The Origin of Santa Claus and Christmas | in Turkey

Happy Holidays Readers!

This is a most interesting account of the origin of Santa and Christmas.  It’s from one of my preferred travel partners who helps me create fabulous customized luxury vacations in Turkey — Turkey At Its Best.  Engin, my friend and contact there, also credits a Turkish sumeriologist named Dr. Muazzez Ilmiye Cig in this account.

” You may not know that Turkey and Turks have played a rather unique role in the history of Christmas Holiday celebrations:  First of all, Santa Claus was from Demre (ancient Myra),  on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.  He was the Bishop of Patara, and a kind and giving man, who assisted poor brides-to-be by secretly placing  gifts in their homes.  He probably wore a toga and sandals, rather than a fur coat and hat, as he lived in a rather hot climate!  His gift giving  became well known in the area, and he was eventually made a saint.  Today, you can visit his church in Demre and the site where he was buried.  Alas, his tomb was robbed by sailors from Bari (Italy)  who took his remains there; he was re-buried under a church that bears his name.

Turkish Christmas TreeNow, something else you may not know is that Turks, whose original homeland was Central Asia, had celebrated a holiday called “Nar Tugan” in pagan times, 3000-4000 years ago.   “Nar” means sun and “Tugan” means  birth, so it meant the birth of the sun;  interestingly enough, Noel also means “day of birth”.   Ancient Turks believed in one God, creator of the world, and they called him “Tengri”.   One of their demigods was Ulghen, to whom they prayed on December 22, to ask that the sun be returned to them after the longest night of the year.  They had a sacred spruce tree which was believed to symbolize the center of the earth;  they decorated it with ribbons and placed gifts under it.  All the people in town dressed in new clothes for the occasion, wished for good fortune,  and had big family feasts, just like we now have during Christmas.  This symbolic  “Tree of Life” can still be seen in the designs of Turkish carpets and tiles.

It seems that Ulghen of the Turks eventually became the symbol of “Santa” for Christians; you can see that  the caftans, fur-trimmed hats, big belts, and high boots that the Turks wore in those days are now  parts of the Santa Claus costume in our times.

Thank you for trusting your valued clients to us; we will do our best to continue to deserve that trust!

We wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season, with peace and prosperity for all!

 

 

Call Josh for details, excellent pricing, the ultimate in service & exclusive hotel amenities with Virtuoso

 

josh friedman luxury travel
in san francisco
415.987.0372 | joshfriedmantravel.com
with travel experts, a virtuoso member agency

 

twitter  flickr  facebook   you tube  tripadvisor

Josh Friedman is an old-fashioned travel agent offering highly personalized 24/7 service. Specialties include high-end and bespoke luxury travel for small groups and individuals.  His areas of expertise include ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations & luxury hotel stays.  He also plans spectacular honeymoons, anniversary and birthday celebrations and completes trips that clients have started and just can’t quite figure out how to finish.

His relationships built over twenty years with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful vacation. As a client you get exclusive and complimentary perks that you can’t get on your own — from VIP introduction to the hotel’s management to upgrades, scrumptious breakfasts and hotel spending credits.

affiliated with travel experts, a virtuoso agency and four seasons preferred partner,
201 spear st., ste 1100,  san francisco, ca 94105 cst# 2080753-40.

Josh Friedman Luxury Travel | San Francisco

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Galapagos Luxury Travel | Planning

You have completed your basic research – you have selected your ship, your itinerary and you have dates. Now, on to PLANNING: When to Go / Getting There / The Focus or Part of the Whole. Read On! Brought to my readers from the folks at Ladatco:

LT Banner
#052511 May 25, 2011Times ‘AChanging
GALAPAGOS EVOLVINGChapter 2: Planning

 

“Galapagos 101” re-written

WHEN TO GO?If you have the luxury of traveling anytime, you can further maximize your Galapagos Experience by considering two influences: weather and “who’s in, what’s up” so to speak.

WEATHER: In the real world, for you and I weather on the equator is not dramatically different any time of the year though it does influence life in the islands.

WHO’S IN, WHAT’S UP: There are plenty of animals and plenty of activity in the islands all year. But each species has its cycles – when they mate, when the babies are born, when the kids are infants, when they are juveniles, when they learn to fly or fend for themselves. The Waved Albatross, as an example, take extended vacations and are not in residence December to April.

GETTING THERE:

There are plenty of flights into Quito and Guayaquil, from the US and from Latin America. While not manatory by law, it is “mandatory by reality” to be in Ecuador two nights before flying to the islands for embarkation.

Why? To ensure that you do not, literally, “miss the boat”. Because if for some reason – weather or mechanical – you do not arrive the first night, you still have another day to get to Ecuador. If you are not on the morning flight designated as “the flight” by your ship, you will miss the ship and there will be no way to catch up. Everything will be lost and there are no refunds of any kind.

So, plan on being in Ecuador two nights before the cruise.

THE FOCUS OR PART OF THE WHOLE?

Going to the the Galapagos may be the main goal of your journey or it may be part of a larger trip.

There are plenty of experiences in Ecuador: the rainforest, the cloud forest, Indian Markets, Haciendas, activities such as biking, hiking, trekking. Depending on what you want, you can easily spend two to three weeks just in Ecuador.

And the Galapagos are very often combined with Peru, giving a historical addition to the world of nature – a perfect combination of History and Natural History “Incas & Islands”.

NEXT WEEK – WEDNESDAY JUNE 1 – CHAPTER THREE, GALAPAGOS 101:

DOING – Is it really a cruise, The Average Day , Wet vs Dry

LADATCO’s preferred ships and itineraries 2012

2011 Holiday Space

Galapagos Evolving – Galapagos 101 re-written

The introduction & first newsletter in this series of four

Galapagos Evolving – Chapter One: RESEARCH

for reservations and information contact:josh friedman luxury travel at casto

in san francisco’s financial district
415.248.5079 | joshfriedmantravel.com
a virtuoso member agency

Wat Phu Champasak | Southern Laos

Dear Readers.

This guest blog was written by John Leopold, a former landscape designer and now owner of Champaca Journeys. He spends a great deal of his time in Bhutan and Southeast Asia. Here is his latest:

The planes get ever smaller as I move through Laos, and the last looks like a toy plane on the runway. It’s a MA 60, built in China and has wheels fastened not to the fuselage, but to the wings, of course they retract into the wings after take off, there’s an odd tripod quality to it. Though the 70 minute flight is smooth. We land in Pakse, and from there a taxi to the hotel in town.
It’s a small town, like many places in Laos, the infrastructure here is minuscule, a few buildings, a market, open air restaurants along the Mekong River, a hotel in the town center, school, church, many Buddhist temples and government buildings. Not decrepit, but provincial outpost written all over the place. From town I arrange a visit to the Champasak ruins. I assume one vehicle will take me there. Early next morning I get into a van, with several others foreigners, all of whom are going to different places. Drive for 30 minutes, then they hand me and a few others off to a kid who we follow to the Mekong River, hop in a long skinny boat, and 10 minutes later we’re on the other side. Up the steep bank and onto the grounds of a guest house. A few stay there, another fellow motions to me and I get into a tuk tuk, a motorcycle pulling an open air wagon, 2 seats facing each other, covered top and open sides. One of the nicest and most fun ways to travel in Laos. I always choose the tuk tuk option for short distances. It’s 9 kilometers the driver says, or maybe 8 or 10 he then modifies. Across mostly flat country, rice fields all brown from recent harvest, the rest of the country green, forest and small farms. The road full of motor scooters and kids on bicycles, wicker baskets holding live chickens everywhere, and piles of vegetable for sale in front of each building. Many houses, bigger than elsewhere in Laos, still the after effects of French colonialism show in the architecture, so the houses all attractive 1 story concrete structures with tile roofs and pleasing proportions. What the French left here is probably most intangible, but baguettes, good coffee and pretty houses are seen or tasted daily. Tuk tuk driver has small command of English, (and I have miniscule command of Lao) but friendly and chatty and we manage to have a conversation, though I’d be hard pressed to tell you any words. All the while there’s a mountain getting ever closer.He drops me at 10:00 a.m. by the base of the mountain, motions to museum, and then another wave of his hand to the ruined city complex. See you at 12:30 he says, motioning to his watch to make sure I get it. I’ve just been handed off like a baton from a series of people, and different modes of transport, and I’m ahead of schedule, as I arrive in Champasak. Always easy to feel secure in the hands of the Laotians, ‘don’t worry’ ought to be the country motto.

Champasak Ruins, of in Lao Wat Phu Champasak is my destination. Built by the same people who gave the world the phenomenal Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia. Like Angkor is was built over a series of centuries, beginning in the 5th century and probably ending in the 16th century. One thousand years of habitation. And like Angkor, the early kings were Hindu, with architecture and religious imagery to reflect this. As Buddhism took root in the 12th and 13th century new imagery prevailed, much like in Angkor, making an intruguing bend of the 2 religions. One need not be an archaeologist to see the many simlarities in architecture between Angkor and Champakak. The orientation of the temples is rigidly rectangular and symmetrical, with square and rectangular artificial lakes surrounding square and rectangular temples. Eveything is constructed of stone block, quarried and then fit together with elaborate precision and unlike Angkor which sits on flat level ground, these begin at the base of a mountain and march up the mountain. Meaning you have to work to see these, a self administered sweat bath as you climb the hills in tropical heat. On the other hand, it’s really beautiful, the walls are leaning and some fallen over, but pretty damn good for 1000 years old, plus or minus a few centuries. And unlike Angkor (which is very impressive) with its crowds and at times carnival atmosphere, here there are just a handful of foreigners, plus another handful of locals and I feel the magic of the place in a more intimate way than in Angkor. And though abandoned as a city at least 500 years ago, it’s still sacred to Lao, and fresh offerings of incense and flowers sit on all the altars and in front of all buildings. It feels in fact, surprisingly alive, and to call it a ruin disrespectful.

By early afternoon I’m chowing down to a meal of larb, ground and cooked chicken, mixed with unknown tasty spices, and eaten with sticky rice (everything is eaten with sticky rice in Laos). The rice comes in a woven basket, sometimes warm usually room temperature and with your hands you make a ball (it sticks together, yet leaves no sticky residue on your hand, how cool is that?) and I wash it all down with a Beerlao, the country’s only brew, but thankfully a really tasty one.

My tuk tuk driver materializes, the morning’s journey is repeated in reverse, and by late afternoon, I’m in a sidewalk cafe in Pakse (another effect of French colonialism?) Beerlao in hand.

by John Leupold

to book any of john’s journey’s please contact:

josh friedman luxury travel at casto
in san francisco’s financial district
415.248.5079 | joshfriedmantravel.com
a virtuoso member agency

My Cruise on Silversea Cruises’ Silver Cloud

The Giotto Report
My Cruise on Silversea Cruises’ Silver Cloud
Caribbean | February 2011

Dear Readers,

I have returned from the Caribbean and a cruise aboard Silversea’s Silver Cloud from Ft. Lauderdale to Barbados.  Here’s my report of our Virtuoso Voyager Club’s great experience.

The first installment below covers Silversea and Silver Cloud in general with thoughts on service, crew & cuisine! Subsequent blog posts will focus on Voyager Club, the ports and excursions.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida . Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands . Philipsburg,  St. Maarten . St. John’s Antigua, Castries, St. Lucia.  Port Elizabeth, Bequia. St. Vincent & The Grenadines (including Mustique) . St. Georges’s Grenada . Bridgetown, Barbados.

Silversea Cruises

As most of my regular readers know, I used to work for Seabourn Cruise Line and had never sailed on Silversea.  As I get rave reviews from my clients about both lines, I thought it was about time to try the former competition. I also wanted host a Virtuoso Voyager Club sailing and learn more about that so when the opportunity came up I jumped on it.

Silversea’s first ship was Silver Cloud –launched in 1994. Silversea was Seabourn’s first serious competitor, and took the Seabourn idea a step further with a bigger and more spacious ship, almost all with balconies (only Seabourn’s larger suites had them), and at a reduced price. Silversea was created by V Ships, who had recently sold off their Sitmar Cruises brand.

Throughout the cruise I was asked which I preferred, so I’ll tell you now that I really can’t answer that question. I did just sail on Seabourn Sojourn in November 2010, but that was only for 2 days.  It’s been longer since I did a full Seabourn cruise and any full-on review wouldn’t be fair. (Yes, I did love it. Read my blog post)  But frankly it’s not that important as my clients consistently tell me they love them both.

Silver Cloud

Service

The cruise was very enjoyable for everybody I spoke to, including myself, our Voyager Club group of 28 persons, my co-host Gary Rhodes and other guests. Comments regarding the high level of service were the most common and I agreed to some extent. On a small ship of c. 450 or less guests, one’s relationship with their dining room and bar waiters, cabin stewardesses, butlers and ship’s general management (i.e. cruise director, shore excursions staff, reception, etc). is paramount. Because the ship is so small, and with a limited number of restaurants/lounges to explore and experience, the quality of your personal relationship can be the difference between a mediocre and a stellar experience.

Take Myra.  She’s the bartender in The Bar. Fabulous. A bit like Cheers, she knows your name and what you drink – and only after one visit. After dinner, what a pleasure to hang out with your new friends in The Bar and to enjoy Myra’s company.  Same to be said for Selma in the Terrace Café for breakfast.  “Hello Mr Josh” or “Mr Friedman” was a very nice way to start the day. She and her colleagues tried to remember your preference for coffee, lattes or whatever. Jimmy Kovell the Cruise Director, Bertram Petyt the Hotel Manager and Jorge Caeiro, the Maitre’D all went above and beyond the call of duty.

I did feel however that there were language problems between guests and crew as well as a general lack of polish in the restaurants. With dining so important an event on a luxury ship, and interaction of the staff and guests so critical,  English comprehension needed to be better. This created a problem with the general way in which the entire dinner experience flowed and with the specifics of getting what you wanted.

They could have done a better job in anticipating needs and  being a bit sharper in their service. On a ship of this caliber, one shouldn’t have to ask for butter, bread, water, etc. but you did too often. And then sometimes it took too long to get it. Nonetheless, after a few days of cruising and relaxing a bit, it was less annoying. But it should have been better.

Food

For me food is the #2 item of importance after service. But they’re close! I’ll remind my readers that I’m a San Francisco food snob before I say that I found the food quality inconsistent. Presentation on the plate was perfect, but flavor was mixed. Sometimes the courses were unique and would rival San Francisco’s best, and at other times they were basic and dull. Coupled with inconsistent service it was hard to know how your meal was going to go.

Crew

The very friendly and hardworking crew is primarily Pilipino, with a scattered person or two from other countries including Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius, Slovakia, Lithuania.

Passengers

While mostly American from the Midwest and East (this was a winter cruise), there were many guests from England and Scotland. Others I met came from France, Belgium, Chile and Australia. Ages ranged from 2 on up, with most in their 50s to 70s.

The Giotto Reports are reviews and stories of my travels around the world.  They’re named after Giotto di Bondone, the 14th century Florentine artist, whose namesake street I lived on at number 37 in Florence  when I was in college.

For my complete set of photos from this trip and others, visit my photo home page. [photos coming soon]

 

 

 

 

 

Call Josh for details, excellent pricing, the ultimate in service & exclusive hotel amenities with Virtuoso

 

josh friedman luxury travel
in san francisco
415.987.0372 | joshfriedmantravel.com
with travel experts, a virtuoso member agency

 

twitter  flickr  facebook   you tube  tripadvisor

 

Josh Friedman is an old-fashioned travel agent offering highly personalized 24/7 service. Specialties include high-end and bespoke luxury travel for small groups and individuals.  His areas of expertise include ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations & luxury hotel stays.  He also plans spectacular honeymoons, anniversary and birthday celebrations and completes trips that clients have started and just can’t quite figure out how to finish.

 

His relationships built over twenty years with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful vacation. As a client you get exclusive and complimentary perks that you can’t get on your own — from VIP introduction to the hotel’s management to upgrades, scrumptious breakfasts and hotel spending credits.

 

affiliated with travel experts, a virtuoso agency and four seasons preferred partner,
201 spear st., ste 1100,  san francisco, ca 94105 cst# 2080753-40.

 

Josh Friedman Luxury Travel | San Francisco

 

Silver Cloud

Silversea's Silver Cloud

Silver Cloud Bow

Gulliver’s Travels | The Movie and Me

This post was originally published last year after I visited the set of Gulliver’s Travels outside of London. The producer is a friend of mine and the movie is being released this week.

 

May 2009, just outside London

Turns out that my best friend Greg, from when I first moved to San Francisco in 1979, and who I lost contact with years ago, found me on Facebook about a month ago. So when I happened to post a message that I was going to London, he suggested we get together as he’s being living here for a while.

Greg doesn’t have your average desk job. He’s a movie producer and he’s here filming Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black, Emily Blunt and very friendly Jason Segel. So I took the bus to Oxford, then another bus to Woodstock and visited him on the set at Blenheim Palace.

  Gullivers Travels

I had been there once before with my sister in the 70s when we were both in college, and it was great to go back. Oxford is a fantasy – a university town from the 13th century, as is Blenheim – a storybook palace in the spectacular English countryside. Before I connected to Woodstock I enjoyed visiting the churches, the libraries and the school buildings of Oxford, where some of Harry Potter was filmed. The sophisticated nature of the tourists in this town makes for a very different tourist experience. The first time I went I was 21 and actually was able to handle Michelangelo prints – by myself – with plastic gloves they gave me. It was for many years a highlight of my life. And this time the Ashmolean Museum was sadly closed for renovations, but I could still sense a trust that the locals have in the visitor as I roamed the historic schools that make up Oxford. No guards. No rules. It’s close to a perfect world.

It took me a while to find Greg. First I found the sword department. There are soldiers in this movie. Gullivers TravelsPretty cool, but I decided not to try and borrow one. Then I saw a princess up on top of the palace. But Greg was out to lunch. I mean, where do you go in Woodstock?

As I was checking out the scene of massive amounts of production equipment, I heard his voice from behind talking to a colleague. Walked right by me, but fortunately, silver hair and all (both of us) he recognized me once I called his name. We spent the better part of the afternoon catching up in between takes (and more takes) and whatever else went on. Jason (playing Horatio) filled me in on the plot while Greg was busy. From what I could tell, it looks pretty hysterical. Look for it this Saturday, Christmas Day, 2010.

Gullivers Travels

Can you Spot Jack Black taking a break? 
 
For my complete set of photos from this trip and others, visit my photo home page.

Josh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler and management of study abroad groups. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip.

If you’d like to learn more about luxury travel and our services, please contact Josh Friedman Luxury Travel in San Francisco’s Financial District via phone at 415.248.5079 or email: josh [at] joshfriedmantravel [dot] com. Follow him on Twitter, too.

Royal Wedding News

 

Dear Readers,

I’m passing on the gossip from the UK from one of our excellent partners on the ground in London, England, Scotland and Wales. Wherever you’d like to go in the world we specialize in luxury customized vacations to suit your wishes.

Thanks to Andrew and the team at Luxury Vacations UK.

News of The Royal Wedding in 2011

I expect you have all heard of the fantastic news of the 2011 wedding plans of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Prince William and Kate Middleton gave their first interview on British television last night, they were both extremely relaxed. Kate was wearing Prince William’s late mothers engagement ring, which is set with a large sapphire within a circle of diamonds. Both seemed very excited about the wedding as expected.

Few brides remain unscarred by the ordeal of organising a wedding at just a few months’ notice. But when your wedding venue is a toss-up between the cathedral and the abbey, your fiancé is second in line to the throne, the guest list is packed with heads of state, and a sixth of humanity is expected to tune in to watch you say your vows live on television, there is only one thing for it: you have to hand the whole thing over to the control of the in-laws.

Fortunately for Kate Middleton, the Windsors have a team of in-house wedding planners who can put on a show like no one else and are famous for an unrivalled attention to detail.

Within the Royal Household, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office will take the lead in organising the wedding but Clarence House, where Prince William has an office, will also have a major input, as will the Government, Westminster Council and the police. The Queen is expected to have the final say on key arrangements.

She has just cancelled the Buckingham Palace staff Christmas party, displaying an awareness that the Royal Family must not be unnecessarily extravagant in difficult economic times. However, for the wedding, she will want to stage an event that can be enjoyed by the nation.

When she married in 1947, the Queen used 300 clothing coupons to buy the material for her dress and most of the cost of the wedding came from savings George VI had made during the war from the Civil List.

There has been speculation that William would not choose to marry at St Paul’s Cathedral because it was where his parents’ doomed marriage began. However, Westminster Abbey will be full of difficult memories; the funeral of his mother was held there. The Abbey became the royal wedding venue of first choice last century. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were among the royals who wed there.

If William and Miss Middleton wanted to revert to the earlier tradition of more intimate royal nuptials, an outside bet would be the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks. His close friend, Nicholas van Cutsem, married there last year.

If the couple dream of a congregation full of friends and relatives they may be disappointed. Certainly many pals, like Thomas van Straubenzee, whom he has known since prep school, the nightclub promoter Guy Pelly, the van Cutsem brothers, Jamie Murray Wells, the founder of Glasses Direct, and Richard Branson’s daughter, Holly, will attend. And there will be many relatives, including numerous distant cousins from European royal households, whose faces will be as familiar as their place in the family tree.

But there will also be Commonwealth heads of state, politicians and, possibly, even newspaper editors, who cannot be described as part of the social circle of the Prince, his bride, or their families.

The Middletons own a children’s party business, Party Pieces. But for all their expertise (you can get a “princess party ultimate party kit” for just £21.40) they are unlikely to be called upon to choose the fizz for the wedding breakfast.

The wedding does mean that there will be huge interest in London, England, Scotland and Wales.

For example London: Buckingham Palace and two potential wedding venues St Paul’s Cathedral (where Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married) and Westminster Abbey. England: Weekend home of the Royal family at Windsor Castle. Wales: William is the future Prince of Wales and King and he is also stationed with the Royal Air Force in North Wales….and lastly, Scotland: St Andrew’s University is where Prince William and Kate Middleton met while taking a degree in the history of art. I’m sure UK-Wide tours will be popular in 2011, therefore Luxury Vacations UK have the knowledge and resources to help you plan extended tours of the entire UK for you and your clientele.

Personalised Sightseeing Tours | Private Chauffeured Transportation | Destination Management

josh friedman luxury travel at casto
in san francisco’s financial district
415.248.5079 | joshfriedmantravel.com
a virtuoso member agency

[sign up for exclusive offers]

St. Regis Princeville in Kauai | A Visit

This hotel on Kauai’s north shore is the perfect beginning for a discussion of what really defines 5 stars and the term ‘luxury.’  I’ve said it before and now I’m reminded again – but what looks great on paper and on the Internet, isn’t necessarily so.  Trip Advisor can fall short of comparing hotels within the same class. – just because somebody writes that their hotel stay was or wasn’t great doesn’t mean that they have much (or any) experience comparing it with other similar hotels.  The traveler has to go beyond these tools – ask friends, read Virtuoso Life, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, ask your preacher or ask a good travel agent who specializes in what you’re looking for.

Here’s a non-exhaustive look at some of my impressions of the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai.

SERVICE
 The bell staff was probably the best of any hotel I’ve ever stayed out. They were friendly, fast and helpful. You couldn’t ask for more.

The Front Desk staff were good too. I didn’t like my initial room directly over the pool so within a couple of minutes we had something preferable. But they didn’t go out of their way to greet you when you walked by or otherwise make you feel ‘at home.’

The Concierge Desk is very odd. They share staff with the Starwood time share people so you don’t know if you’re speaking to somebody who wants to help you or sell you something. As soon as I got into my room on the first day, I had a phone call from the “Starwood Preferred Guest” person telling me to come down for a gift. Turns out they were the afore-mentioned time-share people. I felt like I was at a cheap hotel in Mexico [so I’ve heard – I would never stay in one]. This was very disturbing.

The first day at the pool we were asked by the server to order our ‘last call’ drink because she wanted to go home. Now that I write this 2 weeks later I still can’t believe she said that. The next day a different server said the same thing.

– The last day at the pool I was never approached by a server asking if I even wanted a drink.

DESIGN & SETTING
This older 80s Sheraton was gutted and reopened a year ago as Starwood’s upscale brand, St. Regis. Apparently they put all their allotted time in planning for service issues to design issues. The hotel is absolutely beautiful. The entrance, lobby, bar, rooms and hallways are all done in a very sophisticated modern aesthetic with Hawaiian accents.  They used native Hawaiian material as well as stone from Egypt.  I really enjoyed walking around the place as it was so beautiful to look at.  And when you couple that with the natural setting  – which is one of the finest settings for a resort hotel in the world – it’s really, really nice. No wonder there were so many honeymoon couples there.

ROOMS AND SUITES
They have the perfect rooms for honeymooners – as long as you’re young.  Amazing views of Hanalei Bay, and in the junior suites, a shower overlooking the bay. Black marble bathrooms with silver furnishings are quite continental.  Rooms don’t have balconies, but the window do open and they have a very nice long window seat. If you’re familiar with Seabourn’s original ships, it’s kind of like that.

But you have to be young because the bathtub/shower combination is raised and you have 2 steep steps to get in there. Once you and your partner are inside you can flip a switch and the opaque wall becomes transparent with a view of the mountains as well as your entire room. Very sexy. But if you’re over 40 there are 2 problems. The first is that you may not be able to make it into the tub/shower without killing yourself and two, if you need you use the bathroom in the middle of the night as soon as you turn on the bathroom light the entire room lights up, opaque or not. Also, there’s no shower door – it’s your European style half glass style. This room is not big on modesty.

The amenities were pretty wonderful. By Remede.  I much preferred them over Bulgari or even L’Occitane which seem to be popular lately. Housekeeping was responsive and very good.

RESTAURANTS.  PUBLIC SPACES.
We had breakfast in the main restaurant overlooking Hanalei Bay. If you were the honeymooners from Arkansas we met, you probably would have loved it. But I’m from San Francisco and I found the food to be mediocre and the service was slow. I missed the Macadamia Nut pancakes that I had at the Grand Hyatt Kauai on my last trip.  Or give me the buffet at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island anytime!

And other than a little café you can go to for morning coffee (room coffee was awful) and a yoghurt, there are no other shops in the hotel at all. Actually there’s an entire area near the Concierge/Timeshare desk that is deserted.

GRAND HYATT KAUAI

It’s been about 3-5 years since I was last in Kauai and stayed at the Grand Hyatt.  The hotel is located on the sunnier (and much more active side) of the island, in the area of Poipu Beach.  It’s about a 45-60 minute drive to Princeville/Hanalei Bay. It’s much bigger, a bit more commercial and decidedly less snazzy than the St. Regis, but it worked better.  The restaurants are nicer as I remember, and the spa is much nicer. The beach isn’t good at all for swimming, but it’s not so great in Hanalei either. And the service at the pool bar was great!

HANALEI

A fun part about staying up north is that your vacation has to be relaxed. There is little to do besides hike, kayak and hang out.  And we did all three. Restaurants are good enough and Tahiti Nui does have awesome Mai Tais and healthy size and tasty dinner entrees.  All the restaurants are super casual and almost all are indoor/outdoor. Try Bubbas Burgers, Kalypso and Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant.  The Kauai Grill (by Jean-George Vongerichten), in the St. Regis, was too austere for my tastes so we didn’t go.

COMPLIMENTARY HOTEL PERKS & BEST WAY TO BOOK

The one-two solution for learning more about Kauai is to 1) call me (415.248.5079) or email me; and 2) have me book you on your honeymoon or next vacation there. And remember, we offer fabulous perks at all top hotels in Hawaii (even the St. Regis), such as complimentary breakfast, upgrades, late check-outs, spa credits, etc. Amenities differ depending on the property. Best rates (if not better) guaranteed at all of Hawaii’s top hotels and resorts.

For photos of this trip to Kauai, please visit my Flickr site.
And for current vacation and cruise promotions, visit my site or click here to go there directly. Or call me.

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Josh Friedman is a travel agent specializing in luxury travel for small groups and individuals – particularly ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations and food & wine inspired journeys.  Based in San Francisco, and with clients throughout the USA and abroad, his business is focused on 24/7 personalized service to the sophisticated leisure and business traveler and management of study abroad groups. Business services include high-touch reservations, exclusive hotel and airline offers.  His relationships with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful business or leisure trip.

If you’d like to learn more about Kauai and the St. Regis or Hyatt Hotels, other luxury hotels in Hawaii, or anything else about luxury travel, please contact me in San Francisco’s Financial District via phone at 415.248.5079 or email: josh [at] joshfriedmantravel [dot] com

hanalei kauai church

 St. Regis PrincevilleKauai Bridge

perugia and umbria | the giotto report part ii

PART I  covered Orvieto and Todi.  This next part of my report from my July 2010 trip through Italy with my partner and young nephew, continues through Perugia and into the province of Le Marche  

PERUGIA

The capital of Umbria, I lived here for 6 weeks in 1976 while I studied at the Universita’ Italiana per Stranieri, aka the Italian University for Foreigners. The town structure hasn’t changed a bit, but then it was built around 1200 so what’s 34 years? The shops were all grown up – gone were the local places, now replaced with boutiques and chain stores.  Alas, the store where I bought my green and yellow Rosignol ski cap was gone, but the memory of my ski weekend to Cervinia [the Italian side of the Matterhorn near Zermatt] is still pleasantly alive.  

Perugia | Fontana Maggiore

 

 Perugia is still a University town. There’s the local university for Italians and another where foreigners go to learn Italian.  The latter one is housed in a spectacular Baroque building adjacent to an Etruscan gate to the City. The road leading into the center of town from there winds around the edge of the city, and it’s as dramatic now as it was when I was 20. Combining 13th century charm and the buzz of students discovering the world outside of their home towns for the first time, makes this a great place.  [Amanda Knox, the American unfairly convicted of murdering her British roommate , probably doesn’t feel this way, but that’s another story – I didn’t see her, although I did write to her.]  

We were in Perugia during the annual Jazz festival and the FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands which added a lot of fun, too. While dining on the main square, we were treated to great American jazz on a stage set up adjacent to the Fontana Maggiore.  And the evening of the FIFA final, a huge crowd was hanging out in front of the (still there!) Bar Medio Evo on Corso Vanucci. The Dutch were a quiet lot, sitting quietly in their orange sweatshirts, while the Spaniards were running up and down the street, waving their country’s flags. Not a huge surprise, I suppose. And this was before the game ended!  

Logistics for Visiting Umbria

Since 1976 when Perugia was just a small town, a whole city has sprung up in the valley next to it. Don’t stay there! Find a hotel in the historical center, on top of the hill, and either bite the bullet on the expense of a 4/5 star property or stay in a basic hotel. We stayed in a 2 star with the most amazing view. So what if it was like a prison cell.  We made up for it in nearby Castel santangelo at Il Giardino degli Ulivi. That’s the subject of my next post.  

Isola Maggiore | Lago di Trasimeno

 

Plan on spending 2-3 nights in Perugia. Enjoy the town itself, and then discover the nearby villages of Assisi, Spello, Gubbio, Todi, Panicale and Lago di Trasimeno. At the lago (lake) you can take a ferry from the cute little modern town of Passignano to the wonderful and very historic island “Isola Maggiore.”  

And one last word about driving to/from Perugia. IT’S A BLAST. But it’s very difficult and you have to have a small car. I’m from LA and loved it. Never had so much fun in a car, not even with my new BMW.  But for others, I absolutely would not recommend it.  

Part III, Castel S. Angelo, Le Marche and Bologna are next  

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L.A. and Truth in Geographic Stereotyping

Here’s a relatively goofy photo to base a blog post on.  But to me it captures the essence of a place — and like it or not, L.A., my home town, is about Hollywood.

Sure, there is plenty to do in L.A. and avoid The Industry, but in reality it’s pervasive, and kind of fun.  Distinguishing the celebrity lifestyle from reality is another story, and totally caused me plenty of issues as an adult! What do you mean I can’t have my own gym at home? Why don’t my biceps naturally bulge? Why don’t I have a 50,000 sq foot house in Beverly Hills? What’s wrong with me?

But back to the subject. When you arrive in Cape Town, the first thing you see in the Arrivals Hall are images of wild animals. And in New York, you see the locals working at the airport with their super thick New Yawk accents – and maybe you see the Empire State Building from the plane, even when it’s on the ground.

And when you’re lucky enough to change planes in Paris at Charles de Gaulle/CDG your pick of pretty good (French of course) pastries is the ultimate in an experiential stopover. So is a cappuccino at Fiumicino in Rome. I used to escort groups to Athens and I used to sell the stopover as a great part of the experience. The chance to use left over Lira from a previous trip was just a bonus.

So the reason I took this photo, and why I like it, is that it really captures the stereotypic essence of the place, and as its placed in a major tourist gateway it just reinforces the whole thing. Is that positive? I don’t know, but it seems fairly typical for what you find around the world.

the giotto report | italy, part i

Orvieto Duomo
Orvieto. Duomo.

 

LET’S start with the middle.    

ORVIETO

MY 13 year old nephew, my partner john and I couldn’t find a way off the autostrada for the turnoff to Todi, so we ended up in Orvieto. I actually wanted to go to Orvieto, but had decided that the timing wouldn’t work and that we’d go straight to Todi. Well the Italian highway system changed that.    

Orvieto is in the province of Umbria and minutes from the Tuscan border.  I had heard of it for years, ever since I lived in nearby Florence and Perugia in the 70s, but this was to be the first time.  Aaah.  This early Sunday afternoon in July was quiet. Tourists were someplace else and locals were preparing the big Sunday pranzo – the meal of the week in Italy. Never mind the stores were closed, the piazza in front of the Duomo had vendors selling miscellaneous flea market type items and the church itself was deserted.    

This little place is worth the stop. The piazza is plain and simple and fairly small. Very Italian which gives you the warm and fuzzies. The church is very unique. It’s striped, horizontally, dark green I think, inside and out. I’m also guessing late gothic style.  And, like many churches, it just rises from the flatness of the piazza so it’s size, big already, seems immense. The façade though is what’s special and so unique — it’s mosaic. And there’s a lot of it. The only other church coming close is San Marco in Venice, but this one is so simple. And it’s not crowded. On the inside there’s nobody so you can enjoy it all – for a Euro.    

TODI

WE headed off to Todi but it was already around 2, and we had to get to Perugia. And you can’t park in the center part of the town, so it would have taken some maneuvering to figure it out, and we were hungry. The Italian pranzo god was looking after us, and on a dead-end street, on a 100 degree day, we found an outdoor restaurant adjacent to a community garden,  1 Euro wine and a waitress who didn’t speak a word of English.  I was in heaven.    

Todi Restaurant
Ristorante Pizzeria Rinfreschi Cerimonte. Todi.

 

Lunch for 3 of us was about Euro 37, including the wine referenced earlier.  The pasta sauce was a reddish-orange that you’d never see in the USA. [Julia Roberts has the same dish I swear in Eat Pray Love.] The flavors are intense, which you so rarely find here either. And the consistency of the pasta, as well, is totally Italian.    

Part II, Perugia, will be next.