Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sofitel Paris La Defense Paris La Defense, France

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The Sofitel Paris La Defense is a contemporary hotel with a quiet, discreet atmosphere that is ideal for work and relaxation. Each of the rooms and suites is synonymous with calm and space. The overall harmony stems from the natural simplicity of the materials and the brown and gray tones used, uplifted by bright splashes of color.


Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe

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Ideally located on one of the quiet streets in Paris’ Golden Triangle, Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe is poised in Haussmann-style stateliness. Just a few minutes away, the most beautiful luxury and fashion boutiques await you, in the midst of the capital’s business and leisure district.

Hotels in New York

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Top luxury hotels in New York
Top luxury hotels in New York
New York - Palace
The New York Palace, a Luxury Hotel in Midtown Manhattan
London new-york city hotel
London New York City Hotels
The shellacked lobby of New York’s Carlyle hotel


Noel in Asia

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Last weekend we were in Alsace, enjoying fresh snow at the Strasbourg Marché de Noël, and tomorrow (Christmas Eve) I'll be heading over to Nancy and Luxembourg; to continue our 2010 Christmas celebrations.

Christmas Market in Strasbourg

It's been a while since I've actually spent Christmas Day and New Year's Eve in France and I'm thoroughly looking forward to it.

Strasbourg Marché de Noël

From creative city lights,

Christmas Lights in Strasbourg

to the small boxes decorated with Christmas wrapping in the village streets;


there's something special about how the French add the finishing touches to their towns and villages at this time of year.

Bonne Noel - From the 'Capital of Christmas'

Crowne Plaza Hotel Fullerton – California – United States

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Crowne Plaza Hotel Fullerton near Disneyland provides comfort in an ideal location. Conveniently located near California State University – Fullerton(CSUF), downtown Fullerton and Anaheim, the Crowne Plaza Hotel Fullerton offers comfortable, modern accommodations near Orange County’s many popular attractions and prominent businesses. Take a virtual tour of the hotel. While vacationing in Fullerton, guests can experience the magic of Disney’s California Adventure Park and attend a sporting event or a concert at the Honda Center.
Excitement at Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park and Major League baseball games at Anaheim Stadium can be found just five miles from our Fullerton accommodations. Business travelers will appreciate our hotel’s location near the Anaheim Convention Center and companies such as Albertson’s, Raytheon and Boeing. To best accommodate business conferences or seminars, our hotel offers nine flexible meeting rooms, banquet and catering services and a business center.
During your visit to California, we hope you will take advantage of our hotel’s free shuttle to and from Disneyland. Our hotel in Fullerton, provides a fitness center, a full-service restaurant and a lovely courtyard bar & grill for your utmost enjoyment., Complimentary Shuttle Services to Disneyland Resorts, Anaheim Convention Center, Downtown Fullerton, CSUF and local businesses within the 5-mile radius ..

The Port of No Return

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Bari is quite the place. Every street lines on a vertical axis parallel to the ocean. At the right time of day, around 19:00, the sun bursts with bright red and orange rays rushing fiercely through each vertical street. It is as if the sun is so big that it stands alone behind the entire port city of Bari. All the men with their hair slicked back, their Gucci shades, suit and tie look dressed to impress as if they just stepped out of GQ. Gawking, kissing and beeping their horns, the men here aren’t afraid to let a woman know they want her. The women are on pare as they walk down the busy streets, clicking their heels and pucking their lips. Finding stores such as Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana are as easy to find as the next gelateria.
Back at the hostel I am greeted by a cloud of smoke puffed in my face from the “mummy” who shows signs of death as she inhales her 27th cigarette of the day. She smiles with her cold black teeth blending into the darkness as the runs her fingertips up and down her pink and dark veined skin. She then allows her 1 inch long ash tail hanging off the end of her cigarette to fall to the ground, assuring me that the toxins of the ash clean the floor. As I walk up the winding stairs she is there to greet me at the door in her black cloak and long dark hair. She said not a word as I walk down the hallway only to see her staring at me through the mirror and the end of the hall.
Before lunch the “ghost”, a Spanish 55 year old 7ft tall homeless and heartbroken man with a brow lift, cheek implants and surfer hair orders me to stop eating my morning toast and mop the floors.
As I sing, “the sun will come out tomorrow”, I scrub away until he too is fully satisfied. In a hurry while cleaning the shower I manage to second degree burn the palm of my hand and at that point decide that my cleaning spurt was over. Later that night a couple from India arrives to the hostel. They happily offer to make an Indian dish for dinner for us all (12 people) to enjoy. His hostel has no license which poses risk of a police (or mafia) invasion if people are here. Francesco (the owner) ignores this issue and continues to invite guests for dinner.
The Indian husband in his white jacket and balding, braided pony tail proves his unpleasant marriage status by gawking at me (and the other helper, Healther’s) breasts the whole night and at the dinner table. As he entertains us with his Ayurvedic reading glasses filled with many microscopic holes, he makes a point to be crude by making jokes about Indian women massages and how he’d love to see us while receiving one. I swallowed each bite and almost regurgitated every other. Between the senile old lady, the crazy cleaning freak, the Indian man and his crudeness, Francesco’s illegal establishment, mold, bed mites, asbestos and toxic waste… I was feeling very out of my element.
Heather and I receive an unpleasant confrontation from Francesco after dinner.
Immediately after making Heather cry and myself outraged enough to run a 7 minute mile in flip flops at 12:00 midnight, I packed my bags.

