Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Cardinal Suite of the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela

In the beautiful and ancient town of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, living a #Travelife, we stayed in the Cardinal Suite of the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, which, for me, is the best hotel in Santiago de Compostela.


The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela 

The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos is the most historic hotel in Santiago de Compostela and the most elegant as well. It also has the best location, located right on the town square next to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

It was once a hospital designed with great fervor and attention to details by Queen Isabela, the Catholic Queen of Spain, together with her favorite architect. And if you like design and aesthetics, this simple and graceful building will just take your breath away.

The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela 

The interiors of the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos are lovely as well. Nothing over the top, in terms of design, in keeping with the atmosphere of this former hospital turned luxury hotel in this pilgrim town


The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela 

The interiors of the Hostal de los Reyes Catholicos are not open to the public so I’m posting photos to show you the beauty of simplicity in this ancient must-stay hotel. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinal Suite we stayed in is the most extraordinary suite in the city for its interiors and its unique hanging balcony where you can enjoy a lovely view and sunset. 

The Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela 

Yes, it was all 15th century in the suite but the bathroom was a complete 21st century makeover complete with a glassed in power shower set-up for two. I was floored by this high-tech bathroom in this very old-fashioned suite. 

Pope John XXIII is one of the VVIP guests who reportedly stayed in this same suite, living a Travelife, along with countless other VIPs. So I was half expecting a ghost to appear during our stay in this 500-year-old hotel room, but thankfully it was a perfectly peaceful night and today is another beautiful day in amazing Spain.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The best wines of Spain. And about visiting the winery of Pingus, just outside Valladolid

Serious wine enthusiasts may know of the cult winery Pingus, just outside the beautiful city of Valladolid. It's a 20-minute drive from the city. We were lucky enough to get a peek at this small Spanish winery with impressive R&D facilities.

Pingus wines

Extremely private, bordering on secretive, the Pingus winery usually doesn’t accept visitors and they produce wines in such small batches that these wines are very hard to get. 

You must often begin your search for a bottle of Pingus way in in advance and you must be prepared to wait for one for a very long time, as most bottles rarely make it even into the finest wine stores

The Pingus winery near Valladolid

The Pingus winery doesn’t even have a sign, and the winery looks just like a regular village house. Mara, our private guide, said: "There's no sign. But everyone in the know knows that this is the Pingus winery."


The Pingus winery near Valladolid

Pingus achieved cult status when one of the Pingus vintages became the first ever Spanish wine to receive 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker. I can understand why as these are very exclusive (and pretty expensive) boutique wines made with a combination of feeling and scientific winemaking data. For a very small winery, they have incredible state-of-the-art equipment.


Yulya, the Russian winemaker at Pingus winery

Yesterday, we drove over for a private visit — a very rare occurrence in this winery. We met with Yulya, the Pingus winemaker, who happens to be a Russian who studied wine making in Moscow and then went on to more wine-making studies in the Loire Valley and in Bordeaux. This Russian connection certainly gave the meeting a warm feeling. 

After talking about wine and visiting the Pingus cellars, we spent the afternoon doing wine tastings straight out of the barrel, living and loving a #Travelife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A road trip to Central Russia and authentic Russian banya experiences

I could not have asked for a more perfect holiday, driving around the Golden Circle of Russia where we saw birch tree forests and small wooden houses with delicate paintings and lattice work, until we reached the landmark towns in Russia, full of history and architectural beauty overshadowed by colorful Russian Orthodox churches and massive Kremlin fortresses.

A stay in a farm in Yaroslavl, Russia


After exploring the thousand-year-old town of Yaroslavl, right by the mighty Volga River, we drove in search of a farm where I’d booked a simple log cottage for a night. I’m not really into spartan lodgings, but these were just about the best accommodations in Yaroslavl we could find.

Our 60-square meter wooden cottage costs $60 along with a buffet breakfast and afternoon tea. In cities like Tokyo or Paris, this is the equivalent of a modest lunch for two; so you can understand my initial trepidation at having nowhere else to lay my head down on unless I preferred a bed at a nearby monastery in the town of Rostov or a small room with a shared bathroom in a private guesthouse.

