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Food and wine enthusiasts are now more than ever seeking out adventurous new ways to satisfy their gastronomy and enology desires! Step aside beachside dinners and private villa soirées and say hello to a dinner like no other. A feast that literally places you closer to the stars than ever before!
Casa Velas Hotel’s Dinner in the Sky
Thanks to the luxurious hotel, Casa Velas, and their Dinner in the Sky, guests are hoisted 150 feet in the sky to experience an extravagant feast.
Situated in picturesque Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, the Casa Velas hotel is all about redefining luxury indulgence and offers guests an experience like no other! It is no surprise that patrons will be in awe of the sensory splendours being provided.
Dinner in the Sky begins February 2018
Foodies all over will be happy to hear that Casa Velas’s Dinner in the Sky, will be available from February 2018. The hope is this amazingly unique service will continue for the next three years.
Hailed as ‘one of the world’s most exhilarating dining experiences’, guests will be mesmerized as they will have the perfect vantage point to view the striking Banderas Bay and Sierra Madre Mountains.
Casa Velas, an AAA Four Diamond luxury adults-only all-inclusive boutique hotel has outdone themselves in executing this exclusive culinary adventure by inviting top chefs in Mexico to create memorable dishes.
First-hand experience with Chef Massimo Fongaro
During my Dinner in the Sky adventure, I was fortunate to have been spoiled with dishes created by the accomplished, award-winning guest chef, Chef Massimo Fongaro.
Chef Massimo Fongaro laid out the red carpet treatment as his guests were treated like royalty the moment we were secured in our seats. Safety first! After a ceremonial shot of Tequila and Mescal (to calm our adrenaline filled nerves), we slowly ascended into the air, blending with the stunning backdrop that the Sierra Mountains offer.
Dinner in the Sky was a feast for all senses. The sights and aromas accompanied by the perfect execution of the dishes’ flavours were comparable to that found in a fine dining establishment. Guests lavishly indulged, and in some cases overindulged, on Chef Fongaro’s rich lobster lasagna and his generous melt-in-your-mouth beef filet that had freshly shaved truffles draping over the exquisite dish. There was no end for the truffles…to the delight of the guests!
And if that wasn’t enough to seduce us into food glory, fireworks lit up the sky as we were having dessert, a tropical Tiramisu that was filled with strawberry and passion fruit – very apropos to the paradise-like ambiance we were all enthralled by!
Casa Velas has succeeded with its avant-garde approach to providing guests with a new culinary adventure.
If there are any doubts left to experience this innovative bucket-list item, ask yourself this: When will be the next time you will be dining so close to the stars?!
If You Go
Casa Velas not only spoils guests with unique culinary experiences, it also provides them with luxurious offerings at their boutique hotel that makes every guest feel right at home. Visit their website for rates and dates, so that you can have the rare opportunity of eating under the stars.
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Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a group of 1,192 tiny islands over 26 atolls form what is known as the Maldives. The smallest Asian destination in both population and land, the Maldives is known for its azure blue waters and white sugary sand. Only 200 islands are inhabited, with 100 being luxury private resorts. This is the ultimate honeymoon location.
Why? The Maldives checks all the boxes when it comes to exclusive, exotic and glamorous. Standard services in the Maldives include over the top luxury packages, first-class spas and world-class chefs from around the world and so much more. The Maldives has it all. Each island is a private island, and staff has been well trained to take care of every need.
Baros Maldives, luxury hotel resort
To explore the ultimate honeymoon spot, we checked into Baros Maldives, one of the first Maldivian resorts established.
After landing in the capital city of Malé, you are whisked away by 20-minute speedboat ride to the island. When you land at the picturesque dock, you are greeted by staff and warmly welcomed with a cocktail.
Baros Maldives is home to 75 sandstone and timber suites, which include 30 over water villas, and 45 beach villas. Spacious accommodations can include private pools, private verandahs and sun decks. All rooms are outfitted with
The guest to staff ratio is 3:1, and every villa has an assigned a villa host, who typically speaks 3-5 languages and can assist you with anything you may want; including dinner reservations, excursions and more. Everywhere you look is flawless beauty.
For honeymooners, the Maldives offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Here are 4 of our favorite reasons.
1. Swim with Sharks
The island of Baros is enclosed with its own coral reef and pristine lagoon, so snorkeling and diving are a must. The island has its own PADI dive shop and marine biology center, to help you learn more about the coral reef and its inhabitants. Swim above nurse sharks, colorful reef fish, batfish, turtles, eel and over 1,100 different kinds of fish as you observe the underwater playground. Commemorate your trip with a coral planted in your name.
2. Dine on a Private Sandbank
For ultimate seclusion and romance, have a meal in the middle of the Indian Ocean with only your love, private chef and discreet staff member. Choose from breakfast, lunch or dinner with an exquisite meal on a perfectly formed sandbank in the middle of the lagoon.
