The Most Expensive Resort in the World – Grand Resort Lagonissi

 

Vagabonds are usually looking for the best place at the cheapest price, but here is the other side of the coin!

Going on a vacation is supposed to be a fun time, and since you are indulging yourself, you need to have the best facilities to go with the vacation, and the best people too.

If this is what you desire, then having a look at one of the world’s most expensive resort/hotels will come handy. Staying in such a resort will guarantee your social status rise overnight! One of the world’s most expensive resorts is The Royal Villa at the Grand Resort Lagonissi in Athens, Greece. Apart from the name, this Villa is royal in every other aspect as well.

Consisting of three bedrooms, the Royal Villa has got two pools – one on the inside and the other on the outside, which is heated.Grand Resort Lagonissi Taking the word Royal to the core, you will have the personal assistance of a butler and a pianist, as well as special access to a chef who will take you through the world-class kitchen! The other rooms include a spacious and elegant living room and dining area. The furniture is top class, and only the top brands are preferred here, be it anything. A wide range of candles is provided to help set up the perfect ambience.

The living room of the Royal Villa has got satellite TV, PlayStation and a DVD player set. The business part of it features laptop, fax machine, videophone and printer. The indoor pool also comes with a private gymnasium and work-out area, and access to a private beach and marina comes by default. Stepping out of the Royal Villa, you are greeted with a host of options regarding what to do – spend the entire day with the beach parties, watch the sun rise and set while sipping espresso and wine respectively, or simply go back to the Villa and lie down watching the ocean and the horizons. Ah, in case I forgot to mention, each night at the Royal Villa costs around $50,000 per night.

Staying in Capsule Hotels in Australia – Capsules Down Under

I’ve always been fascinated by capsule hotels – but never really had the chance to stay in one until I came to Australia about ten days ago – for some reason I always thought they were more expensive than they actually are – I booked all ten of my days in Australia in three different capsule hotels. Here is what I found:

Capsule Hotel #1: Space Q in Sydney – One Star – At Best

This was my first Sydney location and I came there straight from the airport. Went through customs, caught eat train to Central, walked to King Street and walked into the unlockable glass door between two massage parlors in Chinatown. The smell of mildew and dirt greeted me. I took the plywood lined elevator to the 1st floor where reception was. The capsule was tiny, no electronic gadgets like I’d seen on TV (TV with remote, etc) and to my surprise no climate controls and not sound proof. A keycard controlled the lockable pod and a separate locker. They gave you one towel for free but would charge if you wanted another one. Free coffee and tea provided. The common areas in Space Q were essentially 1-star hostel. Bathrooms were tiny and often broken. Showers were so small you couldn’t move in them and there was nowhere to get dressed or keep your things dry and secure while you showered. Staff was nice.

I was woke up by my neighbors moving around, opening and closing their capsule doors, and then at 5 am  the next day by a bunch of Sydney police who showed up because a man claimed a 72-year-old woman had stolen his Nike pants and they came to arrest her. They were both guests. It was that kind of place.

The room was supposed to be air conditioned so the fans in the pods could keep them cool, but two nights in a row guests who got cold just got up and unplugged the A/C and it became too hot for me to sleep. The common rooms (kitchen, study, etc) were closed from 11pm to 8am which meant that you had to either be out in the streets or in your pod – there was no other option. I asked about doing laundry and was told $8 for wash and $8 for dry – so $16 to do a load of clothes. I passed.

 

Capsule Hotel #2: Pod Inn in Launceston, Tasmania – Two Stars 

The Pod Inn is a newish venture in Launceston and essentially, it is a hostel with pods. The facilities are newish, the showers and bathrooms were big, they also issued a towel. Pods and lockers with a card key. No TV again – but that was okay. Had a nice restaurant attached, great, clean common areas. Located centrally. It was a really nice place. The only reason I give it two stars was that the pod areas get really loud. Light bleeds through from other pods, the voices and movements of other guests will wake you up, and there is no one there after a certain time at night to ask people to be quiet. There were four people staying in the pod next to me. No windows in the pod rooms and no real ambiance but clean, friendly, and affordable.

 

Capsule Hotel #3: The Capsule Hotel in Sydney – Two  1/2 Stars

This pod hotel suffered from the same issues as the other two, but was in a cool old building, had big bathrooms and showers, offered free coffee and tea in the morning, and from the pod rooms, offered a great view looking down at the city streets. I could open up my pod and look out at a cool view (which I’m doing as I write this). There are chairs throughout and they were the only pod to offer toiletries if you wanted them.  First towel free, $3 after that. Keycard worked on the locker but the pods don’t lock – which means that if you are there for multiple days and want your stuff secure, you can’t leave it on your bed – kind of a bummer. I asked if I could check out later than 10am and they told me 10:30am at the latest.

 

Bottom Line: Pod or Capsule Hotels kind of suck but they are useful.

The idea is good but essentially, you are staying in a hostel with the difference being that you have a door you can close for a sort of privacy. A bit like a micro pension. They are cheap – which means they are useful – I paid a grand total of something like $290 for ten nights in Australia – the same cost I would have paid for one night in a good 4-star hotel. In this case, I was traveling by myself and the bed I slept in was the least important part of my trip. I just needed a place to sleep, shower, and shit.And a place to charge my devices. I was traveling light and could have easily kept my kit with me through most of my days, but it made it nice to be able to leave my bag somewhere secure.

A four star pod would have internal climate control, block out most of the noise of other guests, and offer the best amenities of the capsule hotels above. 1) Clean 2) Common Areas where guests could hang out, cook, eat, or socialize 3) Free coffee and tea 4) Big and useful bathrooms, toilets, and showers 5) Affordable laundry facilities 6) secure pods and lockers 7) a manager or security person on site 24/7

I wrote about why I no longer stay in hostels many years ago – those reasons remain true. I’d hoped that Capsule Hotels might offer an alternative, but I’m afraid that they do not. Still, they are kind of cool and if you are on a budget and traveling solo – you might want to give one a shot.

