Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Posted on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Akademik Shokalskiy

SMH Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefoto


 Herbert Ponting – the Terra Nova

Antarctic rescue musings by David McGonigal

No I’m not stuck in the ice

Thanks for all the queries but fortunately I’m not stuck near Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, awaiting rescue or evacuation. Rather I’m sweltering in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In my 100+ voyages to the Antarctic I’ve yet to be on a ship beset in ice (touching wood as I type). However, I’ve assisted in rescues and experienced much that the Southern Ocean can throw at you. So, since the Shokalskiy became stuck, I’ve been following the saga with great interest and here are a few observations. These are based on no more than the news reports everyone else has been seeing, too.

A summer of setbacks for Antarctic Science

Today (the morning of Tuesday 31 December) it looks like the decision has been made to take passengers and staff off the ship (by Chinese helicopter from the ice to the Aurora Australis), leaving just the Russian crew. That will take the drama out of the situation and allow the Chinese and Australian vessels to return to their resupply work for the summer science program  that runs on a very tight timetable during the short polar summer. This year looks set to be a setback for ongoing Antarctic science programs – by far the the biggest being that the US budget dispute was not resolved in time to allow US programs to run this summer and, more relevant for Australian science, my understanding is that the Aurora Australis left for the rescue attempt halfway through resupplying Casey Base.

Once there is just the 20 or so crew left on the Shokalskiy they simply wait until they can get free. That won’t be a problem for the crew – the ship normally carries months of extra provisions and Russian polar ships’ crews have done extended research in the past where they only returned home after more than a year at sea. The ship is their real home and I’ve worked with some who have been on the ship since it was built more than 20 years ago.

“Like an almond in toffee”

The Shokalskiy was built to ice-strengthened Russian specs in Finland in 1982. It’s Shuleykin-class so it’s quite small (1753 GRT) and sturdy. However, it’s getting quite old and several of the others in this class have been withdrawn from working in Antarctica. Ideally, the wind will change and the ice will scatter and the ship can escape. Or it will spend a while “like an almond in toffee” as one of Shackleton’s men put it. From what we hear, I don’t have much fear for its safety. The two main risks are that the ice will push it towards land or shoals or that an iceberg could collide with it. The sea ice that the ship is stuck in is moved mainly by the wind; icebergs, on the other hand, with their deep ‘keels’ are moved by ocean currents and sometime a large iceberg looks like an icebreaker plowing through sea ice.

I hope everyone has been impressed by the way the Chinese, French and Australian vessels rushed to the rescue?  That’s the seafarers’ code – to always aid a stricken vessel when it calls for assistance. However, once the people (and ship) are safe there’s the matter of who pays? This operation will have already directly cost millions of dollars (and many more in curtailed programs) so there will be a hefty bill. I’ve known rescuers to bill at exorbitant full commercial rates. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Down the line deeper questions will be asked. How and why did the ship get stuck? I have no idea but I bet there are rumours soon enough – and they will only be dispelled after a lengthy enquiry, if there is one.

Science, safety and tourism

For me, once the passengers, crew and ship are safe, the most worrying ramification will be the impact this has on Antarctic tourism. Antarctica is a continent run by the nations of the Antarctic Treaty “for peace and science”. There is provision for tourism and generally that operates in a safe and responsible way. Even so, many scientists regard tourism as a diversion and an unnecessary risk and some would like to see it limited or stopped. This incident will add to that pressure. Never mind that tourist ships often help scientific research programs and research bases, just as the science ships are helping a tourist ship right now. Antarctic tourists soon become and Antarctic advocates with an important role to play in promoting its preservation. The outcome of the next Antarctic Treaty meeting may be crucial to those of us who love Antarctica and love the opportunity to show it to travellers with a passion for the last great wilderness.


David McGonigal is an expedition leader in Antarctica who has visited it on more than 100 occasions. He heads back at the end of January 2014. He, with co-author Dr Lynn Woodworth, is the author of “Antarctica – the Complete Story”, “The Blue Continent” and “Antarctica – Secrets of the Southern Continent”.

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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience


On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.


I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.


* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?


  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.


Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?


In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?


© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.


Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.


*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario


  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.


There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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Good Advice – How to Travel Solo

Posted on Aug 30, 2013 | Comments Off on Good Advice – How to Travel Solo

8 Tips for Holidaying on Your Own



It’s an invigorating idea we’ve all pondered at some point — leaving everything behind to embark on a solo journey. Thanks to memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” and Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” traveling alone has a reputation for fostering self-discovery. Without the crutch of friends or family, we’re forced to interact with new people and motivate ourselves to try new things. We also have the freedom to build and change our own itinerary as we see fit, with no one to please but ourselves.

While the notion of unhampered exploration sounds thrilling, traveling alone still raises some concerns, like personal safety and vulnerability to criminals. But these potential risks shouldn’t discourage you from setting out on your own journey. To help you plan a safe and rewarding trip, U.S. New Travel has some advice on how to make the most of your unaccompanied adventure.

Choose Your Destination Wisely

Of course the first step to mapping out any solo adventure is picking your location. While safety is a top priority, it’s necessary to consider a few other key factors as well. Is the public transportation system easy to navigate? With no one to help you split the cost, is it affordable? Can you speak the language and easily connect with locals? Austin, Texas, is known for its budget-friendly attractions and low-cost accommodations, while Portland, Ore., offers a cool yet laid-back vibe with plenty of lush outdoor spaces. If you’re eager to venture beyond familiar borders, consider Sydney. Although a jaunt overseas will cost you, you’ll be greeted by English-speaking Sydneysiders and plenty of free attractions, including Coogee BeachSydney Harbour National Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

If you choose to travel internationally, make sure to consult the U.S. State Department to check for any travel warnings. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, devour as much information as you can about the city’s customs and languages. While you don’t need to be fluent in the local language, learning a few resourceful phrases (like “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and “can you help me?”) will go a long way.

Sign Up for Group Activities

To pre-emptively combat any pangs of loneliness and lend some structure to your solo adventure, sign up for tours or classes before you leave.Cooking classes provide a delectable glimpse into the new culture you’ll explore, along with a casual atmosphere to connect with like-minded foodies. If you’re visiting a foreign country, language classes also provide a laid-back environment to meet and learn with fellow travelers. But not all group activities need to be pre-planned: You can easily join in on an impromptu museum, food or wine tour once you’ve settled into your surroundings.

