Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cavemen, Honey and Kim Kardashian

No Crowds reporter Gary pointed out to us recently that No Crowds had reached a commercial fork in the road and like Yogi Berra, a legend of baseball and malapropisms, we took it.

Yes, the post from and about onefinestay supported a commercial operation but no, we did not then nor have we ever received financial consideration for liking stuff. OK, that’s the disclaimer taken care of. Maybe we’re just jealous having recently seen that Kim Kardashian gets $10,000 per Tweet so someday we might want to reconsider – just kidding.

But on to the cavemen and the honey. Thanks to our son Leland who introduced us to the idea of eating like a Neanderthal, we are on the Paleo diet. Long story short, if a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. Everyone in our family has lost 20 unwanted pounds and feels great. If you want to find out more about it, put Paleo into Google. All I can tell you it that it works.

So when I bumped in to my friend Nina who told me about this great honey company, I listened because: 1) honey is one of the few sweet things on the Paleo diet and 2) because there was an interesting travel story attached to the honey and the story goes like this.

 Ogilvy’s Honey is on a mission to make us fall in love with fine honey from all kinds of cool and interesting places such as the Himalayan highlands and Zambezi plains. All of Ogilvy’s honeys are unblended - either monofloral (the bees feed off only one plant or tree) or polyfloral (the bees feed of a variety of plants and trees local to their flying range) which, according to Ogilvy’s, makes for better honey.  Having tried the stuff – and liked it – the unblended story makes good sense to us.  But what we really enjoyed about Ogilvy’s was the global terroir, the romantic notion that a tiny piece of the Balkans, or the Himalayas or the Zambia was in our morning cuppa and we think that folks who like great travel experiences with no crowds would enjoy it too. Take that Kim Kardashian!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

At.mosphere - the World's Hautest Cuisine

Gary and Lorraine, wining and dining in the world's tallest building - with some great tips on how to get to the top with No Crowds.

After 4 years in the most international city in the Gulf, we may have discovered our favorite bar.

If you want to experience the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest building, you have two choices. You can follow the signs in the Dubai Mall and the endless ads on news media and queue up with hundreds of tourists to get jammed in a sweaty elevator to "At the Top", the observation deck, tchatchke shop and snack bar on the 125th floor. Or, if you have a bit of inside knowledge and you're willing to settle for the 123rd floor, you can have a completely different experience.  

At.mosphere consists of a very expensive formal restaurant and a wonderful, and quite romantic lounge, with what are unarguably the best views in the time zone. To get into either you must book ahead, when you are told that the dress code is "smart elegant", whatever that is. When you arrive you go through two checkpoints where they check you against the list...before you even get out of your car! Of course you are greeted by the expected team - young ladies in long black cocktail dresses slit up to here, and guys who look they moonlight for a Chippendale act. 

The beautiful people escort you to the lift, where you enjoy the quiet, if ear-popping ascent to 123 in a minute or less. As you step off, the floor to ceiling windows allow you to look out at the magnificent Dubai dancing fountains from quite a unique viewpoint. The lounge is small and intimate, with a short bar and a scattering of tables - not a mob scene, even on a Friday night, thanks to the reservation requirement. More beautiful people escort you to your table (we started at one that was a few feet away from the windows, but thanks to another couple who was on their way out, moved to one directly on the window a few minutes later). 

Then you get your next happy surprise - the menu.

First the drinks. My strangely named "Agua de Islay" was a masterpiece - Ardbeg single malt with fig and apricot juices and a slice of fresh fig on top. the other drinks were equally creative, including an 80% chocolate martini and several takes on the classic G&T. The wine and champagne lists were breathtakingly complete (and the high end was breathtakingly expensive), and so we will forgive the sommelier for his lapse in including a California white zin on the rosé list along with our chosen Côtes du Rhone. 

Happily, the chef has not showered all of his attention on the fine dining restaurant across the hall, and has come up with a wonderful tapas menu that is the perfect accompaniment to the glorious setting. We selected the green pea falafel with three sauces (astounding), scallop ceviche with a tart white sauce that matched perfectly, but we still can't figure out (lemongrass and coconut milk? Yogurt? Creme fraiche?),and a softshell crab, slivered and served with fresh scallions and hot peppers, rolled in Chinese Peking duck-style pancakes. Truly a unique experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Out of the Ordinary in London and New York

Readers ask us all the time about accommodations in London and New York and we rarely have a good answer. Hotels are expensive, and, well ... hotels. We have all stayed in plenty of them and no matter how fabulous, a hotel room is never a home. Recently we were approached by the company onefinestay with an offering that got us really excited. That's why we have invited them to share their story with No Crowds. Caveat emptor - we haven't stayed in one of their properties yet, but we are sorely tempted and we think you will be too.

With London and New York ranking amongst the most crowded cities in the world, they don’t seem the obvious choice of holiday destination from someone looking for the quieter life, however London based accommodation company onefinestay is offering travellers the chance to escape the crowds and live like a local in upscale homes while the owners are out of town. The collection of homes is ever growing, with over 600 in London, and now 77 homes in New York since launching there in May 2012.