A stay in a farm in Rostov

Well, this farm stay in Rostov Russia provided me with a new perspective. We also stayed at exclusive resorts favored by Moscow’s elite on this particular trip, you see, in mind blowing contrast to this farm; interestingly, it is this little place with chickens and goats that made me happiest.

A stay in a farm in Rostov


I loved this experience of ordinary Russian life. We walked in quiet fields and paddocks of no particular beauty, and then we had homemade cheese and fried bread with fresh herbal tea picked from the garden on our porch

A stay in a farm in Rostov

In the evening, we sat outdoors very happily with Russian vodka and a tray of hearty appetizers including brown bread, pickles, sour cabbage, dried meats, and pâté. Even sleeping on rough cotton on a plumped up mattress on a hard bed was not as dreary as I expected.

Russian appetizers to eat with vodka


The next day, we rented the farm’s sauna cottage for my first authentic experience of a Russian banya. The farmer had already fired up the sauna with logs when we walked over, and so the place was ours. 

Inside was a table with fresh tea and beyond this was the famous Russian sauna clocking in heat at 120 degrees. 

We were to sit in this sauna for several minutes with felt caps to protect our heads; then we were to get out and quickly stand under an improvised shower that was really a wooden bucket filled with freezing water, with a string attached to it. You get the picture.

Extreme heat, extreme cold. And then back again for more. Afterwards, I felt ever so fine in Russia, living a #Travelife.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The best jamon in Spain. And about the University of Salamanca.

We're on a great food trip through Spain, living a #Travelife. Follow our adventures, on our road trip from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela.

Salamanca, Spain

One of our stops on this gastronomic road trip through Spain was a sweet one in Salamanca, a small but exquisite town with ancient origins. Salamanca is known as a university town as its home to the University of Salamanca, which is one of the oldest universities in Europe, along with the University of Bologna, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Oxford University in England.

The University of Salamanca is really a beautiful and historic school.


Salamanca, Spain

However, Salamanca is also a great foodie destination in Spain. There are so many wonderful restaurants in Salamanca, most serving really delicious dishes without pretense. 

Salamanca is also one of the best places to buy the best jamon in Spain as the famous Iberico pigs are bred in the areas around Salamanca, where they roam freely and mainly eat acorns.

So, of course, I had to buy some Iberico jamon to bring back to Asia.


There are many kinds of local ham in Salamanca and most of them are very good. However, if you want the very best, this is ham from 100% Iberico pork that has been cured for around four years. I tasted a slice of this before buying it, and it was pure heaven.



So right there and then, I got the butcher to cut off a good part of a leg of ham and then divide these into three parts, each to be vacuum packed. Apparently, the ham will last for as long as a year, as long as you don't open it.


The butcher in Salamanca, at a jamon specialty store, said to me: "You must serve the jamon at room temperature, and warm the plate in the microwave before placing the ham slices on it. The jamon will just melt in your mouth."

And that is just what I intend to do.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Champagne and shopping with top fashion designer Fely Campo in Salamanca, Spain

On a recent visit to the beautiful city of Salamanca, a place I fell in love with at first sight, I wanted to take a souvenir home with me from Salamanca, apart from hundreds of wonderful memories. What better souvenirs than acorn-fed 100% Iberian Bellota ham and a coat from top Salamanca fashion designer Fely Campo.

Champagne & chocolates with fashion designer Fely Campo
in Salamanca, Spain

My friend Carmen, who lives in Salamanca, first told me about Fely Campo, who is the top fashion designer in Salamanca. Carmen said to me: "Fely Campo designs beautiful clothes. And she designs for real women."

That sounded perfect for me, especially as I am on airplanes and in hotels every week, living a #Travelife. Most of it involves nice restaurants and wonderful events like evenings at the Bolshoi in Moscow or at the La Scala in Milan -- so I need clothes that I can crush into a suitcase and then take out at my destination, put on, and feel fabulous in.


The Don Gregorio Hotel in Salamanca, Spain

Carmen and I walked from my hotel, the Don Gregorio, which happens to be the best hotel in Salamanca, in my opinion. Since I'm a hotel junkie, I looked at the other hotels in the top category, and nothing really came close to the Don Gregorio hotel in terms of style, service and privacy.

It was a 20-minute walk, which was perfect as it enabled me to clock more steps with my Fitbit Alta HR and feel better about myself just before walking into the boutique of Fely Campo, filled with beautiful and slender young women wearing Fely Campo dresses.


