Seven new hotels around the world from Fairmont in 2010

This year promises to be exciting for fans of the Fairmont. New properties are set to open in London, China and many other cities, each with a distinct style. There’s no question that the Fairmont has the art and science of hospitality mastered, so these new properties are going to be exciting to watch.

1. The Savoy
With a design nodding toward Edwardian and Art Deco, the hotel reopens after a restoration program costing more than GBP100 million. The property has 268 guestrooms and a new luxurious Royal Suite. The Savoy Grill is going to come back … under the management of Gordon Ramsay Holdings. Look for the doors to swing open in the second or third quarter of this year.

2. Fairmont Peace Hotel
This Shanghai landmark will reopen in the second quarter of this year, with 269 guestrooms over 12 floors. The hotel faces the Pudong area over the Hangpu River, making it a great spot.

3. Makkah Clock Royal Tower
The Makkah will open in Saudia Arabia in the third quarter, where it will be the focal point of the Abraj Al Bait Complex. With 858 rooms, there will be plenty of space near Masjid al Haram, the Islamic holy site. The hotel stretches 76 stories high and will be the world’s tallest upon completion. The Makkah opens in the third quarter.4. Fairmont Pacific Rim
The 377-room luxury property will open this quarter in Vancouver and will include 175 residential condos. The property will be near the ocean, with great views, and the Willow Stream Spa and Fitness Center will make a commitment wellness easy to maintain. The Pacific Rim is scheduled for a first quarter opening.

5. Fairmont Pittsburgh
The new hotel, with 185 rooms, is intended for LEED certification, demonstrating Fairmont’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. Look for a mix of environmental concern and palpable luxury … and easy access to theater, entertainment and financial districts. Look for this property to open in the first quarter of this year.

6. Fairmont Beijing
Located close to The Forbidden City, the 222-room Fairmont Beijing is a solid location for visitors who worry about being intimidated by the scope of the city. After you’ve experienced the excitement of China’s capital, head back to the Willow Stream spa to have your muscles rubbed back to normal. The Fairmont Beijing is going through a soft opening already.

7. Fairmont Zimbali Resort
Enjoy views of the Indian Ocean from this South African resort, which is tucked between a forest reserve and the sea. The 154-room hotel is intimate and infused with luxury. Look for it to open in the first quarter. This property is scheduled to open in the second quarter.

[Photo courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts]

Chinese Buffet – Part 20: An Air China Ending

This is the final installment of the 20-part Chinese Buffet series that chronicled the travels of an American woman visiting China for the first time.

Before I begin this story, let me clarify that the airline I write about in this post is Air China, and NOT China Airlines, which has been in the news this week for its frightening runway explosion. However, it should be noted that Air China has received its own share of bad press in recent weeks too.

I had read some of that unsettling news just days before I boarded an Air China flight to Beijing in early July. I was a little leery, but too eager about my trip to lose any sleep over it.

The flight to China on CA982 was fine — once we got off the ground. We were held on the runway at JFK for almost an hour before taking-off, but I blame that on the airport and not the airline.

Three weeks later, I took another Air China flight to leave the country, and this time, it was the airline’s fault that we did not depart on time.

I was headed to Melbourne, Australia. A one-way ticket on Air China was the cheapest I could find without having to make three or four plane changes. In fact, CA177 was a direct overnight flight — ten hours straight to my destination while I slept.

Too good to be true, huh?

I should have been on alert after my ticket purchase fiasco a few weeks prior: I booked over the phone, and arranged for an Air China messenger to deliver the paper ticket to where I was staying in Shanghai. There was no e-ticket option available, so the messenger also brought a credit card machine so we could complete the sale on the spot. That proved to be quite an ordeal, since he could not get a signal for the portable machine, and subsequently spent an hour walking around the parking lot of the Green Court apartments in Pudong trying to get the transaction to go through. After several phone calls and lots of pacing, the sale was eventually completed.

I didn’t want to admit it, but this seemed a warning sign that things might not go smoothly. If it was this complicated to buy an airline ticket in China, what was to be expected at the airport and on the flight?


