Discovering which way is up

If your airline flight is delayed this winter because of icy runways, you may have Saskatchewan potash miners to thank for much of the inconvenience.


The phrase "Saskatchewan potash miners" doesn't come up much in conversation, but it certainly should be kept in mind these days. A shortage of potash, a form of potassium carbonate, caused by the 99-day miners strike this fall, has left many U.S. airports with low supplies of a key runway de-icer because they didn't buy sufficient advance quantities of it.

What other effects are we seeing from the strike? Well, as often happens during an extended strike, the timing was meant to be the worst possible for the business, which can be counter-productive for the strikers as well as the strikee. When 500 miners struck three mines owned by Potash Corp. they did so just as the company was pulling out all the stops to meet huge demand for potash-based fertilizer to boost crop yields in the face of rising food prices.

Now, airports, agri-business operations and other users of potash-based products are turning to alternative materials they are finding (a.) available, and (b.) often less costly.

So, the miners got most of what they wanted by putting a stranglehold on their employers, who themselves had been pulling in record profits, but in the long run may have shot themselves in the collective foot.

All of which reminds me of the beleaguered U.S. automakers and their highly-paid union workers. Their history consists of decades of demands for ridiculously high pay and perks and corporate waste and greed passed on to consumers. The auto consumers, just like the potash consumers, found alternatives -- buying Japanese and Korean cars, for example -- that were much more palatable.

How many times does a lesson have to be repeated before everyone learns a lesson?
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10 French survival words

Learn 10 French survival words compliments of The Travel Linguist. For a full list of instructional language DVDs, phrasebooks, audio CDs and downloads, click here.


Keeping track of Santa's flight

Few activities on this Christmas Eve can match the anticipation of awaiting a visit from Santa Claus.

If anyone you know is anxious about where the jolly old elf might be at any particular time, just click here to go to the NORAD Santa Tracker for all the particulars and some seasonal music.



A taste of the New Irish Cuisine

DUBLIN, Ireland -- One day into a motor tour of Ireland in search of something to overcome the negative stereotypes about Irish food and I was stumped.

I was here in the capital city, sitting with a traveling companion in the bar of the beautifully converted Clontarf Castle, site of one of the epic battles of the ancient Irish warrior king Brian Boru. We were trying to figure out where to find the best place for local food.

The hotel bell captain seemed a logical person to consult.

"Well," he said in all seriousness, "it depends on what sort of local food you're looking for. The best in the city is Italian, Thai or Chinese."

That was several years ago, and it's even truer today unless you're so far off the beaten path you're creating a new one. The difference is that the New Irish Cuisine, as it is capitalized in most Irish publications, also has begun making inroads into popular taste.

Much as I pride myself on my nearly 100 percent Irish heritage, I cringe -- as does my aorta -- when I think of some of the dishes that once were typically representative of Irish cuisine.

Finnan Haddie, a smoked fish and mashed potato dish. Dublin Coddle, featuring flour-coated pork sausage fried in bacon fat then cooked in cider with onions and potatos. Bacon and Egg Pie, which includes a half-dozen eggs and four ounces of lard. Carrageen Pudding, which is primarily dried seaweed and whipped heavy cream. Toad in the Hole, a bacon-wrapped sausage baked in mustard dough and covered in gravy. And endless platters and bowls of potatoes baked, mashed, fried, steamed, boiled, grilled, sauteed and whatever else one could think of to do with them.

But that was then. This is now, and my how things have changed.

Irish restaurants and modern Irish families are relying on such things as chicken, salmon, monkfish, lamb and vegetarian dishes in ever-increasing amounts, although the ubiquitous and versatile potato retains its place of honor in the Irish kitchen.

Dishes tend to be more of the "spa cuisine" variety, with less reliance on heavy creams and fats and more exploitation of the island's abundance of fresh produce. Some of the dishes still look heavy -- like the dishs shown above, cod sorrel (top) and colcannon (bottom) -- but light, alternative ingredients lessen the impact.

Ireland once had plenty of people and no money. Now, thanks to its leadership among European nations in the technological revolution, it has plenty of money and no people. To attract new ones and hold on to the ones it has, developing a modern, appealing cuisine has become an important task.

The island's two national food trade groups, Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) and Trade International Northern Ireland, are helping market Irish products worldwide and soliciting foreign investment in the industry under the promotional title "Ireland: The Food Island."

Tourists are being directed to culinary destination spots throughout the country, especially to the southern port city of Kinsale, a picturesque spot that has emerged as the country's gastronomic capital.

As Muirish Kennedy, Bord Bia's client services director, told Irish Connections magazine, "Ireland has changed drastically. ... The young sector is very much the driving force. The food companies here were started in the last 15 years. It's a young new generation that is much more aggressive, much more aware."

There is rarely a question about the quality of Irish agricultural and livestock products. Willing consumers abroad buy 90 percent of Ireland's annual output. The knock has been on what Irish cooks have done with those products at home.

Until the recent economic upsurge, dining out regularly was a rarity in most parts of Ireland, with fewer than 25 percent of people doing it compared to about 70 percent in the U.S. That mindset, which tends to discourage culinary experimenta tion, was perpetuated in the lives of Irish expatriates around the world. Thus, to many people the likes of Toad in the Hole still exemplifies Irish cuisine.

Couple the experiences younger, adventuresome Irish have had in traveling abroad with their higher wages and more disposable income and the demand for better food becomes even clearer.

The appetite for things Irish can be seen in a number of areas beyond industry trade shows. At the bookstores, for example, you can find titles that put to rest the foods of the famine and poverty years. Instead, we find "Elegant Irish Cooking: Recipes from the World's Foremost Irish Chefs," compiled by the noted Irish master chef Noel C. Cullen, now professor of culinary arts at Boston University. And, "The New Irish Table," a collection of recipes from restaurant and home cooks edited by Margaret M. Johnson who has written on Irish food for such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and the Irish Echo.

And, while they don't have the reputations of such world-renowned culinary schools as the Cordon Bleu in France or the Culinary Institute of America, Irish cooking schools are enjoying a growing reputation.

Noted chef Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School, operated at her Ballymaloe House Hotel in County Cork, is perhaps the brightest example. It has been the catalyst for several well-received cookbooks and the work of hundreds of graduates who took advantage of the organic farm and extensive gardens on the property.

The world of New Irish Cuisine is not limited to the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, where tourism is comparatively strong despite the continued violence in an around Belfast, 70 miles from there in County Fermanagh the Belle Isle School of Cookery is a big draw for residential or one-day classes.

