Cartagena, Colombia: A Gem on the Caribbean

You’re standing atop a hundreds of years old stone wall, looking out over waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the beach. The city is relaxed, cosmopolitan, and tropical. It is a foodie’s, and a history buff’s, paradise. Low key and luxurious. Very old and very new.

What it isn’t is a drug war zone, but that’s what people might think when you tell them you’re going to Cartagena, Colombia. Blame it on lingering news images from the 80s. While Colombia has rebounded generally, people in Cartagena told me their city was never quite like that.

I spent 5 fantastic days in mid July in Cartagena. It’s full name is Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena of the Indies, and that accounts for why I felt like I was right at home among the Caribbean people my West Indian family came from – because I was.  The city has a dual personality, split between an old town – La Ciudad Antigua – defined by 16th- century fortress walls and a new city, soaring up from a peninsula with highrise hotels and apartment buildings. Construction is booming on the peninsula, with several new hotels going up.

The night I arrived, a wedding party was being held on one of the galleons that are docked in the Las Ánimas Bay. Fireworks from the reception lit up the sky.

Fireworks over Cartagena

Fireworks over Cartagena

 

Cartagena is on the rise as a destination wedding location, but note that if you are not Colombian, your civil and legal marriage would have to take place in your home country. Still, Cartagena opens its doors to you – even the nearly 500-year-old Castillo San Felipe fort that overlooks the city is available as a venue for your special celebration.

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

 

Same sex marriage is legal in Colombia, so a same-sex couple should expect a welcoming environment for their wedding festivities. The Cartagena Chamber of Commerce will be launching a program to help couples plan weddings in their city in the coming months.

You and your party would certainly be well-fed. The food in Cartagena is delightful. Given its Caribbean location, I was on a mission to eat as much fried fish and ceviche as I could. I tried both at several restaurants. My favorite fried fish was served at Pizza & Pasta in the Old City. For the bargain price of around 11,000 pesos (about $6 USD), not only was I served an entrée of fried fish, rice, salad, and lentils, but the meal was preceded with a banana and a delicious bowl of ajiaco, a soup with beef, chicken, corn, and other veggies. I washed it all down with agua de panela, a light, refreshing, not too sweet drink made from sugar.

My favorite ceviche restaurant was the aptly named La Cevichería, also in the Old City. I tried a sampler of various flavors of ceviche, made of shrimp, fish, and octopus, as an appetizer, and had a wonderful paella for my entrée. La Cevichería, despite being nestled among high-end hotels, was incredibly inexpensive.

What else to do while in town? The Old City is the place for historical and cultural explorations. The Gold Museum showcased the intricate and beautiful jewelry of the ancient indigenous people of Colombia. Next to the Church of San Pedro Claver sits a museum dedicated to his memory, housed in the house where he lived and worked. San Pedro Claver was the patron saint of slaves, who fought a dedicated fight throughout his life for the rights of enslaved people. The Church has beautiful courtyards, an impressive collection of religious art, and – during my visit – was showcasing a collection of Afro-Haitian art. I took a private walking tour of the Church and the Old City, which I highly recommend, and learned about Cartagena’s history as a major port during the time of Spain’s conquest of the Americas.  The Old City is also host to public events such as concerts and festivals throughout the year.

 

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

 

Colombia is known for the quality of its emeralds and gold jewelry, so come prepared to shop, as well.

Far more beautiful than the city beaches are those in the Islas del Rosario off the coast. It takes about an hour to reach the islands by ferry from the Cartagena city pier, and a round trip visit package including lunch is easy to book from tour operators throughout the city. The water is clearer and the sand is softer than that of the beaches in the city, so a trip to the Islas del Rosario is a must during any trip to Cartagena.

If you enjoy nightlife, the bars and nightclubs are located in Getsemaní, an older area of town located right next to the walled city. Whether you enjoy spending late nights dancing and drinking or not, make the time to catch a Chiva party bus. For 30,000-40,000 pesos ($15-$20 USD), you will be treated to a live band playing rumba music, a tour of greatest hits, tour of city monuments (which look all that much more intriguing in the moonlight), and unlimited mixed drinks. The liquor served is what is called the national rum, but unlike other rums it is made with anise and has a distinctive flavor. Most chivas get going around 8pm, and will take you to a nightclub if that’s your thing at around 11:00pm – or return you to your hotel if it’s not.

In fact, it was from my seat on a chiva that I witnessed the wedding that punctuated the night sky with fireworks.

Cartagena was high on my bucket list of places to see.  But I found that it wasn’t just a place to check off my list and then move on.  I cannot wait for my next trip to this beautiful city.

 

GETTING MARRIED IN A MAGICAL LANDSCAPE ‘Expect the unexpected’ by Gwen Cover

jokulsarlon-glacier-lagoonJökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (Iceland’s Iceberg Bay)

Forget debating over the benefits of the sun, fresh food and the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean when Iceland can offer a wedding destination that is unique, stunning and picture perfect beyond your imagination.

Couples who choose to have their ceremony in Iceland will have a vast choice of adventure with breathtaking backdrops.

