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CATCH OF THE DAY

Masood Ahmed: The Sweetest Paanwala in Delhi

India-paan
One paanwala's coconutty version.
Photo: LexnGr on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Michael Snyder

Masood Ahmed's paan stall is just like any other you'll find dotting the streets of India: shelves of cigarettes behind, packets of paan masala dangling overhead, and in front, a pile of large, green betel leaves. It just so happens that Masood Ahmed makes what is, as far as I'm concerned, the best paan in Delhi (Paan Bandar, 268-B Basti Nizamuddin, on the street leading from Mathura Road to the Dargah).

Much remains unchanged about chewing paan, even though the tradition is nearly as ancient as India herself. Basic paan, betel leaf smeared with lime paste and wrapped around dry areca nut, acts as a palate cleanser and breath freshener, but it's also popular for its mild stimulant effect (akin to a cup of coffee). Beyond the basic, though, is a laundry list of the flavors and scents of the subcontinent; every chewer has his preferences, and every paanwala--at least every good one--has his own inimitable style.

Ahmed has developed a loyal following for his sweet paan. On top of the standard lime paste and areca nut, Ahmed sprinkles fennel seeds, a whole cardamom pod, rose jam, candied fruits, coconut, dried currant, saffron syrup, honey, and shredded areca nut. Then, with his dark-stained fingers, he folds a glistening wet betel leaf into the traditional triangular shape around the whole thing.

The flavor of Ahmed's sweet paan is still with me long after my time in India; I remember it longingly after nearly every meal, as a former smoker longs for a cigarette. More important, though, is the memory of him smiling every day, handing me that perfect green triangle.

Further reading:
* Michael on India's risk-free street food
* Speckled across the Arabian Sea off the Malabar Coast of India, Lakshadweep is an archipelago of atolls, coral reefs, and islands (CNT, July 2008)
* Catch of the Day: International noshables

In This Issue

Taipei's Theme Restaurants

Hello-Kitty-Sweets
Cute cats from Taipei's Hello Kitty Sweets.
Photo: Hello Kitty Sweets

The recent cancellation of a decades-old ban on flights between Taiwan and mainland China has sparked an influx of travelers to Taipei, giving the city a new reason to showcase its oddball sense of humor and long-standing obsession with food. The result? Read below for a taste from Condé Nast Traveler's August issue.

by Jean Tang

Quirky themed restaurants like the turbulence-free A380, where diners sit in airline seats and order from an international menu (foie gras, squid-ink spaghetti, steak, curry), three waiters are former flight attendants, and the bartender dons pilot stripes to pour wine and announce "landing," or closing for the night. A new location opening this summer at 12 Songgao Lu has a first-class cabin where passengers summon servers by pressing the flight attendant button (886-2-2722-6380; entrées, $10-$18).

Nearby, You Mu Bian Jian (Wild West Frontier) displays traditional Uyghur hats and worn canteens along with stucco murals of China's hinterland. Charcoal grills evoke campfires and produce fiery meat skewers, charred squid, and cumin-spiced fish (8 Roosevelt Rd., Alley 6, Lane 136; 886-2-2366-0345; all you can eat, $12-$21).

In the city center, Hello Kitty hasn't grown up, but its fans have: Kids 3 to 83 appease their kitty lust at Hello Kitty Sweets, where kitty-smocked servers hand over kitty-shaped hamburgers and kitty crème brûlée (90 Da-an Rd., Sec. 1; 886-2-2711-1132; prix fixe, $9-$15).

If turning water into wine is a miracle, turning wine into medicine is cause for celebration at DS (as in Doctor Style): "Doctors" and "nurses" hook patients up to beer-, cocktail-, and wine-filled IV tubes that flow into glasses. On weekends, there are syringe shots, and nurses dance atop hospital beds (a.k.a. tables). The crazy-quilt cuisine (Thai prawns, roasted cod, beef stir-fry) is delicious. Relax: The wheelchairs, crutches, and intensive-care equipment are merely props (7 Xinsheng N. Rd., Sec. 3; 886-2-2587-3226; prix fixe, $9-$15).

Bed down at the centrally located San Want Taipei Residences, which has local art and sculpture and superlative service (886-2-2772-2121; doubles, $277-$302).


Pools with a View

Oneonlyreethirah_007p
The One&Only Reethi Rah's 100-foot lap pool, whose infinity edge makes you feel as though you could paddle forever.
Photo: Courtesy of One&Only Reethi Rah

by Blessing Waung

Nothing says summer like a sweating glass of lemonade, a dripping ice cream cone, and of course, a big, blue swimming pool.

It might not be a good idea to cannonball into the pools we've featured on cntraveler.com, but their incredible views more than make up for it.

Take, for example, the pool at the Huvafen Fushi resort in North Malé, above. If that doesn't make you want to get off your backyard beach chair and check out our pools with a view, we don't know what would. Just keep on swimming!