Shopping with Fely Campo
at the Fely Campo Boutique in Salamanca

I looked around for a bit and then finally Fely Campo arrived. It was pretty cool to be trying on clothes and to go shopping in the Fely Campo store together with the famous fashion designer herself. She picked out a red autumn coat for me and I loved it. 

Shopping with Fely Campo
at the Fely Campo Boutique in Salamanca

Then we sat down in her private lounge for pink champagne, chocolates and a chat. Fely Campo is now constructing a massive atelier and store just outside Salamanca, and the city of Salamanca is preparing an exhibit of her works to honor her as an artist of Salamanca.


Fashion designer Fely Campo

"Where do you get your inspirations for your clothes?" I asked her. She is so energetic, by the way. I could feel her positive energy just by sitting next to her.

"Basically from around the region where I live," she replied, "but mostly from Salamanca, which is such a beautiful and elegant city."

I certainly couldn't agree more.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Best Tapas Bars of Madrid

Tapas is one of the most famous types of Spanish food in the world, along with paella and callos. This weekend in Spain, living a #Travelife, we enlisted the assistance of Enrique Gonzalez Mendizabal, who runs his own private guide company in Madrid called MadSnail Travel, to show us some of the best tapas bars in Madrid.

Westin Palace Madrid

We started out at 1 PM on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Madrid, meeting at our hotel, the Westin Palace Madrid. Prior to our meeting, we'd been up for a walk so we headed over to Sol and the Plaza Mayor just so I could clock in a few more steps on my Fitbit.

Well, with Enrique, we certainly got more than we bargained for. Not only is he a great foodie -- and I don't mean the kind who only chooses Michelin star restaurants -- but he is also a passionate intellectual with an amazing memory for historical facts and figures.

So we had a simply wonderful afternoon with him, walking around Madrid, living a #Travelife.

Our Madrid foodie guide, Enrique


Of course, as soon as we met him, I wanted to have some authentic tapas. As soon as possible.

"Did you know that tapas are actually free food, as far as the Madrilenos are concerned?" He asked me. "Tapas are the little bites of food that chefs and restaurants give out as freebies to customers prior to the main courses they have ordered. So I get uncomfortable when I see a restaurant calling itself a tapas bar but charging clients for food."

Walking the streets of Madrid

So he suggested: "Let's call this an afternoon tavern crawl through Madrid instead."

And that is exactly what we did. We visited the bars and little restaurants around the Las Lettras district of Madrid, and then eventually made our way to a really small and local rice restaurant near the Royal Palace of Madrid run by a former mechanic and his Ukrainian wife


Tapas in Madrid

The lady cooks rice better than most Madrilenos, Enrique swore. So, of course, how could we not go?

On the way, we stopped by a couple of very popular places including a small restaurant where we found a tiny bit of space at the bar, just enough for three glasses of wine, a plate of beef ham, a bowl of blood sausage meat, and the most delectable chorizo I have had in a long time. Well, I was tipsy by the end of it, and we had only started our pub crawl through Madrid.

The bars of Madrid

Eventually, we got to El Menu de Alona, the rice restaurant in a local street with fewer tourists than most other streets in Madrid. Most of the clients were locals and the scent of lobster rice wafted through as soon as we opened the door.


We let Enrique order everything for us, and we had a pitcher of Tinto Verano and a very large cauldron of soupy rice with lobster. Again, Enrique gave us an education in Madrid cooking and Spanish food in general: "Sangria is for the tourists," he said, "we locals drink Tinto Verano." 

I had to admit; the Tinto Verano was absolutely delicious and so different from its sister drink, the Sangria, found elsewhere in the world.

As for the soupy rice in front of us, Enrique said: "This isn't a paella. It's a rice dish with lobster. Paella is dry and the rice must all be dry and and separate from each other, to be a real paella. What we have here is a very wet rice dish, and it's cooked with the juice of shrimp heads."

What a wonderful afternoon in Madrid, eating our way through a #Travelife.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Christmas events at the InterContinental Hong Kong

The InterContinental Hong Kong is planning a programme of festive dining amidst spectacular views of the glittering Hong Kong skyline with its kaleidoscope of Christmas lights and award-winning cuisine and service. 

