10 Questions For (5): Karen Bryan of the Europe A La Carte Blog

Ehm Sorry for this. I just upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.1.6 and because I didn’t know exactly how to handle the interface, accidentally deleted this post and probably the comments as well. I reposted as soon as possible. The lay out may differ a bit now.

Happy to introduce Karen to you.

Karen Bryan practicing Meet the Blogger when I showed her The Hague

1) Who Are you?
I’m the founder and editor of the UK based Europe a la Carte, which focuses on authentic travel in Europe on a modest budget. I started the site in 2002 in response to the growing number of travellers putting together their own trips by booking low cost airlines and their own accommodation online.
In October 2006 I started the Europe a la Carte blog and in June 2008 I took on a team of bloggers to transform Europe a la Carte to a multi author blog.

In July 2008 I created the Euravelers travel social network so members could exchange tips and advice to revel in their travels discovering the real Europe.

But that’s only part of who I am. i work part time as a freelance social research interviewer. I met my beloved husband more than 30 years ago and we have 21 year old twin sons. I’m a Scot living in Berwick upon Tweed in the north east of England.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I love travelling in Europe, especially to places that are not so well know to tourists, so running site on this topic is so interesting for me. Of course there’s never enough time and money to see all of Europe. Running a travel site and blog may sound glamourous but the vast majority of my time is spent sitting at the computer.

I’ve made friends and contacts from all the world that I would have never been able to meet without the internet like the Happy Hotelier whom I’ve met twice, firstly at the Travel Bloggers Summit at the ITB in Berlin in March 2008 and more recently at the citizemM launch in Amsterdam in June 2008.

Two Great Bloggers: Karen (R) and me (L)

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I’m a non techie person, fortunately one of our sons in a computing student so he’s my IT consultant. It’s very frustrating not being able to do all things techie yourself or taking ages to do a simple thing.
I’m hopeless at proof reading and never notice my own errors, even after reading a piece several times. It’s very hard to get noticed as an independent travel blog. It’s always said that if you have good, unique content you’ll succeed but that’s really isn’t enough. This was highlighted to me when I started writing for Wandalust which is part of the Creative Weblogging network of more than 130 blogs, so it has 130 links before any content is added. It’s similar story for travel blogs which are an extension of a newspaper or print magazine which already has an established readership. I also think part of the problem lies with the blog label, which I believe alienates many potential readers, sometimes I think that I should rename the blog an “interactive online travel magazine.

Europe a la Carte takes up so much of my time, that I don’t have enough time for family and friends.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it
I started the Europe a la Carte blog after receiving an email from a Tourism student writing her dissertation about travel business blogs. I was intrigued by the notion of a business blog as until then, I’d thought of blogs as online personal diaries. I did some reading and it was all so positive that I thought I’d start a blog on my site. Well it was the right decision as the blog now accounts for more than 80% of site traffic. Blogs are great from bringing traffic even if you’re not a Search Engine Optimisation expert.

As I want my blog to be the best resource for travelling off the beaten track in Europe I made the decision in June 2008 to transform it to a multi author blog and recruited a team of bloggers. I realized that I couldn’t write a wide enough variety and volume of content myself.  In some ways it was hard to relinquish control of the blog. But it was more than that, I thought that the blog might become impersonal and lacking in coherence having several writers. However so far it’s all gone very well and I’m not feeling put out that some of the content from the blogging team outshines my own efforts.  I’ve never really considered myself as a travel writer. Although it sounds very mundane, in some ways, I think of myself more of a collator of travel information rather than a travel writer.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
We had a three week family holiday to California in 2001. It was pretty hard to find a destination which we’d all enjoy as our sons were 14 at the time. We spent one week in San Francisco and we all loved it. One of our sons was into to skateboarding, so he was in skateboard heaven. I was a big fan of “The Streets of San Francisco” starring Michael Douglas as a youngster and it was great to finally make it to the city, there I was riding a cable car and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought that the the variety and quality of the food in restaurants in San Francisco was amazing, great Mexican, Chinese and Vegetarian restaurants. The whole Bay area was very beautiful.

We spent our 20th wedding anniversary in Rome.  I call Rome a living museum that because wherever you turn there are amphitheatres, temples, medieval streets, squares and Renaissance palaces. Rome is one of these evocative places I’d pictured in my mind whilst reading about the Roman Empire during history lessons and seen in various films. I was totally overawed by Rome.

I have to say that I’ve only truly appreciated parts of my own country, Scotland, whilst doing research for Scottish destination guides for my site. There were areas that I thought I knew but realised that I didn’t when I spent more time there. A couple of years ago I decided that I was neglecting Scotland, partly blinded by my love of Italy. I also believed that more UK residents would take holidays on home shores due to concerns about the environment and the hassle and expense of flying abroad so it would be a good thing for the site to have more content about the UK.

The view from The Knock, Crieff, Perthshire. Scotland

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
The Masseria San Domenico in Puglia, Italy has to be the most beautiful hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. The Masseria has been restored and extended. The outdoor pool is filled with filtered sea water is large and alluring, our room was low key but beautifully furnished and there was a terrace outside. I love Lake Iseo in Lombardy in northern Italy. I’ve stayed in a few different hotels and apartments there but overall for location by the lakeside with wonderful views and value for money I’d nominate the four star Ulivi
in Paratico on the south western shore of Lake Iseo. There is a good selection of restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance.  Double rooms cost as little as 60 euro including an excellent buffet breakfast.

Hotel Ulivi pool with views of Lake Iseo

I often stay in Travelodges in the UK and if you book at least 21 days in advance you can find family rooms for as little as £19. Not all Travelodges are at service stations in the middle of nowhere, there are some in city centres.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
We spent three nights on half board at the Wide Mouthed Frog, a seafood restaurant with rooms near Oban in the north west of Scotland. The fresh seafood was so good.

The Grange Restaurant in North Berwick, east of Edinburgh has freshly prepared dishes using local produce.  The three course lunch menu costs £9.95. Then you can have a walk along the beach and enjoy views over to the Bass Rock.

North Berwick beach with a view to the Bass Rock

When I’m in France and Spain I”ll generally have the “Menu of the Day” which costs around 15 euros for three courses and I don’t think I’ve ever had an awful meal.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
The Hotel Villa Maya near Pisa in Italy which I christened the Boot Camp because of all the rules, regulations and extra charges.  What upset me is that it was the most expensive overnight stay on our one week tour of Tuscany and Umbria in May 2008 and I choose it because of it’s alleged charm and atmosphere

The Lodge Hotel in Hunstanton in Norfolk, the reviews were good and the hotel looks very attractive on the exterior. It is a listed building, a former Dower House which has retained some period features. However when we entered our room it was as though we were in a different building. Our room was small, totally lacking in charm or character, with bland white furniture, a ripped sheet and patches of mould growing on the shower tiles. The breakfast was not great, no fresh fruit, warm fruit juice and rubbery fried eggs. It cost £65 a night and the £15 Travelodge room in which we stayed on our way home was far superior.

My worst experience was on the overnight ferry returning from Netherlands to Newcastle during very rough weather.  I was so sea sick and it was awful to know that I was stuck on the boat for the whole night.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I’ve lived in the town of Berwick upon Tweed in the far north eastern corner of England for two years. It is rather confusing as there’s a North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland, around 45 miles north of Berwick upon Tweed.   Berwick upon Tweed lies three miles from the border with Scotland, on the estuary of the River Tweed. It’s a beautiful town with intact Elizabethan town walls and a beach at Spittal.

The best things to do in Berwick are the walks:

a – You can walk around the town walls and along the pier encountering very little traffic.

Berwick upon Tweed pier

b – Walk along the riverside and spot many birds such as herons, cormorants and the large colony of mute swans. Sometimes the seals come quite far up the river.

c- Walk along Spittal Beach with views of Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island to the south.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Happy Hotelier I think I’ve been interrogated sufficiently.

Thanks a lot, Karen. This must be the longest post I’ve ever seen you writing. I do believe the multi author policy is rocketing your Blog!

Last edited by Happy Hotelier on Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 Questions For (4): Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut

For the third edition I’m happy to be able to present to you another real Globetrotter: Barbara Weibel (@holeinthedonut)

Barbaral Weibel, Sarasota News, 2008

1) Who Are you?
Who am I? Well, that’s the question we’re all trying to answer, isn’t it. I can best answer the question by telling you who I am not. I am not defined by my job, by the friends I choose, the clothes I wear, or the things I own. I like to think I am a woman who tries to be the best person she can be, who helps others whenever possible, accepts people unconditionally, and lives in loving kindness. At least that is my goal. In order to get to this point, I had to abandon a successful real estate career and backpack around the world for six months, searching for what brings me joy. I discovered that travel, photography, and writing are my true loves. Upon returning, I moved to Florida (U.S.), where I am working on recreating myself as a freelance writer.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to write.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I have been discouraged to discover the extent to which the editorial content of local and regional magazines is driven by advertising. I dislike writing articles that are thinly disguised advertisements.

Barbara Weibel Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
Barbara Weibel at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

4) Please tell us all about your blog Hole in the Donut and your aims with it.
Initially, I started Hole in the Donut so that my friends and family could keep track of me as I traveled around the world. I discovered that I loved blogging, so I kept it going when I returned from my around-the-world trip. Since then, it has morphed from a site solely about travel to one about life in general, with emphasis on my search for a meaningful life. In addition to posting about my ongoing travels in the U.S., I also write philosophical issues, post inspirational videos, criticize our government; basically anything that comes into my mind or interests me ends up on the blog. I often write with a sometimes sarcastic tone that most people find humorous. Although I hope to make the blog commercially viable as my traffic increases, I also consider it a venue for potential publishers to sample my work.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
#1) Thailand. Aside from the fact that it is a feast for the eyes, I find the Thai people to be gentle, warm, and welcoming. It has something or everyone: including five star hotels, nightlife, and world-class shopping in Bangkok, gorgeous white sand beaches and stunning scenery along both coasts on the southern peninsula, and even trekking to visit the remote tribal ares in the northern mountains. Plus, Thailand is still a very affordable destination.

#2) Zimbabwe, specifically the Victoria Falls area in the south. Unlike other areas of Africa, where the people get in-your-face angry if you try to take a photo of them, the people of Zimbabwe are gracious and truly know how to make tourists feel welcome and appreciated. And while the falls are spectacular, his part of Zimbabwe also offers sunset cruises on the Zambezi River and day safaris in neighboring Botswana, where the animals are said to be the most abundant in Africa. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is experiencing tremendous political unrest right now, making it increasingly difficult to visit this country.

#3) New Zealand. This small island nation is blessed with some of the world’s most amazing scenery, from the lush green hills on the North Island to the snow-capped Southern Alps on the South Island. I could spend a lifetime hiking New Zealand and never grow tired of it. And I believe that Kiwis must be he friendliest people on the face of the earth.

Barbara Weibel food at the 'resort' at the Khlong Saeng Sanctuary in Thailand
Barbara Weibel: food at the ‘resort’ at the Khlong Saeng Sanctuary in Thailand

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
#1) The Windsor Hotel B&B in Christchurch, New Zealand. These folks really know how to make a guest feel welcome and comfortable. The common room was always filled with people willing to share their vacation adventures, breakfast each morning was delicious, and they even packed me a brown bag linch for the plane on the day of my departure.

#2) The Cape Pines Motel in the village of Buxton, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This small, older motel is run by a couple who has spent their lives in the hospitality industry, Bill and Angie Rapant. They go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that their guests are made to feel like one of the family. The rooms are nicely decorated, well-maintained, very clean, and reasonably priced.

#3) My Hotels La Spezia, on the Italian Riveria, just outside Cinque Terre. Rather than stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages, where the hotels are pricey, I opted to stay in La Spezia, an easy 10 minute train ride from Cinque Terre. This hotel was friendly, reasonably priced, and well-located to see everything, plus it was in the middle of the designer shopping district. The room was spacious, had a fabulous bed, and a wireless connection for no extra charge. Plus the breakfast each morning was excellent. One of the best values I found in Europe,

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
#1) Almost anywhere in Thailand would qualify, but perhaps the best Thai food I have every had was at a remote lake in the Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Getting there required an 7 our train ride, an hour van ride, an hour in a long-tail boat, and a 45 minute hike up and over a mountain to reach a second lake. There ?is only one family living within the boundaries of the Sanctuary,and they operate a ‘resort’ that offers primitive bamboo huts that float along the shore of the lake. Although the accommodations were spartan, the food was gourmet.

#2) Mofongo in Puerto Rico.Mofongo is the signature dish of Puerto Rico, a mashed mound of plantains into which a combination of seafood, meat, or vegetables is added. The best I’ve ever had was at Parador Hacienda Juanita, located high up in the hills of coffee plantation country in the central western portion of the island. Not only was the food excellent, the view over the mountains from the restaurant was spectacular.

#3) Gado Gado at the Puri Lumbug Cottages in the tiny village of Monduk in the central mountains of Bali Gado Gado is a traditional Balinese dish consisting of a heap of vegetables sauteed in peanut sauce, topped with homemade tofu and accompanied by steamed rice. If it was up to me, I would rename this dish Oh God! Oh God! It’s that good. And the view over the misty mountains and terraced rice fields from the?open air restaurant can’t be outdone.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
#1) Aside from Chicago, the Midwest part of the U.S. is not exactly known for its food. It’s mostly meat and potatoes country, and not lot of fancy meat and potatoes, either.

#2) South Africa. This country has fallen on hard times. The unemployment rate hovers near 40%, crime is rampant, and there is tremendous political unrest. Although my accommodations in Cape Town were located in the busiest tourist section, it was not?safe to go out alone at night, and it is never pleasant to be traveling in a place where you feel unsafe. Plus, I never really found any good food in South Africa. I will say, however, that it is a beautiful country and well worth the visit when they finally solve their problems.

#3) My Safari in Tanzania was the trip of a lifetime, as I had dreamed of going on safari since I was a child. The experience did not disappoint, but the food did. The fact that I am a vegetarian confused our cook, and every meal for the entire week was loaded with simple carbs. My box lunch each day consisted of a cheese sandwich, a hard roll with butter, a packet of crackers, a packet of cookies, and a chocolate bar. Dinner wasn’t much better. Ugh!

Barbara Weibel This is the restaurant and view at the Puri Lumbug Resort in central Bali
Barbara Weibel, the restaurant and view at the Puri Lumbug Resort in central Bali

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I live in Sarasota, Florida, a fairly small city with a population of about 50,000. However, for a small city, it offers amazing art and cultural opportunities, so I will suggest three artsy destinations that should not be missed when visiting Sarasota:

#1) The Sarasota Opera, which now has spring and fall performance schedules
#2) The John and Mabel Ringling Museum, offers 21 galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities, Asian Art, American paintings, and contemporary art, in addition to one entire facility filled with memorabilia from the days when the family operated the Ringling Circus.
#3) The Bishop Planetarium in nearby Bradenton, an all digital full dome planetarium/theater that features astronomy presentations, sound and light shows and wide-screen large format programming

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Nothing comes to mind. And I think I am finally out of words!

Thanks a lot Barbara. Wonderful stories. Thailand is on my shortlist, as friends of us have moved there and keep saying that we have to visit them. I’m a bit concerned now that you mention South Africa. Just this week daughter number 2 (DanceGirl) is traveling there on her own to visit the dance school I wrote about in 2008 Cine Dance Amsterdam.

BTW, whenever your travels bring you in the neighborhood, do come by. Just around the corner of where I live we have a small Indonesian Mom and Dad Restaurant with some lovely Oh God Oh God:-).

10 Questions For (3): Lara Dunston of Cool Travel Guide

Wow! I’ve sent out three requests and got three almost immediate answers. Here is part 2: Meet Lara, a really professional traveler and travel writer:

Lara Dunston Dubai Sheesa
Non smoking Lara with a favorite pastime “Sheesha in Dubai”

1) Who Are you?
I quite literally live out of a suitcase – I’m a professional travel writer (Australian – born) and I write guidebooks and travel features with my husband. We had a year’s worth of commissions lined up so as an experiment we put our things in storage in Dubai and took to the road for a year. We’ve been traveling continuously for two and a half years now, so we’re going to stop at three. Naturally, we’re writing a book about it.

2) What do you like about what you do?
As cliched as it sounds, I love the people we meet. We are lucky to meet some of the most fascinating people on the planet – we might interview a Michelin starred chef such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his new restaurant in Istanbul one day and one of the world’s greatest violin-makers in Cremona, Italy, the next. And after the people that we meet, I love the places that we go. We’ve been to some 60 countries now and I’ve loved every one of them in some way.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I hate it that every time we finish a project and complete a research trip and we move on to a different destination that our time in the last place can often seem like a dream. You know that feeling? When you return to work after being on holidays? Well, our whole life is like that.

4) Please tell us all about your blog Cool Travel Guide and your aims with it.
Cool Travel Guide is a place for me to reflect on the things I find cool about travel, so I write about anything and everything, from hotels and restaurants we love to the people we meet to more esoteric and odd things, like the ritual of tying ribbons to trees and love locks to bridges – part of the beauty of traveling so intensively and often is being able to identify these little things that connect us all across the planet and connect the dots. But most of all I’m interested in exploring the things that inspire us to travel and what’s so inspiring about travel and I’m not so sure I’ve done enough of that in the first year of my blog (yes, it just turned 1!) but I intend to do more of that.

Lara Dunston Morocco
Lara Dunston in Morocco

5) Your top 3 destinations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
Can I use the word ‘experience’? ‘Stay’ sounds a bit superficial. Forgive me for being so pedantic, I’m a writer! It would have to be:
1) Mexico City – the first big city we ever traveled to outside of Australia a long long time ago (well, we actually had a brief stopover in Tokyo, but it was too brief to count) and I was blown away by its sights, sounds, smells, colors – it was one of those real assault-upon-your-senses cities that are what traveling is all about.
2) Havana – again, I fell in love with it for the same reasons I did Mexico City but it was alluring in a more subtle way – its colors washed over us, its sounds sang to us, and its people danced to us. I remember the first time feeling nostalgic for the city even though I’d never been there, and on subsequent visits felt the same way.
3) Rio de Janeiro – another sexy, sensual Latin American city – to me Rio was all about the beach, the brightness and the light, and the beat of the streets. I was shown the city by a group of young locals who the first time I met them took me out dancing all night – what an introduction! – and then I got to know the grittier side of the city through a filmmaker who took a bunch of us young filmmakers into a shanty town to do a participatory film making workshop – that was an experience I’ll never forget.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
This is difficult – almost impossible to limit them to three!
* Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle, Thailand – it’s that luxury tented-safari style you expect in Africa in one of the world’s most exotic locations, Thailand’s Golden Triangle; there are outdoor showers, so you can shower yourself looking over a tributary of the Mekong to Burma, there are elephants to ride bareback, a spa overlooking the jungle, and sunset cocktails in the Burma Bar.
* The Chedi, Muscat, Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, and Bab Al Shams in the Dubai desert – all three have to share second place, I’m afraid – I love each of these three resorts equally. I love the concept of Arabian hospitality that we have on the Arabian Peninsula, I love the desert and the beach there, and I love that contemporary Arabian style that draws inspiration from the traditional architecture from around the region (from Jeddah to Yemen), and these three properties do all of that so well. If I want to relax I can happily go to any of these three places and know I’m going to unwind exceptionally well.
* Villa Crespi, Lake D’Orta – this is one of those beautiful hotels that is so exotic and so enchanting that it’s dreamlike, and you have to pinch yourself that you’re there – the Moorish-Persian architecture is wildly exotic for Italy, influenced by the first owner’s travels to the Middle East, and that adds to the allure of the place. The rooms are beautiful, very regal, and super-comfortable and they have views over the beautiful gardens and of magical Lake Orta. It’s very romantic – a great place for a honeymoon.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
* Villa Crespi, above – just when you think the hotel couldn’t get any better, the restaurant there has two Michelin stars, the chef is one of the most philosophical and passionate we’ve ever met, and the food is simply sublime. There you can have one of those meals where each mouthful is a revelation and flavours are combined in ways you’ve never imagined them to be.

* Alain Ducasse in Paris – we had a long degustation menu that lasted for many hours and ate some of the most divine dishes we’d ever had in our life, made from some of the most luxuriant ingredients. It was truly decadent.

* I’ve named restaurants so far, but I have a million other memories of specific experiences in particular places, from eating fresh French oysters at the seafood market in Lyon, to the first time we had mussels and frites in Brussels, to the first time we tried ceviche at Veracruz in Mexico, to every meal in Shanghai!

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
* A Michelin-star restaurant in Athens that I won’t name where everything went wrong that you could possibly imagine could in a restaurant, that even though we’d ordered a degustation menu and had hoped to settle in for a long night, we were begging them to let us go by the third course. The manager then insisted he was going to serve us from then on and everything would be fine and still it took another 40 minutes for our dish to come! It was excruciating.

* Three restaurants in the Michelin guide in Calabria, Italy, where we were researching a new book – the Michelin standards there are very different to the rest of the world!

* A dreadful mid-range motel in Port Hedland, Western Australia… we were writing a new guide to Perth and Western Australia for Lonely Planet and readers had complained about this hotel, that it had cockroaches. As there are only a few hotels in town we thought we’d better try it out. We checked in undercover and one hour later discovered that my husband Terry, who’d been resting from the long drive and watching TV on the bed, was covered in bed bugs bites. We tried to check out but he wasn’t going to give us our money back. We had to reluctantly pull out the business card and tell him who we were so that he would! Something we don’t like doing! By the time we got to the next hotel on the other side of town, word had already spread around town, and when I arrived at Reception the guy said “you must be the bed-bug poeple!”

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
Well, seeing we live on the road, I’ll offer a few trips based on recent destinations we’ve researched for books:
* Travel – an Airline tip – try and find an airline you like that goes to most of the destinations you want to travel to, join their frequent flyers club and travel with them as often as possible – this is what we do with Emirates Airlines and while the benefits have always been superb – access to business class lounges, upgrades to Business, dirt-cheap flights when you trade in miles, and extra luggage allowance to name a few – they’re going to be even more invaluable now with the increase in fuel costs and air fares and the increasing luggage restrictions.

* Food – never ever eat on a main square anywhere! By all means have a coffee or an aperitivo and do some people-watching at that cafe/bar on that charming piazza or plaza of some lovely old European city or town, but never eat there – those places are always tourist traps, the food is generally dreadful or at best mediocre, and they’re always over-priced.

* Hotels – when traveling to cities, opt for business hotels on weekends, when they have special offers, or you can ask for a discount and you’ll most likely get it, and travel to beach/mountain resorts week days when they’re quiet, and you’ll also get a great deal.

* Don’t travel anywhere in Europe in August – that’s 4, sorry.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
I think you’ve covered everything. Surely you don’t want me to say even more?!

Thank You Lara. Villa Crespi sounds mouth watering to me. Congratulations with you first year of Blogging. Happy Hotelier enters its third year in a couple of days. You may always correct me as English is not my mother tongue (that being Dutch) :-). I have a question about the photo taken in Morocco. Where was that and do I see it right that the city (or town) in the background is an adobe built one?

The Hague Revealed – A Local’s Perspective (10 Questions For (2): Happy Hotelier)

Gudrun of Uptake gave this example and asked Claude of Les Explorers, Erica of Travel Blissful and me to do the same for our own cities.

The Hague: Hofvijver with Mauritshuis (left) and Houses of Parliament.

1. Give 5 adjectives that you would use to describe the “feel” of The Hague and its residents:
Historic, Stylish, Green, Multicultural City by the Sea.

2. What are your favorite neighborhoods?
Defenitely the Lange Voorhout for its stately mansions. The Denneweg and Noordeinde for their antique and fashion shops, and De Passage shopping mall, over 100 years ago built after a Milanese example.

I live on an outskirt, but love the “Statenkwartier” for its stylish mid 19th beginning 20th century architecture. Uniform in building height – so you won’t get the rain from under your skirt like around high rises – though diversified.

The Beach in whatever weather type. The weather is not always good.

3. Which cuisine do you think The Hague does best? What is the runner-up?(feel free to share your favorite restaurant(s))
I would say Fish. If I say “City by the Sea” I am actually referring to Scheveningen. Scheveningen is a part of The Hague, but the residents still consider it as their own town. It has some fine fish restaurants. My two favorites there are Seinpost and Mero

Then I would say: Indonesian food. In the Hague live many people who were born in Indonesia or had worked there and hence some of the finest indonesian food can be found in The Hague. My favorite is Keraton Damai.

There is no restaurant that serves typical Dutch food. Almost any type of food has its own restaurant (The Hague area counts over 600). For a fine Dim Sum we use to frequent Mandarin Palace.

For more European food we tend to recommend the restaurants: Calla’s (named after the flower) in a hidden small street in the Center, and restaurants Spijs (translated as Food) and Restaurant Water Proef (which has multiple meanings: Water Taste, Taste (it) at the Water front or Waterproof) at Scheveningen Harbour.

4. What is the best free thing to do?
A stroll along the Boulevard (the Beach) or in the dunes. A visit to the Westbroek Park, especially when the roses are blooming, or a picnic in the Westbroek Park, weather permitting…

A Stroll along the beach

5. What is your favorite type of entertainment?
Driving along the beach by car or by bike (I hate to walk). Having dinner in one of our favorite restaurants.

6. List the best family friendly activity:
Visit Madurodam, a miniature city featuring almost all buildings of The Netherlands that are of Interest. And don’t forget to visit the Omniversum and the Panorama Mesdag. Go to the beach, weather permitting.

7. What spot would you send a couple, looking for a romantic weekend?
Stay in one of our suites in Haagsche Suites (oops, I couldn’t leave out a bit of self promotion).

8. Describe a perfect day – one that captures what your area/city is all about. In 3 sentences or less.
Go to Madurodam early in the morning before the buses arrive. Have a picnic in the Westbroek Park and stroll along the sea and fetch one of them famous Italian Ice creams.

9. Tell us about a place that you love to go, whether it is in the guidebooks or not.
Potter along the sea coast in my own motorboat, or go to Rotterdam with same for a lunch or dinner and then back. The Rotterdam Port is always amazing!

My Motorboat
My Motorboat, yep mighty fast!

In springtime don’t forget to visit

10. What question did we not ask that we should have (and answer it, of course!)?

Why I live in The Hague?

I was born here and went to college here. I’ve lived many years elsewhere in The Netherlands, but am glad to be back.
I like the sea the dunes and the city. I always say “you should live in The Hague and party in Amsterdam”. Amsterdam airport Schiphol is only 45 minutes away by public transport and by car, as are Amsterdam and Utrecht. I can go by bike to two small cities with a rich history: Leiden or Delft. Rotterdam and Gouda only take 30 minutes by public transport or by car. I could go on: Paris is only 4 hours driving away, London 5 hours through the Chunnel and Berlin 6 hours…

The Hague is a relatively small city. Its lay out is much more spacious and green than many other cities.

Its residents are a bit reserved. The positive side is that they respect your privacy. I don’t know many cities where the queen (or princes and princesses or president) of the country can go shopping themselves rather “incognito”, only with a small security detail, without hordes of voyeurs looking and gaping on: The Hague residents do notice and see them, but tend to behave as if they don’t see them. I Like that kind of behavior.

Sun Setting over The Hague (Scheveningen) Harbor

Well I see that the Uptake Blog has gone on with this meme so I will leave it to Gudrun to dare other bloggers. In addition this has been too long on my back burner. I’ll post it anyway as another WIP as a reminder to flesh it out with links and photos.

It inspired my Iceland based blogging friend Hjortur to follow up wit a post Reykjavik: Travel Tips from a Local
Spring 2009
This post inspired me to start a series “10 Questions For:” I would have titled this one 10 Questions (0) for if I had anticipated it. Now I added it as number 2…

Last edited by GJE on May 5, 2010 at 10:29 pm

10 Questions For (1): Jennifer Knoepfle of Better Living through Travel

I would like to introduce a new 10 Questions for: category as a sort of variant of “My Interview with”, because:

  1. I’m always insatiable curious who is behind a certain blog or website. Their “About” page or category is one of the first I use to hit
  2. It is an excellent tool for community building in the Travel Bloggers scene (Don’t forget to visit the newly started Nerd’s Eye View Travel Blogger Forum | A New Travel Community. It has over 70 members by now! [Ed: It has since the post date replaced by the Ning Based TBex or Travel Blog eXchange)
  3. It is an excellent way of introducing new Travel related Bloggers on the block to my readers.

The questions are more or less modeled after my first (and thus far only) interview by Paul Johnson who was among the fellow Travel Bloggers who inspired me to go on with what I did here at Happy Hotelier. If you’re interested scroll down on my About page. The questions also cover more or less the main areas of focus of Happy Hotelier.

Thus far I have sent out only a handful of invitations, and the response was overwhelming. So the start is promising.

Here is the first edition:A new Blogger on the block who concentrates on sharing hotel and dinner tips

Jennifer Knoepfle

10 Questions for: Jennifer Knoepfle of Better Living through Travel

1) Who Are you?
My name is Jennifer Knoepfle, I am 31 and I live in Los Angeles, CA. Although I was born In Houston, TX, I have lived in California since I was ten and very much consider myself a Californian, much to my Mother’s chagrin. By day (and most nights) I work in the music business as the Director of Membership for a non-profit organization called ASCAP. I’m no travel writer by profession but certainly a loyal enthusiast, considering travel to be my most dedicated hobby.

2) What do you like about what you do?
Not surprisingly, the number one thing I love about what I do is the traveling. My job requires me to travel on a monthly basis so I am able to incorporate my passion into my everyday life.

3) What don’t You like about what you do?
I am really lucky, there really isn’t anything I don’t like about my job.

4) You’re a Blogger at Better Living through Travel, please tell us all about the blog and your aims with it.
I decided to start Better Living through Travel as a way of sharing my experiences with my friends and family. As they knew I dedicated a large portion of my life to seeking out the best hotels in any given place, they would come to me for advice and suggestions. The blog was a way for me to organize all my experiences in a way that could be accessed by other people. Lo and behold, once I started the blog, I quickly discovered that there were many people out there (not just my friends) that found my suggestions useful. I hope to use the blog as a way to share experiences and hopefully help people discover a hotel that might be really special to them. In my humble opinion, the cornerstone of any great vacation is a suburb hotel.

5) What are the 3 best destinations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
1. El Calafate, Argentina:
El Calafate is home to some of the most spectacular glaciers in the world. I am so thrilled that I was able to see them in person, as they are disappearing and someday may no longer exist.

2. Gordes in Provence, France:
I spent two weeks driving around Provence last year and it was a incredibly memorable experience. The south of France has such an amazing feel, so different than the rest of the country. The people are great, the landscape is beautiful and the food is delicious.

3.Chianti, Italy:
Any place that you can start drinking wine at mid-day is okay in my book. I loved Tuscany for several reasons, but the biggest attraction for me is the Italian obsession with the preparation of great food! I’ve never eaten as well as I did in those two weeks. In fact, there are even dishes from that trip that I still crave all the time.

6) What are the 3 best accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
1. The Home Hotel – Buenos Aires, Argentina:
I just did a post about why I love this place so much. Instead of boring you with the answer twice, you can read about it here: Home is Where My Heart is

2. The Hotel Healdsburg- Healdsburg, CA:
This hotel just has a really great vibe. The rooms are ridiculously comfortable, the beds are like marshmallows and the soaking tubs are enormous. The set-up and the decor is really inviting and relaxing and all the rooms are suites, so you really get great value for the price.

3. Borgo Argenina -Chianti, Italy:
Staying at Borgo Argenina is about as close as you can get to experiencing Tuscany in the same way as the locals do. The Innkeeper is a former fashion designer from Milan who restored an old Tuscan farmhouse into a beautiful Inn. The decor is very much in tune with the region and it feels like as if you were staying in a home rather than a hotel. The owner was more than happy to give us great suggestions on places to see and restaurants to eat. She was a great guide and I am certain my trip was a success largely due to her suggestions.

7) What are your 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
1. The Pappa e Pomodoro at Malbhorgetta in Chianti:
Quite simply, the best tomato soup I have ever had. I must have eaten it five times on my trip. You see, when I like something, I can be rather habitual about eating it.

2. The Rib Eye Steak at La Cabrera Norte in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Argentina is a place for steak and this is among some of the finest, maybe even the best, I’ve ever had.

3. The Lentils w/ Sausage at Pura Vida in El Calafate, Argentina:
It’s been two years and I still think about this dish all the time. I’ve tried to make it at home but have never been able to duplicate this special combination of flavors. Pura Vida is a wonderful little hole where they specialize in soups and stews. It is also one of the few places that offers a great variety of vegetarian options.

8) What are your 3 worst destination/accommodation/food experiences to date and why?
Worst Accommodation:
Ojai Retreat in Ojai, California. I had never been to Ojai before and the retreat was recommended to me. It would probably be great for some people (yoga enthusiasts or people who loved absolute seclusion) but for me, it was the seclusion that scared the crap out of me. The house is isolated at the top of a hill, very dark with hardly anyone around. Also, there were giant spiders crawling everywhere!

Worst Destination:
Cancun, Mexico is like vacationing in the worst parts of Middle America. The city has become a total tourist trap and the majority of the restaurants are chains like Tony Romas, Chilis and Pizza Hut. It was very disappointing.

Worst dining Experience:
The First Class cabin of Continental Airlines. I was on a ten hour flight to Europe and I somehow managed to get the upgrade. I know it is airline food, but I thought that the food in First Class might actually taste good. I was soooo wrong, I guess airline food is just disgusting no matter what class you are in.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 tips about the city you are currently living in?
1. Rent a hybrid from Fox rentals if you come here. You will drive A LOT.
2. Take an architectural tour when you are here. Los Angeles is home to many fantastic buildings that are worth seeing.
3. In the summer, see a concert at The Hollywood Bowl. In the winter, see a concert at The Disney Concert Hall.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Nope..these were great!

Great answers Jennifer. Thanks a lot and good luck with your blog! I love what I have seen from it. Promise me not to abandon it!

Interesting you mention the Home Hotel. I mentioned it earlier and it got mentioned recently in the New Cool Hotel Rooms book of The Cool Hunter. I made a note to self to check it out whenever my travels will bring me to BA.

Finally on a personal note: You would be a great Agent at Vibe Agent 🙂 (and no I don’t get paid whatever to plug them).

Last edited by GJE on May 5, 2010 at 10:16 pm

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