It's situated on a wooded island in Lough Erne, a rural lake that is home to 11 islands owned by the same nobleman, the Duke of Abercorn.

To prove some things about Irish eating and drinking habits never change, the school's brochures brag about its proximity to many attractions -- particularly the Old Bushmills Distillery, at age 396 the oldest licensed distillery in the world, where the renowned Bushmills whiskey is produced.
• On the Road In Search of My Darby Duck
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About that early New Year party, mate ...

Heading for Australia to usher in the new year before it arrives here in the States or Europe -- that International Dateline thing, you know -- may lose some of its attraction this year.

According to The Age newspaper in rowdy Melbourne, some of the city's "biggest bars and nightclubs face closure and big fines as Victoria Police and Liquor Licensing Victoria clamp down on rogue operators in the lead-up to New Year's Eve. Almost 50 inner-city clubs have received final warning notices, with operators of about a dozen venues ordered to appear before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to defend their liquor licences.

"The clubs were found to have repeatedly breached a range of liquor licensing provisions, including serving alcohol to intoxicated or under-aged patrons, overcrowding and employing unregistered security staff."

[Get the full story by clicking here.]
Melbourne Nightlife
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The latest places to avoid

Rioting, natural disasters, general unrest and the fallout such things cause has put a number of usual tourist hotspots on the danger list. Among them:

East African coast

Plus, ongoing violence in Thailand (see video below) has helped prompt the resignation of the government.

• Traveler warnings
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Ethiopia banking on elephant guests

Want to get up close and sort of personal with a wild elephant? A lot of people do, and the Ethiopian government is hoping to take advantage of that to help boost tourism income.

The Babile wildlife sanctuary near Harar, 350 miles east of the capital city of Addis Ababa, is the first in the country to offer visits specifically for viewing elephants, whose numbers are in sharp decline. Right now there are only about 300 of them in the sanctuary.

The African nation's government has invested in hotels, airports and other infrastructure, with an eye toward raising income from tourism by about 15% to around $200 million.
Paleo-tourism in Ethiopia
CIA World Factbook: Ethiopia
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NYC's star chefs to re-cook history

It's not news that New York City is filled with excellent chefs. What is news is the fact that 16 of them are joining forces to cook 19th Century banquets.

The "Vintage Dinner Series" will run from January through March 2009, beginning January 12 at Cafe des Artistes. There, the menu from the Danish film "Babette's Feast" (above), set in 1871, will be the model.

That means such dishes as tortoise soup, caviar with blinis and quails in pastry cases, and such beverages as Amontillado sherry, Veuve Cliquot champagne, Clos de Vougeot burgundy, port with the cheese and coffee with the rum baba dessert.

The series was organized by Tim and Nina Zagat of the Zagat Guides. The other participating restaurants:

• Bouley, January 15
• Picholine, January 21
• Adour at the St, Regis Hotel, January 25
• Chanterelle, January 27
• Daniel, February 3
• Blue Hill at Stone Barns, February 5
• Del Post, February 11
• Per Se, February 17
• La Grenouille, February 25
• Le Cirque, March 3
• Ouest, March 5
• Le Bernardin, March 9
• Gramercy Tavern, March 16
• Jean Georges, March 23
• Aureole, March 25

Stanley Lobel of Lobel's Meats and Dorian Mecir of Dorian's Seafood Market are assisting the restaurants in identifying cuts of meat, poultry, fish and drinks appropriate to the period.

Each restaurant involved in the project will present a prix fixe "Vintage Dinner Series" meal priced on par with its regular menu (food, drinks, tax and tip included). A portion of the proceeds will be donated to such charities as Meals on Wheels, City Harvest, Doctors Without Borders and the Alzheimer's Association.
Vintage Dinner Series details
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What happens in Mossman ...

Maybe, as the current phrase goes, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" needs to be broadened -- to include Australia.

Tony Fox, owner of the White Cockatoo resort in Mossman, Queensland, the north Australia state, said despite the global economic downturn his resort has been fully booked for a proposed month-long "rainforest nude party" in March 2009.

How does that sit with the local community? Says Mayor Val Schier, "I am not opposed to it as long as no laws are broken. As long as it is with consenting adults then there is no problem."

Fox's "clothes optional" resort also made headlines three years ago when his "partner-swapping parties" made headlines following public complaints, and subsequently were halted by the police.

"It doesn't take rocket science to work out what the party means," Fox said, explaining further his plan for the proposed “risqué” party where “anything goes" for a month. His holiday resort will be transformed to a “hedonism resort.” He said, "Tough economic times call for stiff measures."

All states and territories in Australia, except Queensland, have had designated clothing-optional beaches since South Australia declared the first, Maslin Beach near Adelaide, in 1975.

Australia, with its thousands of kilometers of deserted beaches, has a reputation for its nudist beach parties. Nude bathing occurs on a regular basis even on the most popular beaches. Some are designated as a legal clothing-optional beaches, but on others nudity is unofficially condoned, according to an Australia Web site guide to nude beaches.

[Go here for the full story.]
Australia's nude beaches
• Nude Beaches and Resorts Worldwide
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Nazi resort to be opened to the public

From the Telegraph of London:

Germany is embroiled in a controversy over a monumental Nazi-era holiday resort on the German island of Ruegen that is to be opened to holidaymakers for the first time.

The giant complex of hotels in the Prora resort on the country's biggest island in the Baltic Sea was designed to house 20,000 tourists as part of Adolf Hitler's "Strength Through Joy" program to keep the German nation healthy.

The construction of the mammoth project began in 1936 but was abandoned in 1943 due to the war, and the five six-story concrete buildings on Ruegen's beautiful sandy beach were never opened to the public.

[Go here for the full story.]
Hitler's Eagle's Nest
German Tourism Today
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U.S. airlines may again cut seating

From Bloomberg.com:

U.S. airlines that pared seating capacity about 10% this year may deepen the cuts in 2009 to ensure the industry makes its first profit in a recession.

The pullback at big carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines may reach 8% and include non-U.S. markets where they’ve been expanding in the absence of discount rivals, according to six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“It’s coming,” said Kevin Crissey, a UBS Securities LLC analyst in New York. “You definitely want to see them out in advance of the difficulties. Err on the side of cutting and if you miss a bit of revenue, so be it. You don’t want to get run over by weak demand.”

New reductions would build on this year’s retrenchment, the U.S. industry’s most sweeping since the Sept. 11 (2001) terrorist attacks.

[Go here for the full story.]
Airline Capacity Cuts Go Global
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Baja California crime wave continues

From the Los Angeles Times:

Blood continues to spill in Tijuana and and other border-area communities. And the debate rages on as to whether it's safe for surfers, campers, fishermen and other tourists to travel in northern Baja California.

First, the latest grim news: Nine human heads were found Sunday in Tijuana, along with a note tying the massacre to the ongoing war between rival drug gangs.

A day later, a report emerged describing November as the deadliest month during President Felipe Calderon's two years in office, with at least 701 killings linked to organized crime occurring throughout Mexico.

Tourists, by and large, have not been victimized.

[Go here for the full story.]
Travel to Mexican Border Towns
Four Good Reasons to Visit a Border Town
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Keel laid for huge cruise ship

Several years ago, off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, I was seated in a small watercraft, staring up in amazement at the size of one of the cruise ships anchored just outside the picturesque harbor.

It was like gawking at a Manhattan skyscraper from a bicycle. How big can they get?, I wondered at the time. Well, apparently the sky's the limit.

Workers for Royal Caribbean International today laid the keel of Allure of the Seas, the second of the Oasis-class cruise ships analysts say will redefine the industry.

The keel laying ceremony was held at STX Europe's shipyard in Turku, Finland.

When the cruise ship is launched in 2010, it will share the title of the world's largest and most revolutionary cruise ship with its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas.

It will span 16 decks, carry 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,700 staterooms. Both Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas will be based in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

The ship will have seven distinct themed areas, which will include such amenities as lush grounds open to the sky in Central Park (shown above), located in the center of the ship and spanning more than the length of a football field.

Central Park will be lined with boutiques and specialty restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining, and introduce balcony staterooms rising five decks above the storefronts and overlooking the park -- one of a few new categories of onboard accommodations made possible by the ship's unique design.
Royal Caribbean
Largest Cruise Ship
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Napa's COPIA center bankrupt but re-opening

April L. Dowd photo

The bad news: COPIA:The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts, which has been closed for several weeks, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The good news: It will reopen during the reorganization period.

The center, located in Napa, CA, said restructuring through a Chapter 11 filing will provide six months to achieve long-term sustainability. In the filing, Copia estimated its outstanding liabilities between $50 million and $100 million.

"We recently have taken intensive measures to overcome our deteriorating liquidity position," Copia CEO Garry McGuire said in a statement, referring to cost-cutting by making Copia less of a wine and food museum and more of an education institute.

Copia was the brainchild of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, who died in May at age 94. It has been financially troubled since its 2001 opening as a facility that includes museum exhibition space, a restaurant, expansive gardens, meeting rooms and art galleries. It has been closed in recent weeks, but will reopen during the restructuring.
Visiting Napa Valley
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'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' lineup set

If you're planning to visit Scotland in 2009 to take advantage of the tourist-friendly events that are part of the year-long "Homecoming Scotland" program, make a note to sample the whisky bars of Edinburgh.

Ten of them have teamed up to attract visitors to the capital city and promote their whisky experience. The program, announced today, was created under the auspices of ScotlandWhisky, the country's national whisky tourism initiative.

“Edinburgh is rightly famous for its bars and ‘Whisky Bars of Edinburgh’ brings together 10 fantastic examples of where visitors can enjoy a dram in a traditional setting. Each bar has a great reputation for its Scotch Whisky range and staff that have passed the Scotch Whisky training school,” said Chris Conway of ScotlandWhisky.

The featured bars featured are accredited "Scotch Whisky Embassies." Each has a wide range of whiskies, including single malts, blends and rare bottlings, and a staff trained in whisky appreciation.

Although Edinburgh is renowned for its lively bar and cocktail lounge scene, similar programs are being developed for Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

The "Whisky Bars of Edinburgh" participants:

The Albannach, on The Royal Mile
Whiski, 119 High Street
Scotch Whisky Experience, 354 High Street
The Abbotsford, 3-5 Rose Street
Leslies Bar, 45 Ratcliffe Terrace
The Bow Bar, 80 West Bow
Stockbridge Tap, 2-4 Raeburn Place
Thomson's Bar, 182-184 Morrison Street
Teuchters, 26 William Street
Teuchters' Landing, 1c Docks Place
• Scotland's Most Expensive Cocktail
Scottish Tourist Board
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History in a glass box

William M. Dowd photo

FORRES, Scotland -- Some people like their history neatly placed in a box, rather than being scattered around and requiring some assembly.

For them, Sueno's Stone is perfect.

The 21-foot high stone is classified as a Picto-Scottish Class III standing stone, perched on a slight rise on the northeastern edge of town. It is the largest such stone in the British Isles.

I must confess it felt less than historic when I first saw it, wrapped in glass and steel as it is and perched within a stone's throw of private homes. But closer examination began unwrapping its art and mysteries for me.

As with many ancient monuments, the stone's precise history is unknown. However, some records indicate it is the remaining part of a two-stone installation.

Sueno's Stone, which is quite weathered, is covered in typical Pictish style of interwoven vine symbols on the edge panels. It is carved from Old Red sandstone. The western face has a carved Celtic cross with interlaced decoration and a badly worn scene set in a panel below the cross. The east face has four panels depicting a large battle scene. The base panel shows the victorious army leaving the battlefield.

The stone has been kept behind armored glass since the early 1990s to prevent further erosion and to protect against graffiti. Radio carbon dating at the site has produced dates of charcoal fragments to between AD 600 and 1000. Researchers generally agree that the stone dates to between the 9th and 10th centuries.

One interpretation of the carvings is that they depict the battle, parade and decapitation scenes of the victorious army of Kenneth MacAlpin (in Gaelic, Cináed mac Ailpín), who held authority over northern Pictland. There are several others, including that the carvings are meant to memorialize the final triumph of the Christian Gaels of Dál Riata over their "heathen" Pictish enemies.

The name Sueno's Stone seems to refer to its discoverer since the name translates to "Sven's stone."

Local legend says the stone stands at the crossroads where Shakespeare's "Macbeth"Macbeth originally met the three witches. In the legend, they were eventually imprisoned inside the stone where they would stay unless the stone was broken.

One wonders what, if that should happen, the witches would be able to do with the glass box itself.
Macbeth of Scotland
Scottish Megaliths
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Brits' iconic pubs on the way out

As the old phrase goes, there will always be an England. However, it won't always be the same England.

Right now, one of the country's greatest icons, the local pub, is in trouble. Five British pubs go out of business every day, according to the British Beer & Pub Association, as the weak economy continues to affect all aspects of life.

Beer sales at pubs, known as "on-trade,'' fell 8.1% in the third quarter. Translated into actual drinks, that's a reduction of 1.1 million pints a day. That's a direct reflection of the fact that the British economy contracted last quarter for the first time in 16 years.

I reported on this same problem earlier this year, and the latest report offers no improvement.

Beer at the locals is much more expensive than buying beer "off-trade," that is in grocery and liquor stores, where 45% of all beer is sold. However, sales there also have declined, 6% in the last quarter, according to the BBPA.

Spirits, which traditionally sell better in stores than in pubs, have a better outlook. Industry analysts say this is because spirits purchasers tend to be more affluent.
A Short History of the British Pub
Dowd's Guides


NYC home to first organic restaurant/bar

You've got to love a restaurant whose motto is "Changing the world one meal at a time." That goes for its cocktail list, too.

The venue is GustOrganics, a New York City cocktail lounge and restaurant (519 Avenue of the Americas at 14th Street). It claims to be the nation's first fully certified such establishment, and has the credentials to support it:

• All dishes made only with organic U.S. Department of Agriculture certified Ingredients.
• Certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.
• Certified green restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.

For sure it is the world’s first USDA certified organic bar.

Alberto Gonzalez (seen above), a native of Argentina, is the owner of GustOrganics. He notes that all drinks -- hot, cold and alcoholic -- are free from chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, artificial flavors and drink enhancers.

"We have only USDA certified organic spirits, wines and beers," he said. "All these products are produced according to the USDA's National Organic Program. On top of this, our cocktails are made featuring fresh organic fruits and vegetables. ...

"The only two ingredients that are not organic are the water and salt because they are minerals and by definition cannot be organic. We use sun-dried sea salt only and that means no additives. We have our pure water that is New York City water run through a UV lamp that kills all the bacteria and after that we run it through a top notch purification system that takes out all the bad metals, keeping the good minerals."

The signature cocktails at GustOrganics are priced in the $12-$14 range, typical for Manhattan drinks. Some of the top sellers:

• Dulce de Leche Martini: dulce de leche, espresso coffee and vodka.
• Pura Vida Daiquiri: strawberries, bananas and rum.
• Fresquito: fresh mangos, fresh squeezed orange juice and vodka.

What made Gonzalez decided to establish a base for his organic foodie and drinks efforts in Greenwich Village?

“New York is one of the most sophisticated societies in the world, but I didn’t like the food," he says. "It wasn’t fresh. When I used to stay here for business, I noticed I was more tired, lacked energy, and gained a lot of weight. I realized I took for granted the freshness and quality of the food in Argentina.

"I developed this restaurant with New Yorkers. They are the ones who helped shape this idea.”
Green Restaurant Association
Healthy Living NYC
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South of the border down Tlaquepaque way

William M. Dowd photos

TLAQUEPAQUE, Jalisco, Mexico -- No, try again. It's pronounced tlock-ay-pock-ay.

Snug up against the southern boundary line of Guadalajara, this town of a half-million residents has been absorbed by the growth of its much larger neighbor, Mexico's second-largest city, yet retains its own identity as a center for artisan crafts and as the home of the colorful mariachi music tradition.

Its full name is San Pedro Tlaquepaque, so it's occasionally known as San Pedro. However, Tlaquepaque reflects the indigenous heritage of the area, while San Pedro reflects the Spanish influence. Thus, there's much more pride in using the longer name which comes from the native Nahuatl language phrase for "place above clay land."

From artists working at their easels to craftspeople spreading their wares on tables for passersby to see, to shops crammed with pottery, blown glass and silver and leather goods, to the Iguana Man who will let you take a picture with his partner for just 20 pesos (about $1.50 these days), Tlaquepaque is a feast for the eyes.

Fountains dot the landscape, not unusual in the Greater Guadalajara area which has more than 150 public fountains. Wrought iron fences, adobe and plaster building exteriors are dressed in various hues of golds, reds, blues, greens and earth tones. Cobblestone streets are commonplace, as are metal sculptures, many showing Aztec design influences.

Shopkeepers and street vendors alike vie politely for business from passers-by, a pleasant change from the sort of sales-by-attack antics often encountered in the Latin American world. Here, a more restrained demeanor make it possible to actually enjoy the many artisanal works on display as well as the sights and sounds.

Children of pre-school age help tend some of the crafts tables festooned with beadwork, silver baubles and other eye-catching items. Since education is compulsory for ages 6-12, only the younger kids go to work with a parent.

In addition to tight, winding streets filled with dining spots, cantinas and shops, Tlaquepaque has El Parián, a large plaza flanked by columned arcades. The main square in the city center is El Jardín ("The Garden"), which is home to two major churches, San Pedro (St. Peter) and El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude), as well as the Benito Juárez market, named for a revered Mexican president.

Bars and restaurants, such as the colorful and popular Adobe seen here, are usually busy from their 10 a.m. openings right through 8 p.m. closing time.

One of the most iconic things about Mexico is the mariachi influence on the music scene. Historians and musicologists differ over the precise origins of the musical and entertainment form that dates back several centuries, and, indeed, even about where the name comes from.

Modern mariachi performers, clad in tight-fitting traje de charros -- heavily embroidered waist-length jackets, and dark pants and large sombreros, still are claimed by the residents of Tlaquepaque as well as the rest of Jalisco state. A mariachi band usually consists of a wide range of musicians, with guitars, basses, trumpets and violins, playing ethnic and classical Mexican music.

Mariachi music has become so integral a part of Mexican life that it has been incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church's ritual of Mass, which further ingrains it in the life of a country in which 92% of the population is Catholic. It even has made its way into the art world, such as in this metal sculpture representation of a mariachi group:

A few other street scenes:

Mariachi History
Tlaquepaque and Tonala
Dowd's Guides


Beneath the Jose Cuervo story

William M. Dowd photos

TEQUILA, Jalisco, Mexico -- Deep below the public areas of the LaRojeña Distillery that produces the numerous expressions of Jose Cuervo tequila lies family history.

Here, in a stone cellar few get to see, damajuanas of Reserva de la Familia tequila sit undisturbed, some behind bars and stone pillars and arches since as far back as 1890.

Thick layers of white dust coat many of the containers, some of which are unadorned glass (such as the reproduction shown at right), others that have been wrapped in basket-like coverings made from agave leaves to protect against breakage. They sit in marked contrast to their newer cousins, contained outside the barred area in pristine American oak casks that have been cellared in more recent years.

This is the pride and joy of Jose Cuervo, now in its 250th year of existence, still family owned, the world's largest producer of tequila, from the inexpensive but popular expressions such as Cuervo Gold to the treasured añejo tequilas that make up the Reserva, the top of the line.

I had the opportunity this week for a private tour and tasting with several fellow journalists in the cellar, hosted by Juan-Domingo Beckmann, the 40-year-old heir apparent to the Cuervo empire when the transition of responsibility from his father, Don Juan Beckmann, is completed next year.

The younger Beckmann (left), an informal, affable sort who is a sixth-generation tequila maker, makes no bones about the fact tequila isn't the only spirit he enjoys.

"I'm a Scotch drinker," he said, "plus, of course, my tequilas. The profile of the Reserve de la Familia is similar to that of a fine single malt or even a cognac. That's why we recommend it as an after-dinner drink. An añejo tequila on the rocks or with a little splash of water gives me the same expression as many Scotch whiskies. It's all depends on the occasion.

"But, when you serve it is really a matter of taste, just as is your selection of what sort of tequila you like. Some people swear by the blanco, others the reposado or an añejo and won't drink any other kind."

Beckmann likes to illustrate just how tastes can be modified once someone experiences a spirit different from their usual choice by sharing an anecdote about being in a bar and overhearing a women order a vodka and cranberry juice.

"I asked her if she had ever tried that with tequila instead of vodka," he said, "She said no, she didn't like tequila. So, I suggested she try a Platino and cranberry. She loved it!"

What is Beckmann's attraction to the Reserva de la Familia?

"With this añejo, because it is finished in oak barrels, you can have the elements of both the agave and the wood notes usually found in whiskies," he said.

Before the cellar visit we had a tasting of three other Cuervo tequilas: the Platino (a blanco), the Tradicional (a reposado), and the Jose Cuervo Black (an añejo). The first two are 100% blue agave products, the third made with a touch of sugar cane.

[Go here for my tasting notes on this trio.]

Cuervo also makes the Maestro, 1800 and Centenario brand tequilas as well as Matusalem rums. Under the younger Beckmann, Maestro is attempting to usher in a new tequila category -- diamond vodka -- to go with the traditional styles. It's Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila was released in August to select American markets.

[Go here for my notes posted after an advance tasting of Maestro last summer, and here for notes on a Matusalem Gran Reserve Rum tasting.]

While Cuervo's 250th anniversary boxed tequila set won't be on the market in the U.S. until 2009, the special tequila already has been taken from the barrel, thus meeting the 250-year marker. It commemorates the issuing in 1758 of a land grant to Don Jose Cuervo by King Carlos IV of Spain, allowing him to plant and harvest blue agave lilies for the production of tequila. Thus, the birth of an industry.

Each year, Cuervo commissions a different Mexican artist to create its special tequila bottle boxes as well as various posters and other original art. The 2009 collection is the work of Marco Arce, who has a gallery showing at LaRojeña that now is open to visitors.

Much of Arce's work is in the form of multiple-panel works grouped in triptychs, quartets, polyptychs and an occasional diptych. One of his most ambitious is called "The Tiger Series," composed of hundreds of small, hand-painted watercolors, framed in sets of four. One portion, "Tigre del Caminante," for example, is made up of 225 paintings over five panels.

Tigers are a recurring theme in Arce's work. The 25-painting installation seen above is part of the gallery display at the LaRojeña distillery.

NY Arts magazine said of this aspect of his varied works:

"Arce has created a highly surreal habitat that magically transports us, sometimes playfully, sometimes a bit menacingly, from circus to zoo to jungle. One could say that the artist also answers William Blake’s time-honored question:

'Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
in the forests of the night.
What Immortal hand or eye
could frame thy fearful symmetry?'

Why Marco Arce, of course."

Arce, however, isn't the only "resident" artist at LaRojeña. Noted sculptor Juan Soriana has a large assemblage of human, wildlife and abstract sculptures dotting the complex. Above is one that sits on the patio in front of the gallery showing Arce's work.

Tequila Distillery Tours in Jalisco
The Pacific Coast State of Jalisco
All About Guadalajara
The Culture of Jalisco
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Another mind-bender in Dubai

A friend just back from visiting Dubai was still amazed at the amount of construction going on in the development-happy Arabian Gulf state.

"We had dinner in a restaurant on the 27th floor of one building," Phil Spencer said, "and there were construction cranes as far as you could see. The only thing they seem to have a shortage of is room for all the traffic."

In addition to the towers, manmade sand islands being created in the shape of the world's continents, and about every other kind of sprawling project one can think of, the 2,150-foot high Anara Tower shown above is in the planning stages.

It won't be as tall as the mind-boggling Burj Dubai, which towers at 2.650 feet, but someone else probably will come up with one to top them both.
• Sleep With the Fishes In 7-star Digs
The Palm Projects
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Mexico's Day of the Dead a lively time

William M. Dowd photo

• We are now in the midst of the celebration known as Dia de los Muertos, celebrated mostly in Mexico and stretching anywhere from two to four days, depending on the community. I wrote this story in 2007 and pull it from the archives to share with you today. -- Bill Dowd

Mexico's tourism profile is never higher than during Dia de los Muertos, literally the Day of the Dead but in reality a longer event that this year will begin on Sunday, Oct. 28, and end the following Friday, Nov. 2.

There is nothing as quintessentially Mexican as El Dia de los Muertos, a festival that has been part of the culture since before the Spanish invaders. Originally held in July, but moved closer to All Saint's Eve in November by Catholic priests brought in by the conquistadors, it is anything but a morbid or frivolous event.

Families construct tiny temporary altars, festooned with large, colorful marigolds and chrysanthemums, near the doorways to their homes to welcome back the departed. Crowds stroll throughout the towns and cities to see and be seen. Vendors line both sides of many streets, selling foods, trinkets and crafts.

In the city of Guanajuato last year, I joined a stream of walkers headed for a large cemetery where they visited the graves of their loved ones, replacing wilted flowers with fresh, often washing down the stone or metal markers with pails of water purchased from entrepreneurial youngsters who set up shop at the cemetery gates. Some churches had theirf exterior staircases converted to temporary altars covered with flowers, candles and photos of the dead, as shown above.

Artwork for the Day of the Dead features skeletons involved in all sorts of earthly pursuits, playing instruments, dancing, eating and -- most important to some -- drinking.

This year, noted San Francisco mixologist Duggan McDonnell came up with a lineup of tequila-based cocktails to celebrate the holiday for the Don Julio line that is Mexico's top-selling high-end tequila. Most include agave nectar, a non-alcoholic sweetener made from the same blue agave plant used to create tequila. It is widely available online and in some specialty shops.

One is the Smoky Diablo that blends limoncello, grapefruit juice, agave nectar and tequila with a sprinkle of chili powder. Another is the Jalisco Sidecar, named for the Mexican state where most tequila is produced, made with aged tequila, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon juice and orange bitters.

But my favorite is the Black Widow with a superb contrast of berries and herbs. The recipe:

1½ ounces tequila blanco
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon agave nectar
5 blackberries
4 basil leaves
Ice cubes

Muddle 2 blackberries and 3 basil leaves in a Boston shaker. Add the tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and ice to the shaker. Shake well. Strain contents into a stemless martini glass or similar glass over ice and garnish with a blackberry and basil leaf on a toothpick. Serves one.

Day of the Dead background
The Mummies of Guanajuato
• Celebrating in Mexico
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Beefeater 24 aiming at air travelers

International travelers have caught on to the wide variety of bargains and choices offered to fans of adult beverages in airport duty free shops.

The latest, at London Heathrow Airport, is Beefeater 24, a new gin from the iconic British distiller.

The gin, distilled in London, is named for its 24-hour steeping process and is presented in a new bottle inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. Inside is master distiller Desmond Payne's new 12 botanical recipe that includes what he terms "a rare blend of teas at its heart."
• London Heathrow Airport
World Duty Free
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Bacardi to unveil special rum for special people

Psst. Bacardi Reserva Limitada.

Never heard of it? You will, when the drinks press latches on to it.

The distiller's newest, and, it says, "most exclusive," rum will be unveiled next week during a special dinner at the first Taste of Cayman Charity Wine Dinner on Grand Cayman.

Joaquin Bacardi III, president and CEO of Bacardi Corp. and great, great grandson of company founder Don Facundo Bacardi will visit the island to make the presentation.

The "founder's blend" rum has been matured in American oak barrels for 10-16 years -- an average of 12 -- to produce a deep golden hued rum. It is individually bottled, numbered and packed by hand. The 80-proof rum will go for a suggested retail price of $55.

Maggie Matías, Bacardi vice president and managing director, told the Cay Compass News that the rum "will be treated as a very exclusive, high–end product, available only at the Bacardi Visitors’ Center in Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean for selected clients and restaurants."

Which means one more thing to look forward to if you visit Puerto Rico or the Caymans.
• Casa Bacardi
Puerto Rican Tourism
Discover the Cayman Islands
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Harvard Art Museum gets huge grants

Anyone who thinks they've seen everything there is to see at the Harvard Art Museum better think again.

The Cambridge, MA, museum has received a $45 million donation and 31 works by leading modernist and contemporary painters, a gift from Emily Rauh Pulitzer. She was a curator at the museum and wife of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., grandson of the famous newspaper publisher. Presently, she is a member of the Board of Overseers.

University officials said the donation includes painting by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Barnett Newman. The monetary contribution is the largest financial gift ever to the museum.

In addition, the university announced 43 other modern and contemporary works donated by the family between 1953 and 2005. Those works, never formally announced, include paintings by Cézanne, Monet, and Picasso.

Museum officials also said that the financial support of the Pulitzers has allowed it to purchase 92 works of art over the past few decades.

Among the latest donations is Picasso's "Harlequin" (above, an oil on canvas painted in 1918. For a full list of the donations, go here.
• Harvard Art Museum
Harvard University home page
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Hotel boom may be a bust, except for you

A change is looming in the U.S. hotel industry that may work to the advantage of bargain-seeking travelers.

A new study by PKF Hospitality Research says demand for hotel rooms will contract for the next two years. Couple that with the forecast of a combined net increase in 2008 and 2009 of nearly 275,000 new hotel rooms compared to year-end 2007 should lead to lower occupancy rates and an improvement in rates and special packages to make up for that.

Reports by Smith Travel Research show three consecutive years of fewer accommodated room nights for the average U.S. hotel.

"Because of the extended slowdown of the U.S. economy, compounded by the negative consequences stemming from airline capacity cutbacks, we are now forecasting a 0.2% decline in lodging demand in 2008, followed by another loss of 1.1% in 2009," said Mark Woodworth, president of PKF Hospitality Research. "According to data from Smith Travel Research, this is the first time since 1988 that the U.S. lodging industry will experience two consecutive years of decline in lodging demand.

"With supply and demand moving in opposite directions, the typical hotel manager will not be able to maintain their aggressive approach to raising room rates," Woodworth said.

Occupancy at U.S. hotels continued to fall in the first week of September although room rates remained steady, according to Smith Travel Research. That means occupancy dropped 7.3% year-over-year to 54.3%. The industry's average daily rate grew 1.2% to $100.73.
• Hotel construction updates
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Cocktails as theater

The Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL, near Orlando, is known for its Florida Film Festival events and its status as a non-profit, fulltime cinema for first-run independent and international films, classic revivals, documentaries and select family entertainment.

Now it will be known for unique cocktails as well.

A new outdoor bar and restaurant is scheduled to debut Sunday at the theater. The Eden Bar, with a biblical Garden of Eden theme, is a 2,000-square-foot, 70-seat restaurant and bar that will feature Viennese specialties with original cocktail creations, according to a news release.

Among the drinks: America’s only Mojito served with pre-Cuban embargo rum and a Manhattan prepared with Prohibition-era bourbon.
• Enzian Theater
Florida Film Festival
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Iconic Peruvian beer reaches US, or part of it

Talk about a small test market. MillerCoors has chosen Rhode Island as the entry point for Cusqueña, the Peruvian beer that is one of Latin America's favorites.

"Consumers around the world have embraced Cusqueña and we're eager to get this product in the hands of American beer connoisseurs who are intrigued by Cusqueña's interesting origins," Mike Browne, a MillerCoors vicepresident, said in a statement.

"Cusqueña isn't like anything beer drinkers in the U.S. have tried before. We're sure that the beer's quality and crisp flavor will create a demand that will reach beyond Rhode Island in a short amount of time."