 

World’s Strangest Hotels

Exploring the world’s strangest hotels is certainly a fun thing to do, given the extremes hotels have gone to, just in the name of being “strange”. And strange they are, too, by the looks of them. Ask anyone who’s been to a hotel from the list below, and he’ll tell you first-hand the experience that comes in staying there. Here is a list of the top 5 strangest hotels in the world. There are lots more, but only these five have made it to this list, based largely on popularity, service, and my own personal experiences.

5. The  UFO Capsule Hotel, Tokyo  Japan
stange hotelsCertainly one of the strangest concepts ever for a hotel, The UFO Capsule Hotel is a chain of “capsule hotels” across Japan that has been around for quite some time and has gained immense popularity as well. The concept of the capsule hotel may as well have been derived from the Japanese mind, given the way it uses space so efficiently. The Capsule Hotel consists of small “capsules”, which in turn have two sections: one, a public lounge space, and the second, a private sleeping space. Less space doesn’t mean throwing away amenities: TV, adjustable lighting, radio, all are present. A must-stay for those seeking the “strange”!

4. IceHotel, Sweden

Do not get surprised: the name of this hotel is exactly what the hotel is made of: ice. strange hotelsOpen only in the winter, Ice Hotel is unique: it stands as a hotel in the winter, and melts to become a free-flowing river after the cold is gone. So that means the hotel is essentially built every year, and then it melts away after the sun comes out, only to be rebuilt the next year. Located just 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, IceHotel is built by artists who come from all around the world, and by using only frozen water (ice) from the Torne River. Furniture made of ice is present, and beds are made of ice too, and covered in reindeer skins.

3. Hotel Fox, Denmark

strange hotels of the worldHotel Fox is one of a kind, and you certainly have not seen anything like it, that’s for sure. The hotel has 61 rooms, and each room is an exquisite piece of art. Combining the brilliance of 21 artists drawn from all over the world, and after studying close to a thousand different ideas, Hotel Fox was transformed with themes in each room as unique as possible, ranging from flowered themes to friendly monster themes to fairytale themes! The food at Hotel Fox is always being innovated, by inviting the best students from the best European cooking schools to prepare food under the supervision of experienced chefs.

 

2. StayOrange Hotel, Malaysia
strange world hotelsI know, the name sounds strange, but then this is a list of the strangest hotels in the world! StayOrange.com Hotel is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is inspired from the capsule hotels from Japan. The Hotel features three kinds of rooms – Double EnSuite, Single EnSuite and 2-Bed Bunk Rooms. The Hotel aims to provide functionality in terms of both facilities and prices. The pricing is very affordable, and the facilities are not compromised upon. All facilities like free Wi-Fi internet access, hot water showers, exclusive mattresses from Dreamland, LCD TVs are provided, with branded toiletries and DVD players being optional.

1. Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germanyworld's strangest hotel

This hotel makes it to the top position with ease, just with the variety of rooms it providesJust picture: flying beds, upside-down rooms, circular beds, prison-style rooms – this hotel has got them all. And more. With 35 rooms of pure artistic indulgence, . the hotel will certainly make you come back for more. Certainly one of the most creative hotels of all time, the Propeller Island City Lodge has extremely courteous staff, which takes care of the minutest details. The hotel is very clean, and is a must visit.

Vietnam Travel Tips – Easy Riders and Sweet Spots in Vietnam

Finding hotels and hostels in Vietnam is the easy part. The hard part is starting your trip around the world. Make sure you include Vietnam on your round the world itinerary and follow these Vietnam travel tips.

There are many travel opportunities in Vietnam. Historical remains are scattered all over the country. Its rich culture and legacy has been attracting travelers from different countries. The Vietnamese are friendly and warm. Touring around the country isn’t difficult because locals are there to assist you.

Easy Riders in Vietnam

Vietnam motor bikeAdventure is absolutely experienced in Vietnam. One tour not to not miss is Dalat’s Easy Rider. Easy Rider provides a special tour by you riding on a motorcycle.

While you might choose to hire a car or a motorcycle, travelers will have a closer view of Vietnam’s attractions like the Central Highland, Mekong Delta, and Ho Chi Minh. This is also the best way to meet the locals and taste authentic Vietnamese cooking along the countryside.

The price is usually $60 to $75 depending on the route taken. Easy Rider has been featured in many guide books. .

 

Top Tourist Sites in Vietnam

Vietnam’s mountains, beaches, cities, and historical sites are major attractions to travelers.

Old Quarter of Hanoi- This is situated in the city of Hanoi. Shopaholics will truly enjoy the streets of Old Quarter. Shops of different goods and services flourish in the area. The tube or tunnel houses of ancient Vietnam still remained in the town’s street. Restaurants, art galleries, and craft stores offer a great way to explore the culture of Vietnam.

Halong BayHalong Bay- This is a World Heritage Site affirmed by UNESCO. It has unique and remarkable grottos and caves. travelers must see the 3000 small islands scattered in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hue- This remarkable site is one of Vietnam’s spectacular cities with deep historical remnants such as the Royal Citadel, Flag Tower, Royal Palace, and Royal Tombs.

Temple of Literature- The disciples of the great philosopher considered this temple as a holy place. Vietnam’s first university was built in the area since 1076.

Being an upcoming tourist destination, the infrastructure, including communications, is getting better day by day.International calling services and internet access are provided in all major hotels and resorts and the postal service is available 24 hours a day.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum- This is the most visited spot annually. This place is popular as the resting place of the country’s most significant leader. The museum displays figures of the communist leaders and military collections.

Top Hotels in Vietnam

Vietnam is a paradise attracting thousands of travelers. Accommodation in Vietnam is pleasant and affordable. It is a perfect holiday vacation spot for families and for solo travelers. Most of the luxurious and major hotels in the country are found in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh such as:

Majestic Hotel- It has been in service since 1925. The hotel has an ambiance of complete elegance. They offer big discounts in travel packages. Accommodation includes free airport pick up, Wi-Fi access, and a smoke free wing. They have a spa, fitness center, and swimming pool for your leisure time.

