I had the pleasure of being among the travel writers to submit nominations for Logo online’s TripOut Gay Travel Awards. My thanks to TripOut’s editor, John Polly, for including me on his “first-ever nominating academy.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he’d make of my suggestions—some of which probably went beyond quirky—but my nominations did make the top six (determined by a consensus tally of all the nominating academy members) in five of the eleven categories!
Here’s Logo’s press release: NEW YORK, NY August 19, 2009 – Logo, a unit of Viacom’s MTV Networks, announced today that TripOutGayTravel.com, its comprehensive travel site dedicated to the LGBT traveler and MTV Network’s first stand-alone, travel-focused site, will present its first ever “TripOut Gay Travel Awards.” The awards honor the most stylish, exciting and hottest destinations and services that attract, pamper and market to the LGBT traveler.”
So please have a look at the nominations and vote for your favorites—trust me, it’ll be more fun than a Facebook quiz.
Then, just for fun, I’m posting my complete nominations below:
Best Global Destination(country or city)
BUENOS AIRES With European flair and third world prices, Buenos Aires is the perfect recession getaway. Plenty of gay venues, gay marriage equality, plus good food, fun shopping, plentiful taxis… and cheaper than staying at home!
ISTANBUL A controversial choice I know, but the vibrant capital of this secular Muslim country is the perfect introduction to a largely misunderstood culture. While it’s a treasure trove of history and art, Istanbul is also a modern metropolis. Safe and friendly, it can be both luxurious and cheap, with a surprising diversity of gay venues. Plus, attractive Turkish men (straight) stroll arm in arm.
PARIS Arguably the most beautiful city in the world with great food, the great art, markets, fashion, parks, cafes— Paris is perhaps too obvious. But gay life is accepted and ubiquitous and the new Velib public bike system (one of the many initiatives by Paris’ gay mayor) makes club hopping effortless and fun. No more expensive taxis!
Best U.S. Destination (large or small city)
CALIFORNIA’S HIGHWAY 1 What’s more American than driving? And what drive in America is more fun than the winding, vertiginous, coast hugging Highway One. Leave glamorous Los Angeles and allow plenty of time for stops in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey and Santa Cruz. After a suitable stay in San Francisco, keep heading north. Be sure to rent a convertible.
ARE YOU KIDDING? My first thought on seeing this category. Flying (with it’s attendant security protocols; the hostile welcome of US immigration and customs; the seats designed for dwarves; and the extra charges for everything) is nothing more than the price we endure to get where we are going.
OK, Less bitchy:
AIR FRANCE/KLM For the unwavering professionalism of the staff, in an era when most airline employees (perhaps justly) seem to hate their jobs. Air France staff, in particular, have proved themselves helpful beyond my expectations time and again. And KLM has those charming souvenir “huisjes” as well as the world’s greatest airport.
EASYJET Yes, it’s a flying bus, but at least it’s cheap, cheap, cheap! Plus the use of smaller airports can take some of the strain off air travel.
FORGET FLYING: THE EUROPEAN HIGH SPEED RAIL NETWORK The expanding network of national and public/private high-speed trains allows travel to an ever increasing number of European destinations. It’s fast, it’s comfortable, it’s fun. That’s two out of three (and sometimes even three out of three) over air travel.
Best Hotel Chain (Collection)
HYATT I usually prefer local hotels over chains, but Hyatt has some great properties—from the luxurious Park Hyatt Buenos Aires to the Boutique Hyatt Madeleine Paris, to the Club floors at larger properties which give the feel and service of a boutique hotel. Count on comfortable, modern décor as opposed to frou-frou, and friendly staff that know when to be unobtrusive and yet are eager to be helpful beyond reason.
EBAB.de OK, it’s not a hotel chain nor even a hotel, but this German-based gay website of rooms-to-let in private apartments is a great option for gay travelers. Staying with friendly locals can save lots of cash, as well as providing personal recommendations on your destination. Great for solo travelers, the site has expanded to include completely private apartment accommodations as well.
Best LGBT Tour Operator
ANDREW BROAN at ALYSON ADVENTURES It’s all about the guide isn’t it? With two decades of travel experience, knowledgeable, unflappable, athletic and multilingual Andrew Broan is a perfect travel guide. A long time tour guide for Alyson Adventures, Andrew is an expert on France, Italy, Morocco, Vietnam, and cycling tours.
Best Annual Destination Party or Event (global)
AMSTERDAM GAY PRIDE Still one of the great gay parties. This three day event never really changes, but it brings together people from all over the world for a non-stop street party. The parade of boats is unique, and attracts not just an LGBT audience but is an event enjoyed by residents young and old, gay and straight, in this most gay-friendly of cities. Plus, it’s free. (First weekend in August)
Best Ultimate Luxury Hotel/Resort (global)
NONE Sad to say, I have not been wined and dined in quite this style. Now accepting invitations.
Best Breakout Destination (global)
CROATIA Croatia hasn’t gone gay all of sudden, but I’m sure it eventually will. In the meanwhile enjoy the relatively undiscovered Dalmatian coast. Croatia has natural beauty, Roman ruins, Italian inflected food, Adriatic beaches, and friendly and helpful natives. Driving is easy on newly built roads, but for the ultimate luxury, hire a yacht and sail the islands.
Sexiest Place on Earth (a destination? a city? an event? a neighborhood?)
LES PAVILLON DES LYS, Amboise What could be sexier than chef Sébastien Bégouin’s eight course prix fix menu in the garden of Les Pavillion des Lys as the spring sun sets behind the Château d’Amboise? It’s three star food at a no star price with a fairy tale setting. Have I confused eating with sex again? Should I mention there are also seven inexpensive but luxurious bedrooms upstairs?
Best Gay Bar in the World!
HUB Tuscany It’s really hard to find. It’s accessible only by car. It’s off a middle-of-nowhere country road between Pisa and Lucca. It’s open only on Saturday nights from October to April. But surprisingly, this is the largest and possibly the most fun club in gay-venue starved Italy. With multiple dance-floors, a huge outdoor area and a naughty men-only room, it’s packed all night long with Italian boys and girls who’ve driven great distances to party all night. As the guidebooks might say “worth a detour.” (www.hub.fm)
AND FINALLY… The Gay+ Award for Achievement in Making our World Gayer! (this goes to a person, or company, or a city; fun in tone, but goes to a truly deserving recipient)
THE AMAZING RACE As a travel-themed reality television program seen by millions, The Amazing Race deserves credit for consistently featuring gay participants and presenting them with respect, equality, and a refreshing lack of exploitation. It’s a show that depicts gays as individuals: a diverse group of partners, family members and friends rather than stereotypes.
San Francisco’s newest museum building thrusts one of its oldest institutions into the 21st century, with the latest in sustainable architecture and green technology…
My most recent travel article, on the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, appeared in the May 2009 issue of The Advocate. If you missed the print edition, you can read the entire article on their web site at:
Added 12 September 2009: The original text of the article is reproduced below:
Nature and Nurture
San Francisco’s newest museum building thrusts one of its oldest institutions into the 21st century, with the latest in sustainable architecture and green technology.
A field of native California plants rolls across a plain of undulating hills—hovering high above the ground in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Supported largely by glass walls, the “green roof” is only the most surprising of the many striking features of internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano’s new building for the venerable California Academy of Sciences.
The Academy, which houses research and educational facilities and a vast collection of scientific specimens as well as the Kimball Natural History Museum, the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium and more, was formerly housed in a hodgepodge of 13 buildings built in Golden Gate park over the course of 20th century. The park location was chosen after the Academy, founded in 1853, lost it’s original building and and most of its collections to the 1906 Earthquake and fire.
The new building grew from San Francisco’s second major earthquake, the 1989 Loma Pietra. While the museum remained open until 2003, structural damage from the quake presented the opportunity to reinvent the Academy in a totally new, unified, and revolutionary building.
The Academy selected Pritzker Prize winning Architect Renzo Piano, designer (with Richard Rogers) of the revolutionary Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and numerous other museums, to create a new structure that is not only an artistic landmark but also reflects and reinforces the mission of the Academy.
“The Academy’s mission is to explore, explain, and protect the natural world” according to Executive Director, Gregory C. Farrington, Ph.D. The result is a structure that is not only visually striking but is also the world’s “greenest” museum. The building has earned a Platinum rating for for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), making it the largest sustainable public building in the world, incorporating, among other features, solar energy panels and a passive cooling system.
“This museum has always worked on three levels – displaying the collection, educating the public, researching the science. The spirit of this new building is to announce and enforce this complexity of function,” Piano explains.
The long lines waiting to enter the building since it’s opening at the end of 2008 likely have as much or more to do with the awe-inspiring exhibits inside as the environmentally friendly structure however.
The main floor, an enormous rectangle of glass and limestone, houses the Morrison Planetarium in a giant opaque sphere, and a four story rainforest in a sealed transparent dome, on each side of square glass courtyard. Exhibits on the main floor are a creationist’s nightmare: the evolution of species is thoughtfully and clearly explained in series of very visual exhibits illustrating natural selection and biodiversity. The second main floor display is devoted to the effects of climate change and habitat destruction.
Interestingly, favorite sections of the old buildings have been incorporated into the new museum to delightful effect. The neoclassical African hall, with it’s classic dioramas of taxidermied animals has been preserved—with a twist. The main window now contains the Steinhart Aquarium’s collection of live South African penguins, swimming and waddling in startling contrast to the stuffed creatures. Other parts of the original buildings have been preserved to great effect as well, including the 1934 entry colonnade, the Foucault Pendulum, and the playful brass seahorse railings of the original aquarium building.
The aquarium itself now occupies the entire basement of the new structure—an underground, underwater fantasia of 38,000 living creatures. Twenty-five feet high and holding 212,000 gallons of water, the Philippine Coral Reef is one of the deepest exhibits of live corals in the world; while the 100,000 gallon Northern California Coast tank highlights local sea life. Other exhibits feature a walk beneath a glass bottomed Amazon lake, tanks of delicate jellyfish, a hands-on tide pool, and a swamp housing the aquarium’s famous decades-old Albino Alligator.
And high above, a rooftop viewing platform provides a close up look at the amazing living roof.
Finally, the building also features the Moss Room, a gourmet restaurant open for lunch and dinner, featuring local, organic, and sustainably raised produce, sea food and meat—addressing the one question not answered elsewhere in the museum: how does nature taste?
The museum is located at 55 Music Concourse Drive in Golden Gate Park. It’s a short walk from the 9th Avenue N-Judah streetcar stop. Admission can be guaranteed by purchasing tickets online at least 24 hours in advance. Phone: 415 379-8000. www.calacademy.org
Turmoil in the financial markets and a sky-high exchange rate for the dollar against the Euro may have you reconsidering that trip to Europe. A hotel room at 200 Euros is a lot less attractive when it appears on your credit card at 300 dollars or more, and dinner is not so appetizing when you realize the bill may be fifty percent higher when converted into dollars. It can’t be denied that the dollar/euro exchange rate was the worst it’s ever been in 2008, and though it’s impossible to predict the future, 2009 will probably not see much improvement. But before you give up and stay home, let’s consider how you can visit Amsterdam—the self proclaimed “gay capitol of Europe,” and one of worlds most popular destinations for gay and lesbian visitors, without breaking the bank.
Good news and some bad news…
First the bad: Amsterdam will never be as cheap as it once was. Since the introduction of the Euro, prices have steadily risen, and hotel rooms especially, have pretty much doubled in price. Even the locals complain about the increased cost of everything from beer to transportation. Add the poor exchange rate, and it’s even worse for American visitors. The good news is that Amsterdam is still a bargain for a world city, and you can spend far less there than in Paris, London, or even high-priced American destinations such as New York City or Los Angeles. So Google yourself a cheap airfare to Amsterdam’s beautifully organized Schiphol airport and, armed with these money saving tips, prepare for great time…on a budget.
