Monday, April 26, 2010

Wild times in Africa

I am writing from Africa, having arrived on the continent yesterday. My purpose of this trip is two-fold, first to go gorilla-trekking in Rwanda and Uganda (my dream trip), and then to attend the largest African travel trade show in Durban, South Africa.

I flew from Washington DC, direct service to Johannesburg, South Africa. The lie-flat seats were very comfortable and made the 15 plus hour trip relatively painless. To be fair, I have also done the same flight in coach, a little more painful, but definitely worth the discomfort! I spent one night at the fabulous Westcliff hotel located about 30 minutes drive from the Jo'burg airport (we in the know call it Jo'burg!). The rooms are spacious with beautiful marble bathrooms. The staff is warm and welcoming. Dinner at the Polo Bar was just what I needed after a long flight - a tapas-style menu with many offerings of small plates. I enjoyed the shrimp fritters and beef stir-fry, along with, I think, the best mojito I have ever had!

Off to bed to get a good night sleep before I met up with Robin Binckes, award-winning tour guide on the history of South Africa. Robin picked me up at the Westcliff early in the morning to give me as much of a tour of Soweto as he could in our limited time together. He is an excellent teacher and story-teller, and I learned so much about the complicated history of this nation. I highly recommend a tour with Robin if you are at all interested in Apartheid or the history of South Africa.

I am now at the beautiful Fairmont Norfolk hotel in Nairobi. This historical property maintains its grandeur with a history of hosting kings and presidents. The rooms do not disappoint, but my stay is all too brief, as I head out in the morning for Rwanda to trek to the mountain gorillas. There are only about 750 mountain gorillas left in the wild. They live between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently it is only safe for tourists to do these treks from Rwanda and Uganda. You must buy a permit to enter the National park as the government keeps very tight controls for the gorilla's protection. You are divided into groups of no more than 8, and assigned a gorilla family to trek to. Once you reach your family, you may only stay one hour to observe.

Stay tuned for more updates as I will post as I am able!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Week In...London

If you've had enough of sun and sand, a big city can provide the perfect Spring Break location! I've just returned from London, England, having spent a week there with my teenage daughter. We arrived home, limping, from all of the walking. We wanted to see as much as we could in the time we had. This included visits to the National Gallery for the fine art masterpieces, the British Museum for the mummies, the Tate Modern for a little bit of everything in the contemporary art world ( a word of warning: heed the sign when it says "this room contains explicit material", especially when traveling with your teenager!) The wonderful thing about all of these museums is that they are free to visitors, although a donation is requested.

We took a day trip out to Windsor Castle and Oxford, expertly arranged by our Virtuoso on-site, Sincerely Paul. Paul provided us with a knowledgeable, friendly driver/guide who made the visits so much more enjoyable than if we were just reading out of a guidebook. We had fun visiting the Christ Church house at Oxford which served as the Hogwarts arrival hall in the Harry Potter films.

The sheer number of shows in the West End can leave you dizzy trying to decide what to see. We thoroughly enjoyed two musicals: Billy Elliott and Blood Brothers. One made you laugh and one made you cry, but both were very entertaining.

And I couldn't have visited this fair city without stopping in to see some of my favorite hoteliers. There are many luxury Virtuoso hotels in London, and they all have something different to offer. If you prefer small and homey, the Egerton House would be for you. Fancy and formal? Head to the Ritz. Can't live without a year-round swimming pool? The Berkeley would fit the bill. We stayed at the Stafford, perfectly located on a quiet street along the edge of Green Park. The rooms and suites are beautifully decorated with every modern convenience. The hotel is lucky to have Frank, the award-winning concierge, who knows all of the ins and outs of the city, and can get you into the hottest restaurants. We were so busy touring the city I barely had time to use the nicely-appointed fitness center.
I have to make special mention of The Goring hotel. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. This family-owned hotel, located just behind Buckingham Palace, has the nicest staff around. The rooms are stately and grand, and it's the only one with its own private garden.

We offer special rates and amenities at all of these hotels such as complimentary upgrades, complimentary breakfast and more, only for our clients. Please contact us to book your next stay and be treated like a VIP in London!

Call 248-288-9600 or toll-free 1-800-284-5258