Hotel Info a Text Message Away
Stuck spending the night at LAX? Send a text message that says "Los Angeles hotels" or the local zip code and "hotels" to 4-INFO (4-4636), a free text messaging information service. It quickly returns a list of nearby lodgings plucked from Hotels.com's database. Don't see what you want? Just reply "m" for more options. To check rates, send another message with "reserve" and the city name or zip code. The hotel look-up is the latest addition to 4INFO's convenient--and also free--text searches for restaurants, weather reports, and flight schedules and delays as well as sports scores, stock quotes, and more 4info.net.
A Stylish Travel Companion
Finally, a guidebook you can carry without being embarrassed! (Well, maybe.) We got an advance copy of one of the new Wallpaper City Guides, put out by London-based Wallpaper magazine--and it's foxy. In fact, it's probably the best-designed guidebook we've seen in a while. It's small and thin, fitting nicely in a back pocket; it has handy chapter tabs; and instead of the usual lame cover photo, each city guide will have a simple color field--the effect is reminiscent of Pantone chips or paint samples. Twenty guides will be launched in October, with 40 more coming in 2007 (all published by Phaidon). There's not a lot of info inside, but the info may not be the point. Splurges: Glossy Coffee-Table Books
New Prize: Luxury in Colorado If yours is the best response before August 31, you'll win four nights at The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, a RockResort in Colorado. The chateau-style lodge is on a private mountain. Prize includes accommodations, two lift tickets to Beaver Creek Resort, and two massages at The Lodge's spa. Valid December 1, 2006, to April 1, 2007. Subject to availability, nontransferable, nonnegotiable. Blackout dates apply. For more information on RockResorts: rockresorts.com. How to enter E-mail TrueStories@BudgetTravelOnline.com or mail to True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. We can't return photos. Read the full guidelines. April's winner The winner of the April contest is Nicole Andersen of Santa Barbara, Calif. Her prize: business-class airfare for two to London, courtesy of MAXjet. While studying abroad in Beijing, I visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall. In a strange twist of fate, I became the tourist attraction. The locals marveled at my long blond hair and asked me to pose for countless photos. One vendor approached me and commented on my "golden" hair. I smiled and nodded. "Golden hair," she said. "I buy." I gave her a strange look and declined. She started offering me money. Not wanting to give up my hair, I kept refusing. She got agitated and walked away. I was heading back to the bus when she came chasing after me, brandishing a pair of scissors and yelling, "Golden hair! Golden hair!" Needless to say, I ran faster than I had in a long time. May's winner The winner of the May contest is Carol Banning of San Pedro, Calif. Her prize: a seven-night trip to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, courtesy of South African Airways Holidays. While in the Czech Republic, my husband and I drove to a small city called Cesky Krumlov, where we checked into the Hotel Renesance. The next day we visited the castle, tasted the cuisine, and sampled many local beers. As a matter of fact, we did a pretty good pub crawl before calling it a night. Try as we might, however, we couldn't find our hotel. We thought we knew where it was located, and which cobblestoned streets led there, but the only place that resembled the Hotel Renesance was named Leonardo. After four trips around the block--and much head-scratching--we went up to the door and tried our key. It worked! While we were cavorting around the city, the Hotel Renesance got a new name! Someone didn't get the memo about being jolly On the Rome subway, my wife and I were seated across from a rather rotund woman. From what she was saying to her companion, we determined her to be German. The car was crowded, as they often are in Rome, and as we reached the next stop, she tried to "scusa" herself past a large group of people--but she couldn't quite squeeze by. "Maybe she should try it sideways," I laughingly said to my wife, in a voice that turned out to be too loud. The German woman glared at me and said, "I haft no sidevays!" Richard J. Cinquino, Philadelphia, Pa. That, or your husband has a bit of explaining to do My husband and I booked a cabin in an eco-resort in Belize. When we arrived, there were chickens running loose around the grounds. The owner explained that they were his insect exterminators. That night we kept all of our windows open, and in the early morning, I heard a chicken squawking close by--very close. She was in our bed! And she loved being petted. When we got up, we discovered that she'd laid an egg. Thea Platt, Shelburne, Vt. It is a heck of a view As my travel partners and I were lining up for group pictures at Machu Picchu, a llama wandered in to be part of the scene. But no amount of cajoling or coaxing could make him face the camera--he just wanted to admire the view. Somebody got the idea to turn us around and take the picture that way! Dave Shelly, Wichita, Kans. Picking a fight My first night out in Rio ended at 4 a.m. Everything was as I'd dreamed--beautiful and friendly Cariocas, great music, superb dancing. Being a young man, I figured I'd be safe walking to my hotel alone. With the threat of a knife, however, five young thugs emptied my pockets. I was shaken, but my vacation would go on. (I had travelers checks back at the hotel.) Then I realized a far bigger horror! Their loot included my Afro pick. This was too much to lose! All fear of these adolescents vanished. I yelled a loud "yo" and simulated the motion of picking my hair with my comb. One boy ran back and returned it--along with my credit cards. Neville C. Hughes, New York, N.Y. You can find more True Stories in the July/August 2006 issue of Budget Travel magazine.