Hilton Opera Hotel- This hotel is near the Old Quarter. Tourists will surely be pampered in their guest rooms fully furnished with cable TV, internet access, and work areas. Delicious Vietnamese cuisine is served in their fine restaurant.

Continental Hotel- This is situated in the center of Ho Chi Minh convenient to other tourist destinations in the city. The hotel is built with classic architecture and their restaurant serves Western cuisine.

You will never get bored on a Vietnam tour. Hiking, jungle trekking, and water sports are some of the recreational activities you can enjoy while you discover the wonders of Vietnam.

Make sure to include Vietnam on your trip around the world.

How to Not Have Bedbugs Eat You Alive

Ughhhh! Bedbugs! When I used to manage the hostels in Hawaii, we had a few run ins with bedbugs. Travelers coming down in the morning with bites covering their entire bodies. In some cases we would throw out all the mattresses on an entire floor, fumigate, and then re-open the rooms to travelers.

In fact though, not all hostels take bed bugs so seriously or even know how to deal with them. I realize, that because of my quick jaunt to Morocco to see my wife, things are out of sequence here, but this is important enough to let you know about a quick trip I took to Rome. I figured that Rome in winter would be an easy place to find accommodations, but I was wrong. Rome is always filled with people. My first choice in hostel was booked full. (and apparently so were all the couchsurfing hosts since even Roman friends of mine were packed with guests and couldn’t host me), so the first rule is to book ahead in Rome. I hate to do it too, but I think it’s essential.

bedbugs in Rome
The first hostel sent me to their sister property where I hadn’t read the reviews on Hostelworld. The Hotel Beautiful seemed like a great place, except in the night when I started to itch. I had looked at the mattress before checking in, but the mattress was black and I thought to myself, huh, maybe that keeps the bedbugs away. Wrong! I woke up feeling itchy but not seeing the bites yet. Luckily, I had put my bags on hard surfaces away from the beds, so none of the critters could hitchhike. A hot shower and a change of clothes and I was out of there.

Later, after finding other hostels full, I accepted the offer of the Hotel Beautiful 2 and thought, I’ll rent a private room and relax a bit. Within minutes of lying in the bed, I found, guess what, a bedbug biting my hand. They work fast, I wasn’t there twenty minutes and my right hand was covered with bites. This time, I hadn’t checked the mattress and I’m itching myself for it. both hands and my neck were covered with more than sixty bites. Again, my bag and clothes were on a hard surface away from the bed, this time I think it was the pillow that housed the buggers judging by the bites on hand and neck and face.

I grabbed my things and went to the desk to complain. “But it was just fumigated last week!” she told me. Later, on trip advisor, I saw more than a few complaints about bed bugs for this dump. I asked them to find me a different accommodation but the best they would do was give me a refund and send me out in the street. If you have an infestation of bedbugs, for christ sake throw out the pillows!

Finally, after wandering the streets of Rome in the dark and finding nearly everything booked because of a coming festival and a rugby match, I checked into the Hotel Charter, a two star place that deserved three for their magnificently redone bathrooms, incredibly comfortable beds, and great staff. The price was out of my budget but they dropped it to 45 euros per night which i was glad to pay. A scalding shower, my clothes into a plastic bag, and myself in the clean, new sheets on a great mattress with no bug signs.

I would have preferred paying 90 Euros for two nights there than the 20 and 35 I paid at the bed bug hostels. The moral of the story is twofold. In Rome, book ahead and read the reviews on HostelWorld and on Trip Advisor.

The nightmare of every traveler is to become afflicted by bedbugs. In recent years even some of the top hotels in the world have suffered infestations of these nasty little creatures. Many people think you only find them in dirty or cheap hotels, but the truth is, they can be found anywhere. However, you find them in the cheap places more often than the quality ones. Don’t worry though, learn from my bad experience and miss out on this awful travel nightmare.

With a few easy precautions you can make sure to keep them out of your life. First of all read the independent reviews of hotels you plan to stay at using third party sites like Trip Advisor. If there are bedbugs there, someone will have mentioned it. While it is possible to get rid of infestations, it’s difficult, so your best bet is to avoid places where bed bugs are mentioned.

Once you check into the hotel, you want to also check the room and the beds for signs of the pests. Pull the bedding off the mattress and look for the black eggs or reddish marks left by bedbugs. The eggs are usually in the seams and look like black sand or coffee grounds. Don’t put your luggage on the bed or couch. Use the luggage rack or hard furniture instead. Pull the headboard from the wall and look for the exoskeletons which have been molted. Don’t forget to check the box spring seams too!

If there are bedbugs, the chances are that you will see some sign of them (but if the mattress is black, beware!) . One last thing, when you get back home, be sure to unpack on a hard, light colored surface (even the bathtub!) just in case you managed to pick up a hitch-hiker. You wouldn’t want him to get in your bed!

If I had followed my own advice, I wouldn’t be so itchy right now. Sometimes a little planning makes a big difference.

Organic Retreat in Le Marche, Italy

Exclusive for Vagobond by Melissa Ruttanai.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelA local belief states that the Romans preferred to march to war across Le Marche, so their troops would arrive at battle well fed and fueled for victory. The Italian region of Le Marche is famed for vineyards and farmsteads spanning from the Adriatic to the Apennines. At La Tavola Marche, a farm inn and cooking school, chickens cluck cheerfully while the cat Piccolo stalks through flowerbeds with his uncle, Buster.

Health begins in the soil where alfalfa, grains, and carrots grow. At La Tavola Marche, owners Ashley and Jason Bartner focus on organic, traditionally prepared meals. He is a classically trained alumnus of the French Culinary Institut. She is a foodie and columnist for Taste Italia. Together, they’ve created an agriturismo that crosses a Roman feast with heart-warming hospitality.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelThe Farmhouse
La Tavola Marche sits atop a green knoll, crowned by a 300 year-old farmhouse renovated into guest rooms and apartments. A nearby spring feeds directly into the pool and pipes, providing mineral rich waters for cooking, bathing, and swimming. Down a stone path, the garden produces over 80% of their cooking ingredients, including zucchini with tender blossoms, strawberries, fava beans, parsley, and potatoes. Each morning Jason waters the plants for over two hours, twining tomato vines around traditional bamboo stakes and staving off fungal invasion with organic probiotics.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelWhile Jason razes a virtual symphony of succulence in the kitchen, his wife Ashley tends to the chickens and monitors her cache of homemade liqueurs. House specialties focus on digestives created from local ingredients like green walnuts, plums, and cherries. By using seasonal fruit, Ashley packs vitamins and minerals into traditional after-dinner drinks.

