What a great place to stay! Two room suites, free made-to-order breakfast and complimentary drinks!
The Embassy Suites Anaheim South is literally walking distance to Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney as it is only one mile away. There is a frequent and inexpensive shuttle every thirty minutes to Disneyland. You can get tickets and information in the lobby of the hotel about Disney, and “the Southern California CityPass (a low-price ticket to Southern California attractions, including Disneyland® Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood™, SeaWorld® Adventure Park, the world-famous San Diego Zoo® and San Diego’s Wild Animal Park®).”
The atrium is open all the way up the twelve levels. Enjoy complimentary cocktails at the Evening reception and the outdoor pool and hot top. The fitness and business centers are open all day and night. I stayed at the Embassy Suites South Anaheim for two nights. I walked from the hotel to The Anaheim Gardenwalk for lunch. Google maps said it was a 6minute drive by car and only just over a miile to walk. I had a lovely sunny stroll. After lunch at Cheesecake Factory, I wandered over to Downtown Disney. I had no idea that Elsa & Anna have their own store! The LEGO store creations were a real highlight! WOW! I am impressed what people can do with Legos! Video: Walking in Anaheim: The GardenWalk, Downtown Disney, Fountains at Anaheim Convention Center I like the sound of the waterfall and sitting next to the Koi Pond at breakfast. The chef made my omelet perfectly. Free Made-to-Order Breakfast at Embassy Suites is #PrettyGreat! What can you have for breakfast at Embassy Suites? Made to order eggs and omelets Potatoes and breakfast meats Cereals and oatmeal Fruit and Yogurt Bakery items: muffins, doughnuts, toast, bagel pancakes or french toast (depends on the day) Juice, milk, coffee Video: Free Made to Order Breakfast at Embassy Suites is #PrettyGreat
I loved my stay in a suite with a view of the pool and the Getty Center. It was a perfect staycation in Los Angeles paired with amazing dining experiences. I learned to cook souffle with Chef Olivier, ate an incredible meal at On Sunset and had breakfast on my balcony. I can highly recommend it all. It is exceptional to be so relaxed literally steps from the 405! I have had a wonderful spa treatment here as well.
From the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel website: “Set on 7 palm tree-filled acres between Bel-Air and Brentwood, this refined hotel is 1.4 miles from the Getty Center museum and 1.8 miles from the Geffen Playhouse Theater. Serene quarters with some midcentury-style furnishings offer free WiFi and 24-hour room service, plus flat-screen TVs, custom duvets and patios (some rooms). Suites add living areas and airy bathrooms, some with whirlpool tubs. Amenities include a fitness center, a day spa (fee) and a heated outdoor pool. The restaurant offers French-influenced California fare in an elegant dining room or on the relaxed patio, and there’s a lounge serving custom cocktails and small plates.”
#LuxeExperience: Making Chocolate Souffle with Chef Olivier
Chef Olivier taught me to make a Chocolate Souffle at Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel! I enjoyed being in the kitchen with him and learning about using the best chocolate. We talked about moderation and choosing top experiences.
I have been fortunate to stay at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel as well as the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Please enjoy
all my videos from Luxe Experience Hotels: which include the Spa at Luxe Sunset Boulevard, an incredible suite at Luxe Sunset Boulevard, the penthouse at Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel and learning to make special “Beverly Hills 90210″ cocktails on Rodeo Drive!
As the website states: “Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel’s fashionably designed choice for Bel Air dining, On Sunset, presents the celebrated cuisine of Executive Chef Olivier Rousselle. Known for discriminating taste, our menus feature seasonal California fare with a splash of French influence, making us a standout among Bel Air restaurants. Bel Air fine dining is available al fresco on the comfortable and luxurious patio or indoors in the main dining room. Dine with us and experience one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles.” I loved my dinner and have a video just of the special choices that Chef Olivier sent to me. Let them eat cake
Wondering where to celebrate in Los Angeles? Bring your party to Barton G for a night of tempting tasty morsels presenting in a way you never imagined! This place will inspire you to play with your food.
Barton G arrived in Los Angeles in June 2014 and is fine dining joined with fun dining. Each meal is a memorable experience, which fulfills all the senses with enticing fragrances, extraordinary food and over-the-top presentations. After years of success on South Beach in Florida, the restaurant created by Barton G. Weiss is now also on La Cienega in Los Angeles.