3. Sail the Waters on Nooma, a Traditional Dhoni
Nothing says romance like a sunset sail on a traditional handcrafted Maldivians boat. Nooma, the 19-meter-long vessel is made of wood, traditionally coconut palm timber, and is outfitted with a comfortable thatched-roof lounge area, air-conditioned bedroom, shower and sunbathing loungers. A full crew wears traditional sarongs and a steward is on board to serve refreshments.
4. Private Dolphin Cruise
As one of top 5 places in the world to watch dolphins, a private cruise to watch these magical creatures in their natural habitat is a must. Over 20 species of dolphins inhabit the Maldives, and guides can introduce you to their daily routines, offshore feeding grounds and schedules.
You don’t need a visa to go to the Maldives, just a valid passport, proof of onward travel and necessary funds. Visitors arrive at Male’s International Airport, which has flights from major airports in Southeast Asia, India, Singapore and more. From there you can connect to your resort via an airport transfer.
Things To Know
The climate in the Maldives is tropical year-round, so lightweight, loose clothes are best. Monsoon season is from April to October. January to April is the dry season. We visited in June and only experienced light rain a few days in the afternoon. The Maldives is a Muslim country, and alcohol is only allowed at private resorts, which are exempt.
If You Go
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There is a reason Charleston, South Carolina holds the honor of being named in Travel & Leisure magazine’s ‘World’s Best Cities’ list for the past five years. The region’s history, architecture, emerging culinary scene, southern charm and strong sense of place are contributing to the city’s success.
My husband and I decided last minute to add Charleston to our East Coast itinerary and arrived from New York mid-afternoon for a quick 36-hour visit. We checked into the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, which is centrally located in the heart of the city. It is a perfect starting point to explore the city by foot, offering the opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience what the city has to offer.
Charleston Walking Tours
Walking tours are popular in the city, designed to provide visitors with interesting history and up-close views of the unique architecture found in homes and buildings. We selected a Charleston Strolls tour based on the suggestion from Explore Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Tour guides are sanctioned by the city and required to go through rigorous historical and architectural testing before being certified. Our tour guide, Kim, is a self-professed “semi-Charlestonian.” She shares that the true Charlestonian designation is reserved for those who are born and have family lineage within the confines of the actual city. Kim was born and raised in an area north of Charleston proper, so although she has lived in the heart of town for the past 18 years, she is still considered an outsider. Regardless, Kim is clearly in love with Charleston and her pride is palpable.
The tour began on Market Street where we received a short city history lesson, a warning about walking on cobblestone streets and tips on how to dodge the horse-drawn carriages that were to share the streets on the tour. Well-preserved homes dating back to the mid-18th century lined the street. Confederate jasmine (known as star jasmine in the west) shared its sweet scent and offered a fragrant gift as we passed by the shrubs and walls covered with the beautiful white star-shaped flowers.
The tour meandered through the historic streets past homes and churches standing for over 300 years, and moved on to Charleston’s French Quarter near Broad, Meeting and Market Streets. We walked down a street of art galleries, restaurants and the open-air City Market then stopped in front of the original Old Slave Mart building, constructed in 1859 for slave auctions. The building currently houses the African American History and Art Museum and reminded us of the city’s storied history.
We passed an array of antebellum styled homes, a mix of Italianate, featuring beautiful cupolas and balconies, and Queen Anne, with colorful exteriors and ornate details. Creeping fig covered the brick walls of Georgian buildings with their ornate iron balconies and gates. Colorful shuttered windows, gorgeous flower boxes and the occasional, welcoming red door made me wonder if a house could get any prettier and I considered mine was in for some changes when I returned home.
Strict preservation laws safeguard the authenticity of the neighborhoods in the historic area. A good example of this is the famed Rainbow Row housing in an area referred to as South of Broad. Here, 13 Georgian-style homes reflect the original pastel colors dating back to the 1700s.
Eventually, all roads lead to water in Charleston. At the seawall, we could see a large bay fed by the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. From our vantage point, we looked across the water and viewed Fort Sumter in the distance. Built in 1860, the fort holds the dubious honor of being the point where the first shots rang out in the American Civil War. Today, it is a United States national park open to the public.
Throughout the tour, our guide’s go-to word to describe almost everything we saw was “charming,” which aptly fits this unique city.
The gorgeous ironwork adorning gates, balconies, fences and light posts throughout the Charleston Historic District was designed and produced by renowned ironwork artist, Philip Simmons. Simmons lived and worked in Charleston for nearly 90 years before his death in 2009.
Simmons was recognized with many prestigious awards for his work, including the South Carolina Hall of Fame and most prominently, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. Simmons’ art is also displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
Charming Streets and Alleyways
There are only eight remaining streets in the Charleston Historic District still lined with cobblestones, including Chalmer Street in the French Quarter, North and South Adger’s Wharf and Maiden Lane. It is interesting how stones can add charm to a city street – the uniqueness causes these thoroughfares to be heavily visited and photographed by tourists.
