Photo Of The Day: Guatemalan Ice Cream Truck

I’m traveling in Sicily this week, and was reminded how crummy the aptly named Continental breakfast can be in this part of Europe: a cup of coffee (the only time of day it is socially acceptable to have a cappuccino, incidentally) and a roll or small pastry. While I’m not a person who starts every day with steak, eggs and a short stack, the Italian “breakfast” makes me yearn for an English fry-up, or the protein-heavy array of cheeses in Turkey and Russia. The good news (for me, at least) is that in Sicily in the summer, it is customary to have gelato for breakfast. An ideal scoop of a nutty flavor like pistachio, tucked inside a slightly sweet brioche, makes for a quite satisfying breakfast sandwich. Ice cream is a thing we tend to eat more of on vacation, and it’s always fun to try local flavors and variations. You know, in the name of cultural research.

Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo shows an ice cream cart in Guatemala. Guatemalans love to add strawberry syrup to their ice cream, and carts are found year-round in Antigua, but sensitive stomachs should be warned: the street cart stuff is likely to cause worse than an ice cream headache.

Share your travel food photos in the Gadling Flickr pool (Creative Commons, please) and you might see it as a future Photo of the Day.

Hotel News We Noted: May 11, 2013

It’s the weekend, and you know that that means – it’s time for “Hotel News We Noted,” your annual wrap up of the best, wackiest and downright odd hotel news of the week. Spring has sprung in the hotel world, and we’re seeing tons of openings from major brands and boutique properties alike, as well as a slew of packages, many of which incentivize travelers to book early for summer stays. Time is running out for Memorial Day bookings in prime locations, but you’ll still find some great last-minute specials in major cities. Of course, don’t forget that Mother’s Day is this weekend. It’s not too late to snag a special at an area hotel there either – Saturday night stays and Sunday brunch offerings abound.

So without further ado, here’s the news you need for this week:

Crazy Hotel Package: Cockle Fishing (With your TOES!) at Hermitage Bay in Antigua
We’ve heard of hotels that will take guests out to “catch” their dinner, but never one quite like this. The ultra-luxe Hermitage Bay in Antigua will escort guests cockle fishing in in a hidden mangrove near the property. What is a cockle, you ask? It’s a small saltwater clam that lives in the deep, swampy mud. Desi, the Chef, and a local fisherman named Deon take guests hunting for the sweet things. Guests stand submerged to mid-thigh, calf-deep in mud, and find the clams by wiggling their toes! This sure brings new meaning to the idea of working for your home-cooked meal.

Haute Hotel Openings & Re-Openings
There are so many hotel openings this week and last, we simply can’t whittle down the list. Here are a few of the world’s most notable.

Located on the southwest coast of Bali, Starwood Le Méridien Bali Jimbaran is housed in a tranquil location that once was home to a small fishing village. The property features 119 guest rooms and suites that open around a unique 1,300-square-meter saltwater lagoon-style pool, as well as four restaurants and bars onsite. The hotel also features a six-room spa, a kids club and an exclusive rotating art program.

Istanbul is hot, hot, hot this year. The latest luxury property to hit the scene is Shangri-La Bosphorus, opening tomorrow. Located on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait, the hotel is housed in a former tobacco warehouse from the 1930s boasting a six-story Neo-Classical facade and a 350-year-old Sycamore tree in the courtyard. Expect a three-story Atrium, an 18-foot silk painting commissioned for the hotel, a CHI spa with eight private spa suites and the most spacious guest rooms in the city, ranging from 452 to 646 square feet, plus 17 suites with large private terraces.

In renovation news, the Hotel Gritti Palace in Venice is re-launching this year after a 15-month, $55 million restoration. Part of an overall $200+ million renovation for The Luxury Collection’s hotel’s in Europe, the newly revamped property features 61 rooms and 21 suites all carefully redone with an eye to the hotel’s historic beauty.

In New York City, the Langham Place has opened their first hotel in North America in the building that was The Setai Fifth Avenue. While at the start, the hotel, dubbed Langham Place Fifth Avenue, will look much the same, the well-known British name in hospitality brings an exciting new brand into New York City and a potential for further acclaim for the property. We’ll keep an eye out for more updates, which include the re-launch of the hotel’s spa in 2014 and a new bar, Measure, later this year.