Not for the faint-hearted, but for the bride and groom who are super excited to have an Iceland wedding adventure on an island of active volcanoes, snow-covered glaciers, hot springs and mountains near geothermal pools.

Affectionately named the ‘land of fire and ice,’ this beautiful North Atlantic island can cater to your fantasy of an epic wedding day.

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The question is . . . what type of ceremony would match your fantasy?

Here are some suggestions and tips to consider!

You can opt to wed in a romantic countryside church in a valley among the backdrop of tranquility and natural surroundings. You would need to book 6-12 months in advance as there are few small romantic churches in Iceland due to their small population (just over 328,000). Therefore, careful planning, especially in the summer months is advised in order to have the church of your choice.

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Above – Northern lights at the famous black church for Iceland Weddings.  Budir Church Wedding Snæfellsnes Peninsula (and below).

budir.church.weddinghttps://www.hotelbudir.is/weddings/

hellnar seaside church

 Hellnar Church Seaside Country Church Snæfellsnes Peninsula.http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?attachment_id=3547

The vibrant and artistic hub of downtown Reykjavik (pronounced Rey – ka – vik) – the capital of Iceland – is also a popular choice for ceremonies.

Below is the majestic Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Cathedral (the official church of Iceland), the tallest and most prominent building in Reykjavik. There are specific requirements to marry in this church and so to avoid disappointment, you would need to plan at least 12-18 months in advance and consider the help of an Iceland wedding planner.

Reykjavik's-churchhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallgr%C3%ADmskirkja

If you would rather have your epic wedding day outdoors, there are numerous options to explore. A few are mentioned below.

Your ceremony can be set against a 60 feet stunning waterfall such as the Seljalandsfoss below.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

The fabulous advantage of this waterfall is that you can walk behind and marry right in front of it. The practical issue to overcome is the noise level. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is remarkable with a roaring natural sound. For your guests to hear the exchange of your wedding vows, you will need a microphone and speaker system. No kidding!!!!!

seljalandsfoss-waterfall.ann

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?s=Seljalandsfoss+Waterfall&submit=Search

There are also safety factors to consider, such as wearing appropriate shoes so as not to slip on the rocks and taking an umbrella and coat to protect yourself and your guests from the waterfall sprays. With planning and good advice, you will marvel in the splendor of your surroundings and have wonderful memories of your wedding day.

Another outdoor ceremony can be arranged in the expansive moss lava fields that have grown over volcanic rocks for thousands of years.

Hotel ION – The luxury adventure hotel amidst the moss lava fields.

ION_17http://ioniceland.is/

Or on a magical black sandy beach on the shores of Reynisfjara beach, often referred to as Vik beach, if you like the ocean, the wind, puffin birds (if you are fortunate to see them) and the sand.

Vik Beach

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?s=vik+beach&submit=Search

Skardsvik beach - Snaefellsnes peninsula

Skardsvik beach – Snaefellsnes peninsula

Below is a Basalt rock cave at Vik beach (Hálsanefshellir Cave) where you may have a spiritual Icelandic wedding ceremony inside.

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Be daring and consider having your ceremony in the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon (Yeah…try pronouncing this!!) in southern Iceland as featured below.

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And not to mention the stunning location in Iceland’s Iceberg Bay. Officially known as Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

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As you can see, there are many surreal backdrops to choose from.

What about the weather you may ask?

Ignore the misconception that Iceland is covered in snow. It is an island of all weathers where rain, snow, wind and sunshine can be experienced in one day!! 

The temperature can range from somewhere between 35-55 fahrenheit. Therefore, expect to cater for the unexpected by being prepared.

Engage the help of your family and the relevant professionals. Learn a little about the culture. Have faith. Do your research. Have a Plan B. And budget wisely as Iceland is a very expensive island. You will be unable to control all potential worries (such as a volcano eruption) but working alongside a wedding planner will ensure plans are in place to cater for eventualities.

Imagine having your wedding day in the early morning of the daylight hours or under the midnight sun. Simply magical!

The summer months of June, July and August are bright with daylight up to 22-24 hours. You could be eating your wedding breakfast and enjoying your reception at a seaside restaurant under the midnight sun.  How awesome is that!

Or you can opt for the quiet, snowy tranquil dark hours of the winter months with less than 4 hours sunshine each day? And maybe have the chance to observe the Northern Lights at the same time.

Hotel ION – the Luxury Adventure Hotel

ION_18

http://ioniceland.is/

Whichever location and time of year you plan to have your ceremony, your epic wedding adventure in stunning Iceland will be magical.

Have a wonderful experience as you say “I DO” with dreamy memories to last you a lifetime.

About the Editor:

Gwen Cover is your Life Design Friend. She provides the space for smart women to nurture themselves, connect with their inner wisdom/beauty, have mind pampering treatments and reinvent their careers. She is highly sought after by private clients and business owners throughout the UK/London. Her clients describe having ‘aha moments’ creating a road map for a new lifestyle and perhaps more importantly, plenty of adventure along the way.

Cover resides in London, England where she runs a successful business through coaching, workshops, writing and kindness retreats named the Life Design Salon.

 Many thanks for the permission to use the Photos above courtesy of :

Iceland Wedding Planner and Photography Team

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/

https://icelandweddingplanner.com/iceland-wedding-planning/

Photos by Miss Ann

http://www.photosbymissann.com/

Hotel ION – The Luxury Adventure Hotel

http://ioniceland.is/

Hotel Budir – Weddings at Hotel Budir

https://www.hotelbudir.is/weddings/

Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallgr%C3%ADmskirkja

Own A Piece Of America: Rancho Santa Fe

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Destination weddings involve more than just picking a location, sending out invites, and hoping everyone who r.s.v.p.’d shows up.  It requires complete and thoughtful planning.

While planning your nuptials locally, your  concerns may be a bit more simple, perhaps because your vendors are easily accessible to you.  Your primary focus will most likely be choosing a venue that will accommodate your sense of style, your budget, and your guest count.  You may go so far as to take into consideration driving accommodations to and from the location, as well as parking on the grounds.

Local vendors may prove to be more accessible for meetings, making you feel more at ease with your choice of doing business with them.

There is a big contrast when your wedding is not being held locally. What makes you feel more secure about the services you are going to receive?

You are completely at the mercy of management, internet reviews, and writers (such as magazines, like ours), hoping for an honest review about the experience at an establishment.

Thus the reason why we at WBM take it very seriously when we seek out venues, vendors, hotels, restaurants, caterers, florists, photographers and everything else that encompasses your big day.  We realize that what we put in writing will affect one of the most important moments of your life.

As one of our favorite states in America, California continues to maintain a warm spot in our hearts.  It is the state where the sun kisses your skin daily and the views are magnificent from one region to the next. On this trip, we decided to visit Rancho Santa Fe. This beautiful region totally impressed us with its rich history and Mexican-inspired architecture, which remains a part of its current lifestyle.

 

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Our wedding location of choice would be Rancho Valencia a Relais & Châteaux property, right in the heart of this town. The view, before you even get to the grounds, proves to be breathtaking. You will realize, during the scenic ride to the property, that you have left all your cares and stress back at the airport!

The grounds are perfectly manicured, and the top-class service begins as soon as you hit the parking lot, complete with valet parking. The front desk is stationed through the courtyard of this brilliant piece of architecture that was built with the intent of complimenting  the Mediterranean-inspired grounds. Thirty million dollars was invested to assure that your stay proved to be nothing but the best.  This five-star resort makes promises that it has every intentions of keeping.

After checking into our three-bedroom suite with its private Jacuzzi, full kitchen, bathroom in each room, and a chef-like kitchen, a patio that clearly makes you feel at home, I knew that nothing would go wrong.  After dropping our bags in our suite, we walked the grounds to get familiar with our surroundings.

The property is fully equipped with a full-service spa, fitness center, yoga space, swimming pool, tennis court and walking trail, which will bring you total peace. As if that wasn’t enough, the private areas for weddings are only one step short of perfection. You have a choice of having your wedding in the outdoor space on the property, or for a larger group, the ballroom space, which is more than suitable for the absolutely pickiest client.

This piece of paradise is not only fit for a queen, but his royal highness will be more than pleased with the private room that will enchant him and his groomsmen. From The Pony Room, The Wine Room, to the Veladora, nothing about this space will disappoint you.

 

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On top of that, the food is absolutely divine.  As you know, we are sticklers for customer service, and the Rancho Valencia food and beverage team did not disappoint us in that area. We were more than pleased with our treatment, the menu, and the list of options for all our dining needs.

If you decide not to drive in, Porsche has partnered with Rancho Valencia to provide you luxury at your fingertips. Why Porsche?  Why not?  Porsche is the how you spell luxury. The location calls for it, why not go all out and enjoy the toys that come along with it during your stay. The history of the brand is enchanting enough to enjoy it at the very least during your wedding or honeymoon stay and not feel guilty.

In addition to the already listed amenities, Rancho Valencia has a list of preferred vendors that will make sure your day is as perfect as you imagined it. And if after your day is completed and you just can’t imagine not being able to enjoy all of these amenities again, you are offered the opportunity to own a piece of paradise.

 

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“Along with what may be the world’s most perfect climate, owners at Rancho Valencia enjoy a refined and quiet sensibility—the glamour of old Hollywood, the thrill of Del Mar racing, the simple pleasure of a picnic at the beach.  It’s an inviting place where families come together, friends are made and life is cherished.”

 

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May your quest for the right destination be filled with joy and great excitement.   For us at WBM we will continue to journey across the globe to find you some of the worlds greatest Hidden Treasures.