I showed up at Pudong International about 3:30 pm on August 1. The flight was supposed to start boarding at 5:30 and I think this sign (with the wrong airline name on it!) was posted at 6:30. “Mechanical Trouble” is so much worse than a bad weather or air traffic delay — suddenly there were a bazillion unknowns, and nothing to do but sit around and wonder about all of them while we waited for flight status updates.

In this case, no news was certainly NOT good news.

About an hour later, with no further announcements, dinner was served! Passengers started lining up in the boarding area for dishes of warm rice and pork — the actual meals that we would have received on the plane:

At this point I was happy to have befriended a great gal from South Dakota (of all places!!!) named Emily. A photographer, world traveler and blogger too, Emily and I soon learned that we had much in common and plenty to talk about. Which was a wonderful distraction from the fact that we had no clue whether or not we’d be boarding a (possibly “malfunctioning”) airplane.

About an hour after they fed us, there was an announcement made in Chinese and everyone started to move. An airport staff woman approached Emily and I, explaining that, “The shuttle will now take you to the hotel.”

We were corralled back through immigration into China again, then bused off to our “Super 8 meets Motel 6” airport hotel:

Thank goodness I had a cool roommate that kept me laughing, and well-connected with her high-tech travel gear. Emily, who had recently moved to Shanghai, was headed to Sydney on a business trip (CA177 flies to Sydney after Melbourne), and was traveling with a GSM mobile and laptop. She let me borrow the phone to contact my friends in Australia, and use the web to shoot an email to family back home. We chatted about blogging, looked at each other’s photos online, and laughed at our freakishly similar sleeping attire — a Kodak moment, no doubt:

The only instructions we received from the hotel staff was to stay put in our rooms and wait for a call in the morning to return to the airport. Needless to say, I did not sleep well and was on alert when the call finally came at 6:30 am:

“Hello, please come quickly! The buses will leave for airport at 6:30!!”

I looked out the window to see folks already boarding bus number one. We frantically gathered our belongings and hopped on the third shuttle bus within ten minutes. Back at the airport, we then went through immigration again and resumed the waiting game. They directed us back to the same gate where the same “mechanical troubles” sign still stood.

It was hard to tell if I was uninformed because of the language barrier, or because Air China was keeping us in the dark about what was going on. I think it was a bit of both, because I definitely saw Chinese passengers complaining and asking questions. I just had no clue as to the specifics of the scenario.

Eventually, boarding began, and as passengers went through, an Air China official gave each person 500 RMB as compensation for their troubles. But lots of people were still not happy — there was all sorts of discontent among the crowd. We asked for someone to translate. Folks were questioning the safety of the plane, demanding more money back and refusing to board.

Although I too had my concerns about the safety of the plane, I was not interested in hanging out with an angry airport mob. I figured that if the pilot was willing to fly it, the plane must be in good condition. I had to believe it was safe to fly. So I boarded, and spent two hours watching these guys remove luggage from the cargo bin for passengers who had decided not to go through with the flight. It was all quite nerve-racking…

And I had lost my new buddy too! Emily and I parted ways when I chose to get on the plane and she called off her business trip to Australia. There was no longer any point in waiting to see when the flight might leave — she’d never make her meeting in Sydney on time.

I think it was sometime around 1 pm when we finally departed. For much of the flight, I fought off a nagging fear that the “mechanical troubles” would return. It was the first time I’ve ever felt afraid to fly, and at one point I did breakdown and shed a few tears of exhaustion. I ate very little of my last Chinese meal since nerves had by now wreaked havoc on my stomach.

But I love flying, and this experience hasn’t changed my opinion. Although I felt clueless throughout much of the delay, Air China did “take care of us” to some degree — they fed us, gave us a place to stay, and efficiently transported us to and from the airport hotel. I sat next to a Chinese man on the flight who was angry that other Chinese passengers refused to board without additional compensation. He was right, it was frustrating — we would have departed much earlier if these folks had not held out for more money. (In the end we each got 800 RMB for our troubles.)

Last I heard from Emily, she was still trying to get a refund for her ticket from Air China. You can read her version of our adventure here. (Be sure to look at the funny Chinglish signs from our motel room!)

After those flying solo tears were done, I took some deep breaths and selected a movie for my viewing pleasure. This delayed departure from China could have happened in any country — it was not a uniquely Chinese experience. Although, I sensed something orderly about the chaos of the airplane debacle that had surfaced at other moments during my three weeks in the country.

It’s challenging to find the right words to close with — because this was simply an introduction, an overview, an appetizer. I left China slightly frazzled, but satisfied with my first look at the PRC. I suspect that so much will change before I return (even if it’s just a year or two from now!), that it might feel like an introduction all over again, the second time around.

Chinese Buffet – Part 17: Xi’an Excursion Day One

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

One of the places that my friend Beth really wanted to see before leaving China was the historic city of Xi’an, so she invited me to join her and Ryan on an overnight excursion to the home of the Terracotta Army.

We began our trip to this very ancient city by taking the super-modern Maglev train to the Pudong airport. This state-of-the-art magnetic levitation train transports passengers 20 miles in a mere seven minutes. For 50 RMB (one-way ticket), you can get to the airport in a flash, and experience the thrill of going from 0 to 427 km/h in just five minutes:

(It was my poor photography skills – and not the speed of the train – that prevented me from getting a smooth shot on this second picture. But you get the idea, right? It’s a FAST train.)

For travelers arriving in Shanghai via the airport, the Maglev may not be your best option, since it doesn’t run into the central part of the city. It goes only as far as the Longyang Road Station in Pudong, which is still quite a ways from downtown Shanghai. But you can get the metro from there and continue your journey into the city that way.

But getting back to the airport…

We got to Pudong International with plenty of time to catch our China Eastern Airlines flight to Xi’an. The flight was less than two hours, leaving me just enough time to read up a bit on our destination. We were headed to the capital of Shaanxi province, a city of more than five million, that at one time served at the imperial capital of China. We were making the trip, like so many others do, primarily to see the Terracotta Warriors. But we hoped to squeeze in a few other sights as well.

Thanks to our own personal tour guide, we were able to do just that. Bob, a private driver who contracts work through the Hyatt Hotel, picked us up at Xi’an’s airport (40 minutes away from the city) and right away offered us an optional sightseeing stop on the way to into town:

Bob suggested we visit Xianyang, the site of China’s very first dynasty, the Qin. Relics from the former palace of Qin Shi Huang have been gathered into a museum with two main sections. First, we visited a building which housed many of these relics, including a miniature terracotta army:

The uniforms and costumes that the figures had been dressed with are now long gone, leaving these poor little guys naked. (There were a few female figures discovered at this site as well.) The second section of the complex is an underground museum, where we could walk above and around the excavation site, wearing blue scrub slippers they provide:

This was the first of several archaeological dig sites we would visit over the next two days. Since Ryan’s a dinosaur fan, he especially enjoyed seeing these dirt pits full of bones. But no Tyrannosaurus Rex here…

A theme of old vs. new seemed to be running through our adventure. We took the modern Maglev to begin our journey to a historic ancient city full of relics from the past. Yet the city is far from old anymore.

The contrasts continued as Bob drove us through the hectic streets of this booming manufacturing hub:

We passed a Home Depot on the way to the Hyatt, and I marveled once again at the constant boom of construction that defines modern China. I wondered, what would those ancient warriors think of all this growth?

Xi’an’s famous city wall soon came into view. We had read that renovation had recently been completed to the wall so visitors could now walk or bike around the entire top. After a visit to the bell tower, we attempted to gain access to the wall, but were repeatedly unsuccessful. We walked the perimeter of one section where we had been told there was an entrance. But it was smack in the middle of a dangerous roundabout loaded with speeding cars, bikes and buses. Ryan was a trooper, following along during our futile attempt to get on the wall. Eventually, we sat for a drink and felt kinda like the guy at the table behind us:

So we gave up. Some walls are just not meant to be scaled…by us, anyway! We took it as a sign that we should be hunting out some good food instead of access to an ancient wall. Good warriors we’d make, huh?

