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The Getaway: Cruise Mishaps: How Normal Are They?

Written By wartini cantika on Kamis, 09 Mei 2013 | 17.35

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

The Triumph being towed to Mobile Bay in February.

Its name is Triumph, yet this year has been anything but that for the 14-year-old ship owned by Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise company.

The latest news is that Carnival is seeking to dismiss lawsuits from the Triumph passengers whose ordeal this winter transfixed the nation. In case you've blocked out the vile details: in February a fire in the engine room shut down the Triumph's power, propulsion, sewage and air-conditioning systems, leaving 4,200 passengers adrift for days in the Gulf of Mexico with little to eat and raw sewage seeping through the ship's walls and carpets. Even in the home stretch — when the crippled ship was being tugged to port — a towline snapped, prolonging the rescue. 

Savvy travelers have to ask: Is this normal? How many fires, power failures and other unwelcome incidents are there in the life of the average cruise ship? 

Before offering some answers, let's recount what has happened to the Triumph over the last few months.

Triumph floated around the Gulf of Mexico for five days while news of the rank conditions leaked out through Facebook, Twitter and CNN, which had a helicopter whirring around the Triumph for nonstop coverage. The notion of travelers spending their vacations trapped amid raw sewage so captured the collective American imagination that "Saturday Night Live" opened a show with a skit set onboard the Triumph in which a perky cruise director informed passengers that "the Superstar Karaoke Bar is now officially a toilet."

Amazingly, the Triumph's travails didn't end after it finally reached port in Mobile, Ala. Early last month while undergoing repairs, the ship became unmoored in strong winds, crashed into another boat and wound up with a 20-foot-long gash in its side. Could the Triumph be more unlucky?  Yes. A few weeks later explosions from fuel barges on the Mobile River forced workers on the nearby Triumph to evacuate. That incident was seemingly beyond Carnival's control. And accidents happen on other passenger ships. But it's worth looking closely at the Triumph because it belongs to a company that spent more last year than any other cruise line on lobbying Congress, according to the secretary of the United States Senate.

Is what happened to the Triumph normal? Obtaining answers is not easy. 

"No one is systemically collecting data of collisions, fires, evacuations, groundings, sinkings," said Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer in Miami who has attended more than half a dozen Congressional hearings about cruise ship crime and passenger safety. The reason for the lack of data is that cruise lines, while based in the United States, typically incorporate and register their ships overseas. Industry experts say the only place cruise lines are obligated to report anything is to the state under whose laws the ship operates. "The whole industry is essentially outsourced abroad," said Mr. Walker.  Or, as Senator Charles E. Schumer said in a statement after the Triumph debacle: "Cruise ships, in large part operating outside the bounds of United States enforcement, have become the wild west of the travel industry."

Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for Carnival, said that given that the company carries 4.5 million passengers annually, the incidents on the Triumph "are quite rare."

"Carnival's ships are extremely safe and we meet or exceed all regulatory standards in every respect," he said in an e-mail. "Nonetheless, Carnival has taken the recent events extremely seriously and we want to do everything we can to prevent it from happening again." To that end, Carnival said it has begun investing $300 million in enhancements across its fleet, including improved emergency power capabilities, and increased fire prevention and suppression systems.

Yet for the industry overall, there remains no comprehensive public database of events at sea like fires, power failures and evacuations. Neither the International Maritime Organization nor the United States Coast Guard track everything. But there is one unlikely man who does.

"It's a Canadian professor of sociology," Mr. Walker said, "who testifies in front of the senate."

Ross A. Klein, an American with dual citizenship and a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, was a longtime cruise enthusiast, spending more than 300 days at sea between 1992 and 2002. During that time, he saw that there were differences between what the cruise industry was saying about environmental and labor issues, and what he was observing.

Today, Mr. Klein is an authority on the cruise industry, having testified at hearings before the House of Representatives and the Senate about onboard crimes, disappearances and industry oversights. His Web site, CruiseJunkie.com, is a record of fires, sunken ships, collisions and other events at sea over the last few decades that have been culled from news reports and sources like crew members and passengers.  There are some limits: Mr. Klein receives fewer reports about incidents in Asia, Africa and South America, therefore most of the information is about cruises in North America and Europe. And he is unlikely to learn about problems that are not reported by English speakers or English language news organizations. "I'm sure there are a lot more incidents going on that we don't know about," he said.


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In Transit Blog: Teamwork for a Channel

DoubleTree by Hilton has teamed up with Google to create a YouTube channel called DTour, which allows travelers to post their photos and videos from other social-networking sites like Facebook, GooglePlus and Instagram. The site's map displays locations of DoubleTree hotels, with the ability to book rooms and allows users to link photos, videos and written recommendations to those destinations.


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T Magazine: By Design | Diamond in the Rough


The Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao may favor Brutalist forms, but with her signature light touch she's creating her country's most elegant buildings.

If your first thoughts of Mexico are of drug wars and narco-terrorism, you may have missed out on one of the most improbable cultural resurgences of recent memory, one that has touched filmmaking, art and, now, architecture.

Few have gained more from this revival than Tatiana Bilbao, who first attracted the eyes of the architecture world with the completion in 2006 of a hedonistic getaway she helped build for the artist Gabriel Orozco on a remote beach near Puerto Escondido.

In the past several years, the 40-year-old architect has emerged as one of the country's major creative voices, building an eclectic portfolio of work that includes a 10,000-square-foot neo-Brutalist palazzo, the master plan for an art-filled botanical garden and a spiritual refuge in the Jalisco Mountains. The projects vary wildly in attitude and style — and a few suffer from the cutbacks and compromises that plague the career of every young architect.

What elevates her above most of her contemporaries, however, is Bilbao's ability to combine a taste for visually bold forms with an intuitive understanding of when to tread lightly in a world that looks increasingly fragile. Her work is a welcome reminder that sensitive architecture doesn't have to be meek and unimaginative.

Bilbao was born to a family of architects. Both an aunt and an uncle, as well as a dozen or so cousins, have also practiced in the profession. Her grandfather Tomás Bilbao was a minister of urban development for the Spanish Republican government until Francisco Franco installed his fascist dictatorship in 1939, forcing him to flee. Eventually he brought his family to Mexico, which was becoming a safe haven for leftist intellectuals and artists.

"He had more influence on me in politics and as a planner than as an architect," Bilbao said as we sat in her Mexico City office. "My grandfather was the black sheep of the family. Kind of a rebel."

Bilbao's own rebellion amounted to a stint in Milan, where she flirted with industrial design. In less than a year she was back studying architecture in Mexico City, and became infatuated with a group of early South American Modernists that included the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, whose muscular compositions in concrete and glass were imbued with a bright, populist spirit.

"Someone like Bo Bardi was easy to relate to," Bilbao said, pointing out that the Brazilian, who died in 1992, was one of the rare women in architectural history to run her own firm, something that remains an anomaly. "Plus I was not born into a rich family. So you could say I was always closer to populist culture. I was never drawn to the Swiss architecture thing."

Bilbao's first big break came eight years ago, when Orozco asked her to help him build a beach house modeled on an 18th-century observatory he had seen in New Delhi. Orozco pictured the project as a ruin in the making. "I always liked the idea that it could be abandoned someday and swallowed up by the jungle," he explained.

The offer arrived at a turbulent time in Bilbao's life. She was entangled in a messy divorce, and she and Fernando Romero, another rising star in the growing constellation of Mexican architectural talent, had just broken up a five-year partnership to start their own firms. (Romero's Museo Soumaya, which houses the art collection of his father-in-law, the billionaire Carlos Slim, opened in 2011.) Moreover, the site, on a bluff overlooking a remote beach, was a potential nightmare. Its isolation meant that materials would have to be brought in by boat, and because the region was poor, it would be nearly impossible to find skilled labor.

"It is there that I really came in contact for the first time with the quality of hand labor in our country," Bilbao said, still seemingly astonished at the experience. "People there are very illiterate. They eat from the sea; they build their houses with palm branches. So they cannot read a plan." The experience reinforced her belief in an architecture of strong, even bold moves, one whose impact didn't depend on luxurious materials and refined details. "I became even less interested in this kind of preciousness," she said.

Whatever her misgivings at the time, it's hard to imagine a more gorgeous site. To get to it, you clamber up a steep hill and through a tangle of cactuses and mangrove trees before emerging at the top of an outcropping of rocks. From there you look out over the rooftop pool — a hemisphere of pale blue water embedded in the center of a cross-shaped wood deck. The pool's form evokes various symbolic references: it can be read as a reflection of the dome of heaven or as an inverted version of Andrea Palladio's 16th-century Villa Rotonda, with its central dome and Greek cross plan.

The Orozco house put Bilbao on the map. Still, it was essentially the artist's idea, and it wasn't until the completion of more recent works that one could begin to glean a clear picture of who she was as an architect. The most ambitious of these projects was a 10,000-square-foot house built for a wealthy industrial family on a mountainside in Monterrey — the kind of commission that young architects feast on.

Bilbao conceived the design as a cluster of hexagon-shaped rooms — like a human beehive — some of which step down to a pool and a small garden while others project out from the side of the mountain. These simple concrete shapes were then modified to fit the existing mountain terrain and the needs of the family. A hexagon that houses the dining room was shaved off on one side to make room for a tree that the architect wanted to preserve; an informal living area was pinched at one end to accommodate a staircase.

Think of it as eco-Brutalism: an architecture of primitive forms that has been forced to bend to its surroundings. It's a strategy that reflects a trend popular among a number of young architects today, who are drawn to the raw, sometimes brutal styles of 1960s and '70s architecture as a way to escape the increasingly slick computer-driven excesses of the past years.

Recently, Bilbao has veered toward more severe architectural forms, especially when faced with a less sympathetic client. In Culiacán, she was invited to design a research building for a technical university that was looking to build something on the cheap: big flexible floor plans for scientific research, or that could be rented out to companies. The site, on a piece of leftover land that overlooked a busy thoroughfare, was susceptible to flooding.

Bilbao set the building on a big mound of grass and then stacked the floors, several at a time, in alternating bands of green, blue and bronze glass, some on a north-south axis, others facing east-west, so that their ends jut out in four directions.

The effect is both visually striking and makes sense functionally. The deep overhangs provide shade, cooling interiors and cutting down on energy costs in a city where temperatures regularly approach 100 degrees. The colored glass, which is darker on the upper floors, cuts out glare where the sun is harshest. Best, the roofs of the cantilevered slabs act as partially covered balconies where employees and students can take a break. It's an example of how a few bold, carefully calculated moves can overcome the kind of bottom-line thinking that would have killed a more refined design.

The best evidence of Bilbao's growing maturity, however, is her willingness to use a light touch when the commission demands it — a trait that is visible in two civic projects that she began several years ago, one in Culiacán, the other outside Guadalajara. In Culiacán, for a project to upgrade the city's botanical gardens with art installations — by the likes of Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell — Bilbao laid out paths and added amenities like an orientation center, an auditorium and public bathrooms. Additional buildings are still being constructed — 16 in all — one of which will house research facilities. The plan weaves a series of roads and pathways into a loose, informal narrative — one that embraces nature, art and architecture.

Bilbao demonstrates a similar restraint in her master plan for the 72-mile-long pilgrimage route through the Jalisco mountains near Guadalajara. Designed in collaboration with Derek Dellekamp, and financed by the ministry of tourism, the project was conceived as a way to revive a series of sleepy, impoverished towns scattered along the way. The plan includes a series of small interventions — a chapel, viewing platforms, public bathrooms and informal shelters — laid out along the same dirt path that pilgrims had followed for two centuries. The tallest of these structures would act as visual markers, helping orient pilgrims as they make their way through the mountains.

Bilbao and Dellekamp invited an international group of architects, including some friends from Mexico City as well as the artist Ai Weiwei, to design most of the individual structures. Bilbao and Dellekamp's main contribution was a small open-air chapel set in a patchy field and surrounded by a low stone wall. It is nothing more than four slender white concrete slabs, 80 feet high, that mark the four points of an imaginary cross.

The first thing you notice as you enter it is the contrast between the starkness of the white slabs and the rough, uneven surface of the earth. Later in the day, when the sun beats down on the site, the southernmost slab casts a shadow over the center of the chapel, creating a momentary refuge. A small steel plate is impaled in the upper portion of the slab — Bilbao said that it is intended to rust over time, leaving a stain that will spread down from the puncture, an interpretation of Christ's wound.

This hardly seems like architecture at all, of course. It doesn't provide shelter; there's no plumbing or electricity. But the chapel evokes a strain of architecture that extends back to the Mayans. It's a hard-core work, spiritual yet unsentimental, and it gets to the heart of Bilbao's art. At a time when architecture seems to be in a state of limbo, struggling to find a way forward, Bilbao seems to be searching for something primitive and lasting, yet of her own time.


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T Magazine: Yes, Please | Party of One

Why suffer through grumbling vacations with others when it's so much more blissful to go it alone?

The first rule of travel is that you should always go with someone you love, which is why I travel alone. The writer's life is more openly narcissistic than most, yet it takes a true connoisseur of self-involvement, a grand master in the art of selfishness, to experience the world's delights as they are meant to be enjoyed: through one pair of eyes, via one set of ears, with the perfect use of your own nostrils, tongue and touch. I believe that traveling alone is the last great test of who you are in a world where everyone aches to be the same.

I mean, you meet people. But you also meet yourself. That is the beauty of going it alone. For me, it all started with a trip from Scotland to America when I was 18. I had been there in books and movies, of course, and, in my youth, I had studied my countryman Robert Louis Stevenson's strictures about New York. "You must speak to no one in the streets," he was told, "as they would not leave you till you were rooked and beaten. You must enter a hotel with military precautions." As it turned out, I fell on New York like an old pal. I arrived and immediately went for a drink on 34th Street and thought I was in heaven. The heaven was being oneself. Perhaps even being oneself for the very first time, without tradition scrutinizing you, without expectation hounding you, without class defining you and without a sense of other people lording it over you. That's an unforgettable experience, especially in youth, because the lasting feature of the solo traveler lies in his hunger for singularity. Even today, when I grab my passport and head for the airport, I have something of Emerson in mind, wandering into the woods to establish "an original relation to the universe." But I also have Jean-Paul Sartre in mind: "Hell is other people."

The fun starts with the choices. Will I be solo tobogganing in New Zealand? Will I be watching Wagner's "Ring" cycle in a series of Bavarian chapels? Attending a vegetarian cooking course in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey? Drinking approximately 400 shots of tequila on some God-forsaken beach in Thailand? Doing yoga in Amorgos, Greece, in front of a perfect blue sea? Or will I be cycling through the back roads of France with the promise of lunch up ahead and no conversation?

Every vacation is an ego trip for somebody. It's just that in families the person actually commanding the ego trip has to pretend he or she is running a functioning democracy. (And vacations, like failed states, are always run by one person.) People argue so much on vacation because the occasion so often falls short of the desire: the desire is for rest, peace, no pressure, and a sense of being away from one's usual self, and your average family holiday sets fire in comic sequence to each of these high hopes. And often as memorable and meaningful as a family holiday is, it just doesn't feel like a holiday.

What feels like a holiday is turning up alone at the Hotel Danieli in Venice on a beautiful day. You open the window onto the Grand Canal and you feel the breeze. You order tea from room service and press your face against a cotton pillow. You take out the books you will read and you run a warm bath. You lift pictures of your loved ones from your suitcase and place them gingerly on the bedside cabinet and blow them a kiss. You switch off your phone. Then you take off your shoes and die of bliss. "From midday to dust I have been roaming the streets," wrote Henry James in a letter to his brother William from Rome. "At last — for the first time — I live!"

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Personal Journeys: In Angola, a Dollar and a Meal

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 08 Mei 2013 | 17.35

In the last slanted softening of late afternoon light, against the squealy repeated note of one small insect's cheep, under the bird-haunted acacia tree towering over the bare trampled compound, and near Camillo's derelict-looking car, dirt footprints on its doors — Camillo had been kicking it barefoot in fury for its refusal to start — an old woman approached through the sunlit risen dust.

She held a chipped enamel bucket in one hand and a long pair of metal tongs in the other. Her hair was wrapped like a bowl in a yellow cloth, this turban making her an unusual presence, giving her height and dignity and a look of quiet anticipation. She wore a limp blue dress that fell to her ankles ending in a tattered hem, and an apron that had once been white. She was barefoot, but her feet — her only indelicate feature — were as big and battered as shoes. No one paid any attention to her or to what she was carrying. In fact, Camillo stood aside, gripping a Cuca beer bottle as though he were about to throw it. His eyes were empty, and he looked less than futile. His body seemed uninhabited.

We had come north, crossing from Cunene province into Huíla province in southwestern Angola, but what did it matter? We were stuck for the night, at least, and maybe longer. Light was leaking sideways from the sky from membranes of cloud, leaving purpled tissue just above the horizon.

The old woman made directly for me. "Old" is probably inaccurate: she was undoubtedly much younger than me, 60 or less, but had the aged face of a kindly crone. I was standing apart from the others, who were drinking, and perhaps drunk. I looked for a log to rest on, but saw nowhere to sit, and the car seemed cursed.

Holding the bucket up so I could examine its contents, the woman smiled at me and worked the jaws of her rusty tongs.

"Boa tarde," she said, but it seemed more like evening to me.

At the bottom of the bucket were three pieces of chicken — legs attached to thighs. They were skinless, shiny-sinewed and dark as kippers, as if they'd been smoked. Each one was covered with busy black flies, and flies darted around the hollow of the bucket. It was more a bucket of flies than a bucket of chicken.

Squeezing her rusty tongs again, the woman asked, "Qual?" ("Which one?") Though I was hungry, I waved her away, retching at the thought of eating any of those chicken legs. Yet I had not eaten all day, and it had been a long and tiring journey, of harassment, of the border crossing, of the sight of misery and naked children playing in dust, flies crawling on their eyes and in the sores on their bodies. The off-road detours had been especially exhausting from the bucking and bumping of the vehicle. And the checkpoints, the shakedowns, the roadblock dictators.

The woman was smiling because I was smiling. The absurdity of "Which one?" had just struck me — three identical pieces of chicken in the dirty bucket, each of them specked by skittering flies; an existential question to the stranger in a strange land.

"Não," I said. "Obrigado." ("Thank you.") Something in my smile encouraged her and kept her there, rocking a little, flexing her bruised toes, running her tongue against her lips to show patience. She was gaunt, and she herself looked hungry. But I said no again and, shoulders slackening in resignation, she turned away, making for the others, who were standing in a group still drinking bottles of Cuca beer.

A muscle twisted sharply in my stomach and yanked at my throat: the whip of hunger.

"Olá!" I said, and she turned to me, looking hopeful. "That one," I said, pointing at the one with the fewest flies on it. "Frango," she said in a gummy voice, as though naming a delicacy, and she wet her lips with her tongue and swallowed, as people often do when handling food. Then the word spoken all over Angola for cool, or O.K., "Fixe" — feesh.

She folded my dollar and tucked it into her apron.

I borrowed Camillo's cigarette lighter and made a small fire of dead grass at the corner of the compound, and I passed the piece of chicken through the fire, believing like a Boy Scout that I was killing the fly-borne germs. Then I found the log I'd been looking for and sat, and slowly ate the chicken. It was like chewing leather. The straps and thongs of sinew wouldn't break down, and its toughness made it almost indigestible, my chewing turning the meat into a rubber ball.

Queasy over a meal he called a "mess of bouillabaisse," Henry James said that it was "a formidable dish, demanding a French digestion." Maybe I needed that. I was defeated by the food, and disgusted with myself for being in this position, and I mocked myself with a pompous phrase I'd heard a foodie use on a TV show: "I regret to say this dish is not fully achieved." But it was something in my stomach, and that was a victory in this hungry province.

Then I replayed my first glimpse of the bucket — the chicken, the flies and the old woman asking "Which one?" It was the sort of choice you were faced with in Africa, but I had never seen it so stark, in the extravagant splashes of a florid sunset.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 7, 2013

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Angola's location in Africa. Though the country is situated on the continent's western coast, it is not in West Africa.


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In Transit Blog: Limited Options for Airline Check-In

Back when air travel was new and glamorous, the check-in desk, where an elegant air hostess would greet you, was a delightful way to start your journey. Nowadays, it is more often the site of overwhelmed agents contending with long lines of frustrated travelers.

Citing this reason, the low-cost British airline EasyJet closed all its airport check-in desks last month and replaced them with bag-drop desks, following the lead of its competitor Ryanair, which removed its check-in desks in 2009. Now EasyJet passengers are encouraged to check in online beforehand and print their boarding passes before arriving at the airport or download them onto smartphones.

For years, luxury hotels like Andaz have been doing away with check-in desks in an effort to make lobbies more casual and social, opting instead for hosts to roam the lobby and check in guests with mobile devices, preferably over a glass of wine. But the airline approach is more practical. Peter Duffy, EasyJet's marketing director, said the airline wanted to shorten passengers' wait. "If we explain how easy it is to check in online, and if that means the queues can move faster, we find customers are choosing to do that," he said.

Mr. Duffy said 92 percent of the airline's passengers now choose to check in online. But anyone who forgets to do so, he said, will still be able to check in at the airport free.

EasyJet's policy stands in contrast to Ryanair's, which charges passengers £70 per person for failing to check in online before arriving at the airport. Last summer Ryanair came under fire after a British woman was charged about £240 for forgetting to print out several boarding passes, and she aired her grievances online.


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Frugal Traveler Blog: Five Travel Problems and Sites That Try to Solve Them

Ah, the problems budget travelers used to have. Hours on the phone with the airlines trying to pin down the cheapest fare. A bargain B&B that looked great in the brochure – if only there were a way to access feedback from previous guests. I wish there was a way to tell the world in 140 characters or less that I made it to the top of this Mayan temple!

How quaint. But there are still plenty of problems out there, just waiting to ensnare the traveler. Below are five, along with relatively new Web sites that are trying to solve them. Note: "trying." None of them work perfectly and some have a long way to go before they become household names. But they all get an A for ingenuity.

1) Business travelers on expense accounts pay the same airfares as penny-pinching leisure travelers.

It's that old economics problem: one group of consumers would pay more than another – if only companies could create separate markets. Airlines have made attempts (by creating business class, for example), but for the most part, business and leisure travelers are lumped together. The booking site GetGoing has a clever solution for flexible travelers called "Pick Two, Get One." It is similar to a normal booking site, with one major catch: customers must select two flights – to different cities – and reserve with a credit card before finding out where they're heading. The idea is that business travelers, presumably with appointments scheduled, can't leave to chance whether they'll be landing in Istanbul or Beijing.

Of course, not every leisure traveler can either, but for the more flexible ones, the savings are significant. To test it, I entered dates for a weeklong European getaway from New York in June. Given a choice of 20 major cities, I picked Venice and Athens, and for each got a long list of flight options and prices,   with airline names hidden. (I could have also chosen more proximate destinations, like Barcelona versus Madrid or Frankfurt versus Berlin.) Ruling out flights with too-long layovers, I picked the cheapest options left: Athens for $1,114 and Venice for $1,166. (Those prices were about 15 percent less than what I found doing the same search for each city on Kayak.com.) I put down my (fake) credit card information and soon got the result: Athens, on Delta, for $213 less than the best Kayak price for a similar flight. Pretty impressive.

2) You have a day in Paris (or Seattle or Bangkok), but don't have the time or patience to piece together a sensible itinerary from the standard sources.

Mosey lets you browse itineraries, walking tours, favorites lists and more created by fellow users. It's not the first site ever to let travelers share tips, of course, but the format is compellingly concise, attractive and useful. At their best, these "Moseys" provide step-by-step agendas accompanied by photos and a map with all locations already pinpointed. The site is new, and the entries are still quite hit-or-miss. But when I plugged in São Paulo (the city I know best, aside from New York), I got a daylong itinerary I thought was pretty darn good. That said, the site is far from ready for prime time: it needs more content (get to work, readers) and some way to rank them by quality and filter them by length and type (get to work, Mosey).

3) It's extremely difficult and time-consuming to book flights for a multicity international trip.

If you've only ever booked flights for simple routes like Washington to Paris or Los Angeles to Cancún, you probably think sites like Kayak, Expedia, Hipmunk and the like work pretty well. But if you are making multiple stops or need to search regional flights elsewhere in the world, they tend to fall apart. (This was confirmed for me recently in China, when a youth hostel staff member found me a one-way Chongqing-to-Shanghai price for half the price I had found using the usual suspects.) Flightfox provides a crowd-sourced solution: For $24 for a one-way trip, adding on $5 for each leg and more for business class, users plug in an itinerary and receive responses, typically from three to five "experts" who attempt to find the cheapest, most convenient options. Of course, this is precisely what travel agents do, but good luck finding just the right agent to book your flight from Senegal to Bhutan with a three-day stop in Kazakhstan.

4) When you do book flights yourself, it's hard to keep track of all the options you find along the way before you can lock down your dates or confer with your travel partners.

You should see my desk when I'm researching flights: dates and times and prices from search engines and airline sites end up scattered across notepads and random scraps of paper. By the time I'm ready to book a few days later, I often can't read my own handwriting (if I can find my notes at all).

Pintrips has a cool solution. You set up an account and give the site permission to infiltrate (probably not the technical term) the booking sites you visit. From then on when you do searches, "Pin" buttons appear alongside each flight option. Click on the ones you like, and they are saved to your Pintrips account. Move on to other sites, look there for better prices or more convenient itineraries, and "Pin" those too.

When you come back an hour or a day or a week later and open Pintrips, all those options you "Pinned" are neatly organized – and their prices automatically updated. (Guess what, they went up.) Click on any of the options, and you're taken right back to the booking site — no need to re-enter any information. You can also share the list with travel partners.

Pintrips does not work with all major sites (yet), though the biggest American carriers are on board, as well as sites like Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz.

5) I know what I like in my home city — too bad I can't leverage that knowledge to figure out what I'd like in the city I'm visiting.

In other words, say you like (or hate) Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and want to find a similar neighborhood in London so you can spend time there (or avoid it like the plague)?

Zofari tries to do for cities what Pandora does for music or Netflix does for movies: take neighborhoods (as well as restaurants and bars) you know you like, run your picks through an algorithm and spit out other places you'll (theoretically) like just as much. For restaurants, for example, it uses publicly available data like cuisine, price, attire and the like to assign attributes to restaurants and match them with similar restaurants in other cities.

It's not quite there yet. The cities are limited, and the results a bit disappointing: Williamsburg renders London's Soho because it is "so, so chic," features "The Drinking Crowd" and is a "Scene." (At least for now, actual humans seem to do this much better.) And the site is optimized for mobile browsers, so it barely functions on a regular computer. (Or, at least, on mine.) But it's one to check back on.


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T Magazine: In the Air | Delft Touch

While a new generation of artists and designers are coming up with modern ways to reinterpret the classic combination of blue and white at the same time, its antique porcelain predecessor is hitting record highs at auction. Whether it is Valentino's oversize florals, influenced by Delftware, on strict puritan-collared dresses, or Rem Koolhaas's Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal, with abutting panels of traditional azulejos, the trend is unmistakable.

The cobalt compound that gives blue-and-white porcelain its color was brought to China from Iran by Mongolian invaders in the 13th century. Once its use as a pigment had been perfected, the great trade arteries that ran from East to West began to flow with new, distinctively patterned ceramics, spawning a mania for all things blue and white — to the extent that European and Ottoman factories began to produce their own hybrid designs in order to meet the insatiable demand. The craze gradually spread to interiors and textiles, from the tiled walls of merchant houses to gilded chinoiserie pavilions specially built to display princely collections of the precious porcelain.

It's a fashion that has never abated. The appeal of blue and white is universal: the interplay of the two colors is so harmonious that, however elaborately worked, it never loses its intrinsic charm or calming freshness.

See the interactive slide show


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T Magazine: Su Casa Es Mi Casa

Written By wartini cantika on Selasa, 07 Mei 2013 | 17.35


You may not get room service or a terry cloth robe, but what Airbnb vacation rentals lack in amenities, they make up for in unbelievable, sometimes rather bizarre experiences.

One of urban life's uncommon diversions is the chance to ransack the drawers of an anonymous neighbor. Airbnb is the Internet service, for those of you who don't have a Danish architect leafing through your local Lonely Planet at your kitchen table right now, that lets "hosts" rent their extra bedrooms or entire apartments, mansions, tiki huts or goatskin yurts to travelers. In only five years, Airbnb has created a marketplace that offers 300,000 listings in 35,000 cities in 192 countries. It's been so successful that half the tech start-ups these days go around flattering themselves with Airbnb comparisons: there's an Airbnb for boats, and one for power tools, and probably one that will let you rent out your extra sheep to fertilize somebody's lawn. Airbnb, for its part, might bill itself as a cheaper, roomier, warmer way to overnight — less deracinated than a hotel, but without the creaky-floorboard unease of a bed and breakfast — but the great unadvertised draw is the chance to spend time amid somebody else's trappings.

In olden times if you wanted to sleep in strangers' beds, you generally had to have sex with strangers; Airbnb lets you book their linens from your phone. There's been a lot written about the "sharing economy": on the one hand, services like this make for more efficient resource allocation; on the other, they offload what was once regulated institutional risk onto the consumer. But somehow these arguments, which will be worked out in the courts and capitols, have tended to ignore what's actually weird and interesting about this new mode of travel: Airbnb indulges the fantasy that we might temporarily inhabit another life. It's in part because of this lived experience that Airbnb guests aren't just users, they're evangelists. I recently lit out to sightsee three other people's lives in three nights in three European cities: London, Stockholm and Antwerp.

The voyeuristic frame gives some Airbnb experiences a kind of erotic charge, or at least it did during the impromptu Airbnb get-together I somehow ended up throwing in London, where I was staying in a duplex warehouse in Shoreditch. While I'd been waiting in the freezing courtyard to be let in — Hotels 1, Airbnb 0 — I'd read down the list of my neighbors-for-the-night, which read like the billing for a trip-hop reunion: the tenants had such names as Darq and Magnetised. The owner, who was "surfing/working" in Australia, had described the apartment in an e-mail as "a good space to chill and paint, so feel free to paint if you'd like!" Once I finally got inside, the flat revealed itself to be perfectly contiguous with its Shoreditch environment: with its casually abused pleather settees, mannequin torso and panels of decoratively broken surfboard, it looked like one more cafe-bar-bike-repair joint. In Airbnb's spirit of connectedness, I Instagram-crowdsourced descriptions of the owner's artwork; one friend commented that it was "Warhol goes Ke$ha." My bedroom, in a windowless basement, had a stairway that curved upward to meet curtains, which in turn hid a cardboard wall.

