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Little Luxuries for Travelers

Written By wartini cantika on Jumat, 30 November 2012 | 17.35

Looking for a travel-related gift for someone on your list this holiday season? Here are seven ideas to get you started.
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM

1. CLARE VIVIER FLAT CLUTCH STRIPED

These leather pouches (11.5 inches by 8 inches) are in vogue thanks to bold, colorful stripes. Use one for makeup, electronics or travel documents inside a larger bag, or on its own as a clutch.

$184 at clarevivier.com.


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In Transit Blog: Delta and JetBlue Waive Change Fees After Sandy-Hit Schools Shorten Breaks

About a month ago, around the time that Hurricane Sandy made landfall, JetBlue and Delta Air Lines offered to waive change fees for travelers who needed to change their flights. More than a month later, the carriers, prodded by Senator Charles E. Schumer, offered a second wave of amnesty to a very small niche: passengers whose children attend schools affected by the hurricane.

In Sandy's wake, dozens of public schools across New York City and Long Island were forced to close for several days because they were used as evacuation centers, had no electricity or transportation, or were in a region that had sustained significant damage. Most of the students have returned to class, but many districts are making up for lost time by shortening  midwinter breaks in February.

Because families with school calendars plan ahead, several New Yorkers had already planned vacations. So they appealed to Senator Schumer for help. Yesterday, he wrote to airlines and cruise lines, urging them to issue refunds or credits to families affect by Sandy.

Today Jet Blue and Delta Air Lines responded to the senator's request, announcing that they will waive change fees for those who were scheduled to travel Feb. 15 to Feb. 24, the school holiday.

The senator is not done with his campaign, however.

"Now that JetBlue and Delta have done the right thing, we'll be persuading and pressuring the other airlines and cruise lines to follow their example," Mr. Schumer said in a statement released by his press secretary. "The floodgates have started to open."


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Frugal Traveler Blog: Penny for Your Pound-Foolish Thoughts

The recent post on what not to save on while traveling got some terrific responses. Most readers agreed with Seth that even frugal traveling should have its limits:

"The travelers who always frustrate me most (and make me cringe a little) are the ones who you sometimes find haggling in a 3rd world market for a half hour with a poverty-riddled street vendor over the equivalent of a few pennies. I'm pretty sure your time is worth more than that, plus you're coming off as a complete jerk."

— Yvette, Amsterdam

"I'm a notorious penny pincher. But have learned vacation is not the place to do it. You can boil it down to time = money. If you've got lots of time, by all means be frugal. But if you are like most people, who have a job, you have limited time on vacation. Flights where you save a few bucks, but have a long layover are not worth it. Plus ten years from now, you'll look back and remember the time you got the ocean view room. Nobody remembers the trip with the room overlooking the parking lot."

— buster-thecat, Dallas

Others shared regretful memories:

"I once caught myself getting into a real argument with a rickshaw driver in India over 1 rupee – at the time about 6 cents! I was obviously completely, and deservedly, disgusted with myself."

— mlg56, Vermont

"I once saved by sleeping overnight in the Miami airport en route to the Carribean for a long-saved-for live-aboard scuba trip. This was the pre-TSA era, and I ended up sharing the space with a number of homeless folks, from whom I picked up a HORRIBLE respiratory bug. Spent the next several days being sick, and eventually passed it on to the rest of the group. Sure wish I'd spent the money on a hotel."

— A. Man, Philadelphia

"Sometimes it's just worth it to not be such a cheap bum. When I flew into Faro, Portugal at 11 at night at decided to take the bus with really no idea where to get off to get to my hostel and a bus driver/passengers who spoke little English — it was definitely a way more stress inducing experience than paying an extra 5 or 10 euros to take a cab. Ended up basically wandering dark deserted streets with all my stuff for an hour and a half before I finally got to my destination. Not the kind of excitement I'm really looking for."

— Rob K., Brooklyn

Still others had tips on what to spend money on, even while budget traveling:

"As a seasoned, solo, female traveler, do not EVER sacrifice any amount of money for your personal safety. It is just not worth it. Listen to your gut instinct always. Ask to see the place or room you will be sleeping in BEFORE you pay for it. And don't always assume the vehicle you get into is actually a taxi. Talk to others about safe transport at every stop or point along your route. Stay safe and enjoy the journey. Do invest heavily in proper foot and rain wear."

— Claire, Cape Cod, Mass.

"Like most 'frugal' travelers I will spend my dough on the 'experience' e.g. a hostel in London and afternoon tea at the Savoy."

— Kiki, The Bronx

"While I'm a congenital skinflint, I'd like to share 3 Road Rules.
1. While traveling with a significant other, never skimp on a cheap hotel room. In Ely, Nevada our romance flew out the window when she used the cold shower and there was a funny slope to our bed.
2. Never arrive in a strange small town with no idea where you'll spend the night. On many summer nights Arizona hotels were without vacancy, and we'd spend time searching while completely exhausted from driving.
3. While I love to pack my own food (I'm a PBJ man) I try to eat at local cafes when possible. For many of our trips what's most memorable are the local yokels we've met. Ten years from now you won't remember how much money you saved!"

— Somewhere Over the Rainbow

We'll leave the final word to this reader:

"Airfare, Kiev-Frankfurt: $500
Bus fare (no legroom, no working toilet): $85
Meeting my future wife on the bus: Priceless"

— Randall Krieg, Washington

(Read more responses here.)


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36 Hours in Lijiang, China

Robb Kendrick for The New York Times

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Ho Shixiu, a Lijiang view, an Old Town market and one of the city's many bridges. More Photos »

THE word "breathtaking" when applied to a Chinese city too often refers to respiratory-attack-inducing smog. But in the case of Lijiang, population 1.2 million, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, the word takes on its slack-jaw-in-awe meaning. The horizon here is Himalayan, and the blue sky above the city's stone streets, willow-lined canals and black-tiled roofs is reliably visible. This unusual (for China) troika of culture, history and natural beauty is why Lijiang's Old Town — a Unesco World Heritage site and a center of the Naxi people, one of China's most vibrant ethnic minorities — is a top destination for Chinese tourists and a new favorite of the passport-carrying crowd. So giddy-making are Lijiang's offerings that the Old Town is filled with such vaguely fortune-cookie-like signs as "Mountains and rivers will be your friends and you will be with good reputation as a civilized tourist." Rough translation: Behave!

Friday

4 p.m.
1. BEYOND YAK MEAT

Lijiang was built for commerce about 800 years ago, and a commercial city it remains. Once a crucial trading post on the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road connecting Yunnan Province and Tibet, it now caters, in large part, to tourists from Beijing and Hong Kong (who apparently really, really like dried yak meat). The main thing to know about shopping in the pedestrian-only Old Town is that many stores, like those selling hammered silver jewelry and tea bricks, repeat themselves on nearly every street, like the scrolling background in a "Tom and Jerry" chase scene. Browse a few hours through the Mao kitsch (like the canvas "Oba Mao" bags with President Obama in a Mao suit). You'll find there are many Donga Paper Workshops, a chain that sells paper lampshades and books of locally made paper, but head to the one at Lower Xinyuan Lane, Guangyi Street (86-0888-511-2288), where you can make your own sheet in the traditional way. Bunong Bells (73 Lower Xingren Lane, Wuyi Street; 86-0888-512-6638) sells stylized bells (from 160 renminbi, or $26 at 6.15 renminbi to the dollar) like those worn by horses on the caravan trail.

7 p.m.
2. ABOVE IT ALL

In Square Market, Old Town's main plaza, visitors snake around horsemen trying to attract paying riders. Naxi dance groups bend, clap and spin. To take all this in, rise above it. The second-floor Bells Restaurant and Bar (1 Square Market; 86-0888-518-5199) offers a fine selection of New Zealand red wines by the bottle in the 300-renminbi range and a view of the action below.

8 p.m.
3. DRAGONFLY DINNER

In the front window of 88 Snack (88 Wuyi Street; 86-0888-518-3111; 88eat.com) a woman slices strips of pea jelly made from black beans. Behind this unassuming facade is the best restaurant in town for Naxi fare. The Dongba spicy chicken lives up to its name, and the roasted eggplant salad is garlic heaven. The adventurous can try deep-fried dragonflies, which taste like especially crunchy seaweed. (Dinner, 110 renminbi for two.)

10 p.m.
4. GET FRESH

The antidote to "Bar Street" (a k a Xinhua Street), where nightclubs feature skull-thumping music and where boy bands with high hair dance in spotlights, is Freshnam Cafe (119 WuYi Street; 86-135-7838-3745), on a quiet strip across town. People come to Freshnam, run by a Korean impresario, Nam Jiwoo, for the simple setting (black bar and small stage), the international beers and the music, which runs toward the folk-rock vein, though with any luck you'll catch a belly-dance number.