Start saving the minute you arrive
Thanks to a train station smack in the middle of Schiphol airport, getting into Amsterdam (or any other city in the Netherlands) is fast, cheap, and easy. Hit one of the plentiful ATM machines (Geldautomat) — they even have them in the baggage claim area—then buy a train ticket to Amsterdam Centraal and a tram pass (the tourist confusing strippenkaart is currently being phased out in favor of an electronic pass). Avoid taxis if you can—they are among the most expensive in Europe, and frequently get stuck in traffic on the tiny cobbled streets of the city center. And do you need to be told that renting a car, or bringing one into the center of Amsterdam is not only expensive—it’s insane?
Once in the city, you’ll never need a taxi. Amsterdam’s small size makes it ideal for exploring on foot. Should you wish to travel to some of the more interesting areas outside the center, or are just not up to walking, the trams are extensive, frequent and run until about 1 a.m. I used to suggest that every visitor to Amsterdam rent a bicycle. The bicycle is the most common form of transportation in the city, and riding one among the trams, cars, pedestrians, and other bikes, is far less intimidating than it seems, and you can cross the city in minutes— particularly useful when coming home after a late night out. However, with bike rentals now running an average of 10 Euros a day, only rent one if you a really going to use it a lot, or if you are staying outside the central canal ring. Otherwise jsut take one for a day, to explore the Vondelpark, the trendy Eastern docklands, or the hip area of de Pijp.
Tip: when renting a bike, avoid the big rental agencies (MacBike, Yellowbike) with their prominently displayed logos, and look like a native with an unadorned “fiets”. Try the friendly folks at Frédéric Rent a Bike —but most any bicycle shop will also have a few bikes to rent.
Tip: Always buy a tram pass (or strippenkaart, if they are still in use) in advance from newsstands or supermarkets. A single ticket bought onboard is significantly more expensive.
A hotel room is likely to be your biggest single expense in Amsterdam. Fortunately there are a variety of accommodations, as there are a great many small hotels ranging from basic to ultra-luxury. However, the best solution may be to skip the hotel and rent an apartment. You will get more space and privacy for the same price, and if you need two rooms you’ll definitely save money over a hotel. Many well-located apartments can be found in the 100 Euro a night range. The gay online agency EBAB.com offers a number of private apartments in Amsterdam, as well as private rooms (generally under 50 Euros) in the homes of local gays—a great budget option for singles or couples. As the apartments and rooms are owned by gay locals, you can get personal, up-to-date advice and recommendations as well. Another good (non-gay) source of apartment rentals is VRBO.com, offering many more listings.
Amsterdam has quite a few gay male and gay/lesbian hotels (though every hotel is gay friendly!), and all are in the budget to moderate range. Amsterdam’s first gay hotel, The Golden Bear welcomes gay men and women (though the clientele tends to be mostly male) offering both reasonably priced rooms with private baths and bargain rooms with shared facilities. Both the staff and fellow guests tend to be quite convivial. Despite (or perhaps because of) a sign warning that there is a fine for watersports in the bed as well as a fine for smoking in the rooms, the hotel is clean and comfortable, if basic. Located on the Kerkstraat, it’s an easy walk to everything. The Amsistad, across the street is pricier, and Anco, while cheap, is on the chaotic Warmoestraat and caters to a mainly leather crowd. For a complete list of gay hotels (and everything else gay in Amsterdam) pick up the a copy of The Bent Guide—absolutely the best, and most entertaining, gay guide to Amsterdam; it’s published by pinkpoint.org, who also operate a shop and information kiosk adjacent the Homomonument. The guide is available on Amazon.com if not your local bookshop.
OK, you’re on a budget, but you just have to have a touch of luxury and style when you go back to your room. The boutique Hotel Ambassade, in a row of 17th century canal houses in a perfect location on the Herengracht, offers the luxury and service you’d expect in a 5 star hotel at a half to a third of the price—it’s a personal favorite. Stylish and hip, the relatively new Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy is a favorite of artists, designers and fashionistas. Each of the 117 rooms in the fully renovated 19th century building is unique—and the rooms range from one star with shared baths to spacious five star suites. You can live it up in luxury, or stay in a budget room on the down low. Whichever you choose, there’s a lively restaurant, bar and terrace, lending library, and free performances and cultural events on site. Best of all, the hip ambiance is delightfully attitude free, with some of the friendliest and most helpful staff you are likely to find in Amsterdam. It’s a bit outside the center, in the new Eastern Docklands district, and though two tramlines will take you to the city center, you’ll want a bike for late night pub crawls.
Tip: Variety of accommodation does not mean quantity. It is best to book as far in advance as possible, unless you are visiting in the dead of winter. For Queen’s Day (April 30) and Gay Pride (first weekend of August) it is essential.
Eat like locals, eat cheap
Amsterdam, somewhat unfairly, is not generally regarded as a foodie destination. It is, however a city of fine restaurants: Borderwijk, Le Garage, Bond, Christophe, Utrechtsedwarstafel, and a slew of others offer gastronomic delights at corresponding prices. Indulge if you will, but be prepared for the check.
Fortunately, Amsterdam’s reputation for quirkiness means you can have a fine dining experience at a budget price. Would you believe a non-profit restaurant? One of the hottest tickets in town is Restaurant Freud. Operated by a social service agency (and overseen by two restaurateurs) this stylish storefront restaurant near the Westerpark is staffed entirely by persons with psychological difficulties who are transitioning back into the workforce. That said, the service is professional and friendly, the Mediterranean food consistently delicious and any problems are deftly kept behind the scenes by dedicated social workers overseeing the operation. It’s become so popular with locals (their website, unusually for Amsterdam, doesn’t even have an English translation) that reservations are essential. Also recommended is ROC Elements, a beautiful restaurant staffed entirely by culinary students, and offering a four course menu for 25 Euros. Choice is limited to two options per course, and the ambitious preparations can range from outstanding to occasionally mediocre, but the ambiance is great, the service is better than many professionally staffed restaurants, and it’s a bargain for what you get. One caveat: you must arrive by 7:30, with reservations.
Limited menu options are not uncommon in Amsterdam (another local quirk), and restaurants so structured can be a bargain. A favorite is Café Bern, where the thing to order is cheese fondue—it’s delicious, and with a salad and house wine, dinner is about 20 Euros. The best bargain for steak in town may be L’ Entrecote et les Dames— entrecote with pommes frites is all they serve, cooked perfectly to order, sliced, and preceded by a delicious salad of butter lettuce and walnuts. Shockingly, once you’ve cleaned your plate, the waiter passes by with a platter offering you seconds. All this for 22 Euros, plus there’s a choice of reasonably priced wines—they bring a bottle and charge you for only as much as you drink. And in all price ranges, wines are in general a much better value than in the And in all price ranges, wine with any meal is a much better value than in the U.S.
An even better way to save money is to forego a meal and just snack. Most bars offer a range of inexpensive, typically Dutch snacks. Order a beer (or a soft drink, though they’re the same price) and an order of bitterballen (a traditional deep fried mystery snack) or a tosti (a grilled cheese or ham and cheese sandwich.) You’ll be filled up for a few Euros and you can stake out your table for as long as you want to read, write postcards, or people watch. Most brown cafes will have snacks, but a nice option is the modern Spanjer & Van Twist, with outdoor tables lined up along the picturesque Leliegracht.
Self-serve is not really a Dutch concept, but two relatively new cafeteria-style cafes—both with great views—offer an opportunity for an inexpensive lunch or snack. One is on the roof of the Bijenkorf department store on Dam Square, and the other is operated by a department store as well, Vroom & Dressman, but is located on the top floor of the new ultra-modern public library—the Openbare Bibliotheek—next to Centraal Station. For a snack on the run, try a cone of the best frites in Amsterdam, with mayonnaise (or ketchup if you must) at the Vlaams Friethaus. And for a very filling meal for less than five Euros, you can’t beat the Falafel at Moaz, at various locations around the city.
Tip: Make reservations for restaurants. Eat your snacks early. Dining and snacking options are extremely limited after 10pm.
Tip: If you do want to hit the city’s top restaurants, try to come during Restaurant Week—the next one is March 2-8, 2009—where the city’s finest restaurants charge only 25 Euros for a three course dinner. Reservations advised well in advance at restaurntweek.nl.
Tip: Restaurant week is sponsored by diningcity.nl (a kind of Dutch version of opentable.com) an easy way to make reservations online, as well as find information on restaurants.
Tip: Taxes and service are included in the price you see on the menu. It’s nice to leave a small gratuity of about 5% in cash (even when paying by credit card, tip in cash), but this is not required. And note: you will never get your bill until you ask for it.
Nightlife: follow the crowds, follow the bargains
It’s time to celebrate: a night on the town in Amsterdam is likely to cost less than any big city in Europe or the US. Drinks (meaning beer) are cheap, bars don’t have cover charges, and at the few clubs that do, they are minimal. (The exception being the occasional big bash—circuit parties or leather parties or gay pride weekend parties.) Amsterdam boasts a huge number of gay venues—some of the most interesting clubs (Unk, Spellbound, Trash) only happen once a month, once every two months or even more erratically. There are dozens of gay bars that are open every night, though you’re likely to find many of them empty. No matter, everything is close enough that you check them all out. And once you find a crowd—you’re likely to find a drink special as well! One of the most popular is the Sunday “happy hour” from 6 to 8 pm at the Soho bar, where the very happy crowd spills out into the Reguliersdwarstraat. You can find people here most any night too, as well as at the adjacent, and trendier, ARC.
You’ll also usually find a sociable, if older, crowd at the three adjacent bars on the Zeedijk—the long running Queen’s Head, the Barderij, and newcomer De Engel, which has a popular canal-side terrace.
A few other bars deserve mention, particularly the new and quite popular Prik, which has a relaxed and friendly ambiance. The Café t’Leeuwtje is notable as one of the only gay bars to stock a wide range of delicious Belgian Trappist beers; bring a friend though, as they have yet to find much of a following. For women, one of the few Lesbian bars remains the popular Saarein II in the Jordaan.
After midnight, there’s dancing on the Reguliersdwarsrtraat at the Exit, or at the campy (and cover free) Montmartre nearby and a bit later at the men-only Cockring—which features a popular darkroom in addition to two dance floors. If you want cruising without the dancing, the Eagle, the Argos, and the rather shabby Dirty Dicks are all within spitting distance of the Cockring on the narrow Warmoesstraat…but don’t plan on going until well after midnight. Still going strong, the all-volunteer Sunday night queer dance club de Trut offers a fun vibe, the cheapest drinks in the city, and a very young crowd. You have to get here early for a change—the line starts forming at 10 for the 11pm opening.
All bars in Amsterdam are now smoke free—which is definitely giving an advantage to venues with an outdoor area. I’m not sure how people will adapt in the colder months, but my highly subjective observation is that bars are already less crowded. But at least you will save money on laundry.
Tip: Don’t! Bartenders don’t expect it and the Dutch don’t do it. Leave some small change if you really like the bartender. Only Americans leave Euros as tips.
Tip: Drink beer (just ask for a beirtje.) Mixed drinks are expensive and anything more complicated than a gin and tonic is impossible outside the trendiest bars (the ARC comes singularly to mind.) A Dutch happy hour is two drinks for the price of one, so this is the best time to satisfy your desire for strong alcohol should you tire of beer.
