Categories
Journalism Travel

Do Not Disturb: Hotels Hammered by Coronavirus Offer 14-Day Quarantine Packages

That’s the headline on my newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Frances Yoon, out Thursday. It begins:

With the coronavirus pandemic pummeling global travel, some hotels are employing a new tactic to boost bookings: targeting guests who face lengthy quarantines.

The risky strategy is a reaction to the unprecedented challenge that the world’s hospitality companies now face, with few people traveling and few likely to do so for some time.

Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted as coronavirus infections have spread throughout the world. In Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, where cases started climbing early in the global crisis, occupancy rates have fallen from about 70% or higher in January to as low as 20% this month, according to hotel data tracker STR. Hotels in the U.S. and Europe are now suffering a similar fate, as the pandemic causes widespread shutdowns and travel restrictions across the country.

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism Travel

‘Rick Steves Wants to Set You Free’

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Rick Steves is absolutely American. He wears jeans every single day. He drinks frozen orange juice from a can. He likes his hash browns burned, his coffee extra hot. He dislikes most fancy restaurants; when he’s on the road, he prefers to buy a foot-long Subway sandwich and split it between lunch and dinner. He has a great spontaneous honk of a laugh — it bursts out of him, when he is truly delighted, with the sharpness of a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Steves is so completely American that when you stop to really look at his name, you realize it’s just the name Rick followed by the plural of Steve — that he is a one-man crowd of absolutely regular everyday American guys: one Rick, many Steves. Although Steves spends nearly half his life traveling, he insists, passionately, that he would never live anywhere but the United States — and you know when he says it that this is absolutely true. In fact, Steves still lives in the small Seattle suburb where he grew up, and every morning he walks to work on the same block, downtown, where his parents owned a piano store 50 years ago. On Sundays, Steves wears his jeans to church, where he plays the congas, with great arm-pumping spirit, in the inspirational soft-rock band that serenades the congregation before the service starts, and then he sits down and sings classic Lutheran hymns without even needing to refer to the hymnal. Although Steves has published many foreign-language phrase books, the only language he speaks fluently is English. He built his business in America, raised his kids in America and gives frequent loving paeans to the glories of American life.

And yet: Rick Steves desperately wants you to leave America.

That’s just one of the many fantastic passages in Sam Anderson’s profile of travel guru Rick Steves, just out in the New York Times Magazine.

Very much worth a read.

Categories
Travel

Trip Report: 2-Week Greece Getaway

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A and I took a fantastic trip to Greece in August, our first visit to the country.

TLDR: Greece is amazing. If you haven’t gone, you should visit if at all possible. We went to Athens and the islands of Mykonos and Folegandros, and loved each destination.

Greece map

We began the trip with a flight into Athens, traveling on Qatar Airways from Delhi, connecting in Doha.

In Athens, we stayed with our incredibly gracious friends, who were the key to the entire trip, providing an impetus to go in the first place and top travel tips once we arrived.

We would return Athens later in the trip, but first…

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Mykonos

…The next morning we took a short ferry ride to Mykonos.

The island is known as a party destination. And it is definitely that, with many holiday-makers visiting from elsewhere in Greece, Italy, France, and other places.

It has sparkling beaches and hip bars and restaurants. But it’s also idyllic and picturesque. Here are some images (all the pics in this post were taken with my iPhone.)

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I mean, can you believe these colors?

We stayed with our friends near the sleepy village of Ano Mera, and spent some enjoyable afternoons at the nearby Agrari beach:

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After Delhi’s daily chaos, the island’s beauty and quiet were highly restorative.

And. The. Food!

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We ate memorable meals at Giorgos & Marina Fisherman Tavern in Ano Mera village, where the staff were extremely welcoming, and had a spectacular birthday lunch with our pal at the picturesque Kiki’s Tavern, overlooking Agios Sostis beach.

And for a fun evening out, we really enjoyed cocktails at Caprice Bar, downtown, with the seafront lapping at your feet.

Mykonos tips:

  • You may want to rent a car to get around. We used a company called Mykonos Drive.
  • For all your grocery store needs, visit one of the Flora Super Market branches on the island. They have excellent produce, not to mention actual, live DJs! (High roller? No worries. They’ll deliver to your yacht, as well.
  • Grab a coffee and a bite to eat at the excellent il forno di Gerasimo bakery in downtown Mykonos.
  • You can easily buy ferry tickets to get around the islands; our friend got ours (from Athens to Mykonos) online before we arrived, then we booked our own on the fly from travel agencies as we continued our trip.

Folegandros

After several days of eating and drinking and beach-going, we took off on our own for Folegandros, a smaller, even quieter island several hours by ferry to the south.

It came recommended by our pal, who we’d asked to suggest a destination where we would find ourselves so relaxed we’d become bored.

He delivered:

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We stayed at Hotel Paraporti, which we found online. It was nearly the last room available in the Chora, the central village on the island, as it was high season for summer travel.

Hotel paraporti

As you can see in the map above, the hotel is situated next to the village, where you can walk around, eat, drink, and basically revel in the ridiculously gorgeous surroundings bathed in ridiculously gorgeous Mediterranean light.

The view from our room’s patio:

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And some images from around Folegandros:

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As if all of that weren’t beautiful enough, there’s also a church high up on a hillside, overlooking the village and coastline.

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You can take the 15 minute walk up for the – yes – ridiculously gorgeous sunsets. (There was even a gentleman providing donkey rides up.)

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Folegandros tips:

  • To get around, it’s easiest to rent a motorbike. The roads are in excellent condition, there’s little traffic, and the views are stunning. We visited a lovely beach not far from Chora called Angali.

Here’s a video from one of our rides:

Athens

Then it was back to Athens for some more metropolitan action.

