World’s Longest Flight

Doha-Auckland an airborne marathon.

Qatar Airways’ inaugural being welcome with water at Auckland.

The first run of the world’s longest commercial flight — Qatar Airways’ 9,032-miler from Doha to Auckland — has been completed.  Flight QR920 landed ive minutes ahead of schedule after a  daunting 16-hour, 23-minute flight across 10 time zones — longer than the entire “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies that were filmed in New Zealand, the airline noted the airline. Bring on the compression socks.

Four pilots and 15 cabin crew members were aboard. The latter served 1,100 cups of tea and coffee, 2,000 cold drinks and 1,036 meals during the flight. I hope to food on Qatar is decent and the seats not too uncomfortable. In keeping with international tradition to welcome inaugural flights, the Auckland airport rescue service showered the plane with water cannons on arrival.

The Qatar flight replaces  Emirates’ 8,824-mile flight from Dubai to Auckland in the record books. Last year, I flew for 14 or more hours from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I watched four movies, read some and napped a little. By that measure,  Qatar Airways’ new flight would be good for five movies.

Revisiting Reykjavik

Iceland’s lovely little capital extends warm welcome in winter.

This was the third visit to Iceland since the fall of 2014 for my husband and me. In the dark depth of winter, we were sticking around Reykjavik and hoping to see the Northern Lights between landing early on Tuesday morning and departure late Friday afternoon. At this time of year, it gets light after 10 a.m. and twilight hits around 5 p.m. — enough time to do things. If you want to see our Northern Lights images, scroll to the end of this post.

Tuesday, January 23

On this cold, gray January morning, my husband and I landed at Keflavik Airport in the dark and wet.

Early morning arrival at Keflavik on a dark, drippy morning. The convenient FlyBus transported us to our hotel.
I can’t begin to pronounce the name Aðalheiður S. Eysteinsdóttir, whose distinctive, whimsical wood sculptures are features of this and other every other Icelandair hotel.

Fortunately,  our room at the Icelandair Hotel Natura was ready, so we checked in immediately and went to the SATT Restaurant where the abundant breakfast buffet was set up. Then, on this uninspiring day, we took a nap in our simple and unphotogenic room. The bathroom was so small that the bath towel could have served as a wall-to-wall carpet. But the beds were comfortable and  WiFi was included — as was a pass for the city’s extensive bus system.  Good thing, because the Natura is near nothing except the domestic airport.

We would have gotten our money’s worth if we had paid for the pass, because we took a long roundtrip ride the first evening. When we started getting hungry, we hopped on the No. 5 bus, which stopped right by our hotel. We had to change to the No. 14 at the Hjellmur station, which is under renovation. The station is on a triangular island, so when we asked on which side the bus stopped, we were directed to the wrong one, and the driver was one of the few Icelanders we’ve met who spoke no English.

 

After two lengthy “Reykjavik By Night” rides, we reached our goal, Reykjavik Fish Restaurant, a warm, cozy harborside restaurant that did not disappoint.

Two pieces of fresh, flaky cod that is well battered and crisply fried. It is served with OK but not great fries and a choice of good sauces. And there wine and beer are, of course, available.

Wednesday, January 24

Rested up and ready to roll, we took a morning bus to town. It was to be a cold, breezy museum day that started out clear but then clouded over.

The old perched in front of the new — a perfect snapshot of Reykjavik today.

On a previous trip to Iceland, we had visited the Icelandic Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur. I knew very little about the Norse sagas but was intrigued by this extensive museum that focuses on Njál´s Saga and the Viking era.

Reading the sagas is too formidable a task, but I did purchase a slim volume called Icelandic Literature of the Vikings, which helped me understand when we visited Reykjavik’s smaller, simpler Saga Museum. It depicts aspects of Viking life in a series of clearly narrated dioramas.
Continue reading Revisiting Reykjavik

Frommer’s Guides at 70

Lapsed lawyer’s travel guidebooks defined American travels.

An edition from the early ’70s. I think this was the one I toted around.

While Arthur Frommer was stationed in Europe during the Korean War, he published a slim guide to help nervous GIs navigate the mysteries of foreign travel with its mysterious money, food and customs.

The book sold out, and the inspired Arthur Frommer, a recently minted lawyer, returned to Europe to research and write what became Europe on $5 a Day. It was published in 1957, making this the 60th anniversary. When a college roommate and I toured Europe for three months several years late, inflation had not yet struck, and we managed on close to a $5 daily budget. That trip fueled my lifelong desire to cross oceans to see and experience new places.

There followed more guidebooks a magazine, a television show and a blog. In recent years, he has teamed up with his daughter, Pauline, to keep the iconic brand going. Thank you, Arthur, for kindling the travel lust in millions of Americans.

The Ski Train is Back!

Amtrak running the train, reborn as the Winter Park Express.

Amtrak-logoToday marked the happy return of the ski train between Denver’s Union Station and the base of Winter Park Resort. The operator now is Amtrak, and the weekend/holiday train is called the Winter Park Express. But the route is the same — and Coloradans are cheering.

Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort
Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort

With 550 passengers, including Governor John Hickenlooper, the inaugural train was sold out, as many that are to follow.

Vail Valley’s Lodge at Cordillera Closing

Posh lodge to become drug rehab center, if lawsuits don’t stop it.

cordillera-logoI first visited the Lodge at Cordillera when it was a construction zone — a small condo building of just a few units was the first to be completed– just 28 rooms and later 56. Somewhere along the line,  the fitness center became a fantastic spa, and the property changed its name to the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.

The restaurant initially was a fancy French eatery called Restaurant Picasso (and yes, there was a Picasso on the wall) that later became a modern American restaurant called Mirador. I don’t know what happened to the Picasso.  And a golf course, of course.

The Lodge at Cordillera is lovely on a winter evening, but sadly for skiers and snowboarders, itis several miles from the nearest lift.
The Lodge at Cordillera is lovely on a winter evening, but sadly for skiers and snowboarders, itis several miles from the nearest lift.

The surrounding development included more and more multi-million-dollar homes on something like 3,000 acres — all perched high on a plateau incongruously over a trailer park.  Look up “Kobe Bryant” if you want to recall Cordillera’s brush with infamy.

Now, comes the next chapter (and probably some work for lawyers).  Robert Behringer is a Texan whose Behringer Harvard investment firm is under contract to sell the lodge and some surrounding acreage that was once supposed to be a village center to the Baltimore-based Concerted Care Group that wants to convert it into a pricey drug addiction treatment facility. How pricy? Reports are that the cost would be up to $65,000  a month.

Cordillera residents don’t like it. Not one bit, claiming that the plan has already cost property owners $100 million in real estate value. They filed a lawsuit which alleges that Behringer sought modification of Cordillera’s Planned Unit Development Guide. It included 34 potential uses of the lodge and surrounding land, including office space, athletic facilities, an amphitheater and medical offices. Drug rehab was not  on the list. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the website does not say in so many words that the doors close for good on February 28.  It can only be inferred by the fact that every date from March 1 on is blocked out in red on the reservations calendar.

Toilet Tales from China

Modernizing fast, but not always well. One exploded recently.

dsc01064One of the things that distresses many Western visitors to China are the public toilets. Most are very clean (attendants are often on hand in public restrooms to make sure), but squat toilets still predominate. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, just don’t like them.

Even as China is building the tallest skyscrapers, the highest bridges, the longest tunnels and the most bullet trains, it is addressing more basic needs by modernizing public toilets, which in places other than tourist areas badly needed modernizing.

It doesn’t always go well. One person was killed and seven injured when a build-up of gas (methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide) in sewer pipes caused a public toilet to explode in northwestern China on New Year’s Eve.  A blast in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, caused a new toilet building to collapse. One person was killed and several were injured, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. Despite the inevitable jokes, it was no laughing matter.

Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.
Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.

Chinese toilets in public buildings (including at highway rest stops) come in two basic styles, “squatters” and “seats.” Squatters are porcelain fixtures at floor level, with places for the user’s feet. Seats are closer to Western-style.

Except in fancy hotels and restaurants, toilet paper is not provided. BYO — or, if you are on a tour, be grateful that tour buses usually have a supply. In many places, there is a waste basket next to the toilet. That’s where the TP goes. Flushing might often clog up that delicate plumbing.

Perhaps the most bizarre toilet I encountered was a concrete trench near a historic fort not far from Wenzhou.  A waist-high “privacy” wall enabled two women to squat over different parts of the trench. A flow of running water flushed it. I didn’t have my camera so sadly could not take a picture. #SATWChina

Hotel Boulderado’s Upcoming Lobby Renovation

Boulder’s historic landmark hotel to upgrade main floor space.

boulderado-logoThe Hotel Boulderado, which opened its doors on New Year’s Day 1909, continues to reinvent itself, piecemeal. The restaurant was the Teddy Roosevelt Restaurant or Rough Rider Room (or similar) when I moved to Boulder in ’88. It was later Q’s at the Boulderado, and is now Spruce Farm Food Fish. The down-market Catacombs has been turned into a speakeasy-inspired cocktail lounge called License #1. The Corner Bar has been refreshed.

