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How do I Get a Better Hotel Room Without Paying Extra?

Superior Seafacing Room

Scout for soft openings: New hotels are generally keener to please, so check out hot new properties on hotelchatter.com, and pick up the phone!
Time your trip right: big city hotels have lower occupancy on the weekend, so that’s when your chances of getting an upgrade are higher. In leisure properties, weekends are packed, so try and travel mid-week.
Do some research and call the hotel in advance: Check out the property on-line, and identify the rooms and suites you like. Then write an email or make a phone call to request one of those rooms, even if they show non-available on-line. Remember, cancellations happen all the time.
Spell out exactly what you’re looking for: Don’t vaguely say, ‘May I have a better room.’ Much better to ask for a room with a view, or a bigger suite, or whatever it is that you’re looking for.
delux room 101 kailash

Don’t book the cheapest room: go for a mid-range suite, so that you can be bumped up to a really nice one.
Check in between 3 to 5 pm: Most rooms are given out during this period, so the front office is surer of cancellations and availability.
Dress to impress: No need to turn up in a tuxedo, of course. Just be well-groomed—it will earn you more points than a sloppy, bedraggled appearance.
Be Nice: Hotel staff get to deal with some really pesky and nasty sorts. Strike a difference with your politeness. If the manager does award you an upgrade, let him/her know you’ll be happy to commend them in the Feedback Form.
pillow menu

Play the emotional card: tell them you’re visiting on a special occasion. Tell them you love the hotel, and that it’s your third visit here (they’re not going to pull out records). It works like a charm. (Just don’t tell them you read it here).
Turn a glitch to your advantage: Baggage reached your room late? Faucet leaking? Request management to upgrade your room, in exchange for a No Complaints.

What exactly is a champagne breakfast?

Image Source
Image Source

It is, well, exactly as luxurious as it sounds: Breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine and fruit juice, usually orange and/or peach.

This special treat is generally reserved for special occasions such as an Anniversary, Mother’s Day or a holiday. High-end hotels and vacation resorts often serve champagne breakfasts served in three elegant courses: bread, cake and fruit, followed by the main course, and finally, coffee, cheese and biscuits.

champagne

To give you a clearer idea, here’s the romantic champagne breakfast menu at the Governor’s Suite in Hartness House, an Inn in Vermont, USA.

Ice-chilled Champagne in a bucket with two crystal flutes;

Freshly-squeezed Orange or Carrot-Apple Juice;

Freshly baked Crumb-topped Blueberry muffins
and Orange marmalade;

Strawberries with Framboise Creme Parfait;

food-fruits-eat-dessert

Your choice of:
Smoked Salmon and Green Onion Omelet, or
Almond and Graham Crusted French Toast; or
Governor’s Eggs Benedict

French Press Columbian Coffee with Cream

Decorated with a beautiful silk Rosebud in Vase and newspaper

This indulgence for two can be yours for an extra $75 USD!

How do I Take Great Wildlife Photos?

Noted photographer Archna Singh gave Travel Secrets writer Nirav Shah a quick tutorial in wildlife photography.

 

 

Be extremely patient. I have had to wait for 4-5 hours while a leopard slept on the tree just to catch different expressions on its face.

ORAH5528a

Maintain distance. This is important to catch the animal in their natural behaviour, to respect them and their privacy and most importantly, for your own safety.

Early morning and late evenings before dusk are the best times to shoot. Most of the animals are out at this time, when the heat is low. The light is also softer.

ORAH8313 2a

Never use your camera flash. It scares the animal away and is disrespectful.

Always keep the camera ready, even a 1-minute break can make you lose a wonderful shot. The animals always catch you off guard!

IMG_0194 copy

Do not just take pretty pictures: try and bring out the emotions that the animals express

A tip for tourists: Guides/drivers at national parks in India will often park their cars in one place and claim that the animal will come here (based on sightings or pug marks). Do not listen to them, but make them take rounds since more often than not, this is a tactic to only save fuel, and you will never end up spotting any animal.