The cobblestones originally arrived on English ships in the late 18th century and were used as weights (ballasts) on the incoming empty boats. Once in Charleston, the stones were removed and tossed into the bay, replaced by cargo returning to England. As the city grew, city planners surfaced the beautiful cobblestones to line the local streets.
The cobblestone streets are still used today by horse-pulled carriages, cars and pedestrians, although they are a good challenge to maneuver by foot. In addition, a few equally charming historic brick-lined streets and pedestrian alleyways, including Philadelphia Alley, are still present in the city.
Charleston’s Emerging Culinary Scene
Charleston’s burgeoning food scene is heating up fast. Last year there were as many restaurant openings as there were closures. The popularity of this tourism destination has caused a spike in rent for both business and housing, which in turn, is affecting the cost of living and sustaining business in the city.
Regardless, Charleston’s food and beverage scene has attracted top chefs from around the country. Acclaimed restaurants require reservations months in advance to secure a table, so plan accordingly for your next trip. A visit to Charleston should include experiencing the unique flavors of the South. Here are two of our favorites to consider.
A mainstay in Charleston, McCrady’s Tavern once served President George Washington. Located off a brick-lined pedestrian alleyway, the building dates back to 1778 and is on the National Historic Register. Although recently remodeled, the tavern still maintains the original brick-lined arches, fireplaces and wooden beams.
Executive chef and James Beard Award winner Sean Brock offers an innovative menu that changes often based on the availability of local ingredients. The familiar low country she-crab soup and a uniquely named side dish, ‘A Pie called Macaroni’ (Thomas Jefferson, c. 1802) top the list of regional offerings. Served on vintage mismatched china, the meals are uncomplicated and flavorful. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch.
This hip industrial-looking restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and a healthy menu of various mezze platters, sandwiches and salads, each creatively designed with a Middle Eastern influence. Daily menu specials depend on locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A visit to Charleston would not be complete without experiencing the South’s famous sweet tea.
If You Go
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Talk about planning a beach vacation to Greece, and inevitably, the question will surface of which islands are best to visit. But what if an equally beautiful place in Greece isn’t an island but rather a peninsula in the north of the country called Halkidiki? Compared to the famed Greek Islands, Halkidiki is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. But it’s worthy of consideration when planning a beach vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.
1. Unique And Diverse Landscapes
Halkidiki is one enormous peninsula that begins on the mainland near Thessaloniki and divides into three smaller peninsulas extending into the Aegean Sea. The three sub-peninsulas (known locally as “legs”) are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos, each distinctly unique geographically.
2. The Beaches
Depending on the peninsula, the beaches range from protected coves with calm, clear water to rocky shores backed by rugged cliffs.
3. The People
The land is gorgeous, yes, but so are the people. The locals in cafés are quick with a smile and warm greetings, and English is widely spoken. The hospitality professionals are refreshingly attentive, enthusiastic, and genuine.
4. Stress-Free Travel
The easiest way to get to and around Halkidiki is by flying into Thessaloniki International Airport “Macedonia” and renting a car. The roads are in good shape, and highway signs are well-marked in both Greek and English. A rental car allows travelers to not be limited to one location.
5. Suitable for All Budgets
Accommodations range from national forest campgrounds to opulent resorts at the pinnacle of luxury, from half-board packages to self-catering rentals.
6. Suitable for All Types of Travel
With various levels of accommodations and diverse dining options, Halkidiki accommodates all types of travelers. Whether for the annual family beach vacation or a couple’s romantic getaway, it’s the perfect place to create memories.
7. The Food
Being surrounded by water means an abundance of fresh seafood. A common sight at beachfront restaurants is a server filleting whole grilled fish, tableside, for patrons. There is also no shortage of meze and traditional Greek dishes at the countless restaurants and tavernas.
8. Air of Mystery
Athos has been the exclusive domain of monks and hermits for more than 1,000 years, and women are not allowed on the peninsula past the town of Ouranoupolis. Men are allowed on Athos but must have advance permission. Piques the curiosity, no?
9. Distinct Personalities
There are three peninsulas, all very different from one another. Kassandra is known for its nightlife and party beaches. Sithonia, teeming with thick pine forests, is more laid back and rugged. Lastly, there is Athos and its air of mystery.
10. So Much to Do
The beaches are what draw many to Halkidiki, but once there, travelers realize that outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Among the most popular activities are hiking, biking, fishing and boating. Of course, lying on the beach and soaking up the Aegean sun is perfectly acceptable as well.
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According to the video marketing website ReelSEO.com, YouTube hosts more than two million cat videos, which people have viewed more than 25 billion times. But in Jordan, the cat watching is so excellent that I suspect they don’t need cat videos. On my recent trip, I found that the adorable semi-wild cats perfectly complemented the cultural sites, just as many people enjoy the perfect pairing of wine and food. Here are a few of my favorite cat pairings in Jordan.
