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April 17, 2008

Hitting the Hot Spots in NYC

Hot_list_experience_winners
The winners of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine's Behind-the-Scenes Hot List Experience at DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan, April 17, 2008.

by Wendy Perrin

Three great travel tips came out of my lunch earlier today with Mike and Paula Hlastala, the charismatic and incredibly nice Seattle couple who bid for, and won, this year's Behind-the-Scenes Hot List Experience. The Hot List Experience is a trip to New York City that includes two nights in your choice of Hot List hotel (one of the properties on the magazine's annual Hot List in our May issue), dinner at your choice of Hot Table, entry to the magazine's Hot List party happening tonight at Mansion--including access to the party's VIP area, where the celebs hang out--and lunch with yours truly. 

The hotel Paula and Mike chose? A new Kimpton property called 70 Park Avenue in Murray Hill, where they checked in earlier today. The restaurant they chose for dinner tomorrow night? Market Table in Greenwich Village. As for lunch with me today, we chowed down on chef Daniel Boulud's signature $32 hamburgers--sirloin burgers, actually, filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle--at his not-so-new but still hot (and close to my office) midtown bistro.

Of course, I had to ask Mike, who runs a Seattle real estate development firm called Othello Partners, and Paula, the stay-at-home mother of their two children who plans all the family trips, what travel secrets they've gleaned so far during this New York City jaunt. Three excellent tips came up:

1. Flying JetBlue? Get one of the seats up front with extra legroom.
The magazine paid $25 extra per flight so that Mike could get one of JetBlue's Even More Legroom seats, with a pitch of 38 inches. On some flights these seats cost only $10 extra. Mike says they're well worth it: He's six feet six, and the extra legroom is the reason he was able to sleep on his red-eye last night. (Paula flew into town a couple of days earlier.)

Read on for the two other tips.

Continue reading "Hitting the Hot Spots in NYC" »

December 01, 2006

Travel With V.I.P. Access Worldwide

By Wendy Perrin

Each year for the December issue of Conde Nast Traveler I and my team, fellow staffers Brook Wilkinson and Kathryn Maier, compile "The Fabulous 50" -- a list of 50 of the best insider-access travel experiences worldwide.  "Insider access" means access to places, people, and events that are off-limits to the general public -- from museums and monuments to archaeological digs, royal families, indigenous peoples, and traditional festivals, all of which give you special insights into a foreign culture.  You too can have these experiences . . . IF you know the right sources to contact (which, of course, we provide).

I'm amused to see that the blogger behind lifeasdaddy seems ready to book himself on the experience Brook tested for this year's feature article accompanying the list. She patrolled Sydney Harbor by Jet Ski, helicopter, etc., tracking down sharks with Australia's ace Surf Life Savers.  Mr. LifeAsDaddy expressed zero interest whatsoever in replicating MY experience.  Then again, all I did was discover a lost civilization in ancient Mesopotamia.

Continue reading "Travel With V.I.P. Access Worldwide" »

November 27, 2006

Russian Spy's Death By Poison

By Wendy Perrin

I'm fascinated by the unfolding story of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy who died of radiation poisoning in London on Thursday. The weapon: A rare radioactive isotope called polonium-210.  Litvinenko's friends and colleagues say he was poisoned because of his public criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  Death by poison is apparently a murder method favored by Russia's security services in recent years.

I'm fascinated because, when I was in Moscow in 2005, I visited the so-called KGB Museum, a private club for officers of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB, the KGB's latest incarnation).  Last year this museum was open to the few travelers who knew how to get in.  This year it is once again off-limits.  As I learned when I was back in Moscow last month, it is now closed to all but FSB officers. Of course I can't help but wonder if Putin, a former spy and head of the KGB, has ordered the museum closed to outsiders because he wants to keep its poisoned-dart-style weapons secret . . .


Continue reading "Russian Spy's Death By Poison" »

October 17, 2006

The Oscars Of The Travel Biz

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Conde Nast Traveler's bash last night at New York's Museum of Natural History
Photos: Patrick Butler

By Wendy Perrin

What are the world's best islands?  The Maldives.
What's the best city in Europe?  Florence.
What's the world's best resort? The Four Seasons Bali at Sayan.

We learned all this and more last night at Conde Nast Traveler's annual Readers' Choice Awards ceremony, which honors the destinations, airlines, hotels, cruise lines, et al., that the magazine's well-traveled readers have rated the world's best. The award ceremony will be televised on the Travel Channel on October 25 at 8 pm E/P, but instead of making you wait, I'll share some of my favorite moments:

The actor Liam Neeson, a dedicated flyfisherman, told this story before handing out the award for best airline:  He enjoys discovering rivers off the beaten track and was once fishing in Patagonia with a 9-year-old river guide in a remote spot so "pure" that not only had the boy never heard of Paraguay, he'd never even heard of New York.  LOVE that!  The winner of the award for best U.S. airline, by the way, was JetBlueSingapore Airlines beat out Cathay Pacific and Emirates for best foreign airline--which surprised nobody, since Singapore has won for 18 of the last 19 years. Everyone laughed when Singapore's head of North American operations accepted the award and said, "In the words of Madonna . . .  'lt's just like the very first time.'"

I also enjoyed when Marcia Gay Harden, who was presenting the awards for best Mexican resort (La Casa Que Canta in Zihuatanejo) and best Atlantic Ocean resort (One & Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas), recalled how she was first smitten by the travel bug: As a child, she and her 4 siblings flew to Japan. (Harden's mom deserves a red badge of courage.  Can you imagine taking 5 kids between the ages of 9 and 2 on a 15-hour flight?!)  The flight attendant gave Harden a pen and a coloring book, and she couldn't have been happier. Ever since her first moments in Japan, she said, "I've loved looking for the next best place to go."

The comedienne Sandra Bernhard, who makes no secret of her lesbian leanings, announced,  "I'm proud to be bi. . . coastal" and then handed out the award for best city in the Americas (outside the U.S.): Vancouver. The Vancouver award accepter quipped that yes, it's true, in Vancouver "you can ski and golf in the same day. . .but only if you come back early from sailing."

Ivanka Trump said that one of her most meaningful vacations was when she spent two weeks traveling in Patagonia alone and learned a lot about herself.  The cruise-line awards she handed out were perhaps the biggest upset of the evening. Crystal Cruises, which has been rated the best large-ship cruise line for the last 11 years, was edged out by Regent Seven Seas by 1/10 of a percentage point.  As for best small-ship cruise line, Sea Dream Yacht Club (click here for my recent post about it) snatched the honor away from longtime favorite Silversea.

The complete award results can be found in the November issue of Conde Nast Traveler (and at cntraveler.com starting Oct. 24).  Or you can tune in to the Travel Channel on October 25.

Grnrm2_1
Natasha Richardson in the green room before presenting awards onstage at the Conde Nast Traveler 2006 Readers' Choice Awards ceremony, Oct. 16, 2006