Archive for Travel Culture

The Micro-Light, Super-Fast Private Jet of the Future

Lisa Akoya Amphibious Jet

I have to admit that private two-seater jets usually give me a bit of a fright…but not the Lisa Akoya, perhaps because it’s so aesthetically engaging and its specs make me go gadget-gaga.

Like so many stylish things before it, it was born in France. While other mere mortal commercial airplanes travel 500 mph, this one goes a whopping 1300 mph! It’s super-lightweight as is visually evidenced by its positioning on the yacht below with Seafoil tech and folding wings.

Lisa Akoya Amphibious Jet

The price tag is a decadent 300,000 EURO (approxiately $390,000). But that gets you the turnkey special, including maintenance and so on.

It’s being introduced to North America later this summer at the EAA Air Venture (the largest air show on the planet), and is apparently predicted to become the new international standard in its class.

And yes, it’s often rented out to eccentric James Bond villains… Did I mention it has two seats? One for you and one for your fabulous hairless cat.

Richard Branson Really is Mr. Cool!

Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Launch Special Ice Cubes

Is it a coincidence that the first four letters of the tirelessly cool Virgin founder’s surname are the same as the first four letters of the word ‘branding.’ Branson and branding go hand in hand. And apparently they also go ‘ice cube in glass.’

Now Richard Branson, maestro of marketing has fashioned an ice cube in his image to be placed in drinks on Virgin Atlantic flights. Yes, it’s also a wee bit disturbing. The details go right down to his Cheshire Cat-like toothy grin. But it’s also kind of brilliant.

Apparently, Sir Rich wants passengers to feel as though he’s flying with them or at least finding a way to melt in their mouths… eeuww!

The cubes do look pretty state-of-the-art fantastic and that’s because they are just that. Virgin enlisted four designers to work on the degradable works of portrait art. It took them six weeks to create the crafty cubes using detailed photographic techniques and laser scanning tech.

What next? The sky’s the limit…literally. Perhaps they could find a way to embed Branson’s likeness in some freeze dried space food for Virgin Galactic.

Top 10 Travel Destinations For 2012

Maldives Travel

An Island in the Maldives Photographed By Patrick Verdier

Kuoni, a travel agency in the UK that helped organise my recent press trip, has released its list of top 10 most popular travel destinations for 2012.

The interesting findings are based on statistics from booking patterns between January and December 2011 for holidays taken during 2011-2012, passenger numbers, customer behaviour and feedback.

I say ‘interesting’ because it looks like UK travellers are, generally speaking, an adventurous bunch, as I don’t see any nearby European cities listed (even during supposedly rough economic times).

Also, oh how the mighty have fallen–namely my own homeland of the U.S. which only comes in #5.

  1. Maldives
  2. Thailand
  3. Sri Lanka
  4. United Arab Emirates
  5. USA
  6. Mauritius
  7. Barbados
  8. Malaysia
  9. Kenya
  10. Singapore

Some of their other more specific lists are illuminating as well. The #1 location for solo travel is Thailand. I’m guessing this is solo, ahem, male travel. I’m sure it’s beautiful over there, but let’s face it, it’s become something of a sexual rite of passage for young Western men to uh, teach English for three to six months in Thailand.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sri Lanka’s the #1 wedding destination of 2012. Sounds dreamy.

Rocking the Casbah

Shana Ting Lipton in Marrakech Morocco

Shana Ting Lipton in Marrakech by the Saadien Tombs in the Casbah | Photo by Johara Chambers

My first few moments in Marrakech were like a tidal wave of sweet, exotic fragrances, manic sounds, colourful hues everywhere and a mazelike architecture of nooks, stairs and back entrances. All of this contributed to the mystery that already surrounded the North African city even before I arrived.

A musician friend of mine from LA who was proud of her Berber heritage had set the tone for me with her eccentric tales and the magical aura that surrounded her (she won the lottery, twice!)