Getting Away From It All in Dazhai Village, China

When we say that we want to “get away from it all,” how much of that do we truly mean? Sure, most of us are able to do without simple conveniences like our cars or televisions for a few days, but what about truly escaping? Forgoing our cell phones, computers, and even the convenience of paved roads, all in the name of “getting away?” I never thought that I was one of those people. I have never had a desire to unplug. Now, this could possibly be due to the generation I come from; I was born during the rise of the computer. I’ve never known a life without a computer or mobile device, so I’ve never felt overwhelmed by them, or felt a need to get away from them. For me, they are simply matters in the facts of life. Luckily for me, I inadvertently put myself in a situation that would change my perspective on what it means to unplug. When I put a visit to the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces of the Dazhai Village in Southeastern China on my agenda, I had no clue what I was in for, and boy do I thank myself for it.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

My journey starts in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong. I had an extremely ambitious plan for getting my English-only speaking self from Hong Kong, across the Chinese border to Shenzhen, then on a flight to Guilin, followed by a bus ride to Guilin’s very distant train station, onto another bus to the Longsheng rice fields, ending with an hour-long hike up a mountain to my accommodations in Dazhai… all in less than 12 hours. Sometimes, ambition born of ignorance can make for the most incredible experiences. I didn’t know it at the time, but embarking on a trip like this, all in one day, not knowing a word of any Chinese language, was really a fool’s errand. I, however, was blissfully unaware, and more importantly, unafraid, so I pressed on. 

My journey started with an hour-long bus ride, from the city-center of Hong Kong, to the border crossing city of Shenzhen, in mainland China. I’d purchased a ticket upon a bus that would drive me to the border, have me disembark for immigration, then re-embark once I’d cleared immigration, and carry me on to the airport. Once I’d made my way to the airport in Shenzhen, it was a short, one hour and twenty minute flight to my hub-city of Guilin. While I was able to traverse this leg of my trip with relative ease, once I stepped off the airplane in Guilin, I became acutely aware of the adventure I had set myself on.

One thing that is unique about traveling to Guilin, which is different from my travels to other places in the world, is the lack of English. Signage baring a familiar alphabet was scarce, and the usage of a familiar word was as almost completely absent. Even with my Chinese phrase book in hand, the simple task of finding the correct bus to the train station was tumultuous. After several rounds of Pictionary with the myriad of bus drivers waiting outside of the airport, I was able to find someone who could understand my scribblings of a Thomas the Tank Engine-esq friendly-faced train, and I was set on my way.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

Once I arrived at the Guilin train station, I was set in the center of a parking lot, and pushed into a sea of unfamiliarity. This juncture was different from the last, however. While at the airport I found people running away from me, here I found people pouncing on me! “Longsheng! American!” Hands pointing exuberantly at pictures of rice terraces and happy tourists soon came to encroach upon my bubble of confusion; all baring different prices and different destinations within the rice terraces. I was overwhelmed,  so I escaped to a phone booth where I could be alone with my thoughts, and more importantly, my notes. Luckily, I’d been archiving weeks and weeks of research into my Evernote app, and was prudent enough to print them before leaving Hong Kong. I knew that I needed to get on a bus to Longsheng, and I knew how much I should pay, but how was I to communicate this to the drivers? I took a deep breath and decided that I was going to make this situation work. But before I could even cross the sidewalk back into the parking lot, I heard something familiar! “Excuse me sir. Sir! Are you headed to the rice terraces?” I had never wanted to so hug a stranger like I did in that very moment. They were a group of French tourists headed the same place that I was, and they noticed my obvious disorientation and bewilderment, and invited me along. After some haggling with a driver, we crammed our 11 bodies into a 10-passenger van, and set course for the rice terraces.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you whether the drive from Guilin took us 1 hour, or 10 hours, but I can tell you that it was exhausting. After being mentally drained, dropped in a vastly unfamiliar place, and crammed into a glorified rickshaw, I was just happy to be in-motion. Nothing else mattered. I closed my eyes and awoke to a paradise so majestic, I could have mistaken it for a multi-billion dollar set from a movie. Waking up in the valley of hand-carved rice patties was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it immediately put my journey into perspective. It felt like I was standing at the end of Earth, a place untouched by time; surely my journey, for all of its difficulties, had been worth it.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

I began my ascent to the Dazhai Village with an interesting encounter. As I’m rolling my suitcase up the path, a little old lady comes running after me, grabbing my bag! It was not an unexpected experience, but it still caught me off-guard. In my research, I’d found that locals make their entire economy from tourists, and one of their industries happens to be portering your luggage up the mountain for you. Equipped with straw-and-leather baskets strapped to their backs, these women (who could not have been any younger than 50) hike with the agility of a teenager up the mountain with your belongings. At first, being a healthy, grown man, I felt a bit silly relinquishing my bag; but after 10 minutes of climbing a narrow, stone-paved path up a mountain, it all made sense. 

After meandering through a string of small villages for almost 30 minutes, I finally came to a river crossing that sat in the shadow of the Dazhai Village. I was 15 minutes way from reaching the destination I had dreamt about for months. I gathered my breath, collected my thoughts, and made the final climb to what would be my home for the next three days.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

There are no hotels in the Dazhai Village, so I had arranged my hostel online in advance. For a mere $11.00 USD per day, I would have my own room, comprised of only a memory-foam mattress, a small bathroom, an air conditioner, and an incredible view! What more could I ask for? I settled into my private room and began the process of decompressing. Just having made it to such a remote place was a huge boost for my ego. It is amazing how enduring strife can make overcoming that much sweeter. I lay down, closed my eyes, and drifted away for the night.

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | www.VictorAmos.com

copyright 2013 Victor Amos | http://www.VictorAmos.com

There is no fancy lap pool here, no breakfast buffet, and no list of tours and excursions to go on. No, this place is quite possibly the most opposite you can get of that. This is where you come to do nothing. Visitors fill their days with hiking the area, reading, and engaging with other travelers. Each morning, I would head downstairs to the common area, where I would sit, order everything on the left side of the menu, and have conversation with other visitors for hours on end. We would then fill our afternoon by hiking to the smaller villages and lookout points situated on the almost endless bounty of terraces. It is the definition of “being with nature.” Aside from sending a few pictures to my friends and family using the horrendous (and extremely governmentally-restricted) internet connection, I never once thought about my trappings of modern culture in America. I did not care about the time, or the weather, or the score from the game, or any of that. I was living in the moment.

Journeying to, and staying in the Dazhai Village is an experience that draws an oxymoron from you when trying to relay your feelings. It was like I did everything and nothing at all. I mean, how can one go through an experience like this and not be changed on some level? In my adult life, there have been few experiences that have challenged me like this trip has, but it has shaped how I view myself, how I deal with and overcome adversity, and how getting away from convenience can make one a better person.

Victor Amos
Editor At Large

Reykjavik, Iceland – Honeymoon Experience Of a Lifetime

Close your eyes, imagine a place as green as Ireland, with the most dramatic water falls like Iguazu or Niagara.  Think of the most beautiful sheep of England, simple beaches and a volcanic landscape like no other, with peaks and valleys.  Open your eyes and you will be in Iceland.

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There are so many interesting and a vast variety of things that make Iceland such a wonderful experience that I don’t know where to begin, but I shall try.  This past June while visiting the breathtaking country, the sun apparently did set but it never became dark.  One glorious evening, we were casually strolling, exploring the hot spots of the region, and we stopped at one of the local restaurant and ran into a bar at 12:00am; we couldn’t conceive that it was still daylight outside nor that it could possibly be that late.

Two of the most alluring things about Iceland are Reykjavik (pronounced rey-ka-vik) as a city and the beauty of nature all around you in Iceland. Reykjavik is the capital and a harbour city which boasts the most spectacular views, but although being a city, it provides you the comfort of a small town. Reykjavik is a city of 32,000 inhabitants. Everything from fine dining to fish skewers to Thai food is available. While we had consistently good dining experiences, the main surprise was the cost. While their main exports are wool and lamb,  almost everything else is imported, hence the incredible cost of everything there. Be forewarned, prepare yourself for an expensive but worthwhile trip!

The natural environment will blow your mind. It is an active volcanic island comprised of sand, lava fields, mountains and glaciers. The most alluring part of Iceland has to be the landscape. The natural beauty is astounding from the terrain of volcanic moss to the hot and cold thermal waters that are hard to describe but beats any jacuzzi you’ve ever sat in.

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The famous Geysers, which derive from the Icelandic verb to gush, eruptions can happen infrequently depending on the geyser but will often gush boiling water metres high in the air.

One of the strangest experience is walking on the moss-like greenery that has grown over the volcanic rock and feels like stepping on broccoli but with a sinking effect. The juxtaposed views of green landscapes and ice capped mountains is exhilarating.

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The country has made a significant recovery since its meltdown in 2008 – no pun intended. There is evidence of this when you see the number of tourists, fine dining restaurants and a booming clubbing and bar scene that was fraught with people queuing to get into the various venues.

Reykjavik has just hosted the world’s most unique music festival, Summer Solstice which reigned over Reykjavik, for the first time from June 20-22, 2014. What made it different? The sun did not set over the three days and there was straight sunlight for 72 hours. The festival attracted over 10,000 people to their Icelandic shores to listen to the likes of Massive Attack, Banks, School Boy Q, Disclosure, Múm and close to 150 other artists.

The Reykjavik fashion scene is cool, trendy and stylish all wrapped up in one. Along the main road Laugavegur there is plenty of shopping for those of us who cannot resist.

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One of my favourite stores, Kiosk, is also located on the main street, Laugavegur in the heart of Reykjavik. This store is a co-op collective with creations of 9 Icelandic designers, all who take turns to work the counter and sell their designs.  Their gorgeous clothes and accessories range from silk to organza to quirky prints. Pop in, you are bound to meet one! Kiosk, Laugavegur 65, www.kioskreykjavik.com. There are many fabulous designers, too many to name but one that made a distinct impression is Eggert, http://www.furrier.is/photo-anders-engstrom/, a furrier with edgy designs, colours and stunning outerwear.

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Fine dining exists here just as it does in most major cities.
Mar Restaurant, http://www.marrestaurant.is/, is located not far from the waterfront and serves a great seafood soup, delicious fish and good lamb.

Nauthóll, http://nautholl.is/, has the most idyllic view of the beach, cool but relaxing décor and the best gin and tonics I’ve had in sometime with a little pepper added for garnish! The food is straight from the farm to the table. Healthy but sophisticated. Be sure to order any of the salads and the fish is pretty amazing too. It’s a little outside of the city centre but well worth the ride.

