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Etihad Airways: New York to Abu Dhabi

16 Jan

Flight: EY 101

Route: JFK – AUH

Class of Service: FIRST

Aircraft: B777-300ER (77W)

There’s much fanfare around the ME3, the gulf carriers of the UAE and Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. And if you’ve flown any of them, you likely know firsthand what all the fuss is about. Even the most hard-to-impress can likely contend with the fact that compared to US domestic carriers, the difference is quite clear, putting things mildly.

I first flew Etihad 6 years ago when I first ventured out to the UAE. Then, it was, by and large, still a fledgling carrier hardly noticeable in the shadows of big brother, Emirates. And with good reason, it’d only been in operation for 7 years and still forming a distinct identity for itself. That withstanding, I enjoyed the trip then and could immediately notice this was a company big on enhancing the customer experience and attempting to make a difference in the industry. Etihad has grown up quite a bit since, expanding its footprint in many more markets and growing its fleet substantially (including its revolutionary Residence and individual Apartments featured on its A380), firmly establishing Abu Dhabi as a hub for connections to the Far East and beyond. It was time for me to check things out again.

I booked my ticket using AAdvantage miles in First (90K one-way) on my outbound journey, on EY 101 currently operated by the carrier’s 77W (777-300ER) aircraft . While I personally think the triple seven is one of the most beautiful and elegant commercial jets to grace the skies, I’d hoped I’d had the opportunity to book the trip instead on Etihad’s A380 aircraft which, as aforementioned, has much roomier First Class Apartments and of course the groundbreaking Residence, plus onboard bar/lounge and showers for First Guests. Alas, partner mileage redemptions for these apartments have become quite scarce and so I didn’t have much of a choice but to stick with the 777. First Class Suites are available on the airlines’ other aircraft, B777, B787, A340 and A330 And as I detail below, these suites are still some of the best in the industry.

Etihad’s branding team deserve major applause for successfully executing what I believe to be one of the most consistent customer or ‘Guest’ (using Etihad’s designated preferred nomenclature for referring to their customers) experiences out there. From the ground to the skies, it’s quite a remarkable thing. Even the musical theme that plays onboard is a clever soundtrack reminiscent of a movie score and is something that sticks with you for sometime–even after your journey’s over.

Checking in: Etihad is based in Terminal 4 at JFK. It’s largely serviced by Delta but several other airlines, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore, Swiss, to name a few, also call it home. It’s one of the newer and more modern of the terminals at Kennedy. In fact it’s my favorite there. As to be expected, there’s a dedicated check-in counter for premium, First and Business Class, Guests. It was quick and efficient though if I’m allowed to nitpick a little, I found nothing terribly overly special about it, especially eyeing Emirate’s an isle over. Still the representative was courteous and after I was through, directed me to the lounge which is situated just to the left after clearing security.

The lounge was very smart looking, featuring the airlines’ rebranded color scheme and geometric patterns, which I happen to find very attractive. This theme is consistent throughout — seen on other items, including pillows in premium cabins and most noticeably aircraft tails. The bar menu features strategically designed cocktails, wine, beer and soft drinks (including a selection of mocktails). And dining consists of a la carte table service or Guests may choose to select options from the buffet. Wanting to get the full experience of the onboard service, I skipped having a meal and settled instead on a cocktail and a small serving of mixed nuts.

Before too long, the host at the lounge came to alert me, just right before a general announcement was made, that boarding was about to commence at the specified gate, if I’d like to proceed over. Walking up to our plane, I was warmly greeted and immediately handed over to the Flight Attendant that would be looking after me for the duration of the flight (regrettably I do not recall her name now — she was fantastic). She then walked me over to my suite; one of only 8 in First. Next came a welcome drink, Bollinger La Grande Année champagne, dates, a hot towelette and personal welcome note from Leanne, the Cabin Manager. Not at all a bad way to commence a 13 hr journey.

Shortly thereafter, the onboard Chef, exclusive to First Guests, walked over, introduced himself and inquired after what my palate may be inclining towards after we takeoff. It’s a dine on-demand sort of process, so I could order whenever I wanted but he did take the time to walk me through the menu and inquired if I had any questions. For an aperitif, I ordered the Martini Bianco, which was served in a proper martini glass and came with mixed nuts and olives. It was delicious. Next came my appetizer; I settled on the Arabic Mezze: hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouleh. Right after I was presented with a palate cleanser which was described to me though alas I can’t quite recall what it was; it’s pictured below. For my dinner, my choice was Fish. It was most delectable, as good as anything one would have on the ground and served on fine china. Compliments to the Chef indeed. At this point I was sufficiently full though easily gave in to dessert: an apple crumble of sorts which wasn’t terribly exciting but nice and simple enough.

It was now time to turn in. I’d started to nod off almost immediately after dinner while I was indulging in a movie on the 23″ TV featured in the suite. I grabbed my bag of goodies presented to me by the flight attendant after I’d boarded (which included pajamas, slippers and an amenity kit with luxury toiletries) and headed to the restroom to change. Immediately the Flight Attendant came by to inquire if I was ready for my bed to be made and I said yes. In my pajamas and ready for bed, I came back to an elegantly executed turn-down service. The bed was made including a mattress for extra padding and a lovely ‘sweet dreams’ note attached.

I was able to sleep very comfortably for a good 6-7 hrs. A slight complaint, however, would be I felt the cabin temperature was a bit too warm so I felt like almost disrobing at one point but thankfully things did eventually cool down. The noise-canceling headset I also felt a little too tight around the ears (for me). I woke up about a couple hrs before our touchdown in Abu Dhabi and just as I went to use the restroom, our Chef approached me to inquire if I was ready for some breakfast and what I fancied. I started out with fresh fruit and then proceeded on to a simple English breakfast of sorts. All very delicious.

Before too long, alas, we commenced our descent into Abu Dhabi. It was such a brilliant journey that I almost didn’t want it to end. Waiting planeside after touchdown, a distance from the terminal (as we didn’t disembark via jet-bridge), were a couple luxury Audi cars on standby to ferry First guests to the terminal. A nice treat to cap off a most remarkable flight.

Key Takeaways: In my estimation, Etihad offers one of the most luxurious and innovative ways to fly, especially in First, though the attention to the customer experience is palpable throughout all classes of service. The carrier has succeeded in keeping a consistent theme from the ground to the skies which enhances the overall experience. Note also, if you’re transiting to-or-from Dubai, you can book Etihad’s complimentary coach service.

Barneys New York

48 Hours In Dublin

10 Sep

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It is indeed almost unthinkable, though to the jet set crowd, it wouldn’t be a notion that would evoke the batting of an eye. Yes, hopping across the Atlantic for a whirlwind 48 hrs, then wheel around and head back. Sounds fairly nuts. But it’s what I’ve just accomplished as I journey back to the States over the waters I crossed just a few mornings ago.

Touching down at Dublin Airport (DUB) at around 6:30AM local time on the direct redeye  out of JFK, AA 209, I breeze through customs; I suppose one of the mercies of arriving at such an early hour. Next, my task is to chart my way into town. This is relatively simple and straightforward. You have three main options though I’d recommend skipping the taxi line as that can be somewhat of a pricy affair. Opt instead for the aircoach coach service into town (€7 one way) or the seemingly ubiquitous AirLink bus which boasts a frequency of every 10 mins and deposits you right in the center (€6 one way, €10 return).

Temple Bar Hotel right at the core of the very lively Temple Bar area is my choice for accommodation. Note that Temple Bar can be very manic with all the frenzy surrounding the myriad pubs & clubs in this part of town being the nightlife epicenter. Still, one does not get more central than this and since I’m here for a brief stint, I’m up for rolling with it. Check in is relatively smooth and efficient though I’m having to stow my luggage for another hour or so before a room becomes available and the kind staff check me in early.

After a quick nap and waiting out the rain a little (which had been incessant through the morning and early afternoon hours), I venture out. First stop: Trinity College which is a mere stone’s throw away. Established in the late 16th century under the Tudor crown, it is the oldest university in Ireland and indeed one of the oldest in Western Europe. One of its notable and perhaps most broadly recognized alumni is Oscar Wilde. Explore the campus on your own or join one of the scheduled guided tours which are available through the day. I spend a considerable amount of time at Trinity and nightfall is approaching. I head back to my hotel to freshen up before venturing out for the evening.

Next stop: Dinner. Location: Dylan McGrath’s Fade St Social Gastro Pub. As a solo diner, I’m able to grab a spot at the bar which rims the open kitchen. I’d recommend, however, securing a reservation beforehand especially for parties of 2 or more. The ambiance here is decidedly lively and the fare scrumptious. McGrath largely sticks to an Irish base in his plates but certainly builds from there, offering an inspired variety of tapas-style small plates from locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant also boasts an extensive cocktail list and wine menu.

The evening’s beginning to heat up as I navigate may way to The George on George’s street, a short walk away. The George prides itself on being one of Dublin’s longest running establishments for Gay nightlife though to be fair, I witness more of a mixed set of patrons at the venue which tends to be par for the course anyway these days. The music thumps with pop tunes as we all passionately gyrate and sing along (or at least attempt to). This evening, Saturday night, is also supposed to have us witness Dublin’s finest take to the stage and karaoke the night away. Alas, or maybe perhaps blessedly so, the equipment is broken. The drag personas on stage alternatively kickoff an impromptu dance-off selecting random members from the audience to join them onstage; it’s a ton of fun. I cap off the evening at another spot across the river, Panti Bar. It’s just as lively with an equally enthusiastic crowd and good tunes.

Day 2: I’m having a little bit of a late start having staggered into my hotel room in the wee hours. Still, I’ve got my points of interest mapped out for the day and thus venture out just as the revelers are starting to spill out onto the streets of Temple Bar, pints in hand (and it’s only lunch time). I pick may way to my next stop, Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule for hundreds of years. It is possible to explore on your own but I opt to join a guided tour (€8) which was well worth it. Don’t miss the impressive state apartments with the elegantly outfitted Drawing Room and the Chapel Royal.


Drawing Room, Dublin Castle. Photos shown: to the left, the last Lord Lieutenant (aka Viceroy) of Ireland, The Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent and, on the right, Michael Collins, leader of the newly formed Provincial Government (1921).

Next up, I take a leisure stroll through the surrounding neighborhood. The sun’s out and the citizens and tourists alike are out and about. I perch on a stool on the terrace of a neighborhood café for light refreshments as I missed breakfast, then continue on to my next destination, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Entering the grounds through the rear you come upon St Patrick’s Park as the cathedral itself looms in impressive might before you. The park, or at least the grounds, hold a significant level of importance as it is believed that St. Patrick himself baptized the first Irish Christians in a well on this site with water from the River Poddle which still flows underground today. Spend time here and check out the cathedral which is an architectural splendor. Keeping with the cathedral theme, I then make my over to Christ Church, another one of Dublin’s oldest cathedrals a mere short walk away. It’s another impressive work of architecture and is ornately outfitted.


Christ Church Cathedral

Night falls and my stomach’s beginning to rumble. It’s time for some nourishment. But first, a quick pit stop back at the hotel to freshen up, then it’s back out on the town. For dinner, the spot is Catch-22 on South Anne St. The main feature on the menu is fish with a variety of other tasty accompaniments. To start I opted for the Fish Cakes w/ spicy mayo while I settled on the Fish Pie for my main course. I found both to be quite palatable if just a tad under seasoned. The quality was quite good however and I thought fairly priced.

My last night in Dublin saw me capping off things at The Front Lounge on Parliament St. It’s a fun spot that’s part restaurant part bar/lounge. It was a good  way to signoff, enjoying the late evening serenity of its atmosphere as tomorrow I bid adieu to this most lovely of cities.

Handy stylish backpack. Great for compact travel.

Megalopolises of the World: Spotlight on Mexico City

9 May

Benito Juarez

There are few places in the Americas that rival the deep cultural richness and history of Mexico. In fact, some may argue that it’s one of  the most important in terms of an intricately woven education in cultural Anthropology. It is thus, against such a backdrop, that a city, one of the largest and most densely populated the world over thrives day in day out. That megalopolis is Mexico City.

 Before the Conquistadors set foot on what the Spaniards would later christen the center of its new capital, ancient civilizations across chiefdoms called it home. Through the following centuries and a tumultuous history set against the backdrop of a thriving regal capital, a megalopolis would be birthed. Religion, being a focal point for Catholic Spain would take center stage, giving rise to some of the most impressive feats in the world of architecture (see the Metropolitan Cathedral in Zocalo and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tepeyac, in the north of the city) as well revolutions that would give rise to some of the most brilliant minds of our time.

Mexico City has a reputation; indeed perhaps several. For some of its neighbors to the north, it’s likely not a place that conjures up desirable feelings. Its tortured past coupled with a fair dose of media sensationalism has largely shaped these less than desirable feelings. Put it this way, it’s not a place a lot of people have on their list of having been-tos as opposed to more popular tourist beach town draws on the Yucatán or on the Pacific. This mentality is rapidly changing, however, as Mexico City continues to charm the hearts of its visitors and word of mouth testimonials proliferate the traveling masses.It is indeed a majestic city; a capital that rivals some of the best in the world and it’s a place that begs to be explored.

Most international flight arrivals here touch down at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International airport (named after the popular historic figurehead; the very first indigenous President of Mexico who hailed from Oaxaca), T1. As of this writing, Aeromexico and Delta flights arrive at terminal 2 (T2). The journey into the heart of town is fairly straightforward though you’ll need to battle it out with the multiple taxi vendors vying for your business once you’re in the Arrivals Hall. The fare typically ranges widely from 200-400 pesos. Making  the fare purchase with the cab operator before proceeding to the taxi stand to board your ride into town is necessary. To note: Uber is in operation in Mexico City as well and makes for a relatively inexpensive ride into and around town.

Diego RiveraThis city is huge and thus there are many facets to its characteristics. The various neighborhoods that make up the central area also take on its own distinctive flare. There’s Reforma, which has long been the epitome of the planned city with it’s big, wide boulevards (see Paseo de La Reforma), luxury hotels, and ample retail therapy; then there are the neighborhoods of Roma (Norte y Sud — North and South, a favorite) and, also, the ultralux barrio of Polanco, a neighborhood that could almost be plucked out of chic Los Angeles, to name but a few. One our first visit, we settled on no frills accommodation at the Four Points by Sheraton in Roma Norte. It is a perfectly situated hotel in the middle of this very charming neighborhood–with easy access to many restaurants, nightlife and other points of interest. AirBnB accommodations (a choice we made on a return trip) are plentiful as well.

Getting around town is fairly easy and straightforward. We did a lot of exploring on foot which was just fine but taxis can be hailed or, for the more adventurous (and thrifty) the subway is a mostly decent alternative. A one way trip–as of this writing–is a mere 5 pesos (roughly 40 cents). It’s a dependable network, for the most part, and is well patrolled by police officers, so one does have a feeling of safety as a straphanger.  Still, as usual, exercising caution is highly advisable at all times in these sorts of situations.

Metropolitan CathedralMexico City is an explorer’s delight. Being a place that’s steeped in rich history, the city itself is a museum of sorts (and I would argue a place that’s rightfully earned it’s spot as a potential World Heritage Site). Fortunately, varied collections of artifacts, and other prominent works are on display at the numerous museums that dote the area, like the National Museum of Anthropology.  Other historical points of interest like the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace featuring famous frescoes by native Diego Rivera, Chapultepec Castle on Chapultepec Hill, and the architectural delight, Palacio de Bellas Artes where you can catch performances ought not to be missed.

Further afield, the charming town of Coyoacan where prolific artists and activists Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera once lived is a great place to explore. Don’t miss La Casa Azul (the blue house) their immaculately preserved home (and now a museum), the town square with its leafy central garden (Jardin Centenario) and fountain, featuring the drinking Coyotes (origin of the town’s name), and historic, Parish of San Juan Bautista, one of the oldest parish churches in Mexico City.  It is also a place to sit a while and grab a bite.

Other possible day trips from Mexico City include the charming town of Puebla (roughly 2 hrs outside the city) where you can sample all manner of Mole and other delicacies while taking in the sights of city like Puebla Cathedral. 

It’s a multifaceted, culturally rich city that offers visitors a truly remarkable experience. It remains endlessly fascinating to me and I always look forward to visiting again. I highly recommend it. 

La Isla Del Encanto: Spotlight on San Juan

6 Aug

View from Castillo San Felipe del Morro or 'El Morro'

View from Castillo San Felipe del Morro or ‘El Morro’

La Isla Del Encanto, translated, The Island of Charm is a popular slogan associated with Puerto Rico. In fact, you’ll notice license plates on cars bearing this same motto. And for good reason as I would humbly agree that such proclamation is quite fair. One need only spend time in this beautiful jewel in the Caribbean to get it; it’s that palpable.

Puerto Rico, which can be translated as Rich Port can’t help it’s inherent uniqueness. It’s a blessing, I think, because this adds to its ever present charm. On the one hand an (unincorporated) United States territory, meaning no addnl. documentation (as in a passport) is required for travel and, on the other hand, an exotic oasis in the middle of the Caribbean where Spanish is the primary tongue though English is widely spoken as well, in urban areas, and is recognized as an official language.

San Juan, officially known as Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista is the capital of the territory, its commercial hub and, indeed, the most populous city on the island.
Arrival here is at San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). Several airlines operate non-stop flights from the East Coast mainland to SJU. Taxi vans are conveniently situated right outside the terminal to whisk you away into town at around $20 for most centrally located hotels (as of this writing).

Dinner at Yerba Buena

Dinner at Yerba Buena

In San Juan, Condado, right in the heart of town, maintains the pulse of the city. Many hotels and points of recreation can be found here. It also simmers with nightlife and a variety of eateries rim, or are just off the main thoroughfare, Ashford Avenue.
For mouthwatering local fare with a Cuban twist, try Yerba Buena right on Ashford or, if you’re seeking a bit of variety, Ali Baba, which dishes up tasty Turkish fare is also a good bet. Kasalta, further afield on Ave. Mc. Leary offers patrons an authentic experience with local pastries and mouthwatering delicacies on offer. Even President Obama popped by on one of his visits to the area.


Checking In: As far as a place to lay your head down at night, in Condado, La Concha is likely one of the more popular hotels on the Ashford strip. Newer, more upscale additions like the Condado Vanderbilt, however, are beginning to pop up along the strip as well. Alternatively, for something a little less pricy, and still very close to the beach, try Best Western Plus Condado Palm Inn

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Journey Back In Time: if Condado is represents the city’s arteries, Old San Juan, is the the very heart of it. This part of town is beyond charming with it’s well preserved Spanish colonial architecture, easily transporting the visitor back to a time and place when some of the city’s highly connected populace took up residency here. Opt to stay here instead by snagging one of the numerous apartment/room rentals easily bookable via AirBnB. Quite a few decent choices are present in the area. While there, wonder the delightful neighborhood, indulging in scrumptious delicacies such as Mallorcas, an adapted local pastry, presented with your choice of filling – savory or sweet – at the kiosks in the plazas in the center of town. Or, make your way to Caficultura where artisans such as Edgardo Texidor Rosa whip up stimulating caffeinated beverages which you can enjoy with your pastry. It’s a full service restaurant as, as such, additional menu choices are on offer.


In addition, a monument not to be missed while wondering about town is the old Citadel and fort of El Morro. It’s a remarkable fortress that offers the explorer a glimpse into the island’s history and spectacular views of the ocean.

El Yunque - Waterfall

El Yunque – Waterfall

Further afield: explore a bit of nature by heading to the national forest of El Junque. Wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to hike a relatively short distance to the waterfall which unsurprisingly is a popular draw. As you make your way back into town after your adventure, stop by the one of the several roadside shacks/cafés for delicious local refreshments.

If time permits, consider pairing Culebra, a smaller neighboring island with your itinerary. It is easily accessible, via quick puddle jumper flights, and can make for something as short as a day journey. Alternatively you can also access the island via ferry but this takes a bit more planning and discipline. Ferries depart from the town of Fajardo, approximately 37 miles outside San Juan. Please consult the daily schedule ahead of time for the latest travel information.

A truly enchanting experience. Go check it out, you should be thoroughly charmed.

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72 Hours In Oslo

24 Jul

Oslo Fjord

Oslo Fjord

Perhaps it’s not the first city that pops to mind when contemplating the next vacation spot. Even within Scandinavia, I’d suppose its neighbors to the south and east likely elicit more interest for one reason or another. I myself had previously checked off those aforementioned references (see my entry on Stockholm) prior to making my way to Oslo. Well, I recently spent several glorious days in this capital city and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Here are some highlights.

Getting there: Arrival is at Oslo’s main airport, OSL. Flying direct from North America out of EWR, on the regions’s flagship carrier SAS, is possible or seamless connections via European hubs, London via British Airways or Amsterdam via KLM and their respective code share partners American and Delta, respectively, are possible as well.
After clearing customs and Immigration in OSL, getting into town is fairly easy and straightforward. Your best bet is the Airport Express train which deposits you right at Oslo Central Station. The cost is roughly 30 USD (as of this writing).

Clarion Hotel

Clarion Hotel

Getting settled: Check in to your hotel at Clarion Collection Hotel Folketeateret. This hotel is right in the middle of town and very easily accessible from Oslo Central Station, an easy 5-10 minute walk. This particular Clarion (be mindful there are several locations in the city) is also a stone’s throw from lots of dinning, shopping, nightlife, and other points of interest. See my review. Alternatively, if something more in the luxury category is desirable, you may consider the top hotel in town (TripAdvisor) uber-trendy, The Thief, just off popular Akers Brygee and flanked by the beautifully designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.

Day 1: Descend from your room to the breakfast hall at the Clarion for a truly spectacular spread of mouthwatering delights. The buffet features a wide range of continental selections plus much more. It’s quite an impressive offering and comes complimentary with your reservation.

Breakfast at Clarion

Breakfast at Clarion

After breakfast, the first thing I would recommend doing is securing an Oslo Pass. It offers excellent value, giving you free access to lots of sights and public transportation, plus discounts at some of the area restaurants.
Oslo Pass in hand, head out to the main pier at Rådhusplassen (Town Hall Square) which is within easy walking distance from the hotel. As you make your way out, note popular thoroughfare Karl Johannes Gate just blocks away from the square. Hop on the Fjord Sightseeing Cruise (Discount with Oslo Pass) at the embarking station right there at Pier 3 where most departures commence.The scenic trip, depending on your route of choice, covers a wide range of the city’s monuments and Fjords. I recommend the Classic Cruise (two hour duration) covering Akershus Fortress, Opera House and several Fjords with charming summer houses.
Beverage break at Lekter'n

Beverage break at Lekter’n

Once you’re back on land, you may want to break for a beverage and snack or some lunch. Lekter’n right on Aker Brygee is a decent spot to grab drinks and take in the picturesque surroundings or, for more meal options, most of the restaurants riming the Aker Brygee offer a lunch menu. Louise Restaurant and Bar is a solid choice. Once you’re properly nourished, proceed south to the beautifully Renzo Piano designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Mordern Art (Free admission with Oslo Pass). It’s a remarkable piece of architectural genius that brilliantly adds to the picturesque landscape. Some of the museum’s collections include works by Jens Johannssen, American, Jeff Koons and British Pop art painter, David Hockney.
Astrup  Fearnley Museum

Astrup Fearnley Museum

Perhaps you’ve had enough for the day but if you’re still in form and ready for another must-see in the area, I suggest heading to nearby Akershus Castle and Fortress (Free access to the castle with your Oslo Pass). This historically significant complex dating back to the 1300s but made popular during the reign of Danish-Norwegian monarch, Christian IV (1588-1648) transports the explorer back to a time when the courts of the aforementioned monarchy held residence here. Prior to your exploration, I recommend securing one of the pre-recorded audio guides from the staff at the castle shop as you make your way in. It’s worth it and does not cost extra. As you proceed through, take note of the lower level crypt, The Royal Mausoleum, where past monarchs are interred, The Castle Church and The Hall of Christian IV.
Akershus Castle

Akershus Castle

You’re likely just about spent for the day as fatigue’s probably set in at this point. Head back to your hotel and grab a quick nap or, power through by ascending to the rooftop terrace at the Clarion for pre-dinner cocktails. Alternatively, make your way out to Etoile at the Grand Hotel where you can enjoy your beverage on their terrace with excellent views of Karl Johannes Gate. From there make your way to Café Christiania for dinner. It is a solid bet and just across the square. Afterward, cap off the evening at one of the many bars/pubs in the area.
Cafe Christiania

Cafe Christiania

Day 2: You’ve had a healthy helping of breakfast at the terrific buffet at the Clarion and you’re now ready to head off on the day’s adventures. Make your way to the Nobel Peace Center right at the corner of Rådhusplassen (Town Hall Square). Free admission with your Oslo Pass. The museum’s quite fascinating and well worth exploring. Included (with admission) are English language tours conducted at noon and 3PM but do check their website or call ahead for the latest information. The main level typically features temporary exhibits (for instance, Be Democracy, about the impact of Social Media on democracy through November 23, 2014), while the upper level features more permanent ones like the The Nobel Field, commonly referred to as the heart of The Nobel Peace Center. This hall houses the current and past recipients of the award (known as laureates). Don’t miss the establishment’s most popular Laureate, Martin Luther King Jr. who celebrates his 50th anniversary this year.

2009 Laureate, President Obama

2009 Laureate, President Obama

When you’re through, head further afield to The National Gallery which displays works by native, Edvard Munch and others by Norwegian and mostly European artists. Don’t miss Munch’s famous work, The Scream, on display here.
Next up, perhaps after a break, pick your way back through to Karl Johannes Gate and make the trek all the way to the top of the street. Here you’ll arrive at the Royal Palace and its surrounding grounds. Spend some time exploring the vicinity and if interested pick up a ticket ahead of time (at the nearby 7-Eleven) to gain entry into the palace during one of their scheduled guided tours. Please check ahead of time for the latest schedule.
Dinner at Fru K @The Thief

Dinner at Fru K @The Thief

As dusk nears head back to your hotel to freshen up and then plan on cocktails at uber-hip The Thief, at their rooftop bar. If you happen to be popping by over the weekend, don’t miss their Rooftop Sessions featuring the groovy sounds of DJ Dan Bravo and others, live. Libations sorted and you’re ready to eat, descend the elevators to Fru K, the onsite restaurant, for scrumptious fare. The restaurant’s got a chic ambiance but is decidedly relaxed, plus that staff’s quite friendly. Cap off the evening there or if you’ve got plenty of stamina to spare, head back towards your hotel and party the night away at popular trendy spot, Stratos, on the 12th floor of the Folketeateret building (same complex as the Clarion). Gay and Lesbian travelers: It’s not an overly simmering nightlife locale though popular longstanding establishments, London Pub and So (Lesbian) are decent spots for a pleasurable night out.

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park

Day 3: It’s a day to soak up the sun in the park. Hopefully you’re traveling in the summer when the temperatures can be quite pleasant. Head to Vigeland Park (Tram 11 or 19 to Majorstuen or Tram 12 to Vigelandsparken). This is expansive ground featuring over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1943). Also check out the nearby museum (Free admission with your Oslo Pass) once you’ve had your fill of the park.
Afterward, break for lunch at popular Jacob Aall Brasserie and Bar. The Majorstuen location sits just at the top of the street Bogstadsveien close to the Majorstuen metro/tram stop and a very short walk from the park. Once lunch is sorted, get back on the tram, or if you’re feeling particularly athletic, walk back to Rådhusplassen. Hop on the ferry (91) to Viking Ship Museum. Both transfer and admission to museum is free with your Oslo Pass. The museum houses truly remarkable pieces of Norwegian history, salvaged Viking ship wreckages: The Oseberg , Gokstad and Tune, dating over a thousand years old.
You’re likely through sightseeing for the day. Head back to the hotel, rest up, and then head out to Oslo’s bohemian or likely dubbed by some, hipster, neighborhood, Grunerlokka. For an alternative to traditional Norwegian/Scandinavian fare, grab a seat at neighborhood hotspot, Delicatessen which serves up tasty cocktails and Spanish tapas with tons of charm and personality. It’s a lovely spot to end the evening.

All told, a remarkable experience and city. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I cannot wait to return.

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Journeying Through Jordan

22 May

Treasury at Petra

Treasury at Petra

It’s likely an area, instinctively, one may shy away from due to the unrest in neighboring countries. Syria after all is a bordering nation to the north and Egypt flanks it to the southwest. This is certainly understandable but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that with the proper amount of research and preparedness, squashing such a concern is possible.
Having said that, of course, as with any place, and as common sense would dictate, one need exercise the right amount of caution. As a side note, I highly recommend US nationals traveling to regions with a history of problems take the time to register with the US Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Smart Traveler Enrolment Program or STEP as an additional safety precaution measure. Armed with all your research and precautions in tact, it’s time to embark on your journey.

Steeped in history that dates back centuries, Jordan is a place that’s endlessly fascinating. It’s home to one of the New 7 World Wonders, Petra, Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon), the capital and bustling city of Amman, and just miles to the north of Amman, the mightily impressive ancient Roman city of Jerash, a must see; plus, the magnificent Dead Sea.

Amman is the main gateway to Jordan. From North America, One World Carrier, Royal Air Jordanian flies directly to Amman, Queen Alia International Airport, from NY-JFK. Connections are also possible via European hubs like London Heathrow. Entry visas for visitors can be obtained upon arrival in Amman. The journey into town is fairly straightforward via taxi right outside the main terminal or as I understand it via Airport Express Bus which takes you to the 7th Circle.
Though several decent choices exist for your hotel stay, I highly recommend the Four Seasons Hotel in the 5th Circle. The nightly rate for a hotel its caliber is attractive and the staff and experience are well worth it.

Tea Service - Four Seasons

Tea Service – Four Seasons

While in Amman, do not miss the impressive Citadel (Jabal al-Qal’a in Arabic) and the city market for some good retail therapy. When you’re through sightseeing, head to Cantaloupe Gastro Pub in the 1st Circle off Rainbow St. for pre-dinner cocktails. The picturesque views from the terrace alone is well worth it. Plus the staff are super friendly and accommodating.
Remain at Cantaloupe for dinner or better yet, for some scrumptious traditional Jordanian fare, head to nearby Sufra Restaurant. To be forewarned, do note that Sufra does not serve alcoholic beverages (apparently due to its proximity to a nearby mosque). Some hits on the menu for me: Mufarakeh (braised diced potatoes with eggs and onions) and Jaj (clay pot slowly baked seasoned chicken and w/ coriander, pine nuts, and vegetables). Another that was highly recommended though I didn’t get to try due to dietary restrictions, Mansaf (rice based served w/ Jameed sauce, lamb chunks almonds and pine seeds). After dinner, head to Books@Cafe to cap off the evening. It has a fun ambiance and the scene’s quite vibrant.

Just a little over 30 miles (approx. 50 minutes to an hr. drive) from Amman is that must-see ancient Roman city of Jerash. It’s a well preserved ruin dating back centuries and rivaling anything that can be found in Rome or Pompeii (it is sometimes referred to as the Pompeii of the east) without the crowds. Take your time and explore the grounds–it’s quite an impressive sight to see. There are Guides (if you’re so inclined) at the entrance that can lead you through, for a fee, but that’s just an option. After you’re through and have worked up an appetite, Green Valley Restuarant is a decent choice for a lunch spot on your way back into town.

Ancient City of Jerash

Ancient City of Jerash

Further afield, the destinations of Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, the Dead Sea, etc., await. These can be done in parts as you progress on your journey but if time’s limited, I would suggest making sure Petra and possibly the Dead Sea are items you check off your list before leaving Jordan. It is conceivable to make day journeys from Amman to these places. The Dead Sea is relatively easy; it’s just about 52 miles southwest of Amman and should take approximately 1.5 hrs. by car. Petra is much further south and I would say give yourself 3.5 to 4 hrs. to make the journey. You’ll need time (and comfortable shoes) to explore Petra. It is a must-see. The Treasury is a marvel to behold but also make sure you continue all the way to the summit. You’ll realize why this massive complex is on the list of World Wonders.
Jordan is a sensational place steeped in history and culture. I was perfectly charmed by it and can’t wait to return.


Authors Note: If your itinerary takes you to destinations in neighboring countries, check out my entries on Israel and Egypt

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72 Hours In Siem Reap

3 May

Angkor Wat - sunrise with temple reflection

Angkor Wat – sunrise with temple reflection

If you’re someone who appreciates history like I do, you’ll fall in love with Siem Reap. To be sure, however, this isn’t a place merely for history buffs. If that’s not your thing, I have no doubt you can still enjoy this endlessly fascinating city immensely.

Long known to be synonymous with World Wonder, Angkor Wat (English translation: Temple City), an impressive religious complex constructed in the early 12th Century, the city has been welcoming visitors and enthusiasts for years ever since the temple complex’s declared status.
No doubt some may recall that Cambodia’s had a not too distant tortured past mired in tragedy and loss but If there’s one thing that’s evident today is that its citizens have shown incredible resilience through it all and a new generation’s at the helm with lofty ambitions, steering the nation to new frontiers.

Siem Reap is easily accessible by most modes of transport. If you’re arriving by air, you’ll be touching down at Siam Reap airport, REP, which is just on the outskirts of town and a short drive in. And as is common with most popular tourist draws, lots of choices abound when it comes to accommodation. The Privilege Floor right on National Road, one of the main thoroughfares in town, is an outstanding property which I would highly recommend. You can see my full review here. A second choice that’s quite nice, in the budget range, is the Men’s Resort and Spa mere blks away.

Once you’re checked in and settled, inquire of your hotel concierge if it’ll be possible to hire a Guide for the days ahead. I do recommend it as if you’ve come to explore what this city is famous for, its temples, there are so many and it just makes your exploration a tad more interesting and perhaps manageable if you have someone on hand who can walk you through the history and all the nuance. The Privilege Fl. was able to arrange this and a driver for us, for the duration of our stay which was excellent.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Next, head out to Angkor Archaeological Park ticketing booth to purchase your passes for entry to the temples. The fee depends on the number of days you’d like the pass for. The 3-Day pass (40 USD as of this writing) I think is an excellent value. Do note that it is advisable to have cash at the ready here. Credit Cards are accepted at some establishments but we found that those were few and far between. Luckily, USD is the main tender, so you might even withdraw a sufficient amount before you head out on your journey. Otherwise ATMs in town dispense dollars.
Now that you have entrance sorted, you may choose to relax and take things easy the remainder of the afternoon (perhaps wise to prep for the days ahead). And if you happen to be staying at The Privilege Floor all the better. Head back to Damnak Lounge as you’re likely just in time for Happy Hour. Even if you’re not a guest there, you can also enjoy the Happy Hour for a mere 9 USD (all inclusive). It comes with an assortment of appetizers, in addition, and you can enjoy your drinks out on the terrace with a nice sunset view.

Day 1: Arise early, well before dawn, and head out to Angkor Wat to capture the immaculate sunrise over the temple. To be forewarned, you’ll have plenty of company at the viewing. It’s an event that tends to draw loads of crowds. Still, it’s a brilliant sight and one worth getting up early for.
After you’re through, you may elect to go back to your hotel, rest up and have breakfast before carrying on. Or, keep it moving by grabbing something locally within the area and carry on with your tour of Angkor Wat. To avoid the hordes, the East entrance, the back of the complex, is likely a better place to commence your exploration though your Guide may have a better idea. It’s a fairly massive area, so the duration of your tour is really up to you. I would say plan on a few hours as a general guide.

After Angkor Wat you may want to break for lunch after which you can carry on to Angkor Thom nearby to see Bayon Temple. It’s more of a ruin than Angkor Wat and has some interesting, distinctive architectural characteristics (note the mood of the Buddha faces). If temple fatigue hasn’t set in for the day yet then you may proceed to Ta Prohm which you’ll immediately notice is one of the most photographed and catalogued of the temples due to its appearance in the movie, Tomb Raider, and it’s overgrown vegetation–trees merging into the structures with mightily impressive roots.

At this point, no doubt you’re ready to call it a day. Head back to your hotel for some R&R and the later head out to Khmer Kitchen for some delicious grub (advance reservations recommended). Cap off the evening there or if you’re looking for something more stimulating to keep the night going, head out to Pub Street where a plethora of nightly delights await.

Out for the catch - at Kampong Klum

Out for the catch – at Kampong Klum

Day 2: Grab your Guide and head out to the floating village at Kampong Klum. This is a very fascinating village almost entirely on stilts following the river as it empties out to the Tonle Sap. Make an afternoon of it and stop for lunch at one of the floating restaurants on the water then tour the village afterward. When you’re through and you’re still up to it, you may choose to tack on a couple additional temples in the area: Preah Ko (temple of the sacred bull) and nearby Bakong. After a day of exploration, dinner at Viroth’s should be a fine way to end the evening.

Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap

Day 3: it’s a good time to tackle some of the further afield temples, Banteay Srey and Banteay Samre. These two are roughly 45 mins outside town but offer a unique perspective in terms of their architectural style, especially Banteay Srey which was constructed in the 10th century (well before Angkor Wat). In addition, its Hindu origins have been mostly kept in tact – another interesting detail to note.
Temple fatigue’s likely set in at this point, so perhaps it’s a good idea to head back to town and check out the Angkor National Museum and other sights of interest as you round out your trip.

What and enchanting place! I fell in love with its people and culture and simply can’t wait to return. I highly recommend it.

Bangkok Attraction: Jim Thompson House and Museum

11 Apr
Thai silk weaving, Jim Thompson House and Museum

Thai silk weaving, Jim Thompson House and Museum

The Jim Thompson House and Museum should make an excellent addition to your itinerary while visiting Bangkok. It’s located just a few blocks away from the BTS Skytrain stop (National Stadium terminus) in the center of town. Entrance fee is a negligible $3/100 Thai Bath (as of this writing) and includes guided tours that are conducted in English and French.

The former house of American Jim Thompson who’s popularly known for helping revitalize the Thai Silkindustry. It’s exemplary of what an upper class Thai home would have resembled in its day — complete with rare collector pieces. It’s quite impressive. Mystery still shrouds Thompson’s final days. No one knows what happened to him precisely. Makes a visit to this museum all the more fascinating. It was doubly special for me as I happened to have visited on March 21st, which was coincidentally Mr. Thompson’s birthday.

Property grounds

Property grounds

This premises is a complex of sorts — housing a couple shops and onsite restaurant (which happens to be quite decent – if a tad pricy relatively speaking of course). Alternatively, if you’d like to grab lunch after your visit, hop back on the Skytrain one stop in the other direction to Siam. You’ll be exiting right at Siam Paragon–Bangkok’s mega mall. Descend to the food halls (lower level) for a massive (and relatively inexpensive) assortment of scrumptious delights.

72 Hours In Cairo

21 Jan

WP_002573It’s a nation in the grips of one of the most trying times in its recent history. It toppled a dictatorship in what the world came to know as one of the major events of the Arab Spring and still, a couple years or so years on, the struggle continues.

This is Egypt. Lands that birthed ancient civilizations millennia past where dynasties ruled and truly awesome architectural marvels still stand today. It is a shame then, that a place with such a glorious past, should be going through such trying times at the present.

Still, its splendor remains a wonderment today. It’s been a place of immense curiosity for me – ever since I can remember, the pyramids have been in my dreams. Recently, the opportunity presented itself to me, to visit and I felt compelled to seize it. Sure, news headlines of clashes in Tahrir Sq. are enough to dissuade even the most fearless of travelers  (and I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be a part of that distinguished category of brave souls) but it was a calling I yearned to heed. And thus, a couple months ago, I beheld the pyramids at Giza for the very first time. It was an immense experience.

WP_002609From the US, Egypt Air flies directly to Cairo from John F. Kenney Airport. Connections are also available via major European gateways, London Heathrow, Paris – Charles Du Gaulle and Milan – Malpensa, to list a few.  You do need a visa to enter the country but this can easily be obtained upon arrival in Cairo. Go straight to the kiosk adjacent immigration to make the purchase before proceeding to Passport Control. Depending on traffic, your journey into town should run roughly around 45 mins. or so. Hail one of the white taxis outside arrivals and make sure its metered or settle on a price before getting in. Conservatively estimated, it should run roughly around 80 Egyptian Pounds.

My choice for accommodation in Cairo was the Kempinski Nile Hotel in the Garden City area of town. It straddles the Nile (as most other hotels in the area do) and you have a choice while making a reservation to book a room facing the

Nile – I recommend it. The Kempinski is truly a treat; an excellent hotel right in the heart of town. You can see my review here. Some other recognizable choices you may elect to consider are the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah (right across the Nile in Zamalek), Hilton, InterContinental or Four Seasons.WP_002514

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot do and see in Cairo and its environs. I highly recommend arranging tours ahead of time or at the very least consult your hotel concierge for their suggestions. This is not a place to ‘wing it’ as it may prove particularly trying to navigate. Beware of unscrupulous readymade tour guides willing to take you to see the pyramids, etc, for a ‘small fee’. I consider myself a fairly savvy traveler but even I found myself in quite impressive situations where I was expertly out-haggled.

WP_002617Right in town, be sure to check out the magnificent Egyptian Museum housing a spectacular collection of antiquities. Do not miss the special exhibit featuring relics retrieved from boy-king, King Tot’s tomb. His personal items on display are in astonishingly immaculate condition, given their age.

After the Egyptian Museum, head out to Old Cairo and check out centuries old religious sites in the Coptic community. Do not miss the Hanging Church and impressive Coptic Museum. After your visit, you may proceed to the Islamic district where you can visit ancient mosques and then cap off your outing at Cairo’s grand Souk, Khan El Khalili.

The world famous pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza are indeed are a splendor to behold. No doubt, the major attraction in the area. It’s roughly


 45 mins outside Cairo. If time permits descend down to the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu and witness a space where a mighty king once laid millennia ago. I understand the light show at night (you can perhaps arrange as part of your tour) is very entertaining as well. I unfortunately didn’t get to see it.

Seamless excursions to majestic sites just outside Cairo, along the Nile, are possible as well. Check out the Saqqara, the WP_002684necropolis at Memphis and the ancient city itself. At Saqqara you can see the world famed Step Pyramid and at Memphis, the image of Ramses II comes to life in the ancient city. You can see various statues of the great Pharaoh spread across the area and the alabaster sphinx found outside the temple. Don’t miss the colossus inside the museum.

Further afield is the royal necropolis of Dahshur. This can also be easily added to your excursion. There you can see the Red and Bent Pyramids, both predating the pyramids at Giza. It is possible to visit the tomb inside the Red Pyramid at no extra charge. The charming city by the Mediterranean, Alexandria, can also be easily paired with a visit to Cairo.

WP_002622You’ll eat very well in Cairo. Choices are plentiful and run the gamut from casual to luxury dining. In the Garden City area, check out Osmanly restaurant at the Kempinski Hotel. Osmanly serves delicious Turkish fare and features and array of Egyptian wines to go along with your meal. El Kebabgy at the Sofitel Hotel is a fantastic choice for Egyptian grilled specialties. The food is scrumptious and the ambiance warm and inviting. Select a table on the outdoor deck for soothing views of the Nile and enjoy traditional Arabic tunes from the live band as they serenade diners. Another good choice in the Garden City area is Taboula serving up tasty Lebanese cuisine at extremely reasonable prices.

Egypt is an endlessly fascinating place. And at the heart of it, the thumping city of Cairo. To be sure, it’s not exactly for WP_002688the faint of heart. It can be chaotic and the frenzy runs at a feverish pitch at times–such as now. Amidst all this, however, is a city with charm and a lot of personality to spare. Visit. You may just be enchanted.

Tip: for US citizens venturing out to places that may be volatile or questionable, register with the US government through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at It’s a pretty handy service that gives registrants up-to-date alerts on the latest goings on, so that one can plan accordingly in case of emergencies.

In The Land of the Rising Sun: 72 Hours in Tokyo

19 Jan

Japan Nov 2010 014It’s probably fairly safe to say that whatever you’ve heard said about Japan–if you’ve never experienced it for yourself–is true. At least I found it to be so on my recent trip to Tokyo and some of its environs like Kamakura, for instance, which is absolutely a Japan Nov 2010 024must see.

Japan had (and still does) remain an endlessly fascinating place to me–its people, culture, way of life; I find it all very intriguing. And, so do most people I’ve conversed with on the subject. Thus, it’s no reason that it’s been on my travel shortlist for some time. Fortunately for me, in November of last year, I got the chance to make the jaunt.

Getting to Japan is fairly easy and straightforward from most major North American cities. As a hotbed of world commerce, the demand for business travel is fairly high and thus plentiful are the options, in terms of airline carriers, to whisk you off on your journey. At last count, there were 5 carriers in the NYC area alone offering nonstop service to Tokyo-Narita (NRT), namely, American, ANA (All Nippon Airways), United, Delta and JAL (Japan Airlines), so you have at least one choice for whatever airline alliance you may be a member of. Seamless connections are also possible via west coast cities like LA, San Francisco, or Europe if the 14 hr non-stop flight seems too daunting. Arrival in Tokyo is at Narita airport which is roughly 40 miles outside the city and could take anywhere from approx. 1 to 2hrs–depending on traffic–to Japan Nov 2010 001get into town. There’s a second airport serving the Tokyo areas that’s much closer, Haneda, but it’s mostly (or at least historically) served by domestic/regional flights. Lately some international service has begun from this airport with US carriers like American (to JFK), Delta to (to LA, Detroit), and JAL (to San Francisco), establishing new routes.

After clearing Customs and Immigration, proceed to the main arrivals hall where you’ll have Japan Nov 2010 055multiple options to choose from, in terms of transportation into town. Airport Limousine bus service is a decent and popular choice for making the trip into Tokyo. Most often, you can get dropped off right at your hotel if it’s one of the major ones in town. Ask the very friendly attendants at the reservations counter and they’ll be all too happy to assist.

As with any major metropolis, lodging options run the gamut, so finding suitable accommodation shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. Where the challenge may lie (as Japan–and particularly Tokyo–isn’t terribly inexpensive), is finding a place that fits the budget in the neighborhood of choice, especially in high season. You may do well to consult travel aggregators like or Orbitz who often offer desirable packages (air+hotel) at discounts, obviously when booked together. If you happen to need to book separately, I find that tends to have the most competitive rates and once you sign up for their rewards club, you’re off on your way to earning free nights after every 9 booked and consumed stays.Japan Nov 2010 023

My choice for accommodation was Park Hotel Tokyo, which is in the Shiodome business district, though a super short walk from Ginza and a world of shopping within easy reach. It’s a good choice – see my review here. Amongst the plethora of designer shops in the area (Gucci, Louis and Bvlgary are household names here), do not miss world famed and historic Mitsukoshi department store right at the intersection of the Ginza metro stop. Just make sure the wallet’s fully loaded with Yen and/or you’ve got the American Express on standby; you’re going to need it. While at Mitsukoshi, do not miss the food hall downstairs. The options are pretty varied with Asian and European selections; a great place to grab a quick bite–perhaps some lunch or a snack and beverage–or purchase souvenirs or gifts for loved ones back home.

There’s lots to see and do in this very lively city that I would highly suggest Japan Nov 2010 065mapping out a comprehensive itinerary prior to plunging into the experience of it all, so as to ensure you get a good sense of it all, especially if you’ve got limited time. I typically recommend taking tours should you not have the can-do adventurous spirit to attempt the explorations all on your own or have a local at your disposal to traverse the area with you. Personally, I enjoy being whisked about in those comfy coach buses while the Guides takes you through the historically significance of this relic, Emperor, Samurai, etc, or other. Of course there are several operators to choose from like Gray Line,, and Sunrise Tours, each offer comprehensive Full (including lunch) and half day tours and relatively run about the same cost. I recommend the Full Day as you obviously get to see and do more. Some notable points of interest not to be missed are: Imperial Palace, Meiji Shinto Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa Shrine, the neighborhoods of Harajuku, Roppongi Hills, Shinjuku and Shibuya (Tokyo’s Times Square equivalent) amongst others.

If time permits, I’d also encourage you to take advantage of some of the historic towns outside Tokyo like Kamakura; it’s quite aJapan Nov 2010 052 treat. While there, make sure you see the 13th century Great Buddha, Hase-Dera Temple with its beautiful gardens and view of the nearby beach and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Another point of interest may be Mount Fuji which isn’t terribly far outside Tokyo and the aforementioned tour operators have scheduled expeditions to this popular landmark as well.

There’s something on the menu for just about everyone here, even for the pickiest of eaters. Of course recognizable (to Westeners) Japanese fare, like sushi, sashimi and kobe run the gamut and quite tasty but there are other Japanese delicacies that the more adventurous may enjoy as well. If you can’t quite place your order in Japanese and English isn’t an option either, in some cases you can always point to a showcased model and make your selection that way. Gonpachi on the 14th Fl of one of the buildings in Shibuya (additional locales in Fukuoka and Beverly Hills) is a pretty decent choice for a scrumptious meal before a night out. The restaurant also features a sushi bar which tends to be more sedate than the adjoining main restaurant hall which can get a little loud especially during peak dinner hours, so you at least have a choice of either depending on what you’re in the mood for. As an added treat you also get nice views of Shibuya below.

Japan Nov 2010 069If you’re in the mood to splurge a little, head off to the Conrad Tokyo—in Shiodome–close to Park Hotel mentioned earlier in this write-up. Chef turned celebrity Gordon Ramsay’s taken up residence there – with a couple restaurants, Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo and Cerise by Gordon Ramsay. The former’s open for dinner while the latter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even if dinner plans take you elsewhere, I would encourage you to check out the hotel and adjoining lounge – the views are stunning and digs pretty smart. And, perhaps, at least, grab some breakfast or refreshments while you’re at it.

Indeed Tokyo’s nightlife simmers and partygoers and night owls alike are in for a treat. Whether you’re belting out your favorite tunes in the plethora of Karaoke booths in Roppongi (trust, you haven’t experienced anything quite like it), gyrating your hips to the latest pop tunes at the bar/clubs in Shinjuku, or having a late dinner and cocktails in Shibuya, Tokyo serves it up for just about everyone.

One thing’s for sure on holiday here—you’re bound to be drawn in. Before you know it you’ll be planning you next trip back. I know I can’t wait to make a return journey.

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