Thursday, July 31, 2014

A wonderful Travelife Magazine team dinner at the Marriott, along with a pizza making and ice cream sundae making contest



In Manila today, living a Travelife, the Travelife Magazine team headed out of work earlier than usual to have dinner at the Marriott Hotel.

We were all really supposed to have a team dinner tonight and we took a vote among everyone as to where to go. 

THE WINNER OF THE POPULARITY CONTEST

                                


The Marriott won the popularity vote among our team for their great steaks and seafood, as well as for their wonderful ice cream bar.

I like the ice cream bar a lot, too, and my personal favorite here is the Palawan nut ice cream, which I think is made from honey and nuts from Palawan.

JUST CAN'T RESIST GOOD FOOD

                                  


The food was of course the highlight of the night. 

When I joined the dinner midway, having come from a cocktail party, everyone was already on their third servings of rib eye steak and Cajun shrimp. 

I'd had a really big lunch at Spices at the Peninsula today. 

                                    


But at the Marriott, I was unable to resist a plate of guacamole with veggies and shrimp in a crispy tortilla, a rib-eye with all the trimmings and the ice cream.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN


Then it was time for the contests to begin, with a grand prize of two round trip tickets anywhere in the world, for a never-ending Travelife.


We had a pizza making contest, followed by an ice cream sundae making contest. 

Everyone joined in and we had a very merry and rather competitive evening, at the Marriott Hotel, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My lucky week, a nice present, a deliciously long lunch at LiLi and a most enjoyable dinner hosted by an ambassador

Someone sent over this lovely gift this morning

Today was another wonderful day in my never-endingly eventful Travelife.

I was at the office very early as there was lots of work to do.

But first thing in the morning, someone I'd recently traveled with sent over a very nice gift as a thank you for planning the trip.

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THE JOYS OF TEAMWORK

I didn't really plan the entire trip, and I just put pieces together. It was more of a team effort.

But anyway, the beautifully packaged present from a perfumer in London I love was so unexpected and very welcome.

And perhaps it's not just my lucky day, but my lucky week.

IT'S MY LUCKY WEEK


A couple of nights ago, I was at a formal sit-down dinner and my seat mates were two gentlemen I'd never met before, in spite of this being such a small town.

We'd had a most lovely evening and the conversation had been about everything under the sun.

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SOME LOVELY FLOWERS

The next morning, one of them sent a big bouquet of flowers to my office, which truly brightened my day, as well as everyone else's day in my office.

It was such a nice gesture.

Then a few days later, the other gentleman had a lovely gift delivered, which he knew I would like very much, based on our conversations at dinner.

A SAMSUNG TABLET
FROM THE TRAVEL COMPANION



On Friday, too, the Travel Companion gave me a Samsung Galaxy tablet which I've been using a lot now.

While we were both in Europe two weekends ago, you see, I'd told him how I wanted a Samsung tablet and he said he'd think about giving me one.

I never mentioned it again, but last week, he gave me what I wanted.

A FEW NICE SURPRISES


Then today, I got this lovely present, bought from the London perfumer Jo Malone.

And then there was a message from someone in another country that said: "Let me know which restaurants you want to go to, and I'll take you."




He meant for me to send him a list of Michelin three-star restaurants I want to eat in, sometime later this month, somewhere in the world, living a Travelife. And he would book the restaurants and take me for dinner at each one.

It's not my birthday but it certainly feels like it. And, of course, it's definitely a wonderful Travelife.

LUNCH AT THE HYATT REGENCY



Meanwhile, for lunch today, I went over to the Hyatt Regency in Manila to catch up with GM Richard Simmons and his team.

We had a wonderful meal at LiLi, which is really the best fine dining Chinese restaurant in Manila, in my opinion.



And today the chef certainly pulled out all the stops to create a fine meal.

It was so nice to catch up with Richard and his team, and we spent hours practically talking nonstop.

This is their new best-selling black angus dish

We were served so many courses that I lost count.

And then it ended with LiLi's signature mango pudding dessert and a very impressive tea-making demonstration, both done table-side.



What fun.

When I got back to Makati, I just had enough time to check some layouts and then I had to head home and dress up for another evening out.

TRIPLE-BOOKED TONIGHT
FOR A TRAVELIFE



I was triple-booked tonight for drinks, a cocktail party and a sit-down dinner -- thankfully, all in the same general neighbourhood.

In a perfect world, it would all have worked out and I could have done all three things.



But then the rains began and traffic was terrible even in the two square kilometres I had to navigate, so I ended up missing the first two things and barely making it to the first course of the sit-down dinner.



AN ENJOYABLE DINNER
HOSTED BY AN AMBASSADOR

The dinner was such an eclectic group, hosted by an ambassador and his wife at their lovely residence.

The guests were of such disparate ages but we all had so much fun that the meal ended close to midnight, which was when I called it a day, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A lovely afternoon tea party at Morrells Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg last May



It was an early winter day in May and I was in Johannesburg, living a Travelife.

