Tuesday, 26 February 2013

In Baltimore, finding more than just true grit

Baltimore’s Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, once the city’s supreme skyscraper, always delivers a smile. It’s a symbol of kitsch and nostalgia, like the city itself. It’s a reminder of a gritty past and an uncertain present. And right now, it’s making me feel like I’ve stumbled into the fantastic world of the movie “Hugo,” because I’m inside the clock at the top of the tower, inside the glorious Seth Thomas timepiece that still serves the city 102 years after it was installed for $3,965.

Joe Wall, the tower’s facility manager — he’s the guy who puts colored gels on the clock’s lights to celebrate important occasions — is leading a free tour of the Clock Room, complete with the story of the tower’s heyday (a 20-ton blue bottle of the headache remedy sat atop the building), its decline (a stereotypical Baltimore tale of neglect and despair) and its renaissance (reborn as artists’ studios).

Details, Baltimore
And my usual reaction to Baltimore — Get me a Bromo — fades away, at least for the moment.
I’ve always been torn about Baltimore. I’m mystified by Washington fans who lustily add an Orioles “O” to the singing of the national anthem at Nationals Park. I have about as much interest in news from the next big city up the Northeast Corridor as I do in, say, Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, I’ll happily stop off in Baltimore’s Little Italy on my way down Interstate 95 heading home from a New York jaunt, and it’s a cheap pleasure to join other Yankees fans in taking over Camden Yards whenever the Bronx Bombers are in town. As long as Baltimore fans aren’t using their lovely ballpark, it’s nice of them to lend it to us.

But I never got into the true-grit romance of Baltimore. Those black billboards that Martin O’Malley put up around town when he was mayor, urging his dispirited constituents simply to “BELIEVE,” struck me as more pathetic than stirring. I loved HBO’s “The Wire,” especially the episodes written by Washington novelist George Pelecanos, but its depiction of Baltimore didn’t exactly make me pine for the place, let alone want to pop up for a weekend getaway.
So when the Travel editors suggested that I check in on our neighbor to the northeast, I admit to a certain grumpiness, informed by decades of hearing Randy Newman’s pained wail (“Oh, Baltimore, man, it’s hard just to live”) in the back of my mind and by a pesky allergy to all things John Waters. (I enjoy a great beehive hairdo as much as the next guy, but camp, ultimately, is as empty as Baltimore’s rubble-strewn vacant lots.)
For a city of its size, and especially one with its reputation — the day after the Super Bowl, the Onion produced one of its instant gem headlines: “Baltimore Looking for Safer City to Host Super Bowl Parade” — Charm City has a splendid array of attractions. But when it comes to basics such as the Inner Harbor, National Aquarium, Walters Art Museum, Fort McHenry and Fells Point, most Washingtonians have probably already been there.
Instead of revisiting old favorites such as the American Visionary Art Museum, I wanted to push back against my bias, measure the march of gentrification against the preservation of the city’s much-ballyhooed old neighborhoods, explore, eat well — and maybe even figure out what I really think of the place.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

World's 5 most romantic dining destinations

Whether it's a lazy brunch or a candle-lit dinner by sand dunes, the world's greatest cities offer tantalising options for dining with your beloved


Bangkok has some of the most romantic locations for guests having destination weddings, on their honeymoon, celebrating their anniversary, "babymoon" or just escaping from everyday life. One such is lebua, which has the world's highest al-fresco restaurant. Named Sirocco, it's located on the 63rd floor of the hotel and offers a feast for the senses and an invitation to romance. Melt your lover's heart with an unforgettable romantic dinner there. With the glittering city lights below while overlooking the River of Kings, a smile and a toast will say much more than words. Spice up your relationship in a memorable night under the stars at "Sky Bar", a multi-award winning sky-high bar overlooking the city and the Chao Phraya River. Bangkok's most exclusive and distinctive dining destination of Tower Club at lebua also presents the finest international cuisines to accent every moment of love; modern innovative European cuisine at Mezzaluna on 65th Floor, sumptuous Asian cuisine at Breeze on 52nd Floor and the most delectable of international buffet at Cafe Mozu on M Floor.


Find inspiration in Prague for a romantic proposal at one of its castles, chateaux and gardens. Whether you tour Prague in a horse-drawn carriage or dine in a Gothic vaulted cellar, your Prague break will be pure romance. Begin your romantic break in Prague with an evening cruise on the Vltava River. Break for a romantic dinner in an intimate eatery looking across the river, an atmospheric vaulted cellar restaurant in the Old Town or request a table with a castle view. Book advance tickets for The Marriage of Figaro at Prague's State Opera. Break open a bottle of local Bohemian Sekt sparkling wine atop Petrin Hill beside Prague's Eiffel-Tower model and scented rose gardens.


All it takes is a stroll through the ancient city of Florence, the gentle wind whispering the same natural endearments as in the Renaissance, to conjure romantics. Take a romantic break while soaking up the sun at one of its many outdoor cafes, or indulge in something sweet at Rivoire, Florence's famous chocolatier. Villa La Massa is a fascinating 16th century Medicean dwelling on the outskirts of Firenze. Since the building was turned into a luxury hotel in 1948, many Hollywood celebrities have stayed here — Clark Gable, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, to name a few. More recently, David Bowie and Iman took over the Villa for their wedding. Il Verrocchio has an indoor dining hall with a vaulted ceiling and a unique terrace overlooking the Arno with a view onto the famous Rufina hills.


Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, the centre of Dubai's heritage and conservation efforts, lies nestled within a green and verdant oasis amongst some of Arabia's most impressive dune and desert landscapes. Resembling an ancient Bedouin encampment this secluded, internationally-awarded hideaway resort offers personal and seductive experiences of the region's history and hospitality, in absolute comfort. Embracing the culinary cultures of the East and West, dining at Al Maha Desort Resort and Spa is an experience to savour and remember. With an excellent team led by the multiple award-winning Executive Chef David Miras, all the menus are meticulously prepared and flawlessly executed. Every dish is hand-made, using the finest, fresh organic ingredients from around the world. Relax in the intimacy of a romantic meal, tailor-made exactly to your requirements and served on your private deck outside the suite.

San Francisco

Perched atop one of the city's highest hills since 1924, the elegant The Huntington Hotel in San Francisco is a warm, welcoming tribute to an era when travel was truly glamorous. With superb skyline views, a tranquil spa, and an award-winning gourmet restaurant, they are a truly prestigious address. Reserve one of their newly renovated downtown San Francisco hotel rooms for a delightful sense of intimacy usually found in a private downtown residence. Located off the lobby of the Huntington Hotel, the Big 4 Restaurant offers a soft, romantic atmosphere. Begin your evening in the lounge relaxing by the cosy fireplace with wine or cocktails. Live piano entertainment fills the space with refreshing soul nightly. Immerse yourself in San Francisco dining by candlelight. Chef Ciccarone-Nehls personally develops all the menus for this innovative restaurant, featuring an eclectic mix of starters and light fare as well as a full range of pastas and house specialties for heartier appetites. The menus at this San Francisco restaurant change regularly to reflect the availability of fresh seafood, game, fowl, vegetables, fruits, or holiday favorites. 
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