Tastes and Sights of Oahu – Jessica Griscavage

Our first four days in Hawaii were on the island of Oahu, often called “The Gathering Place.” This island offers a significant contrast between the ancient and modern. From the big city of Waikiki to the small towns of the North Shore, there is something for everybody and an island that shouldn’t be overlooked.

 
The island boasts some incredible hotels and resorts, including The Modern, Kahala, Halekulani, and Disney’s Aulani. We enjoyed hiking Diamond Head, boating with dolphins,  and of course experiencing the beach and resorts.
I must admit that one of my favorite reasons to visit Hawaii is the food. A long-term foodie dream of mine was to eat at Morimoto and I finally had the opportunity at The Modern in Waikiki. It was one of the best meals of my life. Somewhere between the tuna tartare and the Wagyu beef, I looked up and saw the legend himself… Morimoto! In his own restaurant! It was so exciting to see him and I must thank my friend and colleague Whitney for giving me a signed copy of his cookbook. I won’t bore you with every meal I’ve had so far, but between the brunch at the Halekulani and lunch at Rainbow Drive-In (featured in Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), I’m in heaven. After all this food I just might have to hike Diamond Head again.
Jessica and Morimoto himself!

You can read more about Jessica’s adventures here: http://jessicagriscavagejourneys.blogspot.com/

Viva Cuba – Nadine Jackson

In April, I went on a wonderful 6 night trip to Cuba. I urge anyone interested in Cuba to go now before everything changes!

at Fusterlandia

I am so glad to have experienced it now before commercialism takes over.  The country has such charm and so many positives: quality health care, free and excellent education resulting in the highest literacy rate in the world, easy access to good food, close knit families and communities, wonderful art and musical creativity, almost no drugs, crime, or homelessness, and friendly and open people.  Also the physical beauty of the island: beautiful beaches and countryside, well-preserved coral reef, great weather.

Restored Mercado

As our guide said, when describing Cuba, they always start with the phrase, “It’s complicated, but…”.  The negatives: dilapidated housing, poor plumbing, poor wages, lack of material goods and personal freedoms , very slow-or-no internet  – which seems to be a good thing – people talk with each other and kids play together).

At the  moment, the only way to visit Cuba from the US is on a People to People Cultural trip.  This is group travel at its best in my opinion.  Our group was 22 people and it was a perfect size.  We had a tour manager and a local guide. Our bus was very modern, clean and had a toilet onboard.  The roads were generally good.  Most important we made three to four “cultural” visits a day including an elementary school, an organic farm, an artist’s studio, another artist’s tiled-plastered neighborhood (think Gaudi), an after-school community center, a medical clinic, a biosphere reserve, a sculptor’s ceramics studio, Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, a cigar and rum store for tastings, and a neighborhood celebrating Afro-Cuban religion (Santeria). We ate at government run restaurants as well as paladars (run by local chefs).  Excellent food and drinks.
cigars and rum

The old town area of Havana (“La Habana Vieja”) has over 450 historical buildings from the 1600’s to the early 1900’s.  Many of these are in a very dilapidated condition and people actually have to live in them.  This is the sad part of their housing.  On the other hand, the buildings have been left because developers have not come in to demolish and rebuild.  The government is renovating as many as they can and it is very interesting to see the changes (many buildings have before and after photos posted on them). These are beautiful buildings and some are gloriously lit at night.
Gran Teatro at night

The old 1950’s era American cars are everywhere!  I thought there may be some in the Old Town, but they have been kept going and are freshly painted all over the country.  The owners have a real sense of pride in these relics of the past.

colorful cars

This was one of my best trips ever…I could have stayed much longer!

me with flower ladies

London Calling – Erin Green

This was my first trip to London, and I can tell you there is definitely no better way to experience a city than with the staff of Travel + Leisure!  I was participating in T+L’s London Travel Academy program that was hosted in association with Shangri-La Hotels  and Resorts.  Their new London hotel opened in September of 2014 and occupies several of the top floors of the Shard Building, the tallest skyscraper in Western Europe.  Every room has a fantastic view and comes with binoculars so you can take advantage of your unique vantage point. First activity on the agenda?  A helicopter tour up the Thames river.  What a way to get a feel for the layout of London!

 

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Room with a view!

 

Our first day was spent learning about the Shangri-La brand.  I was very impressed with their company philosophy of embracing strangers as one’s own… and I definitely experienced this for myself.  I felt as if everyone working in the hotel knew my name from the front desk to the doorman to the housekeeper!  I also enjoyed learning about their social responsibility campaigns.  Each property has it’s own project that they support.  For example, in London, they work with the Blackfriar’s Settlement which helps community members reach educational and professional goals that they may not achieve without a little assistance.

We had a great first day of touring, including visiting a gin distillery called Sipsmith in the Chiswick neighborhood, eating lunch at the George IV Pub which started operating in the 1830’s, and a private tour of Royal Albert Hall with a sneak peek into the Queen’s Box!

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The copper stills at Sipsmith

 

Wednesday was April Fool’s Day… and our hosts certainly fooled us!  We woke up for a day of touring “outside of London”.  Once on the bus, we were told that outside of London actually meant outside of England!  We were off to Paris for lunch!  Best surprise ever.  We took the Eurostar train which takes just under 2.5 hours.  We had business class seats which meant access to a very nice lounge at the station, very comfortable seating on the train, and drinks and a meal each way (although I tried to resist since we were off to one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had, I may have had a bit of champagne and croissant, after all it’s Paris!).  The Shangri-La Paris is housed in an exquisite, historical building (past residents include the Bonaparte family) and feels very Parisian, while still providing the exceptional Asian hospitality the brand excels in.  The Chinese lunch was outstanding, and the view from the suite’s balcony where the meal was served can’t be matched.

 

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A lunch to remember!

 

Our last day in London started with touring the amazing Borough Market which is just blocks from the Shard.  One of the 75 chefs from the hotel took us to meet their cheese and lamb suppliers.  The hotel does as much as it can to buy food locally, and the tour with the chef to see those stands is a fun experience for people of all ages. We wrapped up our evening with one last fantastic meal, a Guinness at the pub down the street, and sweet dreams in the bed I’m missing already.