I couldn't believe my luck, regarding the weather, as well as just how nicely everything worked out for my stay in Johannesburg.

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WHAT WONDERFUL WEATHER
FOR WINTER IN JOHANNESBURG

It was supposed to be cold weather and so I'd brought the requisite jackets.

But there I was at 4 PM, sitting in a beautiful garden at Morrells Boutique Hotel in the old-rich neighbourhood of Northcliff, in Johannesburg, in a sleeveless sun dress.



Thank goodness I'd actually even managed to pack a nice summery dress into my luggage, considering it was winter.

I would have been sorely out of place in my usual African safari attire of a white or black shirt, a long khaki jacket, slim pants and long boots.

The rest of my luggage was full of safari stuff as I was heading on to a safari in the Northern Cape and then to a second safari in Pilansberg National Park, after Johannesburg.

Our afternoon tea hostess in Joburg,
the lovely Chantalle Pietersen

A TABLE STRAIGHT OUT OF FANTASY LAND

I was the last to arrive as I came from a morning at the spa.

30 of our friends and readers were arriving in Joburg for a trip with me around Northern Cape in two days' time, and I'd purposely flown into South Africa earlier than everyone to get a little bit of sorely needed "me time."



And when I got to the venue, in front of me was a table so beautiful that I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

The setting itself in a gracious garden was lovely, but the table was straight out of a wedding magazine.



It was full of the most exquisite cakes, the daintiest sandwiches and truly the loveliest flowers.



I've been to many fancy and glamorous afternoon teas all over the world, living a Travelife.

No kidding. You name it, I've done it.

IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD,
AND IT'S A WONDERFUL TRAVELIFE

Happy on holiday,
at the Palais Amani in Fes, Morocco last month.

It's been a truly lucky and wonderful life, as someone on our Facebook Fan page commented just the other day.

And not a single day goes by that I don't remember how lucky I am to be living the life I want -- which is a never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Just before lunch in the middle of the Moroccan dessert,
at a gorgeous Relais & Chateaux property

Almost everyday is an amazing and a busy day.

Every day is full of meeting such nice and interesting people and having happy and memorable experiences.

But I work hard as well. In fact, I work 20 hours a day on average, but it just doesn't seem like work when you're on a never-ending Travelife.



It's not a perfect life, as no one's life is. But it's certainly a most wonderful life.

A HAPPY AFTERNOON
HAVING TEA IN JOBURG 

And one of these truly happy experiences in my recent Travelife was afternoon tea with the ladies of Johannesburg last May, at Morrells Boutique Hotel.


The afternoon was perfect, the ladies were fun, and the endless food was just wonderful.

And never have I seen a table so beautifully done with sweet and savoury treats as that spread on that enjoyable afternoon at Morrells Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg, in May, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.





Monday, July 28, 2014

A visit to a mens' cooking club and great tapas bars with the help of a Tours by Locals guide in San Sebastian



One of the best things we did in San Sebastian, Spain, several weeks ago, living a Travelife, was to hire a private guide to take us around the city on a walking tour.

Iker, a local foodie who I hired via an innovative company called Tours By Locals.com, appeared at our hotel, the lovely Maria Cristina hotel in San Sebastian, at 10 AM.


He was waiting in the lobby exactly to the minute, with a big smile and lots of enthusiasm to show us around his beloved city.

We instantly felt like a friend was going to show us around San Sebastian -- which was really important, as we didn't want to have a commercial or cookie cutter kind of tour.

Or the kind of tour guide who makes you feel that he or she does this exact same routine everyday.

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GREAT GUIDES
VIA TOURS BY LOCALS.COM

I always hire guides via Tours by Locals because I'm able to tailor-make the tours almost exactly to our specifications.

And almost all the guides on their roster are knowledgeable, kind, and very good at adapting to the needs and wants of their audiences.



In this case, we were a group of foodies doing a kind of big food and wine trip through Spain and France.

We'd booked all the requisite great restaurants and set appointments with all the famous chefs, of course. We are Travelife, after all, so we didn't need help in this arena.

THE REALLY LOCAL SIDE
OF SAN SEBASTIAN


But for one free day in San Sebastian without fine dining on the schedule, what we really wanted to do was a very local kind of tour.

No fancy food, no Michelin stars, no place that speaks English very well. In other words, we wanted to see the locals' version of San Sebastian.

As luck would have it, Iker was a certified foodie.

A VISIT TO THE OLDEST MENS' COOKING CLUB
IN SAN SEBASTIAN


He's a guide but he loves food and he cooks with a real passion. So one of the places he took us to was his cooking club -- and, boy, was this ever so interesting.

San Sebastian has several dozen private cooking clubs of varying status, and most of them are only for men who love cooking, but who don't have a place to do so. 




Or for men who love cooking and entertaining on a grand scale, but who don't have a place big enough to do so. Or for those who don't want the arduous task of having to wash all the dishes afterwards.

Women can enter these clubs, but only as guests.

THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS MENS' COOKING CLUB

So Iker took us to one of the oldest mens' cooking clubs in San Sebastian, a town known for having lots of serious foodies.

It's a very prestigious one as there were many photos of famous chefs, including of Martin Berestegui, a Michelin three-star chef in San Sebastian, on the walls of the club.

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Iker told us he paid something like 15,000 euros to enter the club  -- if I remember right, as I was listening after having drunk several glasses of wine on a still empty stomach then.

And then there's an annual fee of 1500 euros, plus a small charge for each usage.

But you have two great kitchens to use, a big dining space, a full array of condiments, and a cleaner to wash up afterwards.

WHERE THE LOCAL FOODIES GO
FOR TAPAS IN SAN SEBASTIAN


But that day, Iker didn't cook for us so we only had drinks.

We'd asked him to take us to several of his favourite tapas bars for a very local tapas crawl -- which he did.

And I have to say -- on this particular visit to San Sebastian, we tried all the famous tapas bars that came so highly recommended by so many people.


But we unanimously agreed that none of these famous places held up a candle to the tapas bars that Iker took us to.

The food we had at several of his favourite tapas bars was simply amazing, even in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



Contact Ekker and other local guides
in different parts of the world
via Tours By Locals

www.toursbylocals.com



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Shopping with duty-free vouchers at Doha's new airport. And about the wonders of Balqees Sidr Honey



At Doha airport last weekend, on my way home to Asia from Paris, living a Travelife, I had about 90 minutes to kill before boarding my flight.

I also had a bunch of duty free vouchers I was so psyched to spend, having ever so diligently collected these vouchers on two roundtrip flights with Qatar in June and in July.

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A HOLIDAY IN MOROCCO LAST JUNE

In June, the Travel Companion and I went on a holiday to Morocco and we'd passed through Doha on our way to Casablanca.



Doha's new airport had just opened and the business class lounge was not yet fully operational.

It's only been fully opened this weekend, if I'm not mistaken.

So on that trip to Morocco, we were given the equivalent of US$84 each in shopping vouchers as compensation for not being able to use the lounge each way.

VOUCHERS SPENT AND VOUCHERS SAVED



At Doha airport, the Travel Companion spent his vouchers on a lobster but I saved mine as I wanted to buy something substantial with my saved up vouchers.

Then he even gave me the remaining vouchers that he didn't spend on both stopovers in Doha, so I had a nice little pile at the end of our trip.

MY QATAR AIRWAYS VOUCHER WISH LIST



Then earlier this month, I was back in Doha on my way back to Asia from Paris.

So I got a couple of vouchers again as the lounge was not yet ready.




Finally, on this fourth stopover in Doha last weekend, I planned to spend everything on something nice -- like a bag, or a gold bracelet, or a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

Yes, I had actually saved enough vouchers for any of these.


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So while I was in Europe, I kept thinking about what to spend my accumulated vouchers on. And out of everything I thought I wanted to buy, I finally decided to get a Samsung Galaxy tablet. 

I did the maths and I had enough vouchers to basically get the top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy tablet for free.

IT'S MY LUCKY DAY

But then, lucky me.

The Travel Companion decided to give me a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and so this left me free to spend my vouchers on something else.

Thanks for the Samsung Galaxy tablet, Travel Companion....

I decided to blow all my vouchers on something I ordinarily wouldn't buy with hard-earned cash.

Isn't that what vouchers are for?

A BAG FULL OF HONEY.
BUT IT'S THE BEST IN THE WORLD.


So I spent everything on jars of Balqees Sidr Honey from Yemen, sold at Qatar Airport's duty free shop.

Sidr honey is supposed to be the best honey in the world and Balqees is reportedly the best brand. This particular honey is supposed to be the honey with the highest number of anti-oxidants and it's also supposed to have medicinal properties.

In a way, you might say you're buying a little more good health when you buy this honey.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE HONEY IN THE WORLD

It's also the most expensive honey I've ever encountered. A little jar costs US$40 and the large jar costs US$160.

So, yes, maybe I'll buy a little jar as an occasional treat, but I certainly wouldn't buy an entire shopping bag of honey at a price like that.

In fact, I bought one small jar on my way to Paris and I had one tablespoon full every morning upon waking up for the two weeks I was in Europe. I liked the taste (it's addicting) and I felt it made my skin glow and gave me energy.



So on my return trip from Paris, I decided to spend all my shopping vouchers on Balqees Sidr honey. It was like getting a large shopping bag of the best honey in the world for free. 

Talk about vouchers well spent, especially if it continues to make my skin glow and give me energy.

And now I have enough honey for three years, which is more than enough, even for a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


ABOUT YEMENI SIDR HONEY

The Sidr tree is referred to as the paradise tree in the Koran and it grows in the mountains around South Yemen's Do'an valley in a remote desert region of the South Arabian peninsula. Here, nomadic beekeepers gather this rare Sidr honey only twice a year.

Sidr honey is supposed to be highly medicinal and beneficial for strengthening the immune system and providing anti-oxidants to the body.