Posted on February 28, 2010
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Andrew Harper is the pseudonym of a gentleman traveler who, frustrated by commercially driven travel coverage, began writing his own candid reviews of smaller, unique hotels. The Hideaway Report, which began as a small newsletter for friends and family, is now one of the most distinct voices in luxury travel.
Impatient with pretense and skeptical of passing trends, Andrew Harper has an abiding passion for classic hospitality and refined service amid peaceful surroundings. He is on the road for several months each year, and hotels are his second home.
Beijing’s Aman at Summer Palace garners top award as Hideaway of the Year
Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, the most credible resource for unbiased travel intelligence, has named Aman at Summer Palace in Beijing, its Hideaway of the Year (http://amanresorts.com/amanatsummerpalace/home.aspx). This is the first time a hotel has received a 99-point rating from the legendary anonymous reviewer. The Hideaway of the Year and sixteen Grand Award winners were revealed in the January 2010 issue of the Hideaway Report.
Of Aman at Summer Palace, Andrew Harper notes, “Adjacent to the East Gate of the historic Summer Palace, the property is housed within a series of pavilions — some of them century-old dwellings used by those awaiting an audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi — and presents a serenely romantic vision of a bygone China. After our experience, we can only say that the opportunity to stay in this unique location is both a treat and a privilege.”
In addition, sixteen hotels and resorts around the world have been designated 2010 Grand Award winners by the Hideaway Report:
Crosby Street Hotel , New York
Madrona Manor, Napa Valley
La Malcontenta, Catalonia
Finca Cortesin Hotel, Andalusia
Hotel Kendov Dvorec, Slovenia
Villa Miločer, Montenegro
Banyan Tree Ringha, China
Six Senses Hideaway Samui, Thailand
La Reserve, Ramatuelle, France
L’Hotel de Toiras, Brittany
Hotel Duchessa Isabella, Ferrara
Locanda il Rigoletto, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Kulefu Camp, Zambia
Sussi & Chuma, Zambia
Park Hyatt Shanghai
Rosewood Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
Grand Award winners represent the creme de la creme of the hotels and resorts that Andrew Harper has visited during the previous 12 months. To be considered, properties must be relatively small, possess distinctive characters and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to personal service and refined hospitality. Mr Harper does not evaluate hotels by means of a checklist, but uses his three decades of experience to identify those qualities that separate the good from the truly enchanting.
To download a free sample issue, please visit www.AndrewHarper.com.
This adventure started with an extra day in Ecuador’s massive port city of Guayaquil. We were met at the airport by the lovely Isla, one of International Expeditions’ (IE) organizers on the ground in Ecuador. Her energetic spirit jolted us out of our jet lag haze and reminded us of the wonderful congeniality that is so typical among South Americans. We arrived in the middle of the night so we were taken directly to the hotel where we poured ourselves into the bed and crashed into a deep sleep.
When we woke up we began exploring the city of Guayaquil. Even though it was early, the city was already bustling with businessmen, shoppers and street vendors. We walked down the main street, Avenue 9 de Octobre, towards the massive Rio Guaya. As we meandered through the city we shopped and ate empanadas from little food vendors that have literally set up shop in little holes in the walls of the city’s buildings.
About halfway through our journey we detoured to the right and checked out Park De Iguanas. This considerable patch of green in the middle of the city has for years been home to scores of feral land iguanas. These large and docile lizards stroll around the park eating and interacting with the locals. Their beautiful colors seem to blend perfectly with the colorful facades of the surrounding buildings. On one side of the park an imposing cathedral rises into the air as if it is keeping watch. Bronze statues dot the green park and offer resting perches for the pigeons who, by the way, seem to have no problem pecking around the iguanas in search of a bite to eat. I think the true magic of this park is that somehow all of these unrelated items seem to find a beautiful synergy and harmony that ultimately makes the park what it is.
After spending some time in the park we headed back to the main street and continued on our trek to the river side where we would find the city’s newest addition, the Malecon 2000. This beautiful new boardwalk hugs the river bank and winds along with the water from Avenue 9 de Octobre to the base of Cerro Santa Ana (Santa Ana Hill). This boardwalk is jam packed with bars, restaurants, water features and playing areas for the kids. There is also a convention area, an IMAX theater and a museum all with striking views of the water. We stopped for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch of mixed seafood. Ceviche itself is not necessarily indigenous to Ecuador but the way that it is served certainly is. The tart seafood is served with a basket of popcorn that is intended to be sprinkled over the top. The concept turns out to be brilliant because the salt of the popcorn brightens the tang of the citrusy seafood and the textures of both compliment each other well.
After washing lunch down with a couple of icy cold local beers, appropriately called Pilsner, we were refreshed and ready to continue our walk along the river. Where the boardwalk ended the steps of Cerro Santa Ana began. From the base of this massive hill we began our ascent to the top where we were promised striking views of the city and the river from atop the hill’s famous lighthouse. There were about 450 steps to the top. We wound our way up and around through neighborhoods, shops, bars and cafes. Conversation and laughter spilled out of the convivial cafes where beautiful South Americans drank coffee and watched breathy tourists struggle their way up the steep hillside. I thanked God for the many early mornings at the gym as I pushed up the steep steps towards the top of the hill.
I have to say that the reward at the summit was certainly worth it. At the top stood the beautifully modest Santa Ana chapel and it’s tall slender neighbor, the Santa Ana lighthouse. The view of the city of Guayaquil and the meandering river was everything that was promised. The hills and valleys of the city were dotted with colorful cottages and building facades. The Rio Guaya was truly massive and from the elevated view you could easily see that it was as impressively wide as it was long. The entire setting was picture perfect and again worth the climb. From the top you could also see the other main attraction of Cerro Santa Ana, the Pirate Ship Building. Best I could tell this faux pirate ship was actually a restaurant and bar. It looked just like the bow of a giant pirate ship complete with statues of swashbuckling pirates complete with eye patches and wooden peg legs. As wonderful as the view was the day was starting to fade and I did not want to attempt the steep descent in the dark so it was time to go.
On the way down the steps the cafes were beginning to give way to the bars. Music was drowning out the conversation and only the laughter of the patrons managed to cut through the deep bass thumping. I had planned on stopping in for another cold beer on the way down but thought the better of it as I peered down the steep alleyways and sidewalks of the neighborhood. Speaking of the steep steps, I am amazed to this day with the skill and agility of the local women who not only managed to glide beautifully up, down and across from bar to bar but doing so in dainty high heel shoes and martini glasses in hand. I still don’t understand how they accomplished this feat considering I was in tennis shoes and barely getting by. And, I had not had a beer since lunch.
Having made it safely off the steps of Serro Santa Ana, the rest of the evening’s walk back to the hotel was easy and beautiful. The sight of the setting sun on the river and the awakening of the flickering lights of the city made for a beautiful show. Once we made it back to the hotel we showered and headed down for a quick dinner before crashing. The Hotel Oro Verde where we stayed had several restaurants and bars in the lobby. Considering we were about to spend the next seven days eating arguably the best Ecuadorian food prepared by the chefs of the Evolution, we chose a Swiss Fondue restaurant. Dinner was wonderful and consisted of one cheesy delight after another. Best of all the walk back was nothing more than an elevator ride.
It was a wonderful first day and at the end of it, despite the exhaustion from the day’s exploration, I still found myself unable to sleep through the anticipation of the next day. It was hard to believe that I was twelve hours away from one of the most beautiful and natural places on Earth, the Galapagos.
Posted on February 28, 2010
Filed Under Travel Alerts -- From www.travel.state.gov | Comments Off
The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the situation in Chile in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake, measuring 8.8 magnitude, that struck 73 miles north of Concepcion (Chile’s second largest city; pop. 650,000) and 197 miles south of Santiago. More than 700 people died in the event, hundreds were injured and there has been damage to thousands of homes and commercial properties.
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Chile. The February 27th earthquake caused significant damage to the areas closest to the epicenter, including the cities of Concepcion, Talcahuano and Temuco. Santiago, Viña del Mar and Valparaiso were also affected by power outages and limited telecommunications. The Santiago International Airport has been closed to all but military operations.
U.S. citizens currently in Chile should contact family and friends in the US to confirm their well-being at the earliest opportunity. Where internet and telephone services are not available, it may be possible to contact people using SMS (Cell text message) or other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one. The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of an aftershock, persons outdoors should avoid being struck by falling debris by moving to open spaces, away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse. If indoors, DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON: Drop under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you. Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines. Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame in case of disrupted gas lines.
Americans living or traveling in Chile are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website to obtain updated information on travel and security within Chile. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
U.S. Embassy Santiago
Avenida Andres Bello 2800, Las Condes
Phone: 56-2-330 30 00
Fax: 56-2-330 30 05
After Hours Emergency Line: (56-2) 330-3000
Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Chile as well as The Worldwide Caution located on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
While making a business trip to Washington, D.C. this week I noticed that some passengers were having their hands and luggage swabbed even before having their identification checked. Several fellow passengers in the security line were also commenting on the new procedures and had many questions so I’ll just take a few minutes and give everyone an update on this new process.
It seems that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced on February 17, 2010 that it is expanding the random use of Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) technology at airports nationwide as an additional layer of security.
Since the Christmas Day failed attack, the TSA has increased its random use of ETD technology within security checkpoints to screen passengers’ hands and carry-on luggage. In addition, TSA piloted the use of ETD technology in both the checkpoint queue and boarding areas for two weeks at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Orlando International Airport, and Pitt-Greenville and Coastal Carolina Regional Airports in North Carolina.
Passengers can now expect to see the increased random use of ETD technology in areas where TSA currently conducts screening such as the security checkpoint, as well as in the checkpoint queue and boarding areas. Officers may swab a piece of luggage or passengers’ hands, then use ETD technology to test for explosives. The swab is placed inside the ETD unit which analyzes the content for the presence of potential explosive residue. To ensure the health of travelers, screening swabs are disposed of after each use. Since it will be used on a random basis, passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport or each time they travel.
Posted on February 26, 2010
Filed Under Travel Warnings -- From www.travel.state.gov | Comments Off
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Central African Republic (CAR), and recommends against all but essential travel outside the capital, Bangui. Travelers in the CAR should exercise extreme caution. This replaces the Travel Warning of August 19, 2009, in light of the incursion of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in eastern CAR, and uncertainty surrounding the ongoing Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration process.
Armed rebel groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers and the Central African government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country. There have been repeated attacks on Central African and expatriate travelers in the countryside. Poachers and armed men also pose a threat to game hunters in the north central CAR. The LRA poses a similar threat to hunters in eastern CAR.
Bangui itself, though safer, suffers from elevated crime rates, petty and violent, as well as particularly limited transport and medical options. CAR military and civilian security forces (and people posing as such) staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing local and expatriate travelers for bribes.
U.S. citizens should avoid public demonstrations because even those intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.
The small U.S. Embassy staff in Bangui can provide only limited services to U.S. citizens at this time.
U.S. citizens residing in, or planning to travel to, the CAR are strongly urged to register through the State Department’s Travel Registration website. U.S. citizens without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Bangui. By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. While the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency consular services is limited, registration will enable electronic receipt of warden messages.
U.S. Embassy Bangui
Avenue David Dacko,
Tel: (236) 2161-0200
Fax: (236) 2161-4494
Emergency after-hours telephone:
(236)7554-2276 and (236)7550-1293
Americans may also obtain updated information from the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad, at telephone (235) 51-70-09, 51-92-33 or 51-90-52; fax (235) 51-56-54;
Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information of Central African Republic as well as The Worldwide Caution located on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.keep looking »