Recycled newspapers – Bobo fantasy or true eco-tourism?

On our recent family holidays to Kerala, India, I was struck how several hotels used recycled newspapers. Specifically, I found recycled newspapers being used as bags (for example, for shoes), sanitary bags, envelopes and garbage inserts. The bags were carefully constructed and came with string handles. I can’t evaluate whether these items were playing to the Bobo fantasy* of being ecologically friendly or truly represent a way of saving the planet. In any event, I thought they were effective in their function and provided a nice change from the typical hotel amenities. I didn’t get too much black ink on my fingers either! Have you remarked these types of initiatives elsewhere?

Recycled newspapers India, Minter Dial, The Myndset digital marketing*Bobo = Bohemian Bourgeois

 

A weekend in Sunny, Windy, Rainy Dorset

We spent last weekend in sunny, windy, & rainy Dorset, around the wedding of my dear old friend, Tom. Using our Tom-Tom to find Tom was something of a leitmotif for the weekend as we drove around endless country roads hidden from cows’ views by huge parallel hedges. Having not had the opportunity to stay up to date with the progress in GPS (“satnav” in the UK), I found out that this Tom-Tom also told us off when we sped (note to Audi: this functionality is not available in my Audi GPS).  

For historic value, you will not find this type of photo opportunity too frequently any longer: driving a London double decker through the country roads of Dorset. This bus shuttled the wedding guests to and fro the church. The major benefit was that, riding on top, you could finally look over the ever present hedges. The downside was that the overhanging trees were not used to the more-than-average vehicular height.

Red Double Decker Bus Driving Down Dorset Lanes



A couple of highlight addresses from our visit:
We stayed at the Old Manor, Kingston Maurwood, near Dorchester, run by the charming Andrew and Mulu Thomson, whom we thoroughly enjoyed. The rooms are large and comfortable. Plenty of charm in this manor house whose roots date back to the late 16th century, but which needed a major rebuild (basically up from scratch) in the 1990s. 

Down the road from the Old Manor is Athelhampton House & Gardens (Entry £8.75/adult). This is a charming 15th century house (built 1485, the year of the Reformation) that is owned and lived in by Patrick & Andrea Cooke (in the North wing). To be visited is the King’s Bedroom which was never slept in by a King; and the double bed is at best Queen size. The top floor of the House has an exposition of the Russian artist, Marevna. We had a lovely walk the the garden (dating back to 1891), featuring splendid topiary pyramids (picture below). Athelhampton is a prized wedding location (although you only have the ceremony in the House, because it does not have any large rooms in the house itself). The House was used recently in the about-to-appear film “From Time to Time” by Julian Fellowes with Dame Maggie Smith.


Athelhampton House Dorset

Despite the blustery winds, it was a grand weekend and a lovely wedding.

Hotel Stealth of Amenities and More

What is and what is not allowed to be taken from hotel rooms?

Hotel Amenities

 Le Figaro had an article (21/04/09) on hotel stealth by guests. If you are staying at a hotel, have you ever asked yourself which articles you are “allowed” to take and which you are not allowed to take without paying? As the Union des métiers et des industries de l’hôtellerie (Umih) declares, that list is rather short and sweet: basically just the little amenities (i.e. soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc. that the manufacturing brands should absolutely want to be taken home by the guests in an extension of the sampling campaign), including the branded pen, letterhead and notepaper. Other than theses amenities, however, there are apparently a number of other unauthorised items that are being added to the virtual shopping cart (virtual in absence of payment, that is). These other items include:

  • Branded ashtrays
  • Cushions
  • Lithographs
  • Showerheads
  • Even… televisions

Low Consumption Light Bulb According to the latest fad: guests are now unscrewing low consumption light bulbs. Hotels are “fighting back” by clearly indicating the prices, doing discrete inspections right before checkout, or better yet, adding RFID to the more precious items… Thieves beware!

Holidays Visit to Marrakesh Morocco Part 1 of 3

For our six-day visit to Marrakesh (or Marrakech if you prefer) en famille, we stayed at the not-even-opened Beldi Country Club Hotel (+212 (0)624-38-3950), on the route to Amizmiz, in Chérifia just 6 kilometres outside of Marrakesh.  Founded by Jean-Dominique Leymarie, the hotel is charm personified with a magnificent rose garden, splendid views of the Atlas mountain range (on clear days at least) and an entire infrastructure built from scratch using only local artists and talent. There are also myriad little cozy rooms in which to go and lounge about.

Beldi Country Club, Marrakesh Morocco
If the pools are not heated (a tad chilly for the April climate) and the tennis pro was more of a tennis am (as in pro-amateur), the lunchtime scene at le Palmier Fou around the Beldi’s southern pool was very Marrakesh haute société. The rooms are well done with lovely little details (cushy towels, soft cotton sheets and local “green” shampoo and body cleanser). The kids took advantage of some pottery classes (although 100 dirham per child per hour was a rather steep rate) with a transplanted Chilean artist. We benefited from the clay tennis court that was “unveiled” the morning of our arrival.  A second court is under construction.

Every day, we went into Marrakesh, visiting the hotspots as identified in the “Guide du Routard” including the visit of the trilogy of sites: Museum of Marrakesh in a 19th century traditional mansion, the Ben Youssef Medersa Koranic school, and some antique latrines.

On the 12th century latrines, one can literally take a pass. Not wanting to take the piss out of the historic site, there is not much to see here. The latrine’s explanatory board itself is almost out of sight. The visit of the 16th century Koranic school, on the other hand, is very worthwhile, especially to see the mosaics and lovely latticework in the stone and wood. Schooling up to 900 students at one point, this medersa is the largest in North Africa.

The stroll through the Medina souk with the jabs, taunts and enticements of the veritable carpet sellers does not diminish in stress over time. If this was my third visit to Marrakesh, the harassment in the winding souk is no easier to deal with. Yet, the magical buzz and clamour on the Place Jemaâ El Fna is no less enchanting than before. Between the snake charmers, the imprisoned monkeys and the charlatan magicians, the experience is remarkable. I can only imagine the strong imprint on the children’s minds.

We were spoiled by being invited to dinner in an absolutely magnificent Riad just outside the walls of the Medina, west of Marrakesh. The grandeur of the open skies, the multiple coves hidden away in the many corners, the ex-harem’s quarters and exquisite kilims, not to mention the wonderful food, made for a most memorable evening.  (Thank you to our local hosts)

Okaimeden Ski Lift Morocco

We made a number day trips, too.  We hit the valley of Ourika on two occasions. The first was tempered by heavy fog and rain, so we scrambled home to find the sunshine decorating our Beldi temporary residence. On the second – and substantially more successful – visit, we hit the town of Ourika (views), Oukaimeden mountain (skiing) and the village of Ourtes (lunch). The standout experience was surely the chairlift up the Oukaimeden mountain (3,200 metres peak), situated just 75 kilometres from Marrakesh. It was April 12th and we saw some thirty or so Moroccans swishing through the slush in equipment dating back to the end of the 20th century. Most authentic. The chairlift (25 dirhams per person round trip) is operated by the “Office National de l’Eau Potable,” translated to the National Office of Drinking Water. The ticket (see left) warns you that, in the case of stoppage or temporary closing of the slopes, you have no recourse on your 25 dirhams. While extremely slow, the ride was peaceful and offered some great views on the way back down.  Hard to believe that in April, you can ski in Morocco, but we have unadulterated proof. Nonetheless, not much would have tempted us to rent the archaic equipment to struggle through the thickest, wettest snow you are likely to see.

We took the kids to the water park Oasiria (route d’Amizmiz), run by a man from Toulouse, to enjoy the local attraction along with a mixture of French and well-to-do Moroccans. On balance, there were not many people and there were certainly no lines for any of the rides. Oscar (12) enjoyed the “camel” ride, a booming water slide.  On the downside, the wave pool takes 15 minutes to generate its waves. Unless you know people, you can’t last much more than four hours, especially if the weather is not too warm (only one heated pool).

I will write again with a review of food (part 2) and some commentary on Morocco (part 3)!  Watch this space.  In the meantime, your comments are, as ever, welcome.

Matsuyama ex-Love Hotel Spurned by Yahoo Buyers

Matsuyama Love Hotel in Japan

My sharp-witted friend, David (arigato gozaimasu), sent me this stunning news: you can buy this 30-room castle, plus several other buildings and 15,000 square meters of surrounding land for just over 1.1 million euros.

Here is the story.

Map of Japan - Matsuyama

The château in question is the ex-Love Hotel, constructed in the outskirts of Matsuyama (515,246 inhabitants), in the prefecture of Ehime, Japan. Here is the coverage of the proposed sale from Luxury Property Blog.

The castle was seized by local authorities of the Ehime Prefecture part way through a renovation around five years ago for non-payment of taxes. The castle was then put up on auction on Japan’s Yahoo Auction site on February 13th (2009). However, by March 10th, the deadline for the auction, no bids had been made above the stated minimum of 145,000,000 yen, or 1,114,997 euros (at March 20th exchange rate). Apparently there were plenty of visitors who came to do the pre-sale tour, but no takers.

Matsuyama Love Hotel, JapanThe castle is clearly not perfect. Granted there are some [serious] renovations needed. Further, it was built in 1980 and served as a luxury Love Hotel until 2003 — so you are not getting authentic history in the package. Perhaps, the small print is fatal, or the site lies atop a fault line. Whatever the reason, at 1.1 million euros or 1.5 million US dollars, this ex-Lover is not getting its expected palimony.

Visit to Banaue via Cabanatuan in the Philippines‏

Map of Luzon, Philippines
Having boarded a 6 a.m. flight in Guam, we arrived 3 1/2 hours later in Manila at 7:30 a.m., and headed straight north by car toward Banaue, to see the beautiful Ifugao rice terraces (acclaimed UNESCO historical site since 1995). The drive, as it turned out, was 10 hours long on the nose, if a little long in the teeth. En route, we visited the city of Cabanatuan, site of several POW camps in WWII, including Cabanatuan Prison Camp #2 in which my grandfather was imprisoned for a little over 2 years (1942-1944). Nothing is left of the camp sites which were actually located 5 miles east of Cabanatuan at Pangatian, so we pressed on. A roadside lunch of fish and chicken tamarind tided us over. The drive was diverting for the perpetual overtaking of overloaded jeepneys, motorcycles and 10-to-a-tricycles, zigzagging between uniformly sized dogs, thin chickens, pedestrians and kids all ages able to walk. It was not uncommon to find young kids (6-7 years old) carrying infants on their backs. Since all the homes (and businesses) line the road, the road was the children’s principal, if perilous, playground. Other sites included the drying of rice in one of the lanes (to make the two-way road a single lane), cows, carabao (local buffalo), goats and, of course, oncoming traffic.

We arrived at Banaue at 6 p.m. and, installed ourselves at the government-run Banaue Hotel, ate at the hotel restaurant which was a mistake. The buffet of chicken wings, fish sticks and spring rolls was classified as hot, but the only true part of H0T was the o as in zero, which is shared with C0LD. The canned fruit salad rounded off the meal. Next, we scurried off to reserve our seats for the hotel’s Cultural Show, a demonstration of the local dress, music and dances. The 40-minute show was performed by mostly Elders (as pictured below). Despite one dynamic younger male dancer, the tinny drum and rustic flute (seemingly improvised) music chased us out. A suggestion might have been to present a younger, more attractive set of dancers.

Banaue Ifugao Elders (Luzon, Philippines)
Another worthy side note for the Banaue Hotel were the “House Rules” announced in the room’s pamphlet. Neither visitors nor gambling are allowed in the rooms. Likewise there was a prohibition of cooking, ironing or hanging of wet clothes. Favourite rule: “Please inquire/arrange with Front Office for hotel items you may want for souvenir.” On the good news, the hotel had comfortable beds. However, on balance, it reminded us of communist style hotels. Zero charm, dour (if low consumption) lighting and minimal amenities.

Banaue Map, Luzon Philippines
The following morning, awoken by an array of roosters at the crack of dawn, we were met by the appropriately named Dawna, daughter of the notable Hangdaan family in Banga-an village (3300ft ASL), an hour’s drive from Banaue (SPOT 8 in the map above). The drive was scenic, if bumpy. The road is under improvement; the widening and paving project is as yet 1/8th complete after eight years. That would place termination around 2064. The surrounding rainforest was filled with small waterfalls, lush with greenery, if denuded of any wild animals. The last of the monkeys apparently disappeared some ten years ago.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
While we had been systematically warned of the “freezing” conditions at Banaue — it being 3000+ft above sea level — we were more than amply prepared for the 14•C temperatures. The lack of a sunny day did little for the photography of the rice terraces. However, the sun’s appearance when it appeared was always welcome in the mountains (see below this shot at dawn).

Banaue Mountains, Luzon Philippines

Once at Banga-an, we were challenged to a 1000-step descent to the lower village, in the midst of a vast array of rice paddies. We were welcomed with heart-warming generosity by mother of nine, Mrs Hangdaan, married at 14-years-old to her husband, a year older. We ate native rice and chicken prepared in their traditional nipa hut. We also were served a bottle of native rice wine and were caringly given a bottle of the juice to take back with us. The kids were adorned with prince and princess regalia to cap off a memorable visit. On the way back up to the main road, we witnessed the celebratory, if noisy, slaughter of a large pig for a one-week-old baby girl. The entire village was on hand to observe and feast — an event that lasted the better part of the day.
After a return drive through the same winding pass, we also hit the famed Viewpoint (SPOT 6 on the map above, 4000ft ASL), obscured in part by an afternoon fog. Our evening activity was dinner at Las Vegas (+63 (0)918-4409932), with a gracious and energetic host, Leopoldo Bustamante, better than average food and a miked stage for musically inclined guests. Unabashed, the Dials took to the spotlight like dogs to the doghouse. Oscar played his repertoire of tunes on the guitar and Alexandra accompanied me on a robust version of “Champs Elysées.”
We returned to the Banaue Hotel to find it swarming with police and military personnel. The hubbub was to prepare the surprise visit the following day of President Macapagal-Arroyo. The last time a President had come to Banaue was 2005. For her arrival, we benefitted from a tight security and tidied lobby. Since we were busy for our lunch, we declined the invitation and headed off to our next destination: Bolinao off Lingayen Bay. As it turned out, meanwhile, the President cancelled her trip — perhaps offended by our early departure.

Review of Manila Hotel Philippines — December 2008

Manila Hotel, Philippines
A historical landmark built in 1912, the 5***** Manila Hotel is a “venue for big events and grand aspirations” as is emblazoned all over the place, including in each room over the television. As for our two nights, just before Christmas, it was not exactly a grand experience.

Unfortunately for us, we came while the hotel was under renovation which meant that the Ilang-Ilang cafeteria was more like the Bang-Bang cafeteria, as we ate amid a chorus of hammering. To boot, the food was absolutely mediocre at Bang-Bang. The other downside to the renovations was that there was no swimming pool or tennis court. Instead, we were given a voucher allowing us to go to the Pan Pacific Hotel‘s pool (5-10 minutes away).

The hotel’s large reception hall featured live music with one of the squeakiest, whiniest violins, trundling out Vienna waltzes and Christmas carols. There was also a surprising gingerbread house, large enough to host kids and made entirely of real ginger bread. Outside, Santa Claus was a regular feature.

On the entertaining side, we were witness to a steady stream of weddings (surely because we stayed Saturday and Sunday), proof enough that the hotel has its standing in the Manila community. That said, we seemed to be in Manila in prime wedding time, right before Christmas (December and June are the two high seasons for weddings). Over the same weekend, there was an ally-ally-in free wedding whereby some 270 couples were married ensemble for free as a gracious gesture by the City. And each time we went to visit a church, whether it was the Manila Cathedral or St Augustin Church, weddings were in full swing, limiting the scope of our churchly visit.

Overall, the Manila Hotel was decidedly average, even if not 5 star pricing. The final straw was that our room featured cockroaches which rendered our bill less onerous. All said, the Manila Hotel may be a landmark, but it is clearly living on its colonial laurels. Hopefully, the renovations will bring it up a notch or five.

Barcelona – Some sites, restaurants & factoids

Culinary delights in Barcelona.

Barcelona is wondrous city offering an architectural feast at every corner, with a mixture of buildings dating back to the Roman times (down in the Gothic part of town) all the way through to contemporary masterpieces (Modernisme Route featuring the famous architects Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudi, etc…). The Palau Montaner, (photo on left) on Calle Mallorca, is a perfect example. Inside (no photos allowed because it is now a Catalan government building), there is a dominating stone staircase, complete with fantastic animal sculptures and wood carvings. A worthwhile visit (5E) if you can speak Castellano or Catalan!

Aside from the beautiful architecture, Barcelona also offers a host of wonderful restaurants. On the one hand, there are many modern-styled restaurants (Tragaluz, Acontraluz, Bestial, allBarcelona restaurant Botafumeiro outside by the same owner…) that provide fusion or Catalan dishes in trendy settings. Meanwhile, there are also many traditional restaurants with grand style decorations.

Barcelona restaurant Botafumeiro insideThe standout address is Botafumeiro (photos), a seafood lover’s paradise, located at El Gran de Gracia, 81 (+34 932 184 230). Lining the walls on the right, in front of the bar, is the wall of fame, with oodles of celebrity shots (Alan Alda, Calista Flockhart to name just a couple). The highlight (and discovery) of the menu: the percebes (“goose barnacle” in English or pollicipia cornucopia for the real aficionados). The espardenyes a la plancha (grilled sea cucumbers) were a little too chewy. A divine little wine, the Rioja Marques de Campo Noble Crianza 2004. Also to note the wonderful service of José.

Another fine establishment with a Franco-Catalan menu and off the beaten path, is La Venta, situated in Placa Doctor Andreu (+34 93 212 64 55), on the mountain Tibidabo. Great panoramic city views available if you step into the smokey Mirablau bar on the other side of the street. (Spain has yet to go smokeless in restaurants and bars). And, while I didn’t get a chance to taste, another great address is the 7 Portes, Plaza Isabel II, 14, a classic address, down near the port area in the Gothic part of town.

Just as there are many hip restaurants, there has been a mushrooming of hip hotels too (stayed at Hotel 987 on Calle Mallorca where the rooms are VERY modern and the door barely opens without touching the bed). It is worth mentioning, on the other hand, the beautiful and classic Casa Fuster, 132, Paseo de la Gracia +34 902-202 345. The story of this hotel/building is rather singular as the owner built the magnificent building in 1908 out of sheer love for his wife, but then ran out of money. So be it. The building remained and was relatively recently turned into the beautiful 5* hotel.

My visit to Barcelona also coincided with the Barcelona Marathon 2008, March 2nd, which was the marathon in Spain with the most ever runners (about 100,000). The runners were graced with perfect weather: sunny but not too hot.

Some other factoids that a visitor to Barcelona might be interested in knowing:

The city boasts a population of 1.4 million intra muros and 4 million people including the outskirts.

In the 19th century, the city was reorganized into stylized squares with parallel streets, originally designed to have family houses on the sawed off corners allowing for gardens and pleasant open spaces. All the streets going across town are named after (past or present) countries, while all streets going down to the sea are named after people.

The famed La Rambla (meaning “dead river” in arabic) avenue, is now awash in pickpockets (virtually everyone mentioned the risks). The highlight visit was the open air (if covered) Boqueria market, where your eyes will delight in the food displays. Watch out for the scary looking butchers (they have a tendency to show absolutely every part of the lamb and bull…). And you can have wonderful tapas at any number of the little stalls. My choice was El Quim.

Barcelona Plaza EspanaMeanwhile, Barcelona continues to struggle with its water. Mid March and the Barcelona water reserves are down to just 20% which is a real drama ahead of summer. The water problem did not dissuade the authorities from continuing the fountain entertainment at Plaza Espana’s (aka Plaça d’Espanya) Fountain de Montjuic. See here on YouTube. Beware: it only starts at 7pm on weekends (Friday-Sunday). Best to be down below to watch.

Happy No Smoking & New Year

No Smoking this New YearGlad to usher in a new year and, with it, the beginning of smoke-free hotels, bars and restaurants in Paris. But, as this BBC article explains, Paris is not the only place to take on new year resolutions. Eight German states, including Berlin and heavy drinking Bavaria, have now taken on a similar ban, with three more to follow during the year. The subject has evidently taken on a different spin in Germany where enforcement will be somewhat more lenient than in France due to, what I have to imagine are mediatised, links with Hitler’s Nazi regime’s crackdown on smoking. In France, the “leniency” was accorded all the way to the end of January 1st, 2008.

After reading up on the smoking bans, I was interested in the smoking populations in Europe and per the BBC site, it says that 45% of the adult population in Greece is smoking. Naturally, the more painful number would be evaluating how that statistic translates into children smoking. Of the 13.5 million smokers in France, as cited in the BBC article, how many are not adults (I hesitate to use the word kids)?

Thanks mostly to wiki, I have calculated that there are just over 50 million 18+ years olds in metropolitan France. Then, if one were (mistakenly) to take the 13.5 million as all being adults, that would give France a 27% adult smoking ratio (I assume an adult is still considered 18+). Double checking what statistics I could find on adult smokers, I discovered this NationMaster site, whose source is the World Health Organization, which claimed a wholly different picture, with 34.5% of smoking adults in France — and this is only marginally less than the 35% cited for Germany (in line with the BBC’s “one third of Germans” who smoke). The worldwide weighted average of adults smoking is 27.5% per the NationMaster site. For good reading, try the Herald Tribune’s article on the Future of the [smoking] Cafe Society!

Stateside, Chicago has also just put in place a revised no-smoking inside law to usher in the new year, too — this new law was to snuff out loopholes. There are just 23 states in the US that have imposed on indoor smoking. That is quite surprising to me.

Anyway, Happy New Year, Health and Happiness to all smokers and non-smokers alike.

Serendipity – Random Meeting in Hanoi

As I prepare a post for my impressions of Hanoi, Vietnam, I would like to isolate a great moment of serendipity–aka “oh boy, is this world small!”–that occurred on my first day of my trip.

On any business trip, I always look to get in some exercise as a way to combat the jet lag. If I can, I try to fit in a game of tennis. On this occasion, having just arrived in Hanoi, I went to find my partner at the Sofitel Hotel Metropole. I arrived at what turned out to be the back entrance of the hotel. Not realizing there were two entrances, I stood patiently while my partner waited for me at the front of the hotel.

After a few moments, a couple, also tourists, walked up to me. The smiling man, in his 60s, asked me where I was playing tennis. Sheepishly, I told him that I didn’t actually know the location of the court as it had been arranged by my partner. The conversation continued:

“So, do you always like to play tennis?”
“Yes, absolutely,” I answered enthusiastically. “I try to make it a habit when I travel.”
“I do too,” the man said quickly.
“I have a little saying,” I explain to him, “that I prefer to have a tennis playing friend in every port.”
“As do I! Well, my name is Harry Roebuck,” he said tending his hand.
“And I’m Minter Dial,” I continued, but very sure I’d heard that name before. “You don’t happen to know my father, Victor?”
“Well, yes, I do,” Harry said surprised. “Where do you live?”
“In Paris, not so far from where my father is now.”
“And, I suppose you might also know your father’s friends, Adam and Donna?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” I said, “in fact, we had Thanksgiving dinner at their place in Paris just last week.”
“The truth is,” Harry admitted, “I was invited to the same dinner party. But, as I had this trip planned, I wasn’t able to attend.”

What a lark! Harry and I met up for a drink later that day, and shared a wonderful moment. With kindred spirit, we called my father and, in a form of crank call, confused him utterly with an improvised “cross-wiring” whereby I pretended to have a call waiting that was Harry also calling me on my cell (how on earth he knew me, much less had my number blew right by my father?). We all laughed heartily once the confusion cleared.

So, the conclusion of the story might be that the world is SOOOO small. But, in the end of the day, the world is made smaller by (a) being gregarious and (b) having a large [extended] address book. So, here’s to being gregarious and shrinking the world (and it doesn’t have to happen only via the internet).

Harry and I promised to meet up “for real” in Paris. Hopefully, we will also get in a game of tennis. wink