This idea of sharing resources, known as collaborative consumption, has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, and after all the greenest hotel is the one that you never build. Many of the homes that onefinestay offers accommodate larger groups or families so room-for-room are actually a cheaper option staying in a hotel, plus the added bonus of being able to eat breakfast in your pyjamas without having to worry about getting odd looks!

For families with children, staying somewhere like Lambton Place or Hilary Street, both in west London means that children get to explore whole rooms of new and exciting toys and games giving parents some well needed time to relax! If you are really looking for something out of the ordinary then Russell Gardens Mews, a very stylish home owned by a DJ turned architect and his family, comes complete with a dance floor and DJ booth, cinema room, Jacuzzi and sauna!

If that’s not your style then there are plenty of other interesting choices.  Hidden away in the clock tower of St Pancras station is a two bedroom apartment where you can climb the spiral staircase to the tower sitting room and watch the people below through the arched brick windows. Or if you are on a more historical trail then Albert Terrace, a home built for the doctor of Queen Victoria, can be your own private museum.  For those heading to New York, the selection is just as eclectic: warehouse chic in a converted rubber factory in Tribeca, or for those looking for a room with a view then 4th Avenue certainly delivers.

Each of the homes comes with its own iPhone loaded with local recommendations from the home owner which means you can avoid the usual tourist haunts and head straight to the more hidden places off the tourist trail. With all the services of a 5 star hotel, but with the charm and personality of a home, it is a great accommodation option for someone looking for something a little different.

Photo of Albert Terrace - the home of Queen Victoria's doctor

Friday, October 05, 2012

Mark Twain's House in Hartford but Mr Clemens is Out

This is the final post in a series on Connecticut museums by Laura Sanderson Healy, a great No Crowds traveller.

   “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad 

 Ain’t that the truth! I must confess a total devotion to Samuel Clemens here, and in the way that I had to see the IMAX film about Mark Twain’s life, so I had to take myself and family to visit the shrine that is his home and museum in Hartford, way off the beaten track in the most unsalubrious neighborhood I have ever seen (it, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe house next door, sit high on a hill smack in the middle of a bombed out ghetto). If you can make it through the neighborhood, you can park in the lot for the museum, and the adventure is worth it.

  The Mark Twain House and Museum is such a wonderful destination for his fans; there are some 16,000 artifacts assembled. The house, a National Historic Landmark, does not have its original furnishings as it served as a school after the Clemenses but it is well appointed with the period detail. It’s a hulking edifice of Victorian splendor, and the interpretive center adjacent to it is full of interesting items, including a giant LEGO of Mark Twain himself. I would love to know what the great man would have had to say about that, and I’m sure he would love the ghost tours they do. Happenings are always going on at the museum and house, and it’s quite a busy presence on social media. I’m sure he would have liked that.

The family has a great takeaway from the trip to the Twain house: My daughter, who has read Tom Sawyer, was fascinated by a trick Mr. Clemens played on stray callers. If the polite author was working and did not want to be disturbed – he could write thousands of words a day – he simply stepped out onto an upstairs porch and his servant would tell the visitor that “Mr. Clemens is out.”

The Mark Twain House & Museum
351 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105
Phone: 860 247-0998

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Best of British at Yale

More on Connecticut museums from Laura Sanderson Healy

Over in New Haven, the spectacular collection that is the Yale Center for British Art was philanthropist Paul Mellon’s gift to the university (he selflessly did not want it named for him). Free to the public, it is filled with fantastic works by Old Masters – the horsebreeder Mellon particularly adored equine painter George Stubbs’ work --  and has contemporary rooms as well, thanks to the endowment left for ongoing British study.  The modern boxy building of steel and glass by Louis I. Kahn and is over several light floors right in the middle of downtown New Haven. Mellon’s British collection – strongest in the 18th century, his passion -- includes 2000 paintings, 200 sculptures, 20,000 drawings and watercolors, 30,000 prints, 35,000 rare books and manuscripts. It is a treat to duck in from the hustle of New Haven and find yourself in this treasure trove where you can look at medieval incunables, no appointment necessary, and nose around the 30,000 reference books on British art.

  One staff member was quite imperious when he rushed over to tell me I was too close to an oil. I had been pointing out a detail on a marine painting to my teenaged daughter, and the poor guard was just doing his duty. He could not have known that I grew up the daughter of a gallery director and that I learned not to touch displayed art before I learned to floss my teeth.

The Center has events throughout the year, including the upcoming “A Celebration of Harold Pinter,” directed by John Malkovich and starring Julian Sands (remember him in “A Room with a View”?) Chamber concerts, dance performances, endless lecture series, you name it. I’d like to visit here more often.

The Yale Center for British Art
1080 Chapel Street,
New Haven, Connecticut 06510
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 5, Sundays noon to 5

Photo of Thomas Rowlandson, watercolor, “An Audience Watching a Play at Drury Lane Theatre,” 1785