From World Cup to contemporary tourist destination: part one

The World Cup is first and foremost a sporting event, though it’s also a chance for national brands to be disseminated widely, and for a sense of shared excitement to gather around the countries competing. No country has the opportunity to launch an ambitious branding effort like the host country, of course, and South Africa has done a good job drumming up interest in its people, history, and sights.

The next step, at least for anyone interested in tying an increased national profile to prospective tourist revenue, is to motivate people to actually visit the countries in question. Following, one hotel or resort each from countries selected from World Cup Groups A, B, C, and D ideal for putting their country’s modern (and in most cases relatively reasonably-priced) foot forward.

Group A. Mexico: Hotel Básico, Playa del Carmen.

Hotel Básico is minimalist yet completely Mexican in spirit, a blending of edginess and warmth. The tourism portrait of Mexico doesn’t usually extend to contemporary cool. This is a shame, especially given Mexico’s strong modernist bona fides. Hotels as bold as Básico go some distance toward rectifying the impression. Doubles from $178.

Group B. Argentina: Home Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires.

There are pricier and cushier hotels in Buenos Aires, but none gathers the ridiculous cool of post-economic crisis Buenos Aires like Home. Décor is chic and fresh, and the location in ultra-hip Palermo is perfect for stylish city slickers. Doubles from $130.

Group C: Slovenia: Nebesa, Livek.

The marriage of modernity and mountains is wonderfully center-stage in Slovenia. Nebesa, from its mountain perch in the tiny village of Livek on the Italian border, gathers this Slovenian tradition. The views are extraordinary (see above) and the houses are perfectly executed. Houses for two from €210 per night.

Group D: Germany: Arte Luise Kunsthotel, Berlin.

Berlin, in the immortal words of its mayor Klaus Wowereit, is “poor but sexy.” Germany’s most electrifying city isn’t just sexy and poor. It’s also remarkably easy on the wallet for visitors, and happily this fact extends to the city’s hotel stock. The Arte Luise Kunsthotel, located in the exciting Mitte ‘hood, features artist-decorated rooms in a range of themes. Double rooms from €79.

(Image: Flickr/Andrea Musi)

SkyMall Monday: Sling Couture Arm Sling

Remember when you were young and broke your arm and everyone signed your cast? It almost made falling off that jungle gym worth it to have everyone you knew come over to autograph that itchy plaster on your arm. Sure, you ended up with a pale, shriveled limb and a pretty boring summer, but that cast made you popular. Well, adulthood is less conducive to enjoying a cast. As an adult, you have meetings, social obligations and dress codes. It’s hard to attend black tie functions with a bright white cast. And everyone will want to know how you injured yourself. Referencing that jungle gym probably won’t be very plausible. Instead, people will be questioning your decision to make a go at being a professional arm wrestler. But what if you could conceal your busted wing and look fabulous doing it? This week, SkyMall Monday features an accessory that no klutz or failed armed wrestler should be without. SkyMall knows that just because your health is bad doesn’t mean that you can’t look good. And that’s why everyone with a broken arm and an elitist social calendar needs the Sling Couture Arm Sling.Sure, you could wear a plain black sling, but it would lack panache. It would be devoid of flair. It would be bereft of style. And you’re better than that. You need a sling that’s covered in sequins. You know the saying “if you look good, you’ll feel good?” Well, let that good feeling help your arm heal. Sure, the pins and screws and immobilization will go along way towards fusing those bones back together, but narcissism is the best medicine. Rather than asking you about your injury or last place finished in the Tri-County Arm Wrestling Pro-Am, your friends will be wondering how they can break their arms and look as good as you.

Think that bedazzling your ulna isn’t that humorous? Then you don’t get good skeleton jokes. But, make no bones about it, this product is a must for anyone with a broken arm. Just take a look at the product description:

Heal properly in greater comfort, and look good while doing it…When you look better, you will feel better!

Didn’t I just say that? Now you’ve read that theory twice…on the internet…so it’s doubly true!

So, whether you fell off of a jungle gym, sucked at arm wrestling or were thrown down a flight of stairs by Ray Pruit, heal in style with the Sling Couture Arm Sling. Your arm may be broken, but your dignity (and fashion sense) will still be intact. And that’s really all that matters.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Dressing for extreme travel – don’t screw it up

No matter how badass you are, if you’re wearing the wrong clothes, you can totally spoil your own extreme travel experience. Being ill-equipped is like using the wrong tool, or shooting yourself in the foot.

If you follow these guidelines, you should never have a problem. Good luck to you in your ambitious journeys!

Dressing for Extreme Travel

1. Dress for comfort.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’re heading for an extreme location, you may be tempted to stock up with the latest designer gear. This is overkill. Don’t pack a bunch of heavy clothes with too many bells and whistles unless they are absolutely the most comfortable things you have ever owned.