Holiday activities at the InterContinental Hong Kong

InterContinental Hong Kong has something to offer the entire family this holiday season -- from Nutcracker Afternoon Tea, Kids' Holiday Goodies Decorating Classes, and Christmas Carolers in the Lobby.


Then ring in 2018 in style at our New Year's Eve Countdown Party in the lobby of the InterContinental Hong Kong with front row viewing of the fireworks display on Victoria Harbour

To support the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association by buying the Nutcracker Mini-Purses and recycled wooden ornaments to place on the InterContinental Hong Kong Wishing Tree


Holiday activities at the InterContinental Hong Kong

In support of New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association,  the InterContinental Hong Kong is selling Nutcracker Mini-Purses, each inclusive of a gingerbread cookie baked by New Life Service Users (HK$120 each). 

Guests can also purchase nutcracker recycled wooden ornaments (HK$50 each) made by the service users of Tin King Workshop of New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, which provides carpentry training for those recovering from mental illness – thus assisting them to achieve self-reliance and to re-integrate into the community

All proceeds from the sale of the Nutcracker Mini-Purses and Nutcracker Ornaments will go to the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association of Hong Kong, which promotes mental wellness for people in recovery of mental illness and for their families.

Holiday activities at the InterContinental Hong Kong

Christmas events in Guernsey and Herm Island

With Christmas decorations lighting up Guernsey, a full programme of festive performances, local craft fairs and quirky Christmas shopping, Guernsey is a great destination for a pre-Christmas short break. 

Christmas holiday events in Guernsey

Guernsey promises a stress-free getaway as there's no need for a passport as long as you're already in the United Kingdom. Here's a selection of Christmas events taking place across Guernsey, along with some great holiday deals. 

Christmas Shopping on Herm Island

Christmas holiday events in Guernsey

On selected weekends in the run-up to Christmas, Herm Island's ferry service, Travel Trident, offers day return crossings to Herm Island for just £1 from Guernsey. 

Day trippers can use the crossings to do their Christmas shopping in Herm's gift shop, as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Mermaid Tavern and have a winter walk around Herm's stunning coastline. The £1 return crossings are offered to passengers departing and returning on the same day and tickets are only available on the day of travel from the Travel Trident Ticket Kiosk at St Peter Port harbour.  

Christmas Lights Switch at St. Peter Port

Christmas holiday events in Guernsey

On 25 November, Father Christmas is the guest of honour for the annual turning on of St Peter Port's festive lights that adorn the shopping streets of Guernsey. Father Christmas is also visiting The Bridge in the parish of St Sampson to switch on the lights in St Sampson town

Castle Cornet Winter Fayre 

A craft fayre, grotto, live music, and themed activities help to get visitors into the festive spirit at Castle Cornet, Guernsey's emblematic castle at the mouth of St Peter Port harbour

Craft Markets in Market Square 

Christmas holiday events in Guernsey

Every Saturday from late November until Christmas, shoppers at St Peter Port can find original presents made locally at Market Square's festive craft market, as well as stock up on festive treats and decorations

Local Guernsey crafts on offer include hand-painted plates, handmade soaps, Guernsey Lily motif hand-painted cushions and sheets, craft made door stops, Christmas hampers, and jewellery

Christmas concert in Guernsey

Ice skating at 
Le Friquet Garden and Lifestyle Centre 

Guernsey's ice skating rink returns to the grounds of Le Friquet Garden Centre in December, set beneath a multi-coloured illuminated canopy that creates a magical atmosphere. For those that don't want to hit the ice, or for a well-earned rest, the Alpine Chalets alongside the rink are a cosy place to take in the skating action offering a variety of food and drinks. 

Alpine Lodge at the 
Old Government House Hotel 

The Alpine Lodge at the five-star Old Government House hotel is Guernsey's newest Christmas party venue. The hotel's terrace has been transformed into a rustic winter wonderland, complete with snow scenery, a warming fire, barrel tables and sofas with chunky rugs and fleeces. Winter party-goers can get into the festive spirit with mulled wine, hot spiced cider, beer served in steins and a selection of schnapps and flavoured vodka

Guernsey Christmas Lights Tour 

Beginning at the Liberation Monument in St Peter Port, Island Coachways is offering twilight two-hour tours around Guernsey to see the beautiful festive light displays around Guernsey's ten parishes from the comfort of a luxury coach.