Tag Archives: luxury travel

Bonus Video- The Hello Kitty Suite at the Hai-Lai: Taiwan

I was going to keep this under wraps, but I couldn’t help sharing the ridiculous walk-through of the Hello Kitty Suite in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, previously mentioned in Hello Kitty Vs. Barbie – An All Out Brawl. I was hot and delirious from all the pink, but it still gives you a good look into this crazy world!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRDKBRm_asc

Feel free to check out the other great travel videos that are starting to pop up on the CrookedFlight YouTube page too.

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One crazy night in Taipei, Taiwan

Every single trip taken should include at least one evening where you forget the rules and throw caution to the wind.

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Taipei, the absolutely batshit crazy capital city of Taiwan, is the perfect breeding ground for such an evening. We hopped into a cab corralled for us by The Regent Hotel, which brought us just in time to the Barbie Cafe. This needs a post in itself, so check back soon for that. After our fill of all things pink, it was time for the nitty gritty.

We had a tip about a speakeasy in Taipei that could not be missed, but was often missed due to it’s secrecy. We were dropped off at an address and spent a large amount of time entering buildings, leaving, asking directions and being blown off by coffee drinkers. But, determined to get in on this, we kept trying until we did eventually succeed, most after putting ears to the wall and being driven mad by the sound of martini shakers on the other side – so close, yet so far.

That is guerilla reporting at it’s finest. I debated putting up the other video that offers the solution to our dilemma, and I think I am going to keep it all to myself. So if you ever do stumble upon Ounce you’ll have to suffer just like I did.

Anyways once the adorable Swiss 20-year-old sadly told us we’d have to wait an hour to get in, we wandered down to Trio for a pre-game drink to our speakeasy experience. That turned into a couple of drinks and some complimentary shots from the very welcoming tender who struggled through his alright English just to bemuse us.

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Heading back to Ounce (I’ll give you a hint – it IS inside that coffee shop, you aren’t lost!) I slipped into a barstool and watched, fascinated, as Frenchie the mixologist burned a barrel wood chunk under a glass to create a smoky base flavor for a drink he was making. The others were shaking and swirling like their lives depended on it, adding to a serious, yet lively environment.

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Aaron is in charge these days at Ounce and is constantly putting on the ritz. A Charlestown, Massachusetts transplant, Aaron has trained under some greats in Boston and brings his own flair to Taipei through a bartender exchange program. He mostly sources the extensive selection from his loyal clients who bring liquor from all over the planet for the bar, which is a genius business plan. Alongside his trusty French counterpart, Aaron says all of his drinks are made with “clean sugars, fresh ingredients and love”.

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Nosh: Really anywhere that doesn’t look completely sketchy. The bartenders over at Ounce took us to have some Taiwanese street food about 10 minutes from their establishment, complete with steamy dumplings, egg pancake rolls and hot sauce. We sat in plastic chairs and waxed poetic over how hard chopsticks can be after a few fruity cocktails then made our way to the next bar. Ask a local where the best stands are or simply follow your nose.

Crash: Those who like old school accommodations can book a room at the classic Howard Hotel. It has your pool, your lounge, cozy rooms and a killer breakfast buffet with fresh watermelon juice. The Regent is near all the action and quite the classy establishment – with upper floors that have amazing views of the city below. Downstairs is a connected high-end shopping center as well. Backpackers should pull up a bunk at Homey Hostel Downtown, right near the train station

Imbibe: We had only three and a half seconds in the city, but managed to have our hotel write down the Chinese address of Ounce. While waiting for a spot in the tiny bar, we strolled right around the corner to Trio. They offer cocktails as well and a comfortable vibe.

Get crazy: You are in luck, because Taipei is the land of five dollar taxis, or less! So use that cheap thrill to get adventurous and explore every corner of the urban sprawl. It’s an extra dollar late-night, but well worth a safe ride home.


