Friday, January 31, 2014

Dubai, UAE

Executive summary by Darmansjah

Why Go Now?

Sway to the beat of heart stirring tunes at the sensational Emirates Airline Dubai jazz Festival at Festival Park, Dubai Festival City. In accentuating the Middle Eastern city as a world-class entertainment hub, the large-scale event that will be held from 13 to 20 February will feature international award winning musicians such as Santana, Jamie cullum, Stone Temple Pilots, The Wanted, Olly Murs, and Colbie Cailat.

February is chock-full with wvents in Dubai – the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series will take place from 1 to 15, legendary soprano Sarah Brightman will perform from 6 to 7, and RedFest DXB, which will host acts by Connor Maynard, Marvin Humes, and Naughty Boy, will run from 13 to 14. Sample a spectrum of flavours at the Dubai Food Carnival from 20 to 21 to end off your trip with a scrumptious bang.

How Do I Make It Happen?

Emirates operates direct flight from Singapore and from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai International Airport.
Rooted in the popular Al Garhoud, the deluxe Rihab Rotana is less than a 15-minute drive away from Dubai International Airport and neighbours the original flagship mall of the Majid Al Futtaim Group, Deira City Center (from US$139,


Sleeping Bear Dunes

Executive summary by darmansjah

AT FIRST GLANCE, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore looks familiar to kids. The drifting sand, seagulls, and miles of turquoise water all add up to one thing-the ocean.

But then, somewhere-maybe on the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive or while rolling down the pile of sand called Dune Climb (dubbed “the sacrificial dune” because it’s the sole heap of sand visitors are allowed to trample)-the kids stop, realize this is landlocked Michigan, and ask, “How did the ocean get here?”
It did’nt. This is Lake Michigan. It’s a lake-albeit a great one-and the water is fresh, not salty, says Lisa Myers, chief of interpretation and visitor services at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

“When my family comes here from New England, they all have to taste the water,” she says. “The area looks like Cape Cod. You can’t believe this isn’t the coast.”

Well, maybe not the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf Coast, but this national lakeshore was created in 1970 by the federal government to preserve a scenic chunk of this extensive coast-the US shores of the eight-state Great Lakes coastline. “Playing on the sacrificial dune is like being in a big, huge sandbox,” says Myers, but there’s so much more to the shore. Help kids view the park through a wider lens by walking along one of the 35 miles of sandy Lake Michigan beach.

“With their feet on the sand and in the water, kids can see that there are waves,” says Myers, “but that there are no tides. They can spot swimming otters and beavers, and see the high cliffs with the perched dunes way up top.”

“In winter, they can walk the beaches to see all the ice formations and crashing  waves,” she says. “We offer ranger-led snowshoe walks in January and February, where kids can look for animal tracks. And, when it’s windy, they can stand on the Dune Climb and feel the forces of nature. It’s almost geology in motion with the smaller grains of sand moving faster than the bigger ones. The kids can run or roll down the hill, too, which is a lesson in gravity and a whole lot of fun.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Executive summary by darmansjah

Neil Humpreys has returned with his latest book, Return to a Sexy Island and tells us where the best places in Singapore are.

Can you remember your first holiday? It was probably a caravan holiday in Clacton, Essex. In the UK, the caravan is the working man’s holiday home. Today, it takes 90 minutes in a car from my hometown Dagenham to reach Clacton. When I was a kid, it seemed to take fortnight. Our first caravan cost £500, but those childhood memories are priceless. Having said that, we had no toilet, so if you needed a twilight crap, you were in trouble.

Can you share some hideaways you discovered while living in Australia the past five years? The Big Rock inside the You Yangs mountains ranges between Melbourne and Geelong. Panoramic, almost post-apocalyptic views-which is why Mel Gibson’s mad Max was filmed there. Kennett River along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria is the best place to see koalas in their natural habitat, with the ocean as a backdrop. I saw my first wild wombat at Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory National Park, and stopping the car at dawn to allow an emu to cross the road with her chicks as the sun rose behind them is an image that will never leave me. Oh, and swimming near wild seals in Port Philip Bay off Queenscliff was pretty special too. Swam over a stingray and thought I was going to do a Steve Irwin.

Name three places in Singapore which are underrated. I’ll give you three great places that are unappreciated: Bishan Park, the Sotuhern Ridges and the reservoirs being linked together around Sengkang and Punggol.
How different is Singapore from when you used to lived here? At the northern shore of Sentosa, where the old ferry terminal used to be, there used to be a creaking gift shop that sold the crappiest gifts known to Mankind and a couple of tired looking exotic birds who’d squawk a lame ‘hello’ at visitors. At that exact spot today, Resort World Sentosa has built the stunning Crane Dance, a free water and animatronics show like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere. Just behind that is Universal Studios Singapore, which I’ve not visited 13 times.

Which part of the world do you always like to return to, and why? Pulau Ubin, the rural, kampong Island off Singapore. It’s a reminder of what Singapore once was, a visual reminder of what the country both gained and lost. For that reason alone, it should never be urbanized. I don’t think it will be now, but you never know. It’s only a 10-minute bumboat ride from one of the world’s most sprawling, densely populated cities and yet a short bike ride takes you deep into a forest of monkeys, hornbills, snakes, monitor lizards and wild boars.

What are three essentials to have whenever you travel? More than one form of currency – cash, credit card, international ATM card etc. invariably, at least one of them won’t be accepted somewhere. And I must get the local newspaper, it gives an immediate feel for the style, language, tone and issues of a town as soon as you arrive.

Could you share with us a personal favourite travel snapshot accompanied with a short explanation of it? I loved the Railway Corridor, the green spine running through the middle of Singapore from top to bottom. The site of the former KTM Malaysian railway line that carried trains into JB is a wonderful, hidden green gem, possibly unique in such a dense city. I walked through most of it and the Railway Corridor has the lot; forests, wildlife, seclusion, tranquility, history, heritage, great old buildings.

What is your dream travel destination? Somewhere green, quiet, natural and full of native wild animals, preferably with an air-conditioned hut with satellite TV to watch English Premier League football at weekends. That sound like paradise. Return to a Sexy Island (Marshall Cavendish, US$15.99) is now available at major bookstores.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Georgia Peach

In Atlanta, a Modern Take on Southern Hospitality

Executive summary by darmansjah

ATLANTA THRIVES ON paradox. An ever expanding vista of sky scrapers peeks above the canopy of trees that line its streets. The city strives to be a cutthroad business leader and is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies, but a spirit of southern hospitality still prevails (though these days you may as quickly be offered a Coke as a glass of sweet tea). “People tend to forget that Atlanta is young compared to other American cities,” says author and illustrator Tray butler, a Georgia native. “New York was founded 200 years earlier. Even Sunbelt superstars like Charlotte or Houston are technically our older siblings. What we have is a youthful exuberance, a kind of rebellious spirit, and yes, some growing pains. Atlanta is like a teenager; It can’t stop changing.” Conventioneers who visit only downtown  (which empties of locals at night) miss the charm and diversity of the city’s many singular neighborhoods.


MORNING A Sense of History

The Martin Luther King.jr., National Historic Site spreads across 42 acres of downtown’s Sweet Auburn district, long a hub of African-American businesses. At the King Center (where the civil rights leader and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are enshrined), procure tickets for daily tours of MLK’s birth home. Details glimpsed in the two-story Victorian house wonderfully humanize the icon: It turns out he was a shrewd player of Monopoly, for example. Nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was co-pastor with his father, reopened in 2011 after four years and $8 million to restore the Gothic Revival building exactly as it was in the 1960s, including walls painted a warm peach and the original pulpit microphones that broadcast King’s sermons.

Take a taxi about one mile south on Boulevard, the area’s main thoroughfare, to the gently hilly Oakland Cemetery, established in 1850. Stroll under magnolias and oaks among monuments, obelisks, and mausoleums of some of the city’s early wealthy families, as well as more than 3,900 graves marked “CSA,” for Confederate States Army. Purchase the $4 map from the gift shop to find the humble headstone for Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. Refuel across the street, sipping on the city’s most deftly made espresso at Octane Coffee. It shares space with Little Tart Bakery, a neighborhood favorite for quiche and pastries made using local, seasonal fruit.


Once a badland of abandoned stockyards and mills, the city’s Westside neighborhood recently transformed into a wonderland of refurbished warehouse full of bespoke shops. Urbane Billy Reid, where staffers will likely offer you a bourbon, in the Westside Provisions District complex and preppy Sid Mashburn in Westside Urban Market next door (a walking bridge joins the two redbrick complexes) offer different takes on dressing the southern gentleman in style. Mashburn’s wife also runs a store, Ann Mashburn, featuring her  in-house designs including shirtdresses and pencil and wrap skirts. Across the parking lot, design guru Jonathan Adler mixes whimsy with function in his eclectic shop, featuring such as voluptuous glass lamps, pillows with psychedelic prints, and vases imprinted with a single , puckered mouth.

EVENING Dixie Dining

“Southern food is in vogue across the country, and in Atlanta, where we might have scoffed at our regional cooking in the past, we’ve embraced it as well,” says Steven Satterfield, a Georgia native who is chef and co-owner of farmhouse-chic Miller Union in the Westside. Satterfield honors his roots without resorting to southern-fried clichés: Star with small plates meant for sharing, like the local farm egg baked in celery cream and served with wedges of grilled bread, and move on to duck confit nestled against cider-braised cabbage and whiskeyed apples.

Eating regionally means embracing the seasons, an no local chef highlight the region’s larder bettr thatn Billy Allin, chef or  owner of cozy Cakes &Ale in Decatur, the progressive town that is to Atlanta what Berkeley is to San Fransisco. Allin weaves Italian and Mediterranean recipes among southern flavors on his changing menu. Look for dishes like pillowy gnocchi with lamb ragu and green tomatoes along with North Carolina trout roasted in the wood-burning oven and served with a tangy bacon and green onion mayonnaise sauce.


MORNING Water World

Georgia Aquarium, across the street from downtown’s 21-acre Centennial Olypic Park, measures more than 600,000 square feet and holds 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water, making it one of the world’s largest aquatic zoos. Its many spectacles are worth the plunge, but start early to beat the crowds: Order tickets online to avoid lines and secure seats for Dolphins Tales, a show filled with special effects that manage not to detract from the leaping headliners. The whole visit takes at least three hours. Be sure to check out the rare, wide-mouthed whale sharks and the white, cuddly-looking beluga whales. Visit to: KeyLargo The Florida Keys 1.800.822.1088, Deep within Key Largo, you’ll discover things that may surprise you. From the unspoiled wilderness of the Florida Everglades to the tranquility of John Pennerkamp State Park, there’s more depth here than you might think.

AFTERNOON Midtown Museums

In Midtown, the city’s cultural hub, stop for a lunchtime oyster po’boy or a fried chicken salad at Empire State South, the restaurant owned by Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson.

The white, curving, unapologetically modernist building of the High Museum of Art, by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Richar Meier and Renzo Piano, stands out majestically along a verdant stretch of busy Peachtree Street. A touring exhibition showcasing the works of Mexican artis Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rvera, is a current draw (on display through May 12). Be sure, though, to spend time with the permanent southern folk art exhibition the top floor, full of quirkly, poignant caricatures with name like “Take My Yoke Upon You and Learn of Me Saith Jesus.”Museum of Design Atalanta, with its modern concrete-and-glass venner, opened across from the High in early 2011. It has no permanent collection , so shows are in a constant, fascinating flux: Past exhibits included skateboard art, Italian motorcycles, and portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

EVENING Laugh Out Loud

At the edge of Inman Park, a great walking neighborhood and Atlanta’s first residential “suburb,” planned in the 1800s, chef Robert Phalen uses imagination at his restaurant One Eared Stag. Adventurous carnivores will sight over beef belly with pickled eggplant and roasted bone marrow with onion marmalade; tamer palates will love the chicken schnitzel and, for dessert, chocolate pot de crème. A few blocks away, Dad’s Garage, home to the city’s premier improve troupe, inspires belly laughts with outrageous, unscripted performers acting along loose themes like the Civil War or a genre of music (rock, hip-hop) chosen by the audience.

Wander among art booths and flowering trees at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, April 19-21, an annual event established before World War II. Piedmont Park, the 185-acre green space built by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., hosts the event. The park is also the starting point for the 2.25-mile Eastside Trail, the first major segment of the city’s BetLine, a 22-mile loop of proposed urban development along abandoned railway lines.