Where in Paris? (30/07/2013)

A remarkable garden that attests to the pomp and grandiose its once notorious owners were noted for. Covering over 800 acres of land, the meticulously landscaped gardens and perfectly manicured lawns surround a multitude of fountains, which are on full display in the summer months – much to the delight of the millions of visitors that show up each year.

There was once a famous labyrinth upon the grounds of this esteemed garden; citing many fables, and to which the statues of Cupid and Aesop still bear testament.

Can you guess its famous location?

Where in Paris? (30/07/2013)

Where in Paris? (30/07/2013)

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Top 10 Air Travel Pet Peeves

Frequent fliers have to sometimes deal with awful situations on their journeys. From seemingly inexplicable flight delays, to lost luggage – there are those days when the little bottle of airplane vodka is just too little. While I’ve had the distinct displeasure of experiencing these woes; even being served an inedible mush in tin foil doesn’t come close to the following pet peeves:

air travel pet peeves

Source: feelblog.net

1.       Gate attendants not enforcing priority boarding:

It frustrates me when airline officials fail to follow their own boarding principles. After I’ve waited for them to wheel in the passengers  requiring special assistance, then the numerous passengers with small children (and even that one family that assume their 8 year old qualifies as a toddler!), I expect that priority boarding rules be enforced. What good is it to stick a bright red sign on my boarding pass that screams “PRIORITY” (yes, I’m talking to you: Air France officials at CDG), if you’re going to make me queue in the same line as those passengers in row 27!?

 2.       Blocking the aisles when the plane is boarding:

I loathe those people that leisurely walk into the cabin and spend quality time in the aisle; hunched over their backpacks, deciding which book they may want to read during the flight. Then there are those that take a full 5 minutes to fold their jacket or coat just so, before placing it delicately in the overhead bin. During this time, the boarding is halted, whilst the ever-so polite woman standing behind the offender just shrugs and says nothing. Perhaps I despise her more than the actual offender.

 3.       Airlines charging for checked-in bags:

Ok, so I’ve paid a few hundred euros for a plane ticket; now I have to pay what? 45 euro to check a bag? Either add the cost to the actual price of the ticket, or don’t charge it at all.

 4.       Putting your carry-on luggage in an overhead bin that’s rows ahead of where you’re actually seated:

Whilst I admire your efficiency Einstein; did you ever stop to think about where the luggage of those actually seated in the row beneath that bin, will go? Everyone’s time is wasted when the poor man sitting in the second row spends several minutes searching for a space to plonk his bag. Worse so when he’s forced to stash it in a cabin several rows behind him, causing chaos during disembarkment.

 5.       Noisy passengers:

Whether you’re the boor who’s having an animated conversation with the person across the aisle from you, or the infuriating teenager playing music on your phone without headphones, please try to have some common courtesy on your next flight. I’m not a big fan of Tupac anyway.

 6.       People standing up by pulling on the backrest of the seat in front:

It’s not a defiance of gravity to stand up without touching the seat in front of you. Apart from annoying the person sitting in that seat, it’s incredibly rude! We understand that airplane space is very limited, so why not try practicing at home before you even set foot on a plane again?

 7.       Tapping too hard on the touch screen:

It’s a touch screen, not a thump screen. Enough said.

 8.       Reclining a seat on a short haul flight:

I personally feel that airlines should have the option of disabling the recline function of seatbacks for short haul flights. Not only does it create a domino effect, it usually means people are struggling to eat their quick meal with a backrest in their face. No one needs to nap on a flight less than 2 hours.

 9.       Annoying kids parents:

Sitting next to, or even near, a screaming baby is no fun when trapped in a metal tube, thousands of feet in the air; but unless the parents are completely ignoring said screaming baby, the situation probably can’t be helped. Babies will, after all, cry; and as such I try to be empathetic. On the other hand, parents that allow their children to kick the back of seats, fidget incessantly with the tray tables, run wild in the aisle or play with toys that make any sort of noise – should be sent to airplane jail. Seriously, there should really be such a thing!

 10.   Standing up when the plane hasn’t yet come to a complete stop:

Yes, you’re a very important businessman who’s late for a very important meeting. That won’t make the doors open any faster, and it surely won’t make the people in front of you disembark any faster. Apart from it being dangerous to unbuckle your seatbelt and stand up whilst a plane is still taxiing, you’re just going to look like a fool if the steward reprimands you.

In case you’re wondering, I’m savng up to buy a private jet 🙂

My article was first published in A Luxury Travel Blog: 21/07/13

 

 

Color P.O.P

Hotel Review : Hotel Luxe, Split – Croatia

A leisurely stroll away from Split’s ancient Old City and a stone’s throw from its bustling harbor stands the Hotel Luxe – taking the concept of ‘boutique hotel’ to whole new level.

The hotel is ideally situated for those wishing to tick off all Split’s tourist hotspots, yet still enough removed to give guests the opportunity to experience authentic everyday life in Dalmatia’s largest city.

We arrived at dusk, having made the drive from Zagreb, but I took immediate fascination with the white-on-white lobby and attached bar.

Hotel Luxe Split

Lobby (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

Splashes of color jumped out at every turn, but it was the undercurrent of deep purples against the alabaster backdrop that made the reception area ‘pop’ – so to speak.

Our check-in was seamless, and soon we were eagerly riding the elevator to our superior room on the top floor. Throwing open the door, we were completely taken aback! The photos we’d seen prior to our arrival did not do justice to the psychedelic look of the room!

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

The flamboyant use of color stopped just short of being overwhelming. From the multi-striped carpet, to the silver scatter cushions; from the tasselled lamp shades to the flashy art on the walls – the effect was reined-in to perfection by the use of glass and chrome finishes, and again, the all-white furniture. The resulting overall look was ultramodern.

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

Tossing our suitcases in the corner, we flung open the glass doors to catch a glimpse of the view from our balcony. The ferries and cruise ships moored in the nearby harbor, their twinkling lights like glow worms on the horizon.

Hotel Luxe Split

Hotel Luxe Split

Bathroom (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

After a quick shower (it’s worth noting the bathroom has a glass wall facing into the room, but it can be closed with a curtain) we made our way into the Old City for dinner along the Riva. The Riva, standing proud for hundreds of years in front of the Diocletian palace, is the bustling strip of waterfront with numerous restaurants, cafés and bars.

After having our full on of the best pizzas we’d ever eaten, we made our way back to the hotel for a restful sleep.

Our next morning commenced with buffet breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. ‘Restaurant’ may be a bit of stretch, due to the size; but the breakfast spread was delicious, and more than adequate. Comprising of the usual –and some unusual – hot and cold dishes, there was also the option of made to order eggs or omelets.

Hotel Luxe Split

Restaurant (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

We spent our day exploring the history and charm of the Diocletian Palace, as well as making the uphill trek to Marjan for unrivalled views over the city.

We ensured sufficient time in the afternoon to make use of the hotel’s spa facilities. Albeit small, the wellness area, like the rest of the hotel, was ultra-modern. There was a fully equipped gym and a sauna, but the showcase of the wellness area was the jacuzzi room, with its starry skylight. Darkened and exuding privacy, the whirlpool gave off an eerie glow against the white, space-age loungers. The entire effect was sheer modernistic luxury.

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

I had booked an aromatherapy massage which I enjoyed immensely. I was left feeling rejuvenated and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

spa hotel luxe split

What I Loved:
  • Location: The hotel’s location makes it a perfect base to explore the city
  • Boutique Hotel: I enjoyed the boutique feel of the property. Although smaller than other hotels we’ve stayed at, instead of feeling cramped, the hotel felt more intimate.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi: Unlimited and quick – always wins me over!
What I Didn’t love:
  • In-hotel dining options: Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed going out to the Riva for dinner and lunches, I would have liked to have the option of a hotel restaurant when feeling lazy.
  • Parking: Although free for hotel guests, parking is available in a lot off a street behind the hotel. The street is EXTREMELY narrow, and due to the fact that traffic flows in one direction, if you miss the poor signage, you’ll be forced to circle around the block once more.

I will certainly consider returning to Split, and when I do, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at the Hotel Luxe again.

Prices: The price of a superior room (with balcony and sea views) ranges dramatically from 130€ to 300€ per room, per night, depending on the season. Rate includes breakfast. For more: http://www.hotelluxesplit.com/

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 17 August 2013.

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Hotel Luxe, Split. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

The Eiffel Tower Plays Dress-up!

Eiffel Tower South Africa

Not quite dark yet…

In the city famous for haute couture, Paris’ iconic (and by far its most visited) landmark; the Eiffel Tower, sparkled like a jewel as it adorned itself in the famous rainbow colors of the South African national flag on Thursday, 18 July.

Apt, seeing as people the world over celebrated Mandela Day, an annual day in honour of former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

On this same day the nation’s beloved Tata, as he is affectionately called (meaning ‘father’ in Xhosa) turned 95 years old. Many feared that the milestone may have never come, seeing as the anti-apartheid hero had spent the previous 41 days in a Pretoria hospital suffering from complications of a lung infection.

I took the opportunity, basking in the multicolored glow of the Eiffel tower’s lights, to feel a little homesick, and at the same time, very proudly South African.

Eiffel Tower South Africa

A Paris Icon, proudly South African

Eiffel Tower South Africa

Upclose and personal

Eiffel Tower South Africa

And then she sparkles!

R&R at Riverside

Spa Review: Riverside Day Spa – Durban, South Africa

The best spas in the world all have something in common: They succeed in effortlessly making time stand still.

I was looking for such an experience when I stepped through the softly-swishing glass doors of the Riverside Spa in Durban. Nestled on a hill overlooking the Umgeni River, the spa is coupled to the well-known Riverside Hotel, belonging to the notable Three Cities Hotel Group.

My senses were immediately invoked by the calming sounds of soft music, and the clean open spaces of the reception area.

Having dreamed of visiting the islands of French Polynesia ever since…well…ever since I could dream; I had made sure to book the spa’s “Polynesian Experience” from their spa journeys menu.

After a brief check-in at the reception, I was escorted to the spa’s common room. I absolutely loved the décor of this space – rich royal blues and stately greys in plush velvets. The room was adorned with white orchids in large silver pots, which drew to attention the white of the wall decorations against the pale blue paint.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa  Riverside Day Spa

Large windows let in an abundance of light and paid due justice to the sweeping views over the city’s famed greenery, the commanding Umgeni river, and the majestic image of the new stadium that has forever changed Durban’s skyline.

After quickly trading my ‘street’ clothes for the velour (yes, it was winter!) bathrobe in the small but beautifully appointed change room (decorated with calla lilies); I was ushered to the lower floor to enjoy the spa facilities.

  Riverside Day Spa

I leapt almost immediately from the shower into the ‘heated’ pool, expecting to indulge in the warm water –but alas; it was simply not heated enough. In fact, it was actually cold! Very disappointing. I thawed out in the sauna, before enjoying a quick session in the steam room (for the sake of a complete review, of course!)

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

I found the spa’s facilities basic, but adequate. It’s worthwhile noting that the scheduling of reservations is attempted in such a manner to ensure that guests may enjoy private time in the facilities area. As the space is quite small, this was highly appreciated.

Upon returning to the serene common room, I finally met my therapist. I took an instant liking to her bubbly personality as we proceeded to the treatment room. It was much larger than expected, with not one, but two beds, and a grand jet spa bath in the corner.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I got comfortable, she talked me through the list of treatments in my Polynesian Experience package, and the exceptional Thalgo products she’d be employing.

The first stop on the incredible journey was the island of Taha’a. Producing 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla, the island is aptly known as ‘Vanilla Island’. My day spa experience began with a luxurious marine salt and vanilla full-body scrub. The room filled with these delicious aromas as my skin was buffed and exfoliated to perfection. Completely attuned to my silent preferences, she lingered over the foot scrub, adding a marvelous, impromptu foot massage to the mix.

I was eager for the next stop on my journey – a visit to the tiny island of Manihi. The coral atoll, famous for its pearl farms, inspired the soothing aromatherapy spa bath with essential oils and luxurious bath pearls. My lovely therapist set up the bath exactly as I liked – piping hot. She lit a scented candle, and with a scattering of rose petals, she was gone.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I lay soaking in the fragrant hot water, I was able to enjoy the panoramic vistas over the city.

Riverside Day Spa

View from the bath

Time lost all meaning and the rushed pace of everyday life ground to a complete halt.

Riverside Day Spa

I emerged, rejuvenated from the bath, and enjoyed a wonderfully-presented cup of green tea before being carried off to the next idyllic destination on my Polynesian journey; the incredible island of Bora Bora.

Famed for its beauty the world over, the island is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and powdery soft, white sand. Accordingly, the massage that followed was a slow, powerful massage using warm sand pouches and Monoi oil to deeply relax and loosen the muscles.