Secret Hotels of the Amalfi Coast
POSITANO Albergo California Maria Cinque makes a point of chatting with every one of her guests, if not at check-in (which her son Gianni sometimes handles), then at breakfast the next morning. She's particularly delighted to meet Americans, as she and her husband Antonio lived in the Bronx for nine years, returning to Italy in 1974 to run a family hotel five minutes' walk from the center of Positano--and to teach their children "what it means to be Italian," in Maria's words. Six of the 15 guestrooms are in the original 1777 Palazzo Bruno, including four upstairs rooms with 18th-century ceiling frescoes. Many regulars prefer ground-floor rooms 51 to 55, however, because they open directly onto the magnificent, long entrance terrace and enjoy postcard views of Positano framed by ivy trailing off the shady trellis. Rooms without sea views (they actually look out to a wall) cost $65 less--an option certainly worth considering, since all guests have access to the terrace. Each of the California's rooms is spacious, and seems even more so due to minimal furnishings. At sunset, small groups gather on the terrace to sip wine, plan the next day, and pinch themselves, realizing that they've got the same view as the chichi Le Sirenuse hotel down the street for one-third the price. Via Cristoforo Colombo 141, Positano, 011-39/089-875-382, hotelcaliforniapositano.com, doubles from $180 in low season and $190 in high season, including breakfast, closed mid-November to mid-March. La Rosa dei Venti Positano long ago traded its fishing village ambience for the role of chic jet-setter resort. But sleepy old Positano still exists, just around the headland. A five-minute walk on a narrow path carved into the cliff leads to the secluded beach at Fornillo, a quiet neighborhood in a steep valley. Halfway up Fornillo's sole, stair-stepped street lies La Rosa dei Venti. Each of the six rooms comes with a small terrace, decorated with flowers, that offers a view of the beach, mountains, turquoise waters dotted with anchored ships, and a medieval tower built as a lookout against Saracen pirates. Tramontana is the most elegant room, with a gold brocade bedspread, antique writing desk, a nonworking brick fireplace, patterned ceramic floor tiles, and floor-to-ceiling drapes. The two rooms that have kitchenettes, Libeccio and Scirocco, cost $25 more than a regular double. Rather than closing in winter like many area inns, the B&B just drops its prices by $65 from October through May (excluding Easter). Via Fornillo 40, Positano, 011-39/089-875-252, larosadeiventi.net, $130-$190. AMALFI Hotel Residence Sometimes, a gem hides right in plain sight. The blandly named Hotel Residence is in the middle of town on the main drag. Less than 200 feet away are the beach in one direction and the cathedral, famous for its mosaic facades, in the other. Beyond the reception desk, which is wedged between a souvenir shop and an eyeglass kiosk, guests take an elevator up one floor and step into the foyer of an 18th-century patrician palazzo. The skylit, three-story atrium is centered on an elegant curved staircase. Inside the atrium and surrounding corridors are Victorian-style Italian ornaments: marble busts, gilded mirrors, illuminated manuscripts, antique dioramas, a papier-mache ballerina under a glass dome. The rooms themselves, however, tend to be tiny, with solid, slightly scuffed antique wooden furnishings offset by new upholstery and brocade bedcovers. A few have magnificent frescoed ceilings and balcony views of the beach, just across the road. Street noise is the trade-off for the view. Double sets of double-paned glass on sliding doors don't completely block out the sound, but the commotion outside generally subsides well before midnight. Rooms over the side street leading to the cathedral are quieter, while those on the opposite alley, with balconies on which guests can catch a little sun and glimpse a sliver of sea, are nearly silent. Corso delle Repubbliche Marinare 9, Amalfi, 011-39/089-871-183, residencehotel-amalfi.it, doubles $155-$165, closed late October to late April. SORRENTO