Tip: for special events, clubs and happenings and locations, see amsterdam4gays.com (the official city gay website!) and gayamsterdam.com from the publishers of the Amsterdam gay map—which you should pick up at the first gay establishment you enter. Also refer to The Bent Guide—and their online updates at pinkpoint.org.
The Frugal Tourist
Some of the greatest pleasures of Amsterdam are free—or nearly so, and enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. Amsterdam is not a city of monuments, but with its picturesque canals and 17th century brick canal houses the entire city is an attraction that can be explored for free. Walk! Stroll the charming canals, the famous red-light district (still somewhat seedy despite the government encouraged incursion of trendy shops and cafes), and the narrow streets of the Jordaan. Also include a few less touristy spots—like the funky and bustling 19th century quarter known as de Pijp and the ultra modern architecture of the fashionable Eastern Docklands development. Along the way you’ll have numerous opportunities for window shopping—Dutch designers, art galleries, and antique shops are everywhere. And you’ll still find lots of quirky stores selling cast-offs, used books, and oddities at prices that just might entice you to buy. You’ll also find plenty of inexpensive cafes, where for the price of a drink you can linger as long as you want (and sometimes longer, given the city’s notoriously inattentive service) watching the passing parade of people, boats, and bikes. Try peeking (politely) into some of the city’s private gardens, particularly in the Jordaan area, and don’t miss the lovely Beguinehof, a cloistered garden with two churches; it’s just off the bustling Kalverstraat shopping street. If the weather is sunny, do what everyone else will be doing—take a picnic and drinks to the Vondelpark. Gays tend to congregate between the rose garden and the lake.
Make a pilgrimage to the Homomonument, dedicated to gay victims of the holocaust, adjacent the magnificent Westerkerk. You’ll also find the Pink Point kiosk here—a great source of information about all things gay in Amsterdam, and a good spot to load up on tacky gay souvenirs for friends back home. Also stop by the Amsterdam Tourist Office (opposite central station) to load up on free goodies—maps, museum guides, and a wealth of information about Amsterdam’s attractions.
Street markets are an Amsterdam institution. While the daily flea market at the Waterlooplein has been disappointing for years, the Friday book market on the Spui is interesting for everything from cheap English paperbacks to old postcards and prints. Monday mornings bring the “Antique Market” to the Nordermarkt—the fact that there are few real antiques means that some rooting around might net you a few inexpensive doo-dads. The bustling Albert Cuypstraat market is mostly food, clothing and household items; geared towards locals, it’s a good place to pick up any essentials you may need, and a great place to see multi-cultural Amsterdam.
You can spend weeks in Amsterdam’s museums—everything from the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and the Anne Frank House to the esoterica of the Energy Museum and the Handbag Museum. Museums aren’t cheap though, and admission costs can quickly mount. If you plan to visit three or more museums, it pays to buy a Museum Jaarkaart. Designed for residents, this card will get you into most every museum (The Anne Frank House being the exception) in the country, is valid for one year—and costs just 40 Euros. You can purchase it at any of the bigger museums. If you are in Amsterdam for only three days, and plan to see as much as possible, the I Amsterdam card (available at the tourist office) might be a better option, in that it includes a tram pass and a canal boat ride along with museum entries. It’s 53 Euros though—and if it were good for a week, I’d probably recommend it over the jaarkaart. Card or no, the accompanying website, IAmsterdam.com, is the go to site for up-to-date happenings in the city.
And even if you don’t by the I Amsterdam card, or spend much time visiting museums, do spend the 15 Euros on a canal boat tour. Yes, it’s touristy, the recorded voice narration is tacky, but the view of the city from the water is worth it. Look for a boat with an open deck—the view is much better. Of course, should you manage to make friends with someone who has a private boat…so much the better!
Amsterdam is also a city of theatre and music. There’s opera, the world famous Concert Gebouw for classical and modern music, and the almost as famous Melkweg for rock music as well as the more intimate Paradiso. While Opera tickets or a Madonna concert at the Amsterdam Arena will set you back plenty, there are real bargains to be had. You can find out everything that’s on during your visit—and buy tickets—at the AUB (Amsterdams Uitburo) shop on the Leidseplein. Your best bet—American and British indy bands frequently perform at the Melkweg and Paradiso (both great, intimate venues) at lower than U.S. prices. And even better—tickets to any non sold-out performance in the city can be had for half-price the day of the event at the Half-Price Tickets shop adjacent the AUB.
If you have extra time in Amsterdam, consider leaving the city for a day. The historic cities of Haarlem and Utrecht are less than a half-hour away by train, and Rotterdam and Den Haag, with great museums and architecture can be reached in an hour. The roundtrip day ticket (dagretour) is inexpensive, and the trains are so frequent you don’t even need to look up the schedules (though you can, at ns.nl). Also, your Amsterdam tram ticket is good in any Dutch city, as is the museum jaarkaart.
So why wait? It’s still a great time to visit Amsterdam.
—by Clay Doyle
Clay Doyle, a designer and writer based in Los Angeles, lived in Amsterdam from 1998 to 2003.
Clay Doyle writes about museums in Amsterdam and beyond…including the Holland art cities of Utrecht, Rotterdam and Den Haag…in his first article for Logo online. See the story and a slide show of his photos at
Mention Holland and the names Rembrandt and Van Gogh come instantly to mind; but the Netherlands has been famous as an art center for nearly as long as it has been populated. Dig a little deeper and find impressive collections of Medieval religious art, Golden Age masters such as Vermeer and Steen; the modernism of Mondrian and 20th century Dutch designers plus a dynamic contemporary art seen as represented by artists like the innovative photographer and video artist Anneke Dijkstra. And now, and for the next two years, is an especially rewarding time to explore not only art in Amsterdam, but museums in the nearby cities of Den Haag, Utrecht and Rotterdam—all easily accessible in this compact nation with excellent and train and tram connections.
Amsterdam: extreme makeover—museum edition.
The coming year promises to be especially significant for art lovers as two major museums open and reopen in Amsterdam. Come late spring, St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum will open a major annex in the Dutch capitol, in a sprawling, historic and magnificently renovated 17th home for the elderly on the Herengracht. With changing exhibitions drawn from the vast Hermitage collection of Old Master and early modernist works, this museum will add additional depth and significant breadth to Amsterdam’s already impressive art collections.
Then, at the end of 2009, the Stedelijk, the country’s major museum for modern and contemporary art, re-opens on the Amsterdam Museumplien. The permanent collection, encompassing 20th century masterpieces representing artists from Moscow to Berlin to Paris to Los Angeles will again be on display. The museums 19th century building is being completely renovated and restored, and new wing (already dubbed by locals as “the bathtub” for obvious visual reasons) will double the museum’s space. Expect serious installations of major contemporary artists—major retrospectives of Mike Kelly and Francis Alÿs have been announced—in its expanded quarters.
But What About the Rijksmuseum?
In every make-over, a few glitches are to be expected. Unfortunately, the biggest glitch affects the Netherlands’s crown jewel, Amsterdam’s world famous Rijksmuseum. Closed in 2003 for a major restoration and re-imagining that will bring much needed focus, light, and grand public spaces to the historic building, the museum was slated to reopen in 2010. Construction and financial complications have delayed the already lengthy project until at least 2013, so while the end result should prove spectacular (models and plans are on display), don’t expect to see it anytime soon.
What to see now
The good news is that the Rijksmuseum is not (as banners on all sides of the building loudly proclaim) really closed: the most famous works are on exhibit in a previously renovated wing. For the casual visitor, this abbreviated Rijksmuseum may actually be an improvement. The installation is beautifully conceived, hung, and lit, and many of the works look better (and are certainly easier to find) than in the old museum. Presented as tour through the Golden Age of Dutch art, the most significant paintings (Vermeer, Steen, Saenredam), sculpture (Adrian de Vries) and decorative arts, culminating of course in Rembrandt’s Night Watch, are magnificently showcased.
Next door, the Van Gogh museum, having undergone its renovation and expansion in the 1990’s, is fully open and ranks as one of the country’s most visited museums. With the largest collection of Van Gogh in the world (over two hundred of his 900 paintings and almost half of his 1100 drawings—an impressive output for an artist whose career spanned a brief ten years.) No matter how often you visit, there are always surprises in store. The museum also continues to expand its collection of impressionist and salon paintings by Van Gogh’s contemporaries, and mounts very impressive temporary exhibitions.
Two small but significant museums devoted to photography also deserve mention: The Huis Marseilles and FOAM Amsterdam, both in historic canal houses on the Keizersgracht, present constantly changing exhibitions of both vintage and contemporary photographers. And the CoBrA museum (technically in the nearby suburb of Amstelveen),devoted to major works by the mid-century CoBrA group and Dutch contemporaries, also mounts provocative temporary shows—such as a recent international retrospective of gay artists.
Beyond Amsterdam: Art in Depth
Can’t get enough of Van Gogh? The second largest collection of his works is also conveniently enough in the Netherlands. Take a day trip to the Kröller-Müller museum, located in the Netherlands largest national park (the impossible to pronounce Hoge Veluwe.) After you’ve toured the gem of a museum, you can use the free bicycles to explore the nature preserve—this being the Netherlands, the largest national park is conveniently compact. It’s easy enough to do in day by rail and bus from Amsterdam, but should you want to extend your stay, there are convenient and reasonably priced hotels just outside the gate in Oterloo.
Did you love the mini-Rijksmuseum but find yourself craving more? Head to the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, a former miniature Palace in Den Haag with an impressive collection of Golden Age painting. You’ll find Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring (of book and movie fame), allegorical paintings by Rembrandt, genre paintings by Jan Steen, and plenty of those intricately detailed 17th century flower paintings. The free audio tour is excellent.
Or head to picturesque Utrecht, where the Museum Catherijneconvent houses the Netherlands’s largest collection of medieval art, artifacts and manuscripts in an historic converted convent. While there, you can also take a self-guided, and free, tour of Utrecht’s many historic churches and stroll the uniquely picturesque canals. Finally, in Rotterdam, The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen offers another chronological and thematic course (literally, through a grand progression of small rooms in a beautifully restored 1930’s museum) in Dutch art and design from the Medieval—pride of place goes to Pieter Breugel’s Tower of Babel—through the 20th century.
Beyond Amsterdam: Modern and Contemporary
Prefer modern art? 20th century Dutch design? Sometimes startling contemporary installations? The Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag has a bit of everything, but four things stand out. First is the building itself, an outstanding example of 1930s modernism designed by the iconic Dutch architect H. P. Berlage. Next is the worlds largest collection of works by Piet Mondrian, tracing his development from landscape painter to his famous grid paintings, including his last great (and unfinished) work, Victory Boogie Woogie; There is an impressive amount of space devoted to temporary exhibitions, with a focus on Dutch Design and contemporary artists; and finally, the basement is given over to what the museum calls the Wonder Kamers: a non-thematic, non-linear and often interactive presentation of varied works from the museums vast collection that really does defy description.
The Centraal Museum Utrecht is another museum with a comprehensive collection that also puts an emphasis on contemporary installations—mixed with 16th century Utrecht painters and an impressive collection of 20th century design in a varied collection of buildings that even includes a Gothic chapel re-imagined as exhibition space. Don’t miss the building across the courtyard devoted to 20th century Dutch architecture and design.
Rotterdam is the place to see contemporary art and large scale installations by contemporary artists—not unsurprisingly, as Rotterdam is the Netherlands most modern city, a conscious decision made after the bombing of its historic center in 1940. The Kunsthal, an early and yet iconic building by architect Rem Koolhaus is devoted entirely to temporary installations. While it has hosted exhibitions by Dutch impressionist Isaac Isreals and printmaker M.C. Escher, many of the constantly changing installations feature cutting edge artists and themes—2009 will bring, among 25 diverse programs, Culture and Confrontation, featuring international works by Christian Boltanski, Jeff Wall, and a slew of emerging artists. Likewise, the nearby Museum Boijmans van Beuningen has an entire building devoted to changing contemporary exhibitions.