The Feast
On a typical evening, dinner encompasses five courses. In the stone courtyard, white votive candles cast a romantic light. The rooster calls his hens home. Housecats greet each other after a day playing in the fields. As Jason garnishes plates, Ashley sweeps dishes out to the tables. They are almost too pretty to eat.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelWith no less passion than her chef-husband, Ashley describes each platter with gusto: ripe melon wrapped with salty prosciutto, lentil salad with cucumber and shaved cheese, and garden-grown fava crostini. Primo and secondo courses playfully utilize what is locally available and at its height of freshness: hearty tagliatelle traditionally handmade without salt, roasted veal breast of puntine di Vitello. Table wine is locally made and bottled at the farmhouse. Just when you’ve reached maximum stomach-capacity, dessert and digestives appear to finish the meal with a sweet finale.

With their belief in healthy cooking, Ashley and Jason willingly provide recipes for their meals as well as cooking classes in the farmhouse kitchen. Don’t miss their Thursday night pizza parties. Visitors should take advantage of agrotourism and country lifestyle in Le Marche. Here, farmers chop wood for winter. Neighbors help weed each other’s gardens. And the moon rises over pre-Roman ruins. In La Marche, wine embodies the spirit of life while homemade meals remain at its heart.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary Travel

The Bellingham, WA Renaissance A 7-day Foodie Tour

Story by Linda Kissam
Bellingham, WAThere was a time when Bellingham area was booming, then a time when prosperity was only a faint memory. But a quick trip to Bellingham just a few short weeks ago tells me, its back bigger and better than ever. Whoever is responsible for the thoughtful mix of college town and foodie mecca should get an award. There’s enough to see and do for even the most demanding of food and wine diva’s – me included.

Some interesting facts about Bellingham set the scene. It’s about 2.5 hours by car from Seattle. It is Bellingham, WAhome to Western Washington University, so it has an authentic college town feel to it. It is a highly celebrated outdoor recreation haven. It’s also America’s raspberry capital. It is home to the largest Manila clam producer in the US. The Bellingham Mt. Baker region is #1 in the nation in milk production per cow. And…my favorite “brag” about Bellingham…Gading.com named Bellingham as one its “…top 25 greatest cities for sipping on vino thanks to its wine bars, boutique wineries, subdued vibe and stunning scenery. Ya gotta know I‘ll sip to that!

A true foodie tour is a mix of trying the ultra-fabulous and local’s favorites. Foodies love food for the experience, preparation, and promotion of it all. We want to learn everything about food and wine; both the best and the everyday, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. My 7-day trip to Bellingham was that and more.

A quick puddle jumper from Seattle (about 40 minutes) brings you into Bellingham Airport. Love this airport. It’s clean, simple and has rental cars. The first thing you’ll notice after getting your rental car – opt for the GPS – is that everything you’ll want to see and do is no more than 15-30 minutes from each other. Man, I love “The Ham,” as locals call it.

Fairhaven, WACheck into your hotel. I tried three while I was there. Each was perfect in its own way. First two nights I stayed at the Chrysalis Inn in Bellingham. Can you say, “Light, airy, elegant and a glorious spa?” The views were to die for and it was just a short breezy walk to the quaint town of Fairhaven. Bags dropped off, I was on my way to a sunset BBQ at Taylor Fish Farm. This is a working shellfish farm and a local’s favorite for its picturesque rugged Northwest location and fish market. Bring your own picnic supplies. Purchase oysters, clams and geoduck and do a scenic shore-side BBQ. It’s memorable to say the least.

Perhaps the highlight of my foodie-thon was a foraging event. Working with local wilderness guide celeb Jennifer Hahn my group went foraging for food in the morning in a near-by forest. That collection of herbs, flowers, and berries was sent over to Ciao Thyme on Unity St. in Bellingham. That evening we were treated to a dinner featuring the fruits of our labor. I cannot begin to describe the “wholeness’ of this experience. A delicious multi-course dinner made by owner Jessica and Mataio Gillis served at elegant community tables with classic Washington wines brings the term farm to table to life. This is a must do.

Switching hotels, I find myself at the Fairhaven Village inn. Large, well appointed, comfortable rooms, easy access to downtown and a friendly staffBelllingham, WA make this a great place to stay. For breakfast, walk about 50 feet to Magdalena’s Creperie. Owner Magdalena came to Bellingham from Poland. Her menu is certainly inspired by her Polish roots, but expect a definite French influence as well. Any dish you order is lovingly prepared, delicious beyond expectation, and generous in portion. I don’t think you’ll have a favorite because everything you order will be your favorite. The espresso drinks are also killer. This is a must stop for anyone on a quest to taste excellent local-run restaurants.

A quick tour around town with the Goodtime Girls Walking tour will give you some background on this once wild and wooly town. Or if you wish, try their Sin & Gin Tour. Both tours run about $20 bucks and end up with a free drink at a local bar. Its good fun and fun times with the ladies. Highly recommended.

For the more artistic types head off to the Whatcom Museum and Mount Baker Theater for some lessons in art and architecture. Both are breathtaking, unique and a joy to visit. Call ahead for a private tour. Both sites have a lot to offer from LEED awards to Moorish style architecture which come to life through a docent tour. Have lunch at the Cheese Meat(s) Beer café located in the Museum. I think you’ll enjoy this fresh take on comfort food. Expect the unexpected through the many influences and inspirations of owners Travis Surmi and Annalou Vincent.