Great Gift: Hotel Stories
Need a great gift for the luxury travel lover in your life? Luxury book publisher Assouline has just launched the latest in their collection of amazing coffee table books. Part of a partnership with The Luxury Collection, the book, called simply “Hotel Stories,” tells the tales of some of the world’s most famous hotels and their celebrity inhabitants.

Have a question, comment or hot hotel tip? Leave a note below or shoot us an email. We love mail!

[Image Credit: Hermitage Bay]

Three New Experiential Eco-Fashion Trips Taking Off This Summer

This summer, three new eco-fashion-oriented package tours will offer the chance for ethical designers, makers and consumers to meet artisan communities, take workshops in craft production and see the impact of their conscious purchasing decisions.

While different in structure, these trips all offer the chance to travel along an artisan product’s supply chain, from visiting farming communities in Ecuador, to knitting with naturally dyed alpaca yarn in Peru, to shopping finished products in Guatemalan boutiques.

Even for people who don’t geek out on beautiful textiles and hand looms, these trips offer a different way to travel, one that emphasizes connections with the people behind your souvenirs.

Awamaki-Kollabora Collaborative Crafting Workshop

When: May 25 to June 2, 2013
Where: Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
Perfect for: Students, or travelers who seek an authentic off-the-beaten-path experience
What: “A cross-cultural tour pairing you with a Rumira knitter to develop a Kollabora knit item using local, hand-spun alpaca yarn. We trace the entire creation of your project through hands-on engagement: visiting alpaca farms high in the Andes to source fleece, learning to spin fleece into soft yarns, dyeing yarn skeins with native plant dyes alongside Quecha weavers, and studying the local backstrap loom.”
Accommodations: Home-stays with Awamaki’s host families.
Side trips: Incan ruins, markets in Cusco, Machu Picchu.
Organized by: Kollabora, an online community for DIY inspiration, projects, skills and supplies, in partnership with Awamaki, a non-profit that supports artisan groups in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Price: $1,799, which includes home-stay accommodations, most meals, day trips, guides and crafting materials. Fee does not cover international airfare to/from Cusco, visas, travel or health insurance, tips and personal purchases.
For more information: Visit the trip description page or email Global Insight Trip: Community Empowerment

When: June 30 to July 4, 2013
Where: Lake Atitlan and Antigua, Guatemala
Perfect for: People who are curious about social enterprise models and their impact on communities. Mercado Global also offers a Women Helping Women trip for women interested in mentoring and a Financial Empowerment trip for people interested in the entrepreneurial side of rural artisan businesses.
What: “An exclusive week-long journey that fuses service, leadership, and once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange. Attendees will meet the indigenous Maya women we partner with in the Guatemalan highlands and learn about how their transformation into leaders has impacted their families and their communities.”
Accommodations: Four-star lodging in Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
Side trips: Boat trip to Santiago Atitlan, tours of colonial Antigua.
Organized by: Mercado Global, a social enterprise that links rural indigenous artisans to international markets in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Price: $1900, which includes accommodations, all meals, local transportation, guides and translation and staff support. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Leah Vinton at

Fashion Designers Without Borders Immersive Sourcing Safari

When: July 22 to 28, 2013
Where: Quito, Tena and Otavalo, Ecuador
Perfect for: Fashion industry professionals who want to explore opportunities to collaborate with developing world artisans. Other sourcing safaris have taken place in Kenya and Guatemala.
What: “Climb volcanoes, trek the Amazon and get lost in cloud forests. Ecuador’s atmospheric landscapes, resources and people will enchant you. Recognize new opportunities in accessories development. Appreciate the unique resources of this truly magical place.”
Accommodations: Four- to five-star hotels in Otavalo (in the Andes), Quito and Tena (in the Amazon).
Side trips: Activities at an Amazon jungle lodge, trip to the Inga Alpaca Farm, tour of colonial Quito.
Organized by: The Supply Change, a consultancy that connects the fashion industry with global artisan communities, in partnership with The Andean Collection, a line of handcrafted accessories with a social mission.
Price: $4000, including accommodations, meals, day trips and local transportation. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Chrissie Lam at