Casa Astarita The Astarita sisters, Rita and Annamaria, turned a rambling apartment just a block past Sorrento's cathedral into a welcoming, six-room B&B with a personal touch. "This is our family palazzo," says Rita in her smoky rumble, as she joins her guests for a communal breakfast of croissants, cheese, fresh fruit, yogurt, cakes, and homemade marmalades. Family heirlooms mingle with Ikea-esque furnishings under high archways, and the fireplace is flanked by a courtesy tray of limoncello liqueur on one side and a computer with free Internet access on the other. Three rooms (Mitica, Mediterranea, and Moderna) have little balconies that hang over Sorrento's main drag. The other three (including Romantica, with a high-backed inlaid wooden bed; and Storta, a narrow, wedge-shaped room with stairs leading to the bed) overlook the greenhouse-like roof of the popular restaurant next door (La Favorita) and cliffs that glow golden at sunset. Corso Italia 67, Sorrento, 011-39/081-877-4906, casastarita.com, doubles $110-$120, closed December 1-March 31. PRAIANO Locanda Costa Diva Many Amalfi Coast visitors spend their time in the three most famous resort towns--Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello--with little thought of the less-heralded villages in between. Halfway from Positano to Amalfi, Praiano is a nondescript old fishing village with a small beach; it's secluded enough that few tourists hop off at its bus stop. Spilling down the hillside in a series of lush garden terraces and rural structures converted into secluded rooms, the Costa Diva was opened four years ago by the Milo brothers, Pino and Filippo. They named the rooms after film divas of the mid-20th century who vacationed or shot movies here, such as the Sophia (Loren) and the Marilyn (Monroe). The two non-movie-star rooms are Ester, in honor of the brothers' 96-year-old grandmother, and Rafaella, a little stone house with a balcony on the sea, at the end of a long path lined by oleander and daisies. Rafaella is named for their mother: "A bigger diva, you won't find," says Filippo with a grin. Pino, who tends the gardens, leads the way through the tangle of flagstone pathways and tiled terraces cutting though the foliage; he points out grape vines, prickly pears, red hibiscus, palms, rosemary, and pink roses, as well as the lemon, lime, orange, and fig trees. "I could have had a place in Amalfi--for much less money, too," he says. "But there's no tranquility there. I could only get guests who are passing through, not ones who will stay." He smiles. "Stay and then come back again." Via Roma 12, Praiano, 011-39/089-813-076, locandacostadiva.it, doubles $100-$140, open year-round. CAPRI Villa Krupp The island of Capri, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is a ritzy--and occasionally trashy--slice of la dolce vita. On the south side of Capri town, amid the hills and winding paths of Giardini di Augusto park, is Villa Krupp, clinging to the subdued grandeur of an era when Russian intellectuals such as Lenin and Gorky were lodgers (before the villa became a hotel). Owner Valentina Coppola hasn't raised prices much to keep up with the island's popularity, though she continues to fuss over the details, carefully selecting the local reproduction antiques and Florentine artisanal furnishings, positioning the breakfast terrace for optimal views, and counseling her guests on which are the best trattorias. Her 12 rooms are often booked by repeat guests who stay for a week or longer every summer. While the rooms have air-conditioning and telephones, you won't find TVs. "Our clients come for quiet," sniffs Signora Coppola, though she has relented and installed a TV in the lounge, just in case. It's rarely switched on. Most guests prefer to sit on their room balconies, gaze over umbrella pines to the famous faraglioni sea stacks, and listen to the chirping cicadas and the water splashing against rocks far below. Standard rooms are on the ground floor, with views of more trees than sea, and rent for $180. For $200, the primo piano rooms upstairs offer better views from colorfully tiled terraces and