A couple of years ago we sent out a YouTube video of the song “Stand by me” from “Playing for Change”. The message is as valid today as it was in 2009, perhaps even more so.
Experiencing our world and making new friends wherever we go is our passion and our mission is to help you enjoy the same joy.
Our friends at Micato expressed our truth in their holiday wish to us and we happily pass it on to you: Wherever we are in the world or in life…our hearts beat together.
May your actions touch those around you with love and kindness and may peace embrace our souls…
Once again, enjoy the video of “Stand By Me”:
A whirlwind week in China has ended, I’m comfortable sitting at home with my laptop is, well of course, on my lap, and it’s time to catch you up on Virtuoso Chairman’s Event 3 days in Shanghai.
I already mentioned our arrival at the Ritz Carlton, the wall of applause as we entered, the breathtaking and well-appointed rooms. I forgot to add when our luggage arrived in our room, each piece had an engraved silver Ritz Carlton luggage tag attached personalized with our name.
I prefer being on the Puxi side of Shanghai for several reasons, accessibility to my favorite shops and markets, walking along the Bund, enjoying the view of the skyscrapers on the Pudong side with their lighted exterior decor at night, and being closer to the actual city center of Shanghai. Holding that bias, I still delighted in everything about the Ritz Carlton Pudong – the contemporary yet classic feel of the rooms, the steeping tub that affords a skyline view of the Puxi side, the double-headed shower that allows you to use both the handheld and rain shower head in tandem, the French press coffee pot, bedside room controls, phenomenonal service without the obsequious aftertaste, and food equal to the best privately owned, trendy hideaway.
An editorial correction: I mentioned we dined at Flair but spelled it Flare. Personally, I suggest they rename the restaurant Flair Flare because it is both stylish and eye-catching!
Thursday, October 20 presented us with options for tours such as the Back to the Future tour of the French concession led by W. Patrick Cranley, the Yu Yuan Garden and Old Town area led by my dear friend, Gerald Hatherly of A&K, a tour of the Jewish section (Did you know Shanghai was one of only a handful of places that did NOT have immigration restrictions?). We lunched at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel and had a sumptuous food-station buffet dinner at the swank Park Hyatt Shanghai. The Park Hyatt Shanghai, the tallest hotel in the world, entertained us in their private dining venue on the 93rd floor.
Friday began with gray clouds and a few sprinkles that morphed into a lovely puffed-cloud, blue sky day. We spent the morning in an area on the outskirts of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, a village whose roots go back hundreds of years. Many of the century old buildings house art galleries, craft stores, shops, and museums. Often called the Venice of Shanghai, Zhujiojiao is also famous for its system of canals. Before boarding a boat for a ride in the canal, you can purchase a small koi fish to release in the river and that is supposed to bring good luck. This is actually a great business model: The vendor catches the fish in the river, sells it for RMB 5 to us, we release it in the river, and the vendor catches it again! Gotta love the entrepreneurial spirit!
If it’s noontime, we must be lunching somewhere wonderful, right? Friday’s luncheon at the Grand Hyatt, was nothing less than mesmerizing. Before the meal we enjoyed apertifs, champagne, hors d’ouevres, and opera, arias sung by a tenor whose voice rivaled Andrea Bocelli. Staying with the Italian theme, our meal was a contemporary Italian dream.
Friday night, our final evening, found us all decked out in our custom-made black velvet Mandarin styled jackets. Before arriving in China, we sent our measurements to Virtuoso and included our choice for the lining color. Upon arriving at the Ritz Carlton Pudong, we had a final fitting of our jackets and proudly wore them for our final Gala dinner, which was held at the Peninsula Shanghai on the Bund. I had the good fortune to stay at that uber sophisticated property last month and was eager to return. After an elegant cocktail hour, our hosts ushered us into the ballroom set with four long banquet tables adorned with silver candelabra, beautiful china, and both Western silverware and silver inlaid ebony chopsticks. Our multi-course meal was an example of the best of contemporary Chinese cuisine, and dessert – glad you asked! Dessert, held in the lounge area of the 13th floor, featured desserts of the future, yummy treats interspersed in a setting of a futuristic chemistry lab! Only the iconic Peninsula group could be so creative!