The Taiwanese aboriginal lifestyle

I hear the word aboriginal and I automatically think Australia. But that’s a little naive, because obviously there are ancestral all roots all over the world. We had many things like hiking and food on the itinerary, but I did not think I would also get a glimpse into the world of aboriginal life in Taiwan.

Spanning over 7,000 years, of history the aboriginal people of timeline are a proud and complex society. Roughly 2% of the population today can claim aboriginal roots. Many live in the area of Hulien, specifically near Taroko National Park.

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There are about 14 different tribes in Taiwan, some that only have a few hundred representatives left. One of their most distinctive traditions is facial tattoos. These days the kids don’t often take part, but many older members of the tribe have long lines and blacked out jaws, representing housekeeping achievements for women and enemy slayings for men.

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The food too was some of the best I’ve had in the country. The Lantern Hotel located in Taroko National Park has a working aboriginal restaurant, serving either barbecued pig, lamb or vegetables. The hotel itself has cabins surrounded by mountains, and a few recreated, classic aboriginal homes for guests to take a peek in.

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To learn about the aboriginal livelihood in theory was wonderful but of course I wanted to really get a feel for this type of life. I was told after dinner there would be an opportunity to listen to some live music performed by local aboriginals but I was so dead tired. By practically dragging myself up a few flights of stairs I was delighted to discover two young men on guitars playing a sad and powerful song. It can be amazing how music transcends the spoken word and can evoke emotion in people all over the world no matter what the lyrics say. It was as if I was transported to another place and time through this intense performance. I thought sleep as long as I could but only was able to enjoy a few songs.

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More things to come after I nurse this awful cold and enjoy the last few days here in Taiwan. We’re heading south for more biking today, then venturing back to Taipei via high-speed train!

-CrookedFlight


The top three first impressions of Asia

For the past 48 hours I have been on a complete odyssey in Taiwan. This is my first time in Asia altogether so immediately it was clear that I was on another planet. Obviously, when talking about a place you cannot just generalize the entire continent, that would be silly. But within our first layover in Osaka, Japan, and touchdown in Taipei, I already had some interesting impressions of the area.

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Like a zombie I walked off the plane in Japan after a 12 or 247 hour flight, I’m not sure, sometime in between that. It kind of felt like three weeks but I digress. Anyway, I couldn’t help but realize that everyone spoke exactly like I had heard on TV. I wanted to have a different more worldly impression of the people there but nope, they all just sounded like anime characters. I have also never felt tall in my life, so this was a new thing as well. Everyone seemed to just scurry below my feet and move really quickly to herd us like cattle into the correct lines. Once the chaos was over I found myself inside the lounge for China Airlines and that was a new experience altogether. The very first thing I ate was a triangle of rice of course. But this was no ordinary rice – they did something magical to it that I think involves grilling and teriyaki sauce.

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Now this kind of statement might get me in trouble but I can’t help it. Another three hours later after arriving in Japan we touched down in Taipei. In my defense, things like basic motor skills and depth perception were completely off. So as soon as the automatic doors swung open at the airport the first thing that came to mind was, oh my goodness, this entire country smells like a Chinese food restaurant. I know. I’m so sorry.

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The last unique thing that happened was all of the attention. Thank God I’m not a tall lanky blond like one of my travel companions. That poor thing is getting stopped like a celebrity around every turn. But I didn’t realize I quickly had to learn how to say “How are you” and “Thank you” in Mandarin because people were going to demand I acknowledge them all the time. Not in a pushy way, but more like hey, I want to see if you can understand my cool English skills even though they are limited to one or two words. This is mainly just the teenagers. But it is fun and everyone is very friendly, at least to my face, which really is all that matters when everyone is speaking Chinese.

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Oh and then we got caught in a massive downpour. With thunder and lighting. While standing on a flooded, very tall bridge. So that happened. I may be smiling but I’m whimpering like a small child on the inside for fear of being barbecued. ADVENTURE!

-CrookedFlight


Smack dab in the middle of Texas, Part One: Food and Art

I’ll be doing a brief three-part series on the culture of Fredericksburg, Texas, getting into the real nitty-gritty when the spring issue of Canadian World Traveller is released!