Dana Biosphere and Orange Cat
The Feynan Ecolodge is a 26-room, candlelit lodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This area preserves wildlife, including the Nubian ibex, and is a last stronghold of traditional Bedouin culture. Ever since opening in 2005, it’s been making top ecolodge lists on all the major magazines and websites.
Three darling orange striped cats live at the ecolodge, where they eat breakfast with guests and generally look adorable.
Wadi Musa and water cat
Wadi Musa, or Moses’ Spring, is supposedly where Moses struck a rock with his staff, releasing a rush of water. This historic, spiritual spring is now housed to protect it.
This cat, just outside the little building that houses the spring, gives visitors a friendly welcome. You can’t drink out of the old spring, but this cat will probably let you have a bottle of water.
Petra Monastery and rugged outdoors cat
Thirty thousand people may have lived in Petra back in its 1st century A.D. heyday. Now it’s populated by tourists and cats. I met quite a few friendly cats while spending the day trekking through this Unesco site. It takes a rugged cat with a deep appreciation for archeology to make its home in Petra.
Desert camp and desert cat
I loved the desert camps that dot the Wadi Rum desert. You feel like you’re out in the middle of sandy vastness with nothing around, then suddenly you see a group of striped tents among the rocks.
We stopped at one called Captain’s Desert Camp for lunch one day. The restaurant was in a huge, pillow-strewn area with walls open to the air. Musicians played on a stage and adorable cats lounged on the colorful textiles. A perfect setting for the regal cats of Jordan.
Umm Quais and Finley
Umm Qais, a village in northern Jordan, is the epicenter of a sustainable tourism movement. Ever since Baraka Destinations opened the Beit al Baraka B&B and started offering the chance to partake of activities like beekeeping, basketry and cooking, the village has seen an uptick in visitors. Because the locals needed to learn enough English to share these experiences with foreign tourists, Arabic student and jack-of-all-trades Roddy Boyle came to Umm Qais. This young man from Scotland has a soft spot for cats. When he found the handicapped Finley, whose back legs are paralyzed, he adopted him. Now Finley lives in the Beit al Baraka garden. He hung out with me while I did yoga one morning and was the sweetest of the many cats of Jordan that I met.
If You Go
If you visit, I can’t promise that these particular cats will be there to greet you at these sites. But if not, their cousins surely will be. For help planning your trip, check out the Visit Jordan website.
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A wee dram in the highlands is one thing, but great Scotch whisky from the mountains of Japan? I was about to find out, entering the gated grounds of the Nikka Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost principal island) to learn about the Japanese distilling industry.
Japanese whisky’s star has been soaring in the spirits world lately. With many similarities to Scottish whiskies, even its name follows Scotch tradition by dropping the “e,” at least when spelled in English. If you have a penchant for detail, call it Japanese whisky, not Scotch, which must come from the land of heather and moors.
History of Japanese Whisky
In 1918, a young Japanese traveler, Masataka Taketsuru, journeyed alone to Scotland. He was the son of a “sake” brewery owner. Already an expert in the use of fermented rice to make the quintessential Japanese drink, he studied chemistry at a Japanese university.
However, Scotch whisky captured his imagination. Masataka wanted to learn the secrets of whisky-making, so he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, the first Japanese to study the science of whisky making. Additional chemistry courses, distillery apprenticeships and training as a blender led Masataka to the designation of a master blender.
He met and married a Scottish lassie, Jessie Roberta (Rita), returning to Japan with her in 1820. He went to work for a company trying to produce Scottish-like whisky, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome.
Turns out he just needed a better environment. In 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky in Yoichi, Hokkaido.
He chose a site with a latitude similar to Scotland, surrounded by mountains bordering the Sea of Japan.
Nikka became one of Japan’s best producers, earning Masataka the title of “Father of Japanese Whisky.” In 2001, Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in a whisky magazine international tasting, beating entrants from the mother country for the first time.
Nikka Distillery offers free guided tours, only in Japanese. Multilingual self-guiding pamphlets let visitors follow the whisky production process tour. The site’s nine historic buildings mimic Scottish architecture and don’t look anything like traditional Japanese structures.
Yoichi’s climate augments the traditional distillation method of using coal, producing a rich, peaty malt. The whisky’s distinct aroma and body come from copper pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal – the traditional method rarely used anywhere today. Japanese religious ribbons adorn the pot stills to provide blessings.
Visitors can peek inside Rita and Masakata’s home (sadly only Japanese signage) and tour a whisky museum highlighting Nikka’s history, production methods and awards.
A satisfying tour end brings free tasting of three varieties: Pure Malt Whisky Taketsuru, Blended Whisky Super Nikka and Apple Wine. The Whisky Club offers rare tastings for an additional price. The “Rita House” room, named after Masakata’s wife, offers English-style tea (scones and all).
If You Go
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The Big Island
If you have visited more than one Hawaiian island, you will have noticed each island destination has its own vibe. While Oahu is “the gathering place” and often a gateway to experiencing Hawaii, Kauai is known as “the garden isle” for its lush landscape and sparser population. The largest island, Hawaii, offers luxurious resorts along the coastline with a breathtaking, diverse topography perfect for day trips. The Big Island is known for its active volcanoes, lava fields, rainforest, tide pools, and beaches. You’ll immediately feel a world away from the ordinary when first setting foot on Hawaii, yet completely at home at the island’s world-class resorts.
Escape to Kohala Coast
The thirty mile drive from Kona International Airport to resorts along the Kohala Coast offers an introduction to Hawaii’s lava fields. Queen Kaahumanu Highway is surrounded by evidence of volcanic eruptions, yet tucked along the water is a sandy beachfront where you’ll find Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The resort property has all the appeal of a luxurious getaway, yet is far removed from the tourist vibe you’ll find along the Kailua-Kona waterfront.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is the island’s first resort, built after Laurance S. Rockefeller fell in love with the picturesque qualities of Kauna‘oa Bay. Contemporary island-inspired decor welcomes resort guests, and the serene beachfront location makes this a go-to destination for swimming and snorkeling. Calm bay waters attract manta rays to a small cove at the resort and moonlit snorkel sessions are available for guests who wish to swim alongside these gentle gliders.
Carrying the marine life theme into the resort, a must-visit dining venue on site is Manta. The open-air restaurant offers panoramic bay views and fresh seafood, from Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi to Seared Dry Rub Scallops. Koi ponds dot the path from the main building to the oceanfront pool where palm trees tower overhead and cabanas offer relief from afternoon sun. The five-star property also offers immediate access to the crescent-shaped beach, with resort chairs, umbrellas, and other amenities available to guests.
Waikoloa Beach Luxury
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, located on South Kohala Coast, is a beachfront destination with ample options for shopping and dining. Directly across the street from the resort is Kings’ Shops, an open-air plaza with high-end retailers and restaurants including The KOA Table by Food Network star Chef Ippy Aiona. Around the bend, Queens’ Marketplace offers a series of boutiques, souvenir shops, and grab-and-go eateries.
You won’t go hungry on site at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, though, as menu options are abundant morning through night, from the breakfast buffet at Hawaii Calls to the Sunset Luau. The luau features a Polynesian dinner and show set amid spectacular sunsets blending into ocean surf.
For mild adventure, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa offers on-site equipment rentals including snorkel gear, boogie boards, kayaks, hydro-bikes, and stand-up paddle boards. Between the resort pool decks and the beach, you’ll also find ancient Hawaiian fishponds with information to help identify the critters below. If you prefer to bask in the sun poolside, it’s worth noting the expansive pool deck is open into the wee hours of the morning, perfect for a dip under the stars.
While the Kohala Coast offers five-star resorts to call home during your time in Hawaii, you’ll want to rent a car for a day or two to explore more of The Big Island. One requisite destination is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the glory of two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Park rangers are available to share the history of Hawaii’s volcanoes, but much of the park can be self-explored.
If you’re a wine lover, be sure to stop at Volcano Winery, in the town of… you guessed it: Volcano HI. The small vineyard has a tasting room open 364 days annually. If unique outdoor adventure is on your bucket list, head to the southeast corner of Hawaii to experience the island’s tide pools. About an hour east of the Volcanoes, you’ll find Kapoho Tide Pools and other pools where warm water is protected from crashing waves. Some tide pools are perfect for relaxing during an afternoon soak, while others offer an incredible snorkeling experience.
If You Go
Thanks to the diverse landscape on The Big Island, weather patterns may change throughout the day. Plan for sunshine along the coast during the day, but keep cooler evening temperatures in mind. Layer up for misty rain patches when you visit higher elevations en route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
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Selecting a professional headshot photographer in Denver can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Proper studio lighting is paramount to shooting top-quality headshots. Natural lighting from a window or skylight is often the way to go but if need be lighting umbrellas can also be used for proper shadowing effects on the subject. An experienced Denver headshot photographer needs to be able to connect with his or her clients in such a way to make them feel relaxed and confident. Body language is a huge part of headshot photography. Professional headshots are hard enough to capture when the subject is having a pretty good day emotionally but can be a nightmare when they are having a really bad day, as most of us have a great deal of trouble when it comes to hiding our emotions. For more on having your headshot taken in the Denver area please peruse our other videos.
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I like the fact internationally-famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa bottled out of a legal career in his mid-20s, judging himself dangerously incompetent. It’s a crisis of confidence you don’t typically pair with a high-flyer. The irony appeals to me.
But dropping out like that can’t have been easy coming from a well-to-do family and with your dad a wealthy, influential Sri Lankan judge. Just what his parents thought when Bawa then took off overseas for two years to find himself is anyone’s guess. It was the 1940s after all.
But something happened on his overseas jaunt that would change the direction of his life – and the trajectory of the architectural world – forever.
Bawa discovered a passion for Italy’s extraordinary Renaissance buildings and gardens. It’s this revelation that spurred him to take up architectural studies in his 30s. And it’s this revelation that led to Bawa ‘the architect’ and an entirely new design genre melding East and West known as tropical modernism.
I first come across Bawa’s brilliance in Bentota, a coastal resort town located 64 kilometres south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. I’m staying at Nisala Arana, a boutique hotel run by Aussie-born manager Ben Pereira. It’s a tucked-away, four-and-a-half acre, walled heritage property styled on Bawa principles.
Purchased in 2000 by Pereira’s mum Jill, a Melbournian, and dad Kevin, a Burgher (Sri Lankan of Portuguese descent), Nisala Arana was once home to an Ayurvedic doctor noted for curing snake bites more than a century ago.
To soothe their ills, the Sinhalese doctor would concoct medicines from the various trees and plants on the property. For venomous bites, he’d reach for neem leaves. For asthma or general coughing, the mandarin trees probably came in handy.
It’s difficult to know exactly what potions the doctor administered. He’s long gone now. But Ben says the decision to keep Nisala Arana’s heritage trees was as much a nod to Dr. Leonora’s natural healing legacy as it was part of the garden’s overall Bawa-inspired design aesthetic.
He says it was his mum, Jill, who led the six-month renovation, which included upgrading the grounds, as well as renovating the doctor’s original Dutch-style colonial home and Buddhist shrine room.
Walking the property today, guests are treated to Bawa in miniature. There are crafted lawns across which squirrels, mongoose and white herons dart for cover. There’s Bawa’s seamless blend of house and garden and his deft sequencing of outdoor and indoor spaces connected by lawns, classical glazed pots and intimate seating areas.
Nisala Arana has a central, open-air pavilion for dining. And each of the resort’s bungalows (including the original 165-year-old doctor’s house) is styled in mostly mahogany and teak antiques to capture Bawa’s preference for simple, masculine interiors. And yet Nisala Arana – now registered as a heritage home with the Sri Lankan Tourism Board – is no Bawa pastiche.
Ben explains: “Mum took a lot of time to understand Geoffrey Bawa’s work. She used to meet Geoffrey here in Bentota at Lunuganga gardens, his private retreat. She had a personal relationship with him and sought out his head gardener for advice and input into the grounds here at Nisala. She also made sure we had local craftsmen work on the restoration. From memory, the entire building team of 40 workers stayed on site for more than half a year.”
“Mum’s got a great eye, but she wanted craftsmen with an in depth knowledge of local materials and techniques to work on the property. She wanted to achieve a style that was in keeping with the original buildings on the place, while maintaining a contemporary vibe. In that sense, Nisala Arana is very much mum’s take on Bawa’s notion of tropical modernism,” says Ben.
Not everyone who stays at Nisala Arana is treated to the property’s backstory or its connection to Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. Stay at Nisala Arana and you can go bike riding, visit the local Buddhist temple and dine on chef Aroy’s signature white fish curry as the sun goes down to the sound of croaking frogs.
Guests commonly daytrip to nearby turtle sanctuaries, swim at local beaches and grab an air-conditioned car and driver to explore the ancient fort city of Galle. Nisala Arana is also a popular yoga venue for small groups wanting a retreat from the world in the literal sense.
In my Bawa-obsessed state, I opt to spend my final afternoon at Nisala Arana touring Lunuganga Gardens, Bawa’s 10-hectare homestead bought in 1948 and re-fashioned over a period of 50 years.
It takes just a short drive in the Pereira’s vintage Morris Minor to get there. There’s no signage, just a winding dirt road that takes me past rice paddies and emerald green jungle to a clearing of parked cars and chattering drivers.
These days Lunuganga is run as a country hotel of six guest rooms and cottages, with the gardens open to the public. My guide meets me at the main entrance of Lunuganga in the dappled shade of towering tamarind trees.
But soon I am out in the unforgiving heat, trundling down skinny stone pathways, flanked by rippling lilyponds, taking in the story of Bawa’s life’s work. My guide explains how Bawa purchased the property as an abandoned rubber and cinnamon plantation furnished with a modest bungalow, which he promptly turned into his creative HQ.
It took him over half a century to move hills, transplant woods, cut terraces and experiment with landscaping, essentially making a series of outdoor rooms from the property’s jungle setting. Out of local materials he created courtyards, water features and generally expressed his love of combining traditional and modern forms.
Moving between the portico and the Cinnamon Hill house, it’s easy to trace Bawa’s trademark style of black and white interiors and the clever lines of sight that take you from one outdoor courtyard to another or draw your eye to the edges of the majestic Dedduwa Lake.
What is extraordinary is that Bawa had time to design such a place given his frantically successful 40-year career. In total, he designed about 70 private homes (though fewer were built), 35 hotels, as well as schools and many commercial, religious and public buildings, including Sri Lanka’s Parliament House. Possibly, then, Lunuganga was his muse.
Dotted throughout the property, my guide tells me, are some of Bawa’s favourite sitting spots – modest bench seats with bells attached. He’d simply sit in these spots, take in the views, then ring the bell to indicate precisely where he’d like to receive the pen and paper he needed to jot down his next big idea.
IF YOU GO
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The roads are narrow and snake through the little village of 7,000 people known as Um Qais in Northern Jordan. They are so tight that our tour bus has to park on the main street a short distance away from our destination, Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast. Our luggage is transferred into pickup trucks to travel the remainder of the journey, while we make our way on foot.
As we walk the winding streets, at the sight of foreigners the neighbourhood children take a break from their game of street soccer and, like little birds, chase and flutter around us. They practise their English by repeatedly chirping, “Hello”, “How are You?”, “What’s your name?” and squeal, laughing with delight when one of our party of travellers replies.
We have a busy day planned, and there is little time for this fun game with our adorable new friends — adventure awaits us.
Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast
Um Qais, on Jordan’s northern border, is not a typical spot for tourists but is worthy of a visit if you are seeking a unique immersive travel experience.
Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast is the first of its kind and the only guest house in the village. Operated by Baraka Destinations based 100 kilometres to the south in Amman, Jordan, the mission of the organisation is to “stimulate economic growth while conserving and protecting cultural heritage and natural resources.” Specializing in sustainable tourism development, Baraka Destinations partners with local community members to establish businesses with them to connect tourists to the culture and living history of the region. As a result, guests staying at the bed and breakfast have access to many immersive Jordanian experiences such as basket weaving, cooking, foraging, beekeeping, cycling and hiking.
Before Baraka Destinations’ involvement in the community, travellers would come for 2 hours, tour the archaeological site of the ancient Decapolis city of Gadara and leave. Now travellers stay a few days, and the community has flourished.
Our accommodations at Beit Al Baraka are lovely and comfortable with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, the main sitting room and dining room as well as an outdoor garden. It’s shared accommodation but I don’t mind; it’s peaceful here, and a homestay is a welcome change from the large hotels in Amman.
Creative touches fill the rooms. The overflowing fruit baskets that adorn the coffee table are by the local basket weaver who also skillfully wove the seats of the chairs in the dining room, a local woodworker handcrafted the furniture, and the local blacksmith forged the wrought iron bed frames.
Local and organic is what it’s all about when it comes to the meals during our stay – honey, capers, pomegranates, citrus, papaya, herbs, bulgur, wheat, grains and olives are all harvested in Um Qais.
The Honey Bees of Um Qais
Beekeeper Yousef Adle Sayah’s memorized speech is hesitant, and he starts over when he loses his way. He’s quiet and reserved, and we all smile and nod with encouragement. He’s just learned English a short while ago, courtesy of Um Qais’s resident English teacher Roddy — an expat from Scotland who came to Jordan to study Arabic and never left.
As we sit in the shade of the Yarmouk Forest Reserve and sip glasses of pomegranate juice sweetened with honey, Yousef passionately explains the ecological importance of bees to the environment, the pollination process, the hive infrastructure and the purpose of the queen bee. It’s a challenging speech for someone new to English, and he does it well.
Yousef tells us the story of his love for bees, a love that began at the age of 12 when he would visit his uncle’s beehive each day after school. He found the bees relaxing, and he would have a feeling of complete joy whenever he was watching them in their colony. After leaving the military 20 years ago, he immediately turned again to his first love. A solo entrepreneur, Yousef has 60 hives and produces an average six kilograms of carob-based organic honey each winter with another harvest of honey in the summer after he moves his hives into the Jordan Valley.
The best part of our visit with Yousef is when we don our protective suits and head out to the hives to witness the bees at work. The bees buzz and fuss around our group of beekeepers in training and Yousef uses smoke to calm them as we eagerly surround the hive for a closer look. It is soporific and meditative, and I can see how one can get lost amongst the world of order.
Basket Weaving with Alia
We visit with Alia, a master in the ancient art of weaving, in her home. Over cups of sage tea, she shares her craft. She has a shy smile as she spreads out the banana leaves and straw in the middle of the room. With a determined expression on her face, she demonstrates how to weave. A few volunteers in our group try to create a handcrafted reminder of our visit to Um Qais while the others in our party are happy to sit back and relax on cushions, sip our tea, and watch the busy hands at work.
The shyness leaves Alia as she shows off the baskets on display that take hours to create, and with a big smile of pride, she points out the intricate patterns and the bright colours made from natural herb dyes that she, of course, forages and prepares herself.
She is truly a master – we have a lot to learn.
Picnicking Amongst the Olives
We sit on mats amongst the trees of the olive groves for a picnic lunch of tea flavoured with wild thyme and kishk, fried dumplings filled with cheese and sundried tomatoes. It’s olive harvest season, and we aren’t alone as other families picnic nearby. After our meal, we join the harvest. It’s labour intensive as it’s all done by hand. A sheet on the ground under each tree catches the plump olives as the fruit is stripped off the branches. Our guide, Ahmed, tells us that green olives taste better than black olives, but the latter produce more oil. No part of the olive tree goes to waste as the olive pits and tree trimmings are used to burn as fuel.
Later, we visit a nearby factory to watch the freshly picked olives as they go through the pressing process for oil and leave with two bottles of liquid gold for our cooking class.
Cooking with Um Sulaiman in Galsoum’s Kitchen
Lastly, we meet Um Sulaiman and her family in her beautifully adorned home. She smiles with her eyes – it’s infectious, warm and welcoming. Everyone I meet during my journey through Jordan is incredibly hospitable, always with an offer of sage-flavoured or thyme-flavoured tea, pomegranate juice or the most delicious blend of lemon mint juice.
The house smells fabulous, filled with the scent of our dinner cooking in the oven, makmoora, a traditional rural dish of layered dough, onions, chicken, spices and olive oil. I can’t wait; the intoxicating aroma teases my taste buds.
We are there for a cooking class, and we get to work slicing and dicing green olives, peppers, lemons and carrots, Um Sulaiman gently correcting our technique as we go along. The chopping done, the mixture is seasoned and scooped into little jars, and the luscious freshly pressed olive oil is poured over the top to preserve it. It’s our tasty little gift of Jordan that we’ll take home with us, and we all smile with our eyes just as Um Sulaiman did.
Bread is next on the list of things to do as we mix and knead the dough. Olive oil plays an active role in bread-making too as it’s used both in the batter and to keep the mixture from sticking inside the grooves of the decoratively patterned wooden moulds.
As night falls, our group sits on cushions on the floor of Um Sulaiman’s living room. The table is crowded with an array of platters and bowls of hummus, tabbouleh, fried bulgur and onions, and of course, the hearty makmoora as we all fill our plates and dig in.
We return to the guest house, our eyes heavy and our bellies full.
The next day, as the sun begins to rise, I awake to the sound of birds chirping and Morning Prayer sung over the village loudspeaker. I lie in my comfortable handcrafted bed in my shared room of Beit Al Baraka reflecting on the adventures that brought me to this point in my Jordanian journey. For a brief moment, I wonder if this is part of a dream… Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I hear my roommates begin to stir as I start to smell the aroma of breakfast cooking, I stretch my tired body and smile because this is reality.
If You Go
Jordan Tourism Board NA sponsored this trip. My opinions are my own.
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Has the countdown to the silly season got you in a flap? Need a bit of gift inspiration for the traveler in your life? Look no further. Here are four last-minute gift ideas from seasoned travelers who certainly know how to stuff a stocking. They’ve done the thinking, they’ve done the testing. Here’s the verdict.
1. BESIDE-U travel bags
Best gift idea for travelers? That’s easy. I love BESIDE-U travel bags with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking. RFID blocking protects your sensitive credit card information. BESIDE-U travel bags are ideal for airports and for travel bloggers or any traveler really. I’ve taken mine to easily six countries by now. They are super light and reliable. But for the full run-down on why they’re my new favorite travel product, check out my online review.
Paula Schuck, US blogger for http://ift.tt/19Il8UO
2. BURST toothbrush
My gift idea is BURST. A toothbrush, you ask? Yes. What better way to show someone that you care about them than by giving them a top-of-the-line toothbrush? If the science is to be believed, BURST gives out 33,000 sonic vibrations per minute, which is faster than any other toothbrush on the market. Its bristles are coated in Japanese binchotan charcoal. It charges on a USB port. A one-hour charge is supposed to last for up to four weeks. It’s priced at $69.99 if you buy it directly, or discounted at $39.99 if bought from a dental professional. That price includes the toothbrush, the USB charger and one replacement toothbrush head. If you opt into the subscription plan — which, I believe, is $6.00 plus shipping and handling — a new toothbrush head will come to you in the mail every three months.
Darren Paltrowitz, New York food, arts and entertainment writer.
3. Travelon Travel Scarf
The Travel Scarf by Travelon is a super gift item for the female traveler because it packs well, is easy care and offers multiple purposes. It’s a scarf or a shawl that can be tied numerous ways, and due to its large size of 60×64 inches, it’s also useful as a blanket on the plane. The best feature of all is the hidden RFID zippered pocket that’s sized to hold your passport and credit cards. It comes in two colours – raspberry and grey. For a more detailed look at the Travelon Travel Scarf, check out my online review.
Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for http://ift.tt/1BBdraI
4. Donation to good cause
Best gift idea? Definitely a donation to a worthy cause like Habitat for Humanity on behalf of a loved-one or friend. My family recently started a new holiday tradition where instead of giving gifts to one another, we make donations to our favorite charities. As a traveler, I find it’s great to explore the world, then to come home with renewed perspective and sense of gratitude. That’s why I now embrace donating to good causes during the holiday season. It’s a tradition that’s inspiring and that warms everyone’s heart.
Joy Steinberg, US travel blogger for www.givejoy.me
(Holiday season donating is great – but did you know you can also volunteer your time to a good cause? Check out my blog post on an experience I had in Honduras in 2015)
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