About Archna Singh

IMG_3677

Trained at: NIFT, and under acclaimed photographer Akhil Bakshi

In love with: Africa! She’s also a regular at Ranthambhore and Ladakh.

Showcases her work at: http://www.orahwildlife.com.

Her Kit (in 2012, when we published the story):

1. Canon camera – 1Ds Mark III (serial no. DS 126161/617957)

2. Canon camera – 1D MARK IV (serial no. DS 126221/1431300181)

3. Canon camera – G11 Power Shot (serial no. 0245200409)

4. Canon Zoom Lens – (EF 800MM 1:5.6) – Serial No. 14634

5. Canon Zoom Lens (100-400MM) – ET-83C (serial no. 462100)

6. Canon lens – (EF 200MM 1:2L) – Serial No. 11216

7. Canon Wide Angle Lens 16-35MM – EW-88 – Serial No. 1063057

8. Canon Lens (24-70MM) – EW-83F – Serial No. 1907442

9. Canon Fisheye lens -15mm – Serial No. 54259

10. Canon Extender 2xIII – Serial No. 8420002650

11. Canon Extender 2xII – Serial No. 132951

All images are with courtesy  Archana Singh

Input: Travel Secrets Correspondent Nirav Shah

Ever done a Snowmobile Ride with Dog Sleds?

For most of us, riding through the snow on a dog sled would be a new kind of thrill. For residents of Grey County, Canada, it is a routine mode of transport.

Grey County is bordered in the north by the impressive Georgian Bay, 220km by 100km, making it almost as large as Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s five Great Lakes. It is just 150 km away from Toronto, west of the Blue Mountains area of Collingwood, where skiers take on snowy slopes.

Mike Keenan took a thrilling ride across Grey County. The idea of Corporate Honchos going to work in Snowmobile excited him.

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Driving on a snowmobile is a lot like cross-country skiing: an opportunity to observe nature’s pristine fields bordered by naked deciduous trees shrouded in hoar frost, providing a mystical dimension. The trees glow along the carpet of snow; their crystals beam in jewel like fashion, a sparkling dance in strong sunlight, glistening and forcing to stop to revel in magnificence of it all.

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Snowmobiles are machines that transport you deep into the woods, offering vistas of partly-frozen creeks and snow-clad pine and spruce, uneven land, large rocks and limbs providing a unique gestalt. They are responsive and easy to drive, right hand controlling gas and left hand, the brake. As promised, the machine virtually stops on its own with the release of gas.

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There are 3,000km of groomed trails in the Grey-Bruce area, with no dangerous lake or water crossings. Trails are signposted and easy to follow. Mike witnessed myriad tracks, a large hare, perhaps a wolf but no actual wildlife, and although the trails he travelled were graded ‘Limited,’ they are fine with deer, white owls and the sheer beauty of nature in Grey County’s winter wonderland. Gloves, pants, helmet and boots kept them warm. There are two kinds of snowmobile enthusiasts: hard core, racking up as many kilometers as possible and the recreational, out of pure enjoyment. Many people even show up in business suits, the office goers.

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Next it was ‘Hike!’ that they repetitively shouted as teams of dogsled raced along a circular route at Doug Nixon’s Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies, harnessed in two teams of two dogs per sled make you wonder how four dogs are able to carry each sled and the large musher. Mushers stand on two thin runners with a brake pedal in the middle. After a few sprints you get the feel of it, leaning into the turns, the sled easily maneuvers on the terrain.
It was minus 2 C, but the owner, Doug, said that these snow dogs liked it colder at minus 10-15 C. They are born outside and live outside.

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This experience was shared in the November-December 2012 issue of Travel Secrets magazine.

Point Me to 5 Offbeat Bookstores Across the World

“In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”
― Anna Quindlen

Travel and books go together, just like “Fish n Chips” or “Gin n Tonic”.

TS intern Siddharth Birla, a bibliophile himself,  lists out 5 exotic and unique bookstores which  deserve top spot on every travel and book lover’s bucket list:

1. Libreria Alta Acqua, Venice, Italy

Sure, Venice pairs perfectly with the word “romance.” But don’t come away without checking out the city’s charming boat bookstore.

Libreria Alta Acqua which literally translates to “Library of High Water” is nothing like your everyday bookstore or library. You are greeted by a sign outside saying “Welcome to the Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World.” Upon entering, you’ll be amazed to find a full size gondola in the middle of the bookstore overflowing with ancient books on art, history, dictionaries and biographies. To complete the furnishings, there are also poles, oars and mannequins. Whenever the channels of Venice get flooded during Acqua alta, the gondola simply floats on water, keeping the books dry and safe.

Libreria Alta Acqua is actually a mix between a bookstore and a flea market. If you are lucky, you might stumble upon some antique books or one of the four domesticated cats.

Source: https://justinekibler.files.wordpress.com

Source: https://justinekibler.wordpress.com/

2. Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal

Legend has it that JK Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter after being inspired by the beauty of Liveraria Lello, which she visited regularly while living in Porto in the early 1990’s.

The neo-Gothic façade of this former library barely hints at the opulence inside: carved wood, gilded pillars, ornamented ceilings, and a gorgeous red staircase lit by a stained-glass atrium. It’s not hard to see how JK Rowling might have been inspired to incorporate a Grand Staircase in Hogwarts Castle after visiting the Lello bookstore. Established in 1881, the bookstore features more than 100,000 titles in several languages and was named by Lonely Planet as the “Third Best Bookshop in the World”

Source: http://www.m1key.me/

Source: http://lugaresdecine.com/

3. The Montague Bookmill, Massachusetts, USA

‘Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.’

The tagline of this bookstore itself is enough to make you want to find it!

The Montague Bookmill is housed in an 1842 gristmill, set on the banks of the Sawmill River, a few miles north of Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts. The interiors of the mill have been revamped but still retain most of the characters of the original building, with scuffed wooden floors, giant windows, and traces of the industrial nature it once had.

It mostly houses used academic book ranging from everything from Austen and anarchy to Zola and zoology and sells them at half the original price. It’s not a conventional bookstore and does not maintain any catalogues. The idea is to browse books personally along the maze like aisles and staircase which make the experience as exciting as reading. However, if you fail to find the book you’re looking for, they claim to find you a better one that you didn’t even knew you wanted.

Source: nancywilt.files.wordpress.com

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcali19/

4. Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini Island, Greece

“From the Caldera, breath-taking views of the volcano and neighboring islands. From the east, miles of dark sandy or pebbled beaches. Everywhere one sees small domed churches and remnants of days gone by.”

Santorini is a place where people read sunsets more often than books. For this reason maybe, this small group of islands lacked a good bookstore until two travelers, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise decided to open Atlantis Books in 2004.

The story goes that back in the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. They had finished their books and couldn’t find anything they liked in English at the local bookstores, where the selection was limited to detective novels and guidebooks. Intoxicated by Santorini’s beauty, they decided to open a shop modelled on Shakespeare & Company, the English-language bookstore in Paris.

Jeremy Mercer of The Guardian describes Atlantis as a dream of a bookstore. Perched on the cliffs of the volcanic island in a postcard-worthy Greek villa, visitors can spend their afternoons reading a Ryszard Kapuscinski or Jamaica Kincaid title while listening to some jazz playing in the background. The store also hosts food and film festivals, and writers’ readings and is slowly becoming a landmark in Oia. Travelers who are not even reading enthusiasts make it a point to pay this place a visit just to click some pictures worth remembering.

Source: atlantisbooks.org

Source: atlantisbooks.org

5. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Grand theatre turned bookstore, El Ataneo Grand Splendid is the creation of architects Peró and Torres Armengol and makes its place as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Originally built as a theatre for performing arts in 1919, it was converted into a movie theatre in 1929 until poor economic condition forced the theatre to be closed down. It was slated for demolition when the Ilhsa Group, owner of the El Ateneo publishing house bought the building. They subsequently renovated and converted it into a book and music shop while still retaining the original interior architectural details including the brilliant frescoed ceilings painted by the Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, and caryatids sculpted by Troiano Troiani.

While the staggeringly opulent display of books is reason enough to pay El Ateneo Grand Splendid a visit, one can also indulge in coffee and live piano music on the very stage where the Argentinean stars of tango once performed to witness its complete splendor.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: https://www.flickr.com/people/47828828@N05/

5 Tips For Solo Women Travellers?

Sure. We have Hetal Doshi, a solo travel expert herself, sharing her tips with you. Hetal runs The Wander Girls, a Mumbai-based company that organises women-only travels and events. Over to her:

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1) Ensure that family & friends back home have a complete copy of your itinerary with the Hotel addresses and contact numbers, your cell number, and know where you’ll be on any given day and can stay in touch with you. This will give them assurance and will also boost your own confidence if you’re a newbie solo traveller.

2) For backup, keep copies of your passport, tickets, and other documents in all pieces of your luggage and carry the originals with you in your handbag which you keep with you at all times.

3) Walk around in flat sensible shoes and keep the heels for an evening out, if you must. You don’t want to be running around the whole day in platforms, heels or wedges. Bellies, slippers or shoes are all good options to keep your feet comfortable.

4) Travel as light as you possibly can. This will allow you to smoothly manage your luggage at airports even if trollies are missing and carry your luggage into local transport if that’s your chosen mode of transport. Also, in places such as Europe where the Hotels often don’t have porters you can easily lug your backpack/bag up and down the stairs.

5) A cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, a small folding umbrella, a bottle of water, something to eat, are essentials that you should have on you whenever you’re out exploring any place. The I.D. and money goes without saying of course! 

Is Cambodian cheese really a cheese?

Confession: We haven’t been to Cambodia yet. But we’d love to go. If you have been to that fascinating land, we’d love to hear your travel tales. Write to us on travelsecretsmag@gmail.com, and we’ll take it forward.

For now, let’s talk about “Cambodian cheese” that isn’t really a cheese!

It’s actually fermented fish paste, with a cheese-like texture, salty taste and distinct odour. Wrapped in banana leaves and served with hot rice, the “cheese” may look  appetising, but that smell isn’t for everyone! Incidentally, it’s called prahok in Cambodia.

Fried_Prahok_meal

(Image: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia: “Prahok is obtained by crushing or grinding fresh fish after de-scaling, gutting and cleaning them. They can be crushed underfoot, like wine grapes, or processed by machine. After the fish is crushed, it is left in the sun for a full day, then salted.”

Prahok-preparation-in-Cambodia

Image: fishconsult.org

The smell of prahok has been described as “stomach turning” and “like your brother’s socks.” If you still want to try it:

3 more things you must know about Prahok:

It’s always eaten fried or steamed, never raw: for fear of spoilage.

Good quality prahok is fermented upto 3 years.

Prahok is also wildly popular in Vietnam.

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prahok

Is the BMW Welt in Munich worth a visit?

If you love cars, yes. If not, then yes again! Munich is home to the only BMW Welt in the world that offers you front row seats to witness the iconic brands production process.  Also feast your eyes on vintage as well as future trends at the BMW Museum.

Inputs from TS intern Arushi Rajput.

Image: www.e-architect.co.uk8
Image: http://www.e-architect.co.uk8

Tour along the BMW Plant, get right up so close to the Press Shop, Paint Shop, Engine Shop or the Assembly. Watch in awe as heavy steel rolls turn into automobile parts and come out as shiny new BMWs. There are experts guiding you at every step – time to ask all those questions you had about your dream ride.

If you like stories, explore the history, background and visions of BMW, as you stroll across the corridors of the BMW Museum. Gaze at about 125 of the brand’s most valuable and attractive automobiles, motorcycles and engines displayed across a 5000 Sq. m area.

Image: www.d-talks.com
Image: http://www.d-talks.com

Can’t get enough of the special treatment? Hop into a convertible, a luxury sedan or a motorcycle and enjoy a unique photo op.

For more, check out the BMW website.

Read more about this unique experience:

The BMW Blog

Destination Munich – BMW Welt

Park Inn Blog – BMW Museum and BMW Welt, Munich

 

 

Point me to Fiji’s 7 Best Resorts.

Beach front accommodation abounds in Fiji. Here is our selection of the 7 best:

Yatule Resort & Spa 
Photo: www.epubbud.com
Photo: http://www.epubbud.com

Choose from pool view, beach front and deluxe beach front suites and rooms, just footsteps away from the gorgeous white sands of Fiji’s Natadola Beach. The resort currently features 36 individual rooms that can accommodate 72 guests. There is plenty to keep you engaged — sip cocktails and enjoy the sunset from the Breaker’s Bar deck; the Na Ua restaurant boasts of a fresh seafood spread directly bought from local fishermen, flavored with local ingredients; and the pool offers a swim-up bar to cool down with a beer after a busy day of surfing.

Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa
Image: www.tripadvisor.com
Image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Just 1.5 km from the beach, the resort and spa is an ideal summer location to enjoy the pristine white sand, serene blue sea and a cheerful yellow sun. A summer paradise, for both you and your kids — indulge in relaxing massages and refresh yourselves, while the kids stay busy with beach games, treasure hunts and fun activities. At dusk the beachfront restaurant offers stunning views as you enjoy a delicious meal under the stars.

Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Photo: www.myholidaycentre.com.au
Photo: http://www.myholidaycentre.com.au

Apart from the dazzling white beach, the resort helps cool your eyes with turquoise pools and lush tropical landscaped gardens. Versatile in its approach, you can celebrate family togetherness, romance, or have a fun filled adventure experience here. Outrigger is a luxury resort with a tradition of a strongly rooted hospitality culture.

Nanuku Auberge Resort
Image: nanuku.aubergeresorts.com
Image: nanuku.aubergeresorts.com

Beauty, luxury, sophistication, rejuvenation, culture and adventure form an immaculateblend to bring your senses to life. Overlooking the Pacific, the beachfront setting lets guests enjoy home like comfort and exhilarating experiences at the Spa, clubhouse, salon, fitness gyms, and dining. The delicacies made with ingredients handpicked from local farmers and fishermen is not to be missed and so is sipping the signature Wai Pool Bar cocktail.

Cloud 9
hoto: www.fijiairways.com
hoto: http://www.fijiairways.com

With a revamped menu and contemporary delights, Cloud 9 (Fiji’s only two level floating platform) boasts an Italian bar that serves both popular favourites as well as local concoctions like Fiji Gold, Fiji Bitter and Fiji Rum Co. An wood-fired pizzeria dishes out scrumptious pizzas for a relaxed meal on the sun decks, reclining day beds and hanging chairs.

Laucala Resort
Image: www.e-architect.co.uk
Image: http://www.e-architect.co.uk

This paradise-like island resort features creatively designed villas that inculcate various eleents of nature. A perfect hideout away from the hustle-bustle of the world. Beaches, the sea, rain forests and lagoons make it a wonderland to explore at your own leisure.

Malolo
Photo: www.ajtravel.com.au
Photo: http://www.ajtravel.com.au

A rustic resort offering  authentic Fijian hospitality. Local villagers are your hosts here. Simply sway to the rhythm of the place, gaze at the golden beaches, azure sea and abundant coral reefs or have a fun filled day with safaris, boat rides, kayaking , sailing, windsurfing and adventure trips.

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