2. Layers, layers, layers.
Layers can actually help you lighten your load. For example, rather than packing two pairs of bulky snowpants, you can pack one shell and two pairs of long underwear or warm leggings to go underneath (so you can wash one if need be). If your adventure is taking you to a warmer climate, consider layering as well — something lightweight and breathable over your minimal tank and shorts can help protect your skin from the sun and bugs, and keep you looking appropriate in cultures where it’s rude to show too much skin. The shorts and tank underneath will help absorb sweat, and you can strip down to them easily in private.

3. Decide in advance: Bag or pockets.

Whether you’re skiing, rock climbing, or visiting remote villages with no electricity or water, you’re going to need supplies on your person. Decide in advance whether you’re comfortable carrying a bag (which is the most likely thing to get nicked or pick-pocketed). If not, you need to either invest in an outfit with lots of pockets, preferably hidden (see the ScotteVest products and Tilley Hats), or get a money belt to strap to yourself under your clothes. Deciding you have to carry a bag can be very liberating, as then you can wear anything you want. Don’t rule it out; it might make you more comfortable. You just have to be a little extra vigilant.

Montreal Musts, to stay: Downtown digs at Opus Hotel

The boutique hotels of Old Montreal are an obvious draw. The neighborhood is charming, with cobblestone streets flanked by art galleries and cute eateries. This is the Montreal most tourists seem to want to visit. But, especially if you’ve been there before, it may be worth trading the old world time for the energy in the downtown area. The Opus Hotel, on the corner of la rue Sherbrooke and boulevard Saint-Laurent is centrally located, not far from a metro station and wraps you in style from the lobby to the pillow.

Upon entering the hotel, you find a carefully decorated lobby. It’s clear immediately that design is a priority at Opus Hotel, and the open concept provides a glimpse of a seating area, away from the bustle of the front desk, where guests can relax, peck away at their laptops, drink coffee and sit either together or apart. The columns provide something of a dividing line between check-in and sitting area, but the concept is reinforced by various forms of sculpture … giving you something to enjoy whether you’re waiting for your key or sipping an espresso on the other side.

Remember to have your key handy when you step into the elevator (security measure for the property’s guests); it will save you a few seconds of fishing through your pocket when you want to get to your room and wash the smell of the plane off your body. The ride is short, and before you know it, you’re in your space for the next few nights, a carefully appointed guestroom that offers plenty of elbow room and design that is sufficiently tasteful and edgy to leave me feeling like Opus Hotel made a mistake in letting me stay there.


The rooms may vary slightly, with those not yet renovated having a separate room for the toilet. I prefer the post-renovation style, which has the entire bathroom in one room (didn’t like the closet concept). Flop onto the bed – fortunately it was firm enough for me without feeling like a sidewalk, so I think it will appeal to almost everybody – and look up. The ceiling has an unfinished cement look, which complements the soft colors used on the walls.

Dine at the hotel’s restaurant, Koko, at least once. I enjoyed the restaurant a little over a year ago and was excited to see that nothing had changed. The menu – which brings together Asian and continental European cuisine, is tasty, carefully presented and attentively served. The cocktail menu will keep you busy (don’t try them all, at least not in one sitting), but skip the usual after-dinner drinks when it’s time for dessert. Instead, opt for a Canadian specialty such as ice wine or ice cider … or both, as I did (it was worth it, and I’d do it again).

Perhaps most important, I noticed that the staff at Opus Hotel didn’t need to wait for a stupid look to cross my face before offering to help with anything … and they entertained my feeble attempts to speak with them in French. Being able to listen to me butcher the local language with a straight face is pretty much the height of customer service, so it’s unsurprising that they nailed everything else.

If you want to feel like a star, this is the hotel to call home on your next trip to Montreal. You’ll be treated like a celebrity – but without the worried looks about how much damage you’ll cause to the room. And, you’ll feel like one in this style-savvy establishment. A stay at Opus is always a smart move.

Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.

For Helsinki, Design Week 50% longer

Seven days just won’t work for those crazy Finns. These design-savvy northern Europeans thus had to stretch its design celebration to 10 days. From September 4, 2009 to September 13, 2009, Helsinki will host the Fifth Helsinki Design Week: Do Touch! With workshops, seminars and shopping, you can turn this into a hands-on experience. Don’t worry, the usual exhibitions, fashion shows and studio visits (some spaces normally closed to the public) will be available, too.

The primary exhibition will be at the Cable Factory, featuring designs from the Netherlands. At the same space, The New Draw will introduce nine young Finnish architecture offices that are celebrating a book launch. The Design Market will be home to dozens of vendors selling fashion to furniture on September 5 and 6.

The Open Studios show, on September 9 and 10, sounds most interesting. Creators will open the back doors to their workspaces, offering a rare look at how something goes from idea to product. This is the type of opportunity available only during design week.

While you’re in Helsinki, check out the doughnuts at Snellman’s by the harbor. It’s worth the trip.