[Photo Credit: Mercado Global]

Photo Of The Day: Thanks For Flying

Happy Thanksgiving, and hola from the Dominican Republic, where I’m spending the holiday with family and friends. Rather than searching the Gadling Flickr pool for a turkey (or Turkey, where I spent the last two Thanksgiving holidays) photo this year, I wanted to see what came up for the term “thanks,” and found this pic from our own Kent Wien, boarding an American Airlines airplane in Antigua. You don’t see the first words “Thanks for…” in the shot, but if you’ve been on enough planes, you know how to complete the sentence that ends “… flying American Airlines.” Climbing air stairs from the runway always feels a bit retro, and seeing the old slogan brings back memories of some of my first flights. I’m thankful for my passport and the ability to share my wanderlust with my baby, in her thirteenth country today. Count your blessings and enjoy the day wherever you are.

What are you thankful for? Add your picture to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Fly For Fun]

Gore Vidal’s Old House

In later years…President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Longworth, congratulated me every time we saw each other: “You got out. So wise.”
“Reflections on Glory Reflected,”
— Gore Vidal, in United States: Essays 1952-1992

The day Gore Vidal died rain fell hard on the roof of his old house alongside the ruins of Our Lady of Carmen in Antigua, Guatemala. Braids of thick plaster twisted gracefully around chipped columns, dripping after the downpour that signaled the end of the canicula. Those golden weeks of sun and hummingbirds in the midst of the rainy season were over.

Of tens of thousands of yearly visitors to Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, few realize that the late author Gore Vidal lived here during the impressionable first years of his writing career. I lived around the corner from his old house for eleven years, and happened to be visiting a friend in Antigua when news came of the author’s death on July 31. I felt moved to walk over to the old neighborhood through town, alert to “that sharp smell” that Vidal once wrote was the scent of “most Latin towns: green papaya, dust, damp stone and plaster, and something else, unidentifiable, yet insistent, ubiquitous, death sweet.

In 1946, the author, then just twenty-one, took $3000 from the payment for his first novel, Williwaw, and bought a crumbling 16thcentury convent next to the ruins of Our Lady of Carmen.

In such corners of Antigua, a town of some 45,000 about an hour from Guatemala City, amid fine homes, galleries and a popular central parque, ruins from five centuries of earthquakes remain in place, reminders of history and natural forces that are inescapable.
Vidal hired an American architect living in town to turn the abandoned convent into a comfortable home. Foreigners and wealthy Guatemalans still build such places here, colonizing the proud old Central American town anew after each temblor or war, re-using stones first placed by the Spanish conquerors. Walk the streets, be cautious of windows with wrought-iron grilles that jut over sidewalks, keep an eye for any set of high, wooden double doors that may be open. You may see it then, an ancient, uneven wall kept in place mid-garden, or a fountain three hundred years senior to the flagstones that surround it, colonial vestiges considered badges of honor by residents.

Gore Vidal’s old house is not marked by the kind of wooden doors grand enough to admit a carriage, as others are. It looks more modest from the outside, a single story. Simple doors, a window like a porthole, the name of Jesus Christ in a rendition popular after the twelfth century, carved on a stone lintel. More convent than residence, but not unusual-looking among these streets.

Two blocks away is Antigua’s central square, where Vidal surely must have strolled with other townspeople early evenings, when noisy starlings crowd the trees. The Spanish laid out the square in colonial times, when Antigua was capital of the Vice-Regency that stretched from southern Mexico to what is now Costa Rica. Spanish planners reserved one side of the square for each force that ruled daily life: religion, symbolized by a white cathedral atop tall steps; government offices over a porch of arches; armed authority in the ornate Palace of the Captains General that has housed soldiers and police; and commercial shops, today ranging from sellers of books to pineapple juice to flash drives. In the center of the park stone mermaids feed a fountain’s pool with water from their breasts. Look up and you see “volcanoes…like the prongs of a crown,” as Vidal wrote, surrounding the city.