BellinghamFor dinner, The Table in downtown Bellingham might just have your number. It certainly had mine. This is an edgy, trendy, energetic restaurant. The food is served family style with a view to using locally produced products whenever possible. Known for its healthy gourmet food attitude, expect really good food served in an upbeat but noisy atmosphere. Our dinner included freshly made Beet Caprese, Fattoush Salad, Sockeye Salmon Primavera, Moroccan Chicken Linguine, and Pink Vodka Penne. Yum!

Take a breather as we did and stroll over a few blocks to Chocolate Necessities. Owner Kevin Buck treated us to a guided chocolate tasting helping us to better understand the differences in quality of chocolates and cocoa content. Best to call ahead to see when the chocolate and wine pairings are happening. You’ll thank me later.

Switching hotels again, this time to Hotel Bellwether located in Bellingham, WA. This 65-room upscale view property is lovely and is again centrally located. One of Bellingham’s most popular seafood restaurants, Anthony’s, is located just a quick stroll away. A waterfront view of Bellingham Bay, delicious creative cocktails (try the cucumber cooler), and some of the best seafood in Washington is served up in casual elegance. Both hotel and restaurant are highly recommended.

BellinghamHopping on a shuttle tour with Whatcom Wine Tours the group was out for a glimpse into what the area wine scene has to offer. Our stops included Glacial Lake Missoula Winery, Vartanyan Estate Winery and Dynasty Cellars. Since there are another six to try, your tour might be different. Although not world class wineries as of yet, there is certainly potential. We had a lovely picnic lunch at Vartanyan. Owner Margarita is so passionate and visionary, you can’t help but sense success is just around the corner for her. At Dynasty Cellars, owner Peter Osvaldik greeted us with lots of charm and a dynamite food & wine pairing. Peter seems to be mixing Old World winemaking techniques with Washington varietals. My guess – we have a winner here. Watch out for this guy – he’s a rock star in the making. The reds are killer.

Last up on the foodie tour was the grand slam of it all; a 16-course dinner at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Under the quiet and confident direction of young Chef Blaine Wetzel this was a chance to indulge Bellingham Foodieand delight in the foods, taste and culture of Washington cuisine. Tiny bite-sized courses paired with Washington wines made this the ultimate foodie experience and best of all it’s an affordable indulgence.

During the dinner, our group was treated to the texture, sights and tastes of exquisitely prepared and presented courses. Our server patiently explained each unique course: Baked Sunflower Roots, Crispy Crepe with Sockeye Roe, Pickled Oyster with Sorrel, Toasted Kale with Black Truffle and Rye, Wild Berries and Grasses, Albacore with Horseradish, Shitake over Fire, Smoked Sockeye Salmon, Bread with Pan Drippings, Crispy Halibut Skin with Razor Clams, Flax Seed, Aged Venison Leg, Grilled Onions, Spot Prawns, Charred Frisée, and finally… Blueberries with woodruff and malt.

Washington wine pairings at the dinner included Wescott Bay Traditional Apple Cider, 2010 Ross Andrew Winery Meadow Pinot, 2011 Mount Baker Vineyards Madeline, 2011 Lachini Vineyards Rosé of Pinot, and 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Opulento Port.

Hard to top that, so I won’t try. Goodnight Bellingham. Nice to see you’re back – and a great place for foodies.

Helpful Resource

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

25 Reasons to Avoid Hostels

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubI wrote this nearly a decade ago – it was one of the most popular posts on the old Vagobond.com – feel free to disagree. I don’t even agree with me at this point. I have not stayed in a hostel since I wrote this, so I hope that things have changed for the better.

I know this might go against the grain with a lot of you, but as someone who has stayed in a lot of hostels, ran hostels, and written about hostels – this is what I have to say.

First of all, here are the main reasons you might choose to stay in a hostel:
1) Cheaper than a hotel – good for budget
2) You want to hook up (or hang around) with foreign women/foreign men
3) Budget group activities/free breakfast

That’s it for the positive as far as I can tell. In my opinion, these are all bullshit. Here are the 25 reasons not to stay in hostels while you travel.

1) They aren’t really that cheap. Generally, you can find a 1 or 2 star hotel for the same price as a bed in a hostel dorm room. In the past few years, hostels have gone way up in price so in many cases if you take the time to look, you can find a private hotel room for less than the cost of a hostel or something even better on AirBnB.

2) If you want to make friends with foreign people you should go with Couschsurfing or AirBnb instead. If you want to have sex with foreigners, there are probably better places to meet them than at hostels.

3) The truly interesting, intrepid, and attractive travelers usually aren’t at hostels. Instead you find boring, cheap, and unattractive in just about any way you can think of people – often not travelers at all, just down and out.

4) Hostels are filled with thieves and creeps. I know, not everyone is a thief or a creep, but as a former hostel manager, I can tell you that there are a lot of both in hostels. If it can be stolen, someone in a hostel has stolen it whether it is food you put in the refrigerator, your laptop, money from a ‘security box’, or your girlfriend. Date rape, by the way is very common in hostels.

Polynesian Hostel Beach Club
5) Rubber sheets. If you like sleeping on rubber sheets – just stay at a hostel. If there aren’t rubber sheets you may want to consider how many drunk pukers, bed wetters, or droolers there have been before you.

6) Bed bugs and other pests. More likely to happen in a hostel than in a well run hotel.

7) Squeaky top or bottom bunks. There’s nothing like sleeping in a bunk bed as an adult and having to wake up every time the person above or below you moves or needs to take a piss.

8) People who snore, fart, or breathe loudly. In hostels you are sharing a room with strangers and you get to know all their bodily sounds and smells intimately.

9) People who turn on the lights while you are sleeping. – My drill instructor used to do that but I don’t want some 20 year old English kid to wake me up that way either.

10) Crappy breakfasts. The breakfast in the Shelby County Jail of Memphis Tennessee consists of white bread, jelly, and tang. That’s pretty much what most hostels offer guests. How much would you pay for that? How much does it cost? $1 or less – is that really worth it?

11) Shitty locations. Out of the way, in bad neighborhoods, or in disgusting buildings. It’s probably worth it to pay a few bucks to avoid these – there are exceptions, but not many.

12) A total lack of privacy.