slightly fancier digs: elaborately painted furnishings, wooden bed frames sculpted with birds, and mirror frames finished with gold leaf. Viale Giacomo Matteotti 12, Capri, 011-39/081-837-0362, doubles $180-$200, closed November 1 to early April. ANACAPRI Il Girasole A teensy public bus departs from the Marina Grande docks--just outside Capri town--for a 20-minute drive to Anacapri, the island's other village, on the slopes of Monte Solaro. Ask the driver what lies beyond the village and he'll say, "Nothing." That's not entirely true. There's a cement pathway, with scurrying lizards and high walls that spill over with bougainvillea, as well as fig, olive, and oak branches. Follow the path for 10 minutes, past the wrought-iron gates of houses scattered across this back side of the island, and you arrive at the Girasole, a set of four buildings with killer views across brick terraces to the Bay of Naples far below. Rooms 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, and 24 have the best panoramas; the views from rooms 8 to 11 (under the pool deck) are partially blocked by flowering vines. Unless you're desperate to save the extra $15 to $20 per night, avoid rooms 3 to 5, which are under the reception hall and offer views only of the linen closet. All the numbered rooms are decorated with tasteful modular furnishings and padded headboards. The two named rooms (Aurum and Raggio di Luna) are larger, pricier suites that have been gussied up with reproduction antiques, stuccowork or painted motifs on the walls, and picture windows. Via Linciano 47, Anacapri, 011-39/081-837-2351, ilgirasole.com, doubles $90-$190, closed November 1 to early April. Villa Eva The Villa Eva isn't just Eva Balestrieri's hotel. It's her childhood home; she was born in room 5. The room, which now welcomes guests, has a huge terrace, cupola ceiling, and walls covered in watercolors and chalk drawings. Eva's husband, Vincenzo, is the artist; he also made furniture throughout the property, and spent decades transforming the grounds into a carefully tended jungle. Stone paths twist past nooks and gazebos, and the outdoor pool and attached bungalow bar (with TV lounge and Internet stations). Cottages scattered about have been turned into guest rooms stuffed with idiosyncratic details: sculpted columns, Moorish windows, painted tile work, stained glass, old fireplaces, and Gaudi-esque chimneys. The main house consists mostly of oversized, multiroom suites designed for families or small groups of backpacking buddies. It's a warren, with many rooms accessible via outdoor staircases over the roofs of the rooms below, and lounge chairs on every available flat space. Villa Eva is halfway along the country road from Anacapri to the Blue Grotto. Take a taxi, or arrange for the hotel's shuttle to pick you up at the main Capri port or in Anacapri. If you really want to get there on your own, ask for specific directions when you make reservations or you'll never find the place. It's a 20-minute walk downhill from Anacapri--and a world away from the hobnobbing crowd in Capri town. Via La Fabbrica 8, Anacapri, 011-39/081-837-1549, villaeva.com, closed November 1 to mid-March, doubles $115-$145. How to get around the Amalfi Coast and Capri To go anywhere in this region, you have to pass through Naples--the only city in Italy where even Italians fear to drive. No matter how tempting it may be to rent a cherry-red convertible, tackling the Amalfi Coast by car is a mistake. Traffic is heinous (including jams at tight curves that require all stopped cars to back up in unison to allow the passage of a bus coming from the other direction), and parking is both exorbitantly expensive (upwards of $40 a day) and frustratingly limited. Good thing there's an extensive public transportation system. At the Napoli Centrale station, catch the twice-hourly Circumvesuviana, a clattering old suburban rail line that'll take you to Sorrento (70 min., $4). From there, it's an easy transfer to a bus or a ferry. Finding the Circumvesuviana, which runs under Napoli Centrale, is a bit tricky. Head toward the station's main exit, but just before you get there, look to the left for stairs leading down. Follow CIRCUMVESUVIANA signs; but partway along the hall, stop at the ticket windows you'll see on your left. Several commuter lines use the same platform; ask around to be sure the train is bound for Sorrento before stepping on board. Beware of pickpockets every step of the way. To get to Capri from Sorrento, catch a taxi or a local bus to the docks for one of five daily ferries (20-50 min., $10) or 15 daily hydrofoils (20 min., $15). To reach Amalfi, Praiano, or Positano, you'll need to head to the south side of the Sorrento Peninsula along the undulating Amalfi Coast Drive. This white-knuckle thrill ride is one of Italy's greatest wonders: just over 30 miles of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below, green slopes all around, medieval pirate watchtowers on the headlands, and colorful villages in the coves. Every 50 minutes, a SITA bus (sitabus.it) runs from the front of the Sorrento train station to Positano (50 min., $2.25) or Amalfi (100 min., $4). For the best views, snag a window seat on the right side of the bus. The ride back hugs the cliff, cutting out the views, so a fast Metrò del Mare ferry (metrodelmare.com) makes more sense--especially if you find you can't stomach another bus ride. Ferry frequency varies with the season, but there are roughly three daily between Amalfi and Positano (30 min., $8), three daily between Amalfi and Sorrento (1 hr., $9), and two daily between Amalfi and Naples (2-2.5 hrs., $13). For the latest information and schedules, call the tourist boards, below; websites are nonexistent or not very helpful. Amalfi 011-39/089-871-107 Capri 011-39/081-837-5308 Naples 011-39/081-402-394 Positano 011-39/089-875-067 Sorrento 011-39/089-807-4033
My Shanghai Is Better Than Yours: The Best Places to Play
Play One of my favorite things to do is wander. If you see an interesting alleyway (the older and smaller, the better), explore it; Shanghai is one of the safest big cities in the world. But go sooner rather than later. Old Shanghai, sadly, is disappearing at an alarming rate. I rarely wake up as early as most Shanghainese do; but on those odd occasions, usually thanks to jet lag, I people-watch at Fuxing Park, an old French park in Luwan. Tai chi, fishing, ballroom dancing--it's got it all. It also has a granite statue of Marx and Engels, and late at night it becomes a hot spot for those heading to the two dance clubs located inside the park. Nearby is a branch of the popular karaoke club Party World, also known as Cash Box. The Chinese love to sing, and karaoke is something that every visitor should experience (not to be confused with KTV, another type of singing establishment that has become synonymous with hookers). Party World is all private rooms that are booked in advance. If you prefer to have other people perform, go to the 76-year-old Shanghai Concert Hall, south of People's Square. Three years ago, the gorgeous hall was lifted--all 5,650 tons of it--and moved 77 yards, where it's now the centerpiece of a park. The jazz scene has enjoyed a renaissance of late, and the genre is easily the most reliable source of quality live music in the city. Some say JZ Club, in Xuhui, is Shanghai's best live music venue, period. I like the sexy laid-back feel of Number Five, in the basement of one of the neoclassical beauties on the Bund, Shanghai's majestic waterfront. For sports fans, the best game in town is soccer, even if the Chinese pro league is rife with scandal and corruption. Shanghai Shenhua matches, in Hongkou Stadium, can be electric. The season runs March to November, and tickets from the window or a scalper shouldn't cost more than $6. I'm not much of a museum person. I have, however, made a few trips to the Shanghai Urban Planning Center, inside People's Square. A scale model of what city planners envision Shanghai will look like in 2010, when the World Expo comes to town, takes up an entire level of the museum. I recently discovered the Shanghai Post Museum, which opened in January inside the impressive 1931 Shanghai District Post Office building, overlooking Suzhou Creek. The roof garden offers exceptional views of Shanghai's skyline. Further inland along Suzhou Creek sits 50 Moganshan Lu, a maze of converted warehouses and factories in Putuo District that now house the soul of Shanghai's contemporary art scene. It's easy to spend an afternoon at the dozens of galleries and artist studios. A similarly hip, though more commercial, vibe can be found at 210 Taikang Lu, an old neighborhood where many artists and designers have set up shop in renovated brick lane homes. Chinese hipsters take their laptops to Xinle Lu's Boonna Cafe . For colder beverages of the alcoholic variety, I suggest Cotton's, a bar and restaurant in a stately 1930s home that is said to have been the residence of Shanghai's first mayor. In warm weather, drink in the large tree-shaded garden. The city's most prominent places of worship are tied to Western religions, but if you have your heart set on visiting a Buddhist temple, Xuhui's Longhua Temple, Shanghai's largest and most active Buddhist center, will satisfy your needs. A seven-story wooden pagoda built more than 1,000 years ago is the signature structure. The Longhua Martyrs' Memorial, nearby, is an interesting slice of military history; it includes the original prisoners' barracks and tunnels. Now for another activity that should probably include a little prayer: riding a bike. Some folks believe you can't truly do the city until you've pedaled among the masses. I'm not one of those people. But if you are, Cycle China organizes group and individual tours. That, logically, brings me to my final tip. You can find great Chinese massages in Shanghai for around $5 per 45 minutes. Double Rainbow, where many of the professionally trained therapists happen to be blind, is reliable. Chinese massages can be intense, however, and afterward I often feel like . . . well, like I need a massage. So lately I've been splurging (about $25) for gentler hour-long oil massages. Dragonfly Therapeutic Retreat offers a tranquil setting for this heavenly experience. Stay away from the "massage parlors" with the pink lights and girls in knee-high boots. They're brothels. Capitalism is alive and well in Communist China. My first few years were pretty lean as far as live music goes. I like indie rock, while Shanghai preferred Filipino bar bands and "world-ranked" DJs. But a year ago, almost overnight, rock music arrived. Lately, two of the more reliable underground rock options have been Live Bar and Shuffle Bar. Live Bar, 20 minutes from downtown, is raw and divey. You can get a tall bottle of Tsingtao for less than $2, and you'll be sitting on plastic furniture (721 Kunming Lu, by Tongbei Lu, 011-86/21-2833-6764). Shuffle Bar has a slightly more refined warehouse feel. Prices are a little higher, but at least your feet don't stick to the floor (137 Xingfu Lu, by Fahuazhen Lu, 011-86/21-6283-2769, shufflebar.com). For current concert listings, visit Shanghaistreets.net or, of course, Shanghaiist.com. Fuxing Park 105 Yandang Lu, 011-86/21-5386-1069 Party World 109 Yandang Lu, inside Fuxing Park, 011-86/21-5306-3888 Shanghai Concert Hall 523 Yan'an Dong Lu, near Xizang Lu, 011-86/21-6386-2836 JZ Club 46 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu, 011-86/21-6431-0269, jzclub.cn Number Five B1, 20 Guangdong Lu, near the Bund, 011-86/21-6329-4558 Hongkou Stadium Hongkou Stadium stop, on Line Three of the metro (three stops east of Shanghai Railway Station) Shanghai Urban Planning Center 100 Renmin Dadao, People's Square, 011-86/21-6318-4477 Shanghai Post Museum 250 Bei Suzhou Lu, near Sichuan Bei Lu, 011-86/21-6362-9898 50 Moganshan Lu 50 Moganshan Lu, near Aomen Lu 210 Taikang Lu 210 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu Boonna Cafe 88 Xinle Lu, near Fumin Lu, 011-86/21-5404-6676, boonnacafe.com Cotton's 132 Anting Lu, near Jianguo Xi Lu, 011-86/21-6433-7995 Longhua Temple 2853 Longhua Lu, 011-86/21-6456-6085 Cycle China 011-86/21-139-1707-1775, cyclechina.com, tours $19--$62 Double Rainbow 47 Yongjia Lu, near Shaanxi Nan Lu, 011-86/21-6473-4000 Dragonfly 206 Xinle Lu, near Fumin Lu (one of many locations), 011-86/21-5403-9982