You think by now I would get used to be blowing away by new places but it really never gets old. Like many Yanks, I had plenty of predispositions about Texas in my head before I ever stepped foot in the state. Luckily, all these ideas were totally smashed by such a hospitable, humble group of people. Texans really are a rare breed – sure, they may not be hip to the latest song or fashion craze, but they exude such an inspiring humility and a smart, quiet, hard-working persona that is infectious and leaves me wanting to lead a simpler life.

This was most prevalent among all the insanely talented peopled I met at the wineries, locals shops, restaurants and art galleries. some people may poo poo at a full itinerary, but it gave me a rare chance to not only experience a new destination, but truly learn about the people behind the scenes that make it all come together.

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My first introduction into the art scene of Fredericksburg was a small taste at four very different but all equally impressive galleries in town. For a town of only 10,000, they have one of the coolest and most eclectic art areas I’ve ever witness in the country.

Of course they have mostly realist, traditionally Western art, which I think can be best experienced at Whistle Pik Galleries. They have curated a collection that is both classic and contemporary, featuring notable talent such as G. Harvey and Robert Moore.

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Two new and fresh galleries, Insight and Good Art Company had contrary feels but lots of personality.

The Good Company had one of their resident artists, Omar Gaza, right in the front parlor, proudly displaying his intricate masterpieces of horses and cowboys. Further into the gallery features bold jewelry statement pieces and a few more abstract still lifes and landscapes.

Insight was open and airy with plenty of natural light to perfectly compliment the collection. They also had a basement floor with skylights that held more work from international artists.

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At the end of the day, the Artisans at Rocky Hill really rolled out the red carpet for us. Featuring ten of their in-house artists, many from the area, this gallery had everything from grandfather clock sculptures, silk-dyed scarves, oil paintings, mosaics and plenty of take-home pieces.

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They even made us homemade goodies and offered great Texan wine while we got to listen to their amazing stories. I love how some would mention how they were bankers or business owners then turned thier focus to art instead, following thier passions and talents. I wish I could name them all, but do check out their website and see for yourself all the great work these individuals are doing.

As much as I wish I could wax poetic all the amazing eats in Fredericksburg I was honored to sample, I’ll have to stick to the highlights for now.

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Fried pickles at the Fredericksburg Brewpub. Amazing and a bit spicy!

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Grilled Mahi Mahi at the Bejas Grill & Cantina

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Part of our four (!) course lunch paired with Texas wine at the beautiful Woodrose Winery

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Some indulgent chocolates I brought home from the Chocolat company downtown. They do specialize in liquor-filled sweets through, which I obviously grabbed a box of as well.

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As the grand finale, an elegant dinner presented by the Fredericksburg Herb Farm. This rack of lamb wasn’t even my meal, I had the venison, but each presentation, and taste, was flawless.

The art is different than big city offerings like London, but it certainly had it’s own flavor to admire. I’m obviously stuffed and satisfied, literally and figuatively. Next post will dive into the music and culture scene of Fredericksburg, which got better and better everyday I was there. I’m not even a history buff, I usually find myself snoring through museums, but this place really did have some amazing hotspots that made it all come alive.

Have you ever visited somewhere and was surprised at what you found? Texas so far was definitely one of those places for me and I can’t wait to go back someday.


Where else can I find you online talking about travel?

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Although I’m lacking in sleep, my time in Texas has been absolutely fantastic. It’s true what they say though – most of Texas wine is drunk in state, and I am certainly the one drinking it all. I can’t keep up, there’s so many delicious varieties! Besides wine, there’s art galleries, Texas nouveau cuisine, cozy accommodations and really, truly, the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

But that’s all I can say for now, because our days are jam packed with things to do! I’m on call in 20 minutes and haven’t showered yet!

While I wander around, I thought I’d just offer all the other places on the web I’m actively chatting about my adventures. I’d love to find you there too and interact!