By the end this is my viewpoint of Bari: Rubbish filled streets, unsanitary living situations, Mafia related activity, good gelato… but not worth a visit of more than a day.

Next Stop: Rome, Italy


Indiana Jones would be proud of this…… Passu, Pakistan

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Location: Hussaini Village, Northern Territories, Pakistan (36°25'25.26"N 74°52'54.78"E)
Date: 2 July 2007; 9.15am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Apart from trekking the Karakorum Mountains, one of the most amazing experiences in Pakistan is crossing the suspension bridge across the Hunza River from Hussaini Village to Zar Abad. This rope bridge is long and un-maintained, missing a few planks. There are actually two bridges; the old one was broken and hangs in tatters right next to the current one. Crossing the bridge is quite a challenge, not only because of its condition, the length and the quick flowing river underneath but also the precariousness due to its shaking by strong winds brought by the flowing river. However to the locals, this is their only means to cross the wide river and they cross it as if walking on land, without much of a blink of the eye. There is another suspension bridge across the river slightly further south- better condition but just as scary. Apart from the sense of adventure, one can also enjoy the fabulous view of the Passu Cathedral (mountains in photo) from here. This place is highly recommended and is a “must-go” for anyone travelling the Karakorum Highway.

Saints atop the 135 spires of Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy

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Location: Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy (45° 27′ 51″ N, 9° 11′ 29″ E)
Date: 8 March 2005; 9.10am
Camera: Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 Lens

I could only remember two things about Milan- most of the female boutique Retail Assistants look like models with long legs and the Milano di Duomo (Milan Cathedral). The Duomo was quite a sight for its size and the innumerable spires sticking out from the top of the cathedral. There are 135 spires in total with 3,500 statues adorning them. Unfortunately the Duomo was undergoing preservative maintenance and part of it was closed- even the exterior was blocked off. Therefore I did not have the opportunity to go inside nor able to see the Duomo in its complete majesty. Still it was quite an unforgettable sight.

