Georgia (the country): Who Knew!?

Apparently, everyone but me. My vision of Georgia, the country, was drab, dark, Soviet-bloc-downtrodden. Boy, was I wrong!

  • Forbes magazine declared, “Berlin Is Out, Tbilisi Is In: Georgia’s Capital Is This Year’s Most Exciting City” — and that was LAST year!
  • Time described “the buzz around Tbilisi as an emerging travel destination.” In 2018.
  • In 2017, CNN Travel‘s Anthony Bourdain wrote, “You should know Georgia because it’s nice. Because the food is excellent. The country is beautiful. Some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. It’s a place you should absolutely visit given the chance.”
  • The New York Times listed Georgia as one of its 52 places to visit in 2015. TWENTY FIFTEEN!
The Old City of Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi (photo courtesy of Departures magazine)

This West Virginia-size country is THE place to be, so naturally Mimi’s Travel File and her followers must go, too, be it vicariously or in the flesh.

The most well-traveled mother-daughter duo I know recently returned from eight glorious days and raved. They described Georgia as cosmopolitan, inexpensive, and a food-y destination, with excellent wine, hiking, history and scenery. Vogue magazine’s article entitled, “There Are Several Reasons Why Georgia Should Be on Your Mind,” inspired them to go. The quotes below are from said article.

Tbilisi (3 nights)

  • Cosmopolitan: “The Arabs, Russians, and Ottomans have all passed through this Silk Road crossroad and have left their mark and influence throughout the years.”
  • Scenic: “Geographically, Georgia’s an evocative spot, with the Caucasus Mountains to the north and the Black Sea to the west.”
  • Stylish: “This rich, varied place makes it a natural fit for a growing fashion scene, as was evident at the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi Fall 2017, held in the capital city.”
Vogue-Tblisi.jpg

(photo courtesy of Vogue magazine) Be sure to pack accordingly!

  • Friendly: “The once–Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, now known simply as Georgia, declared independence from Russia in 1991. Still in a state of disrepair, the country saw a mere 1,500 visitors in 1997. The small country has since bounced back considerably—it celebrated its six-millionth visitor in 2016 with a countrywide celebration when the Dutch traveler randomly arrived. The fanfare was not surprising to locals, as they celebrate visitors regularly.”
bank-of-georgia.jpg

Bank of Georgia (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

  • Architecturally interesting: “Old World wonders: stately squares, city walls, and dimly lit castles in the distance…a mad mix of many eras heading in several different directions…you see well worn cobblestone streets and Art Nouveau buildings, some of which are impeccably restored while others remain in a state of disrepair. Orthodox churches stand next to stark modern Soviet structures and shiny new buildings desperate to express themselves.

In the historic Avlabari neighborhood, “The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi is breathtaking on a Taj Mahal–like level. It feels that epic. It was shocking to hear that it was recently built, between 1995 and 2004.

cathedralvogue.jpg

Holy Trinity Cathedral (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)free

“The Kala district, a bohemian enclave with a web of cafés, wine bars, and shops, is situated below Narikala, the city’s 4th-century fortress.”

The Old City of Tbilisi, Georgia

(photo courtesy of Departures magazine)

“In Abanotubani, the bath district, distinctive dome-shaped sulphur bathhouses are the foreground for brightly colored buildings. “The Moorish Revival style of Tbilisi’s Opera House is something to look at, both inside and out. Dating back to 1851, it’s floor-to-ceiling operatic opulence.

opera tblisi

opera house

Rike Park Vogue

Rike Park Concert Hall and Exhibition Center (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

Beside Rike is the iconic Bridge of Peace, a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge built in 2010 connecting old city to new,” per Vogue magazine.

peace bridge Tblisi

Peace Bridge, Tbilisi (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

Food, glorious food

All of this touring is bound to make us hungry, so let’s explore the much-vaunted food in Tbilisi. The nicest restaurants are Georgian Mediterranean, says my mother-daughter duo. Khatchapuri (click here for recipe) is the signature cheese pie dish.

Man holding a baking tray with two egg and cheese khachapuri

Khatchapuri (photos courtesy of Departures magazine)

One of the reasons the food is so good here, say they, is that Georgia grows its own fruits and vegetables, and the soil is fertile. Check out:

  • Cafe Littera, a courtyard restaurant recommended by the Stamba Hotel and my friends.
  • “The signature Funicular Restaurant serves khinkali, traditional Georgian dumplings, and khachapuri, the national dish of Georgia—a flatbread with cheese topped with a runny egg. It’s far more decadent and delicious than it sounds. The Lounge Bar above is sexy and sophisticated, with the best sundowner in town,” says Vogue magazine.
Stamba lobby

Stamba Hotel dining room

Hotels

My mother-daughter team recommends:

  • Inexpensive: Fabrica Hostel
  • Middle end: Rooms Hotel (Vogue liked this)
  • But it was the “very high end” Stamba Hotel that my friends especially like (“great bar and concierge”). They spent three nights in Tblisi and thought that was sufficient

Kzahbegi (two nights)

Next stop for my mother-daughter friends was Kzahbegi, a town just south of the Russian border. The Rooms hotel there is the place to stay, located at the foot of snow-capped mountains. Looks beautiful, very Alpine! Request a room facing said mountains.

Tblisi-to-K.jpg

en route from Tbilisi to Kzahbegi

Rooms terrace

The Rooms hotel’s terrace

From there, they hiked 6-7 miles up to the chapel in the mountains.

mountain.jpg

sound-of-music.jpg

VERY “Climb Every Mountain” from the Sound of Music!

monastery

Kakheti (3 nights)

wine bottles

  • Stay at the Schuchmann Hotel and spa. My friends say it’s the nicest winery.  Request a room in the main house, with a view of the Caucasus Mountains.
  • Hire amazing David to drive you around ($25 per hour), as highly recommended by my friends. They found him in Lonely Planet.
  • Visit the local wineries that don’t export because they don’t add sulfites. This is a  genuine Georgian experience, where you will meet friendly people in small, rural villages, enthused my mother-daughter duo. They described the Georgians as charming, hospitable, warm people happy to have tourists.

wine country restau

bottle.jpg

Elllie in wine country

Cheers to a great trip! Thank you, mother and daughter (above) for all of the great info you provided. PS–I want that red jacket!

Check out this article from Departures magazine.

 

Fascinating article on the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair: Had to Share it with You!

The contemporary African art fair 1-54 made its African debut in Marrakech, Morocco, in the Grand Salon of the ritzy La Mamounia, one of Winston Churchill’s favorite hotels. Held over the weekend, 1-54 welcomed 17 international galleries, which exhibited more than 60 contemporary artists from across Africa and its diaspora. Sales were strong but, with the…

via Strong Sales at the First Marrakech Edition of 1-54 Art Fair, But Don’t Talk About ‘African’ Art — artnet News

Hong Kong

“Hong Kong makes New York City look sleepy,” said my globe-trotting father. I could not imagine any place more energized than NYC…until I got to HK. Let’s hop on a plane right now and go! Here’s what we will see…

The Rolls-Royce Fleet on Tsing Ma Bridge (horizontal - mid)

Here we are, being driven to the Peninsula Hotel in one of its famous Rolls Royces! Click here for more on the Rolls Royces.

Naturally, we will stay at the Peninsula Hotel. In addition to its consistently best-in-HK rank, the Peninsula has great views of the sparkling Victoria Harbour and an interesting history. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, they took over the best rooms at the Peninsula, until an American bomber pilot smoked them out! Click on the image at the bottom of this post to watch a beautiful video that will give you a feel for Hong Kong and the Peninsula.

Victoria Harbour View from The Pool (mid)

This is the Peninsula’s rooftop pool. One wall opens up to the outside, with its spectacular view of Hong Kong Island. My husband and I swam here, sipped cocktails here, and had this heaven all to ourselves.

See the Sights!

Walk the streets of Kowloon near the Peninsula to get a feel for the city. Look up and you will see factories on second, third and fourth stories of skyscrapers with laundry hanging from the windows. On the street level, you will see tiny storefronts offering everything under the sun, including reflexology. Such an exciting city!

city-374416_1920

Get oriented (no pun intended): Hire a car and driver for a day-long tour of Hong Kong to see the major sights. Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which are separated by Victoria Bay.

hong-kong-skyscrapers-1684327_1920

Situated between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, Victoria Bay is the third largest in the world.

The Peak — The Peak is the highest place on Hong Kong Island and a good place to get your bearings.  Click here for more info.

Mong Kok Bird Market — One of the most memorable sights we saw, birds are sold at this charming market and Chinese congregate with their pet birds. Chinese people believe that caged birds need fresh air and the company of other birds to stay healthy. Click here to learn more about this market, from the vantage point of the senior security agent of the Peninsula Hotel, who grew up in HK

Ride the Star Ferry “For less than 50 cents, grab a Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, a service that’s been in operation since the 19th century. It’s essential to get out on the water (you’ll see myriad fisherman motoring home with their daily catch), as there’s nothing quite like the view of Victoria Harbour…you can almost imagine what it would have been like back in the tea trading days,” according to Gwyneth Paltrow on her goop.com. We rode this ferry night and day and loved it.

ferry-440060_1920

Take the Aqua Luna harbor tour Gwyneth recommends it, despite its cheesy-ness, and my father still remembers it fondly, 20 years later.

Hollywood Road, Cat Street & Man Mo Temple —  “Hollywood Road was the second road to be built when the Hong Kong colony was established by the British. Today, it is an intriguing collection of shops, from high-end Chinese antiques shops to sculpture and rug galleries to Maoist memorabilia shops.” (per the Peninsula’s website)

man-mo-temple-entrance-hong-kong

Man Mo Temple, the oldest Taoist temple on HK & dedicated to the gods of literature and war…curious combination! (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Click here to learn more about Cat Street and Man Mo Temple from the Peninsula’s general manager, who grew up in HK.

man-mo-temple-interior-hong-kong

Man Mo Temple’s interior: The gold cones hanging from the ceiling are incense sticks that have been molded into this upwardly spiraling shape. When lit, the incense sends your prayers–in the form of scented smoke–up, up, up to the gods in heaven. (photo courtesy of stripped pixel.com)

Ginseng and Bird’s Nest Street, Dried Seafood Street, and Herbal Medicine Street — the tourist names for Wing Lok Street, Des Voeux Road West, and Ko Shing Streets — make up a neighborhood of small streets selling delicacies and remedies. “Traditional Chinese medicine is still very popular with the local population, and this is where they come to shop.” (per FathomAway.com) Most memorable was a shop with large, clear, glass jars filled with several birds’ nests, each jar from a different kind of bird. This shop sold skin remedies. When I told them I would like softer skin, they mashed up parts of several different nests, added some secret ingredients, and presented this tailor-made new skin potion to me.

Tour Western District — “Hong Kong is losing much of its past. However, there are still places to savor this vanishing world. Go on a walking tour through Western District, one of the most atmospheric parts of the city. There the streets are dedicated to sellers of specific products: Queen’s Road West has herbal remedies and temple goods; Bonham Road is dried seafood; and Man Wa Lane sells beautifully carved “chops” in a variety of material,” per trusted travel expert, Andrew Harper. Chops make good souvenirs! We had one made for my father, who uses it to this day on letters and his email signature.

hong-kong-129524_1920

Hong Kong Park

See the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware — “Hong Kong Park contains a fascinating small museum. The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is dedicated to the history of tea ware…Steps away, the newer K.S. Lo Gallery wing houses an extraordinary collection of Chinese name seals, or “chops,” per Andrew Harper.

PMQ The initials stand for Police Married Quarters. Formerly living accommodations for police officers and having stood vacant for years, PMQ has been refurbished and transformed into studios, offices and shops for the creative industries, including those involved in fashion, furniture design, jewelry and food, including restaurants and cafes, per Andrew Harper.

Exterior

(photo courtesy of PMQ)

Asia Society Hong Kong Center — “a three-and-a-half-acre site has been converted to house the Hong Kong branch of the Asia Society, with spaces for performances, exhibitions and screenings. The visually striking AMMO restaurant was once a 19th-century ammunition storage depot for the British army. (You can still follow the rail tracks used for transporting munitions.)” per Andrew Harper.

Tour the Hong Kong Museum of History — “From prehistoric times to the modern era, the Hong Kong Museum of History squeezes 400 million years of the city’s history under one roof, ” according to USNews.Travel.com. While I haven’t been here, it sounds promising.

hong-kong-1757274_1920

Happy Valley Racecourse — “Every Wednesday from September to July, thousands of Hong Kong residents flood the stands of the Happy Valley Racecourse…Even if you’re not into betting, you should visit this local institution simply for the electric atmosphere, not to mention the surrounding city skyline, which sparkles once the sun goes down.” (usnews.travel.com) We went to the track in Bangkok and it was a blast!

9fe17820-6f61-11e6-af03-e675d0741f8a_1280x720 (1)

Happy Valley Racecourse (photo courtesy of scmp.com)

World’s Longest Outdoor Escalator — “The Central-Mid-Levels Escalator — an 800-meter-long chain of moving stairs and walkways…it’s a series of 18 reversible escalators and three travelators, all covered to protect against sudden downpours…Snaking through narrow streets in the busiest neighborhood in town, it’s actually a great way to tour Hong Kong’s dramatic cityscape — from dai pai dong food stalls in small alleys to the trendiest bars in Mid-Levels, from colorful old walk-ups to sleek modern skyscrapers,” per CNNtravel. I loved this! So memorable to ride up, up, up, passing different neighborhoods.

To read the NY Times “36 Hours in Hong Kong,” click here.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For cocktails, I recommend the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel for its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the spectacular Victoria Harbour.

Lobby-Lounge

Lobby Lounge at The InterContinental (photo courtesy of nextstophongkong.com): My mother stayed up most of one night watching the non-stop harbor activity & twinkling lights beyond from their IC hotel room. That’s how beautiful it is!

Gwyneth Paltrow loves Sevva. It’s website looks beautiful! Elle Decor raved about its outdoor wrap-around terrace with big, gorgeous views of HK’s harbor.

Y SEVVA Terrace 1

Sevva’s transporting  terrace

SEVVA Lounge - Green Wall

In addition to its lovely, imaginative decor, Sevva has great music, too!

For recommendations by Andrew Harper of authentic restaurants and those with spectacular views of the harbor, click here.

The Financial Times’ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine (2017) recommends:

  • Mak’s Noodle — “this restaurant serves wonton noodle soup and is a slice of Hong Kong heritage…has been in the same family for generations” (no website)
  • Cheung Hing — “a traditional tea house in Happy Valley…opened in 1951…pale green and grey mosaic tiles are quintessential 1950s Hong Kong.” (no website)
  • Fook Lam Moon — “another Jong Kong instituion, which has been serving traditional Cantones food since the 1940s.”

China Tang — (Departures magazine, 2014)

HRK_1566_2_1Mb

beautiful dining room at China Tang Harbour City

Travel + Leisure (2015) recommended:

  • Little Bao (the NYTimes and Forbes also like LB) –“What Momofuku’s David Chang has done for the steamed pork bun (a.k.a.bao) in New York, the rising chef May Chow is emulating at her Little Bao restaurant in Hong Kong,” per the NYT.
  • Ho Lee Fook — pan-Asian food around the corner from Little Bao
  • Mott 32 — “Cantonese cuisine takes a luxurious turn at Mott 32, a chic subterranean space”; Forbes Travel Guide also likes it, as does Vogue magazine (2017)
  • Seventh Son — “The stylishly restrained dining room serves Cantonese mainstays without the cliquey, club-like vibe”

Additional Hotels

Hotel Indigo (138 rooms) has a bright, locally inspired décor—goldfish pillows, Chinese lanterns–along with a glass-bottom, rooftop pool cantilevered over the bustling sidewalks 29 floors below.” (NY Times 2016)

The Pottinger — “is a boutique hotel with a beautiful and subtle Chinese aesthetic” (Travel+Leisure 2015)

The Upper House — “a beautiful world-class hotel with a fabulous restaurant,” per Vogue magazine (2015); Andrew Harper likes it, too (“occupying floors 38 through 49 of the stylish Pacific Place complex, which is home to one of the city’s most luxurious shopping malls.”) The Upper House’s Cafe Gray Bar on the 49th floor has great views of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Gwyneth Paltrow likes the UH but I think it’s website looks cold.

Shop!

Gwyneth  Paltrow has a good guide to HK shopping on her site, goop.com. Click here to see her recommendations. Lala Curio looks especially good.

Have a suit or dress or whatever tailor-made!

  • The Peninsula recommended Fat Tai Eddie Siu Custom Tailors Co., where my husband had a couple of jackets made and our friend ordered a beautiful sky-blue cheongsam dress. So happy with both price and quality! They have kept my husband’s measurements and he has since ordered additional jackets from afar over the years.
  • Gwyneth recommends William Cheng & Son. 
  • TIP: Avoid the cheap tailors on the street level on many of the main streets in HK, as they tend to produce low quality clothes. Fat Tai Eddie Siu’s shop is on the second floor.

Click here for Vogue magazine’s most recent article on shopping in HK.

Tai Ping Shan Street..”is lined with independent shops and studios” (recommended by Lane Crawford’s chief brand officer in Travel+Leisure, 2015)

Field Trip

“Tai O village is about as far as you can get from central Hong Kong — both literally and figuratively. On a remote bay on lush, mountainous Lantau Island, Tai O is one of the last surviving fishing villages in Hong Kong — a relaxing relic of a bygone era, with simple homes on stilts fringing the water and narrow, car-free lanes lined with stalls selling shrimp paste (one of the village’s best known industries) and all manner of dried seafood. After strolling through town, sit down for seafood fried rice with local shrimp paste ( 98 Hong Kong dollars) at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, a renovated former police station built by the British in 1902 to safeguard Hong Kong’s border with China. It’s here, perched above the waters of the South China Sea, that one can appreciate what Hong Kong was like before its transformation to global commercial center — a sleepy outpost, deeply traditional and dependent on catches from the sea.” (NY Times 2016)

“Hong Kong is home to more than 260 outlying islands — each with its own personality. A few of the easiest to reach are Lantau Island, home to water buffalo and amazing hiking trails; Lamma, known for its laid-back village life and alfresco seafood restaurants; and Cheung Chau, which is perfect for a bike ride or hike through the mountains. Many of the islands can be reached from the Central Ferry Pier, with rides ranging from about 30 minutes to 1 hour.” (Forbes Travel Guide 2017)

Don’t Bother Going to nearby Macau: It’s not that interesting, unless you like to gamble.

Best Time to Visit: October-March is warm and dry; May-September is rainy, hot and humid.

Literary & DVD Traveling Companions:

  • “The World of Suzy Wong,” by Richard Mason, is well-written and will get you in a Hong Kong frame of mind.
  • James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”

Watch this Evocative Video from The Peninsula Hotel to get you in that HK frame of mind…