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Forte dei Marmi

Forte Dei Marmi, Italy is a small resort town on the sea, about an hour’s drive from Pisa.Now there is a direct flight from New York on Delta. Even though there is this direct flight there were few Americans in Forte. It is mainly a place for Italians to summer in 100’s of small hotels and homes. It is a jewel where most people use their bikes for transportation. Each hotel has a cache of bikes for their guests but if you are a regular you own your own bike and personalize it. They have decorated their baskets, either front or back to the nines.

Trends in the shops and on the streets:

  • Rhinestones every where
  • Lots of white lace tops…antique Victorian
  • A square scarf with a hole that they use as a beach cover- sold on the beach
  • Hermes printed bags on canvas totes
  • Bright colors even for winter
  • Lots of costume jewelry…Italians usually wear real
  • Big, big drop earrings
  • Lots of platforms and high wedges …which is also unusual for Italians

Most of the shops had about a third of their stock in new fall merchandise which is very unusual. Most resort retailers do not put out fall till the end of August in Italy. Also a good percentage of summer was on sale which is also not the usual. Obviously, business is bad and sales are off. Another indication of a bad economy was the tourist class cabin was really empty going over but first class was full. Coming back to the US the plane was full mainly with Italians coming here as tourists.

The beach here is all private no entrance unless you belong to a club. There are hundreds of beach clubs one right next to each other. Some hotels have associations with a particular beach club. Most of them have restaurants for lunch which you can enter and eat but you will have to pay for a lounge or chair on the beach and they are very pricey. Love the square umbrella tents in each club.

There is a market on Wednesday and Sunday mornings that is quite the scene. It opens at 8:00am and closes at 1pm.-this is where everyone goes and buys either copies or regular merchandise. It is a fabulous event for a fashionista.

Last thought…now I know why there are always lines in front of Abercrombie they Italians are all wearing it, even the grownups are dressed  in it.

Restaurants:

Ristorante Lorenzo- Via Carducci 61= 39 0584 89671- the fanciest in town

L’Enoteca-in Pietrasanta, a little town 10 minutes away-right on the main street and great for people watching. Must reserve and even if you sit outside don’t miss the inside which is so interesting. I saw Botero eating there when I was there.

Bagno Annetta or BA-beach club with a well known beautiful restaurant in it

Ristorante Bernardone- in the mountains above Forte – an old rustic farm house-well known for their

spareribs

Hotels that are special are:

Goya Hotel- right downtown with all the restaurants and shops

Grand Hotel Imperiale- brand new large hotel for Forte and maybe gets 6 stars- very ornate and this is the place for the Russians- in the lobby all the furniture is upholstered in gold leather.

Villa Roma Imperiale- like a private home with a very international clientele

Byron Hotel-small and really deluxe

Hotel Principe-very modern and new-rooms are small

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Key West

If I hadn’t been in Florida already I would not have gone to the Keys. I met in Miami friends of mine from London that were exploring Florida and Key West was on their list. We drove down and stopped midway for lunch. Will not mention the place as it was just average.

We both checked into different hotels. They were at Casa Marina which was average and very expensive for the look and service at the hotel. In all fairness I think they were going through a change of management. We do not know whether it was run by Waldorf or Hilton.In February all the rates are high because of the demand not their worthiness.

I was looking for a well priced room in a small bed and breakfast hotel but waited too long and ended it up at the 15th hotel I called. I stayed at Pearl’s which before November 2010 was a Lesbian hotel and now they welcome “all”. Yes the majority of guests looked like they were the chosen clientele but many others were not. My room was clean but small and pretty depressing. The rug was something that I avoided at all costs. They accommodated a few requests but the help does not go out of their way to give you that special service feeling. Went to the pool once and saw a 300 pound woman without her top (heard they were bottomless up til Nov) and that did the pool for me. Once went to the bar and another person sitting there loved my watch and had to touch my arm to see it. I was done there too. Breakfast was communal and came with the room and it was good but no one talked to me the 3 mornings I was there. It did not matter as my friends and I were very busy seeing the sights and eating out.

Below are some of the places we went to that I recommend. Would I go back …no…if you deep sea fish or scuba maybe think about it. The place and the buildings were quaint but it is overrun with tourists.

Hotels:

Cayo Hueso Resorts-513 United Street-305 797 1500-www.cayohuesoresorts.com

Apts with full kitchens some with private decks and pools- looked very nice and well located to

Duval Street.

Casa Marina Resort-nice but not great

The Gardens Hotel- 526 Angela St – 800 525 2664- small and wonderful

The Pier House-1 Duval Street- 305 296 7569- the grand dame of the resort type hotels –best!

Dining:

Louie’s Backyard-700 Waddell Avenue- 305 294 1061-lunch and dinner- great dinner

915- 915 Duval Street- 305 296 0669- the best food I had in Key West

Banana Café- 1215 Duval Street- great for breakfast- sit upstairs

Transportation:

Greyhound Bus- leaves only at 8:15 for places north $45

Keys Shuttle- small bus – but they over charged me- no air conditioning- wrote to them when I got back as I believe I was the only person that pd $90 while others pd $55-never answered my letter- avoid!!-will have to deal with Visa

Super Shuttle- 305 871 2000- don’t know

Tourist Things:

Walking around and the Truman House were my favorites

 

 

When I started to drive from WPB  I thought I would spend three nights in inns and hotels but actually only spent two. I was armed with 5 books on tape from the library so I was good to go. My first night I thought was going to be a hotel either in St Augustine,Jacksonville,or Amelia Island area. I wanted to get there and see where it was nicer. I had researched hotels in each of the cities and towns that I thought I would land in before leaving WPB. I left WPB around 10:00am Monday morning and landed in St Augustine for a very late lunch. I thought it was going to be this charming old Floridian town and it has become completely Disneyized. No decent place was still serving lunch and it was too touristy, so Savannah looked ideal for dinner.

I decided to stay in a Hilton hotel in the downtown area as I thought it would be too late to check into a B and B on my list. I have a Hilton card and you do get a few perks with it. Checked in, valet parked the car that I was very happy to leave and changed for dinner. I chose the The Olde Pink House @23 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31401-2713-(912) 232-4286. Eating by myself is not easy but I forced myself. I walked there, about 10 blocks and sat at a table with my ipad. A very good substitute for a dinner partner as every waiter and person at the restaurant came over to see the Ipad and how it worked. The place is perfect Savannah and the food was delicious but more nouvelle than I wanted…I wanted good old fried southern food. I walked back thinking I was taking a parallel route that I came by and got so lost and found myself in an area that did not look like an area a white woman should be alone in. I spotted a police car and asked him where I was and to point me to my hotel and he said he wanted to deliver me safe to my hotel so he took me. Back of the police car for me…no air conditioning, couldn’t open my own door or window but the nicest police man as my chauffeur. Imagine that happening in NYC. I did write about how polite and nice he was to his department the next day.

Savannah is just magical, the squares, the parks and the streets with their abundant trees is so beautiful. The next day I went for breakfast to the famous Gryphon Cafe @337 Bull Street, 314 01 which is beautiful but the service was lousy and the pastries were mundane. Nice to see this beautiful cafe but have breakfast somewhere else. Across the street is the Savannah College of Art and Design which is world-famous and has a beautiful gift shop where they sell one of a kind student projects. It also has a bus tour around historic Savannah but I was on the road again.

I was aiming for Tarboro, NC where I had read about a beautiful preserved old historic town and a fabulous inn. I had read about it in the NYT article about places to stop at when coming and going to Florida from NYC. I probably could have driven further but there were severe storms on the highway that I had to pull off the highway and wait it out a few times. I called ahead to The Main Street Inn and spoke to the charming inn keeper Denise Sanderson and said I was on my way. I arrived about an hour later and there she was sitting on the front porch waiting for me. I had also read about the local gourmet restaurant and she gave me the bad news that it was open only on the weekends and there I was there on Tuesday. She ran into her kitchen and made me dinner along with a stiff vodka and wine too. My room was beautiful as the whole inn is. Even though there were other guests there I never saw or heard any one. I would never  not stop at this special inn on my way to Florida. @ 912 North Main Street, Tarboro, NC 27886 T:252 823 3221 http://www.mainstreetinn.biz.

The next morning my goal was Baltimore, Maryland. I had visited many times for business previously but never spent much leisure time. I have read that it is a special city now with lots of gentrification to lots of areas, after “The Wire” they had no choice. But Baltimore is only 3-4 hours from NYC so I pushed myself and drove though. The last day was a solid 12 hour drive and my fare well to “The 95 highway”.

It is amazing to me that there are no tolls on this single highway til you get to Maryland and then NJ is non stop tolls. I have said this before… our American highways are amazing. Clean and so quick to dry after huge down pours and most of the road is 70 miles and hour. Something that still puzzles me is during these huge summer down pours lots of cars sit on the side of the road til they are over but trucks and buses never slow up or park.

Panama: A new country for U.S Visitors to consider

 

I have been interested in going to this place since seeing the movie “The Tailor of Panama”. For some reason every time I told someone I wanted to go their reaction was “Why?”

But I finally decided to go. There are many direct flights from NY and it is relatively  inexpensive to fly there. I knew it was the rainy season but having been in other tropical countries I thought it was a quick down pour and then it was tropical hot and humid the rest of the time. Well panama’s rainy season is all day rain with intermittent clouds, great for touring but not for beach going.

I stayed at the Bristol which is well located in downtown for restaurants, other hotels and shopping. The first thing I did was to try to make a reservation for a small tour of the city. My hotel said there were no such tours and that they could provide a private car but since I was alone I wanted to be with other people. I walked to the Marriott Hotel and asked their concierge and sure enough there was a tour. I booked it and went back to my concierge to report and she couldn’t have cared less. She proved to be hopeless the rest of the trip with restaurants or an all night drugstore.

The tour was terrific as the guide was hilarious and made the day great fun. It was more people than I usually like but great to get an overview. Since the canal was part of it I decided to cancel my reservation for lunch the next day as I found out that most of the boats going through the locks either go early in the morning or late, not at lunch, another tidbit the concierge girl forgot to say or check.

The next day I wanted to go back to the old section of town that I had briefly saw with the tour. La Vieja is really beautiful to wonder around in. Some cute shops, art galleries, and the divine hotel called The Canal House. It only has 4 rooms but the hotel is deluxe. I had originally made a reservation there but as I had read more about the city I felt I wanted to be in a more traditional type hotel. If you are a couple or a group consider staying at the Canal House. If you don’t stay there stop in and get the owners wonderful map of the area. In this area is a very well known restaurant called Manolo Caracol that is a must! I had lunch there and it is a no choice tasting menu. I said help around the 8th course. It was much too much food but really a special dining experience, all for very little money.

I did hire a car and driver for one day to go to some of the markets that I did not feel safe going on my own. People are really nice in Panama City and especially the drivers with single American woman.

I left a few days early as I sprained my ankle walking on a wet floor and the weather was so miserable I did not see myself visiting the beach. The beaches near PC are supposed to be beautiful and the famous beach resorts that you reach by plane only are supposed to be exquisite.

Not much to buy, except the Panama hats and the Cuban type over shirt. I bought it in heavy linen with wonderful stitching. The Embera baskets are beautiful but very expensive.

Panama City is great for a three day stay but not during rainy season. There are wonderful restaurants with a very varied international cuisine. I preferred Panama City to San Juan in Costa Rica. When the Bridge of Life Museum, the Frank Gehry designed museum is finished  that will add some more sizzle to PC


Places to see:
La Vieja-the old section of town that they are gentrifying
El Casco Antiguo oe Viejo
Amador Peninsula-the boat basin or yacht club area. Have lunch there
    Mel Gibson’s was supposed to be there.
Restaurants:
Manolo Caracol- T:228 4640- 10 course tasting-http://www.manolocaracol.net
1985-
Cafe Barko-
Eurasia- 507 264 7859- Asian flavor with a Panama slant- elegant and trendy-
Costa Azul-open 24 hours- Calle Ricardo Arias- like a cafeteria- but very authentic
La Posta
Madame Chang- best Chinese in town

Private Drivers:
Ricardo Adomes- C: 6699 8686
Roberto Cedeas- 6642 9954

Hotels:
CanalHouse– Calle 5A y Avenida A- Casco Antigua- 507 228 1907-www.canalhousepanama.com
         perfect modern boutique hotel  in a historic building and area-
         Olga Quelquejeu- the proprietor speaks perfect English and is very active in

        the area to help guide you through this charming section of PC-

The Bristol-Ave. Aquilino de la Guardia- T: 507 265 7844
        deluxe small hotel operated by Rosewood Group- luxurious and located  

        downtown- convenient for business- 24 butler- active and 
        actractive bar and dining room- the conciege was hopeless and reception  

        was not that smart either-         no pool

Miramar Intercontinental– has a beautiful pool area but much too big for me-does not look like a 5 star look from the lobby and dining room

Tour Operators:
Edgar- El Chocolate – C:6467-2612/6700-7384
Gamboa Tours- www.gamboatours.com– (507)340 9876
Viajes Arco Iris- (507) 225-7415- large groups -city tours- 4 or 5 hours @$30-www.arcoirispanama.com
        best way to see PC the first time so you can see where you want to go  

        back to
Pesantez Tours-www.pesantz-tours.com 

Retail:
Multiplaza Pacific Shopping Center
   Club Imaginarium- www.imaginarium.es-unusual children’s toys
    Life plus-www.lifeho.com.pa- fabulous designed furniture at Ikea prices

(Click on photo’s to view in full size and title)

In July I decided to take a road trip in August to the South in “My 7 year old Ford Focus”. This was our first real road trip and I was worried that these two older ladies, the car and I, were not going to make it. I had my wheels, oil and brakes checked before we left and they said we were good to go.

Since I did not have any friends that accepted my invitation I decided “Books on Tape” would have to do. The library saw this lady walk out with 12 books …my road companion.

Why do you ask did I go, well, because it was there and for some reason I felt in the mood to discover. There were about 20 people I could visit on my journey but when I started to map the trip I saw that it was impossible to hit more than a couple. There were also two cities I had heard people were moving to and those were my secondary targets but my main object was hitting the longest flea market in the world. During the first week in August on a north/ south road that starts in Alabama and ends in Ohio there is the longest flea market in the world. Route 127 is home to thousands of antique dealers, not antiques with a capital A but lots of people that just clean house once a year…. a very long garage sale.

I also went for the “road food”. I imagined the south had to offer but I was quite disappointed in that department. Visions of fried chicken, grits, and corn bread danced in my head only to be a vision and not a reality.

I only wanted to travel county roads, if I could, as I did want to see the natives but there were many hops that I had to take the interstates just for the time restrictions. I had picked out B&B’ s for my route before I left so some times I could not dawdle in a cute town that I had found. This was how I planned my way south but on the way home I had no reservations and found that my choices from the road were not as pleasant as my B&B’s going south.

I started out on Sunday morning for Leesburg, Va. I thought I would be driving about 6 hours but 6 turned into 10, as the weather did not cooperate. It started to rain in sheets and according to the local radio in NJ I was quite near a tornado. I could not drive on the Turnpike so I pulled over for almost an hour till it let up a little. It did seem I was the only car that felt that way. It was a pretty bland drive…. all highways until I got to Virginia on the outskirts of Leesburg. I arrived in time for a stiff drink, dinner and bed.

The next morning I checked out of The Holiday Inn and looked for town. Leesburg is adorable. The main street,So King Street,of antique buildings is filled with beautiful restaurants, coffee places (pictured) and antique shops. I hit all the shops except one that was only opened on the weekends that looked really good but it was not to be. I was very sad to leave the town as it was so special. I think it is called a suburb of Washington DC and could be commuted each day; definitely a place to revisit.

On to Charlottesville, Va., where I was to meet up with friends from Paris that were house guests for the month there. The trip was on local roads and a scenic drive was proposed. There is a famous road, Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park, which is a state park that I had seen on the map and decided to go out of my way to take. Big mistake! You pay a $15 charge to enter and when I asked the ranger if I should do this as I would not be trekking or camping or picnicking he said a definite yes. I now say a definite no. There is a 30 mile speed limit through the park and if you get the bad luck to get behind a camper it goes down to 20 miles an hour and all I wanted to do was get to my next destination. I was supposed to go the whole 100 miles but saw a turnoff at 30 miles out of the park and left. It was so very scenic but one “look out” is like the next and just what I was expecting. Lunch was on the road but not memorable. Arrived late afternoon in this much talk about town. It is a university town, The University of Virginia, and horse farms so it is known as a town for the rich. Speaking of universities we have a whole lot of them it seems I saw 100’s over my six day trip.

My inn was just what I dreamed it would be….200 South Street Inn(434 979 0200). Front porch, canopy beds, and a delicious breakfast. Most inns that I visited have a cocktail hour where they give out wine and cheese. I did partake and always had an interesting conversation with the other guests. My friends were not free for dinner so I walked to the downtown area which they had turned into a mall. Dinner was out doors at a well known sort of diner type restaurant on the mall… still not the meal I thought I would be having. The next day I met up with my friends and we toured Monticello, the house of Jefferson. It was delightful and then off to a small mall that sort of served the rich suburb of the town, sort of like Greenwich, Ct. After lunch I was off again to Roanoke, VA..