Saturday

9 a.m.
5. TAKEOUT, NAXI STYLE

Morning is the ideal time to wander through the Old Town. Without the crush of other tourists, the arching stone bridges over the three branches of the Yuhe River that flow through town, the ivied walls and the flowering trees sheltering koi-filled canals seem even lovelier. Getting lost in a serpentine alley is the best way to appreciate Naxi architecture — white stucco walls, heavy wood doors, beams and shutters, and sweeping roofs with ridgelines that bend up at the ends, like yogis in a cobra pose. The perfect breakfast can be found on a section of Qiyi Street with food vendors offering boiled eggs on a stick, shredded potato pancakes, grilled dumplings and what looks like a Chinese version of a breakfast taco (with egg and greens inside). Treats go for 10 renminbi each.

11:30 a.m.
6. BAISHA BOUND


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In Transit Blog: An Airport App Takes You Outside, to a Rental Car

Written By wartini cantika on Kamis, 29 November 2012 | 17.35

Gate Guru, the app that functions like a Yelp for travelers who want to eat, shop or even get a manicure at an airport, is venturing into new territory.

In a new version for Apple and Android devices released late last month, the app has partnered with the Avis-Budget Group to offer discounted last-minute car rentals. It may seem like an off-brand use, but it isn't: the feature is made for the smartphone-carrying traveler who may need to secure a car as the plane is taxiing to the gate.

"All of this came about as a result of thinking through the current airport rental car experience," said Dan Gellert, GateGuru's chief executive and co-founder, adding that the app improves on an outmoded system that relies on walk-up customers. The app's other new functions include a new interface, updates on wait time in the security line you'll have to go through and listings of restaurants near your departure gate.


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Reader Photos: Why We Travel

Zion National Park, Utah | July 17, 2012

This summer my husband and I spent two months traveling to Bryce Canyon, Zion and Redwood National Parks. One was more magnificent than the next. Mixed in with the amazing natural beauty were some very interesting sights that I'd call "Western kitsch." I found this "shoe tree" completely captivating. Who started it? Why? What possesses people to leave their shoes behind? Why in a place of such iconic beauty as Zion National Park? It simply made me laugh, and I had to stop to document it for others with equally bizarre senses of humor! My thanks to those of us who retain their appreciation of the absurd and find ways to make us all smile, if only for a moment in time.

— TINA SCHELL, Kiawah Island, S.C.

Share Your Story: Submit a Travel Photo

(Note: Captions have been edited for length and clarity.)


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Journeys: A Culinary Gateway to Cape Town Opens

Pieter Bauermeister for The New York Times

Clockwise from left: Yeshi Mekonnen at Little Ethiopia Restaurant; the Bo-Kaap neighborhood; Bebe Rose at her restaurant, called Bebe's; a dish at Little Ethiopia.

BEBE ROSE, a Cameroonian who owns Bebe's restaurant in Cape Town, stood with her arms folded and peered down with one brow raised as she scanned the plates of unfinished food spread out before me.

"What's the matter?" she asked. "You don't like my food?"

I did like her food. There were stews of kidney beans and okra, meat and starches. It was true that one item, the tripe, pushed my boundaries. In a shallow bath of a hearty brown sauce of ground nuts and red oil sat part of one of the four chambers of a cow's stomach, the rumen, or omasum, or perhaps the abomasum.

I couldn't be sure. I secured it to the dish with my fork and sawed it with my knife. Its flavor was rich and beefy, though it was more than chewy, kind of resistant, as if it hadn't decided yet if it was going to be eaten.

The problem, though, was that this was the last stop on a four-hour eating binge through central Cape Town, and my own sorry single-chamber organ was maxed out.

Not from sheer gluttony, though. I had found a novel way to explore Cape Town, a city that I had visited several times over the course of 20 years. A local company called Coffeebeans Routes offered to expose visitors to the city and its subcultures through a tour called the Cape Town Cuisine Route. Unlike many other culinary excursions, the goal is not to find the finest dining (there is no shortage of that) but to use food as an entry to the city's inner life, visiting home kitchens, alley cafes and markets otherwise easy to miss.

Cape Town, wedged between the towering sandstone mesa of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean on Africa's southern tip, is marvelously scenic. From its establishment in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company, which created a settlement as a way station for ships bringing spices from Asia, the Cape Town city bowl, the aptly named metropolitan center, has been a stew of cultures like the indigenous Khoisan, Africans from the north, Europeans from the sea, slaves and indentured servants from Southeast Asia who would become known as the Cape Malay.

In the last decade or so, they have been joined by an influx from the rest of Africa — Malawi and Mali, Congo, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe — looking for refuge and opportunity. They have sometimes had to endure searing anti-immigrant sentiment. Nonetheless, they have set up shops and market stalls, changed the look of some streets and neighborhoods and brought recipes from home.

The Coffeebeans itinerary tells the story, a mouthful at a time, said my guide, Michael Letlala, 28, who came to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape.

Our first stop was the Escape Caffe, which has an extraordinary history: it is owned and operated by Muhammed Lameen Abdul-Malik, who was born in Nigeria, and opened the cafe after winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency when Mohamed ElBaradei was the director general.

The clientele, and the baristas, looked like the South African counterparts to my regular cafe in Philadelphia. They are locals and expats, regulars and newcomers, the same set of people worldwide who know their piccolos and macchiatos, settling in at a long communal table in the middle of the cafe.

Although Cape Town already had a robust cafe scene before the arrival of Escape Caffe, few places had decent coffee. Mr. Abdul-Malik has endeavored to fix that. His coffee is great, and he has built a following of people who are prepared to pay considerably higher prices for it.

"Coffee beans are from Africa," Mr. Letlala said, as we sipped cortados from clear glasses. "And, anyway, coffee is a good palate cleanser before we begin eating. We will have a lot of food."

Having eaten very little before we started, I felt up to the task. We walked up the cobblestone street into the Bo-Kaap, the Cape Malay Quarter, with its view of bright pastel-colored homes running like a perspective painting up the incline of Signal Hill, and came to a spice shop. The Bo-Kaap, like so much of the area, is in transition. After hundreds of years of being exclusively Muslim (partly because of apartheid-era segregation laws), gentrification and rising demand, property and tax rates are changing the neighborhood, making it all rather a bit too SoHo for traditional residents.


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Bites : Restaurant Report: La Table d’Aki in Paris

Restaurant kitchens in Paris are notoriously small. But it would be hard to find one tinier than La Table d'Aki, so compact its staff is limited to a single person: Akihiro Horikoshi, also known as Aki.

Mr. Horikoshi serves as chef, prep cook, pâtissier, dishwasher, you-name-it-he-does-it at this 16-seat restaurant in the Seventh Arrondissement, not far from the well-heeled Boulevard St.-Germain. (When the restaurant opened in January, Mr. Horikoshi also poured the wine and delivered the food; he has since hired a server.) Working in an open kitchen, he prepares a menu that centers on fish, producing sophisticated dishes that sparkle with freshness and flawless execution.

Born in Japan to a family of chefs, Mr. Horikoshi came to Paris in 1997 to study French civilization at the Sorbonne. Between classes, he earned pocket money through stages, or internships, at some of the city's top restaurants. "Eventually, I realized that my true passion was French haute cuisine," he said. He eventually spent almost 20 years at the three-Michelin-starred L'Ambroisie, where he presided over fish dishes. At La Table d'Aki, he draws on this background, transforming high-end classics into clean and modern creations.

The restaurant's intimate, crisply elegant dining room echoes this aesthetic — classic but fresh — with white tablecloths, accents of pale gray, Thonet chairs in blond wood and pendant lamps hanging from red cords connected on the ceiling in the form of a spare spider's web.

A recent four-course, prix fixe dinner began with coral-colored gazpacho, a contrast of vivid tang, fine olive oil and a sweet trace of sea air from a pair of poached langoustine tails so tender they quivered atop the spoon. Crisp-skinned St. Pierre followed, a firm-fleshed fillet set into a pool of delicate aioli, a bold scoop of olive tapenade by its side. A strip of turbot was heightened by a glossy drizzle of veal jus scented with star anise and accompanied by a purée of celery root, the seared, brawny succulence of the fish a testament to Mr. Horikoshi's skill. For dessert, a dacquoise cake filled with raspberry cream floated off the fork, a dainty ending to an elegant meal.

"Everything is very simple, because I work alone," Mr. Horikoshi said. "I prepare everything myself — the mise en place, the sauces, the desserts. This isn't exactly a restaurant. People come here to eat at chez Aki."

La Table d'Aki, 49, rue Vaneau; (33-1) 45-44-43-48. An average lunch, without wine, is 40 euros ($50 at $1.25 to the euro). At dinner, there are prix fixe menus for four courses (46 euros) or five (60 euros), without wine. Reservations are strongly recommended.


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Mount Pinatubo, 20 Years After the Blast

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 28 November 2012 | 17.35

Al Gerard de la Cruz

The caldera lake of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

CAPAS, PHILIPPINES — Hell's mouth has become heavenly over the last 20 years.

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, it spewed out more than 5 cubic kilometers, or 1.2 cubic miles, of magma and sent an ash cloud 35 kilometers, or 22 miles, into the air. It was the second largest eruption of the 20th century, exceeded only by the 1912 eruption of Mount Novarupta in Alaska.

Today, more than 3,000 tourists a month climb the volcano, whether to swim in its gemlike caldera lake or simply enjoy its beauty.

The historic town of Capas, in Tarlac Province, around 100 kilometers from Manila, is Pinatubo's best-known gateway. (Pinatubo also is accessible from two other provinces, but the Zambales route takes 16 hours and the Pampanga trail does not reach the lakefront.)

"Pinatubo is part of our history. People should explore and experience the beauty," said Mailyn Dizon of the Capas Municipal Tourism office.

From the Santa Juliana section of Capas, tourists follow a 25-kilometer trail to the crater of the 1,486-meter, or 4,875-foot, high volcano. When tours began in 1999, a ride in a jeepney, the army-jeep-turned-minibus that is ubiquitous in the Philippines, was followed by a six-hour hike to the summit.

Now, four-wheel-drive vehicles can navigate about 16 kilometers of the terrain — reducing the effort to an hour-long ride and a two-hour hike, which can be arranged through travel agencies or directly with a local association of four-wheel-drive operators.

After hikers register at the tourism office's branch in Santa Juliana, their vehicle travels through a military checkpoint at the entrance to Crow Valley, formerly used by the U.S. Air Force as a target and bombing range. U.S. and Philippine soldiers still use the area periodically; when they do, tour vehicles are allowed to cross the valley only before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Crow Valley looks like a moonscape, its surface encrusted with lahar, a concrete-like sludge of pyroclastic deposits and water. The tracks of the tour vehicles' tires and the roaming cattle and carabaos, a local domesticated water buffalo, cross and recross each other on the parched bed of the O'Donnell River, which runs the length of the valley.

Along the way, travelers may catch sight of the San Marcos and Tambo lakes, both created by the volcano's eruption. During the rainy season, in July and August, the river and lakes can swell with little warning, so the tours are suspended.

"This trail is not permanent. Water always changes the course," said Jay-ar Rodriguez, the tour guide on this particular trip.

Water has quarried the thick lahar into lofty cliffs and small plateaus in many places. And the trail gets rougher the closer it gets to Pinatubo, so the tour driver eventually parked on the last piece of navigable flatland.

As hikers start toward the "Old Way," a gully that leads up to the crater, volcanic rocks called dacites and andesites dot the landscape. Mr. Rodriguez calls them "batong buhay," or "living rocks," because they seem to grow larger as the nine-kilometer trail approaches its destination. Actual living things are seldom seen; on this day, hikers see only a herd of goats.

At some points in the gully, the shallow streams that form the headwaters of the O'Donnell sometimes reduce the trail to a pair of footpaths, each barely a meter wide. Some rivulets of warm water are green with algae; others look like they carry animal droppings that are in fact chromite from the volcano.

Five kilometers along is a rudimentary rest stop, a thatch-roofed shed and outhouse that are the remnants of a Korean company's tourist effort called Skyway, destroyed by typhoons in 2009 and never repaired because of environmental and safety concerns.

Ahead, a wooden sign challenges hikers to complete the final distance in 20 minutes — or be labeled "senior citizens." Beyond the sign, the path turns into an ankle-deep, tadpole-filled brook flowing into a hardy forest. Strange plants thrive here, including a tree with poisonous fruit that looks like the atis, or sugar apples, sold in local markets.


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In Hong Kong, History at a New Hotel

Thomas Lee for The International Herald Tribune

The Tai O Heritage Hotel, which opened in February on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong is a city in constant flux, reinventing itself virtually every day. New buildings seem to appear overnight, shops are suddenly transformed, and everyone is always on the go.

But on Lantau Island, within sight of the gambling enclave of Macau on a clear day, there is a town that is not much changed from the Hong Kong of 150 years ago.

Tai O is a classic Chinese stilt village. Hawkers sell shrimp paste, dried scallops and duck eggs at the side of the road. There are no cars. And it is not uncommon to see women wearing the traditional Hakka headgear, a wide-brimmed straw hat with a veil of sorts to keep the sometimes-fierce sun at bay.

The Tai O Heritage Hotel, a renovated century-old police station on the very western edge of this westernmost point in Hong Kong, is an unusual blend of the city's history and its preoccupation with commerce.

The way that Hong Kongers view development has changed sharply in recent years. Residents once virtually worshipped tycoons like Li Ka-shing, the richest person in Asia, who has been called "Superman" for his business prowess. Now they march through the streets to protest the widening wealth gap; the cost of housing that is, by some accounts, the most expensive in the world; and the unseemly interaction of government and business.

Conservation efforts have not been particularly strong in Hong Kong. Property owners would rather tear down old structures and build more expensive residential or office property on the same site. Some buildings from this former British colony's past have been preserved — like Flagstaff House, the former home of the commander of the British forces; the Central police station; and Western Market, a Victorian-era covered market — but the government traditionally has auctioned off historic buildings, letting the highest bidders recast the structures as they wished.

Then came the renovation of the former marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, a spot right in the heart of tourist territory in Kowloon, near the Star Ferry Terminal, the Peninsula hotel and Hong Kong's art and space museums.

In 2009, Cheung Kong, a company that Mr. Li named for the Yangtze River, finished turning the sprawling building into a 10-suite hotel with restaurants and luxury shops at its base. The criticism was fierce — and the government decided that future sales of protected buildings would be open only to nonprofit organizations.

So when the Tai O Police Station came up for sale, Daryl Ng, a grandson of the founder of the Hong Kong-Singapore development company Sino Land, established the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation to transform it into a boutique hotel that still honored the building's history. The nonprofit foundation in 2009 won the bidding for the station, which had been abandoned since it was closed in 2002. The hotel opened at the end of February this year.

Mr. Ng said that he was inspired by trips to London and New York, where he would conduct business during the week and then spend a day or two in the countryside. He realized that nothing like that existed in Hong Kong — executives jet in to spend a few days in the city's skyscrapers and never see the beauty of the mountains and the outlying islands.

The station was built in 1902 and has a classic East-meets-West design: a Chinese tiled roof, Victorian granite steps and French windows.

Local residents say that its position at the very edge of Lantau Island means that it bears the full brunt of storms when a typhoon roars through. Metal shutters were installed on every window, not only to keep out the weather but also as a defensive measure. (One shutter at the building's rear has nine bullet holes: A police officer who had been fired came back to the station and shot and killed his former sergeant.)

Renovations, which began in 2010, were done so that the nine guest rooms and facilities could be dismantled and removed without damaging the building. (Knock on the walls and you will hear a hollow sound.) Parts of the original structure still can be seen, like the two holding cells alongside the reception desk.

Finishes, like the retro-style bathroom taps, were chosen to match the historic atmosphere, as were the photographs of Tai O that hang on the walls.


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A Window Into a Harsh Chapter in Sydney’s Past

SYDNEY — Wandering through the grounds of Q Station on a summery day, enjoying views of the sun sparkling on Sydney Harbor, it is difficult to imagine this was once a place of fear and pain.

The 36 hectares, or 89 acres, that spill down to the shoreline were the site of the North Head Quarantine Station for 150 years. And while it played a vital role in protecting Australian residents from contagious disease, the stories of those who were quarantined tell of a sometimes horrific experience.

Since 2006, the site and its 65 buildings have been leased to the Mawland Group, a Sydney tourism company that rebranded it Q Station and spent 20 million Australian dollars, or $20.7 million, on refurbishment. It now operates hotel, restaurant, conference and event facilities there and gives public tours.

The Quarantine Station Story tour starts at the same waterfront jetty where ships once landed with passengers who had endured grueling journeys to reach Australia's shores, only to be suspected of carrying disease like smallpox or typhoid.

As Martin Bennett, a tour guide, explained, passengers and crew members would be brought ashore and divided into three groups: the sick; contacts, or those not ill but likely to have been exposed; and the healthy.

The first stopping point for all three groups was a small drab room, barely large enough to hold the 40 or so travelers who would be squeezed in. The room then would be filled with zinc sulfate gas, thought to assist in removing fluid — and possible infection — from the lungs.

Then they were taken to shower blocks and forced to stand under a spray that included 10 percent carbolic acid, taking off the top layer of their skin.

"It was sheep dip for humans," Mr. Bennett said wryly, asking his audience to imagine their screams and the fear and anxiety of those waiting their turn for the showers.

While the arrivals were being treated, their belongings were put inside large autoclaves and steamed at 115 degrees Celsius (239 Fahrenheit) for 20 minutes.

All travelers, even the healthy, would be kept an average of 40 days before being cleared to enter Sydney. Not everyone endured a difficult stay. The quarters for first-class passengers had a smoking room for the men, ladies sewing room and a tennis court. Off the first-class dining room is a shaded veranda with glimpses of the harbor through the trees.

The sick were treated at an onsite hospital — the tour includes a visit to a ward, which has some of the original beds and items like an old nurse's uniform and posters along with sea breezes and spectacular harbor views.

There were 572 deaths recorded during the station's history; the bodies were buried at three cemeteries on the site. "There were never any outbreaks of disease within the quarantine station and no outbreaks from the quarantine station into Sydney," Mr. Bennett said.

Sylvie Hyatt, one of the visitors on the tour, said, "Those who were poorly and might have spread disease were perhaps the ones who didn't make it."

Ms. Hyatt and her husband, Alan, who have a strong interest in Australian history, traveled more than two hours from their home in Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales to spend the weekend at Q Station and take the two-hour historic tour.

"It really brings home some of the black periods of Australian history," Mr. Hyatt said. "The treatment was brutal, but then it was a brutal era."

The station is said to be one of the most haunted sites in Australia, and "ghost tours" are also offered, tailored to adults and families and including overnight stays.

The Hyatts had taken the two-and-a-half hour adult tour, a nighttime walk that includes the site's history but focuses on the horrifying experiences of some of the individuals who were interned.


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In Cambodia, a Shooting Range Open to Tourists

Thomas Cristofoletti for The International Herald Tribune

Johan Mars of Goteborg, Sweden, fires a semi-automatic rifle at a shooting range on a military base near Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH — Just after a Honda pickup truck screeched to a halt beyond the decommissioned Soviet-era Antonov aircraft, four resolute-looking Chinese men with a military escort climbed out, slammed the doors shut and neatly arranged a series of firearms they had been carrying on a nearby table.

Once the pistols' magazines were loaded with shiny golden bullets, they began emptying round after round into paper targets at a distance of 25 meters, or 82 feet.

Nearby, Johan Mars had just discharged 30 bullets from a K-50, a Russian submachine gun.

"That was quite badass," said Mr. Mars, a 28-year-old electrician from Goteborg, Sweden, striding toward a wall laden with Uzis, AK-47s and assault rifles like the M-4 and M-16. "It's a boy toy," he said of the K-50, which on full automatic fills the air with dark smoke and the smell of gunpowder.

Mr. Mars, who has been traveling in Southeast Asia, added: "I spent two weeks in Vietnam, and then I spend two hours here and I'm asked, 'Do you want to fire a gun?' Where else can you do that?"

Tucked inconspicuously between rice paddies and recently built garment factories, the operations base of the Airborne Brigade 911 is also home to an open-air shooting range.

There are other shooting ranges in Southeast Asia, like the one outside Ho Chi Minh City, close to the Cu Chi tunnels, and in the popular Thai resort of Ko Samui. Here, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 also has a public range on a military base.

But the Airborne Brigade's range is Cambodia's original and the only one where tourists can walk around with weapons and fire fully automatic guns.

A tuk-tuk ride to the range, about 15 kilometers, or 9 miles, outside the capital, takes a visitor along National Road 4, through Phnom Penh's industrializing outskirts.

Diesel-guzzling trucks spurt vast plumes of black smoke as they career past entire families of four and five traveling on single motorcycles. In the late afternoon, rickety old trucks move along, their flatbeds packed with scores of young female garment workers who, standing up, have squeezed themselves on for the trip home. And along the roadside, vendors sell sugar cane, fruit and noodles from ramshackle mobile carts.

Eventually, glimpses of Cambodia's serene countryside of rice paddies dotted with coconut trees start to appear through the concrete buildings on the city's edge.

A right turn off the main road onto a dirt track, and the tuk-tuk bounces along for nearly a kilometer past vendors and Cambodian-style coffee shops with plastic chairs. Eventually it stops at a walled perimeter, where, nearly 15 years after Khmer Rouge forces surrendered and peace officially returned to Cambodia, the distinctive crack of a Kalashnikov can be heard echoing into the distance.

The entrance to the operations base of the Airborne Brigade, a special forces unit, is far from what you would expect. On a recent visit, the entrance was unmanned, closed off by just a flimsy metal chain. This time a young soldier waves the tuk-tuk through.

Inside, children of the military personnel living in the base's modest wooden homes wave and shout "hello" to visitors, while cows and sheep graze the lush fields nearby. Before reaching the shooting range, visitors pass a rappelling tower, armored vehicles, some heavy artillery, and a cage of three crocodiles.

At the range, soldiers in fatigues escort guests to a wall of firearms that includes framed portraits of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Lt. Gen. Chap Pheakdey, who commands the brigade.

A few meters away, eight shooting booths face standing targets adorned with perforated beer cans and, behind, a five-meter-high earthen wall.

The firing range "was originally created to train the military, but sometimes we have guests, and sometimes we don't," Brig. Gen. Moun Sameth, the brigade's deputy commander, said by telephone.

Firing 30 rounds from an AK-47 costs $40, while a drum of 30 bullets for a submachine gun is $50. (Prices are in U.S. dollars, which is not uncommon in Cambodia.)


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Virginia’s Lost History

Written By wartini cantika on Selasa, 27 November 2012 | 17.35

Vanessa Vick for The New York Times

The 1,900-acre plantation that is the site of Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, has impressive views of cliffs along the Potomac River. More Photos »

"LET me get up out of here," said Captain Red, rheumy, slow moving, a snowy thatch belying the nickname of his youth.

Captain Red scraped his stool back from the counter at the Car Wash Cafe, a modest restaurant in a former Shell station, placed two fives by the register and gave the waitress a wink.

"See you in my dreams," Captain Red said.

"Those will be good dreams," Cynthia Henry, the waitress, coolly replied.

"O.K., Sweetie," Captain Red said.

"Drive fast and take chances," Ms. Henry added as Captain Red shambled toward the exit, probably unaware that he'd been punked.

That was in July. Now it's October. Captain Red has been taking few chances on the highway. Here he is again at the counter. And here is Cynthia Henry serving fresh-brewed coffee with sass on the side.

I am back on the Northern Neck of Virginia, a region where it begins to seem that I've been pitched by fate. Two years ago I'd never heard of the place. Then a friend invited me to his farm on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River for a visit, later lending me the house while he was away as somewhere to regain my bearings after a series of sudden and unexpected deaths.

In the middle of last summer, another good friend, a director of the association responsible for preserving Stratford Hall, the historic Robert E. Lee birthplace and plantation, proffered an invitation: Would I like to use her cabin there as a place in which to start work on a book?

And so it was that I passed the shank of a blistering Tidewater summer amid 1,900 acres set on high bluffs at the northern limit of the Neck, swilling iced tea as squirrels pelted the roof of my tidy and well-appointed cabin with acorns. Writing from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., I set out in my car every afternoon to travel down empty roads en route to seldom visited precolonial homesteads; parking at the edges of steep shore-side cliffs framed by vast marine skies a friend termed "deluxe"; wandering down a time tunnel into a past that, to renew an overused paraphrase of Faulkner, is not dead and not, for that matter, even past.

My American history, in the manner of a solipsistic generation, has tended to begin and end with myself. I had never bothered to learn much about the people who produced me; I had paid even less attention to the circumstances that created the nation or the colony in which they got their American start. Fear not: the history lesson will be brief.

Sleepy and rural, gently undulating, known variously as "the garden of Virginia" and "the Athens of the New World," the Northern Neck is a 61-mile peninsula bracketed by the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Originally settled by members of eight Algonquian tribes, it was scouted in the early 17th century by Capt. John Smith, the English explorer, and eventually settled by planters whose impressive wealth derived mainly from stoking a global demand for a modish new stimulant: tobacco.

The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once wrote that never was there a crop of genius such as was produced here in the colonial era. For the production of genius, it seems, Northern Neck soil was especially rich.

George Washington was born here near a bend of pretty Popes Creek, and so in other nearby towns were James Madison and James Monroe. Among other early colonists who got their start in life on the Northern Neck were the brothers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and their descendant, the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Lees' ancestral great house — an imposing H-shaped structure noted for its elegantly laid brickwork facade, high chimneys and a cube-shaped great room acknowledged as among the handsomest chambers in the United States — was built on a rise commanding a broad and strategic view of the Potomac, and was just a short walk along a farm road from my cabin in the woods.

GUY TREBAY is a reporter for The New York Times.


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Journeys: A Food Bloggers’ Tour of Kuala Lumpur

Rahman Roslan for The New York Times

At Yut Kee, charcoal-toasted bread commonly served with coffee.

CHOOSING where and what to eat in Malaysia's food-obsessed capital of Kuala Lumpur is no small feat. From the moment you enter this hot, humid, traffic-choked capital, known locally as K.L., endless culinary options influenced by numerous cuisines beckon, from wok-fried noodles topped with fresh seafood to steaming piles of naan and vats of fragrant curries. So how best to navigate this complex world of food? I turned to the local blogosphere for advice and personal guidance. These passionate food bloggers spend their weekends tirelessly hunting down the city's hidden treats, reporting on their gastronomic adventures to a devoted readership that's just as infatuated with local cuisine as they are. And as the city welcomes a dizzying number of eye-catching high-end restaurants, it's the bloggers who ensure that Kuala Lumpur's age-old culinary gems — and some of its most memorable meals — won't be forgotten.