For a more structured experience, consider signing up for a group trip with a tour company like Abercrombie & Kent, which offers a set of guide-led vacations exclusively designed for those traveling alone. Though organized trips often come attached to pricey fees for single travelers, these trips offer built-in social interaction and pre-planned itineraries. Abercrombie & Kent boasts discounted fares for many of its late 2013 and early 2014 itineraries. If the discounts aren’t appealing enough, consider that these tours go to places you might not be able to reach on your own, like Mount Kilimanjaro and Antarctica.

Stay Connected

It may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your relatives and friends looped in on your travel itinerary will help allay their worries and build a safeguard should you find yourself lost or in harm’s way. If you’re traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department recommends enrolling in the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). With STEP, you’ll automatically receive timely, country-specific travel warnings and alerts, and have the ability to designate an emergency contact person. The program also helps U.S. citizens during natural disasters, civil unrest and personal emergencies, such as a lost or stolen passport. If you or your loved ones are having trouble contacting each another, STEP also makes it easy for consular officers in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to help you connect. Staying stateside? Use Facebook, Twitter, a personal blog or other social media platforms to keep your family and friends updated on your whereabouts.

[See: Best Travel Apps Under $3]

Pack the Necessities

With no one else to help you carry your luggage, it’s important to pack efficiently. But beyond that, it’s also important to pack a few essential items. For added security in your hotel room, bring a rubber door stop. Though most hotel rooms have deadbolts or chain locks, sticking a rubber stop underneath the door will lend you some added security (not to mention peace of mind). Also, ensure you have copies of all your travel documents in case anything gets lost or stolen. When you’re out and about, only carry the absolute essentials with you, and leave valuables in your hotel safe.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack a camera. Capturing picture-perfect photo-ops isn’t just a great way to document your trip. A camera also provides a worthy crutch for the introverts among us: instead of burying your head in a book, let a camera camouflage your timidity. Asking others to take your photo is also an easy conversation starter.

Follow Your Intuition

While traveling alone is a great excuse to breach the parameters of your comfort zone, it doesn’t mean you should completely let your guard down. Listen to your instincts: If something or someone feels off, approach the situation with a sense of excessive caution. If you’re taking a cab from your hotel, ask the hotel concierge to call a car to ensure you’re using a trusted company. Also, as a precaution, only withdraw cash from ATMs during the day in a busy area, and always head to back to your hotel at a reasonable time, before the streets empty out.

[See: How to Pack Light: 9 Tips to Lighten your Load]

Prearrange your Accommodations

Pre-booking your accommodations won’t diminish the carefree energy of your solo jaunt. You can still engage in some spur-of-the-moment detours, but with the added bonus that you’ve got a safe haven to retreat to every evening. Before booking your hotel or hostel, be sure to choose a place that’s well-reviewed and situated in a busy, centrally located area. If you’re unsure about the safety of the neighborhood, get in touch with the local police station for crime statistics; officers may also be able to give you some alternative suggestions.

Engage with Other Travelers

Part of the fun of solo travel is spontaneously connecting with people you meet along the way. Though it’s easy to strike up a conversation, you can expel any initial jitters by practicing at home. It seems simple, but going to dinner, seeing a movie or grabbing a drink at a bar by yourself will give you a better snapshot of what it will be like when you’re exploring on your own.

There are also websites that can facilitate the meet-and-greet process. For women, there’s, a site that allows female-only residents and travelers to create and search for meal invites and group activities in cities across the globe. The site was originally created to provide dinner companions for female travelers who didn’t want to eat alone, but over time the site has expanded to include other activities as well, like user-organized hikes and tours. If you’re more eager to tap into a local’s perspective, connects both male and female travelers with residents in more than 2,000 cities based on compatibility tests that match individuals based on different interests.

Take Time for Yourself

If the thought of group activities sounds too similar to your previous vacations, relish this alone time and discover the sights on your own. Ask the concierge for suggestions about safe and fun activities around the city, or grab a map and head to the top local landmarks. Should you grow tired of exploring a new city on foot, consider retreating to a nearby park or pamper yourself at a local spa.

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CNN’s view of 10 of the world’s best motorcycle rides

Posted on Aug 14, 2013 | Comments Off on CNN’s view of 10 of the world’s best motorcycle rides

An interesting post by CNN. Do you agree – or have other rides to add?

The original article is at:

By Christopher Baker, for CNN
August 13, 2013 — Updated 2325 GMT (0725 HKT)
Few activities offer the feeling of freedom, speed and adventure than a long trip on a motorcycle. Here are some of the top views to be had while biking the world.
Few activities offer the feeling of freedom, speed and adventure than a long trip on a motorcycle. Here are some of the top views to be had while biking the world.
  • Taking in France and Spain, the Pyrenees Loop is a favorite with European bikers
  • Dales and Moors in north England offer nonstop bends, fast straights, wild scenery
  • California’s Pacific Coast Highway takes in redwood forests, ocean cliffs

(CNN) — Nature’s beauty seems so much closer from the seat of a saddle.

Bikes offer a more intimate connection with the people of the places you pass through.

No wonder adventure motorcycling has grown massively in the last decade.

The 2004 “Long Way Round” and 2007’s “Long Way Down” TV documentary series (both featured Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s round the world rides) helped spark the trend.

In 2011, the Motorcycle Industry Council reported that sales of adventure touring bikes were up 14.2% across 12 major brands.

There are hundreds of scenic roads worldwide, but the greatest rides are spiced by the thrill of twisties and smooth hardtop where motorcyclists can crank open the throttle.

Here are 10 of the best rides worldwide, whether for a day out or a longer adventure.

All are in places where motorcycles can be rented or where tours are organized.

1. Ceuta to Marrakesh loop, Morocco

2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles)

Bikers on this route journey through an exotic realm of ancient kasbahs (citadels), souks (bazaars) and desert cultures.

After rolling off the ferry at Ceuta, riders switchback through the wild Rif Mountains to Fez, then traverse the Atlas Mountains (snow-capped in winter) to hit the Sahara at Erfoud.

More on CNN: 10 thing to know before visiting Morocco

Snaking west through the Todra Gorge, the route passes palm groves of Ouarzazate and the imperial city of Marrakesh.

Beyond, the Tizi n’Test Pass runs down to the Atlantic coast at Agadir.

It’s two days from here along blacktop to Casablanca, then the final 321 kilometers (200 miles) via Tangiers to Ceuta.

Edelweiss Bike Travel, +43 5264 5690

2. Pyrenees Loop, France and Spain

2,410 kilometers (1,500 miles), Bilbao to Biarritz

A head turner for its sensational scenery and mind-bending hairpins, this route is a favorite among European bikers.

From Bilbao you spin east on the N260 (a legendary biking road worming into the Pyrenees), hit La Seu d’Urgell, then wind north to Andorra, dropping back to Spain at Bourg-Madame for 48 kilometers (30 miles) of twisties coiling down to Ripoli.

At Figueres you can stop at the Dalí museum before rolling along the Mediterranean coast to France.

The D117 from Perpignan threads through narrow mountain passes to Col d’Aspin, with grin-inducing bends all the way to Biarritz.

Pyrenees Motorcycle Tours, +33 (0)5 62 45 08 11

3. The Great Ocean Road, Australia

Blue sky, white sand, red hot wheels.
Blue sky, white sand, red hot wheels.

290 kilometers (180 miles)

This one-day ride from Melbourne to Petersbrough winds through shoreline rainforest, skirts sensational surfing beaches and unfurls along the rugged Shipwreck Coast, renowned for limestone pinnacles piercing the sea like witch’s fingers.

More on CNN: World’s 10 ultimate drives

It’s a perfect northern winter ride.

Big Boyz Toyz, +61 (0)8 9244 4293

4. California and the American West

5,630 kilometers (3,500 miles), Los Angeles to San Francisco (the long way)

This undisputed champion of road trips weaves together many of the West’s iconic national parks.

From Los Angeles, Route 66 traces back in time to Arizona, the Grand Canyon and mesmerizing formations of Monument Valley.

More on CNN: 10 easy ways to experience Navajo Nation

Heading north, the road takes in Natural Bridges National Park, then arcing west takes in Bryce and Zion national parks.

You can twist the throttle across the Mojave Desert to Death Valley then skirt the snow-capped Sierra Nevada northbound to Lee Vining and Yosemite National Park — unrivaled in grandeur.

EagleRider Motorcycle Rental & Tours, +1 310 536 6777

5. Cape Town Circuit, South Africa

1,690 kilometers (1,050 miles)

Fantastic roads, amazing scenery and excellent climate — South Africa is perfect for a one- or two-week fly-ride vacation.

From Cape Town the wild coast heads east then the road turns north over the Olifantskip Pass to Addo National Park — a good chance to shoot big game with your camera.

A throttle-open ride across the Great Karoo to Oudtshoorn heralds dizzying switchbacks — via Route 62 — over the Little Karoo Mountains to sample the wines around Robertson before closing your loop in Cape Town.

Motorcycle Tours South Africa, +27 12 804 3805

6. Pacific Coast Highway, California

Tempting to stop at every turn.
Tempting to stop at every turn.

320 kilometers (200 miles), San Luis Obispo to San Francisco

No top 10 would be complete without this stellar ride.

Civilization disappears quickly as you dance a thrilling two-lane tango past seal-strewn beaches, redwood forests, plunging cliffs and the crashing surf of Big Sur.

Also en route — the fishing town of Monterey, the surfing capital of Santa Cruz, and everyone’s favorite city with a famous bridge, San Francisco.

EagleRider Motorcycle Rental & Tours, +1 415 647 9898

7. Dales and Moors, Yorkshire, England

440 kilometers (270 miles) from Kendal to Whitby

This one-day ride across North Yorkshire offers nonstop bends, fast straights, wild scenery and gentle vales dotted with market towns.

The A684 launches you over the Pennines to Hawes, gateway to the Yorkshire Dales National Park via Aysgarth to Leyburn.

Turn south here to Masham for Ripon and Thirsk, then over the heather-clad moors via Pickering to drop down to the peaceful fishing village of Whitby, where you can celebrate an exhilarating ride with fresh fish ‘n’ chips and a pint of ale.

White Rose Tours, +44 01423 770 103

8. Fjordland, Norway

450 kilometers (280 miles) Bergen to Andalsnes

The land of the Vikings is biking Nirvana. The road network takes in terrific switchbacks and awesome fjords — some crossed by ferries.

You begin in Bergen and head for Gudvangern where a ferry takes you through Naerlandsford, the world’s longest and deepest fjord.

Beyond Belstrand, you’ll need to drop gears as you climb over Gaularfjell to Moskog, then Stryn and Eidsdal, where a ferry links to the Trollstigen road, zigzagging crazily to deliver you exhilarated to Andalsness.

Edelweiss Bike Tours, +43 5264 5690

9. Istanbul to Anatolia, Turkey

Modern and ancient tech meet.
Modern and ancient tech meet.

2,980 kilometers (1,850 miles) Istanbul to Anatolia

Istanbul provides a superb starting point for an exotic circuit, taking in Cappadocia’s troglodyte houses, ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins and the beauty of the Black Sea and Taurus Mountains.

More on CNN: Best of Istanbul

A ferry across the Sea of Masmara links you to Bursa, then Safranbolu, and the eerie volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia, riddled with Christian churches.

A ride west via Konya to hit the Aegean coast — taking in the Greco-Roman town of Ephesus — closes the loop.

MotoDiscovery, +90 830 438 7744

10. Chasing Che, Cuba

2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles)

Chasing Che Guevara’s ghost down the highway of an enigmatic Communist island nation that resembles a Hollywood stage set is a thrill in itself.

Classic American cars and creaky ox carts are companions on your clockwise loop from Havana to Baracoa, with plenty of time for salsa, cigars and rum.

More on CNN: What to do in Havana

For five decades forbidden fruit, Cuba recently opened to U.S. citizens on licensed group motorcycle tours offered by Texas-based MotoDiscovery.

MotoDiscovery, +53 830 438 7744

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Come Hell or High Water – Part 1

Posted on Jun 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Come Hell or High Water – Part 1

Amabella at Durstein DSC_9339

Several cruise companies have had to cancel or change their river voyages, with widespread flooding still affecting large parts of Central Europe.

Viking River Cruises has cancelled two cruises along the Elbe River due to sail tomorrow (June 8). It had previously cancelled three cruises along the Danube on June 8, 9 and 12. All affected passengers had been notified and offered a full refund as well as a credit to be spent on future cruises, a spokesperson said.

Viking River Cruises stated that people booked on cruises after June 16 should assume their voyage would continue as normal.

Scenic Cruises, meanwhile, has altered two of its departures from Budapest. In a statement, it said: “It is our expectation at this time the ships will be unable to dock in Budapest on those dates. Instead the ships will be docking in another location that is in the process of being determined.”

River levels continue to be critical in several parts of Europe with thousands of Hungarians working through last night to reinforce banks along the River Danube.

Authorities in the country’s capital, Budapest, have warned of a record flood surge from the Danube, which is a particularly popular destination for river cruisers.

Earlier this week, 120 British passengers on the Filia Rheni cruise ship operated by Titan Travel were stranded on the Danube when it was unable to dock in Vienna. The company cancelled the remainder of the voyage. All passengers on board were disembarked yesterday and are being flown home today. A spokesman said all passengers had been given a full refund and offered a 15 per cent discount on future cruises. Several other sailings were also cancelled.

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36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

Posted on May 25, 2013 | Comments Off on 36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand


Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.


1. 3:30 p.m. | National Portraits

One highlight of the Auckland Art Gallery (Corner Kitchener and Wellesley Streets;; free), which reopened in September 2011 after a three-year expansion, is the gallery of turn-of-the-century portraits depicting Maori leaders, many with exquisite tattoos. The museum’s permanent collection, spread across four levels, also includes commissioned works from contemporary Kiwi artists. After a tour, stroll through the adjacent Albert Park or refuel with a Snickers cookie (3.50 New Zealand dollars, or $3 at 1.18 New Zealand dollars to the U.S. dollar) at the new Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar, two blocks from the gallery (12 Wellesley Street West;

2. 7 p.m. | Seafood Depot

Seattle has its Space Needle, while on the opposite side of the Pacific, Auckland answers with the Sky Tower — over 1,000 feet tall. But the most noteworthy action happening near this imposing landmark is at its base, at Depot (86 Federal Street;, a seafood-centric bistro. This new restaurant is invitingly rustic — ice-cold pewter water mugs, tall stools clustered around wood-plank tables — and the fresh seafood is top-notch. A recent meal started with some shucked-to-order oysters from Marlborough’s Tio Point, followed by spicy mussels with chorizo and garlic; kingfish sashimi cubes atop dollops of oyster cream; and sliders stuffed with hapuka, lemon mayo and watercress. Dinner for two, about 70 New Zealand dollars.

3. 10 p.m. | Britomart Bars

The once-derelict Britomart district near the port has recently transformed into a bubbling night-life hub with new bars and restaurants housed in handsomely renovated historic buildings. Start at Xuxu (Corner Commerce and Galway Streets;, an elegant French-Vietnamese-inspired hideaway serving inventive snacks and cocktails like the Chanh Bac Ha (rum, palm sugar and Vietnamese mint; 16 New Zealand dollars). Then stroll to the Japanese-themed bar Fukuko (48 Tyler Street;, which opened in December, for steamed pork buns (4.50 dollars) and shochu tonics flavored with spiced jasmine and green tea (9 dollars).


4. 9 a.m. | Walk to the Market

Wake up with a walk through the Auckland Domain, a sprawling 185-acre park southeast of the city center whose peaceful paths wind through wooded areas and around expansive swaths of grassy lawn. When hunger strikes, stray a block from the southern edge of the park to the Parnell Farmers’ Market (545 Parnell Road;, where stalls overflow with local products. Bite into a bacon-and-egg bap (sandwich) with spicy tomato sauce (5 New Zealand dollars) while listening to a musician strum a guitar, and then sample the goods at the Hakanoa Ginger Beer stand and the mouthwatering varieties at the NZ Cheeseman stall.

510:30 a.m. | Kiwi Culture

If you’ve ever wondered about Maori culture, what a kiwi bird actually looks like, or why Auckland’s streets are so hilly, visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum (Museum Circuit;, steps from the market on the edge of the domain. Don’t be fooled by the name: in addition to housing a war memorial, the museum features three floors of interactive exhibits that explain New Zealand’s history, geography, ethnography and culture, from prehistoric volcanoes (hence all those hills) and Maori tribal traditions to the nation’s uncommon flora and fauna.

6. 1 p.m. | Central Lunch

The inner-city suburb of Ponsonby is a charming neighborhood whose main drag, the mile-long Ponsonby Road, is lined with cafes, bars and boutiques. Late last year, Ponsonby Central (136 Ponsonby Road;, a new complex packed with small restaurants and shops, added to the area’s appeal even more with, among other places, a bakery, an organic market, a butcher and pocket-size dining spots doing a decent impression of a United Nations food court — sushi, Neapolitan-style pizza, Argentine barbecue. Inside the main building, you’ll find a fortuneteller, the booth of Ponsonby’s radio station, and, for lunch, the pleasant cafe Toru ( Try the cafe’s pressed sandwich of Serrano ham, melting Manchego and truffle butter, which comes with a pile of scrumptious crinkle fries (13.50 New Zealand dollars).

7. 3 p.m. | Domestic Design

Explore the rest of Ponsonby Road by seeking out the talented domestic designers who have set up shop here, like Juliette Hogan (170 Ponsonby Road;, whose floral-print suits and ladylike separates are elegant with an edge. Nearby at Kate Sylvester’s namesake boutique (134 Ponsonby Road;, eggshell-blue walls offset colorful fashions: red leopard-print pants, sheer emerald blouses, embroidered ink dresses. Find design of a different kind at the new pop-up poster and art-print shop Endemicworld (62 Ponsonby Road;, with works from up-and-coming graphic designers, artists and illustrators like the street artist Cinzah Merkens and Australian design studio Inaluxe.

8. 7 p.m. | Made by Meredith

Modern New Zealand cuisine is what’s for dinner at Merediths (365 Dominion Road;, a formal tasting-menu-only restaurant run by the chef Michael Meredith. Finding inspiration in cutting-edge culinary techniques, seasonal local products and his Samoan background, Mr. Meredith turns out multicourse feasts matched with fine wines, many from small domestic producers. In the cozy establishment, frosted windows and simple black-and-white décor ensure that all attention is directed toward the parade of plates, which during a recent meal included an inventive venison tartare with horseradish and smoked eel, and savory macarons made by stuffing duck and chicken liver pâté between beetroot-flavored meringues. Six-course tasting menu with matching wines, 160 New Zealand dollars.

9. 11 p.m. | The Golden Hour

After dinner, head to the Golden Dawn (134 Ponsonby Road;, a superb bar and music venue in Ponsonby where the vibe is a mix of laid-back surfer style and rockabilly glam. There’s an indoor pub with exposed brick walls and dark corners for intimate conversations, but it’s in the outdoor courtyard where the party really happens. There, amid hanging strings of colored lights and long pastel-blue picnic tables, local D.J.’s and rock ’n’ roll bands provide the soundtrack for the New Zealand night. So grab a draft beer from the excellent local Hallertau microbrewery — the #2, a refreshing pale ale with flavors of citrus and honey, is delicious — and prepare to hop and shimmy along with the friendly crowd.


107 a.m. | Summit Sunrise

A sunrise hike up Mount Eden, a dormant volcano that rises nearly 650 feet above sea level, will be rewarded with a priceless panorama. The view spans the entire isthmus that greater Auckland occupies, from Manukau Harbour to the south across to Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf to the north. While savoring the solitude at the summit, peer into the vast, sloping crater at your feet or scan the landscape for landmarks like the Sky Tower and One Tree Hill, another substantial volcanic mound that is crowned with an obelisk.

11. 11 a.m. | On the K Road

Compared with Ponsonby, the thoroughfare known as K Road — or Karangahape Road — has a quirkier, less polished atmosphere. The street’s Queen Anne-style buildings and neo-Greek facades once made up a seedy red-light district, but today, upstanding businesses have moved in. At the Theater Coffee Company (256 Karangahape Road;, have a gooey herb-and-cheese-stuffed omelet and thick slices of toast (16.50 New Zealand dollars) for breakfast beneath the narrow building’s original vaulted ceiling. Afterward, visit Iko Iko (195 Karangahape Road;, a cute nearby shop where shelves are stuffed with treasures, trinkets and Kiwi-kitsch — windup kiwi birds, kiwi-bird-shaped cookie cutters. Then swing by the new high-end clothing boutique Maaike + Co (Shop 18, St Kevin’s Arcade, 179-183 Karangahape Road; in a handsome shopping arcade to find stylish designs from the store’s own label, Maaike, and other fashionable New Zealand brands like Nyne and Kowtow.

12. 1:30 p.m. | Vineyard Views

For a glimpse of New Zealand’s bountiful natural beauty, take a 40-minute ferry ride across the aquamarine waters of the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island. This quiet 35-square-mile island, with its rolling hills and gorgeous coastline, is so visually inspiring that a growing number of artists have made Waiheke home. See their work at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery (2 Korora Road; or the newer Toi Gallery (145 Ocean View Road; Then retire to the scenic estate of Cable Bay Vineyards (12 Nick Johnstone Drive; overlooking the gulf for a glass of Waiheke Island viognier. The winery is one of many on the island, but the view from the backyard terrace — of the glittering water stretching toward Auckland in the hazy distance — is hard to top.


The stylish Hotel DeBrett (2 High Street; is a 25-room boutique hotel. Each room is individually decorated, but all contain a cool mix of furnishings, artworks and brightly striped carpets made of New Zealand wool and designed by the owner Michelle Deery. Doubles from 300 New Zealand dollars.

The Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour (21 Viaduct Harbour Avenue; opened in June 2012 with 172 luxurious rooms with balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious marble bathrooms. There are also two restaurants, a Champagne bar and a recently opened spa. Doubles from around 230 dollars.

New York Times Travel


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Airbnb ruled ‘illegal’ in New York

Posted on May 23, 2013 | Comments Off on Airbnb ruled ‘illegal’ in New York

Airbnb ruled 'illegal' in New York

New Yorkers hoping to rent their apartments to visiting tourists may face hefty fines after a judge effectively ruled the popular rental website Airbnb illegal.

Airbnb offers visitors to New York, and other cities, an alternative to a hotel stay Photo: AP

By Oliver Smith

9:06AM BST 22 May 2013

CNET, a technology news website, reported that Nigel Warren, a New York resident, had been fined $2,400 for violating the city’s hotel laws, after he rented out part of his apartment to a woman for three days in September.

A 2010 law – originally introduced to prevent landlords from purchased numerous apartments and turning them into de facto hotels – forbids property owners from renting out their homes for less than 30 days. Administrative Law Judge Clive Morrick ruled that Mr Warren had violated the law, despite Airbnb stepping in to defend his case.

The city said the apartment “may only be used as a private residence and may not be rented for transient, hotel, or motel purposes”, and issued the reduced fine of $2,400. He had orginally been told to pay $7,000.

It has been suggested that the law will only be enforced in the event of a complaint, but Airbnb urged authorities for clarification over the issue.

“This decision runs contrary to the stated intention and the plain text of New York law, so obviously we are disappointed,” it said in a statement. “But more importantly, this decision makes it even more critical that New York law be clarified to make sure regular New Yorkers can occasionally rent out their own homes.

“There is universal agreement that occasional hosts like Nigel Warren were not the target of the 2010 law, but that agreement provides little comfort to the handful of people, like Nigel, who find themselves targeted by overzealous enforcement officials. It is time to fix this law and protect hosts who occasionally rent out their own homes.

“Eighty-seven percent of Airbnb hosts in New York list just a home they live in — they are average New Yorkers trying to make ends meet, not illegal hotels that should be subject to the 2010 law.”

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Unknown wonders: Christmas Island

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on Unknown wonders: Christmas Island

Christmas Island is a shelter for cultural and environmental diversity. Flickr/Hadi Zaher

Australia is famous for its natural beauty: the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kakadu, the Kimberley. But what about the places almost no one goes? We asked ecologists, biologists and wildlife researchers to nominate five of Australia’s unknown wonders.

Christmas Island is a dot in the Indian Ocean. Like any isolated island, it is peculiar. But here this peculiarity is especially pronounced. It has a strange history, an odd culture and a remarkably distinctive biodiversity. Unfortunately, it is now best known to Australians simply as an entry point for refugees. Remoteness has that effect, of distorting truth and value.

Christmas Island is small (about 135km2) and little-populated (about 2,000 permanent residents). It has been settled only since the 1880s; for much of the period since then it was administered by the Straits Settlement (Singapore), with inclusion as an Australian territory only since 1958. Phosphate mining was the reason for its settlement, and has persisted as the main (sometimes only) industry ever since, leading to loss of about 25% of the Island’s rainforest area.


Christmas Island: a dot in the Indian Ocean, but important nonetheless. Photo by John Woinarski


Reflecting that history, its ethnic make-up is now mainly Chinese and Malay (arising from workers imported as “coolies”). The small community is remarkably vibrant and tolerant: there can’t be any other place in Australia with two public holidays per year celebrating Christian holy days, two for Muslim holy days and two for Chinese festivals.

The call to prayer rings out over the community from the small mosque; everyone is welcome at the Chinese festivals.

Christmas Island is old. It is a volcanic seamount island, rugged and isolated, rising more than 4km from the deep sea floor, with the nearest land being Java, about 360km distant. Over the long period of its isolation, these features have crafted a unique environment. It is characterised by high levels of endemism for many groups and idiosyncratic ecological structuring.

Most of its reptiles, native mammals, and terrestrial birds occur (or occurred) nowhere else; and nearly 200 invertebrate species are considered endemic. There are very few areas in Australia (indeed, in the world) that can match such narrow endemism.


Very few regions in the world can match Christmas Island’s narrow endemism, including the Christmas Island Frigatebird.ChrisSurman/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives


It is also a haven for seabirds, recognised internationally for such significance. It is the only breeding site for the threatened Abbott’s Booby and Christmas Island Frigatebird, and for the exquisitely beautiful golden-coloured subspecies of White-tailed Tropicbird (which graces the Island’s flag). These seabirds and others soar and float above the settlement, and nest in and around it. Fringing the Island is a rich coral reef, and its clear warm waters are home to more than 600 fish species, with regular visits by Whale Sharks.

These values would readily meet World Heritage criteria. But, except among some twitchers, keen to visit to build their Australian bird lists, these attributes are little known to most Australians. Instead, Christmas Island’s nature is known, if at all, mainly by reference to its land crabs. In staggering abundance, diversity and ecological potency, these are indeed remarkable.

Christmas Island is a haven for many species, including the threatened Abbott’s Booby. Christmas Island Tourism Association archives


The endemic Red Crab is the most conspicuous, with a population of at least 40 million. It is the Island’s ecological lynchpin, engineering the forest structure and productivity. It is everywhere; but spectacularly so in its annual breeding migrationfrom forest to sea, when the forest floor, roads and gardens become moving masses of crab: one of the world’s great animal migrations.


Perhaps Christmas Island’s most conspicuous creature: the Red Crab. JustinGilligan/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives


There are many other land crab species present, but none more strangely charismatic and enigmatic than the Robber (or Coconut) Crab, the world’s largest terrestrial invertebrate. This species, growing up to four kilograms, was formerly abundant on many other islands, but has been greatly reduced or lost from most places, and Christmas Island now represents its major stronghold.

For the Robber Crab and other species, laws, large areas of retained native vegetation, limited human population, and a large national park (comprising 63% of the Island area) offer unusual levels of protection. But problems for Christmas Island’s biodiversity are more insidious and deep-rooted.

Christmas Island’s Coconut Crab is the largest terrestrial invertebrate in the world. Flickr/BlueBec


Reflecting the dominance of the phosphate mining industry over its settled area (and consequential disregard for its natural values), the Island has had little or no quarantine or biosecurity system. It has been the fate of most islands worldwide, with impacts often pronounced and fatal because of small island size (and consequently small and tenuous populations of endemic species). Once the isolation that has moulded the biota is breached, that biodiversity may be doomed.

Now, the Island supports nearly as many introduced as native species, and the introduced species include many of the world’s most pernicious invaders.

The most problematic is the Yellow Crazy Ant. Fuelled in part by resources provided by super-abundant invasive scale insects, it forms immense supercolonies within which all Red Crabs (and much other biodiversity) are destroyed.

Invasive Giant Centipedes, Giant African Landsnails, geckoes and Wolf Snakes compete with or consume native species.


Christmas Island’s native species, including the iconic Red Crab, are threatened by introduced pests. JustinGilligan/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives


Such loss in turn disrupts the narrowly-based ecological functionality, leading to “invasional meltdown” or ecological collapse. The most recent manifestation of this collapse, in 2009, was the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (reducing the original complement of five endemic mammal species to just one species known to have persisted). Others will follow: the Christmas Island Forest Skink is known now from only one individual, eking out its solitary existence in a cage.

These problems are being addressed, by intensive and extensive baiting which temporarily reduces the number of crazy ants, by captive breeding for two endemic reptile species now almost lost from the wild, and by research that aims to find more enduring and effective methods for control of some of the pests and weeds. But the challenge is immense.

This is a most remarkable isolated world. In such a small place there is so much that is unique, inspiring and wonderful. It has existed little changed for millions of years; but its natural environment is now dissolving at a rapid rate. It will bring you much delight and sorrow.

Read the whole series here.


The stunningly beautiful Golden Bosun’s elegant form graces the Island’s flag. Until recent control efforts, its many nests in and around the settlement had been heavily predated by cats and rats. Tony Palliser/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives



Map of Christmas Island Google Maps
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10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on 10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier's cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier's most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

 Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier’s cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.
By Lara Brunt, for CNN
May 8, 2013 — Updated 0945 GMT (1745 HKT)
  • Cafés are where Moroccan men socialize, gathering to drink sweet mint tea
  • Cumin is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui
  • Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa
  • Morocco’s souks teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters

(CNN) — Rainbows of color, spice-market smells, an urban orchestra of sounds: Morocco can be overwhelming at first.

Lying 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from the coast of Spain, the North African country mixes Middle Eastern magic, Berber tradition and European flair.

Tourism has more than doubled since 2002, to nearly 10 million visitors in 2011. King Mohammed VI wants to increase the annual visitor numbers to 18 million by 2020.

The royal ruler’s strategy is underpinned by infrastructure development, making traveling around the country even easier.

Add to this a program of ongoing social, political and economic reforms, and Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region.

Cafes dominate life in Tangier

Cafes are the key place to socialize, for Moroccan men at least. They gather to drink sweet mint tea and watch people as they go about their affairs.

The northern port city of Tangier has a history of literary bohemianism and illicit goings-on, thanks to its status as an International Zone from 1923 to 1956.

The Interzone years, and the heady decades that followed, saw writers, rock stars and eccentrics flock to the city’s 800-plus cafés.

Two must-visit spots: Cafe Hafa (Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi), overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

Smoky and slightly edgy, Cafe Baba (1 rue Sidi-Hosni) is the coolest spot in the Kasbah. A photo of Keith Richards, kif-pipe in hand, still adorns the grimy walls.

Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims

Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.

While very few Moroccan mosques are open to non-Muslims, one exception is the towering Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah; +212 522 22 25 63).

Located on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque was completed in 1993 and can hold 105,000 worshipers inside and out.

Tradition and technology sit side by side, with colorful zellij (mosaic tiles), intricate stucco and carved cedar complementing the retractable roof and heated flooring.

If you can’t make it to Casa, Marrakech’s 16th-century Ali ben Youssef madrassa-turned-museum (Pl Ben Youssef; +212 524 44 18 93) is open to all and also features impressive Islamic design.

Multilingual Moroccans will put you to shame

Arabic is the official language, but you\'ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.
Arabic is the official language, but you’ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.

Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence, reflecting the cultures — Berber, Arab, French and Spanish — that have crisscrossed the country.

Arabic is the official language, and you’ll hear the Moroccan dialect, Darija, spoken on the street.

French continues to be widely spoken in cities; foreigners are often addressed in this first. Spanish is still spoken in Tangier.

There are also three main dialects spoken by the country’s Berber majority: Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit.

You’ll be able to get by with English in the main tourist hubs, although “La, shukran” (“No, thank you” in Arabic) is one phrase to master.

Don’t get stuck in Marrakech

Marrakech is justifiably popular, but there’s so much more.

Fez tops the list for its maze-like medina, fabulous foodie scene and annual Festival of World Sacred Music.

For a slice of the Sahara, there’s the desert town of Merzouga, near the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes, accessible via camel treks.

Active types can hike between Berber villages in the High Atlas or head to the blue-hued Andalusian town of Chefchaouen to explore the Rif Mountains.

Beach bums will love laid-back Essaouira and Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, while surfers often head south to Taghazout.

For quiet contemplation, Morocco’s holiest town, Moulay Idriss, is hard to beat. Plus, you’ll have the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis pretty much to yourself.

If you don’t like cumin, you may starve

Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. This pungent powder is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slow-roasted lamb).

Cumin is used as a condiment on most Moroccan tables, along with salt and chili. It’s also a popular natural remedy for diarrhea.

“Cumin has anti-parasitical properties, so if you’ve got an upset tummy, a spoonful of cumin knocked back with water will help,” said food guide Gail Leonard with Plan-It Fez.

Trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable

First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.
First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.

Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa, making it the easiest way to travel between cities.

It’s worth paying extra for first class, which comes with a reserved seat and A/C.

First class carriages have six-seat compartments or open-plan seating. Stock up on snacks, or buy them onboard, as it’s customary to share food.

When it comes to traveling to smaller towns and villages, buses and grand taxis, usually old Mercedes sedans that can seat six (at a squash), are best.

Couscous is served on Fridays

You’ll see it on every restaurant menu, but traditionally, couscous is served on Fridays, when families gather after prayers.

This is because the proper (not packet) stuff takes a long time to prepare.

Coarse semolina is hand-rolled into small granules to be steamed and fluffed three times. It’s pale in color, deliciously creamy and served with vegetables and/or meat or fish.

Bread is the staple carb and is served with every meal, except couscous.

It’s baked in communal wood-fired ovens, one of five amenities found in every neighborhood (the others being a hammam, or bathhouse; a drinking fountain; a mosque and a preschool).

Riad rooftops rock

The traditional Moroccan house (riad) is built around a central courtyard with windows facing inwards for privacy.

They’re decked out with elaborate zellij, stucco and painted cedar and are easily the most atmospheric places to stay.

While Moroccans tend to use their rooftops as clotheslines, a riad roof terrace is the place to be come sunset.

In Marrakech, Italian-designed Riad Joya (Derb El Hammam, Mouassine Quarter; +212 524 391 624; has prime views of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret, while five-star La Sultana (403 rue de la Kasbah; +212 524 388 008; overlooks the Atlas Mountains.

Top picks in Fez are the bohemian Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissi, Sieje, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, +212 649 191 410; and its suntrap terrace, while Dar Roumana (30 Derb el Amer, Zkak Roumane; +212 535 741 637; has sweeping views of the world’s largest living medieval Islamic city.

When you hear balak!’ watch out

The narrow streets of Morocco\'s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.
The narrow streets of Morocco’s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Morocco’s souks are not for the faint-hearted. The narrow streets teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Rule No. 1 is to step aside when you hear “Balak!” It means there’s a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you.

You’ll inevitably get lost, as maps don’t usually include the warren of small alleys that make up the medina.

A guide can help you get your bearings and fend off touts, but be aware that anything you buy will have his commission built in to the price.

Alternatively, taking snaps of landmarks with your smartphone can help you find your way back to your accommodation.

It’s not weird to be bathed by a stranger

There are plenty of posh hotel hammams, but nothing beats a visit to a no-frills public bathhouse.

Spotting the entrance can be tricky, as most signs are written in Arabic. Look for a shop selling toiletries or a mosque, as these are usually nearby.

It’s advisable to stock up on black olive oil soap, ghassoul (clay used as hair conditioner), a kiis (exfoliating glove) and a mat to sit on. Visitors need to take their own towels, comb and flip-flops.

Women strip to their knickers (no bra), and men wear underpants. Then you’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummeled until you’re squeaky clean.

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36 Hours in Las Vegas

Posted on May 18, 2013 | Comments Off on 36 Hours in Las Vegas

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

Clockwise from top left: Yoga Among the Dolphins; Spa & Salon at Aria; Hyde Bellagio; and the Neon Museum. More Photos »

Published: May 9, 2013

From a tourism perspective, Las Vegas is ever the chameleon. New restaurants, shows, clubs and hotels are constantly reinventing Sin City with the aim of getting repeaters back to the tables. Big construction projects continue, and there are currently two competing Ferris wheels under construction on the Strip. But lately, developments have eschewed kitschy copies of foreign landmarks like an Egyptian pyramid in favor of celebrating Las Vegas’s own swinging style, as indicated by two new downtown museums. Yes, traffic still snarls the Strip, but a new terminal at McCarran International Airport has eased congestion for fliers.


3 p.m.
1. Buy or Browse

Las Vegas shops make up a parade of high-end global brands designed to tempt high rollers. The Crystals at the CityCenter mall (3720 Las Vegas Boulevard South; fits the mode with swimsuits from Eres, clothing from Stella McCartney and accessories from Porsche Design. But the center, with sharp and soaring angles, designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind to resemble a quartz crystal, has an artistic side too. Pick up a free CityCenter Fine Art walking tour brochure from the concierges at Aria and Vdara, the two neighboring resorts, for a self-guided tour of the public art collection in and around the building, including a sculpture by Henry Moore; “Big Edge,” a stack of boats wired in a web, by the artist Nancy Rubins; and several ice pillars that slowly melt each day, only to be refrozen each night, from the designers of the Bellagio fountains.

6 p.m.
2. Prix Fixe Perch

Since Wolfgang Puck arrived in 1992, celebrity chefs have flocked to the Strip. But most local observers agree that the food scene didn’t really improve until the French guys arrived — the chefs Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy, principally, who showed up in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Their namesake restaurants remain bastions of formality, but L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South;, the 33-seat à la carte restaurant next door to Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand, offers a more affordable meal and relaxed setting. Reserve a seat at the black granite bar to watch the executive chef, Steve Benjamin, and his team prepare dishes like quail stuffed with foie gras ($47) or steak tartare with frites ($41).

9:30 p.m.
3. Circus Circuit

Move over, showgirls. Cirque du Soleil dominates the Strip show scene with seven shows up and running right now; its eighth will be the highly anticipated “Michael Jackson One,” opening in June at Mandalay Bay. The new “Zarkana” (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South; at the Aria Resort & Casino loosely follows a magical ringmaster visiting a haunted theater with trapeze artists, jump ropers and strongmen thrown in. The adults-only “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South; offers circus arts under an outdoor big-top tent along with tightrope walkers, a chair-balancing act, some nudity and lots of risqué humor.


8:30 a.m.
4. Downward Dolphin

Las Vegas is a multitasking kind of town. It’s only fitting, then, that while you practice yoga, you should be able to watch dolphins. That’s the combination offered in the hourlong Yoga Among the Dolphins ($50) at the Mirage Las Vegas (3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South; Students adopt yoga poses in a subterranean room with glass windows looking into the dolphin pools in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, housing several curious bottlenose dolphins who peer through the glass at you while you hold your Warrior I position. Class concludes with a free smoothie and, if you’re lucky, a chance to see the dolphins in training from the pool deck on your way out.

11 a.m.
5. All That Glows

Before the Strip’s Eiffel Tower replica and pseudo Manhattan skyline, Las Vegas marketed itself via neon signs. The Neon Museum downtown (770 Las Vegas Boulevard North;, which opened an expanded campus in October, celebrates the showy signage in a collection of more than 150 pieces, most still vibrant though not operational in their resting place in the outdoor “Neon Boneyard.” Enter the former motel-turned-museum-lobby, to sign up for a guided tour that departs every half-hour ($18). Casino castoffs include signs from the Golden Nugget, Binion’s and the defunct Stardust and Moulin Rouge; a bright yellow duck that once advertised a used car lot; and a “Free Aspirin & Tender Sympathies” sign used to market a gas station.

12:30 p.m.
6. Made Men

Another downtown newcomer, the year-old Mob Museum (300 East Stewart;, covers a more notorious aspect of Las Vegas history. Occupying a 1933 former federal courthouse and post office where one of the anti-Mafia Kefauver Committee hearings was held, the Mob Museum lays out the history of organized crime across America with interactive exhibits, including the chance to simulate firing your own tommy gun. Eventually it narrows its focus to Las Vegas, where a number of crime syndicates funneled their energies after legal crackdowns elsewhere. The tour through the three-story building thoughtfully offers the squeamish a chance to opt out of some of the more graphic galleries, featuring photos of mob hits, and winds up in a theater screening a documentary, narrated by the author Nicholas Pileggi, on Hollywood’s fascination with gangsters.

2 p.m.
7. Go Fish

When the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened in late 2010, it doubled down on dining, luring chefs better known regionally than nationally to open restaurants. The results have been delicious, but one particularly stands out as a mandatory lunch spot: Estiatorio Milos (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South; A spinoff of the Greek seafood-focused restaurants run by the chef Costas Spiliadis in Montreal, New York and other cities, Las Vegas’s Milos serves a three-course prix fixe lunch ($22.13) that manages to be relatively healthy in a town that equates fine dining with excess. In the sunny room overlooking the Strip, start with the grilled octopus (an extra $10), move on to the grilled whole bass with lemon and olive oil and finish up with the walnut cake. You’ll still be ambulatory for the next stop.

4 p.m.
8. Dip or Strip

Poolside clubs known as day clubs have become the afternoon indulgence du jour at hotels up and down the Strip, primarily patronized by the trim and toned under-30 set. At Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas, you can party with the bikini-clad, water-gun-armed crowds at Liquid Pool Lounge (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South;; admission varies). Or seek serenity in the 81,000-square-foot Spa & Salon at Aria (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South;arialasvegas), the largest and newest spa facility on the Strip with a whopping 62 treatment rooms. Spa-goers have access to the well-equipped fitness center as well as heated stone beds, a salt room designed to improve respiration, a steam room, a sauna and an outdoor pool (though it overlooks Liquid and can be anything but tranquil during club hours). Big spenders can splurge on spa suites that feature private whirlpools ($40 an hour, three-hour minimum, plus required spa services). Treatments range from traditional therapeutic massages (from $110 for 25 minutes) to the more exotic Thai poultice massage ($200 for 50 minutes).

8 p.m.
9. Omakase Hour

The chef Nobu Matsuhisa and partners recently opened their own hotel-within-a-hotel in a separate tower at Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino. Anchoring the Nobu Hotel just off the Caesars casino floor is the largest branch yet of Nobu restaurant (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South; Cushion-like fixtures that hang above the dining room like U.F.O.’s emit flattering light. Single-sex party packs tend to gather in circular banquettes, solos slide in at the sushi bar and couples dominate the tables in between. The vast menu encompasses tiradito (Peruvian raw fish salad) and ceviche, wagyu steaks and brick-oven-baked chicken, skewered meats and, of course, sushi. For easy ordering, go straight for the greatest-hits signature omakase menu ($125) featuring a succession of dishes from salads to dessert including the chef’s famous miso black cod.

10 p.m.
10. Club House

There are limitless places to party in Las Vegas, where one-upmanship drives an escalating cycle of openings. For drinks overlooking the dancing fountains at the Bellagio resort, the year-old Hyde (3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard South;, designed in sleek style, morphs from sunset cocktail calm to late-night bash, drawing the young and the beautiful. It’s got new competition from the just-opened Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub in the MGM Grand (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South; The 80,000-square-foot hybrid sprawls over five levels. Three of them are devoted to nightclubbing, with spaces of varying moods, from an intimate lounge to an outdoor pavilion and a main dance floor overlaid by a weblike cage. A roster of well-known D.J.’s including Calvin Harris, D.J. Tiësto and Steve Aoki have signed on to perform multiple dates over the summer.


10:30 a.m.
11. Muscle Bound

To the city that sells itself on wish fulfillment comes the latest in dream drives, the American Muscle Car Driving Experience. The company World Class Driving (4055 Dean Martin Drive; currently stables a series of classic car models including the Mustang Shelby GT500 and the Dodge Challenger SRT8 that are new issues of retro models and designed to appeal to your inner teenager. Traveling as a caravan, drivers can take them to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (State Road 159;, 23 miles west of the Strip, for a 30- or 50-mile drive (from $299 a person). The posted speed limit is 50 m.p.h., but as the director of operations Darren Strahl said on a recent test drive, “We put the ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ rule in effect.”



A version of this article appeared in print on May 12, 2013, on page TR9 of the New York edition with the headline: 36 Hours | Las Vegas.
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