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In the photo above, you’ll see the “forever a loan” graffiti, commentary on the country’s economic difficulties. (Speaking of which, lovers of street art will love Athens.)

Meanwhile: If you’re Newley Purnell and you find yourself in a European capital, you immediately check to see what kind of football (soccer) is on offer.

Amazingly, Panathinaikos F.C. – one of Athens’s two biggest clubs – was playing, at home, (are you ready for this?) a UEFA Europa League game against Spain’s Athletic Bilbao!

I asked the concierge at our hotel, and luckily for me he was a Panathinaikos supporter and called the ticket office to see if tickets were still available. It turned out that yes, thank goodness, they were, but only…

…with the ultras.

Obviously we jumped at the opportunity. A scored us some scarves and we were off the game:

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The atmosphere was excellent, which chanting and flares; the home team went up two-nil, but sadly Bilbao fought their way back and ended up winning 3–2.

Then, of course, no trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the Acropolis.

I wasn’t able to snap many photos, except this one, from the cafe of the excellent museum not far away.

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Athens tips:

  • If it’s high season, get to the Acropolis early in the morning, before the crowds get too big.
  • I wouldn’t worry too much about the precise location of your hotel. Athens is fairly small and easy to navigate by taxi and on foot, so many parts of the city are easily accessible. We stayed at the Melia Athens, which we booked online from Greece, and were very happy with our stay, though the surrounding area of Omonia Square was fairly unremarkable.

After a few days in Athens, it was back to Delhi. It was a fantastic trip.

Some sketches

And finally, I was inspired during the trip to do some drawing and even some watercolor painting. Here are a few of my sketches.

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Folegandros

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Ferry ride

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At a Folegandros cafe

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Previous trip reports:

Categories
India Travel

Trip Report: Varanasi, India’s Holiest City

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Back in February we took a quick trip to Varanasi, India’s holiest city. I’m late in writing about the journey, but it was remarkable and I wanted to share some images.

Varanasi, located about 400 miles southeast of Delhi in populous Uttar Pradesh state, is renowned place of pilgrimage for Hindus. It is known for its many ghats, or embankments along the Ganges river where people perform religious ceremonies and cremate the dead.

Varanasi map

The city has been continuously inhabited since about 18th century B.C., and the Buddha is said to have founded Buddhism nearby in the late 6th century B.C.

Varanasi is “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend,” Mark Twain wrote in his 1897 travel book “Following the Equator,” “and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

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Map of the city, which is also known as Banaras. We stayed on the southern stretch of the river

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The view from our hotel, south of the central ghats, looking up the Ganges.

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Cows on the riverbank

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A ghat

The city and surrounding area can feel overwhelming, not just due to the intense sensory impressions but also due to thick crowds and traffic.

So you might wish to take a targeted approach to visiting, which we used: Leave Delhi early on a Saturday morning, arrive in Varanasi and have the evening and Sunday morning there, then return to Delhi that afternoon.

You could certainly stay longer, of course, but for a first-time visit this schedule allows you to take everything in quickly and easily.

We took a flight on the Indian carrier IndiGo that departed Delhi at 8 a.m.; the flight takes less than an hour. Then it’s about an hour drive from the airport to downtown Varanasi.

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Heading up the river as the sun goes down

An excellent way to see the activities along the river is via rowboat. You can rent one, with a driver, for about 200 or 300 rupees ($3-$4.50) per hour. We took one on Saturday as the sun set on the river, and another at sunrise on Sunday.

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A ghat where cremations take place

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Saying a prayer and floating a diya, or small lamp, in the river

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Varanasi at night

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View from the river

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Performing a ganga aarti ceremony at the main Dashashwamedh Ghat

You can stop along the banks and take in the sights, like this prayer ceremony.

We stayed at the descriptively named Hotel Temple on Ganges. It’s quite basic, but has a big rooftop, serves decent food, and the staff are very helpful.

If you need your morning cuppa, you might visit the nearby Open Hand Cafe, which has good coffee and a variety of baked goods. There’s also Raga Cafe, which serves excellent Korean food.

For those interested in India, I put Varanasi in the “must-see” category.

Previous travel-related posts:

Trip Report: Three-Day Getaway to Neemrana Fort Palace

My Top 10 Southeast Asia Travel Tips

Two and a Half Days in Istanbul: How to Have an Amazing Time

Categories
India Travel

Trip Report: Three-Day Getaway to Neemrana Fort Palace

At the end of December we took a entertaining, three-day getaway to the town of Neemrana, India

It’s about three hours by car southwest of Delhi, in Rajasthan state on the way to the well-known city of Jaipur.

Our destination: the excellent Neemrana Fort Palace, shown at the top of this post. It’s a 15th-century fort that has been expanded and renovated and made into a comfortable hotel.

Here are some images from our stay. There’s not much happening in the city itself but the palace is great location for relaxing, eating food, sipping coffee or tea and enjoying sunsets.*

The highlight of the trip, for me, was visiting a step well about a 15 minute walk away. Step wells are unique to South Asia; rather than a conventional well, step wells are large and wide and allow people to walk down to the source of the water.

In this case the structure is water-less and seems to be abandoned, but it’s still fun to hike, down and around. More on that below.


On the way down from Delhi. One of the many interesting sights to see on Indian highways.


Entrance to the hotel. 


Blue, blue skies


Inside the hotel


The nearby step well


Looking up toward the step well entrance 


Requisite #StepWellSelfie


Waking Back to the hotel

The hotel itself is spread over many stories, and is fun to explore in its own right; its many alcoves and vistas invite quiet contemplation.

Highly recommended for a quick getaway from noisy Delhi.

*There is also a zipline. I did not try it.