No scenic drives this time; I learned my lesson but took a combination of local roads and highways. So far the only road I had to pay for was in New Jersey…it figures. I also want to note hear our highways are fabulous and I saw lots of road work being done. I think some of the stimulus money has reached these states. I also saw a road gang cleaning up a road…that was a little unsettling.

Roanoke is a larger city that I was used to on this journey. I stayed downtown in the Hotel Roanoke(540 985 5900). It was built a very long time ago and is huge. It is now a Hilton hotel with lots of meetings and conventions taking place there. It is on the outskirts of downtown and has an overpass to the downtown area…over the railroad tracks. Most of these downtowns always have a railroad nearby and it seems that this town was once dominated by the railroad. They have revitalized this area and one thing that stands out is the Taubman Modern Art Museum, sort of a mini Bilbao and all the restaurants that have opened. I chose an over ambitious restaurant but it was my fault.

The next day I was on to Asheville, NC, and another town that there is a buzz about. Even though the most well known hotel in town is the Grove Park Inn, I chose to stay at The Albemarle Inn(800 621 7435) ,Located in the grand style home area but a short drive to downtown.. The Grove was very expensive and bigger than I like but it is a must to see. Dinner or lunch on the terrace overlooking mountains is breathtaking. Every President has stayed at this incredible place. My Inn was wonderful where each room was someone’s fantasy of what a Victorian room would look like (pictured). The downtown was redone and fun to walk though and see all of the old redone buildings. Lunch at Tupelo Honey Café and I finally found my southern food. I stuffed myself. Shopping and antiquing completed the day. This is a great town or city and I definitely can understand why Northerners are moving here.

Crossville, Tn. was the next stop. I picked a town that was on Route 127 so I could start the next morning, the official opening of the Longest Flea Market in the world. I tried to find a down home place to dine but no one knew what I was talking about.

World’s Longest Yard Sale- www.127sale.com- starts the first Thursday in August thru Sunday- starts in Alabama and goes through Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.I was prepared with lots of cash and comfy old clothes to pursue my antiques. I think I stopped about 20 times and then said to myself enough is enough. I found a roadside barbecue trailer and I and the workman had a fabulous lunch. Mine was all of $5 bucks. After lunch I thought I should drive as far as I could homeward and pull over and find a hotel when it got dark. I made it all through Kentucky and slept in Ashland, Ohio. A worker’s type town but there was an antique car show going on so that was the night’s activity.

When I got in the car the next morning I did not want to sleep in another hotel so I was determined to make it home. I stopped to eat and pee and gas up and was in my own bed at 9:30PM. I did it!

I had a wonderful trip. I loved seeing new parts of the U.S. and getting out of NY. By the way I did not meet an unpleasant person the whole week. The south is welcoming and everyone is friendly and nice. Books on tape did not disappoint either.


June 8 to 15th 2009

It was a short but wonderful trip. I was very curious to see the difference between Israel and Jordan which I had visited Last year.

I went with a few woman friends and the trip was mainly planned by one of my friends who was on her 22nd trip to Israel. She along with her connections to UJA Federation planned a fabulous and truly complete trip. We were five women, our wonderful guide, our security guy (well young man) and our adorably bus driver. And our wonderful friend had invited speakers to some of our lunches and dinners so we got to understand the politics and culture of the country. A special part of the trip was to several nonprofit organizations that my friend is an advocate and fundraiser for.

We stayed at the Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, which is a modern large hotel well located, I think a 4 or 5 star hotel. As we were busy from early morning to evening we did not spend too much time there. But I will say that they were not very service minded and not well organized. The breakfasts are really very disorganized but could me much better with just a little tweaking.

We did the usual sights including the Golan Heights, Masada, The Dead Sea and a short time in Tel Aviv which I would like to go back to. Just before I left I had read a long article about what a swinging city Tel Aviv was. A half a day was not enough.

Jerusalem:

Newest delux hotel:Hotel Mamilla- near Citadeldid not stay as it was just being finished

Our guide: Lauren Michel-Shachar- T:972 2 652 4561 or 972 52 885 0991- lauren79@netvision.net.il- Lauren is not just a guide but a very sophisticated lady who has lived both in the states and Israel and her father is a very well known author. Besides a superb guide she was fun to shop and dine with.

Our Bus Driver: Eppi- 0546940632 or 02 5859268 (home) I do not know if he drives any other vehicles but this bus but really was very pleasant, efficient and a good driver.

Tour Operator- Gil Travel- att: Dalia Djiji-W:03 972 7564 or C:054 678 7863- ddjiji@kenes.com

Places we visited:

The Old City, Herzl museum, Elvis (yes our Elvis) diner ,Yad Vashem, The Tisch Biblical Zoo, Independence Hall(Tel Aviv)

Non Profits:

Shalva – a home and school for special need children- a serv ice that does not exist in Israel- please read more about this incredible organization at www.shalva.org

Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center- a place to integrate Ethiopian immigrants that come to Israel without any support. Here they teach them to be Israel citizens

Restaurants:

Adom-31 Jaffa Street- Finegold Yard- T:02-6246242-www.adom-bar.co.il- casual very good local   food

Caravan Inn- in Abu Gosh-T:02-5342744- oriental food

Tel Aviv:

Restaurants:

Lilit- 2 Dafna Street Asia Building- T:036091331- lilitrest@gmail.com-the chefs here are graduates of a special cooking school for youths at risk-  and the food is very international and modern. Sophisticated.

And the surprise of the trip. Our bus driver and guide drove us the airport (they ask you to be there at least 3 hours in advance) where we were met at the door by VIP Service-they totally navigate you through customs, luggage, tickets, security, and passport control. They know everyone at the airport so no lines and they carry your hand luggage. I hear the service is about $70 a person and you tip them but it is better than “sex”. Att: Laufer  T: 03-975-4333 or 057 778 1022- leave it to the Jews to think of this service! Loved it!

Note: When I was in Jordan we visited the other side of the Dead Sea and stayed at the Marriott. This hotel plus the other 3 are so much superior to the ones on the Israeli side. If you want to experience the Dead Sea do it in Jordan. The Israeli hotels are run by Russians and are really bad.

Israel is a little like India once you have spent time in these countries they stay in your mind forever……

Restaurants:New

La Petite Maison– 54 Brooke Mews W!- T:02074954774-www.lpmlondon.co.uk- the social place to go. Owner is from Nice, France- very organic healthy slant and lots of sunshine to make believe you are in Nice.

Aubaine-260-262 Brompton Road- SW3- T: 02070520100-www.aubaine.co.uk-Open café French brasserie- great meeting place for lunch

Coq d’Argent-1 Poultry,EC2R T:02073955000- www.coqdargent.co.uk- in the financial area- on top of a tall building. There are lots of different areas both in and outside. Slick modern and definitely an occasion place.

Dayles Food Organic– 44B Pimlico Road- SW1- T: 0207881 8060-www.daylesfordorganic.com- a store and dining- good for light dinner and lunch and brunch.best grocery store in town

St John’s– authentic English

Bam-Bou-1 Perry street- 020 7323 9130-www.bam-bou.co.uk- Asian fusian-on lots of small floors so nice place to have a private dinner with a group of friends

The Commander- 47 Hereford Road W2- 7229 1503-www.thecommander.co.uk-In Notting Hill a new foodie bistro destination

The Wolseley-160 Piccadilly- W1-020 7499 6996-www.thewolseley.com- old fashion but good again

Plays:

Duet for One- a must

War Horse- one of the best plays I have ever seen- book way ahead

Stores:

Cos– 222 Regent Street- W1- but all over- a division of H&M- very Jil Sander- well priced clothes for men and women- modern minimal

Dunhill– reinvented- very chic for men’s – attached to a new private club- Arthur’s

Dover Street Market- a vertical market of lots of different designers put together by Comme des Garcons- great items but all to precious for these times- good idea byt then came the recession

Jaeger-has reinvented itself – new concept store on South Molton Street

Private:

Mark’s– has redone their Red Room- the place to dine if a member

New:

The G Wiz car- all electric and adorable- not here yet

Connaught Hotel-Carlos Place-Mayfair-W1 -44 020 7499 7070-www.the-connaught.co.uk- owned by an Irish group and totally redone- new dining places also

Driver:

Tim Bryne-07747 567 919- 0800 587 3055-www.pegasuschauffeurdrive.com-    bookings@pegasuschauffeurdrive.com- new Mercedes SUV- handsome old school- loved his “MUM” to me…..

In-flight Cell Phones Coming to Ryanair
By pbb, 2008-09-25 14:30:34
Section: Travel, Topic:

Ryanair will start letting passengers make in-flight cell phone calls on some flights in the next couple weeks, and the carrier will charge about £2 ($3.50) a minute for the privilege.

Worried about having to hear stupid conversations? “Stop whining!” says CEO Michael O’Leary:

If you want a quiet flight, use another airline. Ryanair is noisy, full and we are always trying to sell you something.

Such refreshing honesty from an airline!

Related Stories:
· “Hello? I’m on the Plane.” [The Independent]
· In-Flight Cell Phones coverage [Jaunted]

Dubai, UAE

A Fashion Visit to Dubai

2004 and updated August 2008

Dubai, for those not in the know, is in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. It is known as “the shopping capital of the world” and it might very well be. It is a modern city built in the middle of desert. Sheik Mohammed and his family have run it as a kingdom for many generations. They have created an incredible green modern city with the newest forms of technology, especially in the ways of irrigation. No money has been spared. The city is a cross between Miami Beach and Las Vegas. It has the look of a beach resort combined with a modern city of huge skyscrapers.

All of the famous international hotel chains already have huge hotel complexes here. The Ritz Carlton, The Mandarin, Intercontinental are among a few of the hotels. These are deluxe hotels with all the bells and whistles. You can choose a hotel to stay in either in the city or at the beach, which is less than a half an hour away. I chose the city but went to the beach several times, for either lunch or water sports. It is a beautiful city and immaculate. Literally you can eat off the sidewalk, I mean the actual sidewalk. This city is also known for its safety. Most people do not lock their cars or houses. One reason for this criminal free city is they are very strict on crime and the government has placed the prison near the center of the city …I think just to remind all that they mean business.

The population is multi national. Many foreigners come here to work for several years, as there are no income taxes, or sales tax, only a 4% tax on some imports. Usually a firm makes a worker sign a three-year contract and they will provide housing. Rents on apartments are generally inexpensive. Previously, foreigners could not purchase property, but this year that has changed and it is allowable.

Every brand of clothing or cosmetics is here or about to be launched. Each hotel has large shopping arcades and there are at least 6 large independent shopping centers. These are so beautifully organized with valet service everywhere. There are also some centers that are located in large office complexes, but all centers are within half an hour’s drive.

If you visit and do the tourist thing, which is not much, as the city is so young …please skip the desert ride…. Trust me it is not pleasant. You can not visit any of the mosques, if you are a woman, but you can hear the call to prayers five times a day no matter where you are. The calls are somewhat eerie. There are prayer rooms wherever you go, so people do not have to go to a mosque when the prayer call comes.

Most people that live there and are Arabic wear traditional robes. The men are in crisp white robes and the women are in black. The men’s head gear range from the traditional wrap to a baseball cap. The man that we pictured is proud of his NY Yankees cap.

All the men’s robes have pockets, as everyone owns a cell phone. The women’s heads are covered either by the traditional scarf or some of the women are still totally covered except for eye slits. It seems incongruous for the city to be so modern and that the population is still wearing the dress that their grandmothers wore centuries ago. Though what’s underneath I am sure are the latest outfits from the European designers since the main preoccupation is to shop…so let’s shop!

***Villa Moda, the world famous store from Kuwait has just opened a branch here. It is located in a large office complex. It is huge. All on one floor with separate stores for contemporary and men, but all are connected. A beautiful café and bar will be used for entertaining and also for a daily place to drop in to. There is a large glass enclosed area off the café that is empty except if they are having a trunk show and then that becomes a separate selling area. The day that I visited they were setting up for a Chloe show. Lots of young good looking sales people wander the store and are very willing to take you for a tour. The store is mainly filled with European designer brands with a few casual American brands like Seven Jeans. Some cosmetics and shoes complement each area. I was there in January when the temperature was about 80 degrees every day and they had lots of heavy fall clothes, not to be worn there but for those clients that travel. I am sure they know what they are doing, but it was the largest specialty store that I have every seen with lots of designer clothes very scantily spaced around. I do not think rent is that inexpensive anywhere in this city but the location seems a little off the beaten track. One thing is that he has made that building’s other retail space very valuable.

Tel: 04 330 4555 and at The Emirates Tower

Also at Emirates Towers the fabulous Lebanese restaurant called Al-Nafoora.

City Center is the most popular shopping center. It is anchored by Carrefour and Ikea with a local department store named Studio R. There is a vast variety of fast food and movies in the center, 11 screens. Everything makes you feel that you are in the United States, except there are some shops that are so foreign to our eyes. Their Arab robes are usually custom made and there are shops that make them which look like The Custom Shop with bolts of fabric to choose your robe from. They have similar stores that showcase women’s robes. It is so strange to walk into women’s store with everything on the rack in black and the sales people are all men. Another category of stores that are very foreign to us, is the Arabian perfume stores. Everywhere you look there is another store of essences and oils in order to mix your own custom fragrance. The bottles are just beautiful. These stores are very upscale and posh and their fragrances are very, very expensive. However, most of the western higher end cosmetics are sold through a group of stores called Paris Gallery and they have bought a lot of the American brands. However, they do not have individually manned counters, so I think sales are not optimized.

Some of the stores in the center are: Zara, Mothercare, Mac, Debenham’s, Docker’s, 9 West, Top Shop, Calvin Klein Jeans, Mango, Polo Jeans Company, Mexx, Aldo Shoes, Diesel, Next, Giordano, Esprit, Sketchers, Levi Store, DKNY, and many others. Most of the U.S. brands are the lower priced or the jeans segment of the collections.

While I was there the top English music titles were In The Zone by Britany Spears, Blue by Guilty, Life for Rent by Dido, Seven by Enrique Iglesias and Turn Around by Westlife. The Arabic top 5 were Jalsa 6 by Mehad Hammad, Fadel Shaker by Sidi Rohi, Another One Thousand and One Nights by Said Mrad, Now Dance by Arabiaa, and Myriam. All available at one of the many Virgin stores.

***XVA Gallery-att: Mona Hauser-in the 97 150 624 0722

The one unique store that I visited is this gallery/boutique/hotel/café and clothing boutique. It was just opened by a woman from Arkansas who came for a visit with her husband that was a veterinarian and attending the Sheik’s horse team and never left. She picked the old section of town called Bastakiya, where other galleries and restaurants were also opening. Pictured are some of the restaurants in the area that are popping up. It has the feel of a Soho. But her good taste and worldly fashion sense has made this gallery the place to go. She works with young artists and designers to make unusual one-of-a-kind art and fashions. It is also the only chic boutique hotel in town, so the 8 rooms are already booked for several months. Each of the eight rooms are decorated differently and have either a whimsical or modern Arabian look.. If you visit please try to meet Mona as she is very kind and knows everything about the city.

She invited me to a wedding that night at my hotel’s ballroom. Picture 500 women all dressed in black robes drinking juices, eating and dancing till dawn. Wedding parties are either for men or women but never mixed.

The Third Line Gallery in Al Quoz industrial park

The Gold Souk

Even though there are other souks, each devoted to a single product

( i.e. technology, fabrics,spices etc.), the Gold Souk is the one to visit. The old souk is about a city block long with the new gold souk attached. There are hundreds of small shops that sell only jewelry. I went thinking that I could buy some inexpensive copies of brand name pieces, but it was not there. Their copies are interpretations and are all in gold that is a different color than what Americans are used to seeing. The traditional pieces are very tempting but my life style back here does not beckon for this look. I am glad I went but did not buy anything.

Speaking of jewelry this is a category that is very well developed here. Each hotel has the well-known stores and each international brand has a major collection of high-end looks on display. They tend to show the showier pieces. Sean John would have a ball here. Lots of bling-bling. The local chain here is called Damas, who sells most of the prominent global designers.

Dining:

Each hotel has a multitude of restaurants that showcase different International cuisine. They demonstrate modern ethnic richness, but the main hotel to dine in is the Burj Al Arab.This hotel has become the symbol of Dubai, and its image is on all the license plates. It is a giant hotel built to resemble a sailing ship and placed in the middle of a body of water. Rooms are all suites and start at $750.00 U.S. a night. I chose to dine instead of staying there, which turned out to be a wise decision. At the time I was there, the hotel was totally filled and 95% were Russian. The Russians are the ones that are traveling these days and have so much money that they fill most of the grand hotels in the Middle East. The shopping and the beautiful weather are very inviting to them. As this is such a large part of the tourists in Dubai, a lot of restaurants have staff that are Russian or speak the language.