But, as they say, you had to be there…in situ, that is, to really take in the nuances of this special place and to even sense–if in hushed undertones–its Ash’ Ari Sufi (regional spiritual form of Islam) influences.

I was in Marrakech on a media trip hosted and organised by the travel company Kuoni, and Angsana Riads Collection/Banyon Tree Hotels. It was short but sweet, yet just enough time to amass inspiration for some broad strokes to come (in the form of an article for The Arbuturian and a video which will be posted here and on Huffington Post | Travel).

The finer strokes–those sweet and bizarre moments–make up my own quirky take on the Red City. My journal of random thoughts…

The culturally mashed up locale (you’ll find mixtures of Berbers, Jews, Arabs from Jordan, Egyptians and French there) is home to the free-roaming feral cat. Like in Greece, these beautiful but wild felines roam the streets in search of food–not affection. I happened upon one that was quintessentially Marrakechi–dipped in henna and trying desperately to lick off the terra cotta hue from its fur.

Marrakech Morocco Cat

A henna-hued cat in the streets of Marrakech | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Everything in Marrakech is dipped in colour–lips, cheeks, textiles, fabrics… The friendlier traders will warn, before selling you a beautiful striped throw, that its dye will wreak havoc on your sofa.

Beeping mopeds navigated by old women in burqas and young men in modern dress zoom through narrow streets, leaving trails of smoke as they nearly scathe distracted passers-by whose heads are always inevitably turned skyward to capture details like the intricate metalwork of windows.

Marrakech Souk Market in Morrocco by Shana Ting Lipton

The souks possess an oddly not-so-subtle sense of mystery all their own | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Marrakech is the perfect blend of chic and earthiness. For every branché francophone visitor marvelling at Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens, hip new lounges like La Salama, and design details worthy of Maison Coté Sud magazine, there are earthy local bonds to be formed down ends of dusty roads over mint tea and marzipan pastries.

Marrakech Morocco Biennale

Marrakech Biennale guests bring art and fashion to ancient riads | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

We got to experience a bit of both–at first cavorting with the Biennale crowd at hot spots like the aforementioned La Salama (where Vanessa Branson and her mum hosted a lovely fete that drew art luminaries and American-Euro comedienne Ruby Wax), then wandering the less touristy streets of the Casbah with our charming and knowledgable guide Youssef Rharrab.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

The serene and subdued side of a Moroccan riad | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

I could have stayed at our hotel the entire time and been content, so thrilling and diverse were the architecture and decor (and so sybaritic were the spa/hammam treatments). The property consisted of several riads (courtyard homes once resided in by wealthy families) each decorated in its own style.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

Nooks charm and abound at Angsana Riads | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

Two of my colleagues were in Riad Blanc which had a very fashionable, pristine white feel to it as the name implies. My other colleague and I found ourselves in the crimson and orange-hued Riad Si Said. And I lucked out as I had one of the two massive multi-roomed royal suites all to myself.

Angsana Riads Marrakech Morocco

Women never left the riads; I understand why | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

As I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the late night/early morning call to prayer, I imagined being a princess relaxing in my manor. Of course, excluded from that reverie was the not-so-dreamy real life historic notion that riads were built ‘open-air’ with their ladies of the manor in mind (the women weren’t permitted to leave the premises except on rare occasions).

Conversely, my wonderful suite could also have been the site of a fabulous circa 1970 rock n’ roll bash thrown by The Rolling Stones and filled with Warhols, Bowies, Monaco monarchs, and obscure psychedelic scenesters. Or better yet, a vast yet–thanks to its nooks–intimate love nest for a poetic and mesmerising romance à-la 1001 Nights.

Angsana Riads Collection Marrakech Morocco

Disappear here... | Photo by Shana Ting Lipton

London: The Best Seats in the House


London Double Decker Buses United Kingdom

With Thomas Heatherwick’s new London buses being introduced this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about buses and public transportation in general.

Despite the fact that I’ve lived in ‘public transport’-friendly cities like New York and Amsterdam, on some level my LA-ness will always bring a certain distaste for it to the surface… The slowness, the array of disturbing too-human odors, the proximity to People (with a capital ‘P’) and the lack of control are all concomitant with taking a bus or metro.

But there are precious rare times when magic (not ‘shit’) happens on public transport, like getting ‘the best seat in the house’ in a citywide sense.

For instance, on several occasions, I was en-route home from the office, when I discovered masses of irritated, stranded Londoners spilling out from the nearest Tube station (‘oh no, yet another snag in the Underground works’). So I was forced to hike up to the closest bus stop and wait for that familiar #7.

Seven is indeed a lucky number. That’s the bus that makes its way down Oxford Street, through Oxford Circus, into Marble Arch, Paddington, Westbourne Grove and then Notting Hill. Luckier still is finding the crème de la crème ‘balcony’ seats empty. You know the ones. On level two of the double-decker bus, front row centre.

So, shoes on railing, legs inappropriately scrunched up, head back, mp3 player blasting, I cruised down that nighttime stunner, Oxford Street, watching snapshots of beautiful London woosh by. I took in the Victorian details–mouldings and sculptures–that I would never have perceived from ‘down there.’ During the holidays, I found myself virtually at eye level with the festive lights and decorations hung high away from pedestrian sight lines.

Meanwhile, some ethereal, moody ’90s tune or other like ‘Champagne Supernova’ by Oasis was my spacey, chillout soundtrack. As I jokingly said to one of my mates when she said she was opting to take the bus home, ‘Have fun thinking deeply about your life.’

It doesn’t get any better than this pensive and aesthetic journey… Sometimes it does get worse, when another passenger signals with their looming form, that they’d like to nab the seat next to mine (how dare they–I’m a season ticket holder!) Alas, I’ve mostly been lucky in this respect (long legs–the perfect ‘velvet rope’ so to speak).

Then there’s this moment when you almost forget that you’ve been inconvenienced by the tube closure. As the bus driver takes advantage of a few empty blocks to pick up speed, there’s a fleeting thrill…and a few seconds–just enough time to completely let go.

New London Double Decker Bus Design by Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick's New Routemaster London Bus

Read Other Expat Articles:
Single on de Singel: When I First Moved to Amsterdam
The Decision to Move Abroad: Feel the Thrill, Feel the Fear
From Accidental Tourist to Purposeful Resident: Impromptu Moves Abroad
The Love Affair With Place

Private Clubs: What’s a Fickle Socialiser to Do?

SoHo House Berlin

For a long time, the idea of joining a private club didn’t make sense to me. Being a bit ADD in my cultural fixations, I couldn’t imagine paying dues at one establishment which would then become my default social arena.

In LA, I visited the Jonathan Club which is lovely in the summer for its perfect positioning alongside the Pacific Ocean but ultimately more of a families-with-kids place (that’s Hell on a hangover on most weekends).

During the last months of my time in Amsterdam I met some colleagues at Baby, a fabulously stylish club on the Keizersgracht canal that was geared towards creatives (and tied to an uber-hip magazine of the same name). Sadly I departed soon after and so did Baby which has long since closed its doors.

In London, clubs are a big, big thing, and you can’t throw a stone without hitting one. Everything from the super-stuffy ones in Mayfair to Paul Allen and Dave Stewart’s ultra-casual, jeans-sporting Valhalla: The Hospital Club.

Initially, the most appealing of the lot to me was Home House. West End-centrally located in Marble Arch, it is housed in a gorgeous 18th century building and the plus (for an Angeleno) is that it has a gym–included in membership. The scene is perfect there too–not too grubby and casual but not too stick-up-the-bum.

I discovered, however, that they charge a trumped-up membership initiation fee of £1800 which I’m guessing is non-refundable. Beyond the fact that it’s the highest initiation fee of any club around here (according to some club survey sites), it’s even more of a killer if you’re a fickle frolicker and want to join a club for a year and then join another the following year.

SoHo House in Manhattan

Ultimately, the tried and true (for media types) SoHo House may well offer the most varied memberships–the ones to all of its properties: London (including SoHo, Notting Hill, Chiswick, Shoreditch and Somerset), Berlin, New York, West Hollywood and Miami. It doesn’t look like any of the London branches have gyms but there is a pool at Shoreditch House.

Besides, if you’re a constant traveller who likes style and taste, and you’re a tad lazy (ahem), there’s probably nothing better.

SoHo House Somerset England

Worldly Art at the London Art Fair Preview


I just returned from the preview evening of the London Art Fair in Islington and am still digesting all the creativity I just took in. The fair officially launches tomorrow (the 18th) and runs through the 22nd of January.

As it happens, the three snaps below (my favourite captures of the evening) can actually be grouped together under one theme: the planet.

The first, above–from the Opus Gallery in Newcastle–is oddly comforting and familiar to me. Just last night I was sketching and ended up with a tableau of a face residing in a tree. There’s a part of me that feels so disconnected to nature and so overwhelmed by technology that I want to just become the earth again. So the gorgeous bucolic surrealist oil painting below entitled ‘Here You Are,’ by Vasilis Avramidis really resonates.

This last pair of photos are both from Tag Fine Arts’ stand. The one above is from ‘The Art of Mapping,’ a show curated by Tag which took place at the Air Gallery.

And lastly, this assortment of postcard-esque woodcuts by artist Tobias Till depict different locales in London, from A to Z (like the famous local guide books)

Interactive Travel: From Sightseeing to People-Meeting

Paris France Locals in a Bar
By Shana Ting Lipton

[originally published on Huffington Post | Travel]

We ended up sitting in a late-night cafe for four hours questioning each other on our respective cultures. I was hungry for info on former-president/poet Václav Havel. He grilled me on Beverly Hills 90210 (cheesy Hollywood culture is ubiquitous, I discovered).

These days, the notion of “interactive travel” connotes using your iPhone overseas (at a hefty cost) and then tweeting or Facebooking your friends, or perhaps stalking your contacts via Foursquare.

But that’s not really my idea of being present, interacting, and engaging in a locale. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. And by that I mean, go back to good, old-fashioned, RL (real life) interaction.

What is your yardstick for a great travel experience? When I think back on some of the most memorable excursions I’ve ever had, they all seem to have one thing in common: people. To use tech-parlance, visiting a country and only viewing its sites without connecting to its locals is akin to reading a blog or website with no links or commenting capabilities: flat.

During my first trip to Prague with two friends from grad school, I felt myself closely in danger of becoming a member of the traveling flat Earth society. My culturally-curious pals took me sightseeing on guided (and self-navigated) tours around the city. It was stunning, but there was something missing.

One night, on our way back from dinner, they suggested a walk on theCharles Bridge. As gothically gorgeous as it was/is, I passed it up (sated by the monotony of daily sightseeing), and walked back to the hotel alone.

It was dark, it was somewhat late, and I heard heavy footsteps behind me. A toothless middle-aged man had been shadowing me for more than six blocks. I turned around and he stopped, disappearing into a shadowy street corner. I started walking again and his footsteps continued at a quicker tempo, towards me.

In a panic, I ducked into a little bistro where I told a kind waiter my dilemma. He said, “sit, have a glass of wine.” So I did as he said. Later, when I had calmed down, he was kind enough to walk me out after his shift.

We ended up sitting in a late-night cafe for four hours questioning each other on our respective cultures. I was hungry for info on former-president/poet Václav Havel. He grilled me on Beverly Hills 90210 (cheesy Hollywood culture is ubiquitous, I discovered).

I thank God for that creepy Czech stalker. Were it not for his unsavory intrusiveness, I would never have had a unique personal connection to the city via my waiter friend. For that reason — not the Mucha paintings or Art Nouveau architectural detailing — I will never forget Prague.

Open Mic Night at a Bar in Cannes France

Photo: Open Mic Night at Morrison's Pub, Cannes; Shana Ting Lipton Sings Van Morisson's "Brown-Eyed Girl"

On a recent trip to Cannes, I wanted to get away from the glitzy nouveau riche crowds, so my friend and I ducked into a local pub. What resulted was my French singing debut (if you could call it that) or more humbly “open mic night” on a couple of occasions. Thanks to my loungey renditions of “Hotel California” and “Brown Eyed Girl” we gained some new friends (and fans — in my dreams… ).

On another occasion, I was in Lisbon alone for two days en-route to visit family outside the city. I researched a cool art gallery and discovered that they were having an opening that night. These are the best events for meeting locals as there’s wine, art, and of course a discussion subject (art).

I ended up chatting with the gallery owner. Had I not struck up this conversation, he never would have invited me to a limited (myself and a handful of others) showing of a new edgy gallery space in an abandoned old building.

But, it’s not just about meeting locals for the purpose of finding the cool, off-the-beaten-path spots. That’s a pleasant side effect of such interactions, of course. The point is that if you let fear and insecurity keep you from talking to locals and you aren’t lucky enough to have any friends in your sojourn locale, then your travel experience may not get to the heart of a culture: the people.

A town and its buildings aren’t just the manifestations of architectural blueprints. They come from the minds and hearts of its locals. Naturally, art and architecture reflect back a component of a culture, but it’s the people who live the culture. And in this breakneck world of devices and mobile lifestyle, that culture is rapidly changing on a daily basis.

More on Traveling Like a Local:


The Terror and Tactility of Turbulence

Airplane Turbulence

I’m generally not one of those chatty flyers eager to drum up a 10 hour conversation with the person seated next to me. In fact–devastatingly handsome jet-setting adjacents notwithstanding–I’m usually more of a ‘face-in-book’ sort.

Connecting with a neighboring passenger is, after all, a roll of the dice. If you roll snake eyes, you can look forward to a long, fascinating conversation about world politics, culture and contemporary society. If, on the other hand, you’re not as lucky…you’ll become a captive audience observing a play of mundanity–a virtual mid-air prisoner.

There is however one instance when all my no-chat rules go out the window: during an extreme bout of turbulence. In those bumpy moments when life seems to hang in the balance, what self-contained air traveler hasn’t wished that he/she had befriended a neighboring passenger? Just a few simple words would have ensured a familiar, friendly smiling face amidst aerial calamity.

In recent times, I’ve started keeping the aforementioned fact in mind, making feeble attempts to quasi-befriend a seat neighbor… perhaps I’ll make a snide comment about airplane food to bond us, ask a silly question (‘how many hours until we land?’) or simply flash a brief but courteous smile.

I was glad I did this during one particular transatlantic flight. I offered friendship-lite to a South American playboy type in exchange for his psychological support during a turbulence spell. He unfortunately ultimately mistook my hand clawing at his sleeve for a romantic overture, and later offered up his email and phone number. Ah well, that’s the price of in-flight kinship I guess.

On a more recent trip back from Los Angeles to London, I had the chance to ‘pay it forward,’ so to speak, and become the ‘reassuring, smiling, familiar face’ for a neighboring passenger.

It was winter, so the weather was bad and the turbulence exceedingly rough. The dreaded moment came when the captain announced: “cabin crew please take your seats.” My face became ashen, my throat closed up and I started shivering. Yet, as Dickensian as I may have appeared at that moment, the girl next to me was in worse shape. She was rolled up in a ball, on the verge of tears. In her broken English she declared, “I scared.”

Somehow I mustered up the strength to tell her it was going to be ok. “It’s like being on a boat and hitting some waves. The pilot is looking for a non-turbulent level to cruise at. He’ll find it.”

Then I did the unthinkable and shocking (in our semi-autistic era of inhuman online relations); in a maternal gesture, I grabbed the girl’s hand. Or was I taking her hand for my own reassurance? Perhaps it was a combination of both. I can’t be sure.

The girl was relieved and grateful that I made the attempt to quell her fears. I was grateful to have been placed in the position of strength. For, though I had to stop myself from hyperventilating, I felt good–safer even–providing reassurance to a stranger.

And, on another level, it reminded me a bit of the brilliant independent film Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July. It explores the idea that we all want reassurance, love, and a sense of humanity even though this modern age has made us afraid to ask for it. Some of us travelers on the road (and skies) of life, just reach out and grab it.

The Julian Assange Traveler

The Julian Assange Wikileaks Traveler

The Wikileaks Founder’s Gotten Around in More Ways Than One…Follow His Trail Around the World

Love him or hate him (and there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room in-between), Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a man on the move–some might say, on the run.

Even before he founded the infamous website which has hosted classified U.S. intelligence cables, Assange’s life was decentralized. The son of parents who ran a traveling theatre troupe, he grew up moving around a lot. In some ways, the Australian multinational is the prototypical Third Culture Kid.

Let this worldwide tour of some of the locales Assange has called home (or temporary home) give you ideas for your imminent and/or future travels. Been there? Done that? Not in the style of a global espionage fugitive and nomad, you haven’t.

Queensland, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Our humble tale begins in the birthplace of Mr. Assange, the state of Queensland, in New South Wales, Australia.

Technically, he was born in Townsville, but I prefer to begin the tour in a more magnificent location.

Townsville is in fact adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, which is of course one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world,’ according to many sources including CNN.

The closest airport is outside Prosperpine. You can always fly into Brisbane which is 386 km from the Reef.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne Australia Travel

This is the location of Assange’s alma mater, the University of Melbourne. It’s also the site of a police raid on his home when he was accused of computer hacking in 1991.

Melbourne has a reputation, near and far, as Australia’s culinary capital. Of course, new states are always upping the ante.

Melbourne is also the original location of top Australian chef Neil Perry‘s Rockpool Bar & Grill.

Tanzania, East Africa

Tanzania East Africa Travel
If you’re looking to drop out of Western civilization and to do it in style, why wouldn’t you want to live, for a spell, in Tanzania?

Though I can’t personally see Assange climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I could see him trekking through the Serengeti or ‘global masterminding’ in Zanzibar.

The latter was good enough for Princess Diana’s designer.

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi Kenya
In Assange’s famously outed Ok Cupid dating site profile, he says: “I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil.” That explains why Kenya would have appealed to him as one of his home pit-stops.

Tribalism and elections have fueled political and social unrest in this East African Nation.

Undoubtedly he got into some fun hitting the nightlife circuit in Nairobi’s Westlands and River Road quarter.

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm Sweden Travel
Ah Stockholm, herein lies the center of all of Assange’s legal troubles and his ‘sex by surprise’ accusation. It is doubtful that he stayed in many hotels here. Anna Ardin’s apartment was cozy (and free) enough.

Had he been more adventurous (and intuitive) he would have doubtless stayed at the boutique and chic Berns Hotel in Stockholm.

The famous old hospice hosted celebs back in its day. Room 431 served as a dressing room for Ella Fitzgerald and Marlene Dietrich.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik Iceland Travel
Assange is said to have rented a house here. So he would have never experienced the stunning harbour views at the 101 Hotel in Reykjavik.

Perhaps he popped into the B5 Bar and Bistro for drinks and night revelry. You never know who you might bump into there.

Famous Rejkjavikker Bjork has been known to return to her home town and frequent some of the watering holes and clubs.

London, England

London England Travel

Last stop, London. Well, there’s never really a last stop for a Third Culture Kid like Julian Assange. But this was where he was last seen and apprehended–if we could call it that.

There’s simply too much to do and see in London to not make a long sojourn of it–court order or not. If I received a chunky book advance like Assange did I’d stay at Blakes Hotel in SW7 and visit hip Shoreditch and Stepney Green for the cool galleries and bistros.

I’d also become a member of the SoHo House or Hospital Club and mingle away.


Also in ‘Third Culturism’: