Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

Enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Food & Wine Lover's Paradise

Today was an amazing day. My mother and I had tickets to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Grand Tasting, held in fabulous Miami Beach. The website calls it the Olympics of Gastronomy and it's very easy to see why. The event is put on by the Food Network and showcases the greatest restaurants of South Florida.

What happens is that restaurants and liquor companies come together and put together a booth where the hand out small plates - samples of their food. Everything was represented from sushi and certified Black Angus steak to fancy vodkas and tequilas. We ended up eating and drinking our way through two tents and a flurry of stands. The South Florida heat didn't even stop us or slow us down.

One of the highlights of the event is the fact that celebrity chefs give cooking demos. If you're one of the fast-growing fans of the Food Network, you'll know the likes of Paula Deen and Bobby Flay. Seeing them cook in person is pretty spectacular. Nothing was quite as spectacular, though, as Paula Deen dropping her pants on stage showing everybody what was underneath. As my mom puts it, "She's like that crazy, eccentric Aunt that everybody has and loves." It's so true. You just want to sit down with her at some great restaurant in Savannah and talk about anything. We were lucky enough to have her sign my mom's cook book afterwards.

This definitely was an event I hope to attend in the future. It was full of good food, good people, amazing wines and tons of fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Budapest Trip - Feb 9-12 2009



My trip to Budapest, although short, has been incredible as it's the first time I've been this far east in Europe.  Budapest, one of the true capitals of Europe, is a fascinating reflection of history and the blends of culture that have crossed this land both over the past few millennia and in recent history.

As part of a country which is now part of the European Union and set to adopt the euro shortly, Budapest is an incredible symbol of east meets west, in this case European east meets west, with recent history thrown into the mix.  Having emerged from Communism in 1989, the buildings have only slowly been restored to their original grandeur, with some edifices reflecting their original lustor while others are still black from decades of soot and pollution, with others still displaying facades that have continuously decayed over the years and have yet to be touched.

That comparison can also be seen in the attitudes of the people here.  With English being spoken more prevalently by the younger Hungarians, the story told quite often is of the clash of cultures between the more westernized youth of today and their middle-aged counterparts who grew up with Communism and have had a tougher time adapting to the more free spirited and customer service-focused social-capitalist culture of today.  Thus, it may take generations to pass before this part of Europe reflects the more western spirit now instilled in its youth, and will hopefully always include at least some of the culture inherent in eastern Europe as Budapest serves its role of gateway to the east, at the edge of the Carpathian Mountains and the vast plains of the Carpathian basin, with the Slovakian and Polish borders within site on a clear day.

The history of this city can be seen not only in the various buildings and their state of repair (or disrepair) throughout the city.  With some of the most beautiful churches in eastern Europe restored to their original grandeur, the city gleams rooftops with striking colors and patterns, and buildings such as Parliament becoming more and more completed in their restoration and showing a city with ever increasing wealth.  In the old city, around the original palace and castle, restoration is still going strong today, yet some buildings can be seen with bullet holes and cannon blasts dating back to 1945!

One part of Budapest famous the world over is the Turkish Bath.  With one of the most famous being Széchenyi, the best way to enjoy this natural hot spring is in the outdoor pools heated to various temperatures ranging from warm to perfectly soothing and hot.  Going later on in the evening allows for a more exciting crowd that is nicer on the eyes as well.
For one of the most gay-friendly stays in Budapest, check out Kapital Inn.  Run by Albert Marton, a trained Hungarian chef and former executive of a 5-star hotel, the Kapital Inn provides for a really comfortable, clean, modern and spoiled stay in the heart of Budapest.  I'm not typically a big fan of the B&B-style of inn or guest house, but this one, with its layout along with terrace, won me over!

For gay life in Budapest, there are several really good online sources, including:

Budapest is typical of a European city in that gay life is really more focused on clubs open over the weekend rather than gay bars.  Budapest has its mix of gay bars, but the ones I popped into were very good if you were looking to rent an escort for the night... not your typical "gay pub" or neighborhood bar where you can meet the locals.  My favorite night spot was Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden), a mostly straight multi-room bar set in an old unrestored building.  Decorated from that eclectic, unrestored point of view, it was one of the coolest bars I've gone to in years, and the crowd was HOT!  My gaydar was on and I could definitely pick out some cute gay boys in the crowd!

My photos from this trip:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whirlwind of Business in Cape Town



My apologies for not dedicating more time to Monday and Tuesday of Cape Town, but you would be bored with details of meetings. Needless to say, though, IGLTA met some amazing people here and we know that GLBT tourism will be able to thrive in this amazing city through all of us working together.

Monday we had a meeting on the edge of Table Bay on a beautiful summer day talking about the market, what events we should do, etc. The day was then spattered with informal meetings, hotel visits, a drive around the city (driving on the left is not very easy) and similar shenanigans. 
Monday evening we sponsored a networking reception at Friendly Society, a great bar in the gay village of Cape Town. The reception was a huge success and we met over fifty members of the GLBT tourism community. We drank and chatted well into the Monday night talking about the possibilities of business in Cape Town not to mention various topics dealing with South Africa and this fabulous city.

I did get a chance to experience a little more nightlife at that bar and then Adriaan and Newton (our friends at capetown.tv) took me over to the Bronx for karaoke night. It was very amusing, but not very busy and we were home early. All in all, a great night of brand new friends. I don't think there's anything better.
Tuesday was similar to Monday. We had tentative plans to visit Table Mountain, but the wind had picked up fiercely and the clouds were too low to enjoy the trip up. Instead we explored the waterfront, did a littls shopping and had lunch with Andre Thomas of Private Safaris. We went to this incredible sushi place called Tank. Amazing sushi, really.
The afternoon saw us meeting with Cape Town tourism at their main office downtown. They have a lovely little welcome center with a coffee shop. One of the highlights of the trip was afterwards when Wendy walked us over to a nearby hotel called Grand Daddy. This boutique hotel is very fashionable - and very unique. On the roof, the owner re-created a Trailer Park! Complete with themed 1950s and 1960s era trailers, the area is absolutely exquisite. This quickly became one of my favorite hotels of all time, and I highly recommend a visit. It's a complete slice of Americana high above Cape Town!
We met Roy Davies Monday night who invited us to dine at his hotel, The Vineyard. We had an absolutely perfect evening, touring the beautiful grounds of his suburban property and eating amazing food. It really was the perfect cap to our trip to Cape Town. It left us yearning for more of the city and country and ultimately sad we were leaving the next day.
Cape Town and South Africa are both amazing. Travel is one of those amazing things that causes you to meet new people, challenge yourself, reflect on your place in the world and just experience life. This trip did all of that as well as provide IGLTA with some great business contacts. All in all, it was perfect. Stay tuned for our next trip to this great region which cannot come too soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Caribbean Cruise

During my recent trip to the US in January, my partner and I have, for the 5th consecutive year, joined 3300 other guys on the Atlantis Caribbean Cruise. This time we met some really interesting journalists from OutTraveller, TIMM TV, New York Times and Out&About, just to quote a few, invited by Stephen Roth (yellow t-shirt) to attend the cruise. The picture show me (right from the second officer) with some of the journalist on a private visit to the Freedom of the Sea's bridge.
We were all surprised how computerized the bridge is. The large room looks like a lounge and most of the crew has a supervisory role other than physically controlling the ship, which is by the way, the world's largest cruise liner.
We've book our cruise for next year once more and will be soon in London to attend Community Marketing's seminar on GLBT travel... watch this space for more news on it!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reflections from the Edge of the World


I stood at the edge of the world today. I would say quite literally too, as I’ve never felt more “at world’s end” as I did today. We drove down to the Cape of Good Hope and stood on this cliff at the SouthWestern most edge of the African continent. I paid a bit of attention in history class and knew the crazy history of European explorers and the tumultuous times they had navigating the area. 
Naturally, standing there was an incredible experience. You could see the desert-like, yet green mountains and terrain and the rocky-ness of the shore. It was so dramatic that I found myself standing there, staring in the direction of Antarctica thinking about the meaning of life. It was definitely one of those incredible moments and I instantly thought of people in my life that I care about who I would love to take there to experience the same thing.

The whole day has actually been incredible and a perfect welcoming to Cape Town. We had two fabulous guides from a local Destination Management Company called Springbok Atlas. We woke up and were hurtled to a “surprise” that ended up being rides down to Hout Bay in side cars of a motorcycle. There was honestly no better way to explore the coast of Cape Town and I must say it was pretty incredible. I am instantly, at every moment, thrown back into a stupor. This country is ridiculously beautiful, everywhere I seem to go.
After feeling like we were going to fall off the edge of the world we had a lovely seafood lunch right on the bay and discovered a delightful little town called Simon’s Town where there was a cute penguin colony. I’m not really sure why humans have such fascinations with penguins, but seeing them in their colony had me feeling immensely appreciative of them as well. You just want to take one home and have it be your friend. It’s quite bizarre.

Of course the day wouldn’t quite have been perfect without some wine, and luckily we were able to experience a wine tasting at a very old winery called Groot Constantia. We toured their facilities and were able to sit down and have a proper tasting of five of their wines. They were all delicious and I was very disappointed to find out they are having distributor problems in the US. I’m going to have to order it online or just wait until I get back to Cape Town. More reasons to come back, though.
Tonight we’re having dinner in the gay village with two guys, Adriaan and Newton, from www.hotpinkdeals.co.za. They have been an immense help to us in the planning of our trip here and I’m incredibly excited to meet them and discover more of the area.
Seriously, though, if you ever get the chance to stand at the edge of a continent, look out over a dramatic landscape that’s dramatic in history and really reflect on your life you’ll know why life is so amazing.


Saturday Night in Cape Town

Last night I decided to venture out on the city by myself and see what Cape Town has to offer in terms of gay nightlife. I have to say the evening started out splendidly with an amazing cab ride. I know that sounds odd, but seriously – I had this spectacular cab driver. We quickly established that I was from the states and was interested in politics (of course Obama came up quickly). We had a really cool chat about Mandela and how he drummed up excitement for politics in the country and how Obama is doing similar things for the US. Very invigorating discussion and then we entered the small gay-village of Cape Town called De Waterkant. He showed me where the boundaries are of the gay area and streets I shouldn’t walk down. Then he made sure I had the cab company’s phone number before I left. I felt very taken care of and entered The Loft with a very happy feeling for the friendly people in Cape Town.
The Loft was a very hip place. It was lounge-like and I could easily have seen a similar bar in a cosmopolitan-down-to-earth American city like Chicago or San Francisco. People were milling about and social and I met a cranky British gay (who was appalled that Cape Town was much less posh than his favorable London), a fun-loving girl with her gay friend who was German, but now a local. Very eccentric characters, and I must say that is the number one attribute I look for when meeting new people. The crowd was slightly older than I thought it would be, but not as old as where I currently live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The bar emptied somewhat early though and it seemed people were headed to a bar/club on the corner called The Bronx (bar on the first floor) and Navigaytion (club on the second floor). I was feeling tired from the day’s travel, but I thought I would pop in to check it out. I only explored the first floor, but it was shoulder to shoulder and had a very good vibe. Dancing, talking, drinking – the place oozed fun and I was sad I was feeling tired. Still, to bed I went and vowed to explore more later in the trip.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

An African Feast


I have to take a moment to tell you about the meal we just had. First let me say that our arrival in Cape Town was relatively smooth and the city seems absolutely beautiful. Through e-mail contact I talked with a man named Remo Belluco who works at a restaurant called Africa Café. He invited us to dinner and even though we arrived with just enough time to hail a cab to the establishment, it was such a great experience. The Africa Café is situated in Cape Town’s central business district and boasts foods from around the continent. Upon arrival Remo gave us a grand tour of the place which has themed rooms for different African cultures and countries. Each room was more exquisite than the previous one and the ambiance of the place really captured John and me. Then we were able to eat the food and it was really mind-blowing. Our delightful waitress Portia delivered succulent dishes from all over the region including Mozambique and far-away Morocco. Each dish was delightful and came out in a pre-fixed menu style. This was a great way to try different things and we definitely felt stuffed at the end of the ordeal, but stuffed with a new appreciation of African culture and food. 
To make the evening even more perfect was the fact that the wait staff gets together towards the end to dance and sing through the restaurant. Normally these things do not appeal to me because they seem forced and corny, but this definitely was not that way. The people dancing were doing it because of their excitement with the cultures they represented and the feel of the restaurant. Later, Remo informed us that they actually stopped the entertainment portion and brought it back and their request. I am glad they did as it really was a perfect cap to the event.

Pretoria

On our way back from Sun City we took a little detour to the Johannesburg airport and drove through Pretoria. The city (their main capital) was beautiful and quaint in many areas. We drove through the main square and our driver informed us about how under apartheid, only whites were allowed in the area. Today, we were the only white people around. It's quite remarkable the changes in this country in a short 15 years. We also learned about some racial tensions in the city today and saw some key battle sites from the war between the Boers and the English. History was just oozing out of every corner. It was also great to see the University of South Africa - a huge institution overlooking the area on a hill. It was a great diversion on our way back to the airport.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sun City's Luxury and Beauty Combine


Sitting in the grand lobby of the Lost Palace makes you feel like you’re in another world. Well, it at least makes me feel like I am as I have little experience in such grandiose, elegant things. We’ve been in South Africa for about  48 hours now and it’s mind-boggling how it feels like so much longer. We have experienced a lot that Sun City has to offer and again I can’t stress enough how beautiful this resort is. This morning we took a game ride around Pilanesburg National Park.

Whether or not we saw animals seemed to be irrelevant as I sat in the truck and just immersed myself into the natural beauty around us. The drive was breathtaking – so much that I didn’t even mind the 05h00 wake up call. 

Rolling past beautiful green hills with the sharp wind of the vehicle whipping past us and the sun on our faces, it was one of those experiences that causes you to retract yourself deep into your head. Every now and again this self-reflection was interrupted by zebra crossing the road or extremely inquisitive giraffes stopping their breakfast to find out what we were all about. We reluctantly didn’t see any lions or leopards or elephants, but the park is huge and we covered a very small ground.

That experience seemed more quintessential African, another was the re-creation of a dance circle in a small cultural village that we experienced yesterday. South Africa has about 12 official languages spanning many of the tribes that inhabit the area. On Sun City’s property they have representatives from these tribes that tell you a little bit about their culture. It really is fascinating learning about cultures that on the surface seem so incredibly different from mine, yet there are so many parallels. There were people from polygamous societies, more historically-violent societies and we learned customs, traditions and languages. That, added to John Tanzella and I dancing in an African dance circle, made the experience really enjoyable.

We were whisked away afterwards to the village’s Shabeen, which is a little watering-hole / cantina / bar. After a few sips of some great beer, we were whisked away again for a “surprise.” Promising to keep our beer cold for us, the women at the Shabeen smiled at us, knowing what was about to happen to us. Two strong-looking gentlemen introduced themselves to us and told us to follow them. It was once we rounded a bend in the path that John pointed to a sign and his face turned white. We were headed straight towards a Helicopter Maneuvering Area. The excitement welled up inside me as the only other helicopter experience was with IGLTA’s Board of Directors in Las Vegas last year. John wasn’t so enthusiastic. We approached a small, beautiful black helicopter with four seats. After some coaxing, John agreed to get into the vehicle and we were briefed on safety and off. Any picture taken during that experience will not do it justice. Being high up above the green hills of the valley and seeing the resort and the vegetation stretch before us as the sun dipped in the sky is a vision I don’t think I will ever forget. We spotted rhinos from above and circled over some of the most picturesque settings. Afterwards, back at the Shabeen, the women there laughed heartily telling us how difficult it was to not tell us where we were going. John, by the way, loved the experience and kept gushing as to how amazing it was.

These past two days have not been all leisure, though. We have met some incredible people who are very passionate about IGLTA’s mission and hope to help us further GLBT tourism in the region. Yesterday we met with Johan Herbst of Rainbow Africa Travel Alliance and CompassQuest, and it was very motivating to see the passion for the work we do in a region we don’t often visit. We also had a delightful lunch with Boris Bornman, Director of Operations for the resort who was also remarkable in his passion for tourism, the market and the resort. Most of yesterday morning was spent with Violet, who was wonderful in taking us all around the property on a site inspection.

Tomorrow we leave the North West region of South Africa to go to the Western Cape and to Cape Town. Every person we have met so far has told us how much we’re going to love Cape Town and I have no doubt in my mind that I am going to fall passionately in love with the city. After a beautiful dinner tonight at the fine Italian restaurant at the hotel, it’s back to the Johannesburg Airport for the next leg of our adventure.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Welcome to South Africa!

An hour after arriving in South Africa, I found myself driving along the highway looking ahead at the cloudy, hazy skyline of Johannesburg. This was the first moment I thought to myself, “Wow, this country is majestically beautiful.” We were told that the drive from the airport to the resort of Sun City would be uneventful – boring even. I have to say it was anything but. This country is spectacular in terms of physical beauty and that is extremely obvious even though I’ve been here a mere seven hours. We landed in rain from a wonderful flight on South African Airways. Seeing the clouds and rain, my initial thoughts were slight disappointment, that the day would somehow be less than perfect because of the weather. Once we stepped outside it was clear that the cloudiness was part of the summer-time charm. Coming from Florida and DC, it was nice to feel that familiar humid feeling that comes with summer – just new to feel it in February. Still, the light rain created a semi-thick, comforting mist over the land. We drove over rocky hills full of brush vegetation and every corner we turned took my breath away. The roads around Johannesburg and Pretoria were packed and it was interesting to see a few villages as we drove around. My favorite thing to do when I come to a new country is to drive around, and it was nice to be able to do that. On the way we also saw a couple of very impoverished looking towns full of smiling people walking around. It is crazy to see the juxtaposition between that and where I’m sitting right now. We are staying at Sun International’s Palace of the Lost City and I must say it’s exquisite. It makes themed resorts in the US such as Disney and Las Vegas look small and insignificant. The elegance and luxury abounds and the grounds look spectacular. I can’t wait to explore them more tomorrow. We met the PR & Sales Executive tonight and she said she would take us around the grounds on a site inspection and I’m very intrigued to see what other rooms look like and what more this resort has to offer. The only drawback is the lack of Internet in the guest rooms (I won’t be able to post this until tomorrow), but I suppose one isn’t looking to work when staying at a resort. I feel like this country is going to sweep me off my feet in the coming days, and I will be sure to fill you in on the details. Please pardon the pictures, by the way, they were taken from inside the van!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pit Stop in the Capital of the US-of-A

Tomorrow, John Tanzella (our Executive Director) and I hope on a flight and venture down to South Africa. The trip is for IGLTA business development and we are incredibly excited. We are flying on South African Airways out of Dulles, so I thought I would spend the evening before in Washington, DC - my former home. This city really is spectacular and it was a beautiful day. I met up with a good friend, Laurel Fehrenbach who works putting on Public Programming for the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. We caught up on each other's lives and she told me about a great program happening on February 14th called Presidential Family Fun Day that will include 5,000 cupcakes arranged in the likenesses of George Washington and Barack Obama. I swear, only in DC! It was a great afternoon pit stop before venturing on down to Sun City and Cape Town tomorrow. Stay tuned for more information about that trip!