On a sultry weekend morning earlier this year, I joined a group of local customers — women in colorful headscarves, men in short-sleeved, button-down shirts and slacks — in partaking of a Malaysian ritual: a plate of nasi lemak at R. A. Nasi Lemak (15A Jalan Raja Abdullah; 60-12-354-6800), an outdoor restaurant along a busy road in central Kuala Lumpur, where nasi lemak is about 6 ringgit, or $2 at 3 ringgit to the dollar. Nasi lemak, the unofficial national dish, translates from the Malay as "fatty rice," and it quickly became apparent why. As a server scooped a hearty helping of coconut-infused white rice from a wooden barrel onto a plate lined with a banana leaf, Lee Khang Yi, one of my blogger-guides, looked on approvingly.

"This is nice rice," she said, before selecting from a dozen or so side dishes, which ranged from glistening hunks of fried chicken to paru goreng, deep-fried beef lungs coated in ginger, shallots and shredded lemon grass. Before grabbing a plastic stool at one of the stall's metal tables, Ms. Yi topped her plate with roasted peanuts, ikan bilis (small fried anchovies), a fried egg and sliced cucumbers — all essential accompaniments to nasi lemak.

The bespectacled Ms. Yi, 40, is the authoritative voice behind the popular food blog Masak-Masak (masak-masak.blogspot.com) — literally "cooking-cooking" in Malay — a site she began seven years ago while between jobs. Her site became so popular that Ms. Yi abandoned a career in finance and is now a food editor for a major national newspaper, The Malay Mail.

Drawing from the country's Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, versions of nasi lemak are as varied as the national population. "As the years have gone by, there is a racial division when it comes to food," Ms. Yi said. "People will eat within their group. But nasi lemak has transcended all the races. Somehow or another everyone eats nasi lemak and finds something they like about it."

She was quick to point out, though, that all iterations of the dish share a foundation. "It all starts with the rice, which has to be fluffy, nicely balanced and not too sweet," she said. "I'm quite biased when it comes to nasi lemak."

My next blogging companion, Jonathan Ooi, 32, brought me to Yut Kee restaurant (35 Jalan Dang Wangi; 60-3-2698-8108), where he has been going since childhood. "This was my grandfather's favorite coffee shop," he said as we crammed into a table between families with small children, elderly men reading local newspapers and servers shouting orders. "He used to come here for his daily breakfast when he worked at the nearby HSBC bank," he continued. "Since he passed away, my parents, aunts and uncles and I have continued his tradition."

Mr. Ooi, who works as a store designer, clearly inherited his grandfather's passion for food: he now runs the blog A Lil' Fat Monkey (alilfatmonkey.com), which chronicles Mr. Ooi's food and travel adventures around the world, covering both trendy new openings and old-school neighborhood favorites like Yut Kee, where the Lee family has been wooing patrons with Hainanese delicacies since 1928 — though at least one of the draws for Mr. Ooi is a ubiquitous one. "There is just something about the coffee here," Mr. Ooi said, sipping a cup of freshly brewed kopi-O (1.50 ringgit), coal-black coffee served with sugar. "You can taste the traditional roasting. The robusta beans are roasted with sugar and margarine."

In the Chinese-Malaysian tradition, the glimmering, potent brew is served with thick slices of Hainanese bread (2.40 ringgit), either steamed into a pillowy texture or toasted on charcoal. "The bread should be full of holes, which gives it a nice crisp," Mr. Ooi said.


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In Transit Blog: Walkabout - 11/26: Cyber Monday Cruises; Flights Take Off in Africa; Hertz Goes to Italy

Walkabout

A weekly capsule of travel news curated by our writers and editors.

Cyber Cruising Tour companies and cruise lines jump aboard the Cyber Monday bandwagon, offering steep discounts for trips this winter. (USA Today)

African Skies The first flight of Fastjet, a new budget airline backed by easyJet founder, is set to take off tomorrow from Tanzania's biggest city, Dar es Salaam. (Independent)

Arrivederci, Cyber Cafes Hertz, which began offering mobile Wi-Fi to rental car customers abroad, expands to Italy. (Jaunted)

Wynn Eyes Phillie Casino magnate Steve Wynn put in a bid for a $50 million license to operate a casino in Philadelphia with up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games. (Hotel Chatter)

Extreme Snow Sports Bucking skiing and snowboarding, the truly adventurous climb frozen waterfalls of ice in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. (BBC)


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Cultured Traveler: A ‘Little Jerusalem’ in the Heart of Italy

Kathryn Ream Cook for The New York Times

The medieval village of Pitigliano, Italy.

MY parents have an unofficial ritual: wherever they travel, whether it's Paris, San Francisco or Havana, they visit the Jewish part of town. They go to temple, they seek out local Jews, they make a donation. It's their way of feeling connected to their heritage, and also of showing solidarity.

Over the years, I have gently teased them about their custom. Who appointed them Chroniclers of the Jews Worldwide? And yet, the older I become, the more I find myself following in their path.

And so, when I was in Rome recently and heard about a tiny medieval village in Tuscany called Pitigliano (known as La Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem) I wanted to see it. My plan was to spend a day in this walled town in the Maremma region in the province of Grosseto, about 105 miles northwest of Rome. Pitigliano is blessedly untouristy, with only about 25,000 visitors a year. Most want to explore the Jewish culture, although some are simply besotted with the idea of yet another impossibly magnificent Italian village.

And that it is. As I drove up the winding road to the hill town, 1,026 feet above sea level, I was reminded of the first time I saw Jerusalem. With its parapets, ceramic tile roofs and multitiered buildings perched on layers of red volcanic tufa stone, Pitigliano resembles a sparkling, pint-size Holy City. The village, which was originally settled by the Etruscans, was once home to a thriving Jewish population that had settled there in the early part of the 16th century. They came mainly from the nearby Lazio region, which bordered the anti-Semitic Roman Papal States that periodically drove out Jews.

In Pitigliano, I met with a local guide, Rafaella Agresti, whose English was impeccable. Together, we walked through the medieval gate into the old city, passing the Orsini Palace, a 14th-century fortress, now a museum, and the even older Church of San Rocco. The remnants of a 17th-century aqueduct built by the Medici family runs through town.

As we navigated the narrow streets, Ms. Agresti told me that the Jews and Christians of Pitigliano had led a peaceful coexistence. In the 16th century, Count Niccolo Orsini IV, a member of the feudal Orsini family, ruled Pitigliano, an independent fief whose inhabitants were mainly peasants. Although he was Catholic, he thought Jews, mostly bankers and artisans, could help revitalize Pitigliano's lagging economy. So, while Jews in places like Umbria and Lazio were imprisoned or exiled, in Pitigliano they worked as moneylenders, carpenters, cobblers and tailors.

That good will changed somewhat after the Medici family, which was appointed by the Pope, came into power. In 1622, the Jews in Pitigliano were confined to a ghetto; men were required to wear red hats, and women red badges on their sleeves. Still, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews was friendly; in 1773, the liberal Catholic Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo, officially recognized the Jews of Pitigliano, which meant they could come and go as they wished. In 1799 the ghetto was desegregated, and by 1850 there were about 400 Jews in town, roughly 10 percent of the population. But 11 years later that population began to shrink when the Jews of a unified Italy were granted equal rights and allowed to move freely about the country. Many left for Florence, Rome and elsewhere.

By 1938, when the Fascist racial laws were applied, only about 60 Jews were living in Pitigliano, among them the family of Elena Servi.

Now 82, Ms. Servi, who was born in Pitigliano, has dedicated her life to preserving and restoring her hometown's Jewish history. I was eager to meet her at the Little Jerusalem Association (lapiccolagerusalemme.it), a cultural organization comprising about 150 Jews and non-Jews from around the world. Ms. Servi founded the association in 1996 with her son, Enrico Spizzichino. It is situated inside a series of interconnected buildings, one of which houses the Jewish Museum of Culture.

Ms. Agresti and I walked beneath an arch with a half-moon-shaped sign emblazoned with the words "La Piccola Gerusalemme: Antico Quartiere Ebraico" (Old Jewish Quarter) and into the museum, where Ms. Servi was behind the counter. Since she does not speak English, we communicated in a mixture of Hebrew and my limited Italian.


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Cultured Traveler: A ‘Little Jerusalem’ in the Heart of Italy

Written By wartini cantika on Senin, 26 November 2012 | 17.35

Kathryn Ream Cook for The New York Times

The medieval village of Pitigliano, Italy.