Exhibitions 2008-2010: Holland Museum Cities
So many temporary and changing exhibitions could be confusing, But the cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag and Rotterdam have put together a nifty program (website included) to promote their combined exhibitions from the end of 2008 through 2010. The Holland Art Cities program is centered around three themes drawing on the strength of Dutch collections: International Influences, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Dutch Masters—and will encompass special exhibitions at ten major museums.
Can I Really Get there from Amsterdam?
Travel between the cities is remarkably easy, as direct trains are frequent and fast, and the tram system is national, so you can use the same tram tickets you bought in Amsterdam in any city in the Netherlands. (The country is currently transitioning from the tourist-confusing strippenkaart tram ticket, to a rechargeable smartcard system). You can easily travel from Amsterdam to Den Haag, for example, in the time it takes to cross central London by tube.
Museums are also national, and museum enthusiasts should buy a forty Euro Museum Jaarkart, which will get you into most museums, saving plenty of money over the separate 10 euro average admission costs (the card, design for locals, is good for an entire year, but can easily pay for itself in few days, and will also let you jump the ticket queue.) Check for museum hours and closing days (usually Monday) though Amsterdam’s major museums are open every day. Also check for late opening days as museums are less crowded in the evenings. Some, like the Van Gogh’s late Friday evenings, even offer special programs and free tours.
Amsterdam: Beyond Art
Amsterdam of course is a city of museums that encompass far more than art and range from the profound to the absurd. The most profound is of course the Anne Frank house—go very early or very late to avoid the crowds. A good companion museum is the Verzetsmuseum, or Resistance Museum, a well presented history of the Netherlands during the WWII occupation. The Amsterdams Historich museum presents an exhaustive history of the city (perhaps too exhaustive) though temporary exhibits, which narrow the focus to such things as the history of prostitution, or homosexuality, can be quite entertaining. There are also house museums, church museums, a botanical garden, an energy museum, tram museum, tulip museum, houseboat museum and most recently a museum of handbags and purses. Make your choices based on your interests, but beware, even stoners have little positive to say about the hemp museum and sex museum.
This Loire Valley Wine Guide was written for the Destination Guides section of www.shermanstravel.com, according to their rather rigid formatting guidelines. The article is reproduced below.
Rich in natural beauty, French history, and diverse yet lesser known wines, the Loire Valley is most famous for its many renaissance chateaux.
1. Cities and Towns
Tours The largest city in the Loire is a vibrant university town with lively cafes, nightlife, extensive shopping, and a historic medieval quarter.
Orleans The most famous of the several cities associated with Jean d’ Arc, Orleans was the capital of medieval France. Though heavily bombed in WWII, the largely pedestrianised town center still has a number of historic buildings and pleasant squares and gardens.
Sancerre Atop a high hill, this charming town offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards. Several excellent Sancerre wineries offer tastings in town.
Chinon The ruined 12th-century fortress-chateaux of Chinon towers over this picturesque town on the banks of the river Vienne, in the heart of the Loire’s most famous red wine region.
Bourges Somewhat off the beaten track in the southeast berry region, the town of Bourges is notable for its well-preserved Gothic architecture.
Saumur With a fairytale chateau towering above the river, Saumur is filled with architectural treasures dating to the 12th century. Noted for mushroom cultivation and sparkling Saumur wine, it’s also home to the French National Equestrian School.
Angers A lively and populous city spanning the river Maine, the imposing Chateau d’ Angers is a massive fortress of 17 towers enclosing delightful gardens and parks.
Amboise Well located as a base for touring the Loire chateaux, the small town of Amboise offers a fine selection of hotels and restaurants. Towering above is the jewel like Renaissance-era St. Hubertus chapel.
2. Things to Do
Chateaux of the Loire The most famous attractions of Loire Valley are its many historic chateaux, which range from medieval fortresses to elegant Renaissance palaces: Chambord, Chenonceau, Azay-Le-Rideau, Villandry and Saumur are open daily.
Cycling and walking The region has the longest network of dedicated cycling and hiking paths in France, with many following picturesque rivers and connecting important towns and historic sites. A scenic nature ride might take you along from the historic Briare canal bridge to Sancerre, but maps for many itineraries are available on the official website.www.loireradweg.org
Abbaye de Fontevraud Founded in 1101, this aristocratic abbey is the largest and perhaps most beautiful in France, with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, extensive grounds, and even a hotel and restaurant in the old hospital. Fontevraud, l’Abbeye; 33 2 4251 7141; www.abbeye-fontevraud.com; daily 10-5; $10
Gardens The Loire region is dotted with dozens of spectacular gardens. Vegetables have nowhere looked more decorative than at the formal potager jardins at the Château de Villandry; Villandry; +33 2 4750 0209; www.chateauvillandry.com; and acres of flowers await at Parc Floral de la Source du Loiret Orleans; Avenue de Parc Floral (8km sw); 33 2 3849 3000; www.par-floral-la-source.com. See all the gardens at www.jardins-de-france.com.
Troglodyte caves Carved into the soft tufa rock in the region around Saumur, the so-called “troglodyte” cave dwellings are unique to the Loire Valley. These unusual caves, some dating to the 12th century, often have elaborately carved facades, and house barns, wine cellars, churches, and even residences. Well preserved dwellings can be visited in the village of Montsoreau(near Saumur); ruelle Bussy d’Amboise and Chemin du Coteau; www.ville-montsoreau.fr
Son et Lumiére These nighttime sound and light extravaganzas are a feature of many Chateaux from June through September. Part spectacle and part theatre they combine light, music and actors to create interactive experiences that can range from kitschy fun to breathtaking beauty. The Songes et Lumiéres at Château Azay le Rideau is one of the best, and can be explored at your leisure. Azay-le-Rideau; rue de Pineau; 33 2 4745 4204; http://azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr; entry from dusk to midnight nightly, July and August, fri-sat June and September. $10
3. The Wines
Sancerre Flinty, world-class Sauvignon Blancs; the Pinot Noirs are usually light, but can be excellent in good vintages. The road to the village is lined with producers, but one of the absolute best has a friendly shop on the town square—where they will insist you taste everything that hasn’t already sold out. Alphonse Mellot; Sancerre; 33-2-4854-0741; www.mellot.com
Muscadet A coastal white varietal, and the perfect wine for shellfish. A warm welcome awaits at Michel Petiteau. Vallet; 451 La Chalousière; 33 2 4036 2015; www.domaine-chalousiere.com
Pouilly-Fumé Distinctive, smoky Sauvignon Blancs, among the Loire’s best whites. Welcoming producers (www.pouilly-fume.com for a comprehensive English language website) include Marchand Eric et Pascal. Pouilly sur Loire; 8 et 9, Rue des Pressoirs, Les Loges; 33 3 8639 1461
Vouvray Dry, off-dry, or sweet Chenin Blanc; off-dry Vouvrays are especially versatile with food. Typical of the many small French producers, the Daniel Jarry winery looks unimposing, but creates a range of excellent wines. The winemaker himself, if available, will guide your tasting and perhaps offer a tour of the cellars. Daniel Jarry; Vouvray; 99 rue de la Vallée Coquette; 33-2-47-52-78-75.
Coteaux du Layon A sweet Chenin Blanc with a complex flavor and a 1,500-year-history.Domaine Cady offers daily tastings along with other Anjou wines. St Aubin de Luigné; 33 02-4178-3369; www.domainecady.fr
Bourgueil Friendly reds with a hint of bell-pepper, made from Cabernet Franc (a spicier cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon). Try the excellent wines of Pierre-Jacques Druet. Benais; Le Pied Fourrier; 33 2 4797 3734
ChinonVersatile Cabernet Franc reds; locals swear they can detect an aroma of violets. A fine producer in a spectacular setting, Château de la Grille is also easy to find on the road above Chinon and maintains normal business hours. Château de la Grille; Chinon; Route de Huismes; 33 2 4793 0195; www.chateau-de-la-grille.com
Chateau de la Verrerie Part museum and part private residence, the 12 spacious rooms at this Renaissance chateau will have you living like royalty. Aubigny-sur-Nère; Ozion; 33-2-4881-5160; From $250; www.chateaux-france.com/verrerie
Le Clos d’ Amboise A beautiful 16th-century manor house set in a walled 3,000 square meter park in the heart of Amboise. Swimming Pool. Amboise; 27, rue Rabelais; 33-2-4730-1020; From $130; www.leclosamboise.com
Hôtel de L’ Abeille This quirky budget hotel in the heart of Orleans has much to recommend it – low prices, friendly reception, a pleasant lounge/bar, free wi-fi, and a terrific location. Orleans; 64, rue Alsace Lorraine; 33-2-3853-5487; From $85; www.hoteldelabeille.com
HostellerieGargantua This inexpensive family-run hotel occupies a 15th-century former palace and each of its seven rooms is unique. Chinon; 73, rue Voltaire; 33-2-4793-0471; From $90; www.hotel-gargantua.com
Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Chivray A charming, quiet hotel in a renovated 18th-century manor house on the banks of the Cher, only few minutes drive from the famous Château de Chenonceau. Civrey de Touraine; 1, rue de l’écluse; 33-2-4723-6360; From $120; www.chateau-de-lisle.
Manoir de la Giraudiere A pleasant country hotel in a 17th century manor/farm surrounded by Chinon vineyards. The 25 rooms are simple but pleasant and the hotel is especially family friendly; Located among vineyards a short drive from Chinon. Chinon;Beaumont en Véron; +33 2 4758 4036; from $90; www.giraudiere.com
Pavillon des LysAn amazing, creative, gourmet restaurant at a reasonable price. Two fixed multi-course menus (one vegetarian) change nightly. Amboise; 9, rue d’Orange; 33-2-4730-0101; set menus at $40 and $48; www.pavillondeslys.com
L’EpicerieThis cute, family-run restaurant has an extensive menu and a long list of local wines. Offering good food and excellent value, it’s packed with locals. Amboise; 46, place Michel Debré; 33-2-4757-0894;Entrees from $16
Au Plaisir Gourmand At this elegant 19th-century townhouse, the chef handles elaborate preparations flawlessly; nothing disappoints. An extensive wine list showcases the great Loire wines. Chinon; 2 rue Parmentier; 33-2-4793-2048; Entrees from $30
L’Aigle d’Or Near the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, the regional cooking here is excellent: country terrines, veal with morels, fresh fish, and sweetbreads. Good desserts and great service, too. Azay le Rideau; 10, avenue Adélaïde Riché; 33-2-4745-2458; Entrees from $21
Auberge du XIIe Siècle Drawing on the astoundingly rich culinary history of the Touraine area, chefs Thierry Jimenez and Xavier Aubrun offer an absolutely classic French dining experience. Saché; 1 rue du Château; 33-2-4726-8877; Entrees from $32
6. When to Go
High season July—August
All of Europe is on holiday, leading to major crowds and traffic; and the Loire is a particularly popular summer destination.
Low season November—April
If you’re lucky with the weather, November, and especially April, can be great. No crowds, but some establishments close during the chilly winter months.
Shoulder season May—June and September—October
The best of (mostly) good weather, beautiful scenery, seasonal foods and events, but with limited crowds. Still, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
7. Getting There
Airports Almost all flights from the U.S. will arrive at the sprawling, and somewhat confusing, Charles de Gaul (CDG) airport outside Paris, with a convenient high speed rail link to Tours. There is a regional airport at Tours, but it is irrelevant: even flights booked from the U.S. directly to Tours will connect by train from CDG. There are also frequent trains from central Paris.
Airlines All major airlines fly from the U.S. to Paris, with Air France offering the most direct fights from the most U.S. cities. Connection to the Loire Valley from either CDG or central Paris is by train.
Flight times 11 hours from the west coast, 7 hours from the east coast. Allow an extra 3 to 5 hours for flights involving a change of plane. The TGV train trip to Tours takes approximately one hour.
Wine tastings Winemakers in the Loire are generally welcoming. Larger producers have shops with tastings in right in the towns of their appellations. For smaller producers, follow the signs for the route des vins—here you may meet the winemakers, but consequently opening times are erratic and English is rare. Note that it’s considered polite to buy at least one bottle.
Rent a car A car is essential in the countryside. French roads are meticulously maintained, and well signposted. Still, a detailed map or road atlas is essential. Reserving your car from the U.S. will save you considerable money.
Meal times You must arrive for Lunch between 12.30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7.30 and 9.30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.
Explore regional wines in local restaurants Even modest establishments in wine areas will have an extensive list of local wines. Ask advice and be adventuresome.
Double check your train station Trains leave Paris from six different stations – as well as CDG airport – and many regional cities have more than one station. Tickets should be stamped at machines on the platforms immediately before boarding.
Don’t want to go it alone? Organized tours abound. Choose from everything from expert wine tasting tours to escorted bicycle tours. Detours in France can do it all for you: wine, bike and walking tours; group and self-guided; in three different price/comfort levels. From $800; +33 3 8022 0603; www.detours-in-france.com
Getting wine home Wineries will generally not ship to the U.S. due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. Pad your bottle in a hard-sided suitcase and it will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.
Hotel restaurants Most country hotels also have restaurants, many of them excellent. While they can range from rustic to gourmet, most feature regional specialties and fresh local products. The Chateau de la Verrerie, Chateau de Marcay, Hostellerie du Chateau de l’Isle, Manoir de la Giraudiere all have fine restaurants.
9. More Info
The French Government Tourist Office Comprehensive website with travel information, events, listings, and newsletters. Once in France, there’s a tourist office in almost every town to provide local information and assistance – all in English. http://us.franceguide.com
The Loire Valley Tourist BoardMaintains its own comprehensive website with plenty of trip planning aids, including a monthly e-newsletter filled with events and discounts.www.visaloire.com
The Rough Guide to French Hotels & Restaurants an English translation of GuideRoutard, the reliable and annually updated guidebook used by the French (no relation to UK-based Rough Guides).
Le Centre des monuments nationauxInformation on government-owned historic monuments and sites. www.monum.fr
Logis de FranceThis association of 3600 independently owned hotel-restaurants is an invaluable travel resource; last-minute bookings available by phone or online. 33-1-4584-8384; www.logis-de-france.fr
Chateaux & Hotels de FranceAn association of privately owned luxury hotels and restaurants, Chateaux & Hotels represents over 500 historic hotels, châteaux, and resorts throughout France. An easy to use website (in English) enables you to browse properties and their amenities, search by a wide range of criteria and book online.www.chateauxhotels.com
This Burgundy and Rhone Valley Region Wine Guide was written for the Destination Guides section of www.shermanstravel.com, according to their rather rigid formatting guidelines. The article is reproduced below.
Stretching a lengthy north-south route from Dijon to Avignon, The Burgundy/Rhone wine regions are home to some of the worlds most popular and famous reds and whites. It’s also a time capsule of French culture and history, encompassing the art and architecture of Roman, medieval, renaissance and Belle Époque France. It’s also a time capsule of French culture and history, encompassing the art and architecture of Roman, medieval, renaissance and Belle Époque France.
1. Cities and Towns
Dijon Gateway to Burgundy, Dijon is a thriving administrative center and vibrant University town. Its magnificent palaces and churches span the 13th to 18th centuries.
BeauneThe medieval town of Beaune, with its fine restaurants and colorful and elaborate Hôtel-Dieu (15th century Hospital),) is at the heart of the famous Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Beaune reds.
Chablis This charming village in the heart of the Yonne is the perfect stop for exploring the ancient villages and rolling vineyards of Burgundy’s famous chardonnays. Don’t miss tastings at the wine cooperative Le Chablisienne, right in the town.
Lyon France’s second largest city, capitol of Roman Gaul and gateway to the upper Rhone, is a World Heritage site. As the city expanded outward rather than upward, it preserved its Roman ruins as well as virtually intact gothic, renaissance, 18th and 19th century districts.
VienneAmong the vineyards of the Northern Rhone, Vienne offers a 1st century Roman temple and theater as well as choice examples of early Christian architecture.
OrangeIn the center of the great Côtes du Rhône vineyards, Orange is a thriving market town. Its perfectly preserved first century Roman Amphitheater is still in use as a concert venue.
AvignonWith its intact city walls, Avignon is rich in medieval history and architecture. The lavish 14th century Palais de Papes, home to the Catholic church Church for most of the 1300’s14th century, is well worth a visit.
2. Things to Do
Cluniac Monasteries As Roman influence declined, Monastic orders increased in power and wealth, lead by the order at Cluny. See superb examples at Paray-le-Monial (tourist office +33 3 8581 1092), the Abbeye de Fontenay (www.abbayedefontenay.com) and Vezelay (www.vezelaytourisme.com).
Roman RuinsThe Rhone region is filled with Roman ruins –— as well as surviving temples, arches and amphitheaters. Roman theaters and Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine: Lyon; 17 rue Cléberg; + 33 4 7238 8190; www.musees-gallo-romains.com. 1st century monuments and Musée de la Ville: Orange; Rue Madeleine Roch; +33 4 9051 1760; www.ville-orange.fr;
Wine tastings Follow the many road signs for dégustations (tastings) to find wineries that open their cellars to the public. Be aware that opening hours can be erratic, some producers require appointments, and not all speak English. Note that it’s considered polite to buy at least one bottle.
Lyon City TourWalking tours of Vieux Lyon take you through the “traboules”, hidden passageways through gothic and renaissance buildings and courtyards. Offered daily through the Lyon tourist office; Place Bellecour; +33 4 7277 6969; www.en.lyon-france.com
Cycling Burgundy, though hilly, is very popular region for cycling. Bike shops in Beaune and Chablis will not only rent you a touring bike, but also supply maps and itineraries for various day trips. Bourgogne Randonnees, Beaune; 7, avenue du 8 Septembre; +33 3 8022 0603; http://www.detours-in-france.com/bourg-rando.php
Markets Outdoor markets are a feature of every town and village, featuring dazzling arrays of local produce, cheese, pastries and other delicacies. Occurring different days in different towns, they are ubiquitous; you’re likely to come across more than one.
Barge tours Traveling the extensive canal network by private or semi-private barge is a relaxing and elegant – —if expensive – —way to tour Burgundy. Itineraries must be booked well in advance. Abercrombie & Kent; 1 800 554 7016; www.abercrombiekent.com
Hotel de la Poste Located in the heart of Beaune, an easy walk to everything, this elegant hotel features a relaxing courtyard, a bar, a bistro and a highly regarded gourmet restaurant. 36 spacious and rooms and suites decorated in an elegant, traditional style in an historic building from the 17th and 19th centuries The four-star hotel features all the modern comforts, including air-conditioned rooms and a private parking garage. They are a member of the Chateaux & Hotels de France. Beaune; 1-5 boulevard Clémenceau; +33 3 8022 0811; www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com
Chateau Bellecroix Fairytale castles are a dime a dozen in the French countryside, and most of them have been turned into hotels. Chateau Bellecroix has the expected charms, but adds all the modern conveniences, a lovely pool, a fine restaurant, a warm welcome and a very handy location near Beaune–all at very un-regal prices. Chagny; 20 Chemin de Bellecroix; +33 3 8587 1386; www.chateau-bellecroix.com
Hotel de Luxe le Cep The Hotel de Luxe le Cep began as a 16th century “hotel particulier” (a private mansion). Now it’s a fine hotel, belonging to the reliably excellent “Small Luxury Hotels of the World.” Located within the walled center of the city, the Cep makes an elegant and convenient base for exploring the town and the region. The rooms are well-appointed and the public rooms are welcoming. There’s a well-regarded restaurant, as well. Beaune; 27, rue Maufoux; +33 3 8022 3548; http://www.hotel-cep-beaune.com
Cour de LogesLyon’s most luxurious boutique hotel has been constructed within a series of fine 14th to 17th century residences and renaissance courtyards in the heart vieux Lyon. The 62 rooms, suites and apartments feature period details in combination with every modern luxury including large bathrooms, cable TV and wifi, and fine linens. Some rooms have fireplaces or private gardens. The hotel also has a sauna, indoor swimming pool and rooftop terrace with panoramic views. A spectacular arched courtyard, now enclosed, is the centerpiece of the hotel. A gourmet restaurant completes the experience. On a pedestrian street, the hotel is a short walk from most of Lyon’s historic sights, shopping district and fine restaurants. Lyon; 2,4,6,8, rue du Bœuf; +33 4 7277 4444; www.courdesloges.com
College HotelThough it looks rather plain, set at the edge of fanciful gothic and renaissance manors of Vieux Lyon, Once inside, the moderately-priced College Hotel exudes hip charm. The hotel’s quirky conceit—recreating a boarding school atmosphere with vintage furniture and ironic touches such as textbooks in the rooms—actually comes across as stylish and comfortable. The 39 rooms are all in white, lending a bright and spacious quality, and come with modern baths (all white too, of course), flat screen TV, wifi and white metal lockers instead of closets. A three star hotel, all rooms are air-conditioned and some have balconies or large terraces. On the ground floor, a spacious lounge/library is outfitted with long tables, club chairs and lots of books. Lyon; 5 Place Saint-Paul; + 33 4 7210 0505; http://www.college-hotel.com
Hotel Le Cloitre St. Louis This boutique hotel offers an oasis of luxury within the walls of Avignon. A former 16th century cloister has been completely transformed into a modern hotel with a perfect blend of the historic and contemporary. The 80 spacious rooms and suites occupy both the historic cloister and a dramatic modern addition. The hotel features a tranquil courtyard, welcoming bar, lounges, swimming pool, internet and parking, as well as a striking modern restaurant in an historic vaulted room with a view of the garden. Moderately priced for the level of quality. Avignon; 20 rue du portail; +33 4 9027 5555; www.cloitre-saint-louis.com
Hotel d Angleterre This simple, inexpensive hotel is located on a quiet street about a ten minute walk from the bustle of the place de Horloge and Palais des Papes. It’s easy to navigate to by car and offers free parking—a real premium inside the walls of old Avignon. Rooms are comfortable and offer the standard amenities, with more charm and better rates than the many slightly more central lodgings. A member of the Logis de France.Avignon; 29 boulevard Raspail; +33 4 9086 3431
Hostellerie des Clos 26 suprisingly inexpensive rooms are attached to chef Michel Vignaud’s luxury restaurant. The rooms are small but comfortable and attractively furnished. A rarity in Europe, especially in the countryside, the hotel is very wheel-chair friendly, with a large elevator to the rooms, all of which are on the second floor. Breakfast, served in a former chapel, is excellent. The pleasant village of Chablis is nice base for exploring the surrounding region, and the restaurant itself is reason enough to overnight here. Chablis; Rue Jules-Rathier; +33 3 8642 1063; www.hostellerie-des-clos.fr
Chateaux & Hotels de FranceAn association of privately-owned luxury hotels and restaurants, Chateaux & Hotels represents over 500 historic hotels, châteaux, and resorts throughout France. You’ll find unique properties offering the highest levels of comfort, service, and fine dining in historic castles, manor houses and grand estates which have been renovated to become top quality hotel/restaurants. An easy to use website (in English) enables you to browse properties and their amenities, search by a wide range of criteria and book online. www.chateauxhotels.com
Logis de FranceAn invaluable resource for pleasant hotels and restaurants, Logismembers are mainly located in smaller towns or in the countryside, but as there are more than 3600 of them, they cover the country. All the Logis are independent, family-run hotels. All have restaurants, which specialize in fresh regional cuisine. All Logis members display the distinctive green and gold fireplace logo. This is a great advantage when motoring through a remote place when you suddenly find it’s lunchtime—a random stop can yield a memorable meal. Hotel rooms can range from adequately pleasant to truly excellent (and life-saving last minute bookings are possible through their central reservation number.) Since all Logis are independent, they tend to offer plenty of character, as well as friendly service and good value. Logis de France has a good, easy to navigate website in both French and English. It lists all the member hotel-restaurants, provides basic information and even allows you to book on-line. Though it does lack detailed descriptions of the rooms and restaurants, member hotels often have their own, more detailed websites. +33 1 4584 8384; www.logis-de-france.fr
Gîtes de FranceThe Gîtes de France is an association of 56,000 privately owned rural guesthouses, offering spacious, inexpensive home-like accommodations throughout the French countryside. Though rural, most offer easy access (by car) to nearby towns and attractions. Geared to longer stays, most gîtes rent by the week or weekend, though bed and breakfast accommodations are available for shorter stays. The experience is more like renting a home than staying in a hotel and are a great choice for families with children and budget travelers. Because every property is unique, accommodations and amenities vary greatly, but with so many rentals available, there is likely something for every taste. The easy to use website (with English language version) makes it possible to search for accommodations and reserve online; You can also order printed guidebooks and receive their email newsletter. http://www.gites-de-france.com
La Compagnie des ComptoirsRenowned restaurant owners Jacques and Laurent Pourcel (famed for their 3-star flagship La Compagnie des Comptoirs in Montpelier and the chic Maison Blanche in Paris) are the creative force behind what is possibly Avignon’s finest restaurant. Located in a 14th century cloister in the heart of the walled city, an historic setting is combined with elegant and sophisticated décor. Chef Christophe Fluck turns out inventive tasting menus based on seasonal ingredients and South of France traditions. Avignon; 83 rue, Joseph Vernet; +33 4 9085 9904; www.lacompagniedescomptoirs.com
L’auberge du Pont de CollongesAny Frenchman will tell you that Lyon is the Gastronomic capitol of France. One reason is the flagship restaurant of world-famous chef and restauranteur Paul Bocuse, a culinary establishment holding 3 Michelin stars for over forty years. One of the most renowned restaurants in France, the finest ingredients combine with flawless preparation to create an unparalleled dining experience. With lavish prices to match the lavish experience. The restaurant is located on the banks of the Soane, 4 km north of Lyon. Collonges; 40 Quai de la Plage; +33 4 7242 9090; http://www.bocuse.fr
Café des Fédérations The traditional Lyonaise Bouchon is a classic, simple restaurant of a type found no where else in France, and this is one of the best. Not suitable for vegetarians, the typical Bouchon is all about meat; and much of it is all about organ meat—tripe, and the famous andouillette and rosette and Jesus sausages (made from the intestinal bits of the hog. Even the salads may come served with bacon and a poached egg on top (the classic salad Lyonnaise). As soon as you arrive (and it’s a good idea to book ahead) the staff with begin filling your table with starters like the classic salad Lyonnaise, deep-fried pork skins, potatoes with bits of herring, a tray of cold-cut sliced sausage meats, and more. Wash it all down with a pot (a uniquely Lyonnaise unit of measure—about 2/3 the size of a usual wine bottle) of the local Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhone. Then the jovial waiter will rattle off the evenings main course specials, all of which will be classics, like fish quennelles (a local dish, much like a large dumpling) or battered tripe. Be bold and prepare to be delighted. English is spoken—sort of—but having some elementary grasp of French wouldn’t hurt. Expect a fun, festive night surrounded by cheery locals. Lyon; 8-10 Rue du Major Martin; +33 4 7207 7452; www.lesfedeslyon.com
Jardin de Remparts Beaune The most satisfying restaurant in Beaune, le Jardin de Remparts serves elegant and adventurous food, in a beautiful but cozy atmosphere. In fine weather, the garden is the place to be; if it’s cold or rainy, the dining room is a welcoming haven. There’s an extensive wine list which, not surprisingly, features the local Cote d’Or wines. Beaune; 10, rue de l’Hôtel-Dieu; +33 3 80 24 79 41;http://www.le-jardin-des-remparts.com
Hostellerie des Clos A very fancy restaurant in the totally unpretentious village of Chablis. The restaurant is the creation of chef Michel Vignaud, who uses luxury ingredients and inventive preparations to create dishes that superbly complement his extensive cellar of vintage Chablis and Burgundy wines. Dishes may include morel mushrooms stuffed with foie gras; cold cantaloupe soup; pike with crayfish; veal kidney in chablis, lamb medallions or line-caught fish. Everything is excellent and this is a definite “destination” restaurant. The a la carte selections are expensive, but the two set menus a day offer value, as do the excellent, reasonably priced wines. The large, modern dining room, overlooks a pretty garden, but is loaded with luxury touches—fine china, linen and silver, and the food arrives covered with cloches! The large staff, attired in black-tie, is a youthful lot, so the service tends to be proper without being stuffy. Chablis; Rue Jules-Rathier; +33 3 8642 1063; www.hostellerie-des-clos.fr
Hotel RestaurantsMost hotels also have restaurants, many of them excellent. While they can range from rustic to gourmet, most feature regional specialties and fresh local products. The Hotel du Poste and The Cour du Loges—as well as many country inns—have fine restaurants.
5. The Wines
BurgundyComplex, peppery Pinot Noirs and rich, buttery Chardonnays abound, with a confusing patchwork of names. The friendly Marche aux Vins in the center of Beaune offers daily tastings of 15 grand vins de Bourgogne for a entry fee of $13. Beaune; 2, rue Nicolas-Rolin; +33 3 8025 0820; www.marcheauxvins.com
ChablisBrisk, flinty, refreshing Chardonnays from the very north of Burgundy, quite different from their southern neighbors. La Chablisienne, a cooperative of small producers, offers a warm welcome and daily tastings without reservations Chablis; 8, Boulevard Pasteur; +33-3-8642-89-89; www.chablisienne.com
Cotes du Rhone Red Fruity, approachable reds made principally from Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache; great with grilled meats. Domane E. Guigal is one of the largest Rhone producers and offers tastings and a 2 hour guided tour. Very visitor friendly and multi-lingual. Ampuis; Route National 86; +33 4 7456 1022; www.guigal.com; mon-fri; closed August.
Beaujolais Easy-drinking, buttery young Gamay reds that go with almost any food. Most of the villages have a cave offering tastings; Try Villié-Morgan, with tastings in the cellar of the 18th century Chateau in center of the town; Villié-Morgan; Route des Crus du Beaujolais
Cotes du Rhone White Friendly, sunny whites made from obscure local varietals. Condrieu is famous for its unique, flowery Viognier. Domane E. Guigal is one of the largest Rhone producers and offers tastings and a 2 hour guided tour. Very visitor friendly and multi-lingual. Ampuis; Route National 86; +33 4 7456 1022; www.guigal.com; mon-fri; closed August.
6. When to Go
High season July-August
All of Europe is on holiday, leading to major crowds and traffic. Crowds increase the farther south you travel. The Avignon Theatre Festival (www.festival-avignon.com) brings large crowds in July.
Low season November-April
A very quiet, if chilly, time. If you’re lucky with the weather, November, and especially April, can be great. No crowds, but some establishments close during the winter months.
Shoulder season May-June and September-October
The best of (mostly) good weather, beautiful scenery, seasonal foods and events, but with limited crowds. Still, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
7. Getting There
Airports Almost all flights from the US will arrive at the sprawling, and somewhat confusing, Charles de Gaul (CDG) airport outside Paris. It’s possible to fly to Lyon or Avignon with a change of planes at CDG, but lengthy connections make the connection by fast train a faster, more convenient, and more flexible option.
Airlines All major airlines fly from the U.S. to Paris, with Air France offering the most direct fights from the most US cities.
Flight times 11 hours from the west coast, 7 from the east coast. Allow an extra 3 to 5 hours for flights involving a change of plane. By train it’s approximately ninety minutes to Dijon, 2 hours to Lyon and 2.5 to Avignon. Driving time from CDG to Beaune is about two hours.
Rent a car A car is essential in the countryside. French roads are meticulously maintained, and well signposted. Still, a detailed map or road atlas is essential. Reserving your car from the U.S. will save you considerable money. Your U.S. driver’s license is valid for France.
Meal times You must arrive for Lunch between 12:30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7:30 and 9:30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.
Explore regional wines in local restaurants Even modest establishments in wine areas will have an extensive list of local wines. Ask advice and be adventuresome.
Double check your train station Trains leave Paris from six different stations—as well as CDG airport – and many regional cities have more than one station. Tickets should be stamped at machines on the platforms immediately before boarding.
Don’t want to go it alone? Organized tours abound—everything from expert wine tasting tours to escorted bicycle tours.
US customs You can only import one liter of alcohol per person duty free, however there is no limit on the quantity you can actually bring back with you – declare it at customs and pay a duty of 3% of the total value. The more difficult issue is transportation: wineries will generally not ship to the US due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. well-padded bottles in a hard-sided suitcase will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.
9. More Info
The French Government Tourist Office offers a comprehensive website of travel information, events, listings and newsletters. Once in France, there’s a tourist office in almost every town to provide local information and assistance—all in English.http://us.franceguide.com
Vins de Bourgogne Official site of the Burgundy wine growers association has comprehensive information in English about the wines, producers, and events.www.burgundy-wines.fr
Vins de Vallée du Rhône Official site of the Rhone Valley wine growers association has comprehensive multi-lingual site with information about wines, producers, and events.www.vins-rhone.com
If you have firm travel plans, it’s definitely easier, less frustrating, and cheaper to buy European train tickets in advance. Rail Europe, the folks that bring you a dizzying array of rail passes, have recently upgraded their website (raileurope.com) to make it easier to find and purchase point to point tickets in Europe. Still, if you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, it’s a good idea to check the European rail websites—such as ns.nl (Netherlands), sncf.com (France), and especially bahn.de (Germany)—for detailed information about routes, stations, amenities and local rules. Remember, even if you purchase a pass, many trains (including sleepers and all high speed trains) require supplemental tickets.
Slightly mysterious, exotic, and yet often comfortably familiar, Istanbul is not just the city where Europe meets Asia, Christianity and Islam overlap and the familiar and the exotic coexist.
Istanbul today is one of Europe’s largest cities; as such, it is a collection of many cities in one — historic and modern, rich and poor, religious and secular. Perhaps this is not surprising for a city that has been capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.
The historic Sultanahmet can remind one of a fantastic museum, while vibrant Taksim Square, with its streets awash in bright yellow taxis, strolling youths, and street vendors recalls lower Manhattan. Affluent suburbs offer trendy restaurants (often on rooftop terraces with amazing views) and designer shops. Poor neighborhoods offer up hidden monuments of Byzantium and encounters with friendly locals.
In short, there is something for everyone — the modern, the traditional, nightlife, good food, history, art and monumental architecture, and friendly people. We didn’t know what to expect, but the tone was set on our first encounter upon arrival: A youthful, super-cute customs officer stamped our passports and welcomed us with a friendly smile.
Istanbul has the most developed gay scene you are likely to find in a Muslim country. That said, homosexuality, while legal and seemingly widespread, still exists out of sight, and some diligence is required to explore gay life in Istanbul.
It is quite common to see cute young men strolling arm in arm — sweet! — but you shouldn’t infer a sexual relationship. There is no English-language gay press, map or guide (and only one gay publication in Turkish), and many guidebooks and even Web sites are notoriously out of date and unreliable. So think of it as an adventure, and see what you can find.
Like broader Turkish society itself, gay life is marked by a rich/poor, traditional/modern, European/Ottoman dichotomy. You will see this in the gay bars and dance clubs, of which there are two distinct types. There are modern European-style bars and discos, with high prices, theme décor, and well-to-do Turks in the latest fashion who are likely to identify as gay, at least in private.
On the other hand, and more fascinating, are the “a la Turka” bars, which cater to a working-class clientele. These tend to be basic, no-frills affairs, with Turkish pop music. Some of the more famous, such as Sahra (Istiklal Caddesi/Sadri Alisik Sokak 40, Taksim; $3) cater to Istanbul’s transvestite community — alleged to be the largest in Europe — joined by rent boys, working-class youths, and straight tranny admirers.
My favorite bar was the conveniently located Déjà Vu (Istiklal Caddesi/Sadri Alisik Sokak 26/l; $5), essentially a small, undecorated concrete cube that managed an unintentional modernist chic. A small bar offered one kind of beer and one brand of energy drink. The crowd was young and working-class — some hustlers, no doubt, but also guys out with friends and boys avoiding long bus rides to far-off suburbs.
Music blared, and the abundant staff (three doormen, two bartenders, two waiters and a DJ, were most happy to have us order more than the one-drink minimum. (Alcohol, heavily taxed by the Islamic government, is expensive in a city where most things are a bargain . . . the $5 beers were obviously an extravagance here.)
Not so in the European-style clubs, such as Neo (Lamartin Caddesi 40/z, Taksim; Tel: +90 212 254 4526; Fax: +90 212 245 6821; www.neobar.gen.tr; $10), and Privé (Tarlabasi Bulvari 28, Taksim; Tel: +90 212 235 7999; $10), where pricey drinks, Western music, and designer fashions are more the norm. Here the feeling is that of a gay venue in any major city.
All the gay clubs are in the Taksim area, except for the summer-only open-air disco Douche Club (Sepetciler Kasri/Kennedy Caddesi 3, Sarayburnu, Eminonu; Tel: +90 212 511 6386; Wed, Fri, Sat, $10) overlooking the Golden Horn at the foot of the Topkapi Palace.
You can also take in a hammam. There were reputedly several where discreet gay encounters took place, but this seems to be on the wane. Sadly, Turks seldom go to the hammam now, preferring the pleasures of indoor plumbing.
The historic hammams are worth a visit for the spectacular architecture, but the scrubbing can be perfunctory and the clientele all tourists. One older hammam, Çukurcuma (Çurkacuma Caddesi 57, Beyoglu: daily 9pm-9am; $18), does function as a de facto gay bathhouse — it’s open all night.
There are two locations for lodging in Istanbul, each with certain advantages. Most tourists choose to stay in Sultanahmet, the historic center just steps from the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the bazaars and other major sites. The plentiful hotels here tend to occupy renovated 19th-century wooden Ottoman houses, and are moderate in amenities and price. Many offer terrific views of the city from rooftop breakfast rooms. Rooms themselves can range from comfortable to grim.
The Best Western chain (Acropol Hotel; Hotel Spectra; Obelisk Hotel; $60-$150), surprisingly, offers several hotels of high standards. The most stylish small hotel is the charming Nomade (Divanyolu Caddesi/Ticaretheane Sokak 15, Sultanahmet; Tel +90 212 513 8172; Fax +90 212 513 2404; Hotel Nomade; $75-$120), featuring a hip décor and a friendly, young management. There are no gay hotels in Istanbul, but this one has a definite vibe.
For unparalleled luxury, the new Four Seasons (1 Tevkifhane Sokak, Sultanahmet;1 800 332 3442 or +90 212 638 8200; www.fourseasons.com; $340+), housed in a converted jail, is the only hotel of its class in the old city.
The Sultanahmet location puts you close to the major sights, but it is very touristy, and lacking in the vibrant street life and nightlife you will find in Beyoglu around Taksim Square. This area is the heart of the modern city, pulsing with life 24 hours a day, and featuring a multitude of shops, bars, cafés and locals.
While Taksim Square has a few budget lodging options, this area has most of the big luxury hotels. Particularly nice is the Hyatt Regency (Taskisla Caddesi No. 1, Taksim; Tel: +90 212 368 1234; Fax: +90 212 368 1000; http://istanbul.regency.hyatt.com; $250-$340), with its attentive service, spacious and modern rooms and resort-like pool and spa. Do stay on the club floor, where you get complimentary breakfast and cocktails along with a helpful concierge. It’s walking distance to Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street, and a short cab ride to Sultanahmet or luxury shopping in the suburbs.
Turkish food is delicious, and Istanbul abounds in fresh fish. The best fish restaurant in the city is the unassuming Balikçi Sabahattin (1 Seyit Hasan/KoyuSokak, Sultanahhmet; Tel: +90 212 458 1824; $20), where the daily catch is displayed on ice and tables are arrayed on a delightful terrace. Aside from the Four Seasons, it’s the best place to eat in Sultanahmet.
Restaurants abound along the pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi off Taksim Square, but avoid the tourist traps; even guidebook recommendations can be suspect. For delicious mezas (a variety of small plates selected from a tray), honestly priced, Victor Levi, Degustasion, andCumhuriyet (around Sahne Sokak at the Balik Pazan fish market off Istiklal Caddesi, Sultanahmet; no reservations, open late; small plates $4-$8) are all fine choices.
The traditional drink is raki, a drink similar to ouzo, but you may find that Turkish beer or the increasingly excellent Turkish wines are a better complement to the food.
To experience a very traditional lokanta, the Turkish version of a cafeteria, try the elegantly appointed Haci Abdullah (Sakizagaci Caddesi 17, Beyoglu; Tel: +90 212 293 8561; $12). Choose typical hot dishes from a display case and sip the surprisingly delicious grape juice (no alcohol is served).
Or join the in crowd at Vogue (BJK Plaza, Suleyman Seba Caddesi 92, Akaretler; Tel: +90 212 227 4404; $10-$22), one of the high-style international restaurants that offer fantastic views from atop Istanbul’s skyscrapers.
It is essential to take the public ferry up the Bosphorus and back. Enjoy incredible views and have lunch in a fishing village in Asia! Justinian’s underground cistern is a must-see, along with (obviously) the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. This is just a beginning, though — consult mainstream guidebooks for a vast selection of mosques, Byzantine churches, Roman ruins, museums and historic sitesWe recommend Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com).
Everyone in Sultanahmet wants to sell you a rug. Not a particularly compact souvenir, and unless you are an expert in carpets, you are likely to pay too much and/or get a machine-made rug from China. Good carpets are expensive, even in Turkey.
It’s much more fun to bargain for cheap trinkets at the Grand Bazaar. You can always get them to knock a buck off a $5 purchase! And the array of merchandise is astonishing.
General travel information: Guidebooks are useful, but some contain more outdated and erroneous information than usual, as do Web sites, though an Internet search will yield lots of information. The city is changing quickly; ask your hotel concierge, waiters you like and even salesclerks for their advice.
Turks are friendly to strangers and will gladly offer advice and opinions as well ask you a million questions. Beware only of strangers offering to take you to “a special club” — these are clip joints where it is likely you will lose a great deal of money. We were solicited several times in this manner, by a couple of 15-year-olds and by a man who told us he knew a place with “crazy ho’s.” The come-on is fairly obvious, and a polite “No thanks, I’m meeting someone” is enough to discourage them.
There is a $20 visa fee payable (in U.S. dollars or euros only) upon entering the country. The visa is valid for 30 days. A good map is essential, but the inexpensive taxis (taksi, in the phonetic Turkish language) are indispensable.
Unless you are going someplace well-known, write the name and address, as most drivers do not speak English. The Turkish government recently simplified its notoriously inflated currency, dropping six zeros, so that what was formerly 1,000,000 Turkish lira has become 1 (cutely named) young Turkish lira, about 70 U.S. cents.
By Clay Doyle for Gay.com
photos 1,2,3,7 by Michael Logan, photos 4,5,6 by Clay Doyle
See the article (plus very entertaining reader comments) on gay.com at
When Dresden celebrates its 800th anniversary with a year-long party in 2006, it won’t just be a celebration of centuries of history and culture. It will also be a birthday party for the new Dresden—a city that has, in a frenzy of reconstruction and renovation, recreated in a mere 15 years the historic city that was almost entirely lost, overnight, some 60 years ago…
Possibly Europe’s greatest Baroque city, the 18th century imperial seat of Augustus the Strong, capital of Saxony, Dresden had become a nearly mythical symbol of loss and of the destructive power of modern warfare. The city stood intact, virtually untouched by WWII—officially recognized as an open city—and filled with refugees from the collapsing Third Reich, when its historic center, the Altstadt, was completely destroyed in a single night of Allied bombing, February 13-14, 1945. With its splendid monuments then reduced to rubble, Dresden became most famous for its destruction—an event immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s celebrated novel Slaughterhouse Five. The sense of loss can still be felt, as large tracts of central Dresden are only now being redeveloped. Locked behind the Iron Curtain, forces that wanted to rebuild the ruins and those which wanted them replaced with a modern Socialist utopia collided in stalemate. However, with reunification came both the desire for reconstruction and a huge influx of public and private funding.
Today, most of the historic buildings fronting the Elbe have been rebuilt to give a breathtaking glimpse of what the city once was. The resurrected Frauenkirche—one of Dresden’s most famous monuments, largely completed and reopening on October 30th, is only the most visible symbol of a city of splendors finally rising from the ashes. With the Schloss to be fully reconstructed in time for the anniversary, and previously rebuilt monuments newly renovated, the baroque city of 18th century seems reborn. Dresden is now arguably Europe’s newest historical monument.
Simultaneously, across the Elbe, a different sort of rebirth has taken place. Without the benefit of EU funds or massive financing, local Dresdeners, with gays and artists leading the charge, have reclaimed and restored the city’s Neustadt. This neighborhood of 19th century apartment blocks was just outside the area of firebombing—with the consequence that its buildings are now among Dresden’s oldest. Under the communist regime, this was an undesirable area of crumbling buildings and cold-water flats. Now squats and crumbling buildings have largely given way to lovingly restored courtyard apartments with restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and hip, interesting shops—making the Neustadt Dresden’s liveliest neighborhood. Still, it’s far from gentrified; a Bohemian, even slacker, air prevails. The creation of the Kunsthof Passage (Alaunstrasse 70, Görlitzerstrasse 21, 23, 25), a renovation by local artists of a series of interlocking courtyards is typical Neustadt—a triumph of creativity and imagination over limited funds.
Despite the wholesale destruction of the second world war, the main attraction is the city itself. The Schlossplatz, at the foot of the Augustus Bridge, surrounded by the reconstructed riverfront monuments, is perhaps one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Likewise, the baroque folly of the Zwinger complex, perhaps Dresden’s most photographed monument, is a riot of sculpture and elaborate decoration surrounding an immense but perfectly proportioned courtyard. A number of rebuilt churches are likewise impressive, and with the reconstruction of the monumental Frauenkirche, and the completion of the reconstruction of the Schloss by 2006, all of the major monuments of the baroque city will be in place. It is worth the 8 euro fee to climb to the cupola of the Frauenkirche (be advised, the elevator only takes you halfway) for a magnificent view from the highest point in the city. Already the riverfront skyline is largely returned to its appearance in Canaletto’s famous 18th century paintings. These paintings occupy pride of place in Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery—while his celebrated views of Venice are confined to a small side gallery. This is perhaps as much a testament to the impressive quality of the museum’s collection as it is to local pride—the collection is large and positively stuffed with Dutch and Italian old master paintings. The galleries are remarkable too for the lack of crowds; you can really enjoy the artworks. All of Dresden’s famous museums will be open again by 2006, following various major and minor refurbishments. Well worth a visit is the Abertinum, for its New Masters Gallery—a comprehensive collection of German art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Newly reopened is the first phase of the famous Grünes Gewölbe or Green Vault, in new high-tech rooms in the reconstructed Schloss. The second half of the collection opens in 2006 in adjacent, restored baroque rooms. It is a vast—truly vast—collection of jewelry, precious metals, and fanciful curios elaborately constructed of gold filigree and gemstones assembled by the fabulously wealthy Saxon Electoral Princes. This is the only collection in Dresden where you’ll find a crowd—it’s on the top of the list for coach tours—and whether you find it to be a magnificent display of artistry and craftsmanship or a shocking excess of jewel-encrusted wealth, you will be impressed. Don’t miss it. And there are plenty more museums; depending on your interests you can explore Meissen porcelain, mathematics, transport, folk art, hygiene, history, Trabant autos and more!
The Semper Opera is famous both for its architecture and the quality of its productions. All of Dresden turns out for opera, ballet and the orchestral performances, so tickets can be hard to come by. In summer, outdoor concerts abound, with choices ranging from classical to contemporary—many with free admission. If you speak German, you may want to visit the very popular river-front open-air cinema. Do take some time to visit the Grosser Garten, Dresden’s expansive and lovely urban park. There’s a palace at the center and a charming miniature railroad to take you back when you’re tired of walking. Beyond the Altstadt, a walk through the Blasewitz district is worth it to see the elaborate 19th century villas built by wealthy Dresden bourgeoisie. The neighborhood escaped destruction in 1945 and the villas are now being lovingly restored. Though most tourists rarely venture to the Neustadt, you will definitely want to spend time there, with its lively cafes, gay scene, fun shops and bohemian atmosphere.
Don’t miss a walk along the banks of the Elbe. This wide, marshy river is unique among urban waterways in bringing nature right through the city center. The banks of the Elbe are excellent as well for bicycling—whether you take a leisurely ride through the city or a longer trip to a picturesque nearby town, the scenery is beautiful, the terrain flat, and you’re protected from cars. Indeed, bicycle paths extend the entire length of the Elbe, from the Czech border to the port of Hamburg! Even in the city, traffic is light and the drivers polite, making a bike a convenient and pleasant option for getting around the city. Rent a comfortable, modern bike from the pleasant folks at Engel Reisen (Wiesontorstrasse 3, somewhat hidden at the Neustadt end of the Augustus bridge; +49 351/281 9206; 8 euros/day) and they will even provide maps with suggested city and out-of-town routes. They also organize longer group bike tours in the region—enquire for tours in English. If all that sounds too strenuous, you can tour the Elbe in a vintage paddlewheel steamboat—you can’t miss the ships docked near Augustus bridge.
It is worth purchasing a Dresden City-Card (widely available at hotels, stations and tourist offices; 19 euros for 48 hours) upon arrival. Not only does the card get you free admission to almost all Dresden museums, it allows you unlimited use of the city’s public transit (love those yellow trams!)—allowing you to bypass the expense and hassle of individual tickets.
The Gay Scene
You’ll see plenty of gays in Dresden: in shops, cafes, walking the streets— looking handsome, and even cruising. You’ll find them rather less often in Dresden’s handful of gay bars. Gay people were so central to the revival of the Neustadt area (buying the old buildings as the post-communist government disposed of them; renovating them, moving in, and opening business) that the gay community is a more than integral part of area. Dresden my be a model for the “post-gay” city. Because they regard the whole of the Neustadt as their own (while happily sharing it with young straight couples and wide range of slacker youth types—the median age in the Neustadt is ten years younger than the city as a whole) there is not a strong tendency to congregate in exclusively gay venues. As one Dresdener told me, “We usually go where ever the nightly drink special is—and the gay bars never have specials!” That said, BOYS (Alaunstrasse 80; 8pm—5am; www.boys-dresden.de) with its front windows open to one of the Neustadt’s main streets, draws a lively crowd most evenings—it’s your best bet. The smaller, campier Queens (Görlitzer Strasse 3; from 8pm; +49 49 351 810 8108; www.queens-dresden.de), sometimes draws a younger crowd for its various theme parties. For the leather and fetish crowd, Bunker (Priessnitzstrasse 51; +49 351/441 2345; www.lederclub-dresden.de) is open Friday and Saturday nights only (and on Saturday dares to limit attendance with a strict dress code!) It has a friendly bar and a large darkroom, but I suspect many Dresdeners prefer the infinite variety of the Berlin cruising scene, only two hours away. The other “cruise” venues are barely worth mentioning. The relatively new Pick Up (Jordanstrasse 10) is a darkroom bar that has yet to find a clientele, and across the street stands Duplexx (Förstereistrasse 10; +49 351 65 88 999; 9 euro entry!), a branch of the Berlin sex shop, comprising a cavernous warren of deserted video cabins. The Showboxx (Leipzigerstrasse 31; www.showboxx-dresden.de), while no longer featuring exclusively gay nights, is one of several mixed discos popular with gays for dancing. In addition, the open-air “beer gardens” than pop up on vacant lots in the summer months are also popular. Lesbians can enjoy the aptly named frauen café and bar Sappho (Hechtstrasse 23; +49 351 4045136; www.sappho-dresden.de) open nightly for drinks and dinner and on Sunday for brunch.
Finally, what could be gayer, and at the same time more mainstream, than a drag show? Carte Blanche (Priessnitzstrasse 10/12; +49 351 20 4720; www.carte-blanche.de; 25 euros, reservations essential) is a relatively new basement cabaret hosting a very professional troupe of drag queens. Shows feature a mix of comedy, lip-synch, live performance, audience humiliation—and costumes worthy of a Las Vegas production. If drag is your thing, the show is a scream; though without a command of the language you are likely to miss a lot. And while the performers and cute waiters may be gay, the audience tends toward straight middle-aged German tourists.
Sleeping it off
The ultimate place to stay in Dresden is the Hotel Bülow Residenz (Rähnitzgasse 19; +49 351/800 30; fax +49 351/8003100; www.buelow-residenz.de ; 180—220 euros), a 30 room ultra-luxury boutique hotel in a restored 18th century palace. This place has everything: an historic building, luxurious rooms, and great location in the charmingly restored inner Neustadt—a short walk to the historic attractions and convenient to the to the gay area. It even features complementary mini-bars! The service is friendly and efficient, and it’s really a bargain for this level of luxury.
All the major international chains are represented in the old center of Dresden, from the modern yet inexpensive Mercure Hotel Newa (St. Petersburger Strasse 34; +49 351/48140; from 69 euros; www.mercure.com) to the ultra luxurious Kempinski Taschenbergpalais (Taschenberg 3; +49 351/491 2636; fax +49 351/491 2812; www.kempinski-dresden.de; 340—700 euros). Housed in a reconstructed Baroque palace adjacent the historic schloss, the Kempinski is arguably Dresden’s most beautiful—and most expensive—hotel. The Holiday Inn (Stauffenberallee 25 a; +49 351/81510; fax: +49 351/815 1333; www.holiday-inn-dresden.de; 100-150 euros), of all places, gets points for actively courting a gay clientele—though most of its guests are businessmen and women. It’s a generic, but perfectly pleasant property, and though its location at first seems somewhat remote, it’s actually very convenient to the Neustadt, and a nearby tram line offers a speedy connection to the city’s attractions.
For the independent-minded traveler, the best option may be the City Cottage Dresden (Louisenstrasse 11; +49 179/5228241; fax +49 351/442 4584; www.city-cottage-dresden.de; 41-62 euros), a gay owned rental apartment that sits inside a quiet, enchanted garden in the very heart of the Neustadt. It can be rented with one or two bedrooms and accommodates from one to four persons. Currently there is only one apartment available (so book early) although several more are being renovated.
Eating in the historic center of Dresden is far more pleasant than one would expect from an area frequented mostly by tourists. The cafés and restaurants offer good quality and surprisingly reasonable prices—along with some truly gorgeous locations. You can try traditional Saxon specialties like wurst and beer (do try the local Radeberger Pilsner) at Radeberger Spezialausschank (Terrassenufer 1; +49 351/484 8660; fax +49 351/484 8631; $3-12), which offers an unbeatable location with a umbrella shaded terrace overlooking the Elbe and the Augustus bridge. The terrace café at the Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais (Taschenberg 3; +49 351/496 0174) offers both traditional and lighter, international fare in a convenient and charming setting (and at non-luxury hotel prices). Likewise, Café Alte Meister (Theatreplatz 1a; +49 351/ 481 0426; www.altemeister.net) with a terrace nestled in the shade of the Zwinger complex, is a nice option for either lunch or the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake.
For the best selection of restaurants though, head over to the lively, untoursisty Neustadt. Here the streets are lined with local eateries, offering an array of international cuisines and everything from inexpensive cafés to moderately priced upscale restaurants. Here you can find just about anything: French, Italian, Indian, and salads and sandwiches in charming cafes, many with outdoor terraces. As a local resident remarked, “Only the tourists eat Saxon food!” which may be only a slight exaggeration. To start your exploration, try the local favorite Tiki Ice Cafe (Gorlitzer Strasse 21; inexpensive) in the charming Kunsthof passage. Or make for the nearby bar-restaurant Cigales (Aluanstrasse 68; inexpensive) on the bustling Aluanstrasse. For a more elaborate dinner, try the delicious, Mediterranean influenced Villandry (Jordanstrasse 8; +49 351/ 899 6724; www.villandry.de; dinner mon-sat; main courses 9—15 euros.)
For the dedicated gourmand, Dresden offers one Michelin-starred restaurant, the elegant Caroussel (in the Hotel Bülow Residenz; Rähnitzgasse 19; +49 351/80030; fax +49 351/8003100). As you might expect, you’ll find top ingredients exquisitely prepared, flawless service and a formal setting. It’s still rather a bargain for the Michelin star experience, with four course menus about 60 euros.
Shopping the Neustadt
A number of gleaming new shopping complexes have sprung up around the main train station (currently being rennovated in high-style by London architect Sir Norman Foster), offering the usual cornucopia of European and American brand names. But for the truly interesting shopping opportunities one must head across the river to the Neustadt. Check out the club-kid fashions at Men Only (Alaunstrasse 18; +49 351/821 0836), a fun, über-gay clothes shop where the friendly staff are also well informed about the local nightlife scene. You’ll find shops here selling everything from second hand clothing to expensive designer jeans; from skateboards to hand-made paper. The Alaunstrasse and the adjoining side-streets, and especially the Kunsthof passage, are filled with trendy and unusual shops. You can even check it all out online at the stylish website www.gappy.de.
As in most German cities, the Dresden Tourist office (in the neo-classical Schinkelwache, on the Theaterplatz; +49 351/ 491920) is a terrific resource. As well as providing maps, schedules of events, and guides to the museums and sights, they can also find you a hotel room or get you tickets to the Semper Opera. Scope it out in advance at www.dresden-tourist.de , where they also have an online hotel reservation service. Gegenpol is Dresden’s own free local monthly gay magazine, which can be scored at the bars and shops throughout the neustadt. They have comprehensive listings with addresses, which are also conveniently available on their website at www.gegenpol.net.