13) The sound of people’s bags when I am trying to sleep another hour.

14) One television set to a program I don’t want to watch or hear.

15) Drunk teens or 20-somethings – there are websites you can watch drunk teens if that is your thing, me, I’m not amused by them.

16) Rude staff. I don’t know if they get this way because they are used to dealing with people who don’t speak their language or if they become condescending to people with no money, but far too often, hostel staff are rude as hell. It could also be that they are working for no money and so don’t feel they have to be nice.

Polynesian Hostel Beach Club17) Hostel rooms are generally about as cheery as a jail cell and just like a jail cell you don’t get to choose your cell-mates.

18) You won’t meet the locals staying in a hostel. If you do, they are the down and out locals.

19) Filthy bathrooms. Even good hostels have filthy bathrooms after the 4-8 people you share the dorm room with use it. Or, maybe it’s shared with everyone in the hostel…no thank you to gas station toilets.

20) Uncomfortable mattresses. Hostels make a lot of money and they squeeze every penny they can by keeping old uncomfortable (usually cheap to begin with) mattresses.

21) Cigarette and change bummers. I watched a guy bum a cigarette from four different people this morning in 30 minutes.

22) Wankers. Seriously. In hostel dorms…give me a fucking break.

23) Couples sharing a single bunk. Seriously. In a hostel dorm. Give me a fucking break.

24) Pukers. Just tonight (the last time I will stay in a hostel) some kid in the bunk next to mine puked all over himself and made the whole room smell like red wine vomit.

25) Having to navigate around other people’s messes. There are usually lockers so why is there always a huge pile right next to or hanging on the ladder to the top bunk?

Yeah- I’m not 25 anymore. I’m married and not looking to screw some drunk Danish girl or British girl away from home for the first time. I’ve done my share of ‘partying’ and I don’t have much tolerance for it any longer.

The fact of the matter is that a hotel can be cheaper, get you a better night’s sleep, and provide more of everything else too. If each of the above is worth $1 to avoid, then you can add $25 to the $20 you pay for a hostel bed and get a decent 2 or 3 star hotel and buy your own breakfast. Or, if you are really broke, you can just go to jail and get the same experience as being in a hostel cell.

Love Motels in Korea

I haven’t been to Korea since 2012, so things may have changed, but during my first trip there – this was my experience with love motels.

If you’ve been to Korea, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In South Korea there are hotels which are generally pretty expensive, then there are hostels (in bigger cities) which are essentially dormitories and there are motels, also known as ‘Love Motels’ since these are where couples go for romantic weekends, where johns bring hookers, and where budget minded travelers can stay cheaper than the hotels when the hostels aren’t available or you don’t want to stay in a hostel. Another option which is worth exploring is staying at a Korean bath house –  seriously.

 

Korea Love MotelMy first love motel came after the Penis Park and crossing the DMZ in Sokcho to be honest, at this point, I had no idea that Motel in South Korea really means love motel where you can take your woman, park your car, and enjoy sweet love. Or you can arrange to have some love brought to you with the hotel.

All I knew was that for 40,000 Won, I was staying in a big fancy room that not only provided soap, but cologne, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor, a big plasma televison, a king size bed, a computer, and a big fancy bathroom. After the rigours of the Penis Park it was good to have a deluxe place to relax.

 

It was only later when I went to Andong and met a teacher there, that I learned about the distinctions in lodging. He explained to me that in Busan, where I was heading next, it was cheapest to stay in the love motels. When I asked what they were, he gave me the details above.

Whereas in Samcheok, it wasn’t obvious to an innocent like me that I was staying in a den of sin, in Busan, it was far too obvious and I walked away from more than one place that had sheets that held pubic hair, the smell of semen heavy in the room, or in a few cases rooms that I thought were cheap only to learn that the price was per six hour period. Even I was able to figure that one out.

Korea Love MotelI stayed in a total of three love motels in Busan which were cheaper than the hostels but loud with the fucking of guests on all sides. In each one, I was given a pouch with a toothbrush, razor, and of course the rooms had cologne and mouthwash. None of them lived up to my first love motel though. That one was special.

 

I like the love motels actually, they are over the top and bizarre. Some of them have amazing themed designs, they have semi dirty films in the rooms, in a couple of them the ladies of the house offered to fetch me some ‘boom boom’ and one I stayed at the lady who managed it was particularly insistant. “I get you Russian girl, okay?” “You want boom boom with Korean?” “You like I get you Swedish?” “Maybe you like boom boom with Filipina?”

 

Korea Love MotelDespite the attractive sounding menu (60,000 Won for the night or 30,000 Won for an hour), I wasn’t feeling like ‘boom boom’ was a particularly good idea and so I said no. The room, however was just 35,000 won which was a great value in Busan where a hostel dorm bed was 40-50,000.

 

The next day, I left the boom boom hotel to look for someplace a little quieter and met an Indian girl named Birgida who was also looking for a cheap love motel, we searched long and hard in the Hondae Beach area but the best price there was 40,000 unless you wanted to smell the sperm of the last resident. The extra money in this case was well spent.

 

My last love motel was the worst one. It was 45,000 and the door didn’t actually lock! While the room was nice and the sheets were clean, the amount of boom boom going on was utterly mind blowing. Korean people don’t show affection on the streets but when they get in the love motels…wow.

Korea Love Motel

Sleeping with Ghosts – London’s Georgian House Hotel

Back in 2012, I was in London, England for the World Travel Market. At the time I was fortunate to be doing a lot of international travel to places like Egypt, Spain, and the Balkans. I determined that I wasn’t going to stay anywhere that wasn’t extraordinary in some way. I found some incredible places – a houseboat on the Thames, an incredibly luxurious hotel with a 007 theme, and a Victorian era house converted into a hotel that is reliably reported as being haunted. For that one, I have to give credit to my friend Matthew, who made the recommendation for me. I’ve heard that since that time, Georgian House has turned into a Harry Potter themed hotel! I may have to go back.

I’m very happy to re-share the story of the Georgian House Hotel.

Haunted Hospitality at an incredibly good price!