We’ll be laughing about our adventure mishap for a really long time. And we started over dinner — yummy pizza and a round of darts at the Hyatt’s pub and pizzeria:

Bob was coming back at 8 am to take us to see the Terracotta Army, so we were soon off to bed. Part two of our Xi’an excursion will continue tomorrow…

Chinese Buffet – Part 11: Relocation to Shanghai

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

Now comes what I’ve been calling the Shanghai Shift. After a week on my own in Beijing, dealing with tummy troubles and all the usual ups and downs of solo travel, I had now arrived in a city where I’d be embraced by dear friends and the comforts of home.

And what better way to welcome a weary Italian woman!?!? Beth and Dan, my gracious hosts, picked me up at the Shanghai train station about 9 pm. They had just come from Da Marco, well known in Shanghai for its’ excellent pizza and Italian dishes. And they brought me a doggie bag! After snacking on apples and trail mix for ten hours on the train, this was heaven.

But had I sold out already? Only eight days in China and I’d reverted to familiar comfort food! So soon?!


On one hand, it felt a bit strange — like I’d given up on the challenges of independent budget travel too quickly. In Europe, I had gone it alone for months at a time – hostels as my constant home. But this time, after just one week of “roughing it”, I found myself comfy and cool in a spacious Pudong apartment, sipping California wine by candlelight while chatting with two of my best college pals.

I hadn’t given up anything, but my vantage point had certainly changed. I was now going to experience life in China through a completely different lens.

Beth, Dan and their young son Ryan moved to Shanghai in the fall of 2005, signing a contract with Dan’s US-based company to work in China for two years. I was fortunate enough to spend time with them near the end of their stay in Shanghai. By the time this Chinese Buffet series ends next week, they will have repatriated back to the US, where they will switch gears to focus on their next great adventure — baby number two!

Much of what we did the first few days seemed to revolve around finding the right food to eat. With Beth pregnant and my stomach still acting up, we steered clear of adventurous dishes and avoided Chinese food altogether. Unfortunately, Beth and her new bundle had developed quite an aversion to all things Asian. Thank goodness for Carrefour (the obscenely huge grocery store loaded with Western goodies) and Blue Frog, a neighborhood chain with yummy burgers and salads:

After a solid meal, next on the to-do list was a little bit of pampering. Beth suggested an hour foot massage and pedicure to reward my worn-out Great Wall feet. Beijing had given my body a beating, so how could I refuse?

And really, what do best girlfriends do when they get together after not seeing each other for a long time? Beth and I hadn’t done anything like this since I’d been a bridesmaid in her wedding — ten years ago! It was all quite lovely, and seemed such a novelty to me — since we were doing it in China!

Beth, Dan and Ryan live in the Jinqiao Biyun International District, home to a large foreign population. Several shops and restaurants are within walking distance of their apartment (like the funky Starbucks shown above), but unfortunately I visited Shanghai during an intense heat wave — strolls around the neighborhood were an unattractive option.

Thankfully, we could turn to Mr. Ding, the family’s driver, who transports Dan to work and is available to Beth and Ryan also. Have you seen the way folks drive in China? Mr. Ding is the man! He navigates insane intersections with ease, making sure the entire family gets where they need to be — the airport, school, shops. I surely appreciated his air-con car service during my visit too!

And then there is Helen, the ayi. It is very common for foreigners to hire a local Chinese woman to help around the house. It took Beth awhile to get comfortable with the idea, but she eventually connected with this sweet woman who comes to the apartment for a few hours each day. Helen cleans, irons and helps prep meals. She also watches Ryan when Beth and Dan go out.

Both Ding and Helen are wonderful with Ryan, and he is comfortable with both of them as well. He’s learned lots of Chinese words and phrases from them – both Mandarin and Shanghainese, which is the local dialect that Mr. Ding speaks. It was entertaining to watch Ryan interact with them — and vice versa. Tomorrow I’ll look more closely at what life is like for this cute American kid living in China.