Tuesday, March 31, 2009

IGLTA Symposium Held In Florianopolis From March 26th to 28th

By Roy Heale
When most people think of a vacation in Brazil then Rio and Sao Paulo are the two destinations that first come to mind. But there is a holiday gem in Brazil that has yet to be discovered by tourists outside of South America---Florionopolis. Creating awareness of alternative vacation destinations is one of the objectives for the IGLTA Symposiums that are held each year. Brazil's Florionopolis is a great example of how these gatherings succeed in creating awareness for a destination.
Sunshine, expansive beaches, delicious seafood, sizzling nightlife and warm hospitality greeted the forty-two delegates at the recent Symposium in Florionopolis, Brazil. The attendees traveled from Australia, Canada, the United States, Peru, Argentina and Brazil to spend four days networking together, meeting the local GLBT business community, and learning about the vacation opportunities on the Santa Catarina Island of Florionopolis. The group included four travel writers from North America and five from South America. The sun shone every day and naturally the Island's approximate 100 beaches were the main focus of attention and enjoyment.
The first day began with a one hour hike into Naufragados Beach which is only accessible by boat or hiking. The rewards at the end of this hike were a spectacular beach, a small fishing village, cafe, and a leisurely swim. Some of us were grateful that we took a boat ride back to where our bus was waiting for us. This was just one of many spectacular white sandy beaches that we visited during our stay. Our tours also included the beach at Praia Mole---the gayest meeting point on the island during summer months---where we enjoyed caipirinhas (a local cocktail with lime juice) courtesy of Bar de Deca on the gay beach. The local media showed up to see how we were enjoying our visit. We also enjoyed afternoon cocktails and local delicacies pool-side at the Pousada Natur Campeche. This resort is located on one of the most popular surfing beaches on the island.
In the heart of the Old City we visited the old customs house, the fish market, boutiques, shops and the local historic points of interest. The town square is a beautiful park where locals meet to play cards or checkers and is the centre of the old town. Part of the land was once the ocean front until it was reclaimed from the sea in the 1930s. Now the town centre is the bus terminal and a hub of activity and markets. The fish market is a great place to see all the different varieties of fsih that are caught daily in the surrounding waters. This prepares you for the local dinner menus when you head out for your evening meal or lunch-time snacks.
A taxi boat ride took us to the small fishing village of Costa da Lagoa for a seafood lunch at Sabor da Costa Restaurant where we feasted on the catch of the day and a spectacular view. This is another fisherman's village that can only be reached by walking or taxi boat rides.
The Saturday trade Marketplace with about thirty exhibitors was attended by approximately 200 travel industry visitors from South America and the local media. For three hours the networking was intense and many new contacts were established for future business opportunities. This was followed by the two hour VI International LGBT Forum where important issues for the future of LGBT Tourism were discussed including a presentation by Tom Nibbio from IGLTA head office.
The final day included a visit to Jurere Internacional Beach and the farewell lunch at Cafe de la Musique. Here there was a surprise performance by the Boi de Mamoa performing a local folklore story acted out by children from the island. This troupe of performers are organized by two gay men. On our way to the luncheon we visited an oyster farm and shack at Santo Antonio de Lisboa where we learnt how the oysters are brought in from the ocean, shucked, cooked and served.
At the end of four days learning about this vacation paradise of Brazil and the local nightlife--- which only seems to begin after midnight---the delegates were unanimous in their gratitude to the organizers for their efforts to make this a successful symposium. Many of us vowed to return for an extended visit as soon as possible.
Obrigado to all the organizers and sponsors for a job well done and the warm welcome to all delegates!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TAM Is Tops!

By Roy Heale
What a pleasant surprise today when I flew from Buenos Aires to Florionopolis on my first flight with TAM airline. I only purchased a discount economy ticket but felt like I was flying in first class compared to other airlines which I usually fly. Immediately after boarding I noticed the comfortable seats and extra legroom and felt sad that this was only a 90 minute journey. Complimentary headsets also greeted me on my seat cushion. Even before take-off the cheerful, helpful flight attendants came down the aisle with a basket of candies for passengers to help as chewing aids for the take-off pressurization process. Something I haven't seen during my travels for at least a decade. Then just after take-off along came the friendly staff again with hot face-cloths for us all to freshen up before the meal service. Then to my utter shock we were treated to a delicious hot meal---with two entrée choices---cocktails or soft drinks, absolutely FREE! All of this on an almost full A320 and a flight of less than 90 minutes. And the flight attendants didn't even look stressed. It brought back memories of the old days of flying when airline passengers were treated like customers instead of being herded like cattle the way most airlines treat us today. Then I recalled that the check-in process didn't involve any line-ups and the staff had a smile on their faces---a rare occurrence at most airline counters. Even my luggage arrived in a very timely fashion and the waiting time was no more than a couple of minutes. If this is the South American way to travel then I am looking forward to spending more time in my new home in Buenos Aires and traveling around this continent. Perhaps these Latin airline experts could visit North America and teach the airlines a lesson on what air travel is meant to be like for the paying passengers! Hats off to everyone at TAM and thanks for a great journey. For once I am looking forward to the return trip.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sultry Mediterranean City---Barcelona's Gaixample

By Roy Heale
Morning rush hour from 9:30 to 10:30--late lunch with cocktails and wine followed by an afternoon siesta--dinner at about 11pm and partying in the bars or night clubs until 3am, it all sounds like a wonderful gay lifestyle. But actually it's everyday life for most of the 1.5 million residents of Barcelona and probably accounts for the permanent smiles on their faces plus their collective aura of happiness. Likely it's the reason why Europe's GLBT community is flocking to Barcelona creating the new mediterranean gay riviera.
Ideally situated on the northeastern coast of the Iberian peninsula and the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain in both size and population. It is also the capital of Catalonia, one of the seventeen autonomous communities that comprise Spain. The first language is Catalan and the second is Spanish-with many locals also speaking English--for a truly trilingual region. The documented history of the city dates back to the founding of Barcino a Roman colony in the second century B.C.
With the Collserola mountains to the northwest and the sea to the south, the city is encompassed by breathtaking vistas. Boasting a mild mediterranean climate with a year-round average temperature of 19 degrees celsius, sandy beaches plus some of the most visually stunning and fascinating architecture in Europe, it's easy to understand why the gay traveller is discovering Barcelona and claiming it as their own mecca.
At the very heart of the city is Ciutat Vella---old town---with vestiges of the original Barcino, presently known as the gothic quarter. This is the historic, religious and political centre of the city surrounding the cathedral, a gothic church built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The interior chapels, magnificent choir stalls, ancient organ and the crypts are amazing examples from another era. There is an elevator to the roof for a stunning view of the city. The cathedral's cloister surrounded by smaller chapels has a certain kind of magic, with its central garden of magnolias and palm trees, where thirteen geese make their home. Here you can experience an eerie peace and tranquility in the heart of a pulsing city.
An unhurried stroll through the pedestrian streets of the old town is indispensable to appreciate Barcelona's history and to experience some of the oldest buildings, stores and squares, often enlivened by musicians, artists, actors and fairs or flea markets. The narrow, cobbled streets, cafes, restaurants, shops and historic buildings can easily occupy an entire day of strolling, shopping, dining and generally enjoying a leisurely step back in time.
Adjacent to and part of the gothic quarter is La Rambla, the famous pedestrian street and colorful boulevard zig-zagging through the old town like a verdant lifeline. This links the centrally located Plaza de Catalunya to the harbor and encompasses the Columbus monument at the waterfront. La Rambla is like an animated street theatre with a kaleidoscope of curious characters, street performers, market stalls and of course outdoor cafes offering tapas and cocktails. It's a people watcher's paradise and microcosm of never-ending activity at any hour of the day or night. The boulevard is comprised of many streets blended into one thoroughfare and is often referred to in the plural Las Ramblas. It is an experience to be enjoyed where time stands still as you imbibe in the surroundings, especially on a sunday afternoon when much of Barcelona is closed in observance of the sabbath.
At the northern end of Las Ramblas and to the west is the area known as Eixample which is now the central area of Barcelona. This urban expansion of the city began in the last half of the nineteenth century with the demolition of the medieval walls which had been suffocating the old city and constraining it within the walls. This enabled vast urban reform and the real expansion of Barcelona. Here you will find, not surprisingly, Gaixample the area which became home to the largest number of GLBT bars, bookstores, saunas, cafes, shops, hotels and residences. Whenever a city grows it seems as though the gay community is the first to establish their roots.
The visitor map and guide published by gaycelona.com lists over one hundred gay or gay-friendly businesses most of which are located in Gaixample or close by. This provides one of the most vibrant gay villages you are likely to find anywhere in Europe. With the chic bars, elegant restaurants, cosy cafes, saunas, the extreme leather clubs plus sex clubs and everything in between, the gay scene in Barcelona attracts GLBT tourists from all over the world seeking to experience this liberated equality.
Within Gaixample there are two excellent places to stay in the heart of all the action. There are many other choices close by but here in close proximity you can experience gay Barcelona to the fullest.
The Axel Hotel is a luxury-- hetero-friendly-- gay hotel which is part of the world's first chain of gay hotels. Here you can pamper yourself and be waited upon by a caring gay staff dedicated to making your vacation perfectly gay in every way. The rooftop lounge area contains a pool, hot tub, fitness room and bar creating the perfect sanctuary in the heart of the city with a view of Barcelona second to none.
At Hostal Absolut Centro the rooms are more modest and the facilities are sparse but the price and location are perfect for the budget conscious traveller. This is a good location to enjoy all the gay offerings within walking distance and not have to worry about taxis or public transit. Hostal is a general term used to describe a basic European hotel that provides a no-frills bedroom and just like the no-frills airlines it's a basic service but adequate for a good holiday.
Throughout Barcelona there are plenty of different gay or gay-friendly accommodations to choose from but due to the city's popularity advance planning is absolutely necessary to ensure your holiday home is exactly what you're seeking at the right price. Last minute planning may result in expensive hotel rooms leaving less fun money in your pocket.
As you begin to explore this city you will observe the influence of famous Spanish artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali but certainly the most distinctive mark on the city was made by local architect Antoni Gaudi. Considered by many to be the genius of modernism---the Spanish equivalent to France's art nouveau---the truth is Gaudi represents a separate artistic talent and is in a class by himself. When you turn a corner and encounter your first Gaudi building it is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. It will be a truly unique visual experience and you will find yourself instantly mesmorised.
His works were numerous including his famous Casa Vicens, Finca Guell, Palau Guell, Collegi de les Teresianes, Cas Calvet, Casa Batilo---today a must-see museum---and Casa Mila, just to name a few. His Basilica of the Holy Family is undoubtably his masterpiece to which he devoted over forty years of his life from 1883 to his untimely death in 1926. Today it is Barcelona's most visited attraction, the city's most famous landmark and yet it is still under construction. He designed Guell Park as a residential English-style garden city with his own distinctive style which leaves every visitor stunned by his architectonic elements. The park is in the hills high above the city with wonderful views and surprises around every corner making for a perfect day trip to escape the bustle of the city.