When I used to pass Gore Vidal’s old house in the 1990s, after he had long since moved on to Italy, I liked to imagine the conversations that might once have gone on inside, the history, the hi-jinks. The day the author died in Los Angeles, I had to wait to see the place again until the fierce rain stopped, walking carefully as thunder receded, avoiding small pools in the streets.

Antiguans called that day’s storm a tormenta, a really strong one. The tormentathat broke the caniculaleft the cobblestones steaming before Gore Vidal’s old doorstep, as stones steamed all over town, because they were still warm from days of sun. The mist gave heavy square buildings a sense of weightlessness, as if it they were floating above the ground.

Visitors in the late 1940s say Vidal left one great, ruined pillar lying where it had tumbled two centuries before, so guests had to walk around it to enter his living room. After he sold the house in 1950, a new owner divided the house into two, with separate entrances and addresses, but I have seen no such fallen column in either place.

Anais Nin visited her dear friend Gore in this house, even nursed him through a near-fatal case of hepatitis caught eating from pots in the market. Once I sat in one of its salons during a cocktail party, and pictured her in that very room, dressed fashionably in square-shouldered, post-war style, sitting with legs crossed at the ankles, shoes to die for on those little feet. In my imagination, she was writing in her diary.

While Anais Nin visited, a dashing college student named Dominick Dunne, the same who would become the famous crime author, came to stay for some days with a friend of Vidal’s. Dominick and Anais began an affair – in which rooms? — then ran off to Acapulco together. Meanwhile, host Gore was busy writing a novel, Deep Green, Bright Red, about an imagined U.S.-engineered regime change in a Central American country.

Vidal had come to Guatemala during a revolutionary post-war government that based itself on Franklin Roosevelt’s declared Four Freedoms, an era some locals still call the Ten Years of Spring. A young congressman and writer, Mario Monteforte Toledo, often visited the congenial American when Monteforte came from the capital to see his Maya Indian mistress. Over afternoon pitchers of beer in the patio of Gore Vidal’s old house, Monteforte, who would become one of Guatemala’s most honored novelists, attempted to explain how entwined the U.S. government was with U.S. business interests in Guatemala. That foreign commercial enterprises complained dangerously loud of fewer profits and less control over their work forces under the new government.

Vidal, a patrician Tory, argued that the United States, which had just won the Good War, had no reason to interfere in its democratic neighbor’s politics. Even if new laws cramped business as usual for U.S. corporations such as the United Fruit Company.

Young Vidal had arrived in Guatemala already understanding the concept of oligarchy, because he belonged to that of the United States, cousin to a president, a vice-president, stockbrokers, a news baron, lawyers, “everyone in the United States who matters,” he wrote. I have often wondered if Vidal’s experience while living in the renovated convent knocked the beam from his eyes about the cynicism of some Washington policy, and set an attitude for a lifetime. You need only read him to see he understands the concept of “empire,” because he lived in an outland of the American imperium.

Four years after Deep Green, Bright Redappeared in 1950, a C.I.A. coup replaced the democratically elected Guatemalan president, installing a line of friendly generals that ruled for decades. The day Vidal died, I stood on the curb across the wide street and considered the rich life in the author’s house at the beginning of his career: sex, politics, the magical work of writing.

Others followed Vidal in transforming the antique walls of Our Lady of Carmen for personal use. Vendors have turned one section into a warren of tiny shops where tourists are welcome, walls hung with intricate Maya weavings, necklaces of shiny beads, hand-tooled leather belts. On Saturday mornings the crafts spill out the doors to spread for sale on the cobblestone street.

Late on the night the author died, I drove past the house once more, with a friend. This time the street lay empty. Through the car window, with the obfuscating rain falling once more, the remains of the Carmen church looked fearsome. I tried to stare through the new storm. Sacred stone stricken by a shaking earth. Disordered, fluted columns collapsed upon massive broken blocks, angels who once looked from high cornices become fallen, scattered shards. I rolled down the window, wanting to see better. The rain had released scents from gardens hidden behind tall, thick walls on surrounding streets. The fragrance of night-blooming jasmine was overwhelming.

Veteran journalist Mary Jo McConahay is the author of Maya Roads, One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Chicago Review Press), winner of the 2012 Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.