Twitter

Instagram

Foursquare

ViviTrip: A fun little site that acts like Facebook for travelers – allowing you to post pics, comments and track your trip on a world map alongside others.

Quilt: This primarily is a smartphone app where you can hook up with other travelers and “stitch” together the story of your trip through posts, tips, photos and whatever else you like to share.

Even LinkedIn!

Look forward to connecting on all platforms and I’ll be back soon with details from this Texas trip!


A Jersey Hidden Gem: The Bernards Inn Review

I don’t know where the time goes…it flew by and now it’s almost April! or so says the calendar, because I’m still freezing and walking through slush in New England. Hurumpf.

Luckily, last week I was able to drive south a few hundred miles to at least escape the snow and have a little break. It as a quick business trip to Northern New Jersey and I wasn’t expecting many surprises – a bit of shmoozing, some dinner and back on the road. However, I was invited to stay at The Bernards Inn for my evening in the state and couldn’t have been more thrilled to have such a memorable time at this charming, elegant and hidden-gem worthy of a place. There’s nothing I love more than accommodations with character, and the inn was bursting with stylish decor and amenities that were truly one of a kind.

In the small town of Bernardsville, about a 1/2 hour west of Newark, is a destination steeped in history that takes pride in it’s past stories of settlement, wealth and success. On a hill are some beautiful mansions once own by several notable investors, which mirror the class and style of the inn located in the center of town.

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Rooms are frilly, yet sophisticated, and each have their own decor, which exudes a grace and mimics a time long forgotten when attention was paid to the details – from dark wood, four poster beds to plenty of storage space tucked into practical, yet masterful furniture. I love how I was welcomed with a beautiful note and treats whipped up in the restaurant downstairs – these things are standard at an inn with outstanding hospitality. Bathrooms are perfectly suited to the space as well, with plenty of toiletries branded with their signature, shiny silver “B” stickers.  Not only are the rooms gorgeous, this theme was carried through the entire property- right down to the roaring fireplace in the spacious, comfortable lobby.

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I’m trying to figure out how I can justify a future wedding in the middle of New Jersey, because the property was that lovely, especially its event spaces. The massive reception room adorned with chandeliers, ideal for an unforgettable ceremony, was my favorite. Downstairs are cozy rooms and parlor-style areas that boast original stonework from the stables that adjoined the space a century ago. Style carries through to the wine cellar as well, paring each meal upstairs perfectly with a flavorful libation.

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By the way, the cuisine alone should have it’s own post. Whether you’re passing through the area or staying a few nights, make time for a sit-down luncheon, dinner or at least a cocktail in their stunning restaurant. I was thrilled to have lunch there, complete with towering, fresh salad, lobster pot pie and a tangy blueberry sorbet. There’s space for a quiet meal as well as a large bar, complete with grand piano that has live music on the regular to set the tone.

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Bacon/radish mega salad with homemade dressing

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Giant chunks of lobster buried under a puffy, flaky crust (food is seasonal though, check the menu!)

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So many blueberries in this sorbet!

Absolutely blown away by this hotel. Hands down one of the best and most hospitable places I’ve stayed in my travels so far. These are the spots that keep me going when I don’t want to drive one more hour or get aboard another plane – it’s the people who are eager to show off their accomplishments and reflect this mantra in their amazing passion for tourism, accommodation and unwavering hospitality. Kudos to the staff, owner and whole team at The Bernards Inn for making my road trip to Jersey an easy one. The full report will be live on In The Know Traveler soon, so keep an eye out!

After a predicted hectic Easter weekend, I’ll be off to Fredericksburg, Texas for a (hopefully) relaxing week of wine, hiking, art, history and anything else I can cram into my first experience in this state. Next time though, I’ll update you on my unplanned 24-hours in Philly that I took as a detour on my New Jersey journey.

Freelancer Tip #4: Reach out to everyone and anyone. It can be easy to feel isolated, so when the opportunity to meet clients in person arises, jump at it. Forming a face-to-face bond is often longer lasting then something online as well. Even a quick Skype date comes in handy to forge those professional relationships!


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