MY parents have an unofficial ritual: wherever they travel, whether it's Paris, San Francisco or Havana, they visit the Jewish part of town. They go to temple, they seek out local Jews, they make a donation. It's their way of feeling connected to their heritage, and also of showing solidarity.

Over the years, I have gently teased them about their custom. Who appointed them Chroniclers of the Jews Worldwide? And yet, the older I become, the more I find myself following in their path.

And so, when I was in Rome recently and heard about a tiny medieval village in Tuscany called Pitigliano (known as La Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem) I wanted to see it. My plan was to spend a day in this walled town in the Maremma region in the province of Grosseto, about 105 miles northwest of Rome. Pitigliano is blessedly untouristy, with only about 25,000 visitors a year. Most want to explore the Jewish culture, although some are simply besotted with the idea of yet another impossibly magnificent Italian village.

And that it is. As I drove up the winding road to the hill town, 1,026 feet above sea level, I was reminded of the first time I saw Jerusalem. With its parapets, ceramic tile roofs and multitiered buildings perched on layers of red volcanic tufa stone, Pitigliano resembles a sparkling, pint-size Holy City. The village, which was originally settled by the Etruscans, was once home to a thriving Jewish population that had settled there in the early part of the 16th century. They came mainly from the nearby Lazio region, which bordered the anti-Semitic Roman Papal States that periodically drove out Jews.

In Pitigliano, I met with a local guide, Rafaella Agresti, whose English was impeccable. Together, we walked through the medieval gate into the old city, passing the Orsini Palace, a 14th-century fortress, now a museum, and the even older Church of San Rocco. The remnants of a 17th-century aqueduct built by the Medici family runs through town.

As we navigated the narrow streets, Ms. Agresti told me that the Jews and Christians of Pitigliano had led a peaceful coexistence. In the 16th century, Count Niccolo Orsini IV, a member of the feudal Orsini family, ruled Pitigliano, an independent fief whose inhabitants were mainly peasants. Although he was Catholic, he thought Jews, mostly bankers and artisans, could help revitalize Pitigliano's lagging economy. So, while Jews in places like Umbria and Lazio were imprisoned or exiled, in Pitigliano they worked as moneylenders, carpenters, cobblers and tailors.

That good will changed somewhat after the Medici family, which was appointed by the Pope, came into power. In 1622, the Jews in Pitigliano were confined to a ghetto; men were required to wear red hats, and women red badges on their sleeves. Still, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews was friendly; in 1773, the liberal Catholic Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo, officially recognized the Jews of Pitigliano, which meant they could come and go as they wished. In 1799 the ghetto was desegregated, and by 1850 there were about 400 Jews in town, roughly 10 percent of the population. But 11 years later that population began to shrink when the Jews of a unified Italy were granted equal rights and allowed to move freely about the country. Many left for Florence, Rome and elsewhere.

By 1938, when the Fascist racial laws were applied, only about 60 Jews were living in Pitigliano, among them the family of Elena Servi.

Now 82, Ms. Servi, who was born in Pitigliano, has dedicated her life to preserving and restoring her hometown's Jewish history. I was eager to meet her at the Little Jerusalem Association (lapiccolagerusalemme.it), a cultural organization comprising about 150 Jews and non-Jews from around the world. Ms. Servi founded the association in 1996 with her son, Enrico Spizzichino. It is situated inside a series of interconnected buildings, one of which houses the Jewish Museum of Culture.

Ms. Agresti and I walked beneath an arch with a half-moon-shaped sign emblazoned with the words "La Piccola Gerusalemme: Antico Quartiere Ebraico" (Old Jewish Quarter) and into the museum, where Ms. Servi was behind the counter. Since she does not speak English, we communicated in a mixture of Hebrew and my limited Italian.


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Letters: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor: Regarding "Way Beyond Cocoa Butter" (Nov. 11), You brought memories of dark hot chocolate back to me, a Trinidadian, when you described the oil from the cocoa floating on top. Of course we never called it hot chocolate; it was always "a hot cup of cocoa." There is nothing like the real hot cocoa sweetened with Nestlé condensed milk. Other Trinidadians and Caribbean natives will know what I am talking about.
ELIZABETH CLINE
St. Johns, Fla.

To the Editor: The best cocoa is grown in Venezuela, the center of origin and diversity of the cocoa tree and the place where absolutely the best chocolate is made. You have to try Chocolates El Rey, which first used an "appellation contrôlée" for chocolate and Cimarrón, dark or milk chocolate.
DIÓGENES INFANTE
Caracas, Venezuela

To the Editor: I love to hear about chocolate — who doesn't? But it's vital to know the provenance of cocoa. Child labor is said to be involved in much of the world's chocolate production. That this was left out of the article is a shame.
DAVE MINDEN
Madison, Wis.


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Journeys: A Food Bloggers’ Tour of Kuala Lumpur

Rahman Roslan for The New York Times

At Yut Kee, charcoal-toasted bread commonly served with coffee.

CHOOSING where and what to eat in Malaysia's food-obsessed capital of Kuala Lumpur is no small feat. From the moment you enter this hot, humid, traffic-choked capital, known locally as K.L., endless culinary options influenced by numerous cuisines beckon, from wok-fried noodles topped with fresh seafood to steaming piles of naan and vats of fragrant curries. So how best to navigate this complex world of food? I turned to the local blogosphere for advice and personal guidance. These passionate food bloggers spend their weekends tirelessly hunting down the city's hidden treats, reporting on their gastronomic adventures to a devoted readership that's just as infatuated with local cuisine as they are. And as the city welcomes a dizzying number of eye-catching high-end restaurants, it's the bloggers who ensure that Kuala Lumpur's age-old culinary gems — and some of its most memorable meals — won't be forgotten.

On a sultry weekend morning earlier this year, I joined a group of local customers — women in colorful headscarves, men in short-sleeved, button-down shirts and slacks — in partaking of a Malaysian ritual: a plate of nasi lemak at R. A. Nasi Lemak (15A Jalan Raja Abdullah; 60-12-354-6800), an outdoor restaurant along a busy road in central Kuala Lumpur, where nasi lemak is about 6 ringgit, or $2 at 3 ringgit to the dollar. Nasi lemak, the unofficial national dish, translates from the Malay as "fatty rice," and it quickly became apparent why. As a server scooped a hearty helping of coconut-infused white rice from a wooden barrel onto a plate lined with a banana leaf, Lee Khang Yi, one of my blogger-guides, looked on approvingly.

"This is nice rice," she said, before selecting from a dozen or so side dishes, which ranged from glistening hunks of fried chicken to paru goreng, deep-fried beef lungs coated in ginger, shallots and shredded lemon grass. Before grabbing a plastic stool at one of the stall's metal tables, Ms. Yi topped her plate with roasted peanuts, ikan bilis (small fried anchovies), a fried egg and sliced cucumbers — all essential accompaniments to nasi lemak.

The bespectacled Ms. Yi, 40, is the authoritative voice behind the popular food blog Masak-Masak (masak-masak.blogspot.com) — literally "cooking-cooking" in Malay — a site she began seven years ago while between jobs. Her site became so popular that Ms. Yi abandoned a career in finance and is now a food editor for a major national newspaper, The Malay Mail.

Drawing from the country's Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, versions of nasi lemak are as varied as the national population. "As the years have gone by, there is a racial division when it comes to food," Ms. Yi said. "People will eat within their group. But nasi lemak has transcended all the races. Somehow or another everyone eats nasi lemak and finds something they like about it."

She was quick to point out, though, that all iterations of the dish share a foundation. "It all starts with the rice, which has to be fluffy, nicely balanced and not too sweet," she said. "I'm quite biased when it comes to nasi lemak."

My next blogging companion, Jonathan Ooi, 32, brought me to Yut Kee restaurant (35 Jalan Dang Wangi; 60-3-2698-8108), where he has been going since childhood. "This was my grandfather's favorite coffee shop," he said as we crammed into a table between families with small children, elderly men reading local newspapers and servers shouting orders. "He used to come here for his daily breakfast when he worked at the nearby HSBC bank," he continued. "Since he passed away, my parents, aunts and uncles and I have continued his tradition."

Mr. Ooi, who works as a store designer, clearly inherited his grandfather's passion for food: he now runs the blog A Lil' Fat Monkey (alilfatmonkey.com), which chronicles Mr. Ooi's food and travel adventures around the world, covering both trendy new openings and old-school neighborhood favorites like Yut Kee, where the Lee family has been wooing patrons with Hainanese delicacies since 1928 — though at least one of the draws for Mr. Ooi is a ubiquitous one. "There is just something about the coffee here," Mr. Ooi said, sipping a cup of freshly brewed kopi-O (1.50 ringgit), coal-black coffee served with sugar. "You can taste the traditional roasting. The robusta beans are roasted with sugar and margarine."

In the Chinese-Malaysian tradition, the glimmering, potent brew is served with thick slices of Hainanese bread (2.40 ringgit), either steamed into a pillowy texture or toasted on charcoal. "The bread should be full of holes, which gives it a nice crisp," Mr. Ooi said.


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Virginia’s Lost History

Vanessa Vick for The New York Times

The 1,900-acre plantation that is the site of Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, has impressive views of cliffs along the Potomac River. More Photos »

"LET me get up out of here," said Captain Red, rheumy, slow moving, a snowy thatch belying the nickname of his youth.

Captain Red scraped his stool back from the counter at the Car Wash Cafe, a modest restaurant in a former Shell station, placed two fives by the register and gave the waitress a wink.

"See you in my dreams," Captain Red said.

"Those will be good dreams," Cynthia Henry, the waitress, coolly replied.

"O.K., Sweetie," Captain Red said.

"Drive fast and take chances," Ms. Henry added as Captain Red shambled toward the exit, probably unaware that he'd been punked.

That was in July. Now it's October. Captain Red has been taking few chances on the highway. Here he is again at the counter. And here is Cynthia Henry serving fresh-brewed coffee with sass on the side.

I am back on the Northern Neck of Virginia, a region where it begins to seem that I've been pitched by fate. Two years ago I'd never heard of the place. Then a friend invited me to his farm on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River for a visit, later lending me the house while he was away as somewhere to regain my bearings after a series of sudden and unexpected deaths.

In the middle of last summer, another good friend, a director of the association responsible for preserving Stratford Hall, the historic Robert E. Lee birthplace and plantation, proffered an invitation: Would I like to use her cabin there as a place in which to start work on a book?

And so it was that I passed the shank of a blistering Tidewater summer amid 1,900 acres set on high bluffs at the northern limit of the Neck, swilling iced tea as squirrels pelted the roof of my tidy and well-appointed cabin with acorns. Writing from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., I set out in my car every afternoon to travel down empty roads en route to seldom visited precolonial homesteads; parking at the edges of steep shore-side cliffs framed by vast marine skies a friend termed "deluxe"; wandering down a time tunnel into a past that, to renew an overused paraphrase of Faulkner, is not dead and not, for that matter, even past.

My American history, in the manner of a solipsistic generation, has tended to begin and end with myself. I had never bothered to learn much about the people who produced me; I had paid even less attention to the circumstances that created the nation or the colony in which they got their American start. Fear not: the history lesson will be brief.

Sleepy and rural, gently undulating, known variously as "the garden of Virginia" and "the Athens of the New World," the Northern Neck is a 61-mile peninsula bracketed by the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Originally settled by members of eight Algonquian tribes, it was scouted in the early 17th century by Capt. John Smith, the English explorer, and eventually settled by planters whose impressive wealth derived mainly from stoking a global demand for a modish new stimulant: tobacco.

The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once wrote that never was there a crop of genius such as was produced here in the colonial era. For the production of genius, it seems, Northern Neck soil was especially rich.

George Washington was born here near a bend of pretty Popes Creek, and so in other nearby towns were James Madison and James Monroe. Among other early colonists who got their start in life on the Northern Neck were the brothers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and their descendant, the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Lees' ancestral great house — an imposing H-shaped structure noted for its elegantly laid brickwork facade, high chimneys and a cube-shaped great room acknowledged as among the handsomest chambers in the United States — was built on a rise commanding a broad and strategic view of the Potomac, and was just a short walk along a farm road from my cabin in the woods.

GUY TREBAY is a reporter for The New York Times.


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Bites: Restaurant Report: Immigrants in Singapore

Written By wartini cantika on Minggu, 25 November 2012 | 17.35

Immigrants

A squid dish at Immigrants.

In August, a peculiar sign went up among a row of squat shophouses on Singapore's narrow Joo Chiat Road: "The Migrants Are Coming," it read, with no further explanation.

The message was particularly provocative, given that tensions have recently flared in this city-state over the influx of foreigners moving to its shores. In September, however, the mystery was solved when Immigrants, a modern pub-style restaurant run by one of the city's most popular chefs, opened its doors, with a menu and décor firmly anchored in Singapore's layered immigrant history.

During a recent visit, the menu included seh bak, a hearty stew of pig's ears, intestines, stomach and heart braised for hours in soy sauce and spices — a dish that has become a challenge to find in recent years. There was also Eurasian-style bagadale, a cutlet made with minced pork, potatoes, spices and crackers that doesn't often appear on restaurant menus, and ayam kalasan, a Malay-style dish of chicken marinated in coconut and various spices and then deep-fried.

"This is heritage food that you don't really see anymore — a lot of people have forgotten what our forefathers used to eat," said Damian D'Silva, the chef and an owner, who learned to cook some of these dishes as a child, watching his grandfather, whiskey in hand, at the stove. Served in tapas-size portions on the sort of cheap enamel dishware that hawkers and housewives once commonly used, Mr. D'Silva's intensely flavored dishes are designed to be consumed with alcohol — generally beer or whiskey. (The restaurant has a hefty list of Scottish and Japanese whiskeys.)

Singgang, a delicious Eurasian mash of soft wolf herring cooked with seven spices and coconut milk, for example, is served with chilled cucumber sticks for swiping it up like a dip. Fresh cockles — a common accompaniment for Tiger beer in local hawker centers — are served blanched and chilled, with a complex and fiery chile sauce that will have you reaching for that cold chaser right away. Mr. D'Silva's sambal buah keluak, his take on a Straits Chinese dish featuring pork, paired with a pungent filling of a black Southeast Asian nut, makes a return, having drawn crowds to the little hawker stall he ran before opening Immigrants.

Each dish arrives with its own style of chile sauce, some sweet, some garlicky, some citrusy, but all designed to specifically match the flavors on the plate.

Mr. D'Silva, who published a memoir, "Singapore Memories: Rebel With a Course," earlier this year, and his two business partners have been similarly specific with the restaurant's décor and ambience: rock music blares as servers mix drinks behind a bar built with construction-site-style corrugated zinc sheeting. It's a setting that Singaporeans might best describe as "lepak" — the Malay word for relaxed. A fitting pairing, Mr. D'Silva noted, for "food we used to eat at home."

Immigrants, the Singapore Gastrobar, 467 Joo Chiat Road, 65-8511-7322; immigrants-gastrobar.com. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 60 Singapore dollars (about $50 at 1.20 Singapore dollars to the U.S. dollar). 


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36 Hours in Kolkata, India

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

Clockwise from top left: Kewpie's, New Market and the Writers Building.

CONTEMPORARY narratives of resurgent India frequently sidestep the city of Kolkata, also known as Calcutta, the capital of the state of West Bengal and the seat of power during the British Raj. The city's political clout has long since shifted to New Delhi, and its economic might more recently to Mumbai. Yet its reputation as an intellectual and cultural hub still lingers — five Nobel Prize winners are associated with the city, including the economist Amartya Sen and the poet-novelist-painter-songwriter Rabindranath Tagore. But like the rest of India, this clamorous yet charming city is changing: in 2011, the democratically elected Communist government of West Bengal was voted out of power after 34 years. For many Bengalis, this political transition reflects a desire to catch up with the rest of India. Visitors exploring Kolkata today are in a position to glimpse an emerging urban modernity but still have the opportunity to explore the city's rich past, which, for now, remains unavoidable at every step.

Friday

3 p.m.
1. THE SEAT OF POWER

Known during the colonial era as Dalhousie Square, B.B.D. Bagh sits at the political heart of Kolkata. Sidestep the food vendors selling omelets and dosas to the area's office workers from their sidewalk perches, and admire the colonial buildings where British commerce and administrative functions were once carried out. The most prominent of these is the Writers Building, on the north side of the square, a columnated red brick edifice constructed in 1776 that serves as the seat of the state government, and is now in the hands of the Trinamool Congress party.

5:30 p.m.
2. GALLERY STOP

In the early part of the 20th century, the style of art known as the Bengal School achieved national prominence from its base in Kolkata, exemplified by the works of the painter Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore's nephew. These muted watercolors, a response to the purported materialism of Western art, emphasized spiritual and natural themes. Though the influence of the school has long since dissipated, Kolkata remains an important locus for Indian art. CIMA, or Center of International Modern Art (Sunny Towers, 43 Ashutosh Chowdhury Avenue; 91-33-2485-8717; cimaartindia.com), a sleek, modern space in South Kolkata, is one of the best places to view it. Recent exhibitions have shown the art of Shreyasi Chatterjee and Paresh Maity, among others.

7:30 p.m.
3. A FULL PLATE

Traditionally, the best way to experience Bengali food, marked by an enthusiasm for river fish and the sharp kick of mustard oil, was inside a Bengali home. If you can swing an invitation to dinner, take advantage of it. But with many women refusing to spend so much time in the kitchen, there are an increasing number of restaurants serving Bengali fare. Of these, it's tough to beat Kewpie's (2 Elgin Lane; 91-33-2486-1600), on the eclectically decorated ground floor of a residential bungalow. Come hungry, order the mangshor thali (620 rupees, or $11.50 at 54 rupees to the dollar) and receive your choice of fish, a vegetable and a meat curry, along with rice, dal, dessert and more.