I had never encountered a massage that employed sand pouches before, and I quite enjoyed the experience. My therapist hit all the right spots, saving the best for last: a brief, but deeply gratifying scalp massage. I dozed off at various times during the hour long full-body massage – such was its excellence.

The fourth, and sadly final, stop on my journey was the island of Raiatea. Regarded by the Polynesian people as a sacred marae of their ancestors, my concluding treatment entailed a radiant rub in sacred oil. Sweet-scented, with a glowing shine, the rich oil left my skin pampered and deeply nourished. The word ‘Raiatea’ loosely translates to ‘Bright Sky’… apt to describe the mega shine of my skin as I left the secluded confines of my treatment room.

I dined in the common room, and lunch consisted of a crumbed hake fillet served with veggies. It went down exceptionally well with a glass of chilled champagne.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa

What I loved:

  • The décor – extremely serene and luxurious, it invoked a sense of calm, and made me feel relaxed and pampered… exactly as a spa should!
  • Orchids and Calla lilies (my absolute favorite flower) adorned each room, and added to the glamorous feel of the spa.
  • The massage: heavenly!

What I didn’t love: 

  • Apart from the cold ‘heated’ pool, I really have no complaints.

I will most certainly be heading back to Riverside spa for a day of pampering when I’m back in Durban!

Riverside Day Spa

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience was paid for by Riverside Day Spa. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

The Mothership Has Landed

Hotel Review: Silken Puerta América Hotel – Madrid, Spain

They say it only takes 7 seconds, on average, to form a first impression. As we step through the doors of the Silken Puerta América Hotel in Madrid, my brain does its computations at lightning speed, and in or around 7 seconds, my first impression is born: This hotel is going to be special.

One of Madrid’s 5 star luxury hotels, the Silken Puerta América, seeks to boldly house 19 of the world’s top architectural designers under one roof. Whilst some were tasked to put their personal touches in certain elements of the common areas, thirteen of these designers were each given a floor, and then; carte blanche.

What transpires is a design explosion! An awakening of the senses, where one is able to be transported from one incredible fantasyland to another, by a mere press of the elevator button.

The outer façade of the hotel already hints at its design interior. The high-rise is painted in a tie-dye effect of reds and oranges, adorned with lines from Paul Eluard’s poem “Freedom”. At night, the lighting details showcase these warm colored elements, making the hotel unmissable on the horizon.

Silken Puerta America Madrid

As we made our way to the reception desk, I immediately notice the richly fragrant scent in the air. Our check-in though, is not as seamless as I would have liked. We wait for ages while the guests ahead of us are making their selection of which designer’s floor they prefer. With help from the reception staff, they are browsing photos and details on a dedicated iPad, whilst the check-in queue is getting longer.

It’s a nice touch, the use of an iPad to aid in the selection, but it does nothing to help the other guests who know exactly what they want. And we knew exactly want we wanted!

Having loved the work of Zaha Hadid since 2004, when she created a buzz by becoming the first female to win the acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize, I have had the pleasure of passing one of her pieces, the deeply convoluted Mobile Art Pavilion every day on my way to work, as it sits proudly outside the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris, since completing its world tour in 2008.

Earlier discussions had us split between the Jean Nouvel floor, with his striking use of color and eclectic ceiling art; but in the end, we had decided on Zaha Hadid’s Space Club room. The room promised futuristic, contoured designs, in a choice of either black or white.

We finally complete the check-in procedures and make our way to our room. As the elevator doors open, we are immediately transported into an otherworldly space. The large Vortexx chandelier dominates the lobby. A beautiful design piece; the lamp appears as a winding, endless ribbon. We walk slowly to our room, appreciating the blinding white effects, coupled with the sinuous protrusions of the hallway.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 3

Whitewashed, with The Vortexx taking centre stage

Stepping into our room, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before! The achromatic palette is a feast on the eyes. The lack of symmetry is staggering; there is no relief from the fluid-like curves in any direction. We explore the modulating bathroom, closet, and vanity as Mr. Wolf mutters under his breadth: “Welcome to the mothership”.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 1

There are fine toiletries from Molton Brown in the bathroom, and the minibar is stocked with complimentary non-alcoholic drinks.

Forget the typical hanging ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs for the door; our room has a state of the art touchpad that can be used to illuminate a LED light on the outside of the door to signal everything from in-room breakfast, to “Please make up my Room”.

In case you’re wondering, the modernistic bed is firm, but immensely comfortable.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 2

The design elements flowed into the space-age bathroom

During our stay, I insist on carrying out the hotel’s unofficial ‘challenge’: To snap a photo on each of the 13 floors. So, camera in hand I gleefully summon the elevator with a sense of pure excitement. At the Silken Puerta América, the lobby of each floor is the grand showcase that sets the tone for the floor’s design.

From the Art Deco inspired creations of Victorio & Lucchino, with their marble sphinxes; to the fire-truck red hallways of Mark Newson. From Kathrin Findlay’s alabaster leather benches shaped like amoebas; to Mariscal’s fun-inspired bunny shaped sculpture – there is a design to suit almost every taste.

Victorio & Lucchino silken-puerta-america

Victorio & Lucchino’s Art Deco Inspired Lobby

Ron Arad Silken Puerta America

“The world is round. Sometimes we are able to perceive”. Design by Ron Arad.

The Cactus, by Mariscal

The Cactus, by Mariscal

jean nouvel Silken Puerta America

Jean Nouvel’s Space

The most impressive of all? London’s Plasma Studio. With molten-like stainless steel twisted and contorted into geometrical shapes – the result is a 3-dimensional space that is almost science-fictional.

Silken Puerta America MadridSilken Puerta America Madrid Plasma Studio

Overdosed on design, we step out into the sunshine, and spend the day taking in the sights and sounds of Madrid. The capital city of Spain has so much to offer in terms of history and culture. We spend the morning visiting the acclaimed Prado Museum, admiring many of Goya’s masterpieces.

Prado Museum Madrid

For lunch we dine on tapas in a chic gastrobar before making our way to Parque del Retiro for an afternoon spent boating in the central lake. Throngs of teens are lazily chatting around the steps of the monument to Alfonso XII. Mr. Wolf takes the oars as I sit contentedly catching some rays.

Parc Del Retiro madrid

Parc Del Retiro madrid

Before we head back to the hotel, we have enough time for a quick tour to the ancient Egyptian temple of Debod, just as the sun is setting in the sky.

Debod Temple Madrid

Sunset at Debod Temple

A highly anticipated part of my stay at the Silken Puerta América Hotel is a visit to the Jean Nouvel-designed Skynight Bar on the 13th floor. One of the swankiest places in Madrid to see and be seen in, the bar offers breathtaking panoramic views over the city. The bar/nightclub has become a popular hangout, as scores of Madrid’s stylish and beautiful people try to elbow their way in on the weekends. There are fear-inducing glass walkways on the perimeter of the bar: my idea of hell. Inside the bar however, the barman expertly whips up my order of two lychee caipirinhas: my idea of heaven.

Skynight Bar Silken Puerta America 1

Mr. Wolf braving the glass gangway

Skynight Bar Silken Puerta America 2

What I loved:

  •  Partnership between the design industry’s bigwigs is certainly not new concept, but the Silken Puerta América Hotel has taken collaboration to a new level. I loved that each floor provided a new and unique outlook. It was like having 12 different hotels under one roof!
  • Molton Brown bath amenities
  • Oriol Balaguer chocolates

What I didn’t love:

  •  The hotel’s location. Far from central, there is next to nothing to see, or do in the vicinity of the hotel itself. A rental car is recommended, or one can make use of the metro station a few hundred meters away for connections to the city cente
  • The wait at check-in. This should never be a factor at a 5-star hotel. Period.

All things equal, I would certainly consider returning to the Silken Puerta América Hotel when in Madrid again. By simply choosing to book a room on a floor I hadn’t yet stayed on, I would be getting a unique experience, whilst being assured of the same great quality and service-standards I’ve come to expect from this hotel.

Silken Puerta America zaha hadid Vortexx

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Silken Puerta América Hotel. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Where in Paris? (05/07/2013)

Today’s photo is from one of Paris’ most visited landmarks. From Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code, to the urban legend surrounding the Triple 6, this monument is not without its controversy!

It seems to have the French people divided right down the middle, but love it or hate it; you cannot deny it is a feat of design engineering.

Très facile!

Where in Paris? (05/07/2013)

Where in Paris? (05/07/2013)