The dictionary definition of the word 'gaudy' is 'extravagantly or tastelessly bright or showy' and you have to wonder which came first---the architect or the word? Either way it's uniquely Catalonian and memorable.
With all the history, architecture, galleries and museums to enjoy you might think that Barcelona is an urban vacation experience but that would be the wrong impression. In preparation for the 1992 Olympic summer games the Barcelona waterfront underwent a major rejuvenation program which included the restoration of four kilometers of city beaches. This includes two gay areas where clothing is optional at Platja de la Marbella and Moll de sant Bertran. Trust the gay community to claim their own perfect spaces to chill out and enjoy the warm mediterranean waters amidst the excitement of the city.
Finding your way around and traversing the city is easy with the convenient metro and bus system. Economical passes for unrestricted transit access can be purchased for various durations to suit the length of your stay. There is also a Barcelona card which features free travel on public transportation plus admission to galleries and museums or discounts at stores and restaurants. The airport is also well served by an express bus or train to the city centre, both at a one-way cost of less than five Canadian dollars. The Barcelona Bus Turistic is an excellent way to visit the major attractions throughout the city and a day pass allows you unlimited travel on three different routes getting on and off to suit your own schedule.
Amazingly with the size of the city and heavy traffic volumes all of these forms of public transit run to a very exact schedule and frequency meant never having to wait more than a few minutes for any mode of transport.
For the adventurous it is also possible to rent a motor scooter which is obviously the transportation mode of choice for the local residents and it seems as though everyone owns a scooter. They're easy to park, economical on gas and can be easily maneuvered through the heavy traffic. The less ambitious can rent a bicycle for more energetic mobility. Of course walking around town is a very pleasurable way to see all the sights without distractions. Barcelona is a city of approximately one hundred square kilometers almost twenty percent of which is parks and gardens making for a very pleasant environment to discover whichever mode of transport you choose.
Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the sea, either on a sailboat or a catamaran, and Barcelona's skyline reveals itself with the mountains as a backdrop. Either option is available with frequent schedules by day or night from the main port area.
If the city and beaches are not enough to make your vacation perfect, then several day trips into the surrounding countryside are readily available. The Montserrat Winery, Dali's City and Girona or the beaches at Castelldefels are perfect day trips with fascinating or relaxing agendas to afford a break from the urban life. However, the best day trip, or even for a few days, is a trip to the gay seaside resort town of Sitges just forty kilometers from Barcelona with convenient train service every thirty minutes from the city centre.
Barcelona offers diverse holiday pastimes and the local residents are happy to welcome every gay traveller. Prepare yourself for some leisurely days, long lingering lunches, afternoon siestas, late dinners and fun nightlife-could there possibly be a more gay vacation?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vienna-World Capital Of Music

By Roy Heale
Historic city of music on the Danube, Vienna is steeped in the legacy of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss and Mahler. Naturally music is a fervent part of the Austrian soul.
Amongst Imperial Palaces of the Hapsburg dynasty, cathedrals, museums and galleries prepare yourself for a noteworthy architectural feast.
Yet modern Vienna blends with its historic past creating a wonderful European cultural vacation city waiting for the GLBT traveler to experience.
Renowned for its distinct café culture and imperial nostalgia, Vienna boasts a sizeable gay and lesbian scene. With a café on every corner serving Viennese coffee specialties and much more, several of these coffee houses have been claimed by our community. Plus numerous cocktail bars, nightclubs, restaurants, shops and spas are eager to welcome the gay tourist and make them feel right at home.
But even beyond the obvious gay and lesbian gathering spots, Vienna has a very queer history. For centuries homosexuals have left their distinctive marks on Austrian arts, culture and politics, sometimes subtle, yet always noticeable. Often a gay visitor is confronted with the truth about an historic figure when they discover he or she was “family”.
A couple of sightseeing tours of Vienna combine the city’s gay history with a fascinating walking tour of the old city. These can be found in the Vienna Queer Guide published by the gay-friendly Vienna Tourist Board and available by mail in advance of your visit upon request or at their website for immediate downloading.
One tour commences at the Belvedere Palace, the summer residence of the gay Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), the other starts at the famous Vienna State Opera House which was built by architects who were both business and life partners. Each of these tours will give a fascinating retrospective of Vienna’s gay past as you discover the city’s current gay community hang-outs. Even Franz Schubert earns his place on the tour along with several other well known names from Austrian royalty.
With over one hundred and twenty museums, galleries and palaces to visit during your stay this is a city with much to offer every desire and curiosity. Anyone with an inquisitive mind or sense of adventure will be dazzled by everything which is Vienna.
The Ringstrasse boulevard-once the showcase of the monarchy-completely encircles the historic city center. A sightseeing tour by streetcar ride around the “ring” is a five kilometer stretch of magnificent buildings including the Imperial Palace, the Vienna State Opera, City Hall, the University plus several museums and galleries. The golden statue of Johann Strauss and the Mozart memorial are both located in beautiful parks along the Ringstrasse.
With so much history to explore it’s hard to decide where to begin. However a few places stand out as priorities for memorable learning experiences.
The House of Music is a must to understand everything which musical notes or scores mean to Vienna and the world. With over 5,000 square meters of space located in the historical palace of Arch Duke Charles of the Hapsburg Dynasty, this hands-on exhibit traces the science of music, the great composers and musicians of the past and today’s musicians. You can even be the virtual conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and the orchestra will obey your baton commands and give you their reaction to your musical talent - applause or jeers! After your tour, the attic of the building houses the Cantino Café where you can enjoy Tapas and other delicacies surrounded by a roof-top view of the city and St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
The Austrian National Library is the country’s major scientific library and the building was commissioned by Emporer Charles VI, with the structure completed in 1726 and fresco decoration continuing until 1730. The baroque State Hall is one of the most aesthetic historical libraries in the world. Together with marble floors and statues, nutwood bookcases housing about 200,000 books and fresco ceilings this is a breathtaking example of an eighteenth century baroque library which today is kept in immaculate condition. The sheer majesty of this building alone is worthy of the trip to Vienna.
Schonbrunn Palace plus the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs and is just a short fifteen minute drive from the old city. Of the total 1,441 rooms in the palace complex, today forty state rooms in the main building are open to the public. The surrounding grounds include architectural features such as the Gloriette, the Neptune Fountain, and the Roman Ruin which can be viewed in their historically authentic state. The Maze, Labyrinth and Privy Gardens occupy 2700 square meters with a range of playful activities to discover and explore. This is a World Cultural Heritage Site and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Vienna and one tour will make you realise how it earned this distinction.
The characteristic interconnected Museums Quartier features a breathtaking combination of architecture from many different eras. Here you will also find the modern structures of the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Admire works by Andy Warhol or modernist artists from Klimt to Kokoschka or dine in the exquisite Die Halle restaurant or one of the many cafes in the complex. Throughout the year there is a wide range of exhibitions and activities to enjoy amongst this ensemble of buildings both inside and out.
A must-visit is the Museum of Applied Arts and the ground-floor restaurant Osterreicher im MAK serving local Viennese cuisine including wild game. The restaurant’s philosophy is to serve moderately priced, modestly proportioned dishes thus allowing two or even three course meals. A giant wine bottle chandelier over the central bar accentuates the historic ceiling and the Ring Window (a small steel balcony) is an ideal spot for leisurely drinks at any time of the day. Here great atmosphere and exquisite food are guaranteed by proprietor and renowned Chef Helmut Osterreicher.
After the enchanting interiors some outdoor activities might be in order. The Naschmarkt (outdoor market) offers an exotic journey exploring everything that Austrians enjoy as local fare. Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish offer a symphony of color as you wander through the market stalls and alleys searching for whatever may be your fancy. The specialty vendors include home-made vinegars, oils, wines, a variety of breads (for which the Austrians are famous), pastries and other local delicacies which will inspire any palate. You can select your snacks and eat as you go or enjoy one of the many cafés within the market grounds.
On the edge of the market is the popular gay Café Savoy which opens at 5PM daily, the perfect time to end your meandering amongst the merchant’s stalls to enjoy a comfortable chair and a cocktail. This traditional Viennese coffeehouse dates back to the Imperial era which is immediately apparent when you encounter the plush furnishings and stucco walls. On Saturdays the Savoy also opens in the mornings when an eclectic flea market, popular with the gay community, takes place in the Naschmarkt.
Closer to the University you can find one of the brightest stars in the (coffee) skies over Vienna - the chic, gay Café Berg. Adjacent to the gay bookstore Lowenherz (Lionheart), this café has comfortable seating and giant windows affording a view for those who want to see and be seen. Open from 10am each day this is a popular café plus an excellent restaurant renowned for its Sunday brunches.
Bar hopping in Vienna will take you through a variety of small, charming establishments. If you’ve been shopping on Mariahilfer Strasse (one of the most popular and longest shopping streets in Vienna) the X Bar is located in a courtyard just off this street. It provides a perfect sanctuary to rest your weary legs and indulge in a beverage before your next foray into spending paradise.
After a stroll along Karntner Strasse amidst trendy department stores in the inner city, one can find a gay refuge in the Versteck Bar (German for “hiding-place”). This is probably Vienna’s smallest gay bar, cozy and intimate, within a short walk of St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
Following a refreshing beverage or a perk up with a specialty coffee, strolling down the exclusive Kohlmarkt will reward you with Armani, Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada and many more designer boutiques for shopping bliss. There are many more neighbourhoods which boast the best occupational shopping to be found anywhere in the world and this could be your whole vacation if you have the stamina and credit cards to match
Then take a step back in time for a special treat and be sure to visit Wiener Schokoladekonig the intimate old world chocolate shop of Wolfgang Leschanz.. Located on Freisingergasse 1 near St. Stephan’s Cathedral where chocolate is an art form in the Viennese tradition of incomparable exquisite sweets. Who doesn’t need a sugar buzz every once in a while?
For nightlife you might want to commence at Mango Bar where most local gays begin their evening. With all its mirrors, good music and variety of cocktails it’s popular with the younger crowd. A recent addition to Vienna’s gay nightlife is Felixx which has quickly become one of the fixtures of the bar scene. The central location, the comfortable interior, the quick and handsome waiters create a combination which every patron comes to enjoy. As the evening progresses the Nightshift and Sling clubs cater to the gay crowd that are late bloomers and want to party until 4am or beyond. Each club is very popular with locals and tourists intent on partying hard and enjoying the dawn with it’s invigorating sunrise.
If you have ever enjoyed time at a gay spa or even if it’s your first time, the Kaiserbrundl is a unique world class experience unto itself. The younger brother of Emperor Franz Josef was one of the original patrons. An harmonic mood exists amidst the spirits of the past immortalized in this historic building combined with today’s guests enjoying modern spa facilities. This distinguished and elegant spa has a friendly restaurant/bar, where street clothes are the attire, just inside the entrance which has become a very popular meeting place for good food and afternoon drinks. The spa itself is on three levels and includes a Wintergarten, fitness studio, swimming pool, sauna, steam room, fresco bar, massage facilities, video room and much, much more. This kind of luxurious pampering is a rare experience at gay spas and the classic, historic European setting will dazzle every guest.
While there are no exclusively gay accommodations in Vienna there are several gay friendly places to stay. The boutique hotel Alstadt is perfectly located in the old city and provides chic accommodations at reasonable prices including an exquisite gourmet buffet breakfast daily and afternoon cocktails in the lounge. With just forty-two rooms, each one is unique in size with elegant furnishings designed to suit every taste. This means there is a look and feel to suit every gay traveler’s demands from elegant four-poster beds to modern studio suites. The atmosphere is that of a classic European Pensionne with great character and charm. Staying here will quickly make you realize that you are no longer on the North American continent and you will easily slip into a cosmopolitan mood at your home away from home within walking distance of major attractions and streetcars.
If you’re visiting during the summer months and the weather permits you can also enjoy the rainbow aura at the City Hall Park (on the side of the Parliament Buildings) or check out the Danube Island naturist area around what is called Toler Grund close to the Steinsporn Bridge. Sunshine and making new friends go hand in hand with your Viennese summer holiday.
With so much more to offer, the only way to really know Vienna is to experience it for yourself, explore its multitude of treasures and witness the rich history which is still apparent in the 21st Century.
The majesty of the past, the music from yesterday and today, the Viennese café culture and a vibrant arts community - Vienna waits for you to arrive

Friday, March 13, 2009

Palm Springs Accommodations

By Roy Heale
On a recent visit to Plam Springs and Palm Desert I managed to check out two of the resort options for my accommodations. Here's a brief recap of where I stayed.
Riviera Resort & Spa
There's an old adage “everything old becomes new again” and nothing could be more appropriate to describe the recent re-opening of the spectacular Riviera Resort & Spa. This grand dame of the Hollywood Palm Springs era originally opened in 1958 and was a legendary 24 acre playground frequented by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Elvis Presley. However, over the decades the property languished and declined into obscurity until it was purchased in 2006 by Noble House Hotels and Resorts. The new owners promptly began an ambitious $70 million two year revitalization project which has restored the resort to its former glory.
The new Riviera offers 406 guest rooms and suites, lushly landscaped gardens with intimate courtyards anchored by fire pits and two sparkling pools. The integrity of the original building has been preserved with the modernist spoke wheel configuration using the large pool area as the center of the hub. The revitalized property evokes the same sense of intimacy it did fifty years ago and the handsome retro furnishings and luminescent mirror-clad walls add to the aura of playful glamor.
During the hot sunny daytime hours the large pool is the center of activity with cabanas and the Bikini Bar. Then at night when the fire pits around the pool are ignited it becomes the hub of activity for poolside gatherings with cocktails from the Sidebar or late night star-gazing around the flaming hearths. The Circa 59 restaurant is also located poolside offering gourmet dining for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between snacks. For those so inclined you can spend the whole day around the pool and only vacate this cozy environment for bed time.
The helpful and amazingly friendly staff complete the perfect resort atmosphere and time spent here will truly feel like the ultimate vacation. Your hosts will definitely make you feel like a Hollywood celebrity wherever you may have come from originally. You'll have a hard time leaving and saying farewell to the aura of this legendary bygone era.
JW Marriott's Desert Springs
The large complex of Desert Springs will turn your next Palm Desert vacation into a genuine Southern California experience. Upon entering The Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa, you can't help but feel you've been transported to a tropical paradise. The theme is water, water everywhere! The glittering pools and lakes entice you to splash, swim and cool off with a backdrop of mountains and blue sky. As mascots of free spirits, hummingbirds flutter throughout the grounds, while exotic parrots, macaws and cockatoos inhabit the grand multi-storied spacious lobby. On the lower lobby level, a gondola awaits you to board for a boat ride to your favorite resort dining spot or an afternoon tour or customized charter of your own. Around the property in the numerous lakes and ponds you will see the very rare black swans and white swans, pink flamingos, storks, herons,ducks mallards and much more. All of this contribute to the overall feel of a tropical oasis in paradise.
But there's much more to enjoy including multiple pools, two award winning 18 hole golf courses, an 18 hole putting course, the Lawn & Tennis Club includes twenty clay and grass courts, a 38,000 square foot Spa for the ultimate wellness experience, thirteen restaurants and lounges, the lobby bar and yes, of course, a Starbucks.
Situated on 450 acres of lushly landscaped grounds and lagoons, Desert Springs Resort & Spa is a Four Star, Four Diamond, award-winning property opened in February 1987, and is one of the largest resort and convention complexes in the southwestern United States. The almost 900 guest rooms and suites are located in five-to-eight-story wings surrounding swimming pools, lakes, verdant fairways, lush English gardens, and manicured lawns.
Desert Springs truly feels like a village unto itself in the middle of the desert.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Costa Rica---Pura Vida

By Roy Heale
Could it possibly be the Garden of Eden? You don’t have
to be an expert horticulturist or even an avid gardener to
enjoy the vibrant colours of the unique flora and fauna that
envelop the countryside and urban gardens in Costa Rica.
Anyone who enjoys untouched forests and the scents and
sights of beautiful flowers—and what gay person doesn’t?—
will agree that Costa Rica is the garden of Central America.
It’s a small country with just over fifty thousand square
kilometers—approximately two thirds the size of New
Brunswick—with a population of about 4.5 million “Ticos”
as Costa Ricans are affectionately nick-named (derived from
their affinity for ending words with the Spanish suffix “tico”
or “tica” meaning ‘little’).One learns very quickly about the
Tico’s great pride concerning their environmental preservation
and conservation. As you travel around this country
you will appreciate the untouched tropical rain forests,
beautiful natural sandy beaches, earthy landscape and
villages that are being kept unspoiled for the Costa Rican
citizens and for the enjoyment of eco-tourists and outdoor
With the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean
to the west, a mountainous interior with approximately 280
volcanoes—seven of which are currently active—Costa
Rica offers a veritable feast of outdoor activities in spectacular
surroundings.The rainforests with their misty waterfalls
and pristine lagoons are abundant with indigenous wildlife
including humming birds, parrots, toucans, and other exotic
birds, monkeys, butterflies and more. From wind-surfing, sea
kayaking, parasailing, and surf boarding on the oceans, to
horse back trail rides, white water rafting and the renowned
tree-top canopy tours or back-packing through the forests,
enjoying the volcanic hot springs, and simply relaxing on the
sun drenched beaches—Costa Rica offers an adventure
with nature. No wonder the venturesome gay tourist is
discovering this tropical paradise and enjoying the gay
coastal resorts and smaller urban gay hotels.
Arriving in Costa Rica you will probably land at the San
José International Airport after a fairly lengthy journey.
Although everything is close to this central capital city, the
roads are not speedy highways and the other smaller
airports in the outlying districts are served with intermittent
flight schedules. So it is very practical to make a short
stopover in San José for a more comfortable journey to
your holiday resort, hotel or mountain lodge and again at
the end of your vacation. The city has much to offer in local
markets for shopping, historic buildings like the National
Theatre and National Museum or Government Buildings,
pedestrian shopping streets, gay nightlife, restaurants, sightseeing,
local culture and more.
Although Costa Rica passed legislation in 1999 making
discrimination against sexual and other minorities illegal, the
Ticos are very religious, thus the gay culture is tolerated
with a policy rather like the United States Military “Don’t
Ask-Don’t Tell” and overtly public gay acts are frowned
upon. The legal age of consent is eighteen and homosexual
acts are legal but walking down the street holding your
partner’s hand might cause some raised eyebrows and
would be better kept for inside a gay establishment of which
there are many throughout Costa Rica. Having said that, you
will find the Ticos to be very gay-friendly.
Driving to the Pacific Coast from San José is about a four
to five hour journey allowing for relaxing stops along the
way, or time to observe the crocodiles along the banks of
the Rio Tarcoles near the Carara Wildlife Refuge, or
watching the surfers at the Playo Jaco where international
surfing competitions are held and lunch at one of the attractive
small-town restaurants along the route. The roads are
narrow, winding and go from sea to sky in a very short
distance making for a memorable and sometimes hair-raising
journey with great photo opportunities at every turn
in the road. The Playa Hermosa—Beautiful Beach—is one of
the longest white sand beaches you will probably ever see
and is also very popular amongst the surfer crowd at
certain times of the year when the waves are cresting
The small Pacific coastal towns of Quepos and Manuel
Antonio have become the largest gay haven in Costa Rica
with several gay resort complexes, bars and cafes. The main
beach at Manuel Antonio is extremely long, with coral-white
sand, a gentle crystal-blue ocean, and rocky islands just a
short distance from shore and at the entrance to the
Manuel Antonio National Park. Skirting the beach is a wide
variety of cafes, shops and restaurants for your daytime
pleasure and every kind of beach activity is available—with
equipment rentals. A hike in the national park will bring rich
rewards for bird watchers, wildlife observers or those
seeking an undeveloped more private beach experience.
Nearby is La Playita—Little Beach—that has attracted a
large gay population since the 1970’s but recently a condominium
development along the shoreline has made this
beach more public. However, the local gay community and
gay visitors have staked a claim and the majority of beachgoers
are still gay, but the illegal practice of nude sunbathing
has been subdued by local police patrols. The gay beach aura
still exists and can be enjoyed after a short walk along the
rocks from the main beach. All beaches in Costa Rica are
public domain by law and no one can claim a beach as totally
private even if they own the land adjacent to the beach so
the rainbow flag will continue to fly as long as the community
shows up.
In the village of Manuel Antonio are several gay resorts.
The town is situated high up on the cliffs overlooking the
ocean bay and National Park, with spectacular views—
especially for those romantic sunsets. The Casa Blanca
Hotel is a reasonably priced gay-owned and operated
resort with lush tropical gardens, two swimming pools,
sundeck, self-service poolside bar and much more. They
offer discounts for stays of one week or longer and breakfast
can be added for a nominal seven dollars per day. The
rooms are large and comfortable with free local phone
service and air conditioning—not a standard hotel feature in Costa Rica. This is the perfect get-away for a quiet or romantic vacation with plenty of gay amenities and sports nearby. The best place to watch the sunset and then dine under the stars is the nearby gay-friendly Barba
Roja Restaurant where the views are spectacular and the food is equal in delight
to the sunset.
When there are so many volcanoes to see in one country it’s important to
select the one most likely to put on a show. If you are looking for a little
“volcanic” excitement in Costa Rica the choice would be Aranel volcano,
renowned as the most active in the Americas.You might even feel the ground
tremble and see the night sky explode with ash and lava in a natural fireworks
display. Or you might just get to enjoy the volcano’s hot springs at Bali Hot Springs Hotel, Resort and Spa. Either way it will be another memorable experience in this amazing vacation playground of biodiversity. Here you can also stay
overnight or for a few days—from only sixty dollars per night—at the new gay Palo Verde Resort with ten awesome cabins, lagoon swimming pool with wet bar and cascading waterfalls, jacuzzi, party center and an amazing view of the volcano.
Whether you’re a nature lover or adventure junkie, the treetop canopy tours are a must-do activity during your stay. Canopy in this instance refers to the sky and a canopy tour of the forests is one of the most well known attractions of
Costa Rica. See the forest as the monkeys do—high above the tree line— swinging from the treetops on a zip-line, from platform to platform, for a once in- a-lifetime experience!
More sedate activities include plantation tours featuring coffee, banana, sugar
cane, papaya, yucca, avocado or giant African Palm plants or jungle tours visiting
waterfalls and lagoons. Expediciones Nationales offers a wide range of tours throughout Costa Rica ranging from four-hour trips to day tours or overnight adventures plus weekend trips to Nicaragua.They can even customize a tour to travel at your own pace. In a country with so much variety and adventure to offer it is beneficial to consult with a gay travel expert before you leave home. A local gay travel agency can ensure you savor all that gay Costa Rica has to offer and the gay staff at Tiquicia Travel located in the heart of old San José are the perfect specialists to assist with your vacation planning. The owner, Yerick, speaks English, French and of course Spanish to assist with you all your travel plans from airport transfers, country-wide accommodations, specialty tours, tour guides or excursions and they even have their own hotel above their offices for a convenient lowcost stay in San José. They can provide expert local advice and ensure that your vacation is a positive gay experience in this tropical paradise.
Before heading home, on your last night in San José you might want to enjoy
dinner in the tropical gardens at The Gardens Restaurant in the historic old town
Barrio Aman.They specialise in fresh seafood and local steaks in a Rancho-style
bar and grill.You may not believe you’re on this earth during this one last chance
to enjoy the Garden of Eden à la Costa Rica before returning to your routine
This is the vacation where you will definitely have time to stop and smell the
flowers! A paradise where 852 species of birds and thousands of varieties of
orchids live in harmony together and the locals are determined to keep it that
way for generations to come.
The Ticos have a widely used expression—“Pura Vida”—which, loosely translated
means “everything’s good”. On your vacation to this paradise, you will soon
discover how this phrase evolved into the Costa Rican vernacular.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Frankfurt---Germany's Mainhattan

By Roy Heale

Arriving by plane at night as you approach the city of Frankfurt and catch your first glimpse of this metropolis on the banks of the River Main, you will instantly understand the origins of the nickname “Mainhattan”. The outline of the modern, tall avant-garde buildings and classic German architecture are distinctly reminiscent of New York’s skyline. Although the city only has a population of just over 600,000 residents, it is the home of the European Central Bank and all of Germany’s important banks that are renowned for their affinity towards modern skyscrapers and opulent designs. Perhaps the very existence of such financial wealth has assisted the GLBT community to proffer a much larger presence than one might expect from a city of this size. Whatever the reason, Frankfurt is an extremely gay-friendly city with a significant thriving gay business community.
This is a city of contrasts. At it’s heart is the Romerberg historic seventeenth century old city centre—completely leveled by bombs during the second World War—reconstructed just over twenty years ago from the original plans. Surrounding the Romerberg square and throughout the downtown are thirteen major modern skyscrapers, including the Maintower opened in the year 2000, constructed to a height of two hundred metres with the first public observation deck at the top, and the Commerzbank Tower—the city’s tallest at three hundred metres. Old and new architecture exists in harmony to create a thriving downtown core.
The central pedestrian promenade of Zeil and Fressgass Streets attracts people from all walks of life comprising all age groups and encouraging major retailers, bars, cafes and restaurants to locate here. Also, ensuring a lively atmosphere throughout morning, noon and night times. The Zeil Gallery is a major shopping centre with a fantastic restaurant and observation deck on the top floor. Located on Ziel Street boulevard—at number seventy-two—is the popular gay restaurant-bar the Birmingham Pub which is open twenty-four hours a day, ensuring a gay presence in this popular city hub.
Yet another dichotomy of this city is located on the south embankment of the Main River on Schaumainkai Street—the Museumsufer or Museum Embankment. Here you can find sixteen diverse depositories housed in both brand new buildings and restored historic mansions—a project that was undertaken between 1980 and 1990 to showcase the culture of Frankfurt and Germany. Don’t let the sound of the word museum scare you because here you will find the German Film Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts, the Communications Museum, the Stadel Institute of Art, and the German Architecture Museum—just to name a few of the fascinating topics to explore. As an added bonus on Saturdays the street is partially closed off to traffic for Frankfurt’s largest flea market. And if that’s not enough, during a summer stroll along the river embankment you are likely to encounter one of the many cultural festivals or events. Plus, this is the best place to view and take photos of the impressive Mainhattan Skyline.
After experiencing the beautiful and historic mansions of the Museumsufer, or the riverbank promenade, a short five-minute walk will place you in the old Sachsenhausen neighbourhood. The historic, original half-timbered buildings create a journey back through Frankfurt’s heritage. The main street is called Schweizer Straße, a cosmopolitan boulevard with bars and two of Frankfurt’s most traditional ciderhouse tourist attractions: Zum Gemalten Haus and Wagner. These historic wineries produce their own Apfelwein (applewine) and can be identified by the presence of a wreath of evergreen branches hanging outside the location or a similar image included on their signage. The Textorstraße and the old town, Altstadt, have the best known ciderhouses in Frankfurt, where the locals can be found after work enjoying their relaxing glass of the local brew. Warning—the first glass may taste a little sour but the flavor improves with each subsequent glass! Complementing this local specialty should be the traditional Handkas’ mit Musik—small cheeses marinated in a vinegar and onion sauce—with green herb sauce, or pork chops with sauerkraut. All of this should be experienced on the patio of a sidewalk café and bar with a clear blue sky and the hot sun glowing before sunset. This is a German epicurean experience at its best.
In this diverse city it is not surprising to learn that the gay community has its own gathering place. Known locally as the Bermuda Triangle surrounding the Konstabler Wache Square, the cafés and bars are the local’s favorite place to start a gay night out. The reason for this location probably stems from the fact that once you are at The Triangle most gay establishments are within walking distance. The nearby Zum Schewjk is a very popular, always busy, local bar. Just down the street is Fraggels where great home-style food can be enjoyed at reasonable prices. Around the corner is Lucky’s multi-level bar, which has been serving the city’s gay community for over twenty years—and is still one of the most popular gay venues for tourists and locals alike on any night of the week. Close at hand is the Monte Carlo where you will have to ring the doorbell to gain admittance but the crowd inside will make it worth the effort. From here a short walk will take you to the Piper Red Lounge complex with a restaurant, classic bar, basement club and outdoor chill-out patio—a must visit during your stay in Frankfurt. In this vicinity, there are also three conveniently located upscale saunas and spas plus many shops and services catering to the GLBT clientele.
These are only a sampling of gay venues to enjoy and a full list can be found in the Friends Gaymap that is readily available at gay businesses throughout the city centre. With more than thirty gay establishments, Frankfurt offers a lively gay vacation and caters to every age group and entertainment choice. It will take several days before you have enjoyed all that gay Frankfurt has to offer.
Unfortunately, gay accommodations are scarce in Frankfurt, but the very gay Downtown Hotel is an excellent property in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle and is conveniently attached to and above Lucky’s. The rooms are large, recently renovated and reasonably priced. A breakfast for guests is served daily in Lucky’s lounge—at which time it is closed to the public—and the friendly staff will provide any assistance you might require for the perfect gay get-away. From here, everything in downtown Frankfurt is within walking distance and you are assured of a very gay welcome.
A short distance from the centre of town are the gay and gay-friendly Enjoy Bed & Breakfast, Hotel Falk and Hotel Villa Orange, all of which require a taxi or transit ride to reach the gay action.
Even though this city may seem to be all about tall buildings, historic architecture and shopping malls, there are several very large urban parks and gardens to enjoy on a sunny day. In fact the local residents are very much concerned about preserving green spaces and natural environments within their urban landscape.
There’s an oasis of green in the heart of the city for a nominal admission fee at the Palmengarten botanical gardens—where tropical plants are housed in one of the world’s largest greenhouses, built in 1969. You can visit the Blossom House plus many of the other glassed-in gardens, or enjoy the fountains or rent a rowboat on the lake. This tropical retreat will easily make you forget that your vacation is an urban experience.
Adjacent to the Palmengarten is the city’s largest parkland the Gruneburgpark, created by Meyer Amschel Rothschild—a member of the famous banking family. Rothschild created the park in English landscape style at the beginning of the nineteenth century and today it remains relatively unchanged and true to the creator’s concept. On warm days, both Frankfurters and tourists head to this park to enjoy the grassy lawns, to picnic, walk, jog, and play football. Rumour has it that there is a popular gay cruising area and nudist-lawn at the rear of the park to the right of the main entrance—of course local gay residents have staked their claim within this place of nature in the heart of the city!
The Ostpark is renowned for its large lake, spacious lawns and ancient trees. At the Bethmannpark—once the private garden of the Bethmann family who founded Frankfurt’s oldest bank—the Chinese garden is particularly beautiful. Lastly, the Holzhausenpark features a magnificent lakeside villa open to the public for special events.
Every major city seems to be proud of their zoo, and Frankfurt’s Zoologischer Garten boasts thirty acres, which are home to wildlife from around the globe. Exotic and nocturnal animal exhibits have made this one of the most renowned zoos in Europe.
Yet another fascinating and unique part of this city’s past can be found between the Technisches Rathaus, the Schirm Kunsthalle and the Dom. Here lies an excavation area with ancient Roman remains known as the Archaologischer Garten—Archaeological Garden. Excavation work began on this site over fifty years ago and has produced finds from a Roman settlement, including parts of a Roman bath. Archaeologists have also uncovered the remains of a twelfth-century royal palace, thought to have been the favourite residence of the East Franconian kings during that century. The Archaeological Garden thus throws light onto several different eras in the early history of Frankfurt.
No visit to Frankfurt would be complete without a stop at the site of the eighteenth-century home of one of the city’s most famous citizens—the birthplace of J. W. Goethe—where he began writing his most famous novel Faust. This is a faithful reconstruction of the original house where Goethe was born, with furnishings and artifacts from the late baroque period of his residency. The tours of the house and adjacent museum will give a greater perspective and understanding of the conditions at the time when this novelist, poet, playwright, and scientist called Frankfurt his home.
Similar to European palaces, the majestic plaza and Alte Oper—Opera House—is a central meeting place in the core of the city and this impressive example of 1880s architecture is dazzling. Although the original structure was another victim of the bomb blitz during WWII, the original facade and forecourt were reconstructed in 1981, faithfully following the original plans. Today, the Grosser Saal seats 2450 people and the Mozart Saal accommodates 720 audience members, making this one of the most sought-after venues for performing artists in Europe.
Almost one in three of the people living in Frankfurt do not hold a German passport, meaning no matter where visitors come from, they will always meet people here who speak their language and a restaurant that serves their favourite food.
So, whether Frankfurt is your vacation destination or a stop along the way during your tour of Germany, the Mainhattan Skyline has much to offer when you are beneath the tall buildings and amidst the historic structures.
If you have visited the Big Apple don’t be surprised if it all feels vaguely familiar. But there’s a difference in the openly friendly German hospitality—especially during Octoberfest! —but definitely throughout the year.
downtown-hotel-frankfurt.com gayfrankfurt.com frankfurtgermany.ca germany-tourism.de