The brew is an all-malt lager that is the best-selling premium beer in Peru. It is known for using Saaz hops and pure glacier water from a source at 18,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.

The brand was created by German entrepreneurs who founded the Cervesur Brewery in 1908 in Cusco, seat of the ancient Incan empire. The brewery is located near Machu Picchu. It is brewed in accordance with German Purity Law. Only water, malted barley, hops and yeast are used, and there are no additives or preservatives.

Cusqueña received gold medals at the Monde Selection, Selection and Quality Awards in 2007 and 2008 and is a seven-time winner of superior award ratings in international taste competitions, including the "Superior Taste Award" given by the International Taste and Quality Institute of Belgium.

It is being sold in six-packs of 11.2-ounce bottles. It has 130 calories per 11.2-ounce serving and 4.8% alcohol by volume.
Cusqueña Beer
• Visit Rhode Island
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Bee vodka all the buzz in NY

Tourists in New York's Finger Lakes or lower Hudson Valley who enjoy visiting wineries are finding they c an get more impact for their visit at several places.

An example: That New York vodka I mentioned the other day now has made its name known. Bee Vodka, from Montezuma Winery's new Hidden Marsh Distillery, was unveiled to the public yesterday at a special tasting at the Seneca Falls complex in the Finger Lakes.

Bill Martin, 32, co-owner and winemaker at Montezuma, noted that "This vodka is made from 100% honey. It's the only one like it in the U.S."

Hidden Marsh becomes the third licensed farm distillery in New York State. The others are in the Hudson Valley -- Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick and Harvest Spirits at Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie.

A farm distillery must use only ingredients of New York origin, is allowed to conduct on-premises tastings and sell spirits for off-premises consumption, under state law. A fourth farm distillery, called Finger Lakes Distilling, is planned to open next year in Burdett, Schuyler County. (While it is under construction, you can keep up with its progress on its blog.)

The 80-proof Bee Vodka is triple-distilled in small batches, each of which takes about two months to make, using a pot still imported from Germany.

Martin released an apple brandy in June and plans to expand the line through the remainder of the year to include a honey brandy and other cordials. The vodka sells for $48.99 for a 750ml bottle, the brandy $28.99 for a 375ml bottle at the distillery. Martin plans to begin distribution of the vodka next year.
New York's Wine Trails
2 Wine Trails Divided By a River
Shawangunks: NY's 'Unknown' Mountains
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Ryanair to link U.S., Europe

Ryanair is a popular regional airline in Europe, known for no-frills service and low-cost tickets. Now, we learn that passengers could be taking budget flights between the U.S. and Europe on a Ryanair-backed airline in less than three years.

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair chief executive, said in a Friday announcement that plans to launch a no-frills trans-Atlantic service had been bolstered by an industry downturn that could slash the cost of long-haul aircraft as rivals go bust or orders are cancelled.

O'Leary said the airline could be launched 18 months after acquiring a new fleet next year. The carrier would operate from up to nine bases on each side of the Atlantic. Islip Airport (MacArthur) on Long Island is expected to be the New York base.

"There may be an opportunity to pick up cheap long-haul aircraft next year, in which case we might launch a low-cost, long-haul program in 2½ years," O'Leary said.
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Swanky Bubbles has a swellegant site

If you run a restaurant and champagne bar named Swanky Bubbles, what sort of music would best convey your atmosphere to online visitors?

When I checked out Swanky Bubbles, which has locations in both Philadelphia and nearby Cherry Hill, NJ, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the bouncy voice-over/music-under and vice-versa presentation along with a graphically pleasing Web site. Go here to experience it.

By the way, Swanky Bubbles doesn't limit itself to wines. In fact, it even has a "Journey Through Crown Royal" Canadian whisky tasting scheduled for November.
• Philadelphia Club Vibes
Cherry Hill Nightlife
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Who you gonna call? Booze hustler

At first I thought Dan Aykroyd was working on a new bit for a guest spot on "Saturday Night Live." Many of us remember when he did a lot of con artist/pitchmen put-ons during his "SNL" heyday, and this seemed much like those skits.

But, no, with either total disregard for veracity or with tongue firmly planted in both cheeks -- or even all four, the actor/singer/entrepreneur is spieling for a new vodka called Crystal Skull and in an online ad delivers a very long, very rambling, very self-impressed monologue about mysterious crystal skulls found in different parts of the world. He also throws in mentions of Roswell, witchcraft, ghosts and other stuff.

He eventually stops talking and lets a colleague describe the Newfoundland vodka -- quadruple distilled, triple filtered at the suggestion of one Mr. Akyroyd through "500-million-year-old crystals known as Herkimer diamonds."

For those unfamiliar with that particular mineral, it's a faux "diamond" found in upstate New York around the Herkimer/Utica/Syracuse area. It's OK for costume jewelry but of no particular value otherwise.

This isn't the Canadian star's first venture into pushing an alcoholic beverage. In June of last year, he announced plans for the $12 million Dan Aykroyd Winery to be built in the Niagara wine area. Part of it will house memorabilia from his film and TV career. The project also includes a line of wines bearing his name.
Akyroyd's Winery Project
Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism
Herkimer Diamond Mines
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Akvinta Vodka taking wings

Croatia isn't the first place you think of when someone says "Mediterranean." However, Akvinta Vodka, a luxury-niche vodka distilled in Croatia, now is being made available on Virgin Atlantic Airways flights. And, it's labelled "the first Mediterranean luxury vodka."

Akvinta is available to passengers in a 70cl bottle wrapped in Virgin Atlantic packaging.

The vodka was launched in Croatia in 2006 and was the first product to be fully developed at the distillery from concept to final production. Akvinta isn't new to the world market. It was introduced in April to the Virgin clubhouse at New York's Kennedy International Airport and in June it became a featured vodka on the clubhouse cocktail list for Virgin passengers waiting to depart from London Heathrow Airport.
• Virgin Atlantic Airways
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Scotland gets world's No. 1 whisky collection

From the BBC America:

The world's largest collection of whiskies [3,384 bottles] has arrived in Edinburgh this week, brought home from Brazil.

Featuring 3,384 bottles, the record-breaking collection was built up over 35 years by Brazilian whisky enthusiast Claive Vidiz (right).