WORD OF MOUTH

Vernazza: The Budget-Conscious Crowd's Portofino

Vernazza-ocean-view
"The only way I can bear to leave Vernazza," says Ondine Cohane, "is if I have another excursion already planned."
Photo: anroir on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Ondine Cohane

Looking for an inexpensive Italian coastal getaway that's got plenty of charm, sun, and beautiful backdrops? Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, is one of my favorite towns in the country. I'm even loath to write about it because it's such a gem.

I was just back there for my annual pilgrimage, and despite being on the Rick Steves trail, crowded with day-trippers during high season, the place still has its own unspoilable charm--pastel-colored buildings with laundry hanging from the windows, old geezers who make a living room out of the seafront piazza, local kids diving off the pier, and rooms that can still be booked for 100 euros or less. Admittedly, most of the accommodations are not luxurious, and you have to climb a hundred steps to get to Gianni Franzi's rooms, where I usually stay, but I hardly spend time there except to sleep.

There is too much to entertain outside: I stay busy eating at Gianni's trattoria (plates of marinated anchovies in lemon juice, fritto misto, spaghetti al vongole, whole fish in the oven and the pesto the region's famous for), swimming off the aforementioned pier where a swimming-only lane in the cove means undisturbed laps, reading at an outside table at the bar in the main square, and taking hikes between the five picturesque villages that have given this area a UNESCO heritage designation. My favorite of the trails is between Vernazza and Corniglia--it is ruggedly beautiful and the views are spectacular (try to time ending your walk as the sun sets). At night, the town becomes more peaceful when travelers from La Spezia and Porto Venere head to their hotels and only residents and people staying in the village remain.

Next time I want to try Vernazza's La Mala, a newish boutique hotel that overlooks the sea. It's a bit more pricey than the other hotels, but reviews are good.

Further reading:
* Ondine on Brooklyn's own little Italian empire
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide

THE AGGREGATOR

Remembering Les Paul (and Woodstock)

by Sara Tucker

Music icon Les Paul picked up his electric guitar this week and headed for the Great Music Festival in the Sky, just as thousands were making the pilgrimage to Sullivan County, New York, for a Woodstock 40th anniversary bash.

Nobody was more responsible for what happened on Max Yasgur's farm in the summer of '69 than the Father of the Electric Guitar. Without Paul, Keith Richards once said, "generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets."

Speaking at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute nine months before his death, Paul told the story of how he built his own pickup from radio and telephone parts in the '30s and turned a fencepost into a prototypical solid-body guitar known as "the Log." "What we did was take an acoustical instrument--which was a very apologetic, wonderful, meek instrument--and turned it into a pit bull," he told Spinner in a mesmerizing interview.

"Shortly after news of his death hit the Web on Thursday, Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up with tributes," noted Rolling Stone in its obit, "Slash, whom Paul referred to last year as a 'dear friend,' tweeted that the guitar innovator 'was one of the most stellar human beings I've ever known.'"

Continue reading "Remembering Les Paul (and Woodstock) " »


The China Hand: What Rule of Law?

by Dinda Elliott

Nibbling on dim sum at Shanghai's Jinpu Club with the Chinese head of one of China's largest private mutual funds, it's hard not to feel like this city is thoroughly modern. None of the clattering boisterousness of gritty Chinatown eateries here. In the chic, high-ceilinged club, groups of financiers, young Chinese men and women in professional gear talk quietly over shrimp dumplings, egg tarts and tea; they could be in any financial center, from Hong Kong to New York. "Stock market regulation has improved dramatically," says my friend, popping a morsel of braised beef tendon into his mouth, "and rule of law is coming, too." Nobody here seems in the slightest concerned that Beijing is rounding up some of China's brightest lawyers and throwing them in jail.

Such is the contradiction of today's China. The economy is growing at a lightning-fast rate of 8 percent annually, and according to Newsweek probably will surpass Japan by the end of this year. Life for most people is without question freer than ever. You can criticize the government and do just about whatever you like. But if you try to take on the system, you'd better watch out. That's exactly what some of China's best and brightest lawyers--generally idealistic patriots--have been doing, in hopes of promoting reform and true rule of law.

Xu Zhiyong, a 36-year old Peking University-trained lawyer known for defending Chinese victimized by unfair arrest or consumer fraud, was seized on July 29 and is still in detention. His firm, the Open Constitution Initiative law firm, challenged secret detention centers and represented parents of the 300,000 children who were struck ill by dangerous milk additives. People who know Xu, like Suzy Jakes, a former Time magazine correspondent, attest to his unfailing belief in the rule of law.  Yet his law firm has basically been shut down, and Beijing has deleted Xu's virtual identity, removing his blog from the internet and blocking all Twitter commentary about him. Xu is not the only one: Gao Zhisheng, a Christian lawyer who defended religious rights, migrant workers, and democracy, disappeared last spring. Why is it that in China, one kind of rule of law--regulation of the stock market, for example--is heralded but the other--protecting the rights of individuals--can get you thrown in jail?

Further reading:
* CNT explored the neighborhoods behind the skyscrapers in "Secret Shanghai" (Oct. 2008)
* The U.S. economy may still be in a slump, but Hong Kong is partying
* Shanghai: A mix of turn-of-the-century European villas, Deco apartment buildings, and sparkling new shopping malls
* Shanghai's World Expo Transformation
* Is Hong Kong turning Communist? Or are the Communists turning capitalist?
* Dispatches: On the road

ON THE FLY

Another "Wrinkle" in the Dreamliner

Dreamliner_model_dt  
If nothing else, the Dreamliner makes a good model

Photo: 1yen on Creative Commons


by Clive Irving

Pity the poor Boeing test pilots, all suited up and nowhere to go. Sitting out on the tarmac at Everett, Washington, the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner looks sleek, every inch the airliner of the future it is supposed to be. So far, though, all it has been able to do is to roll up and down the runway under low engine power. At least we know the wheels turn. As for actually leaving the ground, don't hold your breath.

That was supposed to happen at the end of July. At the last minute the first test flight was canceled--and no new date set. The 787 was grounded because of structural faults found where the wings meet the fuselage. Now it is revealed, in today's Seattle Times, that a section of the fuselage just behind the wings has flaws.

As is so often the case with the 787, this new problem only became public well after its discovery. Transparency isn't part of Boeings management philosophy. The major problem with the wing involved two Japanese subcontractors, Mitsubishi and Fuji. This new glitch involves an Italian company, Alenia, which manufactures sections of the fuselage--called barrels--using composites. On June 23 Boeing issued a stop-work order on the Alenia barrels.

The problem in Italy involves a part of the structure called stringers--stringers are also involved in the wing weakness. This time wrong-sized stringers have been found to cause the outer skin of the fuselage to wrinkle under stress, such as when the airplane lands. Boeing is keen to play down this problem, saying that a solution is already designed and will be executed swiftly.

Nonetheless this greatly adds to the already substantial evidence that when Boeing decided to build the 787 using a far larger proportion of composites than ever before they did so without understanding how these materials behave when subjected to the stresses of flight.

Indeed, when the wing flaws came to light it seemed at first that they showed up in tests only at an extreme level of stress--150 per cent of what could be expected in flight. Now it has been revealed that the wings failed under stresses much closer to actual flight conditions.

Boeing has said that the new date for the 787's first flight will be announced near the end of September. Few experts believe that that will happen until next year. In the meantime, the test pilots can do other stuff. Many of the advanced new systems in the 787 apparently work just fine, as do the engines. It's just that, as it is, the 787 is in no state to leave the ground.

Further reading:
* The Dreamliner Problem Gets Worse (Daily Traveler on CNT)
* Is the Dreamliner in Real Trouble?(Daily Traveler on CNT)
* What is Wrong with the Dreamliner? (Daily Traveler on CNT)
* Boeing's Dreamliner Debacle (Daily Traveler on CNT)
* Read The Daily Beast for more aviation expertise from Clive Irving, Condé Nast Traveler's senior consulting editor.
* On the Fly: The Daily Traveler on the airline industry

BOLDFACE

Bali Bounty

Bali_dt
Welcome to Bali-wood!

by Beata Loyfman-Santora

In the past few weeks, Boldface has been inundated with images of pretty people frolicking in predictably pretty places: Cindy and Kate in St. Tropez, Katy and Rihanna in Barbados, Jack Nicholson and his smokes in Cap d'Ail.

But a few discerning notables have journeyed much further afield--to the Indonesian island of Bali. Actors Anna Faris and Chris Pratt just got hitched there; and vacationing Tony Blair found himself in a compromising situation with a feisty baby elephant. Of course, we don't have to tell you about the beauties of Bali. In fact, Condé Nast Traveler readers have rated it as one of the world's top islands in the annual Readers' Choice Survey for the past 15 years. And with good reason. Bali has it all--fantastic beaches, historic temples, and magical dancing. Far easier on the eyes than this view of Jack in the French Riviera (not sure whether we're grateful or resentful of this photo, Jaunted).

Bali's dry season ends in September, after which the humidity kicks in. So book your tickets asap, or you'll have to wait until the breezes return next May.

Further reading:
* More pretty people, this time on boats
* Boldface: Celebrity travels

ON THE FLY

Cramped in a Stinky Jet: What the Latest Air Travel Squalor Story Means for Passenger Rights

Kate-Hanni
Kate Hanni, founder for the Coalition for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights,
in Washington ,D.C., on April 20, 2008
.
Photo: Stephanie Pfriender Stylander, Condé Nast Traveler

by Barbara S. Peterson

No one would wish the horror of a night trapped inside a cramped and stinking regional jet on anyone.  But the Continental Flight 2816 debacle couldn't have come at a better time for those pushing for a federal airline passengers bill of rights, which in theory would prevent anything like this from happening again.

The media frenzy over the ordeal--and firsthand reports from some of the 47 fliers stuck in the squalor of the ExpressJet plane--spawned a slew of predictable promises from government officials and politicians to act. Most recently, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he'd look into whether any laws were violated.

So Kate Hanni, the irrepressible leader of the passenger rights movement, ought to be feeling pretty good about the prospects of victory, right?  But when I spoke to her this morning, she was more cautious in her outlook. Read after the jump for her reasons why.

Continue reading "Cramped in a Stinky Jet: What the Latest Air Travel Squalor Story Means for Passenger Rights" »

BOOM BOX

Khaled: The King of Raï Returns


Algerian singer Khaled shows off his magnificent voice in the studio recording of his new song "Raïkoum"

by John Oseid

He's back. It's been years since the great Algerian raï singer Khaled put out an album. It's no stretch to say his gorgeous new work, Liberté, should put him right back on top of the world music charts when it comes out August 25.

Raï, a pop-tinged mix of rural and cabaret music developed in Algeria's Oran province, has exploded worldwide in recent decades. In the early 90s, Khaled teamed up with producing legend Don Was to craft the rock-, funk-, and R&B-inflected sound that made him the first international star from the Maghreb.

On Liberté, Khaled strips down his sound back to its North African roots. An accordion introduces "Raïkoum" and then Khaled's soaring vocals take over. He adds some mystical gnawa music on the album, and strings from the Levant, like in the slow cut "Zabana." I don't yet know what all the songs mean, and it doesn't matter; Khaled's mesmerizing voice could turn a public service announcement into a musical gem.

More music:
* Khaled's two great early albums were Khaled, released in 1992 with the mega-hit "Didi," and 1993's N'ssi N'ssi.
* Last spring I brought you a snippet of gnawa music from Morocco.
* Boom Box: Unabashed gusto for music of the world

DISPATCHES

We'll Always Have Paris: 5 Tips for Your Next Trip

Paris-romantic
Isn't it romantic? Here, the view from Île de la Cité.
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Inspired by Condé Nast Traveler's August story "Bargain Hunting in Europe", Dinda Elliott decided to get away to Paris a couple weeks ago. Below, find five things she learned during her travels in case you want to do the same:

1. Go with someone you really like a lot
Paris is a very romantic town, so it's a waste if you don't. My husband has a new job in Boston, and I work and live in New York with our three sons. We needed a weekend together, far from the pressures of children and work. Corny as it may sound, we have been married for 24 years, but my husband still makes me laugh. I suggest you pick someone like him to travel with.

2. Go by word of mouth
Guidebooks are great, but from the lists of hotels and restaurants, it's almost impossible to know which ones are right for you. I asked two well-traveled colleagues at Condé Nast Traveler for hotel recommendations. Remarkably, they both came up with the same place: Duc de Saint Simon. Smack in the middle of one of Paris's most charming neighborhoods in the 7th arrondissement, it is a small inn, happily planted in the "old Europe." The rooms' wallpaper matches the cotton bedspreads, and the soft linen sheets are embroidered with the hotel's name--no mod duvets here. We stayed in Room 36, with pink-swirled decor that reminded me of my grandmother's perfumed apartment. The woman at the reception desk was just a bit sniffy: perfect! 

Restaurant recommendations came from friends, too. Like Bistrot d'a Côté-flaubert, one of a food critic friend's favorites, which we went to with close buddies who have lived in Paris for years (10 rue Gustave Flaubert). The parfait of tomato coulis and poached egg with crunchy vegetables was scrumptious. The chicken "grilled like a frog" had a delicious crunchy skin. The lamb was disappointing; but the molten chocolate cake made up for it. We sat at a table on the sidewalk, talking and laughing for four glorious hours.

Our best meal was at Les Ombres, on the roof of the Quai Branly Museum of African art, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. When, on the hour, the tower started sparkling with hundreds of lights, my husband and I ran outside like a couple of kids and, giggling, took a goofy picture with our cell phone. Dinner was a fortune ($350 for two!) but worth it for a big splurge. The $100 bottle of pinot noir broke the bank.

Continue reading "We'll Always Have Paris: 5 Tips for Your Next Trip" »

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

Don't Forget to Plug in Your . . . Car?

electric-car-charging-closeup
Fueling up, EV-style.
Photo: Element Lexington

by Brook Wilkinson

The Element Lexington hotel in Massachusetts, one of the greener hotels in the country, has just opened a charging station for electric vehicles. It's the first to admit, however, that not many people will be pulling up for a charge in the near future--there are only a handful of all-electric or plug-in hybrids on the road right now (many of them on the other side of the country, in California). But that could change soon: Chevrolet is set to debut the Volt, a plug-in hybrid, in 2010 (though you probably won't see one on the road until at least 2012), and Nissan will come out with the Leaf around the same time. Other makers likely won't be far behind. What's needed before these cars hit the road is the infrastructure to support them: a network of charging stations like the one at the Element. Without that infrastructure, drivers won't be able to venture more than about 50 miles from home, since the current battery technology provides for a range of 100 miles or less. Currently, ChargePoint (the maker of the Element's charging station) lists just 39 stations across the country. Kudos to Element, but we've got a long way to go before electric cars rule the roads.

Further reading:
* Great Drives: Stephan Wilkinson rides shotgun in the Nissan GT-R from the Great Basin to Big Sur.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

AMAZING

Urban Escapes NYC

Mollie-bike-excursion-New-York
Mollie takes a breather at the top of Storm King Highway.

by Mollie Chen

Finances and work have kept me close to the city this summer, but I've gotten my vacation fix by planning close-to-home adventures. I recently invested in a super-speedy road bike so I've been going on all-day treks to places like gorgeous Harriman State Park, and, most recently Weed Orchards, in farm-lovely Ulster County. I'm constantly surprised at how much nature--truly spectacular nature--is so accessible from the city. But as much as love my padded shorts (I mean, who doesn't like a little Spandex?), sometimes a different kind of adventure is in order.

New-York-Weed-Orchard-peaches
Weed Orchards has pick-your-own
peaches, plus what might be
the world's best apple cider doughnuts.

Enter Urban Escapes NYC. This outdoor adventure company was started by a bunch of urban twentysomethings in need of periodic doses of wide-open space. It leads a range of trips, from hikes in Bear Mountain to white-water rafting in the Lehigh River, and most are just day excursions--perfect for those of us low on cash and time. Guns aren't exactly my thing, but I have to admit I like the sound of Shootin' and Drinkin', a morning of clay shooting followed by a whiskey tasting and a riverside picnic. Sure beats jostling for a patch of grass in Central Park.

Further reading:
* Mollie finds another reason to check out the North Carolina Triangle's food scene
* Quick Trips: Your guide to high art in Minneapolis, midcentury architecture in Palm Springs, minimalism in Beacon, and good grooves in Austin

In This Issue

Cruise Smart

Seabourn-Pride-small-ship
Seabourn's Pride.
Photo: Yachts of Seabourn

Every ship has its secrets. Luckily, in Condé Nast Traveler's August issue, Brook Wilkinson found several leading cruise specialists willing to spill the beans on 17 cruise lines. Here's the skinny on Seabourn, which ranked as the top small-ship cruise line in last year's Readers' Choice Awards.

Seabourn Cruise Line
Legend, Pride, Spirit
"Some cabins on these ships have mini balconies. They aren't wide enough for a chair, but you get floor-to-ceiling views, ocean breezes, and the sound of the sea. Among these cabins, numbers 204 to 223 on deck 5 are almost $620 less per cabin for an 11-day Norwegian Fjords cruise than the identical rooms a deck above."
Leslie Fambrini, Personalized Travel Consultants, Los Altos, California (650-949-0111; leslie@personalized-travel.com) 

For more cruise tips from those in the know, pick up a copy of this month's issue of Condé Nast Traveler.

Further reading:
* Check out Wendy Perrin's list of top travel specialists for cruises
* Boldface Beata Loyfman's on a boat!
* The 2008 Readers' Choice Awards

DISPATCHES

Shanghai's World Expo Transformation

Shanghai_shikumen
Not everyone's getting a new look: A section of jam-packed shikumen walled by commercial buildings.
Photo: badbrother on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Dinda Elliott

Shanghai is a giant construction site. But are there dangers lurking in the city's lightning-speed transformation? The whole place seems to be in a lather, preparing for the World Expo, a giant trade fair that will be Shanghai's coming out party next summer. The Bund has been dug up for a new subway line. The Deco Peace Hotel, whose pre-revolutionary jazz band resumed playing after reforms began in the 1980s, has been closed--but will be renovated in time for the expo. The plaza in front of the Financial Tower, across the river in Pudong, has been dug up, and will become the city's tallest building. The Financial Tower, built by a Japanese company, is the tallest structure today, but the Shanghainese won't stand for being outdone by the Japanese. Everywhere you look, there are cranes.

But not everyone is part of this remarkable transformation. Wandering the back streets near the Dongtai antiquities and junk street market, it's clear that plenty of people have been left behind. Old shikumen, low-rise buildings built before the revolution, have been trashed over the past half a century, as poor families packed themselves in, throwing up jumbled walls and carving the space into the tiniest places you could imagine a family could possibly live in.

These people still live in tiny subhuman spaces, often without basic plumbing. Chamber pots are cleaned in the lanes every morning. As I walk through a lane, I see a group of men in singlets playing mahjong at a card table. Beyond them, an old man is scaling a fish at a concrete communal sink, laundry flapping from a bamboo pole overhead. He has nothing in common with the lucky Shanghainese who are getting rich off of the local stock market, shopping in the glittering new malls. "The differences between rich and poor are becoming so extreme in this city," Mr. Hong, a driver who also trades stocks, tells me, "that if the government doesn't do something about it soon, there will be social unrest."

Further reading:
* CNT explored the neighborhoods behind the skyscrapers in "Secret Shanghai" (Oct. 2008)
* The U.S. economy may still be in a slump, but Hong Kong is partying
* Shanghai: A mix of turn-of-the-century European villas, Deco apartment buildings, and sparkling new shopping malls
* Is Hong Kong turning Communist? Or are the Communists turning capitalist?
* Dispatches: On the road

DISPATCHES

At Home in Shanghai

Shangai-street-neon-lights
The old and the neon blend together in Shanghai.
Photo: Stuck in Customs on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Dinda Elliott

My friends--both foreign and Chinese--who live here in Shanghai say it beats Hong Kong as a place to live. A Chinese venture capitalist who used to reside in HK says her friends down in the former British colony, all bankers and lawyers, spend weekends either around the pool at the local country clubs or going out on each other's boats. "It's very boring," she says. "In Shanghai, we have friends from many different worlds--from wine and tech entrepreneurs to sports coaches to journalists."

Shanghai is booming, despite the economic crisis; you feel that any young person with talent is either here already or ought to be. What makes the city so incredibly hot: the dissonance of old and new. Turn-of-the-century European villas and Deco apartment buildings lend the city's denizens a sense of worldliness and history, while sparkling new shopping malls and office towers are shooting up. The restaurants and clubs are the hippest I've seen anywhere. The new nightclub M1NT has the requisite throbbing music, black furniture, and black-clad staff, plus a 40-foot shark tank--way cool. Just down the road, you can still find tree-lined lanes with tattered laundry hanging from bamboo poles sticking out the windows.

Even golf, the businessman's favorite pastime, is more convenient in Shanghai. Hong Kong's golfers generally have to go across the border to Shenzhen, more than an hour away, to hit the links. Shanghai has a dozen or so golf clubs within half an hour of the city. They cost some $150,000 to join, not including monthly dues and greens fees. But in this booming economic environment--despite the global crisis--that seems to be no deterrent.

Further reading:
* CNT explored the neighborhoods behind the skyscrapers in "Secret Shanghai"  (Oct. 2008)
* The U.S. economy may still be in a slump, but Hong Kong is partying.
* Is Hong Kong turning Communist? Or are the Communists turning capitalist?
* Dinda's Dispatches from Malaysia: "Sexual Politics, Malaysia Style," Penang's Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Obama-mania, bargaining at markets, and an interview with Anwar Ibrahim.
* Dispatches: On the road

WORD OF MOUTH

The Shangri-La Villingili Opens in the Maldives

Maldives-Shangri-La-Treehouse-Villa
Prefer to be stuck in the trees instead of on the beach? The new Shangri-La property has Tree House Villas.
Photo: Shangri La's Villingili Resort and Spa

by Ondine Cohane

It may be summer in the States (or at least some semblance of it), but if you are like me, you're already plotting where to escape when ice, snow, and heavy jackets hit in a few months. Top of my list? The just-opened Shangri-La Villingili in the Maldives, with overwater bungalows (my dream accommodation), postcard-perfect powder white sand, and crystal-clear water. There's also a spa with a yoga pavilion overlooking the Indian Ocean--yoga with a view is, naturally, more conducive to a deep meditational state. I also like the idea of the 11-mile bike path that leads across five islands past villages and lush jungle. The cherry on the travel sundae is the great diving in the reefs nearby--or maybe the boat trips across the equator (always a good trophy). The only question now is to how to fund such a blissful getaway. . . . 

Further reading:
* Condé Nast Traveler's 2008 Dream Trip winner stayed in overwater villas at the One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives. Read the Perrin Post blog for her favorite moments from the trip.
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide.

THE AGGREGATOR

Ikea Airways, Animals with Guns, and a Dream of Happiness

Os-Gemeos-Brazilian-artists-New-York-mural
A mural by Os Gêmeos on view until March at the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in Manhattan.
Photo: Daydreampilot on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Sara Tucker

It's not exactly news that air travel sucks, so hats off to The New York Times readers who've come up with some ways to improve it. A sample: (1) Let Ikea run the airlines ("You'd have to assemble your seat yourself"), and (2) "charge a reasonable fare" for a coast-to-coast round-trip of "at least $2,600." For more suggestions, click here.

Here's a fresh idea to bear in mind as you walk the trails of Yosemite this summer; we stumbled upon it at Babelgum: guns for animals. Why we like it: A long, hard effort by the gun lobby ended in victory last May with an amendment quietly tacked onto the credit card reform bill. In case you missed it, the new law will allow pistol-packing tourists in the national parks, but it doesn't go into effect until next year. Meanwhile, folks who care about such things as personal safety and wildlife poaching have exchanged some harsh words. "Guns tend to bring out a black-or-white, yes-or-no stridency in American policy debate," observed an article (the Times, again) soon after the legislation passed, while the national parks "evoke equally deep emotional feelings." Cool heads are always welcome when tempers flare, and the Sklar Brothers' proposal to furnish animals with firearms strikes us as a fair-minded attempt to even the playing field. Check out their video.

Finally this week, 'tis the season when street art comes into full flower. The mural by Os Gêmeos, twin brothers from Brazil, on view until March at the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in Manhattan, has been described by one critic as a dream of happiness with an underlying current of melancholy (review and slide show here). For a world tour of ephemeral art, check out the Wooster Collective and World Graffiti Urban Art (here are some gems from Mali). And if your summer travels land you in Berlin, "graffiti mecca of the urban art world," EuroCheapo has some advice for you.

BOLDFACE

I'm Sailing! And You Can, Too

Titanic-boat-Kate-Leo
Before the berg.

by Beata Loyfman-Santora

Those of you who scour the Webisphere for celebrity-focused news (like yours truly) may have noticed that a lot of notables have recently been seen floating. In the sea, that is. Generally, they're scantily clad, oiled, and pretending not to notice the paparazzi hanging from the rafters, shooting as much T&A as possible with their zoom lenses.

There's Cindy Crawford, every inch the supermodel. There's Kate Moss, looking (remarkably) no worse for the wear--and really, why should Cindy be the only semi-naked runway star in St-Tropez, anyway? There are Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen alums Matt Damon and Don Cheadle doing their best to blend with the normals while sailing Lake Como (a.k.a. George's personal wading pool). There's Leonardo DiCaprio and his inflatable boat. True, he's doing more beaching than boating, but he's greased and shirtless, so it counts.

But why should celebs have all the fun on the high seas? Luckily for you, we've rounded up the top deals on cruises around the world in our special Cruise Smart section. Plus, we've got the scoop on the best beds for your buck on 17 cruise lines. Take that, Jude Law.

So check out the results of our 2009 Cruise Ship Survey and make like Kate and Leo. Just watch out for those icebergs.

Further reading:
* Speaking of cruises, Oprah recently treated all of her 1,700 employees and their families to a ten-day Mediterranean cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem. Seriously.
* You might want to keep your earplugs in for the bleeps on this one. Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and his crew (which includes T Pain) are really, really excited about being on a boat.
* Boldface: Celebrity travels.

BOOM BOX

Laurent Korcia Pays Tribute to Cinema


Accompanied by accordion and upright bass, Laurent Korcia takes on Lalo Schifrin's "Mission Impossible"

by John Oseid

As if being a young, handsome Parisian weren't enough, Laurent Korcia gets to strut around his hometown with a precious Stradivarius--the Rolls-Royce of instruments--under his arm (he plays the 1719 "Zahn," on loan from LVMH). The violin sensation has won a ton of awards and performs regularly under the direction of Dutoit, Gergiev, and Masur. In a departure from his classical roots, he's just put out an album called Cinema that pays tribute to a century of film music. Over the last week, I've discovered that the 20 scores make for a moody and whimsical travel companion, from the famous (Nino Rota's "Speak Softly, Love" Godfather theme) to the obscure (anyone heard of "Yumeji's Theme" by Shigeru Umebayashi?).

I never knew Ennio Morricone wrote the tender theme to Cinema Paradiso. Nor had I ever heard of the 1974 Depardieu film Les Valseuses, whose classical theme of the same name was composed by the late great French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Korcia's lightly swinging rendition turns out to be my favorite cut. Even if they don't know the title, listeners will recognize Argentine tango genius Carlos Gardel's beautiful "Por una Cabeza" from Scent of a Woman and the scene in True Lies in which the Governator klutzes over it on the dance floor. Korcia also brings us some Joplin, Gershwin, Chaplin, and Mancini, not to mention a cool guy named Vivaldi.

More music:
* Keep your eyes open for upcoming Korcia performances in the States as well as a PBS special filmed at the Folies Bergère.
* This month a number of Hard Rock properties like San Diego and Orlando are planning hippie-themed events for the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. Crosby, Stills & Nash will be performing at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, where room rates are $69 (as in 1969) on August 18 and 19. The hotel will also be giving "Jimi Hendrix-style" guitar lessons.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

In This Issue, Video

The Tipping Guide: Canada


Edmonton: It has one of the world's largest malls, a hotel called Fantasyland, and a restaurant that serves bacon-wrapped elk. Condé Nast Traveler's Mark Schatzker lives the dream.

Tipping rules vary by country, by region, and by scenario. In Condé Nast Traveler's August issue, Tim Murphy spells out guidelines for the most common tipping situations in more than 25 countries, from Switzerland to Syria to Singapore.

Going to Canada and want to express appreciation for the service you received? Here's how:
At Restaurants: As in the United States, the gratuity isn't included, so tip the standard 15 to 20 percent, depending on the service.
At Hotels: Concierges who go out of their way for you should get $10 to $20 per favor; porters get $1 or $2 per bag; housekeepers $2 a day, or $5 in a luxury hotel. "Leave something for them daily," advises Mary Pyle Peters of Distinctive Journeys in Blaisden, California, which organizes Canada trips. The person who cleaned your room all week may not be the same one who comes in the day you check out.
Guides and Drivers: Tip them collectively 15 percent of the cost of the excursion. Taxi drivers get 10 to 15 percent.
Dollars Accepted? Yes. "As long as you use paper money, not U.S. coins," says Peters.

For more on whom to tip, how much to give, and how to give it, check out the tipping guide in Condé Nast Traveler's August issue.

JUST IN

20% Off JetBlue Fares

Jetblue-Twitter-Deal

by Barbara S. Peterson

You can knock 20 percent off all JetBlue flights departing through October 31--but you have to book by midnight tonight. The quickie air fare sale is in honor of @JetBlue reaching one million followers on Twitter.