Georgian HouseThe building that houses the Georgian House Hotel dates back to the mid 19th century and has a certain elegant and timeless feel to it. I would imagine it was haunted even if I didn’t know it only because all of old London feels like a scary old horror film to me. Don’t misunderstand me though – it’s lovely and well maintained.

Since I was there at one of the busier times of the year, most hotels were charging a minimum of a few hundred GBP per night for a room, but I was extremely surprised to find that I could stay at Georgian House for just 69 GBP per night for a room that didn’t have a toilet ensuite. It had a sink, coffee service, TV, internet, and a very comfy bed, but the toilet and shower were two steps out the door across the hallway.  Incredibly convenient even if I had to open my door and the price – magnificent.

My favorite part of the Georgian House Hotel? The breakfast. While there is a buffet, the breakfast menu is cooked to order. Eggs Benedict, salmon and cream cheese bagel – yeah – that’s my kind of place.

Georgian HouseI was lucky to come back after an open house and got to drink champagne with the staff and owner, Serena one night. They told stories about the ghosts and I got to learn that the building had been in Serena’s family for a long time.

As for the ghosts…the house  is haunted by several ghosts, including that of an unknown man who has been seen in one the basement staff rooms.  Serena said that the staffer woke with the man sitting on the end of her bed but then he got up and walked out. The staffer came down asking who had come in her room the night before but found out that she had the only key and the door was locked.

Whether or not this is the same ghostly figure that has been seen in the kitchen and one of the top floor bedrooms (#11 if you dare) is unknown.

Georgian HouseSuffice it to say he, or they, are harmless spirits who are more than content to appear for a few fleeting moments and then be gone as they go about  their business. Serena has no idea who they might be since the houses were formerly apartments and they no longer have the records for who lived there.

The ghosts of two children have also been seen flitting about the upper floors. They first appeared when a guest on the next floor down came to reception to complain about the noisy children playing above him. On that night, there were no guests on the top floor!  On another occasion Serena says that she spoke to them when they appeared and assured them that they were welcome to visit on the upper floors only. Sadly, they didn’t show while I was there.  I would have liked to have seen them.

This is a lovely old hotel in central London, not too far from Queen Charlotte Station and a nice walk away from many of the major sites. In addition to the basic rooms on the top floor, there doubles with ensuite, and apartments for families. I highly recommend this lovely old hotel – ghosts and all.

To book a room, you can visit http://www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk/. Tell them Vago sent you to see the ghosts.

Exploring San Francisco from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge

In 2013, I emigrated my family to the USA. We landed in San Francisco, a city I have loved since I first visited it in 1976 when I was 5 years old. We were unable to find a way to live in SF because of the insane cost of housing, but have gone back many times and will continue to do so. 

In all the cities that I’ve travelled, there are some that stand out as extraordinary more than others. A few come to mind right away Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Honolulu, Fez, and of course, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a rich and interesting history, a vibrant culture, and for a city which is so young – an amazing amount of things to do and incredible things to eat. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and you can find restaurants ranging from classic 1930s diners to Punjab, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Indian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Basque, and there’s probably even a Martian restaurant somewhere in Fremont…in short, San Francisco offers more than just something for everyone – it offers many things to everyone.

San Francisco, California

My wife is still a new immigrant to the USA and while our four years together have taught her much about my culture and people, there was still something that she seemed to not understand – the dark underbelly of America – the poverty and homelessness. When you grow up on the other side of the planet watching rich people on television and hearing everyone dream of the promised land – it’s hard to understand that America is filled with homelessness, drug problems, the mentally ill, and prostitution. Aside from places like Detroit and Philadelphia, there may be no better place to witness this than San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

 

The Tenderloin has always been a rough place, in fact, the name comes from back in the days when police officers were given a bonus for patrolling the most dangerous part of the city – a bonus which allowed them to purchase better cuts of meat for dinner from the butcher – the tenderloin cuts. Today, the Tenderloin is still a place that it’s not advisable to wander through after dark – during the daylight hours hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless and crazy people wander the streets, sleep on the sidewalks, and openly use drugs.

San Francisco, California

This was, of course, where I decided it would be a good idea for us to stay. Before you start cursing me under your breath, I should point out that I booked us into the COVA Hotel on Ellis Street, a four star boutique hotel that offers amazing service, comfort, and value right in the heart of the city. The hotel was superb with fantastic views of the city, a free breakfast service that included fresh fruit, waffles, and more and that the staff took great care of us while we were there. Our room was quiet, cool, comfortable, and, in fact, it was hard to recognize that twenty feet to either side of the hotel we would encounter homeless drug addicts and mentally ill street people. Most guests chose to use the hotel’s free shuttles which took them directly to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Union Square and back. Not us though.

San Francisco, California

Our walks took us past the people of the streets – my poor wife was terrified, but I felt like it was important that she be exposed to this aspect of America. One tall black man with crazy eyes said “You look like a little nun!” – “I’m a Muslim!” she responded, clasping my arm. “Oh, well you look like a nun,” he told her. Thank you Crazy-Eyes. You can take a homeless tour of the Tenderloin on Vayable, run by a homeless man named Milton…we didn’t do that, but may in the future.

San Francisco, California

My friend Joshua points out that Palm Springs has no homeless people and offers no homeless services but San Francisco offers lots of services and so has lots of homeless. It’s a fair point. America should be ashamed of this problem. Herewith, I offer a solution.