10 p.m.
4. LOUNGE THEN DANCE

Late nights aren't the same in Kolkata after the recent imposition of a midnight curfew, but dedicated partyers now get an earlier start. Settle into a corner seat at Plush (Astor Hotel, 15 Shakespeare Sarani; 91-33-2282-9957; astorkolkata.com), with a cover charge of 1,000 rupees for two, applicable to drinks and food. You can enjoy a cocktail while the soundtrack shifts from house music to Western club hits and the dance floor begins to fill.

Saturday

8 a.m.
5. WALKING HISTORY

Economically, Kolkata thrived during the colonial period, with many Bengalis amassing great wealth through trade and service in the colonial administration. A walk through the narrow streets of the city's Sovabazar neighborhood provides a glimpse at the ancestral estates, which range in style from Islamic to Baroque and beyond, that emerged during this period. There are also print shops, jewelry workshops and other enterprises. Rely on an informative guided tour from Calcutta Walks (91-98301-84030; calcuttawalks.com), which charges 1,500 rupees a person, to make the most of your venture. Afterward, taste another side of Bengali food at Bhojohori Manna, attached to the renovated Star Theater (79/3/4 Bidhan Sarani; 91-33-2533-8519; bhojohorimanna.com). If it's available, try the super jumbo ilish barishali (225 rupees), a thick steak of this local fish served in mustard sauce.

2 p.m.
6. KAFFEEKLATSCH

Book stalls stuffed with used textbooks and paperbacks line College Street in front of the University of Calcutta, as you make your way to the historic Indian Coffee House (15 Bankim Chaterjee Street; 91-33 2237-5649). Here, in an airy second-floor hall, generations of Bengali students and intellectuals have engaged in adda, or spirited discussion, over cups of coffee (15 rupees). Even though the Communists are out of power, leftist thought remains strong here; on a recent visit, among the slogans in English and Bengali on a whiteboard on the wall, someone had written: "Capital is not in crisis. Capitalism is the crisis."

5 p.m.
7. SHOPPING TIME

While shopping-mall culture has emerged in the city's newer neighborhoods in the south and the east, the sprawling New Market (Lindsay Street) still surges with crowds. The name refers to the covered S. S. Hogg Market, but informally it also refers to the shopping arcades surrounding the complex. Shop for pashmina shawls and curios, admire richly detailed saris and other fabrics, or simply marvel at the range of items on offer here, from flowers to feather-dusters to foodstuffs. If you need a snack, head to Nizam's (23-24 Hogg Street; 91-98-3619-4669). It is said to be the progenitor of the kathi roll — a paratha (flatbread) that's cooked in an egg, then rolled up around mutton or chicken spiced with fresh lime juice, red onion, finely chopped green chili, and salt — that is now found in cities across India (35 rupees).

8 p.m.
8. TOUCHPAD DINING


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Cultured Traveler: A ‘Little Jerusalem’ in the Heart of Italy

Kathryn Ream Cook for The New York Times

The medieval village of Pitigliano, Italy.

MY parents have an unofficial ritual: wherever they travel, whether it's Paris, San Francisco or Havana, they visit the Jewish part of town. They go to temple, they seek out local Jews, they make a donation. It's their way of feeling connected to their heritage, and also of showing solidarity.

Over the years, I have gently teased them about their custom. Who appointed them Chroniclers of the Jews Worldwide? And yet, the older I become, the more I find myself following in their path.

And so, when I was in Rome recently and heard about a tiny medieval village in Tuscany called Pitigliano (known as La Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem) I wanted to see it. My plan was to spend a day in this walled town in the Maremma region in the province of Grosseto, about 105 miles northwest of Rome. Pitigliano is blessedly untouristy, with only about 25,000 visitors a year. Most want to explore the Jewish culture, although some are simply besotted with the idea of yet another impossibly magnificent Italian village.

And that it is. As I drove up the winding road to the hill town, 1,026 feet above sea level, I was reminded of the first time I saw Jerusalem. With its parapets, ceramic tile roofs and multitiered buildings perched on layers of red volcanic tufa stone, Pitigliano resembles a sparkling, pint-size Holy City. The village, which was originally settled by the Etruscans, was once home to a thriving Jewish population that had settled there in the early part of the 16th century. They came mainly from the nearby Lazio region, which bordered the anti-Semitic Roman Papal States that periodically drove out Jews.

In Pitigliano, I met with a local guide, Rafaella Agresti, whose English was impeccable. Together, we walked through the medieval gate into the old city, passing the Orsini Palace, a 14th-century fortress, now a museum, and the even older Church of San Rocco. The remnants of a 17th-century aqueduct built by the Medici family runs through town.

As we navigated the narrow streets, Ms. Agresti told me that the Jews and Christians of Pitigliano had led a peaceful coexistence. In the 16th century, Count Niccolo Orsini IV, a member of the feudal Orsini family, ruled Pitigliano, an independent fief whose inhabitants were mainly peasants. Although he was Catholic, he thought Jews, mostly bankers and artisans, could help revitalize Pitigliano's lagging economy. So, while Jews in places like Umbria and Lazio were imprisoned or exiled, in Pitigliano they worked as moneylenders, carpenters, cobblers and tailors.

That good will changed somewhat after the Medici family, which was appointed by the Pope, came into power. In 1622, the Jews in Pitigliano were confined to a ghetto; men were required to wear red hats, and women red badges on their sleeves. Still, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews was friendly; in 1773, the liberal Catholic Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo, officially recognized the Jews of Pitigliano, which meant they could come and go as they wished. In 1799 the ghetto was desegregated, and by 1850 there were about 400 Jews in town, roughly 10 percent of the population. But 11 years later that population began to shrink when the Jews of a unified Italy were granted equal rights and allowed to move freely about the country. Many left for Florence, Rome and elsewhere.

By 1938, when the Fascist racial laws were applied, only about 60 Jews were living in Pitigliano, among them the family of Elena Servi.

Now 82, Ms. Servi, who was born in Pitigliano, has dedicated her life to preserving and restoring her hometown's Jewish history. I was eager to meet her at the Little Jerusalem Association (lapiccolagerusalemme.it), a cultural organization comprising about 150 Jews and non-Jews from around the world. Ms. Servi founded the association in 1996 with her son, Enrico Spizzichino. It is situated inside a series of interconnected buildings, one of which houses the Jewish Museum of Culture.

Ms. Agresti and I walked beneath an arch with a half-moon-shaped sign emblazoned with the words "La Piccola Gerusalemme: Antico Quartiere Ebraico" (Old Jewish Quarter) and into the museum, where Ms. Servi was behind the counter. Since she does not speak English, we communicated in a mixture of Hebrew and my limited Italian.


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Letters: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor: Regarding "Way Beyond Cocoa Butter" (Nov. 11), You brought memories of dark hot chocolate back to me, a Trinidadian, when you described the oil from the cocoa floating on top. Of course we never called it hot chocolate; it was always "a hot cup of cocoa." There is nothing like the real hot cocoa sweetened with Nestlé condensed milk. Other Trinidadians and Caribbean natives will know what I am talking about.
ELIZABETH CLINE
St. Johns, Fla.

To the Editor: The best cocoa is grown in Venezuela, the center of origin and diversity of the cocoa tree and the place where absolutely the best chocolate is made. You have to try Chocolates El Rey, which first used an "appellation contrôlée" for chocolate and Cimarrón, dark or milk chocolate.
DIÓGENES INFANTE
Caracas, Venezuela

To the Editor: I love to hear about chocolate — who doesn't? But it's vital to know the provenance of cocoa. Child labor is said to be involved in much of the world's chocolate production. That this was left out of the article is a shame.
DAVE MINDEN
Madison, Wis.


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Letters: Letters to the Editor

Written By wartini cantika on Sabtu, 24 November 2012 | 17.35

To the Editor: Regarding "Way Beyond Cocoa Butter" (Nov. 11), You brought memories of dark hot chocolate back to me, a Trinidadian, when you described the oil from the cocoa floating on top. Of course we never called it hot chocolate; it was always "a hot cup of cocoa." There is nothing like the real hot cocoa sweetened with Nestlé condensed milk. Other Trinidadians and Caribbean natives will know what I am talking about.
ELIZABETH CLINE
St. Johns, Fla.

To the Editor: The best cocoa is grown in Venezuela, the center of origin and diversity of the cocoa tree and the place where absolutely the best chocolate is made. You have to try Chocolates El Rey, which first used an "appellation contrôlée" for chocolate and Cimarrón, dark or milk chocolate.
DIÓGENES INFANTE
Caracas, Venezuela

To the Editor: I love to hear about chocolate — who doesn't? But it's vital to know the provenance of cocoa. Child labor is said to be involved in much of the world's chocolate production. That this was left out of the article is a shame.
DAVE MINDEN
Madison, Wis.


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