We reluctantly bid farewell to the Ritz Carlton Pudong on Saturday morning and headed to the Shanghai Pudong Airport. Our final China treat was a ride on the famouse Maglev, the world’s fastest highspeed magnetic levitation train. Reaching a speed of 431 km/h, we traversed the 30 km route in just over 7 minutes.
The takeaway: Plan a visit to China today! Enjoy a mix of the “lure of the past” and feel the “impact of the future” in today’s China. This is not your mother’s China nor the China many of thousands of people dressed alike in drab uniforms black, gray, or blue. China is vibrant and exciting, a hotbed of creativity and design, a forward thinking and acting country that today honors its rich history.
PS. Many of you know I’ve been very critical of the service I’ve received on international flights. Now hear this: the flight crews on United, both directions, was excellent. Maybe there is hope that we haven’t lost sight of true customer care!
Wednesday, often called Hump Day, marked the last day in Beijing and our first day in Shanghai. We squeezed in one more bit of sightseeing Wednesday morning in Beijing. We went to the Hutong area, one of Beijing’s last and oldest neighborhoods. A hutong is traditionally described as a quadrangle of houses with the main house in the North. North is a very important concept to the Chinese and many historic areas are on a North-South line. When the Communists took over, they changed the main emphasis to East-West. They built a broad, multi-lane road that runs for 30 miles on an East-West axis. In fact, Raffles Hotel sits on that boulevard. While the government felt the change was important, people still held to the North-South concept. The government has relented and when they built the two main structures for the 2008 Olympics, the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, they built them on a North-South line. The government now claims to be the custodian of the traditional China.
Our visit to the hutong began was a leisurely stroll through a market area and we were guided by Lijia Zhang, noted author and lecturer. Our next activity was a ride through the hutong area in rickshaws. We stopped along the way to admire the scenery and we spent some time in a park where our senses were bombarded by so many interesting sights and sounds–senior citizens exercizing, a man practicing calligraphy on the ground using a long brush and water, heated games of table tennis, grandparents and grandchildren playing together, and myriad of bicycles parked while people visited.
After a stop at the Westin Beijing to “test their plumbing” (one does NOT want to use the public restrooms, if possible!), we headed to the domestic terminal at the airport. We were escorted through the maze of people and queues and found our way to our gate for our flight to Shanghai. One last bit of elan, Imperial Tours had ordered each of us a takeout lunch of chicken and caesar salad to be delivered to the airport from one of their favorite delis.
The flight was uneventful (a good thing) and when we landed in Shanghai, we were greeted by our hosts for the second part of our journey, Patrick MacLeod and Gerald Hatherly and the staff of A&K. Once on our way in our motorcoaches, our guide gave us a brief history of Shanghai, often called “Paris of the East.” I love Shanghai! Michael and I have talked about renting a place for a month at some future day so we can fully embrace this city.
We exited the motorcoach and were surrounded by applause from the staff of the Ritz Carlton Pudong, who lined the way inside. They provided a lovely aperitif, we picked up our custom-made black velvet Mao jackets with brightly colored lining and headed to our rooms. My girlfriend, Sam, audibly gasped as we entered our room. “Oh my God,” she said, “this is wonderful!” The girl has good taste because recently Conde Nast Traveler rated the Ritz Carlton Pudong as the best hotel in the world!
Quick wardrobe change again and, voila, time to go to Flare, the loft-style restaurant and night club on the 58th floor. Food, food and more food–all of various Asian countries–was provided and we were entertained by a trio of female violinists playing pulsating and lively music.
Next stop was back to our suites and the oh so comfy Ritz Carlton beds. We are most definitely in Shanghai!
At 7:59 AM on Tuesday, October 19 the athletes had finished stretching, their muscles tensed, eyes focused awaiting the beginning of the race to the Presidential Suite at Raffles Hotel. Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit…what I am describing was our anticipation of the beginning of the Virtuoso Shopping Bazaar, a display of unique items procured by Nancy Kim, Managing Director of Imperial Tours, and presented in a boutique setting in the Presidential Suite . Jewelry, clothing, cashmeres, private blend teas, and Tibetan ethnic goods were scooped up with enthusiasm and, as we boarded the motor coaches for our lunch on the Great Wall, we modeled some of our purchases.
An expert in the history and construction of the Great Wall was aboard each of the 4 motor coaches. David Spindler, our Guru of all things Great Wall, shared many details that fascinated me. A “great wall” actually is defined as a non-enclosed wall (like city walls in Xi’an or Dubrovnik) with a minimum defined thickness, height and length. China’s Great Wall is a series of walls joined together. The fired brick construction was see at locations near Beijing are the newest construction. Some of the oldest and still standing parts are actually tamped dirt.
There are certain areas round Beijing where the Wall has been restored and those locales are tourist friendly. This visit to the wall was my 3rd and the takeaway is that where you visit the wall matters. My first time I was in a sea of tourists. The second time, in 2008 with Gerald Hatherly of A&K Hong Kong, we went about an hour outside of the city center to an area that felt quiet and serene. This time, because of the large size of our group, we visited an area that was more populated than visit #2 and much better than my first Great Wall experience. I sound like I’m telling a spin-off of Goldilocks and the three bears, don’t I?
St. Regis Hotels hosted our Great Wall experience, an event that began with champagne on a terrace. Next we watched 7 young women in red, skintight costumes combine drumming and dancing in a chorus line type act. The main wow was our sit-down luncheon on the Great Wall, highlighted by a menu of delicious courses served by scores of waiters who served all the tables simultaneously. One of our luncheon companions was William Lindsay, noted conservationist and Great Wall advocate. A lovely singer serenaded us with ballads and jazz favorites of the 1930′s.
Greg Nacco, Julie Nacco, and Kimberly Wilson Wetty were brave souls who actually ran a length of the Great Wall. Nancy Stein, of Aldine Travel in St. Louis, had a different Great Wall run, one of bad luck. Reaching the last step of the Wall returning to our motor coaches, Nancy’s foot rolled desiring in a broken bone. I hope your foot heals quickly, Nancy!
We made it back to Raffles in time to rest and change into our “party fashions” and to make the mental shift from the “lure of the past” to “the impact of the future” (the theme of our journey to China) as we made our way to the Water Cube, the 2008 Olympics swimming venue. Shangri-La Hotels hosted our evening, which began with a red carpet walk alongside an outside wall of the cube and led us indoors and up an escalator to what was normally the tennis courts but now transformed into a heavenly room dotted with sprays of blue hydrangeas. Liquid refreshment was served from a magnificently carved circular ice bar. I easy found my way to our assigned table and I had wonderful dinner partners including Priscilla Alexander and Tova Fink of Protravel International, Inc, Marina Linhares and Tomas Perez of Teresa Perez Tours in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Angie Goiricuria,Virtuoso’s Vice President of Alliances; Nancy Kim, Managing Director of Imperial Tours; and, our table host Wolfgang Krueger, GM of the Shangri-La Tokyo.
Needless to say the food was deliciously exquisite! And, if we felt we over-ate, we had the opportunity to dance off the calories as Beijing’s most popular DJ and a bevy of 1980′s clad disco dancers entertained us and helped remove any shyness about dancying! Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso’s CEO, and dance afficianado, was among the first on the dance floor followed quickly by Valerie Wilson and Rosie Goldberger. A personal highlight was watching the Chinese government officials dancing with the advisors. Proving the “Dancing with the Stars” element of the evening, I took a photo of the Vice Chairman of the Tourism Adminsitration with Kimberly Wilson Wetty and an Elton John wannabe!
What a day–a day of contrasts, elegance, and history. We truly spanned the centuries from the lure of the past to the pulsating contemporary feel of today’s Beijing. Having traveled all those years in one day, I was exhausted and ready for a good night’s rest. Sweet dreams!
Do you believe in coincidence? I don’t and that is better left for another post. Just wanted you to see what Dave Herbert, Founder and Managing Director of African Travels, says about feet and flying (You did read my previous post, correct????) His other tips are good ones, too!
• DO take (at least) an extra set of underwear on the plane. In case your luggage is lost or delayed.
• DO double-check your seat assignment when you arrive at the airport. Last minute airplane equipment changes can result in unexpected changes to your reserved seat assignments.
• DO take on board a small bag that you can take out of your carry-on and store in the seat pocket or under your seat. Keep flight essentials in this such as reading book, toothbrush, tissues, medication, gum etc. Then you don’t need to access the overhead bin during the flight.