 

The government should buy all the houses in Detroit that are selling on Ebay for $500 – maintain them, and offer them to the homeless. Offer free services, job training, food, and healthcare in Detroit and only in Detroit. Offer free transport to Detroit. Close down all the other services in all the other cities and start works programs that give people who want to stay in other cities jobs and cheap housing – no job, no housing – off to Detroit with you. We can’t make Detroit any worse and we can certainly make other cities better. My family once owned all of downtown Detroit in the 1800s. My fourth great grandfather was the Mayor of Detroit. Maybe if they move all the crazies there, I can be the Mayor of Detroit too…

But, back to San Francisco. Our walks took us out of the Tenderloin and into Little Saigon where Hanane had her first bowl of Pho. I had forgotten just how delightful Pho can be. Oh man, it is sooooo good. Little Saigon is San Francisco’s ‘newest’ neighborhood and borders the Tenderloin. From there, we walked to Union Square and marvelled at the corner where Levi Strauss, sold the first pair of Levi’s to miner forty-niners back during the Gold Rush. The first Levi’s 501 jeans were created in the 1890’s and people all over the world still wear them. That’s some classic fashion! Strauss used sailcloth from the abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor (because many ships made a one-way trip to the Gold Rush), dyed the cloth blue, and re-enforced the stress points with rivets. It was the merchants who sold to the miner’s who made the enduring fortunes.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Union Square itself got it’s name from the pro-Union rallyies that were held there during the American Civil War. The beautiful golden statue called “Victory” that commemorates President McKinley and lost sailors was modeled on a San Francisco Beauty named Alma de Bretteville. While she was wooed by many, she went where the money was piled highest and married a sugar baron named Adolph Spreckles who was 25 years her senior – the newspaper’s at the time mocked the union, calling Spreckles her ‘Sugar Daddy’ – which is where the term originates. The couple built the largest home in Pacific Heights which today is the home of author Danielle Steele. One of my personal heroes, Jack London, used to attend parties at the Spreckles mansion. She was one of the most influential art collectors in the USA and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Fine Art’s Museum was one of her pet projects – she also brought a number of Rodin sculptures to the city which are still there. The Legion of Honor sits high on the headland’s above the Golden Gate Bridge…

And this is where I will stop for now. We’ve gone from the poorest to the richest and from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. More soon to come…

San Francisco, California

Ah, one last word about Alma Spreckles – she started a chain of thrift-shops to help the poor, they were eventually turned over to her favorite charitable organization – The Salvation Army – which is why the Salvation Army operates thrift stores all over the United States….including the one in the Tenderloin which also operates a shelter there…it’s astounding how everything is connected if you know where to look. Crazy-Eyes gets his meals and bed from the woman on the statue in Union Square…

Great thanks to SanFrancisco.Travel for providing so many great resources and fantastic information for our trip. More to come soon….

Beyond the Hotels – Big City Homestays in South America

By Melissa Ruttanai

alternative to hotelsIn South America, accommodations are classified into categories and awarded stars for service, similar to the way guidebooks and AAA function. But travelers coming to South America for the first time may be a bit confused over the categorization of the sleeping arrangements south of the equator. For example, just because one business is a hotel it is not necessarily better than a hostal, or small guesthouse. Visitors to the region must do their research and investigate star-ratings for each place that they stay. Overall, hostals are a good budget choice where private bath, clean sheets, and family-run service is provided. Hospedajes are also nothing to ignore. They are even smaller establishments than hostals with perhaps 4-5 rooms often with private bath, but lacking in other amenities such as restaurant, bar or communal kitchen. We’ve found some of the best deals via hospedaje in Huanchaco and Nazca, Peru. But a new class of accommodations has emerged in South America and savvy travelers should take note. Private homestays are a fantastic way to relax but also immerse yourself in the local culture.
What is a Private Homestay
homestay peruUnlike hostals, hotels, and hospedajes, a homestay is often a rented room in a private home. In the past, companies would arrange “homestays” with local families in order to allow travelers to see what life is like for the locals. Often, the experience was trite. But now from Ecuador all the way down to Patagonia, private homestays offer more authentic and sincere experiences.
Neil and I have had four homestays overall, two in Ecuador and two in Peru. All have been fabulous. In a homestay, you live in the home of a local, practicing Spanish, taking your meals, and learning about the best places to shop and visit from the insider’s perspective. You’ll receive your own key, sometimes your own entrance. But for 4 days or 3 weeks, you will get an experience that cannot be mimicked in a hostel or hotel. Guests eat and socialize with the host family and other travelers. The experience is not about partying all night or locking yourself in your room. Here, the crowd is diverse—ranging from traveling couples, 30-something backpackers, expats, and even young families with kids.
the good life in travelFor all four stays, we’ve utilized Craigslist and AirBnb. Do your research. Find comments left by previous guests and secure a deal that suits your budget. As two people traveling on the road for over 2 years, Neil and I love homestays. The room is usually slightly more expensive than a hostal guesthouse but less than a hotel. However, security, cleanliness, and warmth of each place have been fantastic, especially in the city. When we stayed in Quito and Lima, our hosts gave us specific information about the city regarding safety, bus routes, and restaurants. Our hosts took great care in making sure we had everything we needed. That doesn’t always happen in the other accommodations.
Every Homestay is Different
homestay Peru friendsDepending on the family, every homestay is different. In Quito, our “Ecua-mama” picked us up from the airport, offered us dinner and even played a very competitive round of Rummikub with us. In Manta, our hosts let us have the run of their waterfront apartment. Dinner was not included but breakfast was a culinary event with homemade broccoli pies and hand-ground plantain and cheese fritters. While in Lima, we had a private apartment with bathroom, TV, living room, and private access to the kitchen. Currently in Cusco, we are in a cozy cottage-like house with flatscreen TV and great WIFI.
So, before booking and after you’ve researched their online reputation, think about asking your homestay hosts the following questions:
Are they renting a private room or an entire apartment?
Are there private bathrooms?
Is there a kitchen to use?
Are there any discounts for multiple guests or longer stays?
Can they pick you up from the airport or bus station?
What meals are included?
Do the hosts live in the house?
What kind of neighborhood is the homestay in?
How far is the walk to the city center?
With four homestays under our belts, Neil and I have had four unique experiences. While some homes were about total integration into the family, others give travelers space to rest and relax. Though you never know for sure which host you’ll have, from what I experienced, both are fantastic with accolades of their own. In April, we will be in Buenos Aires and have already started to research homestays and apartment rentals. Since three friends will travel with us, I’m toying with the possibility of renting a homestay that is an entire penthouse or maybe a multi-level colonial house. Though I love affordable hospedajes and even party hostels, our preference for homestays has eclipsed them lately especially in the big city.

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