JetBlue claims it's the first airline to reach the exalted one million mark. No one's come forward to dispute that, but airlines like American, Delta and United--with far more passengers than JetBlue--are aiming to catch up soon.

United, like JetBlue, already has regular weekly sales for its Twitter followers. United calls its deals "twares" and JetBlue's are "cheeps". Oh well, no one said they had to be brilliant.

So is the JetBlue sale a really big deal?

Here's what cheapflights.com wrote: "We did a quick search for flights to just about anywhere and the promo works. The only blackout dates are October 9 and October 12, 2009 (Columbus Day weekend)."

Agreed. We did some poking around, too. To book, go to jetblue.com/millionth.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER

HALL: California's Greenest Winery

by Brook Wilkinson

It doesn't take much to get me out of the city during San Francisco's foggy summer months, and last week gave me a great excuse to head up to Napa: the debut of California's first LEED Gold-certified winery. (LEED is a certification program run by the U.S. Green Building Council; buildings earn a rating based on energy use, water efficiency, construction materials used, etc.) HALL Wines was already well known for its luscious cabernet sauvignon, but now it's making a name for itself in the world of sustainable wine.

There's been little agreement in the wine world so far about how to position oneself as a thoughtful caretaker of the planet. Having your wine certified organic means not adding sulfites--even though they are a natural byproduct of fermentation--which many winemakers are loathe to agree to. My personal experience in buying organic wine has been very mixed. What I do seek out are bottles labeled "grown from organic grapes." This means that the fruit was grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but sulfite was added. Other bottles are labeled biodynamic, which means that they subscribe to the principles of a rather eccentric agricultural philosophy, including burying cow horns filled with manure in the field. Winemakers I've talked to say that they prefer biodynamic to organic because it still prescribes natural methods of fertilizing the soil and reducing pests, but doesn't forbid the growers from using chemicals in the case of a phylloxera infestation--a dreaded plague here in California wine country.

HALL Wines uses mostly organic-grown grapes in its wines, and the company has now extended its green philosophy to its fermentation, bottling, and packaging methods. LEED gave them points for things like the acre of solar panels on the roofs of the barrel cellar and fermentation building, radiant floors that can heat and cool the rooms to precise temperatures, and recycled/recyclable shipping materials. You can take a free tour of HALL's green winery at 11 a.m. every day through the end of August. Just make sure you don't miss the tasting room--I walked away with a bottle of the 2008 sauvignon blanc myself. Now I'm just waiting for a sunny day here in the city to drink it.

Further reading:
* Brook's suggestions for five perfect days in California wine country.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: Yellow Cow in India

Colorful-yellow-sacred-cow

Alas, our 2009 Dream Trip Contest ended on Friday. We'll announce who will win a $25,000 vacation to anywhere he or she chooses in our November issue. In the meantime, feast your eyes on this image--one of more than 19,000 contest entries:

Forgive us for invoking the cliché about the horse of a different color, but today's Photo of the Day has us thinking about animals of a less-than-natural palette.

"I spotted this woman guiding her colorful animal, decorated for a Hindu festival, along a road near Mysore, India," writes Dream Trip entrant rubenst in the Dream Trip entry "Woman with Yellow Cow". "I knew I wasn't dreaming when I subsequently saw pink lambs and goats."

"I wonder what happens to the dyed animals when it rains?"

CATCH OF THE DAY

Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn Slings Top Burgers in D.C.

Spike-Mendelsohn-Good-Stuff-Eatery
Although he started his career in fine dining, Mendelsohn has turned to recession-friendly comfort food at Good Stuff Eatery.
Photo: Joe Shymanski

by Ashley Cirilli

Former Top Chef star Spike Mendelsohn has had all of Capitol Hill buzzing since he opened his Good Stuff Eatery last year. Mendelsohn opted out of what he calls the "cutthroat" New York restaurant world, bringing his hip burger-and-shake restaurant to D.C. instead. The idea? Simple: Build a better burger. Now he has everyone from members of the Obama family to tourists lining up for his quirky creations: Among them, the Vegetarians Are People too 'Shroom Burger, the Big Stuff Bacon Meltdown Burger, and the Free Range Turkey Burger. There are fresh salads and fries on the menu, plus milk shakes made from Mendelsohn's own frozen custard. In the background, a feel-good sound track of classic rock and oldies plays the day away.

"You're building an experience for the customer and I have people tell me they love my playlist all the time," Spike said. "It's awesome for after a hard day of work as a politician."

Spike-Mendelsohn-Obama-burger
The Obama Burger: bacon, blue cheese, onion marmalade, and horseradish mayo. We're told the president himself prefers the Farmhouse Cheese Burger (with cheddar).
Photo: Joe Shymanski

Mendelsohn's not stopping with the joint that's got Obama's secret service coming in to order the president a bacon cheddar burger. In addition to expanding the Good Stuff Eatery chain, he has a pizza place in the works for Capitol Hill. And somehow he has plenty of time to explore D.C.'s hot spots. Read after the jump for a list of his favorite places to wind down after a day spent over his own hot stove.

Continue reading "Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn Slings Top Burgers in D.C." »

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