Now, the hotel at the corner of 13th and Spruce is about to embark on its most dramatic change, a makeover of the lobby. Beginning right after the enormous Christmas tree comes down on January 2, the four-month renovation will begin. The hotel initially said that the restaurants and rooms will still be operating, but it appears that Spruce Farm and Fish is, in fact, closed while the work is going on.

If I understand the plans correctly, the beautiful front desk will become a lobby bar and the gift shop will become a coffee bar operated by Boxcar Coffee Roasters. I’m not sure where the registration desk will go — or perhaps it will be replaced by several sets of tables and chairs. The beautiful staircase to the mezzanine, the stunning glass ceiling and the water fountain boasting of the Arapahoe Glacier as its source will presumably all remain.

Colorado’s Deep Snows

Mountain snowfalls measure deep, especially at Crested Butte.

crestedbutte-logoI am looking out at the wintry snowscape in my yard — five inches or so on the deck railing birds on the heated birdbath and at the feeders (right now a white-headed woodpecker is vacuuming out the seed from the feeder outside my office window). The mountains are reveling in even more snow, a very good thing as the holiday peak season approaches.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) has received over 21 inches of snow in the last 24 hours and 29 inches in the last two days. That appears to be the deepest storm totals in the state of Colorado with a two day total of 29 inches.  Here is a picture from yesterday’s snow.

 The resort says that flights are arriving into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport with just some minor delays and Monarch Pass is currently open. And that’s pretty much the picture all over the state. Click here for current snow and lift reports from most resorts state-wide.

Wellness & Cuisine Meet at Beaver Creek Studio

Monthly packages combine luxury lifestyle elements.

beavercreek-logoIn European spa resorts, guests come to renew, rejuvenate and relax — and eat well. That concept with an American spin comes to Beaver Creek this winter. Beginning in January, and taking place monthly thereafter, the essential elements of Earth, Water and Fire inspired for the new ‘Mind, Body and Appetite’ series at this luxurious mountain resort. Each element is to be  incorporated into the series to complement movement, nutrition, and cuisine.

What intrigued me was that Vail Valley star chef Kelly Liken is the culinary key to this new series with the “appetite” part offered at her new-ish restaurant, Harvest By Kelly Liken in Edwards. The press release describes this combination thus:

Each event begins in The Sonnenalp Club’s new Movement Studio with 45 minutes of yoga and meditation, taught by renowned yogi Suzanne Oliver, concentrating on one of the three elements. After the yoga class, guests move into The Lounge at Harvest by Kelly Liken to hear a talk from Ashley Eaves, certified nutritionist, dietitian and intuitive coach about how the element affects the body. Guests then enjoy inspired cuisine created by Chef Kelly Liken, comprised of ingredients chosen by Eaves, from a customized menu that stimulates the appetite while interpreting the components of each element through a culinary lens.

The Schedule & MoInfo

January 25. Earth Element (Prithvi), representing all that is stable and unwavering.   Mind – Yoga class includes standing postures and gentle hip openers, ending with a guided meditation and grounding breath work.   Body – The effect of grounding the body through nutrition and its application on mind/body balance . Appetite – Menu focuses on earthy, hearty winter vegetables while incorporating a healthy balance of macronutrients.

February 22. Water Element (Apah Jala), representing the force of attraction and enables flow, circulation, rhythm and fluid movement.   Mind – Using the breath as the guide and meditation to bring intention to thoughts and desires.  Body – The effects of water, hydration, nutrients in fresh juices from fruits and veggies, Omega3, detoxing and healthy digestion.  Appetite – Fresh seafood, healthy fats and umami vegetables, plus juice bar offerings from The Pantry at Harvest.

March 22. Fire Element (Agni), delivering a spark of heat, stimulation and movement, digestion and attitude.  Mind –Yoga session focuses on drawing energy up from the earth into the core of the pelvis, firing up power for arm balancing postures.   Body – Nutrition session focuses on metabolism and the effects of caffeine, proteins, carbohydrates and spicy foods on the body.    Appetite – Menu incorporates spicy foods known to boost metabolism.

Each session takes place from 4 to 6 p.m.  and starts at $65 for Sonnenalp Club members and $80 for non-members;  all three classes start at $175 for members, $215 for non-members. And for those who an adult beverage at the end of the day, “specialty elemental cocktails” are available for an additional charge during the culinary portion. Reservations are required; call 970-477-5377.

Cross-posted to Culinary Colorado.

Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.