farms. A towel hung on the door means the bath is occupied so you can relax in your pristine state with no fear of being disturbed. Emerging from a few hot plunges in the bath with ice cold dousings in-between we felt as relaxed as if we had been on holiday for a few weeks!

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With the sun setting over the distant horizon we settled into some Adirondack chairs on the terrace and enjoyed a before-dinner drink. The air was crisp but the crackling open fire kept us warm.

Dinner is served, so we move indoors to the dining room.

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Twin Farms is one of those places sufficiently remote from the lights of urban places that the stars make themselves brilliantly known as night falls. When in the country simple things take the fore with spectacular effect. And on this night in particular we were given a rare treat, a full lunar eclipse with a blood moon. A telescope was organized and along with the other guests we enjoyed nature’s full nighttime splendor.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, sadly, it was time for us say goodbye. The kitchen sent us on our way with a lovely packed lunch for the trip home. Driving back through the rolling hills of Vermont we stopped in a small town, enjoyed our lunch and recalled our amazing few days at the very special Twin Farms.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

For detailed information and reservations, go to; www.twinfarms.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Park Hyatt Vienna

This month we engaged world travelers and men about town Teddy and Winston to sniff out some of the exclusive services on offer at the dog friendly, Park Hyatt in Vienna. Teddy and Winston are endowed with the correct number of legs needed to help us investigate the hotel’s V.I.D (Very Important Dog) services.

Dog Friendly in Vienna

Right, so Teddy and I came directly from the airport. Nothing like rolling the windows down and getting your head out in the breeze to get a sense for a new place. The Park Hyatt is right in the Center and in no time we pulled up to the front door. Impressive front door! Looks like a bank or something. What’s that Teddy? Oh, I guess it was a bank. makes sense then.

Up the “bank” steps we go, the doorman has very shiny shoes. In my experience that’s usually a good sign. Hold up Teddy, the reservations is in my name, all prearranged by the boss.

Teddy and I give the lobby a quick going over. Beautifully restored and all the ‘bankiness’ has been nicely transformed. A lot of people go cheap on the baseboards but not here. All marble, nice touch Park Hyatt. I’m exhausted, let’s go up to the room.

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Hey look Teddy, we have our own beds! I mean I can sleep anywhere but Teddy’s back gives him fits if he doesn’t get his 12 hours. And look the bowls are out, room service has already delivered lunch and the smell of cookies is in the air. Teddy! find out where that smell is coming from.

Teddy! the cookies! what? Snacks first and then we can check out Vienna. Teddy is looking at the K-9 walking map they left with the cookies. Looks like wherever you go there’s a sausage stand on the way, what a great city!

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Next morning the Boss is busy but no worries, Hyatt has arranged a walker to show us around. Teddy, we’re working for Bearleader today, so we’ve got to move it. Hold on, that’s some freshly prepared food from the kitchen in my bowl, and Teddy, they remembered your wheat allergy. Let’s work on that first… and the sun’s just about to hit my bed. Maybe a quick nap before we go out. Catch you in a bit, how do they say… Aufwiedersehen!

Thanks Winston and Teddy for that fine bit of travel reporting on some of the best dog friendly accommodations.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

Check out all the details of the Park Hyatt’s great pet services at; www.vienna.park.hyatt.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Artist Residence

We checked in at the Artist Residence hotel on a chilly Sunday night just a few months after they opened. This is the third in a series of small but well-established boutique hotels in England – the first in Brighton and the second located in Penzance.

Partners Justin Salisbury, 27, and Charlotte (Charlie) Newey, 28, have a great sense of style. Both having backgrounds in art, they built their new hotel concept around a network of prolific artists that provide a steady stream of new work to AR’s rooms and hallways.

The ten room hotel with street-level restaurant and basement bar dates back to1852 and was designed by architect Thomas Cubitt as a public house. Cubitt was the architect for many of the grand buildings around nearby Belgravia square.

Entering the hotel is a lot like visiting a friend’s apartment. No lobby, per se, just a simple check-in desk, and up you go to one of AR’s ten rooms. The rooms all differ in size and style, but all are spacious and well-appointed. We especially like the bathroom details; a quirky mix of old and new, with contrasting distressed and smooth materials for walls, counters and floors.

Need a quiet space to hang out or get some work done? The lounge area on the garden level with large leather sofas and an adjacent coffee bar will fit the bill.

Opposite the lounge is a windowless dimly lit bar with lots of cozy seating. If you want a taste of what a secret Prohibition-era bar might have been like, this must come close. Prohibition never quite made it to the UK. The closest they came was when Parliament passed the 1854 Sale of Beer Act, restricting alcohol sales on Sundays. It was quickly repealed after widespread rioting. The lesson here, don’t get between an Englishman and his pint. I guess the Americans were not as committed to their refreshments, allowing Prohibition to continue for 13 years.

While roaming the AR’s gallery-like corridors we meet owner Charlie and barkeep Max Curzon-Price, designer of the bar’s interesting mix of cocktails. Chatting with Charlie and her all-under-30 crew, you are taken in with their enthusiasm for the hotel business and their unique vision for art-inspired hospitality.

The restaurant, Cambridge Cafe, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open to both hotel guests and the public. In charge of the kitchen is head chef Radek Nitkowski who previously worked at Dean Street Townhouse, another of our favorite London accommodations.

Artist Residence is a great value. The accommodations are roomy and comfortable and you are a stone’s throw from Victoria Station for connections to overland trains, the tube and buses. To extend your art-themed stay, you are easy walking distance from the Tate Britain and the Thames where you can take the boat down to the Tate Modern and the south bank theater district.

Pimlico has long been the place of small tattered hotels and B&B’s for a pretty penny. Well those days are over, there is a new kid in town. Artists Residence is a lovely and inspiring place to stay, produced and run by lovely people with a passion for their customers’ comfort. What’s not to like?

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

For room rates and directions go to; www.artistresidence.co.uk

And to eat at the Cambridge Street Cafe; www.cambridgestreetcafe.co.uk

Many thanks to Artist Residence for inviting us to come visit.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger