Winter Travel: The Caribbean

January 31, 2014

Mustique Island
By NIcole Cusick

Mustique Island is a private island
of the archipelago that makes up
St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is approximately two and half
square miles, covering 1,400 acres. At its highest
elevation the island has a view point of 500 feet
giving way to a series of small valleys leading to
pristine palm fringed beaches. The coconut tree
plantations, added more than 50 years ago, give
the island its thick and luscious vegetation. A
once hidden gem, Mustique is a growing tropical

Where to Stay:
The Villa Collection
Mustique has a collection of over a hundred
unique and individual houses. Many of the villas
are available to rent. House sizes range from
the intimate two bedroom cottages, suitable for
honeymooners and couples, to the 8-10 bedroom
private estates.

The Cotton House Hotel
The Cotton House Hotel, formerly the old
cotton warehouse is the oldest building on the
island. Converted by architect Oliver Messel,
who designed many structures on the island,
the Cotton House has 17 rooms, ranging from
a presidential two-bedroomed suite with private
pool and drawing rooms to single rooms.
Both locations offer a full hospitality staff to
help provide a relaxing experience. The team
includes a cleaning staff, a kitchen staff to stock
up on all of your favorite foods upon arrival,
child care and spa professionals trained in various
spa treatments.

Where to Eat:
The Firefly
The Firefly’s cocktail bar is famous for its
legendary sunset views over Britannia Bay.
Home to the Mustique Champagne and Martini
Clubs, favorites amongst the island’s regulars,
the restaurant serves a range of dishes using
fresh, local ingredients with a Caribbean flair.
They also serve pizzas, which can be delivered
to you on the beach.

Basil’s Beach Bar & Restaurant
In the heart of Britannia Bay, Basil’s Bar
extends over the water and has been hosting an
international crowd for over 25 years. In season,
Wednesday night features a barbeque buffet dinner
with live music. Sunday night features sunset
jazz, followed by á la carte dining. Basil’s is
home to the legendary Mustique Blues Festival
in late January and early February, where A-list
musicians come to play, offering guests the
opportunity to enjoy world class music.

What to do in Mystique:
Taking advantage of the beach is a must, but
there are many other things to do in Mustique.
For the adventurous, several water sports, nature
and fitness trails, bird watching and horseback
riding are all available. The island also supplies
entertainment through an open air movie theater,
local museum and island library.

Explore what else this hidden treasure has to
offer and more at

Caribbean Tourism
By Terry Robe

One of the most popular destinations for
winter travel, the Caribbean is a region
of surprising diversity. While the 30
members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization
– from Anguilla to Venezuela – share a sea, theircitizens may speak English, Spanish, French or
To gain insight into Caribbean travel trends,
The Georgetowner recently spoke with Sylma
Brown Bramble, director of CTO-USA, Inc.,
the New York-based subsidiary of the Caribbean
Tourism Organization.

The Georgetowner: How important is the
North American market to the region’s tourism?
SBB: North America has delivered the most
visitors to the Caribbean over the past several
decades. In 2012, the region welcomed over 21
million long-stay visitors (not including cruise
visitors) to its shores, 60 % of whom came from
North America. As product offerings such as
sports, faith-based, adventure, cuisine and multigenerational
vacations continue to gain popularity,
we expect to see an increase in the numbers.
The Georgetowner: Many people think of
cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts when they
think of the Caribbean, but is this an outdated
SBB: Absolutely. There is a wide variety
of hotel choices in the Caribbean, from guesthouses
to tony boutique properties to villas to
time-shares to elegant luxury resorts.
The Georgetowner: Is the Caribbean also a
cultural heritage destination?
SBB: Yes, our cultural heritage is intimately
relevant to the development of tourism. Its
authenticity and diversity can be found in no
other destination. There are music and cultural
festivals, such as the Music Festival in St. Kitts,
the Reggae festivals in Jamaica and the Creole
Festival in Dominica. Trinidad and Tobago is
well known for Carnival, but in the Bahamas
it is Junkanoo and in Barbados it is Crop Over.
Our cuisine is another area that reflects our cultural
heritage and in which there is much variety.
In the French and French-influenced territories
of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Martin, there
is an unmistakable creole flair to the dishes. But
in all local fare in the Caribbean there is a delicious
infusion of locally grown ingredients with
the influences of European or African ancestry.
The Georgetowner: What is meant by
Leading Sustainable Tourism, CTO’s stated purpose?
SBB: Because the Caribbean is the most
tourism-dependent region in the world, we
have an immense challenge and opportunity:
to maintain tourist flows necessary to guarantee
economic stability; to ensure the proper use
of our resources for the benefit of visitors and
locals and to see that the resources that currently
attract visitors are protected and preserved
for future generations. The Caribbean Tourism
Organization, as the region’s tourism development
agency, is the leading advocate for development
issues, hence the purpose. CTO holds
an annual Conference on Sustainable Tourism
Development to share best practices and keep
our stakeholders updated. So we live our purpose
both in words and in deed.

Islands at a glance:
Language: Dutch
The 320-room Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, opened
in November.
The first international flights for Southwest
Airlines, announced this week, include flights
from BWI to Aruba (and also to the Bahamas
and Jamaica), beginning July 1.

Language: English
The SoCo (for South Coast) Hotel, allinclusive
but intimate with only 24 rooms,
opened in 2013.
One of the newest and best-rated restaurants
– in one of the Caribbean’s top dining
destinations – is Chez Max.

Language: English
Grenada’s carnival, SpiceMas, will begin
in May instead of June in 2014 as part of the celebration
of the 40th anniversary of the country’s
Spice Island Beach Resort is on Island
Magazine’s new list of 15 of the World’s
Greatest Escapes.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Language: English
Two islands in the Grenadines – Bequia
and Canouan – made a recent Huffington Post
list of Caribbean Islands You’ve Never Heard Of
But Should Visit.
Saint Vincent’s new Argyle International
Airport, designed to accommodate large jets, is
scheduled for completion late in 2014.

Trinidad and Tobago
Language: English
“Voluntourism” opportunities are available
between March and September, when up to
12,000 nesting leatherback turtles come to the
beaches of Trinidad.
Tobago recently launched a tablet and
smart-phone app. [gallery ids="101617,146745,146749" nav="thumbs"]

Sugarloaf Mountain Day Trip

January 6, 2014

Ah, Sugarloaf—what views as our cable car rises above the islands of Guanabara Bay! Sorry, wrong Sugarloaf. We’re not in Rio de Janeiro. We’re 10 miles outside Frederick, Md., on the border of Montgomery County.
Slightly shorter than the one in Brazil and much easier to get to, Maryland’s Sugarloaf Mountain presides over a scenic and historic landscape at the edge of the Blue Ridge.

Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1969, the quartzite monadnock is 1,282 feet high, some 800 feet higher than the surrounding farmland. A lookout point for Union and Confederate forces, it just missed becoming the Presidential retreat we know as Camp David.

Though “Camp Sugarloaf” admittedly lacks gravitas, it was the mountain’s owner, Gordon Strong, who persuaded FDR to look elsewhere (at nearby Catoctin Mountain, as it turned out).

Strong, who managed and inherited his father’s Chicago real estate holdings, earned law degrees from George Washington University (called Columbian University at the time) and worked as a patent attorney.

He started buying land on the mountain in 1903 and by the 1920s owned most of it. At Strong’s request, Frank Lloyd Wright designed an “automobile objective”—a sort of spiral, drive-up observation tower with a nightclub (or a planetarium, in a later version)—for the summit, but Strong finally decided to leave the ’Loaf alone.

He and his wife Louise founded Stronghold, the nonprofit that owns and maintains the mountain as a public park, in 1946, eight years before he died. Stronghold acquired more land and is working to restore the American chestnut to the park. The Strong Mansion, built in 1915, with patio and formal gardens, is rented out for weddings and banquets.
Admission is free to the park, which opens daily at 8 a.m. Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain is suitable for beginners and just challenging enough to interest those more experienced. Trails—satisfyingly uncrowded during the winter months—lead from the East View and West View parking areas.

At the base of the mountain, in the historic village of Comus (postal address: Dickerson), is Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Montgomery County’s only vineyard-winery. Its fields are planted with the grape varieties of Bordeaux—Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot—and the white-wine grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. The vineyard opened in 2006. It’s received several awards and was chosen “Best of 2013: Vineyard ” by the Washington Post Express
Sugarloaf Mountain wines may be purchased at many shops in Frederick and Montgomery Counties and in D.C. at the Whole Foods markets in Foggy Bottom, Georgetown and Tenleytown. Their newest white, Penelope, sells at the vineyard’s tasting room for $23.95 per bottle and $263.45 per case. The tasting room is open seven days a week from 12 to 6 p.m. and closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The nearby Comus Inn restaurant was originally the c. 1862 home of farmer Robert Johnson in what was then Johnsonville. During the Antietam Campaign, Union troops fired artillery at the Confederate position on Sugarloaf Mountain from the farm. The present five-bay main house, the handsome result of expansions in the 1880s and around 1900, incorporates Johnson’s chestnut log dwelling.

The view of Sugarloaf that made it a good place to fire your artillery makes the Comus Inn a popular wedding venue. The inn was a 2013 Wedding Wire Bride’s Choice and a Best of Weddings 2013 pick in The Knot.

In December, the inn is open for lunch Thursday to Saturday and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. The dinner menu is sophisticated country American, featuring steak, duck, pork, catch of the day, scallops and crab cake entrees, with family sides of iron skillet Applewood bacon cornbread with sweet sorghum butter, cast-iron baked macaroni and cheese and smoked tomato and cheddar Virginia stone-ground grits.

A few miles away, in Adamstown, is Lilypons Water Gardens, a leading plant and water garden supplier. It began in the early 1900s with G. Leicester Thomas, Sr.’s fondness for goldfish and water lilies. His hobby became a business, Three Springs Fisheries, in 1917. Eight years later, he expanded to 250 acres. The business thrived over the years to the point where a new post office was needed to handle Thomas’ blooming mail-order business. In 1936, the new post office was dedicated to Metropolitan Opera star Lily Pons, who was present for the festivities.

Thomas’ great-granddaughter, Margaret Thomas Koogle, now heads tthe company, which describes itself online as “Serenity for Sale.” Through February, Lilypons is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, it is closed from Christmas to New Year’s Day. In March, it will be open seven days a week when many special events are planned.

N.Y.C. Art Exhibitions

November 22, 2013

MoMA has Magritte. The Jewish Museum, Chagall. Kandinsky is at the Neue Galerie and Gaultier is in Brooklyn. Christopher Wool is getting raves at the Guggenheim.
But this brief double-review talks about a small show at a large museum and a large show at a small museum, each worth a special trip.
Few Americans—other than Korean-Americans—have more than a cursory knowledge of Korean culture. When we think of Korean art, we tend to picture gray-green celadon pottery. “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Feb. 23, opens a new and fascinating window.
And it’s a picture window. At the entrance to the exhibition, projected onto a wide curved screen, are alternating video views of Hwangnam Daechong, the grass-covered Great Tomb of Hwangnam in Gyeongju, a city in southeast Korea. Conjoined burial mounds (His and Hers), the Great Tomb is the largest in the kingdom’s former capital.
Silla endured for nearly a millennium, until A.D. 935, when it gave way to the Goryeo dynasty, for which the country is named.
Most of the objects on display were excavated from tombs and date from the fifth to the eighth century (Buddhism became the official religion in 527.). Made of stoneware, jade, gilt bronze, and gold, they have been restored as nearly as possible to their original brilliance.
The label text for “National Treasure 83,” a gilt bronze statue of a bodhisattva, probably Maitreya (Mireuk in Korean), notes the “extraordinary balance between his contemplative aura and the sense of energy captured by the drumming fingers of his left hand and the upturned toes of his right foot.” The smooth musculature of the figure’s bare upper body reminds one of the influence of Asian sculpture on Art Deco sculptors, such as Paul Manship.
There are several other national treasures in the exhibition, curated by the Met’s Soyoung Lee and Denise Leidy, including a crown with stylized, antler-like projections—and pieces of jade shaped like hooks or tiger’s teeth—and a belt with pendant ornaments. Stunning examples of craftsmanship in gold, they came from the north portion of the Great Tomb, in which the queen was interred.

Another section focuses on objects that reached Silla through trade, diplomacy, or war. An elaborate gold dagger and sheath, inlaid with garnet and glass using the technique known as cloisonné, originated in the Black Sea region or Central Asia.
After watching a four-minute animation about the construction of the Seokguram Grotto, a World Heritage Site, visitors proceed to a final, shadowy gallery in which sits a monumental cast-iron Buddha from the late eighth or early ninth century, similar to the one at the center of the Grotto.

Also currently at the Met: “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800,” “Julia Margaret Cameron” and “Balthus: Cats and Girls.”

Though Jan. 19, the International Center of Photography is showing “Lewis Hine,” a major retrospective of the pioneering American photojournalist, who died at age 66 in 1940.

Exhibition curator Alison Nordstrom has filled most of ICP’s lower level with Hine’s pictures, on loan from Rochester’s George Eastman House (the collection was initially offered to MoMA, which turned it down). Many are classics:

• A young blond girl in filthy clothing in a North Carolina cotton mill, the rows of white bobbins and the floorboards themselves seeming to converge on her (1908);

• An Italian immigrant in full blouse and long skirt, like the drapery on a statue, carrying a bundle of garments on her head in New York’s tenement district (1910);

• A newspaper boy in D.C. (Danny Mercurio, 150 Scholes Alley), wearing a hat like a helmet and looking as if he’s about to spit tobacco at the photographer (1912);

• A bare-armed, coveralls-wearing construction worker in mid-air, his legs wrapped around a steel cable, high above Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, America (1931).

Raised in Wisconsin, Hine began to photograph while teaching at New York’s Ethical Culture School. Another Midwesterner, Paul Kellogg, hired him to take photographs for a comprehensive sociological study of Pittsburgh, published between 1908 and 1914. Editor of the progressive magazine, Charities and the Commons, later renamed The Survey (which launched a supplement called The Survey Graphic in 1921), Kellogg regularly commissioned Hine to illustrate social welfare stories, copies of which are on display.

Passing through the different sections of the exhibition—Ellis Island, child labor, the Pittsburgh Survey, worker portraits, photographs of African Americans, the American Red Cross Survey, the Empire State Building—one sees how Hine’s images inspired photographers now recognized as important artists: Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, to name a few.

A single-gallery companion show, “The Future of America: Lewis Hine’s New Deal Photographs,” curated by Judith Gutman from ICP’s holdings, covers Hine’s last years.

Also currently at ICP: “Zoe Strauss: 10 Years” and “JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History.” [gallery ids="101549,149590" nav="thumbs"]

N.Y.C. New Again: Tallest Building, Boutique Hotels, Art Exhibits

Have you been to New York City lately?

Reclaiming the nation’s tallest-building title for New York from Chicago, One World Trade Center now towers over the waterfall-bordered reflecting pools of the National September 11 Memorial.

Wall Street is un-Occupied and stumbling back. The subway is seawater-free.

On Jan. 1, Mayor Mike will step aside for Brother Bill, leaving New York the healthiest it’s been in. . . well, probably ever. Throngs are hiking the High Line, zipping around on blue Citibikes, and “smoking” personal vaporizers in pedestrian zones. But part of what makes New York New York—The Big Difficult, The City Where No One Can Sleep, The Urban Jugular—is that it remakes itself right before your eyes.

One of the changes in recent years has been the flourishing of boutique hotels, stylish and personalized pied-a-terres.

Here is a small sampling:
Hotel Americano (518 West 27th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues) opened in 2011 in the thick of Chelsea’s art galleries. the feel throughout is minimalist Euro-Latino: lots of glass, with expensive fabrics in white, black, and gray framed in steel and natural wood. The 56 rooms are designated “Uptown” or “Downtown” for their views. Although studio means tiny in New York, the hotel’s seven studios, one per floor, are the largest, most desirable rooms. All share the “urban ryokan” concept, with platform beds and decorative touches, inspired by those in traditional Japanese inns. The restaurant, the Americano, adjoins the lobby and opens onto a small patio. There is also a club-like basement bar. But the knockout is the rooftop grill: Piscine in summer (when the swimming pool is open) and Artico the rest of the year, when the pool is covered and hidden by long gray couches.

Across town, in what is now branded Flatiron or NoMad (for North of Madison Square), the 72-room Hotel Giraffe (365 Park Avenue South, at 26th Street) has a more casual, family-friendly elegance. As the hotel’s Jayla Langtry points out, “Boutique means different things to different people.” Most of the rooms are suites, perfect for families with children (or grandchildren) or friends traveling together. Many have “Juliet balconies,” which add to the sense of spaciousness. Guests come and go in the lobby, where a generous continental breakfast, espresso drinks and cookies all day, and evening wine and cheese are complimentary. Bread & Tulips, in a rustic basement space complete with imported pizza oven, offers hotel guests a 20-percent discount. There is also a seasonal rooftop garden and bar. Hotel Giraffe is one of four hotels in the Library Collection, named for the book-themed Library Hotel near Grand Central. All four appear in TripAdvisor’s ranking of the city’s top ten.

The Jade Hotel (52 West 13th St., between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), at the northern edge of Greenwich Village, makes a strong first impression. Just inside, one looks down a strikingly designed staircase that steeply descends to a sort of drawing room with marble mantelpiece and Oriental carpet. But the walls hold contemporary art, the speakers stream modern rock, and the molded ceiling panels are painted bright gold. The rooms—there are 113—continue this High Retro décor. Big patterns and bold colors surround a witty mix of furnishings from different eras (a black, rotary-dial telephone, for example). Back in the lobby, a narrow brick tunnel leads to the bar and farm-to-table restaurant, Grape & Vine, which hosts a wine hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The newest of the three, the Jade Hotel, opened earlier this year on a block-long showcase of New York reinvention. Next door, in the last remaining townhouse, is the Off-Off-Broadway Thirteenth Street Repertory Company, founded in 1972, where an adaptation of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” is playing Dec. 14 through 29. Across the street is a New School building (Parsons School of Design is down the block), Silk Day Spa, Tenri Cultural Institute, and a Biscuits & Bath Doggy Gym. [gallery ids="101548,149594,149598" nav="thumbs"]

Amtrak Improves Menus; Michel Richard on Team

June 20, 2013

It is not surprise that food in airplanes and trains aren’t known for flavorful and succulent taste. Booking a flight or buying a train ticket used to hold an air of excitement for many. For businesspersons, who often find themselves traveling four times a week, a good meal could be the one highlight of a trip.

Unfortunately, the feedback from passengers about the food in trains and planes are usually not positive and often end up in complaints and disappointments. Imagine comments which include: “The chicken was cold. The bread was five days old. There was no vegetarian option.” Most people opt for bringing their own sandwich or not eating at all and waiting to eat at that destinations. Still the idea of eating gourmet during a trip might change the minds of some travelers.

Amtrak has already stepped up its game by hiring top chefs in the United States to be the brain of its culinary advisory team in exchange for frequent traveler miles. With a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper, the team of 12 top chefs are in charge of coming up with healthier and tastier meals for passengers.

Cooks like Tom Douglas from Seattle and Roberto Santibañez from Mexico are among the gang of 12. They are joined by Michel Richard, well-known in Georgetown for his restaurant Citronelle, which closed due to water damage, and Central Michel Richard still up and running on Pennsylvania Avenue. From France, Richard spent some time in California before moving to D.C., where his cuisine won the heart of the nation’s capital and is a must-go place on the restaurant scene.

The team comes together each spring to brainstorm new dishes for Amtrak’s menu. Their challenge is to come up with meals that are healthier and satisfy all palates. With longer routes, they have more flexibility to come up with more elaborate food, while in shorter routes, they have to be ready to come up with pre-packed meals ready to be heated up or served as it is. This could be the beginning of a gourmet experience when you travel short and long distances.