The best day trips from london

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As if there weren’t enough shops, museums, and historic landmarks to fill your time in London, you’re in reasonable proximity to a host of daytrip adventures that will entertain, educate and mystify you. Here’s a sampling to get started.
It’s not just because my last name is Hamlett or that I write stage plays for a living but my first pick is a visit to the home of one of England’s most prolific authors: William Shakespeare. The English are particularly proud of this quaint 16th century township and its well tended gardens and meandering walks. It’s here in the Midlands that you will not only find the Bard’s birthplace but also the cottages of Anne Hathaway, his wife, Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mum, and Susan, Shakespeare’s oldest daughter. The extensive exhibits–including writings, art, furniture, household items and vintage farming tools offer an insightful peek at the surroundings of a man whose works are still performed on stages throughout the world. If you’re a shutterbug, take plenty of film for the gardens alone! “Everything Shakespeare” could easily be the motto of every bookstore, museum and gift shop in the region. Be on the lookout for costumed actors in your midst as well. Stratford is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company and three theaters—The Swan, The Royal, and The Other Place. Today—just as during Shakespeare’s time—the actors are required to learn multiple roles for different plays performed throughout the same day.
 The best day trips from london
Even the ancient Romans knew a good destination resort when they found one. The natural hot springs in the region known as Bath was the perfect leisure prescription after months of plundering and pillaging. They also erected a number of statues of themselves which look down on an Olympic size swimming pool in the main courtyard. You probably wouldn’t want to take a dip in it now, of course. In addition to the strong aroma of sulfur that permeates the entire facility, the water in the pool is a dark “slime green.” Yech. The most mystical part of the ruins at Bath is the equivalent of a large contemporary hot tub. Legend has it that whatsoever you wish for when you throw in a coin will come true. The catch, however, is that you need to wish wisely and leave no room for ambiguity. I, for one, can personally attest to the pool’s power. The first time I was ever there in 1992, I wished for a knight with shining armor to come into my life after my return to the U.S. My first day back at work, the first stranger to walk in the door is the man who became my husband. The amazing part? He also had a full size suit of armor in the foyer of his office.
london day trips brighton pier full The best day trips from london
The city of Bath is excellent for shopping and affordable eateries that range from funky little hole in the wall pubs to full service restaurants. The Medieval landmark that dominates the central square, however, is Bath Abbey. Although this historic church recently observed its 500th birthday, it wasn’t the first place of worship to occupy this spot. Back in 757, it was an Anglo-Saxon abbey. When the Norman conquerors came through the area in 1066, the first thing they did was tear the whole thing down and start building one of their own. Unfortunately, their budget couldn’t sustain their lofty dreams and the project fell into disrepair by the end of the 1400′s. The current abbey no sooner got underway when along came Henry VIII who decided all monasteries should be abolished in order to make way for his own Church of England. The present abbey is now a local parish which holds regular and special services. If you’re the tiniest bit claustrophobic, you may not want to spend too much time in its cloying chambers. Couple this with the fact that you are walking over the grave markers of those buried beneath its floorboards and it can be downright spooky, Try to delay your departure until sundown; locals call Bath Abbey “The Lantern” and for good reason. It really is a beautiful sight in the evening hours.
london day trips brighton beach full The best day trips from london
In the middle of the windswept Salisbury Plain is a ring of massive stones that has baffled mankind for thousands of years. Was it built to be a place of pagan sacrifice? A memorial to the dead? A primitive type of calendar for tracking the sun and the stars? A whimsical bit of showmanship by King Arthur’s sorcerer, the enigmatic Merlin?
As if its true purpose were not enough for generations to ponder, there’s the entire issue of how these monoliths got to Salisbury Plain to begin with. Weighing in between 5 and 45 tons each, they are made of bluestone, a rock that is not indigenous to the area. In fact, the nearest source of bluestone is in the interior of South Wales, a distance that would have required them to be transported to the water, transported across the water to England, then transported inland. When you consider that this was all accomplished with manual labor, it takes on the proportions of mind-boggling mystique akin to the Pyramids. You’ll also notice that some of the stones are lying across the tops of others. While scientists and engineers have come to credit this feat to basic tongue and groove joint architecture, they still can’t account for how the stones were lifted so high into place and have remained there throughout the millennia.
Once upon a time—5000 years to be exact—two Iron Age banks marked the entrance to what would become the ancient city of Old Sarum. Taking advantage of this natural fortress provided by Mother Nature, the Romans, Saxons and Normans respectively used it as a stronghold. The Normans, in fact, decided to make their mark with a massive castle and a cathedral during the 12th century. Unfortunately, the ongoing friction between church and state during those violent times compelled the Bishop to order the construction of a new cathedral a few miles down the road. When the rest of the community pulled up stakes to follow, the new town of Salisbury was born. Very little remains of Old Sarum’s original structures but it’s still an intriguing venue to visit for its historical significance. Meanwhile, over in Salisbury, the star attraction is its cathedral. Boasting the tallest spire in England (404 feet), Salisbury Cathedral was largely a start-to-finish project completed by one generation of builders. You would also think that a building that tall would require some heavy-duty infrastructure extending far below the earth’s surface. Instead, the entire cathedral rests on a foundation of only six feet. Combine this with the fact that the ground is always wet from the volume of English rainfall and it’s nothing less than a miracle that it has neither sunk nor toppled over. While you’re there, pay a visit to the cathedral’s library and gaze upon the original of the Magna Carta. As you may recall from grade school, this document symbolized the supremacy of English law over the king and was signed under duress at Runnymede by King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart. Outside the cathedral, spend some time enjoying the charm of The Close, a walled-in cluster of period architecture, shops and restaurants.
800px Salisburycathedral0246 The best day trips from london
Windsor Castle, situated above the Thames, has to have been the inspirational setting for every children’s fairy tale. The building of it as a fortress was commenced by no less than William the Conqueror a thousand years ago. With the exception of a brief period during the 17th century when it was appropriated as a prison by the Parliamentarians, it has been in continuous use as one of three official homes of the British monarchy. (When you’re there, look for the flag that announces whether the Queen and her family are in residence.) Just like American tours of the White House, the visiting public isn’t allowed into the royal household’s private quarters. What is offered, however, is a resplendent glimpse of the consecutive reigns of a country that once dominated a fourth of the planet. Of particular note is St. George’s Chapel which took over half a century to complete. The Most Noble Order of the Garter–England’s highest rank of chivalry–is well in evidence here. This is also the final resting place of past monarchs, including the oft-married Henry VIII. It was Henry’s wish to be buried on top of his third and favorite wife, Jane Seymour, the only one of his brides to bear him a son. Henry’s enormous girth at the time of his death, however, proved problematic. So heavy was his casket that it was said to have cracked the more delicate coffin of Jane when it was lowered into place. The tomb had to be hastily reinforced so that the two could lay with one another for all eternity. Henry’s surviving 6th wife, Catherine Parr, was not amused.
The other major attraction at Windsor is Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, which debuted in 1924 courtesy of its designer, Sir Edwin Lutyen. The astonishing detail will probably impress adults even more than children. For one thing, everything that is electrical or involves plumbing actually works. Artisans of the era were commissioned to handcraft the furnishings, rugs, and all of the china, silver and crystal house wares. Miniature, hand-signed volumes of the works of James Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others line the dwelling’s bookshelves. The oil paintings are originals, too. And if you and your pals from Lilliput find yourselves thirsty, all of those tiny wine bottles contain real wine!
After your tour of the castle, the village of Windsor in the valley below is a further delight to explore and enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Enjoy in the city of Sana’a, really a unique place, very different to the rest of the Middle East

