Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Forget the Gansevoort !

gansevoortroom.jpg

A short review of the Hotel Gansevoort in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York. I’ve stayed at this hotel several times when most of my business was downtown. The rooms are the usual fare for this type of boutique hotel and the service is just as cold as the décor. Views from the rooms over the river are very beautiful and there is something to be said for the location (if you need to be in the meatpacking district). There is a fabulous japanese restaurant in the lobby. Biggest drawback of the hotel : the rooftop bar. This bar seems to be a trendy draw for the 18-25 crowd but having the lobby and elevators bursting to the seems from thursday night thru sunday is definitely not my idea of a zen hotel to stay in. Considering that room rates average 450 $ / night, I definitely do not recommend this hotel.

Dubaï and the incredible Burj Al-Arab Hotel

The Burj Al-Arab HotelDubaï viewed from the top of the Burj Al-Arab

I’m in Dubaï on a business trip and had the occasion to visit today the amazing landmark hotel called Burj Al-Arab. It’s the local Eiffel Tower of sorts and is a fitting monument to the Gulf’s version of Las Vegas and biggest boomtown which Dubaï has become. Clearly very well managed and incredibly dynamic (although probably not too interested in knowing exactly where all the money is coming from or how legal it is), Dubaï is very spectacular.

And this hotel is truly incredible. The Burj al-Arab (which means “Tower of the Arabs”) was built in the late nineties and was inspired by the sail of an arab dhow (a traditional type of ship). It towers over the coastline at over 321 m and is built on an artificial island. It’s supposed to be the tallest building in the world that serves exclusively as a hotel. An all-suite hotel with 202 duplex rooms (smallest is 169 sq metres and the largest is 780 sq metres !!!), this one of the most expensive hotels in the world to stay in. But it must surely be quite an experience. Although marred by some Disneyesque elements and a little too much gold, the architecture of this place is a feast for eyes and senses and the pictures here really don’t do it justice. Even the most blasé of world travelers can’t fail to be impressed. A must-see if ever you’re in the region !!!

Looking up from the lobby... WOW !!!Another landmark : the Jumeirah Beach Hotel

There are more images after the break.

Burj Al-Arab : Upwards from the middle of the atriumBurj Al-Arab : Inside the Sail

Burj Al-Arab : looking down the atrium

Sensoji Temple and Japanese Candy

Since I’m not traveling for the time being, I’ve decided to catch up on some of the subjects I’ve hadn’t had time to publish during some of my recent trips. What better way to start then that favourite destination of mine : Tokyo. One of Tokyo’s great temples is Sensoji Temple which is located in the Asakusa area.

Sensoji1.jpgSensoji2.jpg

Tokyo’s temples tend to be hidden between two skyscrapers. Not this one. It’s too large for that. It has a nice little japanese garden with all the micro vistas the japanese enjoy so much, a large pagoda, and a huge incense burner where joss sticks are burnt and which you can see smoking away in the central courtyard.

Sensoji4.jpgSensoji3.jpg

Like other temples that I’ve seen in Taiwan, Bali or Hong Kong, Sensoji Temple is not exactly a place of religious fervor and doesn’t impress in the same way that a church, synagogue or mosque does. People here are busy having their fortune told or buying favor from the gods. No deep meditation here, just a lot of catering to superstition. I have to admit that in the country of Zen, Haiku, the Tea ceremony etc… I have not yet had the chance to come across these intensely spiritual activities. My japanese friends tell me it’s because I haven’t been to the right places yet (they’re hopefully right). I aim to redress this next time I go to Japan.

Back to Sensoji and one of the nicer features that make it worth going there : the very long covered gallery that serves as access to the Temple. You can find a large sampling of traditional crafts at cheap prices and, best of all, numerous candy shops. Japanese candy is a little “weird” for us westerners (a lot of it is made out of rice…) but, passed the initial surprise, like any candy, it’s really quite delicious. They offer samples at every shop so you can taste before you buy (absolutely necessary for us gai-jin ;-) ).

The Opal Coast

pointeoies.jpg4 days ago, not having had my fill of surfing after Bali (note: I never have my fill of surfing ;-) ) and having seen on Swell-line that a storm was busy churning waves in the Atlantic, I decided to go to the nearest beaches I could find. Those happen to be the beaches of the Opal Coast : the portion of french coastline directly south of Calais (in other words, the most northern beaches of all of France). I had once been to Calais as a kid before taking the ferry to England but I didn’t remember much so the whole region was new for me (the cold water of the channel never seemed to me to be very attractive for surfing which is why I never went…). I ended up having a really good time.

boulmercath.jpgI started off my first day (thursday) at Wissant, a little village with a beautiful beach which is one of France’s most popular funboard sites. Not really a place for surfing but I had a decent session anyway (in a really rough sea) and then went to the hotel I had booked at the last minute : the Hotel du Parc in Hardelot. I booked here with many misgivings but it’s august (high season) and the region didn’t offer that much choice to begin with. I was happily surprised to find a hotel that was significantly better than advertised on their website. It’s smaller than it looks on their site and has quite a lot more charm. I extended my stay for a second night.

Friday started very rainy so I did some sightseeing (more on that later) in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Really a contrasted city with a very ugly modern part and a very nice old town. This is the place where Napoleon spent quite some staring at England and preparing his invasion which never happened. He did leave his mark on the city though and it made for a very interesting morning. With the sun’s return, back to surfing and a really good session at la Pointe aux Oies (between Ambleteuse and Wimereux).

On saturday, I spent the day visiting Le Touquet – Paris Plage, which is the major resort of the area. It has a large typical North Sea beach and a quite animated center with lots of shops and restaurants and, on this sunny summer day, a very nice ambience.

Three days in the Opal Coast. Just enough time to get acquainted… and seduced ;-)

For some more info on the region, check out:

http://perso.club-internet.fr/mvaradi/choix/opale.htm for some nice pix
- A summary overview of all the places along the coast (in french…)+ maps

Bali : The Final Word !

Balisurfsun.jpgOK. It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from Bali and I think I’m ready to write my conclusion. Bali is a great destination. The people are friendly, the island is beautiful, exotic but without the striking poverty which sometimes afflicts this kind of destination. The restaurants and hotels (specifically in the Oberoi district) are at the height of trendiness whilst offering an unbeatable value/price ratio. The shopping is fun and cheap though mainly oriented towards furniture, jewelry, decorative objects and surf wear. From a cultural point of view, there is some stuff to see but it would not justify all by itself going to Bali. For those of you who surf (and this is the reason I went to Bali), Bali is the ultimate destination. The water temperature (no wetsuit ;-) ), the wave consistency and the beauty of the beaches (and sunsets) all make for incredible surfing. The beach break around Seminyak and Legian is good for all levels of surfers and I had a great time. One of the best vacations of my life… I will definitely return !!!

Ku De Ta : Feeling Privileged…

If you’re a fashionista, a cosmocrat, a hipster, the place to be and be seen in Bali, is, without discussion, the Ku De Ta. Situated next to the Oberoi Hotel on Seminyak beach, the Ku De Ta is a bar/terrace/restaurant/party venue for the beautiful people. Superb decor, incredible view of the sunsets (sunset is the time to be there), expensive drinks and lounge music (with live DJ’s), the Ku De Ta submits to all the requisite clichés but does so with panache. It is of course on of those places where style beats substance but you cannot fail to get caught up in the ambience. One ends up feeling very fortunate just being there ( I actually heard this comment from several people and in several different languages ;-) ). I’ll admit it as well : I felt being there was a real privilege. An absolute must-see if you go to Bali !!!

kudeta1.jpgkudeta2.jpg
kudeta3.jpg
kudeta4.jpgkudeta5.jpg
kudeta6.jpg

The Bali Oberoi Hotel

Talk about the perfect holiday resort ! The Bali Oberoi has it all : a great setting in a beautiful tropical garden, a beach with spectacular waves and sunsets, very friendly service, good food and nice rooms. The value for money at this hotel is probably the best I’ve ever had. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here are some pictures ;-)

Balioberoi1.jpgBalioberoi2.jpgBalioberoi3.jpg

Balioberoi4.jpgBalioberoi5.jpgBalioberoi6.jpg

Visas and Idiocy

I don’t usually rant in this space but for once I will. I’m writing these lines stuck in a hotel in Singapore. I should be at the Oberoi in Bali but instead I’m stuck at the Royal Plaza on Scotts :-(

How did this come to be ? I left Paris with Airfrance on Friday night destination Bali via Singapore. Upon arrival in Singapore we were refused embarkation to Bali because we didn’t have a Visa for Indonesia. Visa that nobody told us we needed beforehand, Visa that was so-called obtainable upon arrival. The error stems from the fact that I reserved my trip in France whilst speaking french so everyone simply thought I was french. It so happens that the french do not need a visa but belgians and dutch do. Even this last point is only recent though (feb 2004), our guidebook which Guy (the belgian friend I’m traveling with) bought one month ago still says that for Dutch and Belgian citizens no visa is necessary.

I would just like to say bravo Indonesia for being such a logical and modern country and for having changed it’s laws in such a welcoming way for Belgians and Dutch (Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony….), bravo Airfrance for automatically thinking that if you speak french you must be french, bravo Oberoi for not mentioning once that visas are required even though they wanted our passport numbers for the reservation.

And by the way, Singapore is not even worth mentioning here…

Of Lost in Translation Fame

I just spent six days in Tokyo and stayed at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. This is the hotel in which a large part of the movie “Lost in Translation” happens. I loved the movie, and so, instead of staying at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills where I usually stay, I decided to give the Park Hyatt a shot to see if it would capture some of the magic.

Did it ? Yes in a strange way… This a top class business travelers hotel. The design, the rooms, the famous pool, the even more famous bar, the service, everything is definitely up to the best standards. One definitely feels well taken care and nothing is out of place.

This is where it captures some of the movie’s feel : you walk in on the second floor (main) entrance. You then take an elevator to the 41st floor where the lobby is situated. You must then walk through lobby, restaurant, and book-filled hallway to get to the front desk and do your check-in. Then you take another elevator to your room (higher up). “Lost in Translation” starts kicking in. You have a view over all of Tokyo, you’ve got serious jet lag, you’re floating and you’re away from home. The design is perfect but cold. Japanese relaxation DVD is playing on the huge flat screen. Not the slightest item out of place in the huge room, everything there for a reason. You are away from home. And the Shinjuku location doesn’t help either because though relatively central and very upscale, the dimensions are of the kind that have huge towers in their own grounds and you do nothing on foot. You ARE away from home and it all starts becoming a little lonely. I can just imagine how a scenario such as that of “Lost in Translation” could come to mind in place like that and yes, it is the place where actors stop when they come to do promotion in Tokyo. I crossed Antonio Banderas at the pool on friday morning.

Tokyo is a strange place… Not beautiful. Compelling. Does the Park Hyatt add to the experience ? I don’t know… For some maybe. For me, next time, I’ll be returning to the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi, center of Tokyo nightlife, where one feels all in all less “lost in translation”.

Hotel De Beukenhof – Charm and Design in the Netherlands

I just spent the weekend for a wedding in the Hague. I stayed at Hotel De Beukenhof in Oegstgeest. It’s a very nice hotel combining charm, the building is old and very typically dutch, and design, every room is a suite appointed with B&O equipment and all kinds of amenities (our room even had a sauna). If you need to be near the Hague, it’s a great place to stay. The restaurant is also very good and even the service, not exactly a dutch forte, is excellent.