Vidiz has scoured the world for whiskies to create the collection, which has been bought by Diageo. The whisky manufacturer will be loaning the collection to the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile next year. The bottles are currently being stored in a high security location in Scotland, after being shipped 6,500 miles from Sao Paulo on board a container ship. A specially designed vault is being created at the Scotch Whisky Experience (the visitors center next to Edinburgh Castle) to display the collection.

[Go here for the rest of the story.]

Scotland's government, tourism organizations and businesses are preparing for next year's huge tourist push known as "Homecoming Scotland," scheduled to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the birth of iconic Scottish poet Robert Burns.
• Scotch Whisky Experience
Scottish Tourist Board
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• Classifying the Castles of Scotland
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'Brewery resort' an Aussie first

Wine country B&B's are all the rage in many countries, but how many can boast a "brewery resort"?

Australia will, once a $95 million tourist development at Bulahdelah is completed. The first phase includes a brewery and pizzeria with an outdoor stage for live entertainment and a 100-space car park.

Phase 2 will be a tourist facility. That translates into various restaurants, 206 hotel suites, 105 serviced apartments, 23 ancillary commercial tenancies, a chapel, parking for 489 vehicles, swimming pools, tennis courts and conference facilities.

The project is targeted for a tract of land on the Pacific Highway in New South Wales at the base of heritage-listed Bulahdelah Mountain (also referred to as Alum Mountain). The developers say construction will begin next month.

Ralph Kellar from Brewery Australia Developments estimates that now the two phases have been given the green light, construction will begin as early as next month. Eventually, a 200-lot housing subdivision will be included in the complex.

The first thing to be built will be the brewery. It has been described as a "tourist brewery" where visitors can enjoy samples with a slice of pizza on the side.

New South Wales is located in the southeastern part of of Australia. Sydney is its major city.
Visiting Bullahdelah
• New South Wales tourism
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St. Lucia festival moved to January

Anyone who gears a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to take in the annual Food & Rum Festival better amend their plans this winter. The event, usually held in December, has been moved by the St. Lucia Tourist Board to January 15-18, 2009.

The new dates will coincide with the Caribbean's premier travel trade show, Caribbean Marketplace, which is to take place in St. Lucia from January 18 to 20. Based on historical attendance numbers, the organizers expect close to 1,500 attendees at the 2009 Marketplace event.

Due to the increased size of the event in January, the site will be moved to the Pigeon Island beach front where Marketplace will be held.
St. Lucia Tourist Board
St. Lucia Hotel & Travel Association
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NY's 'mystery' vodka to be unveiled

Another New York distillery will unveil its first product -- a vodka whose name will be kept under wraps until then -- on Saturday, October 11. And you can be in on the action.

Montezuma Winery, the Seneca Falls operation off Thruway Exit 41 in Upstate that makes grape, fruit and honey wines, is expanding with its new honey-based vodka from its Hidden Marsh Distillery.

It will produce liqueurs, brandy and vodka made with honey, apples or other seasonal fruits, uses a 400-liter pot still custom-built in Germany.

The distillery's grand opening is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the ribbon-cutting at noon. It will feature live music, hors d'œuvres, distillery tours and store specials and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon.

Earlier this year, Long Island Spirits, located on the North Fork of Long Island, unveiled LiV -- rhymes with "5," a super-premium vodka ($38) made from Long Island potatoes.
Montezuma Winery
Dowd's Guide to American Wine Trails
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Delta adding 1st class to shuttles

Delta Air Lines will add first-class seating to its Delta Shuttle flights that operate between New York's LaGuardia, Washington, DC's Reagan National and Boston's Logan airports.

The company said in an announcement that it will make the change effective December 1 although "customers may experience a mix of one- and two-class Shuttle aircraft as Delta completes the reconfiguration of its nine Shuttle aircraft by the end of the month."

Delta will offer 14 seats in first class and 128 seats in economy with its open-seating policy remaining in place for each class of service. First-class shuttle seats will cost between $100 and $250 more than coach-class seats, depending in the route.

Delta also said it plans to outfit its entire Shuttle fleet with Wi-Fi access by spring 2009 through Aircell's Gogo service. Customers will pay a $9.95 flat fee on Shuttle flights for the Wi-Fi access, which will allow fliers to use Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access the Internet and to use texting and instant-message services.
Delta Air Lines
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Belvedere's Intense airport bound

International travelers now have one more premium vodka to look for. Belvedere Intense, a 50% abv (100 proof) distillation exclusive to travel retail and World Duty Free, has just been released by Moët Hennessy.

The 1-litre bottle will be sold at international airports such as New York's John F. Kennedy, Paris's Charles deGaulle, London's Heathrow Terminal 5 and in Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Warsaw.

Unlike the usual Belvedere frosty white bottle, Intense is in black glass with silver foil tree designs. Intense is double filtered through charcoal, resulting in an increased alcohol content that its makers say "accentuates the notes and texture of the vodka."

Suggested retail price: €45 ($63 U.S.).
How to Buy Duty Free
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'Cocktail college' opening in Scotland

It's not the same as a traditional junior year abroad, but you could study under a leading Scottish mixologist at his new "cocktail college" in Inverness, on the shores of the famous Loch Ness.

It's called Mixed Up Events. Andy Adams (right) plans to work out of the Brooklyn's bar in the city's Queensgate section, offering group sessions on the history of the classic drinks and how to make s of mixing the perfect cocktail.

“I see my cocktail academy as a fun way of learning something new and interesting and a fabulous way to relax and meet new people or get to know workmates or acquaintances better," Adams said in an interview with the Press & Journal. “Everyone gets to sample some of the classic cocktails, and then they get behind the bar and make their own from a huge range of ingredients.

“This is a first for Inverness, and the city is certainly ready for it. Cocktails are very popular here, but a lot of people are put off trying to make them themselves because they think it’s complicated or expensive, but that’s simply not the case. The equipment’s cheap. You can start with just your own or your friends’ favourite spirit, a couple of liqueurs and some fresh fruit or fruit juice and build up as you gain confidence. You can put together something that is absolutely delicious in as little as 30 seconds, and even the most complex recipes, like those used by professionals in cocktail-making competitions, can be mixed in just six minutes.”

Adams' credentials are sound. In addition to winning numerous bartending competitions, he has one of four Scots who made it to the United Kingdom finals in London of the Cocktail World Cup. Until it was sold earlier this year, he was the general manager of Rocpool Reserve, a luxury boutique hotel in Inverness. He then decided to create his own business.
Scotland's Most Expensive Cocktail
Things to Do in Inverness
Scottish Tourist Board
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