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.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Zooming Through India Part 6: Heaven on Earth in Udaipur


We sadly left Jaipur and all of its beauty: the Amber Fort, our dazzling hotel, and the stunning palaces, and boarded our flight to Udaipur, the Venice of the east.

As a tour leader, one of my favorite things is these moments when you know your travelers are about to experience something truly special. Udaipur, with its seven manmade lakes, tremendous palaces, lush parks, shopping, and charming streets is my favorite city in India. As we drove into town, we all noticed immediately how it just felt somehow different than the rest of India—the eclectic chaos was minimized. Cows were replaced by mopeds. Streets were freshly paved, and even the sunlight seemed to be just a little bit softer.

Driving through Udaipur, one could almost feel each of us growing more in love with the city as we drew nearer to its center, but nothing could prepare us what we would experience at the Lake Palace, our final hotel of our journey through India.

The all white Lake Palace was built in the middle of the lake, and the water comes right up to its walls. It is so magnificent that it was chosen as the site for Octopussy’s lair in the James Bond classic, “Octopussy.” And like I always say, if it is good enough for Octopussy, it’s good enough for me.

We reached the shores of the lake and at sunset and were greeted by friendly Lake Palace staff who escorted us through a metal detector and on to an iron gazebo-lined platform to board the boat to our home for the next two nights. As we approached the Lake Palace, a man in an elaborate regal Indian uniform came down steps with a colorful cloth umbrella to shade us from the sun. By this time the sun had gone down completely, but I need all the help I can get against premature aging, so I was psyched.

We neared the grand entrance to the palace and more staff came out to greet us. Suddenly we noticed red satin flakes of some sort falling down around us, and we looked up to see a man on the palace roof with a basket full of rose petals, which he was gracefully tossing over us in large handfuls. Immediately a beautiful woman came out with a silver tray of rosewater juice, and while we sipped our juice, another woman in a bright white dress laden with brass beads began dancing for us to the music of a nearby guitarist, with the backdrop of the city palace beneath the glowing violate sky. We were all truly and uniquely spellbound.

We checked into our beautiful rooms, and in a short time proceeded to the top of the palace for a private outdoor dinner overlooking the lake and the City Palace.

The next day we satisfied more of our shopping urges and toured the sensational City Palace, one of the largest and most beautiful palaces in India, known for its collection of miniature paintings. Miniature doesn’t describe the size of the painting nor canvas, but rather the intricate detail of these watercolor works of art. After a great lunch in the palace, we took to the street markets and marveled at the bright colors of local produce, fabrics, and everything in between. Me met more locals whose personalities were as warm and colorful as the bright clothing.

My last night is India was spent doing one of my favorite things: I wandered the palace, allowing myself to get safely lost as I discovered small halls, gardens, and intricately carved columns and arches. I had heard the expression “Heaven on Earth” a dozen times in my life, but this was the first time I think I had actually experienced it. Hundreds of people took years to create this architectural work of art, and tonight it was my fortunate job to enjoy it.

The next day, we departed India for our flights home, but we were not the same group of inquisitive, self-aware gay men who had arrived in India two weeks before. We were somehow more relaxed, and not just from the days of pampering. We had learned so much: about India, about spirituality, and about ourselves. Things we worried about before the trip just didn’t seem to matter anymore. We’d been given a glimpse into what it truly means to appreciate what you have. And we realized that as technology shrinks our world, and distances us from human interaction that traveling and encountering new cultures is the one thing that can truly keep us grounded to what’s important in life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

6 Gay Gems Outside of Montreal Gay Village


6 GAY GEMS OUTSIDE OF THE MONTRÉAL GAY VILLAGE


The Gay Village is the clear destination for homos who travel to Montréal. With tons of bars, boutiques, cafés, saunas, salons and bistros, one could very well spend a weekend without needing to go elsewhere.

But I sense that you are a gay with a flair for adventure. Being constrained to the Gay Village would only cramp your sophisticated sensibilities. In your quest for alternatives to the gay mainstream, here is a selection of homo hot spots in four other Montréal neighborhoods.

[café]
LE CAGIBI – Located in Montréal's hip Mile-End, this café is the choice of single-speed-bicycle-dykes and scruffy-art-fags. In the mornings you can sip a leisurely latté, and in the evening enjoy a glass of vino, as the back room transforms in to a performing space. Free WiFi and homemade baked treats are also selling features.


[boy party]
MEC PLUS ULTRA – Don't expect to see any drag queens or to hear any Celine Dion remixes at this bi-weekly mixer of students and professionals. MPU (as it's informally coined) is a space where the Montréal 'post-gay' crowd congregates. Held at the Belmont bar on historic 'Main Street' (Boulevard Saint Laurent), the music is electropop, the boys are BUTT-esque and the beer is cheap.


[diner]
DÉPANNEUR LE PICK UP – Tucked in an unassuming corner of Little Italy, this unassuming diner is owned and operated by a former member of Lesbians on Ecstasy. It's a breeding ground* for creative queers, featuring a 'zine rack that provides a flavor of the local art scene. Get the veggie pulled-pork sandwich; it's scrumptious BBQ meaty realness served on a light Portuguese roll. The Tahiti-inspired wall print is worth a photo or two. So snap away.


*Intentional irony

[store]
SIMONS – A Sunday afternoon at Simons is like standing at the corner of Gay & Gay. The Downtown department store is synonymous with the Montréal retail experience; it is a "Must Do" on any fashionista's shopping itinerary. I've heard of queers traveling from Toronto just to do their seasonal style upgrade at Simons. Featuring many Quebec brands, you can be sure that the threads you purchase here won't be worn by every cookie-cutter queer back home. Don't miss the underwear section – if you're lucky, the men's briefs will be half-off.


[girl party]
MEOW MIX – A monthly party featuring up and coming local performers in a variety style show, Meow Mix is a decade-old Montréal lesbian institution. At any given 'Mix,' expect to see burlesque, performance art, drag kings, live music and/or comedians. After the spectacle, the tables and chairs are cleared, and a sweaty dance party ensues. Rock your best lesbian haircut.


[park]
PARC LAFONTAINE – Just north of the Gay Village in the charming Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood is one of Montréal's most cherished parks. And by 'cherished' I mean 'gayest.' In the summer you'll see boys rollerblading by hand-in-hand and dreamy dykes nuzzling up with each other on picnic blankets. Bring a baguette and some cheese (and some wine), and enjoy the Montréal joie de vivre in the shade of a leafy maple tree. (Insert romantic sigh here.)


Daniel Baylis is a writer, traveler and conversationalist. He currently works as a "Montréal Ambassador" for the award-winning blog, THE MONTRÉAL BUZZ. If you have any questions about Montréal, you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Zooming Through India Part 5: Maidens, Marriage, and Mirrors


Just outside of Agra lies the Abandoned red sandstone city, Fatehpur Sikri, which was abandoned after 12 years, likely because the city didn’t have a great enough water supply. It was the brainchild of the great diplomatic King, Akbar, who was in many ways a wise king, and certainly one of India's greatest. Perhaps his best feet of diplomacy was achieved by his marriages: one wife was Hindu, another was Muslim, and one was Christian from the Indian Southern town of Goa, a Portuguese Settlement.

We visited Fatehpur Sikri on our four hour drive from Agra to Jaipur, and the journey flew by. We were constantly entertained by the village scenes we passed on the way. There were men riding camels and elephants hauling carts full of building supplies. Four seated cars carried 10 to 12 people. Speeding, Jam-packed buses hauled 30 to 40 people precariously on their roofs, temples sprouted up here and there, and of course, women in bright tangerine, fuchsia, or teal-colored saris carried everything from large jugs of water to huge bags of rice on their heads.

The women in India amaze me more than anything, and even though I am a gay man, I am borderline obsessed with them. Watch a woman speed by you on a motorcycle, her face wrapped in a bright scarf, and her colorful sari trailing behind her in the wind, and you'll begin to see what I mean. The women in India do it all, and you'll often even see them in the fields elegantly dressed doing back-breaking work. They would certainly be more comfortable wearing something else, but custom and faith frowns upon it.

In fact, centuries-faith practices in India are often at odds with the modern world. For example it is law in India that the driver of a motorcycle must wear a helmet, and it is common to see a family of five on one bike, and only the father wearing the helmet. This law is a problem for the Sict religious sect, whose spiritual practice of wearing large turbans at all times in public and not cutting their hair makes the helmet law impossible. So, they are exempt. Faith and spiritual practices make a lot of things possible that would be illegal in other countries such as throwing the departed into public rivers or having multiple wives (the latter is only an exception for one religious group).

Yet, other laws and social rules are stricter in India than in most other countries. For instance, arranged marriages still account for 98 percent of all marriages in India.

We arrived in Jaipur and to one of the world’s most beautiful properties, the Oberoi Rajvillas, built around a lotus pond, enfolding a 18th century Hindu temple. Pristine Villas dot the sprawling grounds, and architecturally it’s what you would expect if the Mogul empire meets Disneyland, meets

Tonight we grabbed a glass of wine and strolled the grounds at sunset, admiring the changing light’s effect on the buildings and paths throughout the property. Our stroll took us the Rajvillas restaurant where we enjoyed traditional Indian dancing and music along with our dinner. Afterwards it was right to bed—we had a busy day ahead of us that would start with an elephant ride to an ancient fortress.

After an enormous breakfast along a babbling stream teaming with coy, we ventured out to meet our fat, hairy dates for our morning adventure. Clearly trying to impress us, our powerful pacaderms wore bright makeup in gorgeous designs on their faces. Each elephant had a trainer whose job it was to take two people at a time, side-saddle up the steep terrain to the top of the Amber Fort. Riding the elephant was easy, but taking photos at the same time as almost impossible, as it wasn’t the smoothest ride.

The last time I had done this two years ago, our elephant sneezed all over my friend riding next to me. You would think that an elephant sneeze would yield quite a healthy spray. You’d be right. He was covered, and good friend that I am, I laughed so hard I almost fell off.

Today’s ride yielded more beautiful scenery and a mild ab workout, as we used our oblique muscles to keep us in the rhythm of our elephant’s march. We entered the gates to the Amber Fort, dismounted our ride, and proceeded inside the Palace’s golden-colored walls.

We ventured inside a white marble temple, covered in elaborate carvings and received a blessing from the monk inside, who presented each of us with a fresh floral necklace and placed a bit of red paint on our foreheads, where our zone of knowledge is said to be located. At this time in the trip, we had been presented with red forehead paint a dozen times, and we were beginning to become connisuers. Then, the monk offered us ceremonial water from a bowl and we gazed in shock and horror as out guide poured it in his hand and drank. It had been drilled into our heads so much to avoid the water in India that watching him do that was like watching someone ingest poison. Instantly he kind of became our hero.

Other highlights included a hall covered in tiny decorative mirrors, most of them no bigger than a silver dollar.

Zoom Vacations, a global gay vacation company, offers incredible gay group and independent trips to China, Rio for New Years and Carnaval, South Africa, India, Australia for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Peru, Argentina, Madrid for Gay Pride, and several luxury mega-yacht cruises. You can find more information on their website at www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

El Bolson, Argentina---Mountain Magic!

Mirror Reflections in the Lakes
By Roy Heale


One of the most memorable parts of any visit to Argentina's Lake District is driving around the countryside, enjoying the Andes' mountain and lake vistas, plus visiting the small townships. Although San Carlos de Bariloche is the heart of this region, within a few hours journey there are many smaller and distinctive communities with their own unique characteristics. Any time spent traveling around this domain is rewarded with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, crystal clear blue lakes, and villages with a definite Alpine flair.

During my recent visit to this area I was fortunate enough to have local gay travel expert and fellow IGLTA Member Cristian Signorelli, of Bariloche Gay Travel, guiding me around the Lake District. One of our leisurely day trips was a journey south into Patagonia to the small town of El Bolson where the specialties are local crafts, home-brewed beers, and the most amazing fresh fruit juice cocktails. It's a short two-hour drive from Bariloche and the mountain roads weave through the immense “mirror reflection” Lakes Guttierrez, Mascardi, and Guillelmo alongside numerous meandering mountain streams and rivulets. With such breathtaking vistas the journey seems much shorter than the actual time lapsed.

Plaza Pagano

Upon arrival in the town of El Bolson the Alpine-styled architecture and historical buildings are immediately apparent. In the heart of the town is the Plaza Pagano. It's a beautiful park with grassy banks and a large central pond surrounded by the local artisans' stalls of the world famous El Bolson Regional Fair. This open-air market brings together artisans, a farmer's market---which includes freshly picked wild fruits---musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, and all kinds of talented artists, plus a street band. This fair is a cultural gathering and an historical part of El Bolson, dating back to the early '70s. Today it retains the style and aura of that decade. It is a world-renowned artisan market and provides approximately four hundred year-round jobs, increasing to six hundred during the tourist season. Visitors journey from all over Argentina and around the world for this traditional Latin experience.

After strolling the pathways of this Fair, numerous outdoor cafés and restaurants are ready and waiting to give you a real taste of El Bolson local cuisine. A variety of cheese boards with smoked salmon, trout, venison, hare, wild boar, and locally made pickles can be found on the gourmet menus. Plus local dishes such as homemade pasta with cream sauce and morels---wild mushrooms---or rolls of Patagonian lamb, a trout Roquefort, vegetable strudel, a delicious plate of endive gratin, or Sorrento stuffed with smoked trout smothered in walnut cream sauce, will tempt any discriminating palate. And of course some wonderful Argentine Malbec wines must be sampled or one of the ten varieties of locally brewed beers will refresh you on a hot summer day. The gentle pace of life in this small community becomes instantly infectious.

Alpine Village of El Bolson

If you prefer an extended visit to this magical mountain community then Bariloche Gay Travel can assist you with bookings at gay-friendly hotels. They have carefully selected charming Alpine-style accommodations where a warm welcome is extended to all LGBT travelers.

Before heading back to Bariloche a short drive up the mountain dirt roads will reward you with spectacular views of the River Quemquemtreu valley and mountains. Along this short journey many colorful wild flowers and bushes flourish and you will observe the locals fruit-picking to create those wonderful fresh juice drinks back at the fairgrounds.
River Quemquemtreu Valley and Mountains
A day trip to El Bolson is more than just a tour around Argentina's Lake District---rather it is an Argentine cultural experience with a journey back in time to a relaxed and gentle pace of life.

For More Information Visit: www.barilochegaytravel.com
For More Travel Stories by Roy Heale Visit: http://www.royheale.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Zooming Through India Part 4: Visiting the World's Greatest Testament to Love


Car pollution is damaging the macarana marble of the Taj Mahal, so cars are not allowed near the entrance. Instead, we take golf carts from our hotel, which is 600 meters from the monument.

Photos of the Taj Mahal do not do justice to the structure, grounds, and overall experience of visiting it in person. One of the best times to come is at sunset, when in soft, warm light it is perhaps more romantic than ever, so we arrive at the entrance gates just as the sun is going down.

There are thousands of people here, mostly Indian. Before our group even enters the compound, we are delayed by taking photos of the spectacular sandstone entrance gate buildings themselves. If the Taj Mahal were not here, these buildings alone would be the attraction, but that is not the
case.

Upon entering the gates, the Taj Mahal reveals herself, perfectly framed in the gate's arches. The affect is as if she is coming towards you.

Our guide tells us that Sheha Jahad built this tomb for his wife, who died in labor during her 14th pregnancy. The story takes an even sadder turn when we learn that jahad's 3rd son later imprisoned him in the Agra Fort, in a marble room with the best views of the Taj Mahal. Upon his death, his
daughter buried him in part of the Taj so that the two could be reunited in death.

the gardens surrounding the Taj are exquisite, made even more lovely by the bright, colorful saris of local female tourists. Structurally, the Taj Mahal was intelligently designed. The four minarets are angled slightly outward so that if they were ever to fall, they wouldn't harm the mausoleum. The letters of the words that frame the arches gradually get larger as they go up, so that even though they are further away, they appear the same size. Oh, and the words are not painted, in fact there is no paint on the Taj Mahal. They are created from inlaid onyx, and they are perfect. As you get closer to the Taj Mahal, you see that it isn't just a large white building. Instead, it is covered by multicolored, unbelievably intricate floral designs. Again, these are not painted patterns, but rather inlaid semi-precious gems like cornelian, lapus lazeri, and coral. Cornelian is especially unique because it glows brightly when light is beamed into it.

We stayed on the grounds for over an hour, bewitched by her beauty, marveling at how her color changed with each passing minute. As it got darker, we reluctantly left the Taj Mahal, and as we gazed back, she glowed flashed a bright smile back at us, glowing from inside. This glow was truthfully caused by the flashlights of various tour guides, illuminating the floral Corenelia stones for their travelers. What could be better than sunset at the Taj Mahal? As we found out the next morning, sunrise.

As hard as it was to wake up at 5 am and head to the Taj at daybreak, we rallied and once again boarded our golf cart.

Monkeys greeted us at the entrance, causing us to think the expression, "early bird" should really be "early monkey", their charms working on many of the tourists.

There are several benefits to arriving at sunrise, but by far the biggest is that there are much fewer tourists here, and the grounds are so large that you feel you have the whole place to yourself.

Her white marble changes colors even more at sunrise than at sunset, gradually adopting a pink hue as the sun rises above her, and the sky becomes more blue. Then something truly magical happens. the rising sun ignites the flower-shaped gems of her walls, and they begin to sparkle like dazzling crystals.

I walked into the Taj and was immediately struck with a blood-drunk thirst for photos in every angle possible of the romantically beautiful building. I lost all recognition of my footing, and if I was about to walk into a decorative pot or step off a ledge.

Then, one of my travelers said my name, and when I turned around he had a strange, perhaps disapproving look on his face. immediately I knew I must have for minutes been in the way of every photo he was trying to take.
"I'm sorry," I said, and crouched down for him to shoot over me.

"No," he said, "you have bird poop on your shoulder."

Sure enough, there was an ample mound of poo on my shoulder. Angel that he was he freed me from most of my burden with a piece of paper and tossed it in the trash. My guide smiled broadly and said, "ah, that is good luck!". Apparently I was VERY lucky. This was so typical of the India outlook on life. They turn lemons into lemonade and in my case, fowl feces into fortune.

Spending a morning surrounded by extreme beauty really works up an appetite. We bade a final farewell to the Taj Mahal and retreated to our hotel for a well-earned breakfast. Mission accomplished.


Zoom Vacations, a global gay vacation company, offers incredible gay group and independent trips to China, Rio for New Years and Carnaval, South Africa, India, Australia for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Peru, Argentina, Madrid for Gay Pride, and several luxury mega-yacht cruises. You can find more information on their website at www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Events, Venues and Retreats for Gay and Lesbian Visitors to Melanesian Arts Festival in September

New Caledonia is in the South Pacific region, close to Australia and New Zealand. It has been uncovered as a very gay welcoming paradise, just waiting for travelers to discover it. The kite surfers have known about its world-class lagoon and tropical winds for a long time!

Here's one getaway that will convince you to return.

Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, is host to the 4th Melanesian Arts Festival this September. Noumea Discovery and Rainbow Tourism are offering exceptional packages before, during and after the two-week cultural festival being held at various locations around the main and outer islands.

The Events

The Melanesian Arts Festival in Noumea is 12-24 September 2010. Artists and performers from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and around New Caledonia will be flocking to Noumea from for the two-week festival.

This would be a good time to get introduced to New Caledonia and enjoy a few nights in Noumea for the free festival events and two nights at a rainforest retreat before or after the spectacular closing ceremony at Tjibaou Culutral Centre.

The Deals

Festival Short Break and Festival Week Escape packages have been priced with special emphasis on activities of interest to lesbian and gay travelers clincluding local parties at the community supportive clubs and cafes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Out in the Vineyard - Sonoma County, CA

Coming up on May 5th and May 11th 2010 the City and County of Sonoma are putting forth proclamations as being a Gay Friendly City/County!

The California Wine Country has gone thru a dramatic metamorphosis in the last decade. What was once a rural, agricultural region has transformed into a premier luxury global travel and lifestyle destination.

Having grown up in rural wine county and come of age in a small town, we didn’t know any gay people (or so we thought).  The only thing we knew of being gay was thru the negative images we saw on TV or thru descriptions hissed by our teachers, peers and parents. So like thousands of others before me, after high school, I ventured off to the safety and anonymity of the city.

It was the  mid 20th Century in America and  no one knew US.

Twenty years later, I could never have imagined how much the land of my childhood has changed to become a premiere LGBT travel destination!

Since the turn of the Millennium, there has been a major exodus from cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York of gays looking for The American Dream – with a bit more luxury expected! We moved out of “The Ghetto” and into Wine Country – and like the Castro, Greenwich Village and West Hollywood before , we have helped create a safe place for us to visit and live. We no longer want to be cloistered in the confines of major metropolitan centers or hidden in far removed rural outposts. We have become major contributors to a Rural Renaissance of America, where we can live our lives safely as openly gay men and women – as long time couples or single individuals.

We can walk around a small town plaza - like Healdsburg or Sonoma - and not face scorn. We can celebrate 15 years together over a romantic dinner for 2, or with a group of friends savoring elegant global cuisine, openly acknowledging our love and commitment to each other. On any given weekend we are out, enjoying happy hour with a group of friends – gay and straight alike.

The Wine Country has become a place where we can be ourselves.

We are welcomed in shops and grocery stores. We know the mailman and bank tellers by name. We know our neighbors and their kids - and more importantly - THEY know US.

So come visit. Find yourself Out In The Vineyard. Discover Our Wine Country.

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