Whether it is your birthday, anniversary or just a regular day, you will remember you night at Barton G!
October 28, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA – On Friday, October 31, 2014, British American Business Council Los Angeles (BABC LA), will host its Distinguished Speaker Series Breakfast and Business Networking Mixer at the Le Grand Trianon Room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210) from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
The event will feature British Ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, KCMH, LVO who will be speaking on “The UK Perspective on the Current International Agenda”. Given major global issues from Syria and ISIS to the current dispute over the EU surcharge to the UK this is an important Breakfast. Sir Westmacott was appointed Ambassador to the United States in January 2012 and has previously served as the British Embassy’s Counsellor for Political and Public Affairs in the mid-1990s.
Well established, holding a strong history in the British Diplomatic Service, Sir Westmacott served as the British Ambassador to France from 2007 to 2011 – and as Ambassador to Turkey starting in 2002. The Senior British Diplomat has a history of forty-years in the service, including postings in Tehran and Brussels, time as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Director for the Americas, and a seat on the board of the Foreign Office as Deputy Under Secretary.
In addition to hearing from the distinguished Sir Westmacott, guests will be treated to exclusive business networking opportunities and captivating breakfast discussion.
About the British American Business Council:
The BABC LA is part of the largest transatlantic business network, with 23 chapters and2,500 member companies, including many of the world’s largest multinationals, based in major business centers throughout North America and the United Kingdom.
Dynamite Roll with Tempura Shrimp, Spicy Mayo, and Sesame Seeds
Filet Oscar Style
Sea Scallops, Parmesan Risotto, English Peas, Citrus Vinaigrette
Berries & Bubbles
Made with Belvedere citrus vodka, marinated blackberries, house made sour and Domaine Chandon
Ahi Tuna Tartare with Avocado and Ginger Ponzu
Alaskan King Salmon with Lobster Gnocchi, Spring Peas and Lemon Jus
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF – October 28, 2014– Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is thrilled to announce that its award-winning modern American supper club Ocean Prime has officially opened today in Beverly Hills, Calif. Its first foray into Southern California, Ocean Prime is located at 9595 Wilshire Boulevard at the apex of Wilshire, Dayton Way and Camden Drive. Serving lunchMonday through Friday and dinner nightly, Ocean Prime offers guests the highest quality seafood, steaks, handcrafted cocktails and award-winning wines.
“We are excited to unveil a new culinary experience in the Beverly Hills community,” said Cameron Mitchell, Founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. “The menu features some of Ocean Prime’s signature items including filet mignon Oscar style and Chilean sea bass, as well as new additions inspired by the West Coast such as fresh, hand-rolled sushi.”
Executive Chef Matt Briggs, and General Manager, Stephen Cook, bring a combined four decades of service experience to Ocean Prime, and are already immersed in the Los Angeles community, having worked and lived here for many years.
The Ocean Prime Beverly Hills menu pairs the freshest seafood with the finest prime steaks and features the highest quality ingredients available. Made from scratch dishes showcase simple, pure and regional flavors unique to the Los Angeles culture and area.
Some signature dishes include the seared ahi tuna with roasted marble potatoes, fava beans, mushrooms and truffle jus; and Alaskan king salmon with lobster, gnocchi, spring peas, and lemon jus. New menu items include a sushi menu that includes a lobster roll with kiwi, pickled jalapeno, masago, and spicy mango puree; and hamachi crudo with seaweed salad, pickled mango, sesame ginger vinaigrette, and cilantro. To view the full menu, please click here.
“Our chef team and I have developed a fresh and locally sourced ‘features program’ for our menu that will utilize local farmers markets as well as the seasonal fish that is sourced directly from the California coast,” said Briggs.
ICRAVE, an internationally renowned experiential design firm based in New York City, was tapped to design the space. Taking inspiration from the glamour and panache of Beverly Hills and the local Californian lifestyle, the result is a timeless design; elegant, cool and sexy.
Spanning 11,400 square feet, Ocean Prime seats 350 guests and provides both cozy nooks, and open, bustling areas, all in the heart of Beverly Hills and just steps from Rodeo Drive.
Upon entering Ocean Prime, to the right is a sprawling terrace ideal for an al fresco power lunch or intimate dinner date. It is lined by lush landscaping, a unique fire element, and offers intimate white leather booths and soft seating with comfy pillows in a palette of light creams and blues. The terrace also boasts a large glassbox bar, the only of its kind in Beverly Hills, ideal for cocktails or communal dining. The glassbox bar is clad with premium wine bottles and a massive, internally illuminated wood barback, evoking a simplistic opulence.
To the left, enter the lounge and bar, which has a welcoming, relaxing space for guests to enjoy expertly prepared cocktails handcrafted by Ocean Prime’s talented bar chefs.
The design gets progressively darker, moodier, and sexier as the main bar wraps back further into the dining space and becomes a sushi bar. Once guests arrive in the main dining room, they’re greeted by a view into the flames and action of the open kitchen, as well as surrounded by storefront-like windows that peek into three private dining rooms. Walls are lined with black and white artwork featuring classic Hollywood stars, commissioned by Artists Jordan Clark, Lola Dupré, and Jenny Sharaf. Dark wood tables and rich leather seating juxtapose the surprisingly chic, industrial hanging light fixtures that are suspended above the dining area.
Throughout the restaurant warm oak floors and walls are paired with exposed brick accents, and ceiling-to-floor glass doors lead out to the terrace.
The restaurant offers a private backdoor entrance should any guest seek complete anonymity.
Inspired by Mitchell’s Ocean Club, which Cameron Mitchell Restaurants opened in 2006 in Columbus, Ohio, Ocean Prime first opened in 2008 in Troy, Mich. The restaurant has since expanded to 11 locations nationwide in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Orlando and Tampa, Fla. Future locations are planned to open in New York City in spring 2015.
Hours of operation: Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, from 4p.m. to 7 p.m. Reservations can be made by phone 310.859.4818 or online.
When Richard Bangs invited me to travel to PUERTO RICO to film with Orbitz and the Puerto Rican Tourism Board: I SAID YES! Please enjoy Richard’s article about our journey and the many videos from our visit! Lisa
When Christopher Columbus made landfall in Puerto Rico during his second trans-Atlantic voyage, in 1493, a young Spanish nobleman, Ponce de León, some scholars believe, was on board.
Rumors of hefty quantities of gold brought Ponce de Leon back, in 1508, where he found an islet with an excellent harbor he named Puerto Rico, or Rich Port. This would become the name of the island, while the town was renamed San Juan. He didn’t find gold, but was named first governor of the new territory, and when he heard stories from Taino Indians about a magical fountain whose waters would rejuvenate those who drank from it, he decided he would seek immortality. Can we fault him?
Today, locals claim the mineral-rich waters at Coamo, about 10 miles east of Ponce in the south of Puerto Rico, are in fact the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon sought, though perhaps he didn’t soak long enough, as an arrow squelched his eternity in 1521. But that the belief of the fountain’s powers still exist is evident in its current pricing. Anyone over 65 is free, the theory being, I suppose, that if the wayback waters work, the free-soaking seniors will soon be back as paying customers.
There is something persistently youthful about Puerto Rico. It’s not just that 30 percent of the population is under 25, but rather its potion of nutrient-rich volcanic soil, crisp, clean water, its perpetual June, its healthy outdoor activities, its food, art, and its spirit of dance and celebration that make almost everyone who comes here feel happy and young.
Recovering from a surgery a few weeks back, I find myself feeling a bit broken by time’s wheel, a little superannuated in a sharp winter, when I speak with my friend John Jessey, who offers up an antidote. “Go to Puerto Rico. You’ll feel ten years younger.”
Rather than slouching toward oblivion, or doing a deal with the devil, John’s recommendation seems the enchanting choice, so I book a ticket from Los Angeles for a week-long soak, with my family, including 6-year-old Jasper, and our friends Didrik Johnck and Lisa Niver. We leave passports behind, because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, a sort of grey-area status where it is not officially a State, but Puerto Ricans enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections. And, the currency is the U.S. dollar, which saves all those calculations, and exchange fees that usually end up on post-trip credit card statements. And you can drink the water.
I’m a sucker for touching history, and sought to book the Caribe Hilton Hotel, for its storied past, but it was full, so instead we make way to its sister, the Condado Plaza Hilton, just seven miles from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. I take a room overlooking the aquamarine Atlantic, and with a view of the Caribe Hilton Hotel. It was Hilton’s first hotel outside the continental United States and made Hilton the first international hotel company. It was the first in Puerto Rico to offer radios in every room and individually controlled air conditioners, and claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. In 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero spent three months creating a medley of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, which launched a Noah’s flood of tropical refreshment, and at least one catchy song. To celebrate, I order one up in the lobby bar. Maybe two. Or four. To be honest, I can’t remember, except that they were yummy.
The next day, in the first blush of pink light, we translate to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort, to the east, to play a little golf. Golf here dates to 1958, when Laurance Rockefeller, a pioneer in barefoot elegance, built a resort in Dorado and hired Robert Trent Jones to design its fabled East Course. Now Puerto Rico has 23 courses designed by legendary golf pros, and Rio Mar has two, the Ocean Course, by Tom and George Fazio, and the River course, by Greg Norman, both 18 holes. It’s on the 16th hole of the Ocean Course I meet Jesus Rodriguez, younger brother to Chi-Chi, who is the groundskeeper and resident merry prankster. He shows us how to putt a coconut, and mimics the famous victory dance of his legendary brother. And he offers to arrange a meeting with his brother, over at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, with its 18 holes by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., set along two miles of private beach, a former coconut plantation.
I meet Chi Chi on the lushly manicured lawn beyond the lobby, and he looks dashing in a fierce blue jacket, yellow tie and signature Panama hat. His eyes are quiet as a pond; his grin electric. He’s 78 years old, but has the spark and energy of someone half his age, yet another testament to the youthful stylings of Puerto Rico.
Chi Chi says he was born into a dirt poor family, one of six siblings. They struggled to put food on the table. When he was seven, he worked as a water carrier on a sugar plantation. One day he wandered onto a golf course. When he learned the caddies were earning more money than he, he decided to switch careers.
Chi Chi would take a branch from a guava tree and turn it into a golf club. Using a metal can as a “golf ball” he would practice what he had seen “real” golfers do. By the time he was 12 he scored a 67. He went on to trophy scores of tournaments, including 22 wins on Senior PGA Tours, and became the first Puerto Rican inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After mahi mahi tacos with Chi Chi at Seagrapes it’s time to undo time, so we head back to the Wyndham, where we take a jungle walk on the grounds, and end up at the estuary of the Mameyes River, where paddle boards and kayaks await. We scull about, among the mangroves for a sweet hour or so, and then walk the beach back to the pools for a mojito (this island is, after all, the largest producer of rum in the world) before thinking about dinner.
The sky lightens slowly the next morning, and time pours like treacle as we linger through breakfast. Afterwards, we travel just a short ways to the earthy embrace of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. The air seems to be made of a different and more fragrant substance than at home. Everything is pungent and moist.
This is where the wrinkles wash away, with over 200 inches of rain a year. We set off on a short hike through a tangle of trees that look as though they awoke in the middle of the night and didn’t have time to fix their hair. We pass orchids, giant tree ferns, oversized snails, gushing waterfalls, all the while cupping ears to the two-note chanting of coquí tree frogs, and the squawks of unseen parrots.
We next head over to the small town of Fajardo and the mega resort El Conquistador (a Waldorf Astoria property), which mostly sprawls atop a 300-foot-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic. It takes a tall pile of words to convey this 500-acre retreat. A tram trundles down to a marina and the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park, a font of wading pools, slides and water rides, a jungle-type rope bridge, and a lazy river where Jasper and I grab a tube and float and splash and cachinnate for an hour. If ever a kid’s paradise, this seems it, for children from two to a hundred and two.
As the evening tips over into darkness we leave Jasper, exhausted and sound asleep in the Wyndham, and head into the city, which puffs up like a sail with its nightlife. We hit a few bars, boîtes and clubs, where the reggaetón and salsa swirl around us in a fluid ribbon. The outfits on parade are meant to make eyeballs explode, tropical tornados of cadmium and cobalt, magenta and marigold…the full rainbow of humanity struts here.
Puerto Rico is a kind of crossroads of the Caribbean. Its forts, castles, walls and batteries were originally designed to protect the island from invaders, but when the residents felt secure, it became a way station for seafarers bringing new ideas, art, lifestyles and food. It was a place to share experiences, and embrace diversity. And tolerance was the mortar that held it together. Today it is an island of hospitality, safety and open-mindedness. And one vivid indicator of this is the vibrant LGBT scene.
We meet Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico, Juan Ortiz, visiting from New York, who shares how Puerto Rico has such open arms and opportunities for all lifestyles. We meet a few lesbians who agree, and even a gay couple from New York on the eve of nuptials, which have been elaborately designed by one of the top wedding planners in one of the best hotels.
In the bath of morning sunlight, before pointing the needle of curiosity to the west, I step through the heavy wooden door of one the many specialty coffee shops, and order up a cup of arabigo Pomarrosa. What a brew! All other coffees drip with envy. I ask its origin, and am told it is from a small farm in the middle mountains of Puerto Rico, in the shadow of the island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta, some 4,357 feet above sea level. I vow to find this place.
But first we set out for the far coast, the surfing, kite-boarding and watersports capital of the island. It’s a stunning drive through the folded complexities of the island, through tropical parklands and by wild seascapes, through towns humming with optimism, past the dance of life that is Puerto Rico. Come late afternoon we pull into the Royal Isabela, a sprawling resort and golf course at the edge of a 300′-high bluff overseeing the crashing Atlantic, looking more like a link course at the edge of Ireland than a tropical fairway.
Here we meet Charlito Pasarell, co-founder of the resort along with brother Stanley, who bounds over to meets us by the clay tennis courts. Charlito was the No. 1 ranked men’s singles tennis player in the United States in 1967, and was last year inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He practically gleams with a ruddy vitality and mental crackle that belies his 70 years.
Charlito gives us a grand tour on a golf cart, rolling by native grasses, sod-faced bunkers, and wind-twisted trees. He says he discovered this stretch of rugged coastline while overpassing on a helicopter in 1989, and envisioned creating “the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean.” He set about buying the land, piece by parcel, until he patched together some 1,800 acres. Every aspect of Royal Isabela’s design has evolved out of the land itself, and he has gone to great lengths to protect the existing contours, natural features and native flora and fauna along the way. Conventional rules of golf architecture did not apply. Even the 20 freestanding luxury casitas, terraced into a hillside, blend in. They are around here somewhere, he assures.
Charlito takes us to an overlook at the 12th hole, and points out a prominent rock that juts from the steep cliff below. It’s the profile of a Taino Indian warrior, he says, though its well-defined angularity is softened by the afternoon light. As Charlito traces the features with his hand, the aspects come into focus, unbroken and ageless, as though forever dipped in the fountain of youth. Below is the hurtling seam where water bashes stone, and to the side a long stretch of native dunes, and beyond the white lined surf where Humpback whales are fleeting by.
He also shares that he and his brother own a river plantation just across the road with organic farms that produce food for the restaurant and staff. It also has facilities for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, with a network of paths and converted rail trails, plus stand-up paddle boarding and other water sports on the Guajataca River, all conspiring to keep guests fit and young.
We dine that night with Charlito at an outside table at The Restaurant at La Casa, on a patio that wafts with the fragrance of the nearby higuerillo trees. Over fine wine and something called “airline” chicken (not because it comes from United or American, but because the breast comes with a drumette attached and protruding, which could be described as looking similar to the tail of a plane). Charlito seasons the plate with tales of his great grandfather, Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía, who published the first novel by a Puerto Rican author in 1894, and was an early champion for Puerto Rico independence. So, Charlito’s blood mixes literature, politics, sports and recreation, a concoction that seems to be a drink well-served in Puerto Rico.
It’s dark when we finally bid goodbye…one of the consequences of the locavore and slow food movements is a deep-into-the-night dinner…and we hit the road to our next stop, the town of Guánica on the south side of Puerto Rico. It’s midnight when we pull into the Copamarina Beach Resort, and with a welcoming chorus of coquí frogs we make our way down salty paths to our rooms and collapse.
A honeyed light gushes in when I open the shutters next morning, and for a second I have to shield my eyes. Just beyond a powdery beach the deep blue Caribbean laps, a graceful swooshing sound mixed with the sounds of children skylarking. Ponce de Leon first landed near here, and it’s easy to see why he stayed. This is a place that slows down the thoughts, and perhaps the aging process. It’s a popular place for destination weddings (as are most of the resorts in Puerto Rico), and we bump into a handsome couple from Ohio, where it is nine degrees and snowing, who just tied the knot here, and are over the moon about the experience, and the grouper mofongo at the café.
Lisa, who has dived all over the world, but never Puerto Rico, decides to head out and plumb The Wall, a cliff of coral some 22-miles-long dropping down to a depth of over 1 500 feet, with a local firm, Aqua Adventure. I decide to go and hike the nearby Guánica Dry Forest, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and State Forest, and considered to be the best example of subtropical dry forest in the Caribbean. How could this island harbor so much diversity? A couple of enormous days ago we were wading through the theatrical vegetation of El Yunque, and now we’re in a desert festooned with Spanish dildo cacti, natural Bonsais, and tangles of scrub and vines glowing in the long tapers of sunlight. It’s not that dissimilar, though, to how the Sierras split California, with fertile valleys on the western side, and desert in the eastern rain shadow. Here the Cordillera Central is the Sierra Madre.
We gather again for dinner, and compare notes over plates of mofongo stuffed with grouper in garlic and lemon sauce. Lisa, the jaded diver, is all sparkle and grins, describing the reefs, the brain coral, the caves, the green moray eel, the angel fish, the porcupine fish, the lobster, the reef sharks, and the sea turtle named Lola, and all else that brushed past her in the 100′ dive. “I’ve dived in six continents. This was the best dive ever,” she blurts.
We decide to divide for the next day as well….Lisa will check out the Fountain of Youth (not that she needs it…she has more energy than a nuclear power plant), and split the wind at the highest and second-longest zip-line on earth at Toro Verde Nature Adventure; the family and I will visit Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, Ponce. Founded in the late 17th century, the city experienced a commercial boom in the 19th century, then declined so quickly no one had time to tear anything down. The center of town is crowded with wedding-cake colonial mansions, strutting with balconies, balustrades, and bas-relief. Then there is the whimsical Arabesque confection, the Parque de Bombas, a bright, red-and-black striped wooden firehouse, amidst the neoclassical and Spanish-style buildings. It is the most attention-grabbing site in Ponce, and maybe all of Puerto Rico, and where, on the Plaza las Delicias, we decide to picnic and gawk.
After Ponce we wind into the mountains to the recondite Hacienda Pomarrosa, where the unspeakably good coffee I had in San Juan is produced.
Stepping from the car the air is so fresh it makes me dizzy for a moment. We meet up with proprietors Kurt Legner and his son Sebastian in the tiny tasting room, where Kurt gives a rattling good history of coffee, from Ethiopia to Arabia to 18th century Puerto Rico, when its coffee was the favorite of European courts.
And then Sebastian takes us on a walk through the farm, showing off the healthy plants and the shiny little beans, and the various steps he takes to harvest, clean, and roast the coffee. All of the coffee is processed in small batches. Once the picked beans arrive at the little processing plant, they are peeled by environmentally friendly machinery.
After the coffee is peeled, it rests for about eight hours in a water bath. From there it goes to the hot-air drier (no sun drying here…too much rain). After about 24 hours, the coffee beans are stored in a humidity controlled warehouse for safekeeping. The final stop: back at the tasting room, where a cup of joe for the road fills my head to the brim, like a honeybear, with some sort of transcendence. “Life is beautiful. Coffee makes it even better,” outpours Sebastian.
We all rendezvous at the Best Western Condado Palm, a value hotel (with the largest bedrooms we’ve seen yet) just steps from the beach and walking distance to the trendy shops and restaurants of Condado. At the bar Lisa shows up looking younger and more effervescent than ever, as though years had drained away in a few hours, like water from a punctured container. It is all the result, she offers, of combining zip-lining with her soak at Coamo, a thrilling and effective concoction.
For the final day we make our way to Old San Juan, the 500-year-old Spanish outpost designed to fend off pirates, buccaneers and privateers. They were all looking to pilfer the gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico, Central and South America, stashed here for the final trip to Spain. Stepping through the San Juan Gate today is like stepping into a magic glass. It is hard to preoccupy with the concerns of the world once through this gate, for concerns are always about what will happen in the future, and in Old San Juan the future will never come, and the past will never disappear.
This seems a world where everything fits together. I thread through narrow streets cobblestoned with the ballast from early ships. On one side there are thick, outward-sloping walls, dotted with cannon embrasures; and on the other, neat pastel blue, yellow, and pink façades. Street cats curl and uncurl around the doorways. It’s hot in here…the sun seems to reach through my skin to my bones… so we stop at Caleta de las Monjas 9 and have a few limbers¸ frozen fruit cups, that are instant refreshment.
Jasper is inspired, and standing at an overlook to the sea, he recites a poem he composed about his experiences in Puerto Rico:
Birds chirp, lizards run
Coconuts roll, fish splash
Crabs skitter, frogs hop
Sometimes, all of them make a band
It’s getting late, and we have to head to the airport, but first I insist we stop at a little shop called Olé, where they sell hand-crafted Panama hats woven from fine-textured paja grass. There are hundreds on display, and I try a score before one seems supreme. Feelings of contentment are woven from fine and unexpected filaments, and there is a joy when I gaze into the mirror. The saleswoman blocks the hat to fit the shape of my head. Then she fastens a customized band around the rim, and snugs the finished product in place. Finally, she steps back, and with a broad grin says, “It makes you look ten years younger.”
As everyone passes through Kuala Lumpur — either for a few days of sightseeing, dealing with visa issues or simply stopping by on the way to fly to somewhere else — Melaka, it’s little brother to the south, often gets overlooked.
It’s not a city in the traditional, busy sense. There’s this sense of history and charm that breathes through the place and keeps you captivated for days (or weeks if you let it.) Life passes at a slower, deliberate pace and while you’re just about 2 hours from the traffic and hawking and noise of Kuala Lumpur, you may as well be worlds away.
According to the locals, this is your #1 attraction in Melaka, and they have good reason behind that claim. Melaka has some of the best food I’ve had in Southeast Asia, and definitely in Malaysia. In Melaka be on the lookout for laksa.
Largely because of its premium geographical location right along the strait between Malaysia and Indonesia, Melaka has been a meeting point for several cultures to converge. One of the more notable communities is the Nyonya Baba – descendants of Chinese immigrants who have intermarried woven culture and customs with the native Malay. This group took the typical Malaysia dish of laska – a spicy noodle soup – and put its own regional spin on it. Baba Laksa is spicy with a good portion of coconut milk in the broth, while Nyonya is a bit more sour. Local haunt Jonker 88 specializes in a Baba Laksa Kahwin Nyonya Asam Laksa, which is an incredible mix of the two.
Colonial Satay is also a popular local haunt because of its secret family satay sauce. Be prepared to wait for up to 3 hours for a table though!
Jonker Street Night Market
Every Friday and Saturday night the main street transforms into an amazingly busy and festive night market. There are food stalls everywhere with all-things-fried, soups, noodles and laksas and even a sushi cart. The street is contained by two must-see attractions. At one end (nearer to the Tourism office) there is a man who can poke a hole in a solid coconut with his finger, and amasses a pretty big crowd each evening at about 8:30.
Melaka Straits Mosque
While it’s a bit of a bike ride (though easy to find,) the Melaka Straits Mosque is a massive, open-air building that peers out onto the ocean from its own man-made island. It’s built on stilts and appears to be floating on the Strait itself. Weekends tend to attract more visitors, but on a weekday you could have the place to yourself, dwarfed by the vacuous cavern with nothing but open water ahead.
The Strait of Melaka itself is one of the busiest waterways in the world, with nearly 90,000 vessels passing through annually between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. If you’ve got good weather one afternoon, there’s a small stretch of beach near the mosque where you can sit and watch the ships go past as the sun sets over the strait.
Known as the Red Square, it’s the oldest remaining Dutch site in Asia, and offers a beautiful view of the city and out into the Strait of Melaka.
Parallel to the popular Jonker Street is Melaka’s own Chinatown. Unlike the Chinatowns of places like Singapore or Kuala Lumpur where hawkers are dangling fake Ray-Bans and Beats headphones in your face, Melaka’s Chinatown is quiet and full of culture. It’s home to the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia and the only shoemaker in the world who still makes the shoes worn when foot-binding was still heavily practiced in China (as souvenirs!) There are also several stores that sell cardboard affects like houses, golf clubs, cars and money that some Chinese will buy and burn all together in a box for passage into the afterlife.
The Melaka River
The Melaka River bisects the town as it spills out into the strait – and each riverbank is lined with quaint cafes, churches, mangroves, villages and old historic buildings.
Boat cruises go along the river all day until about 10PM for 15MYR a person, but you can also hire bikes from many hostels and shops around town and bike along the banks.
With its deep-rooted Islam, Malaysia isn’t really a party-center to begin with, but Melaka has its nice local haunts. At the Jonker Street Market and any hawker centers, locals will be sitting around sharing beers late into the evening, and sleepy bars are dotted around town. If you’re looking for a true dive, check out Shantaram on the same road as Chinatown. Touting “hours of beastness” from 9-2, its outer décor is a prelude to the personality of the place.
Don’t Stay Put is a new kind of travel blog featuring high-quality, professionally-produced videos about the culture, sights, food and everything else we encounter along the backpacking trail, all as told by the travelers and locals themselves.
For our first visit to Chiang Rai, I searched on Asiarooms.com for a place with a pool. I found the Mantrini, which was recently featured in the magazine, Chiva and shared the Chiang Rai Charm of the property. While we stayed there, we enjoyed being next door to Centre Plaza and seeing a brand new film in the state of the art theater. The room was comfortable and well appointed with a cozy bed and pretty pink pillows. The bathroom had a sunken tub with a powerful shower and many signs about how to care for the environment. I liked the art in our room and throughout the hallways. Breakfast was a vast buffet and included any type of eggs and many Thai specialties.
On our second night, an anniversary party filled the pool area and we were treated to the wonderful party music during the early evening. It was like we were part of the festivities. The staff was welcoming, knowledgeable and assisted us with our onward travel plans. They helped us find the local bus to visit the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. This mirror laden Buddhist temple was built in 1997 and designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat. It is still under construction as more sections are being added and the paining of the inner sanctuary is on going. I did like the art, which included designs of superman, star wars and the matrix. We did not visit the Black House we will have to see it on our next visit.
While in Chiang Rai, I highly recommend a visit to the clocktower! At 8pm and 9pm, there is a color and light show. You can see it in our video. George says, “It is the best clock tower in the whole world!” I really enjoyed the spectacle and the night market. My favorite café is Destiny located only half a block from the clock tower.
Visiting many of the Wats around town was interesting and I was surprised how different each one is from the next. Both George and I liked Wat Phra Kaew the best of all that we visited. The Phra Yok Chianrai (Jade Buddha) is housed there and made from Canadian jade. There is a new hall under construction. I also like Wat Mung Muang and the Phra Sang Kad Jai who is one of the Buddhist saints in the courtyard.
I can highly recommend the Hill Tribe Museum. We watched the informative video and learned about the many different peoples of Thailand. It was sad to learn about the Karen Tribe who are called Long Neck due to their golden bangles that stretch their necks. They are not Thai but Burmese refugees and the Hill Tribe museum and tour company located there say repeatedly do not visit a human zoo. The refugees are not being treated properly and many do have their papers withheld by the “landlords” of the village where they are nearly held captive.
We also enjoyed a visit to Chiang Saen, Mai Sai and the Burmese border. After our stay in Chiang Rai, we were off to Chiang Mai for music on the riverside and wandering inside the Old City Walls. Wherever you choose to visit in Thailand, I am certain you will enjoy tasty treats and meet lovely new friends. Let us know what special places you find, maybe we will go there on our next visit!
Author’s Note: We thank AsiaRooms and the Mantrini for our visit! The opinions are our own and we really enjoyed Chiang Rai and the hotel!