December 6, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
2006 marks another big birthday; this time on our side of the big pond. January 17, 2006 is the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin—the first founding father to reach this milestone. In honor of this extraordinary man (what career and hobby didn't he pursue?), Philadelphia is hosting year-long celebrations. The most noteworthy is the major international traveling exhibition: Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, which opens in Philly on December 15, and then travels around to four other museums nationwide, before its final showing in Paris in 2008.
The best way to see the city's unique and colorful hoods? Why, eat your way around town! Close to the country's most prized and productive farm land, the organic-minded San Francisco is brimming with tasty delights. A mecca for restaurateurs who know their quality cuisine, the city is jam-packed with gems in every distinctive neighborhood.
Rise and shine, with a California sky that blue, it's impossible to sleep the day away.
For the perfect morning coffee, head to Noe Valley's Martha and Bros., a local Latina-owned cooperative that boasts daily delicious roasts. With its boutiques and neighborhood charm, Noe Valley is picture-perfect-cute. Stroll past Noe's colorful Victorians (and charge up the city’s famous inclines) for the next stop in the Mission. Got to feed that growling stomach! Not far from the sloping green of Dolores Park, with the famous mission glowing white in the California sun, Tartine beckons with its exquisite crossaints (oozing chocolate) and beautiful pastries. The line curling out the door and around the block advertise that this is absolutely the best bakery in the city. While in line-- as the aroma of hot bread wafts out of the kitchen-- try not to eat your arm off waiting for the shortbread, bread pudding or Mexican wedding cookies.
Stuffed with bread, head out the door to enjoy a Mission morning. Walk by walls covered in brilliant murals, or artistic graffiti, storefronts plastered with political profanity. And there's people-watching aplenty: from hipsters, to funkified artists, to dog-walkers, to Mexican futbolistas, and beautiful couples from the vibrant gay community of the neighboring Castro. Tired already? Nothing like a quick pick-me-up in the Lower Haight to lure you on. rnm is a paradox of sorts: outrageously hip, yet mellow and laid-back, like its Lower Haight environs. Like most major metropolises, San Francisco succumbed to the "little plates" invasion a few years ago, and rnm has perfected the trend, with plates-to-share like truffle oil pizza. Just to die for. They're not open this early? Knock, knock. I bet you can get take-out. Beg, plead. These guys are cool—after all, this is the Lower Haight. If you can't score some wanna-be tapas, head to Thep Phenom, the best Thai restaurant in town, just two blocks away, for a small bowl of pad thai.
Continue your hike to Hayes Valley, the recently revamped stretch of blocks that all the mags are talking about these days. The tiny little neighborhood somehow emblematic of a "San Francisco renaissance." As if San Fran has ever been uncool? Though right now, Hayes is the height of hip. Boutiques are full of fashion: from shoes to vintage French posters. Your lunch destination? Absinthe, of course, on the corner of Hayes and Gough. In addition to gourmet burgers with Niman Ranch ground beef, gorgonzola, sauteed mushrooms and onions, the weekend brunch is one of the best in the city. Another option is the glass-walled lunch-destination of Zuni Cafe, for its famous raw bar. Enjoy the signature roast chicken for two (spilling delicious stuffing) and buzzing atmosphere, at this prime spot overlooking Market Street.
Full? Too bad. There's too much good stuff in this town! Afternoon delights await! Continue your walking tour to the top of Fillmore and Broadway in Pacific Heights, for a breathtaking view of the bay, golden gate, and small white-houses of the Marina. The land and seascape are almost Mediterranean. Get your caffeine fix at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and then stroll through one of the city's finest shopping streets.
Continue down the hill to Union Street, for more great shopping amongst the yuppies of Cow Hollow. A fabulous walk commences at Fillmore, continues on Union Street over Russian Hill, then down into the land of Italian bistros and cozy cafes in North Beach. Gawk at another vista point, atop Telegraph Hill with the flock of wild parrots which has made the Coit Tower environs its home. Another afternoon coffee break awaits at the famous Caffe Trieste, where the Beat Generation used to wax poetical. Rest your weary feet and daydream about your dinner options: the exquisite Gary Danko, or long-time city favorite, Boulevard, located on the waterfront in the historic Audiffred Building. Ahhhh, San Francisco treats.
Monkeys giggle above in the trees. The sun is scorching hot overhead. From the road, the jungle overgrowth suddenly parts to reveal the majestic domes of ancient Angkor Wat. Fragrant orange blossoms hang from the trees, matching the brilliant robes of the Buddhist monks who are seated around the temples. Welcome to the most important archaeological site in Southeast Asia. Spread out over 400 square kilometers, Angkor's Archaeological Park includes hundreds of temples of the Khmer Empire, dating from the 9th to the 15th century. Watch the sun set (or rise) over the magnificent Angkor Wat (the largest and most celebrated of the temples), gaze at the huge stone heads at Bayon, and walk through the mysterious calm of Ta Prohm, where trees' gnarled root systems are slowly overtaking the temples. (And after all, this was where Angelina Jolie's Laura Croft toted those big-- um-- guns on the set for Tomb Raider!!! Sweet.) Where to stay? Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, of course. With 60,000 sq meters of tranquil gardens, Cambodian art and architecture, and superb restaurants and spa.
Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, Official Site
Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, Five Star Alliance
December 3, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Half Moon, Montego Bay is celebrating the big 5-0 and has thus come up with some pretty sweet packages. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and space is available for the winter holidays, so why not book the "Take Me To The Moon" package? From $589 a night, includes swank accommodations, sumptuous food and—could it be?—unlimited beverage, unlimited use of the fitness center and tennis courts, a welcome gift with champagne, and round trip airport transfers. Chill on the palm-dotted beaches or in your choice of 50 freshwater pools, unwind at the spa, partake in the water sports, or challenge yourself on the world-class tennis courts and golf course. The dining options? For a self-contained little paradise, the restaurant choices are almost (surprisingly) limitless.
Half Moon, Official Site
Half Moon, Five Star Alliance
December 2, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
In July, the National Zoo welcomed a male panda cub-- Tai Shan. The little guy has been hanging safe with mom in a den for the first few months, before making his debut for visitors on December 8th! In collaboration with the Zoo-- in celebration of these cool creatures-- the Fairmont has put together a Panda Package. Come check out these endangered animals at the National Zoo, get pampered at the Fairmont, and feel good knowing that the hotel makes a donation to FONZ's Giant Panda Conservation Fund each time the package is booked. What's included? Overnight accommodations for two adults and two kids in a luxurious guestroom. A Zoo Welcome Kit with discount coupons, a stuffed Panda, zoo map, Giant Panda fact sheet, Kids' Giant Panda activity booklet, Panda postcard, Giant Panda video album CD, disposable FujiFilm camera, ticket for six people to the FujiFilm Giant Panda Habitat during your stay, copy of ZooGoer mag, and area dining guide.
The Fairmont Washington D.C., Official Site
The Fairmont Washington D.C., Five Star Alliance
Think Mexico for pre- or post-holiday recuperation! With 56 ocean view rooms, Casa del Mar is a hacienda-style resort set in lush gardens overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Play a round of golf at the Robert Trent Jones II designed championship course. Head to the spa for an outstanding signature treatment like the Tropical Exfoliation, where the skin is buffed with fine milled coffee and dried coconut, and then massaged with coconut massage oil. In the evening, dine under a poolside palapa. With the Relax 33 special package, save 33% off regular rates, starting as low as $269 a night for a Deluxe Oceanview Room. Offer good December 1-20, 2005, and January 2-15, 2006. Minimum 2 night stay required.
Scheduled to open on December 15, the new Ritz-Carlton is the most talked-about news of the season. This resort is destined to set new standards for luxury hotels, with an all-star cast contributing to the resort's conception: Greg Norman designed golf course, Tennis by Nick Bollettieri, two restaurants by Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, NYC, the world's first spa inspired by La Prairie's Silver Rain (did I mention that this is one of the Caribbean's largest?!), and an aquatic education program run by Jean-Michel Cousteau. The best part? There is still availability for December holidays! But hurry; book those rooms fast!
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Official Site
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Five Star Alliance
Check out these truly superb Top 10 lists-- best restaurants, walking tours, highlights, hotels-- from The Financial Times and Eyewitness Travel Guides. Their teaser: "Prepare to experience one of the most dramatic urban environments ever conceived."
The big daddy of prime Florida real estate… The Breakers is as mammoth in legend as is its luxury experience. The Italian Renaissance style hotel consists of 560 oceanfront rooms, on 140 acres smack in the middle of a private beach. Founded in 1896 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Breakers has got it all. Beach club, oceanfront spa, 36 holes of championship golf, 10 tennis courts, kids' programs, four oceanside pools, excellent restaurants. The icing on the cake? Truly superlative service.
PS A $15 million makeover has utterly transformed the beachfront, including ultra-lux bungalows available for daytime rental.
The Breakers, Official Site
The Breakers, Five Star Alliance
2006 marks Wolfgang's 250th birthday, and Austria is celebrating in style with an extensive calendar of events. The musical genius will be honored with new museums, operatic performances, extraordinary concert series, festivals and galas, expos and special exhibitions, all across the country. In Vienna--for example-- Mozart's big day will be marked by an open party for the whole city on January 27-29. He will be celebrated all over the city with music, films and readings on a variety of themes-- arranged in to five different tours (Mozart. Friends and Enemies; Mozart. Viennese and Cosmopolitan; Mozart. Art and Love; Mozart. Life and Death; and Mozart. Yesterday and Today). On each tour, visitors experience four different events and a special children's program. My favorite event? The Vienna Boys' Choir will give a concert in St. Stephen's Cathedral on January 27, featuring Mozart's most beautiful works of sacred music.