The hotel is exquisitely luxurious. It is the most opulent hotel I have ever seen. Everything is in gold. It is a little over-the-top but it works here. The restaurants are also always booked very far in advance so if you are planning on a trip, book before you go. I chose the Al Mahara Seafood Restaurant on the top floor. The owners of this hotel are the people behind the Armani venture.

Fax: 971 4 3016076 or 301 7601 Telephone: 971 4 301 7777

Whats in the future:

Prestige is the trades show organization for the upper to high-end fashion and lifestyle brands. I think this is a great show to have your first exposure to the Middle East. You would not be looking to sell stores directly but to find a distributor. It is organized by Planet Fair Dubai LLC. They can be reached by fax 971 50 659 0074 or email ashraf.sharaf@planetfair.com or www.planetfair.com/dubai

Dubai Festival City, the 2.5 million square feet retail and entertainment center planned for the banks of the Dubai Creek

The world’s largest shopping center with over 1000 retailers expected.

And many more Americans will be tempted to visit this fabulous city.

Updates:

2006

Etoile by Jacques Garcia- in the mall of the emirates- new couture store

2008 updates

Park Hyatt Dubai- new hotel with Amara Spa

Brownbook- a publication of what’s doing in arts and life style- Publisher Rashid bin Shabid

S*uce-independent boutique

Essa- top fashion designer-owned by Zayan Ghandour

50 degrees C- high end gift store-owner Shahi Hamad

Five Green-avant garde fashion and art store

Traffic- huge gallery-designs- -7000 ft of one of a kind- in Al Barsha

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Seawings Seaplanes- www.seawings.ae-best way to see Dubai-about $200- @ Jebel Ali- about 45 minutes from downtown

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Raffles Hotel- has Fire and Ice and China Moon restaurants

Special Ostadi Restaurant on Al Mussalla Road, Bur Dubai-old part-small and old

The Palace Hotel- Thiptara Royal Thai-Thai food- in the Old Town

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Mall Shopping:

Dubai Mall- ice skating, large aquariums

Burjuman Mall-

Dubai Festival City Mall

The Mall of Arabia – coming

Looking for a husband?

“Welcome to Jordan”

I recently returned from a week-long vacation in the country of Jordan.

This might seem an unusual destination, but a friend and I were thinking of going to Israel, both for the first time, but it was Passover and reservations were non existent so we chose neighboring Jordan instead.

An escorted tour was not an option for us ….so using our guide books and the internet we booked our air and all the hotels quite easily. However, it was quite difficult to get rooms in the Dead Sea .We did not know we were competing with a world class auto race and a nursing conference in the area, and as there are only a few hotels, it was a challenge. All was done except for the transportation between the cities, but we thought we could handle it with the concierge in each hotel. We even had recommendations for restaurants in Amman. So we thought we were good to go. Generally, I like to stay at small boutique hotels but that does not exist in Amman. So we chose 4 or 5 star hotels in each city.

My friend and traveling companion flew from Paris and I flew from NY. I flew Royal Jordanian, which was unusually good. Foreign carriers are so much better than American ones, unfortunately. We both landed within two hours of each other. Her flight was four hours and mine 14. We both had hotel cars meet us. Landing is very easy. Obtaining a visa can be done when you land, just make sure you have Jordanian money to pay for it (it costs 16 Jordanian dollars). I purchased JD’s from my bank before I left. There are porters (remember them!) to help you with your bags and my driver was waiting for me. I left at 11:30pm and landed at 5:00pm Jordan time.

We stayed at the Marriot and were very pleased. The help was so kind and courteous and we began to hear the “Welcome to Jordan” from everyone we met. We saw the important tourist sights the first day (please refer to the guide books) as there is not much. The taxis are difficult as they do not put their meters on so we were over paying until we learned that you can go most places in a taxi for 1 or 2 JD’s. We were giving five until we learned. Then we never ask and just gave the drivers 1 or 2 dollars and left the cab. It worked.

All the guide books suggest a famous native lunch place to eat in, called Hashem.

My friend and I pushed ourselves to eat in this outdoor cafeteria but I kept visualizing my hospital stay the next day from severe dysentery, but we did eat there and no tummy problems. Do not even think of going the bathroom there. Also always carry Kleenex with you.

A lovely street to explore is Rainbow Road, where there are some antique shops and the Wild Jordan Foundation which the Queen runs. A lovely gift shop is attached. Also, Jebel Amman Street is also interesting to explore for architecture. (Not really spoken of in the guide books)

We were respectful of the morals of the country and wore slacks and non revealing tops but no head scarves. We also found if you go to a shop and stand at a counter and there are men waiting, the woman is always served last, even if she showed up first!

The next day we went to the concierge to ask how to get to Jerash, a city and a very famous architectural site and they are only interested in selling us a private car and driver, of course, with their commission. They do not tell you or help you to know that a yellow cab will take you and wait for you for a fraction of the price of a car. My only complaint about the Marriot was the concierge was very unhelpful for alternative methods of travel and even lied about the availability of buses and taxis.

The ancient city of Jerash should not be missed and the drive there and back is also a good way to see the country…about an hour. It is an afternoon or morning, not more. The rest of the day we spent exploring the new shopping centers in Amman, the newest was the ABC Department Store and then there are the more established ones: Mecca and City, which are quite near each other. Trust me there is nothing to buy and the food courts feature all our exports. No movie theaters in any of the malls.

We tried several times to eat at the restaurant Fakhr el din, which is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Amman and each time we called they were fully booked. So if you are going to Amman book dinner before you arrive at this restaurant. We ate at an Italian restaurant named Romero that was just okay and Tannoureen, also just okay. On our return to Amman we ate at the Intercontinental Indian restaurant and that was quite nice.

