In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
New York City’s hotel boom absorbs office buildings
Two years ago in Manhattan, Hyatt opened its Andaz Wall Street boutique hotel in a former J.P. Morgan office tower, taking advantage of the building’s 21-foot-high ceilings to create its visually striking lobby.
That hotel was on the forefront of a trend that continues today, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning.
New York hotel developers today continue to convert outmoded office buildings into interesting hotels, the story says.
Office buildings have made good targets for hoteliers because they already have commercial zoning and decent locations, the story says. Also, existing hotels haven’t been trading at the pace – or the price – that hotel developers would have liked to make a new project financially feasible.
The Journal says that at least six office conversion projects are underway, mostly in Midtown South and the Financial District.
One of the most anticipated: The chic NoMad Hotel, which is due to open next week at 1170 Broadway, a former office building at 28th Street in Madison Square Park. It used to be filled with small office spaces, but a $100 million revamp changed that.
48 hours in the 2012 World Design Capital
Finland’s capital comes alive as soon as the snow begins to melt and residents start venturing outdoors again, cafes spill onto sidewalks and the city’s modernist architecture sparkles.
While cross-country ski trails and saunas offer entertainment for visitors during the colder months, the city is best explored after it emerges from its long, dark winter.
The next several months will be a particularly exciting time to visit as Helsinki, the 2012 World Design Capital, holds special events related to design and fashion.
The Design Capital events include the opening of a new public sauna in Merihaka. A wooden pavilion made of renewable and recycled materials will be built near the Design Museum to showcase the country’s new generation of artists.
Helsinki’s long and warm summer days also provide a perfect backdrop to events like the two-week Helsinki Festival of theatre, music, circus, and dance, starting August 17. The Flow Festival, also in August, features world-class artists such as Bjork, Bon Iver, The Black Keys, and Feist.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of 48 hours in the city.
6 p.m. – Start with drinks at Ateljee Bar at the top floor at the historic Hotel Torni, with a 360-degree view over Helsinki. Be sure to check the scenic, if slightly unsettling, toilets.
8 p.m. – Restaurant Sea Horse in Ullalinna offers a perfect introduction to Finnish cuisine, with traditional favorites such as fried herring and Vorschmack served in a dining room that looks little changed from the 1930s.
10 p.m. – Have after-dinner drinks at the tiny Kafe Moskva on Eerikinkatu, owned by film-making brothers Aki and Mika Kaurismaki and known for its Soviet-era interiors and service. The entrance is an unmarked door next to Corona, another Kaurismaki operation with beer and billiard tables.
The Iso Roobertinkatu area is a centre of local night life, packed with bars and night clubs. Newly opened Adams offers a glimpse of the city’s more contemporary scene, and its eclectic sounds and experimental kitchen draw Helsinki’s fashionable set.
Berliners are no strangers to the act of re-appropriation – the cultural process by which a group reclaims artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group.
With as many artists as there are in the capital, subversion is not an uncommon act in the gallery room or the protest line.
Yet where re-appropriation is most at home in Berlin is amongst the citizens with no authority to seize unused public or private land for community use. The tired relics of the past are reclaimed by another sub-culture, movement or trend for the enjoyment of society at large; whether it’s squatting abandoned property after the fall of the Berlin Wall, using retired Finanzamts (tax offices) as performance spaces or World War Two bunkers as galleries, it’s as though Berlin is a type of cultural playing field where the Kiez kids, neighborhood kids, are building their forts for fun.
So, as the capital becomes a hub for transnationalism, new residents bring new interpretations of the city and thus fashionable ways to make the best out of empty spaces. A massive argument exists, however – usually by those who have lived in Berlin since the division between east and west – that the city should preserve its spaces in their purgatorial states, while they await their next temporary purpose.
But amongst all the buildings in standstill in Berlin, there are some that have been claimed by proactive curators. THE WYE, opening next month, is an international artist center housed in the iconic Deutsche Post Office (built circa 1927) in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. The idea behind THE WYE is to secure long term, affordable studios and offices for professional artists, musicians, designers, creative businesses and art-focused organizations, as well as short-term residencies for established international talents.
Taking its name from railroad terminology – “wye” is a triangularly shaped junction that joins tracks to permit the passing of trains from any line to another – THE WYE will encourage cross-discipline projects that engage the community and support cultural programming, which will include exhibitions, performances and events. According to Leah Stuhltrager, an American curator and director of THE WYE, the space will create a type of synergy across all creative identities.
Stuhltrager opened one of the first galleries in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood she helped escalate into an international art Mecca, and since 2010 her gallery “Dam Stuhltrager” has been operating in Berlin. THE WYE is the next evolutionary step for her and her team, who did some serious space and soul searching to find the perfect housing for their ambitious vision – a vision which Stuhltrager says is an amalgamation of the art world’s top initiatives, from which she borrows her favorite parts.
Enjoy the special pleasure of post-revolution Libya
Trabulus. Ar Roz al Bahr. Bride of the Sea. Roman Oea. The White City. The Havana of North Africa. Whatever its name, Tripoli has been delighting travellers for centuries. Libya is a land of peerless hospitality and greetings that last for minutes; its capital’s architecture encompasses imperial Roman, traditional Islamic, shabby-chic Ottoman, Italian grandeur and oil-boom dictator kitsch.
Set against Libya’s unfathomable history, the four decades from 1969 to 2011, when Libyans had the great misfortune to be ruled by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, seem the merest blip in the long life of this resilient nation. Yet with Qaddafi gone, the delight of Libyans on the streets of Tripoli is palpable and affecting. There is a special joy in travelling to this bewitching country after its liberation. “Libya hurra! Free Libya!” is a refrain you’ll hear on the streets, where entrepreneurial enthusiasts peddle bracelets, brooches and badges, T-shirts, mugs and tracksuits emblazoned with the old-new national tricolour of red, black and green.
In spite of a declaration of autonomy by eastern tribal leaders earlier this month and reports of sporadic violence, tourists are making a tentative return sooner than expected. Airlines, crucially, have been voting with their wings. Tripoli was Etihad Airways’ first new destination in 2012. Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Lufthansa, Air France and Alitalia are five of a number of international airlines that are now flying to Libya, with British Airways soon to join them. I have travelled to Libya four times in the last 12 months, twice during the revolution and twice in its aftermath, and already I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
While western governments including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office are advising against all but essential travel to the capital, some tour operators are more sanguine. “We’ve had absolutely zero problems in terms of security,” says Nicholas Wood, director of Political Tours, which has just led a debut trip to Libya. “I do think things have significantly improved since we were last here in October. None of our group felt threatened at any moment. It’s definitely not the war zone people make it out to be, but you have to be self reliant and plan carefully.”
The last time I was in Tripoli, back in the autumn, was a few days after the Qaddafi regime had fallen.