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Sana, San’a, Sanaa, or Sana’a – this city is the capital of Yemen and one of the most fascinating in the Arab world with it’s unique architecture and friendly inhabitants. Sana’a has been a major trading centre for south-eastern Arabia. Once a seat of government for the early Islamic caliphs, it is today the capital city of Yemen. The city’s name, Sana’a, meant “fortified place”.
Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m, Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. In the 7th and 8th centuries the city became a major centre for the propagation of Islam. This religious and political heritage can be seen in the 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. Tourists arriving in Sana’a aren’t interested in seeing the development, and the change that has taken place in Sana’a much as they’re interested in focusing their attention on the historic and ancient city of Sana’a.
Typical houses in Sana’a rise to as many as nine stories. Sana’a‘s many-storeyed tower-houses built of rammed earth add to the beauty of the site. The lower levels are usually built of stone, and the upper ones of lighter brick. The windows are outlined in white gypsum and have fan lights of alabaster or coloured glass held in gypsum tracery.
The old city has been inhabited for more than 2500 years and contains a wealth of intact architectural gems. It was declared a World Heritage City by the United Nations in 1984. The old city contains houses which are more than 400 years old, built of dark basalt stone and decorated with intricate frieze work. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand six to nine metres high, the old city boasts over 100 mosques, 12 hammams (baths) and 6500 houses. The old city wall is extremely well preserved.

The Great Mosque is the oldest and largest in Sana’a, and one of the oldest in the Muslim world, constructed in the lifetime of the Prophet. The layout is typical of early Islamic architecture, with an open, square courtyard, surrounded by roofed galleries.
The 1000-year-old Bab al-Yemen Market (means Salt Market), the imposing entrance to the Old City is divided into 40 different crafts and trades- such as spices, vegetables, corn, pottery, raisins, copper, woodwork and clothing.