We found another car to take us to Petra one way. We negotiated a good price, as it is a three to four hour drive. When he picked us up it was another driver who then took us to the original taxi driver to explain to us that this was his cousin and he had to work at the garage today but all would be well taken care of as the cousin spoke a little English and knew the way. What could we do so on we went? Security is very tight in Jordan. You are checked each time you enter your hotel or a mall and also on the roads. There are many check points on the road south to Petra. The first one we went though, our driver did not have the proper permit to go from one county to another, so the police issued him a ticket. Needless to say he was pissed and not very pleasant to be with. Thank goodness I had a map as I had to guide him a few times but he much preferred to ask a man on the side of the road rather than take my word. It is being “the woman thing”. He was not happy when we did not tip him above the price we had agreed with his cousin. We got to Petra in good shape but it is a harrowing drive through a mountainous part of the country. We soon realized they do not take the highway as I think there are tolls on that road so they would rather take the sea road and not pay. Even though it is much more scenic, you have to cut inland down south and that road is so scary. Do not drive yourself unless you are a very accomplished international driver.

We arrived in Petra to stay at the Movenpick, which is a Swiss hotel chain and 4 or 5 stars. Its main advantage is its close proximity to the gates to the Petra site. We did not want to go into the hotel’s fancy dining room so we hit the streets and walked to downtown Petra for a place to eat and peruse the tourist shops. There are a few restaurants near the hotel that serve good clean simple local food. Some of the shops are run by Bedouin men who are quite handsome and accessorize their eyes with kohl…even the modern ones. There really isn’t anything else to do here but spend the day exploring the ruins. We started out the next day and it is a very long walk even to the first of the ruins. I managed to do three quarters of the entire site and had all intentions of going back the next day but when the next day came I couldn’t bear doing it all over again. We did take the donkey cart back but it only goes a little way of the long way home. My friend was in better shape than I and she did not finish either.

The concierge at this hotel was also not interested in finding any other option than a private car so once again we found a cab and negotiated a price to go to the Dead Sea and also a trip to Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum, an immense desert area is a real tourist trap. They have organized it with different spots in the desert into package deals. We took the 2 hour trip and it was very disappointing. But I guess you do it as it is what you are supposed to do. Maybe if we did the whole deal, which is all day, I might have been more impressed. We brought our lunch so we did not have to eat in their café which looked like it was really only for groups. Yes, there are wonderful parts full of natural wonders but they make it too touristy or maybe we did not do it right. I am sure glad I did not choose to sleep there as they push sleeping like the Bedouins in a tent. If the tent was anything like the 4 wheeler we took I wanted no part of it.

On to our next place which was about two hours away… the Dead Sea. It is not a town but a part of the Dead Sea where hotels, on the Jordan side, are located. Across this narrow sea is Israel. There are 4 or 5 large hotels close to each other near a public beach and the convention center. That is the Dead Sea! The most modern chic hotel is the Kempinski and the next I think is the Movenpick, where we stayed. It is set out like a village with cobble stone walkways between two-story buildings where the rooms are located. There are lots of pools and access to the beach. It is just lovely. They also have placed 3 different restaurants around a square with outdoor tables and chairs. When we were there in April it hit 130 degrees and did not cool off that much in the evening. The food is just okay but the scenic way the hotel is laid out makes up for the food in the restaurants. We did have to stay at the Dead Sea Hotel one night and that is not for luxury travelers. There happened to be a world class auto race when we were there and a nurse’s convention so the hotels were totally booked. One day of relaxing and a mud bath and a float is enough here. They also do not tell you how hard it is to swim in this water.

One day we took another taxi to go to Madasa and Mt Nebo, two sacred biblical spots, which is really just a morning. The guide books promote a small hotel in Madasa called The Mariam and we went by it and were very happy not to have stayed there.

Back to Amman to make our flights back to NY and Paris. We thought we should stay near the airport as my friend’s flight was very late and mine very early. The Alia Gateway Hotel is dreadful but I am not someone who stays at airport hotels very often to compare it to others. We tried to get into the Fakhrei din restaurant again and still could not get a table so we went to the Intercontinental Hotel to their Indian restaurant and were lucky enough to catch a pretty progressive wedding going on in the hotel. A huge group of singers follow the bride in and out of the hotel and it was quite a show. In this wedding the men and women mixed, but the first wedding we witnessed at the Marriot, the men dropped the bride and their women off and the women celebrated by themselves. I guess the men went somewhere but we didn’t find out where. The women at that wedding were covered by robes but this wedding they were wearing very revealing long dresses.

The airport is very simple with strict security. I had a run in with a chauffeur that I noticed was pulling his weight for a young man he was taking care of. He tried to push ahead of me once or twice but he picked the wrong lady. I got cheers for my little speech to him. And then I saw him way past where non passengers were supposed to be and notified security and they started to question him. The young guy he was trying to help was from The American Embassy and trying to get upgraded with special treatment. Ha Ha! I was very happy to see him sitting in the back of the plane with me during the trip. We do not need to be pushy Americans in Middle Eastern countries.

In conclusion, Jordan is a very good trip and easy to go independently. I understand why most high end tour companies tagged it on to their trips to Egypt. The Jordanians are very well schooled about being nice to tourists. I do think they have to work on the transportation systems in this small country especially for tourists. I did read that they were working on a railway but it keeps getting stalled.

Jordan is also very safe and they love America (not George). It was a pleasure to see how different it is from what we constantly hear about Middle East chaos. You do not need guides as your book will explain all the sites for you.

Facts :

  1. Blackberries do work here
  2. All current is 220 but some plugs are European and some English
  3. Lots of Atms and they still take our dollars
  4. Hot book for foreigners “Married to a Bedouin”
  5. Watch Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones DVDs before you go
  6. Read the Jordan Times the local English newspaper on line

www.jordantimes.com to see what’s doing.

  1. Check Jett buses to see their schedule and then work around it.
  2. The tour books say that the luxury hotels have buses to take you to your next destination….not true.