All posts in art and cultural travel

Revisiting India with Louise Nicholson

A lot has changed since 2015 when we last caught up with author and India travel expert, Louise Nicholson. We recently interviewed Louise to revisit the wonders of this exotic far east destination. The most notable change is the drastic improvement in the country’s transportation infrastructure and hospitality amenities that have expanded the possibilities in an already expansive country. Read our Q&A and watch our interview with Louise below to learn more.

WATCH our interview with Louise Nicholson

Give us an update on what you’ve been doing? 

I’ve been spreading my wings!  Just done a fabulous new tour through Central India seeing a string of star sites and staying in great hotels that make this a new take for the first time visitor, and without tourist traps of the familiar Delhi-Agra-Jaipur itinerary.  And about to do a new tour to Ladakh in the stunning high Himalayas, seeing painted monasteries and staying lakeside on the Tibetan plateau in pristine mountain beauty – my stunner for July.  Also, working with museum trips, institutions, and lots of private trips for families.

When we talked in 2015, you gave us an overview of your top 5 destinations in India: Mumbai, Rajasthan (Vlarspur, Jodhpur, Nagaur), Tamil Nadu, Ajanta and Ellora and Sikkim. Anything new to report? 

My top favorite India destinations do change as places become more accessible thanks to India’s manic road-building and improvements in local accommodation.  So, while Mumbai, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Ajanta/Ellora are still up there, Sikkim’s formerly great hotel in the west has unfortunately plummeted in admin and staff.  I’d replace it with the newly more accessible glories of Central India’s early cities – where you can wander Champaner, Mandu and Chanderi’s stunning medieval buildings in beautiful rural settings with few tourists.  This region has additional options to visit India’s tribal belt villages and markets as well as see sophisticated weavers making exquisite traditional textiles thanks to great NGO leadership – such as Rewa and Women Weave at Maheshwar and LemonTree and Chanderiyaan at Chanderi.

What’s hot in India now?

  1. An increasing number of heritage hotels in off-beat places – for instance, there’s a beautiful mansion on the fringes of Kolkata, a fantastic multi-layered and complex city, so you could do a few city days and then a few in this rural idyll.
  2. Pondicherry.  The revival of the French colonial area began more than two decades ago and continues to be done with great taste thanks to the local conservation body INTACH.  There are now lots of beautiful historic buildings to stay in large and small, such as Palais de Mahe, and lots of stand-alone bars and restaurants, as well as boutiques stocking India’s superb young fashion designers – which I just don’t understand why they are not available globally.  The only downside of Pondicherry is there is no beach of quality, but Indian beaches rarely come up to US east/west coast standards.
  3. Ahmedabad city in the west.  Really buzzy with its old city heritage walks, the Calico museum of textiles, the LD Lalbhai museum of historic art, great Gujarati food found at House of MG’s rooftop restaurant, buildings by Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.  And a newly opened (Jan 2017) gorgeous historic mansion renovated by Rahol Malhotra and containing the collection of another Lalbhai, Kasturbhai Lalbai, which has both historic and very good contemporary collections, a real treat.

 Anything that we need to me mindful of as we plan a trip to India?

My motto is ‘Less is more’, meaning the fewer places you go the longer you have in each and therefore the more you will get out of your whole trip.  India is not about manically ticking off places from the Taj Mahal to seeing a tiger; it is about getting down on the ground to see the sites, sure, but also to walk old cities, stay in a nature reserve for three days, encounter locals, visit markets, experience the contemporary such as going to the movies or hanging out in a cafe with locals or arranging a spice shopping outing and then a cooking demonstration.

Movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel idealize India as a place for expats to set down roots.  What’s your honest take on that consideration?

Well!  As you may imagine many of my friends and clients have asked me to set up my own Marigold Hotel in India!  Seriously, though, India is a very good place to select one place – very carefully – and put down roots for, say, six months or a year.  You would get to know the local people from mango sellers to schoolchildren, you would feel the rhythm of the seasons, share in the festivals, and also be able to contribute your skills and get a lot of fulfillment.  But choose carefully: a city may suit some, a village others.  But it is not a breeze.  India is simultaneously very welcoming and fairly tough.  You would have to be quite self-sufficient emotionally and self-starting in finding something to occupy your days, as Judy Dench and the other actors in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel showed us very clearly!

Why Palm Beach County, FL needs a cultural concierge

Known the world over for fabulous beaches, exciting nightlife and upscale living, Palm Beach County, FL, also boasts a tremendous array of cultural attractions. ExpertFlyer goes One-on-One with Bama Lutes Deal, the first cultural concierge, to learn about the finer things in Palm Beach County.

WATCH our video interview with Bama Lutes Deal, cultural concierge.

 

Why did Palm Beach County decide to establish a Cultural Concierge?

Palm Beach County is Florida’s Cultural Capital™, with more cultural venues and events per capita than any destination south of Atlanta.  With so many museums, art galleries, performance halls and other cultural venues, visitors to The Palm Beaches have 42,000 cultural offerings to choose from.  With so much for tourists to experience, the Cultural Council decided to bring in a cultural expert who could curate events and help travelers plan the cultural aspects of their visits to The Palm Beaches. The goal is to showcase our vibrant cultural landscape and help travelers fell more like locals, to help them find authentic local experiences that reflect their own tastes and interests. Continue reading →

San Diego — The birthplace of California

As part of our series on historical getaways, we’ve gone West to San Diego!  Most people think La Jolla Cove, the San Diego Zoo or  Balboa Park when they hear San Diego, but the city has a long interesting history and attractions that define it as the Plymouth Rock of the west coast.  We interviewed Robert Arends of the San Diego Tourism Authority, who shares some unique stories and places to visit, particularly if you’re a history buff.

WATCH our interview with Robert Arends, San Diego Tourism Authority

Why is San Diego considered the birthplace of California?

On September 28, 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, anchored his flagship San Salvador on Point Loma near the entrance to San Diego Bay. On this historic day, Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. And the San Salvador became the first recorded European vessel to sail along California and survey its coastline; sailing north in search of new trade routes. The San Salvador is the ship that discovered San Diego and of the (future) State of California.

San Diego made history again this past Labor Day weekend.  Tell us about the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s maiden voyage celebration of the first full-scale working replica of the San Salvador. Can tourists board the vessel throughout the year?

Designing the San Salvador

Designing the San Salvador

Yes, the Maritime Museum of San Diego hosted a big annual Festival of Sail – the largest Tall Ship festival on the West Coast – over Labor Day weekend and a full-scale working replica of the San Salvador, the “Mayflower of the West” made her public debut as the star attraction. For the first time ever, visitors got to walk her decks, marvel at her rigging and step back into time to the Age of Discovery [15th-18th century] with exhibits on the ship’s historic significance – akin to the Mayflower as the origin symbol ship of New England.

On September 10, the San Salvador will make her inaugural voyage up the California coast for the Pacific Heritage Tour, where visitors can sail aboard one of 3 passenger legs. She will also make ports of call stops in Oxnard, Monterey, and Morro Bay.

Upon its return to San Diego, visitors will be able to board the San Salvador year-round as part of the Maritime Museum’s permanent collection.

What are some other attractions that history buffs will enjoy?

  • Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, San Diego’s only national park. Features the film “In Search of Cabrillo,” an exhibit hall presenting Cabrillo’s life and times, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, tidepools to explore, a whale watching overlook, an original WWII gun battery and old military radio station exhibit.
  • Juniper Serra Museum on Presidio Hill, marking the spot where a group of Spanish soldiers and Franciscan friars established Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769, over 225 years AFTER Cabrillo’s discovery of San Diego. This was the first mission in California’s string of 21 famous missions and the state’s first church.
  • Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego’s first downtown which sprang up around Presidio Hill. Features a historic plaza, several adobe buildings and Old West architecture that brings to life San Diego’s Hispanic heritage from the early to late 1800s.
  • Mission San Diego de Alcala, established in 1774. It was relocated from Presidio Hill to nearby Mission Valley so it could be closer to the San Diego River, the region’s primary water source. Features a museum of original artifacts, a chapel, beautiful gardens and an excavation site believed to be part of the monastery.
  • Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. covering 6,800 acres. Features the Old Mission Dam, hiking up Cowles Mountain (the highest peak in City of San Diego at over 1,500 feet), boating and camping, a state-of-the-art visitor center and popular rock climbing at Mission Gorge.

So, when the history lessons are over, where do you recommend tourists visit to relax, unwind and take in some pretty vistas?

San Diego’s 70 miles of beaches, including scenic La Jolla which is pretty as a postcard! And Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, where visitors can enjoy 360-degree views of San Diego. There’s also the iconic 200-foot tall California Tower in Balboa Park, part of the Museum of Man. Interesting bit of trivia: the tower is topped by a San Salvador ship weathervane. I also recommend taking a fun harbor excursion with Flagship or Hornblower to see San Diego Bay and the coastline just as Cabrillo did!

Any upcoming special events, festivals or other attractions coming up this fall?

Cabrillo Festival on Sept, 30-Oct. 1, featuring a re-enactment of Cabrillo’s historic landing on Point Loma at Ballast Point on Naval Base Point Loma. The event is FREE, family friendly and features cultural demonstrations, folk dances, art vendors and food booths bringing to life traditions of local Native Americans (Kumeyaay tribe), Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish cultures.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Myers Valley Inkopah Gorge  20100320

San Salvador Petroglyphs | Photo: (c)Ted Walton

There was a discovery in San Diego’s East County of a petroglyph rock depicting Spanish ships that is believed to be the only remaining first-person documentation of Cabrillo’s arrival in San Diego in 1542 (see attached photos); recorded by the indigenous Kumeyaay tribes of San Diego County who have lived here for more than 12,000 years. The petroglyphs are believed to be the oldest graphic representation of a recorded event in U.S. history.

The Maritime Museum has a replica of this amazing find.

To plan a trip to San Diego and learn more about our fascinating history and attractions, visit SanDiego.org

The US & Cuba have agreed to restore commercial air travel – Time to expedite your visit

air travel to cuba

For the first time in half a century, commercial air traffic will be restored between the United States and Cuba based on a deal signed this week between the two countries.

According to the Associated Press, dozens of new daily flights will bring hundreds of thousands more American travelers a year to the island as early as this fall.

So, is now the time to go?  Forbes contributor, Ann Abel, says, “Cuba is evolving, which is why visiting right now is fascinating. We’re nearing another inflection point—Cuba’s succession plan for when (if?) Raul Castro steps down in 2018 is a big question, as is the outcome of the upcoming US election.

For now, the safest, and most educational, way for Americans to go is on a “people-to-people” visa arranged by a tour operator that has earned State Department approval and has organized heavily structured itineraries of “cultural exchange” with at least one Cuban contributing to the conversation at all times.”

cuban street

Photo: Sonia Laguna

Expertflyer caught up with Cuba travel expert, Sonia Laguna, Founder and CEO of Just 90 Miles, to take a pulse.

EF: Now that the US and Cuba have officially opened commercial air travel between the two countries, what do you think the impact will be?  
SL: I believe the impact will be positive. Once it takes off, it will make it easier and more convenient to book flights.
EF: Is there greater pressure to visit Cuba sooner rather than later? 
SL: As relations stabilize and the influx of American tourists becomes greater, changes to the island will most definitely come.  For people who want to experience Cuba as it’s been for many years, I recommend planning your trip sooner, rather than later.  As time passes, Cuba will change and modernize.
cuban beach

Photo: Sonia Laguna

EF: Will this affect the affordability of visiting Cuba? 
SL: People do expect that with competition prices will be more affordable.  Today a round trip ticket from Miami, FL, on a charter airline ranges from $300 to $500, depending on the month. Similar flights to the Bahamas are in the range of $200 to $550.
Expedia prices over the past 21 days:
$204
Lowest price
$556
Highest price
$254
Average price
EF: Which airlines do you think will be the best bet for Cuba travel and why?
SL: The airlines that are currently operating with Charter Companies are American Airlines, JetBlue and Eastern Airlines. But I think all the major airlines will try to get routes. It will largely boil down to individual traveler’s preferences and associated loyalty programs may also have a bearing.
cuban architecture

Photo: Sonia Laguna

EF: What else should we know about Cuba tourism today?
SL: Today Cuba is on so many people’s bucket lists.  If you are looking for  a once in a lifetime experience traveling to Cuba, TODAY will guarantee you a country different from any other, with very little modern conveniences, but wonderful architecture,  classical cars, the world’s greatest cigars, music, rum, and most importantly, the warmest and friendliest people you will ever meet.

 

Homeless and lovin’ it — Tips from a present-day nomad for living the life of your dreams

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

It’s difficult to put a number on how many people think about chucking caution to the wind and leaving the rat race for a life of untethered wandering and cultural enrichment — not to speak of the cost savings that come with living in far away destinations, like Southeast Asia.  That said, dreaming and reality are two very different things — or so we thought until we interviewed Paul Kortman, co-founder of nomadtogether.com, a site for people who have decided to live a life of location independence.

Check out our interview with Paul and learn how he and his wife and four kids have learned to live as a “homeless” family over the past two years.  Their experience has been life altering and the community they have congregated serves to give inspiration, support, feedback and camaraderie to others who dare to live outside the box.