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Thursdays are American vintage car day where you will see bikers dressed like hells angels and cars from “back in the days” that will peak your interest. Let’s not forget their piece de resistance, the largest church in Reykjavik, the Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja. The design, is said to have been built to resemble lava.

Grill Markt, http://www.grillmarkadurinn.is/, presents a décor that is both cozy and welcoming, a beautiful bar downstairs along with cozy booths around the back and nice size tables for groups. You could have mistaken the ambiance for any trendy New York restaurant even playing some rap songs from the 90s. But the menu was the most adventurous with Whale, Reindeer and Lobster mini burgers. Puffin is eaten here as well but it seemed to be out of season therefore not on the menu. The grilled red fish was firm and yet full of flavour.

If you are non-European and more specifically non-Scandinavian, you will be inclined to find the costs of everything outrageous. That being said, this is an experience you are unlikely to experience anywhere else and worth every penny or in this case every króna.

Photos courtesy of Aimee Sealfon and Michelle Lowe

Destination Dominican Republic

They say that mamajuana is an aphrodisiac. A traditional drink of the Dominican Republic, made of rum, red wine, honey, and herbs and spices, it is a very potent drink. It is served one shot at a time. They also say it will cure whatever ails you. They say you have not experienced the Dominican Republic until you’ve had mamajuana.

So visit Puerto Plata and take a shot. Puerto Plata is a very old city, founded in the 1500s. It is the home of one of the country’s greatest heroes, Gregorio Luperon, and reminders of its history mingle everywhere with its future as a burgeoning tourism destination in the country. Travelers are increasingly attracted to Puerto Plata for its tropical location and inexpensive accommodations. You can book beachfront all-inclusive resort for 5 days, which can go for less than $400 total during the low season (May-August).

Many of the resorts in the area have some sort of timeshare setup, and the staff may pointedly court you for membership. Feel free to decline the sales pitch up front unless you are truly interested; it will not affect the quality of your stay.

Be prepared to tip frequently, beginning when you land at the airport. There will be a band playing merengue at your gate, with a tip basket set up in front of them. Porters will aggressively try to carry your luggage for you. If you don’t want them to do so, don’t hesitate to say so. If you allow them to do so, they will expect a tip. US dollars are accepted widely and may be more convenient for tipping purposes than Dominican pesos, which come in much larger denominations.

Your resort may be all-inclusive, but by all means venture away from it. Book an excursion, or ask guest services for recommendations for places to go. They can also help you arrange transportation.

I took a cable car ride up the mountain that towers over the city, Pico Isabel de Torres. Do this activity early on a clear day, so that you can enjoy the view of the city and sea sprawling far below you. Atop the mountain, there is a statue of Christ the Redeemer, a smaller replica of the one that towers over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 

View from Mount Isabel

View from Mount Isabel

 

The Brugal factory, where one of the most recognized brands of Dominican rum is manufactured, is worth a visit. In the shop, you can sample – and buy – all sorts of rum. I bought 2 large bottles of dark rum to bring home. Two is the limit that you can bring into the airport from outside, but you can purchase additional rum in the airport’s duty free shop.

 

Brugal Rum Factory

Brugal Rum Factory

 

I also enjoyed a stop at the Camilo Brugal Art Gallery to view the work of local artists. The gallery is located near the city’s main plaza, very close to the Cathedral.

Dama Morena by Jorge Severino

Dama Morena by Jorge Severino at Camilo Brugal Art Gallery

On my last night in Puerto Plata, some fellow travelers and I decided to venture out for dinner. At home in New York City, I work in a vibrant Dominican community and regularly enjoy eating Dominican food. My fellow travelers and I ended up at a nearby restaurant called El Secreto, where I savored the best mofongo – mashed green plantains – and fried chicken that I’ve ever tasted. It was tender and flavorful and the perfect way to cap off the visit.

Puerto Plata’s tourism industry is not yet as developed as that of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s top tourist destination, but that is to the advantage of the traveler who seeks an excellent deal. The beach, the mountain, and the sun are all there waiting for you. As is the mamajuana.

Location Location Location – The Carlyle Is All That Jazz

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The Carlyle Hotel in New York City has to be one of the most historically fashionable hotels to date. Besides having a history of housing some of history’s most influential people, it has also been known to be one of New York’s jazziest nightspots. Some of our favorite iconic performers have walked these grounds and performed in the night club, including Eartha Kitt, Rita Moreno, Bobby Short, and most recently, iconic bassist, Ron Carter  (accompanied by world famous guitarist, Russell Malone).

My first experience with The Carlyle was some 10 years ago, visiting the late Eartha Kitt before her performance. Her brilliantly decorated and perfectly maintained in-house apartment was astounding. From the doorman who greets you at curbside to the elevator operators, ALL of the staff lavish you with the white glove treatment. Literally. Frequent there enough and you will notice that they will know your name. Which, to me, speaks volumes.

The rooms and suites are some of the lushest environments you will want to call your home, whether it is for the night, the week, or you tie the knot. Your guests will be enchanted by the impeccable service they will receive. The comfort of their beds and the exquisite dining, be it an in-house restaurant or room service, will not leave them disappointed.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to host an event at The Carlyle, and we have to say that everything was first class and polished to perfection! We are sticklers for great customer care. We value the treatment of our readers, thus the reason why we are very hands-on with every business and service we recommend in writing. If it is not inspected and experienced by one of our writers, it won’t be written about. No exceptions.

 

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So, with great pleasure, we present The Carlyle Hotel as a location to consider for your wedding reception and honeymoon stay.  You will not be disappointed.

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The intimacy that the event space provides makes it worth every dime. When you’ve waited your entire life for this moment of love, the magic you want to create with your new mate should begin in the same fashion you want it to be for the rest of your relationship: With style and elegance. What better way to send that message to each other and share it with your loved ones than at The Carlyle?

Make no mistake, this is not a cheap date. It will cost you, like anything of value which is meant to be cherished. So, when planning your wedding or honeymoon, you will need to evaluate what is more important to you in the grand scheme of things.

But I think you can appreciate that some experiences in life are just worth having and checking-off from your to-do list.

 

Reasons Why

The three most important things for a person looking to plan any event are (1) location, (2) location, and (3) LOCATION! Why is that so important when planning your wedding? It will not only become a factor in your wedding plans, it will also set the tone for the kind of wedding your guests can expect, even before they arrive.

Location will determine how your guests will arrive. They will need to plan ahead based on where they live.

Location will determine the parking situation for your guests. They will need to plan for whether parking is available on-site or off-site, and the cost involved.

Location will set the tone for your guests and the kind of wedding you are having. That includes the dress code, theme, and the ambiance that the space provides.

These are some things you should take into consideration when planning your nuptials. So, for your jazz lovers and history lovers, The Carlyle just might be the piece of history you have always wanted to have for your wedding day!

 

 

To Pietrasanta with love . . .

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is plenty of beauty to fall in love with at the Albergo Pietrasanta Hotel.
Or while you are there, simply fall in love all over again with that special someone.

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Although, it was a grand seventh century palazzo (palace), the property is not ostentatious in its appearance. In fact, if you are not careful, its simple yet elegant façade and glass entrance could be easily mistaken for one of the many stylish art galleries that are dotted along the medieval streets of Pietrasanta.

 

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Each sleeping room is more beautiful than the next and with more fabulous space than the next depending the room type or suite. All are to die for, especially if you are travelling from other parts of Europe. Not only do they offer luxury amenities, but, every detail is thought of from the beautiful soft furnishings right down to a shaver with shaving cream! The period furniture is elegant and all the rooms have wonderful natural light. If you are lucky, you may have a room over looking the romantic courtyard.

As you enter the lounge area, ahead lies in a glass atrium the dining room. The first thing that meets the eye is a beautifully landscaped garden cleverly designed to connect with the unobtrusive converted stables the other side of a peaceful and quiet space. They even have a small gym, off the garden, a great place to stretch or warm up before your exercise. Inside the atrium dining room, the menu is ever pleasing to the eye and to your stomach, along with the beautifully chilled prosecco served daily.

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The Albergo Pietrasanta Hotel is in a small town known for it’s art and it’s attraction of celebrities and famous artists such as Fernando Botero and Alfonso Cuarón (Oscar Winning Director for Gravity).

Another unknown celebrity, Barbara Pardini is the jewel of the property, and the General Manager.  She brings a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the hotel. Which embodies all of the beautiful things that you will experience upon your visit. Specifically, the unique and niche one of a kind experiences that only she can provide for you to experience as a guest at Albergo Pietrasanta. She offers this and more in order to enhance your stay at this exquisite venue. Her wonderful and warm aura is so inviting, you can’t imagine anything that she organizes for you not exceeding expectations – but they do!

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A few of the trips she organised were; a trip to Carrerra, notable for the white or blue-grey marble quarried there which is the same marble, quarried hundreds of years ago for some of the Michelangelo’s statues.  It’s a sight to behold and driving up the marble mountain in a 4x 4 is not for the faint of heart! Or a private tour of the great opera composer, Giacomo Puccini’s home – now a museum, or a concert at the  open-air opera house dedicated to his work situated on the Massaciuccoli Lake – bellismo!

These are just a few of the one of kind experiences available.

A day trip to Portofino, Cinque Terre, the beaches of Versailia, or the exclusive shops in Forte dei Marmi can all be arranged as a guest at Albergo Pietrasanta. Closer to home in Pietrasanta, don’t miss the Mexican Sculptor, Gustavo Aceves’ exhibition LAPIDARIUM, located in the main Piazza.

Coming from the UK where customer service can often be questionable, there is nothing else to ask other than, “why can’t it be like this everywhere?” The discreet staff is at your service for everything and anything and more than willing to help you with every whim or query. The hotel is neither small nor large rather it could be likened to a fine private home. What is impressive is the extensive art collection consisting over 61 pieces of mostly first editions, throughout the hotel.  What’s not to love? Art is a consistent theme through out the hotel and the town. If you are as passionate about art as I am, you will believe you have reached Nirvana!

If you want an experience that money can’t buy or a romantic wedding, a honeymoon or an artistic getaway off the beaten track, contact Barbara Pardini by email: bpardini@albergopietrasanta.com or Tel.: 00390584793727 and quote WBN-AP for a great rate.

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Perhaps, you will find here – all you need is love!

Choosing Your Wedding Paradise- 10 Reasons to Think of The Cayman Islands

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The wedding is over and you both said I do.  The last of all the vendors are paid, your TSA friendly bags have been packed and you are honeymoon ready.

So why should you choose the Cayman Islands?

Located in the western portion of the Caribbean Sea, the British territories are made up of three islands: Grand CaymanCayman Brac and Little Cayman. The population is approximately 56,000 thousand people, a mix of African-European descendants. The area is said to have about 120 nationalities, with English the primary language.

The islands are governed by the Queen of England, with an appointment every four years. The people on the island depend totally depend on tourism from the ships, hotels and visitors to support the economy. George Town, once a swamp territory, has quickly become a destination playground for the well-to-do.  Not known for party scene, the capital represents relaxing and pleasure for those looking for peace away from fast city life.

While visiting the main island, we had the pleasure of being taken around by one of the locals, Miss Babeth Shelley, our fiery Jamaican entrepreneur who filled us in on what’s what on the islands.

 From politics to beaches and to news we got an ear full.  We heard the back story of how the town of Hell received its name and saw it up close up and personal.

Aside from lounging in our resort air conditioned room, pool side bar, full service restaurant, beach side water activities include kayaking, jet skiing, sailing we also enjoyed good old fashion snoozing on the hammock by the sea. The property is on the 18 hole golf course club ran by the Ritz Carlton if your looking to relax or work on your swing, while tanning in the heat of the sun.

So if you seek a honeymoon hot spot, the Cayman Islands may just be the cure the doctor ordered for your winter blues for those who endured this last torturous season.

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Seven Mile Beach

 

Here are our top 10 reasons to go:

1.  Based on your origins of travel and preferred airlines, there is a flight everyday. Many of them are from Miami, which is just over an hour away, and many airlines also fly direct.

2. There are over 120 nationalities on the island. English is their primary language because it is a British colony.


3.  They accept foreign currency if you don’t have time to exchange your money.  

4.  Access to hotels range from luxury 7-star hotels to affordable resorts that are all-inclusive and family friendly for every wallet size.

5.  The food is magnificent.  Fresh fish from this island makes for healthy eating.

6.  The beaches, specifically Seven Miles Beach, is rated number four in the world.

7. If you’re a golfer, the courses are groomed just right for your next game.

8.  If you enjoy water activities, you have your choices of snorkeling, surfing, diving and swimming with dolphins.

9.  Night clubs and DJs are plentiful from the traditional restaurant and bar scene to a more planned list of seasonal activities (check your calendar or the tourism board).

10. The beaches are perfect for laying in the sun with a drink and do nothing.

As a bonus to your list of of things to do, Cayman Island Fashion Week for all you fashionistas courtesy of  Guavaberry Marketing-Cindy Rosan-Jones and Terry Donovan. www.caymanislandsfashionweek.com

 

For more information visit: Websites: www.caymanislands.ky | www.caymankind.com www.divecayman.ky

All images are courtesy of Victor Amos.

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Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach

Cayman Islands Fashion Week 2014: Artistic Elegance at the Yumi Katsura Presentation

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Cayman Islands Fashion Week 2014: Artistic Elegance at the Yumi Katsura Presentation

by Victor Amos

 

Our first stop during Cayman Island Fashion Week 2014 was the Yumi Katsura bridal presentation. The event was held at the beautiful and prestigious National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting venue.

We were greeted by the ornately manicured property of the National Gallery; complete with lush green lawns and floral-wrapped trellises. Serving as a backdrop for the Yumi Katsura presentation was the current exhibition: ‘Jamaican Art: 1960s & 1970s’. The exhibition featured emotionally-stimulating paintings and sculptures on loan from the National Gallery of Jamaica. Although it seemed it would be impossible to upstage such a setting, the dresses that soon came to fill the room took all of my attention.

The gowns that graced the gallery were worthy of their company. They consisted of intricate frocks flowing of silk charmuese, silk chiffon, French tulle, and lace…adorned by woven patterns of Swarovski crystals. In short, fashions deserving of a queen. What fascinated me most about the dresses, were how they were decidedly elegant, while at the same time fashion-forward. Many of the dresses featured an element that I like to refer to as “peek-a-boo texture.” Underneath layers of pristine white fabric lied little details of ruching, beading, and textured lace patterns, adding a decidedly modern and artistic twist to the garments. Overall the collection was smart, fashion-forward, unique and left a lasting impression.

 

 

WHERE TO BUY:

Paulette Cleghorn of Yumi Katsura

http://www.YumiKatsuraCouture.com

 

SHOW CREDITS:

Cayman Islands Fashion Week
http://www.CaymanIslandsFashionWeek.com

Cindy Rosan Jones
Founder & Executive Producer

Terry Donovan
Co-Producer & Fashion Show Producer

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#CaymanIslands #CIFW2014 #CIFashionWeek #YumiKatsura #Bridal #Fashion #Gowns #Couture