I hadn't planned to bring anybody back with me, but the more I talked about the place over drinks at the pub with friends, the more the gang assembled clamored to see it. They could sit around and whinge at the pub any night, but it wasn't often they got to have a hotel party at a neighbor's flat. "It's 'Queer Eye for the Absent Guy,' " my friend Tom said, flicking the switch that backlit the Euripides bust by the bongos, in front of the skateboard-mounted vinyl couch. The group noted the unreconstructed "Point Break" aesthetic and the fact that everything from the lime-green shag to the wall mirrors had been set at rakish angles. They argued over the rent (probably £4,000 to £6,000 per month), the municipal legality of windowless bedrooms and the merit of the Tesco-brand sweet potato, coconut and chili soup in the fridge. My new friend Anna had never heard of Airbnb, and asked if she could do this in her own flat, up the road in hipper Dalston. I showed her listings on her block. "Do I have to let them use the bathrooms?" she asked.

But the promise of voyeurism can undermine itself: once you've introduced the kind of self-consciousness that results from having to put verified photos of your upholstery on the Internet, at least some owners take down their Euripides busts. It's been increasingly noted that one of the unfortunate surprises of the contemporary Internet is the proliferation of corporate uniformity. This is nowhere more apparent than on Airbnb, where it often seems as though each residence is striving to out-Bulthaup the next. The place I'd booked in Stockholm was an altar to minimalism, showcasing the no-place of international design with the star(c)k accouterments of a boutique hotel: Vitra chair, antique apothecary bottles, home D.J. kit, paperback of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom." My host, Erik, who'd e-mailed me from an H&M address, met me and my friend Christian, whom I brought along from London, at the door in a nice-looking outfit recognizable from one of a variety of commensurate urban enclaves: a fitted denim shirt, indigo knit tie and jeans cuffed up over handmade British boots.

Erik didn't seem put out as we inventoried the possessions that had become, by dint of our arrival, decorations: in the foyer, Comme des Garçons cologne and Lonely Planet's "Fiji"; in the kitchen, home-pickled carrots and dried goji berries. Perhaps to compensate for his recent Airbnb experience in New York, in which the host had dropped off the keys and split, Erik very kindly offered to spend the rest of the afternoon showing us around. As we walked in the fashionable Sodermalm neighborhood, Christian asked him what was new in Sweden. "Exercise," Erik ticked off, "and sourdough." By the latter, he explained, he meant a certain consciousness of time, a methodical slowness — foraging for your own mushrooms, going sailing, anything that would get you offline for a while. We strolled through the area where, Erik said, they'd filmed the "Dragon Tattoo" movies, though he admitted with pride that he hadn't seen any of them. "I am also proud to be the last person on earth who hasn't seen 'Gangnam Style.' " The whole experience was an almost cartoonishly apt example of how handily the Internet drove anti-Internet culture: we'd picked Erik's flat for its international homogeneity, but what we got was a meandering day with odd and engaging Erik.

Antwerp, home of such designers as Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, is exactly the sort of place where the austere tyranny of international design has made a lot of the Airbnb offerings seem sort of bland — sleek and overcurated. I looked, in turn, for the most deranged-looking option: a "Bohemian" flat crowded with Brazilian antiques that seemed entirely sui generis. My host, Tania, was from Rio, and had just begun to list this apartment, atop a bar that she owns with her husband. They kept another flat for themselves across the street, over their Brazilian-Mexican restaurant. They had decorated the place with work imported from a collective in Minas Gerais, Brazil. On the walls floated jetsam palings emblazoned with disembodied religious limbs: a bloodily outstretched arm over the four-poster bed, a slim cut of a naked torso over the door to the kitchen. There were sculptures made of mounted whale vertebrae, and a coffee table book, captioned in Dutch and Italian, on the life of Steve McQueen. As Tania ran up and down the stairs looking for an entirely unnecessary replacement bulb for the bedside lamp, I gave Erik, of Stockholm, an effusive five-star review on my phone. Christian grumbled that, Tania's kindness notwithstanding, sometimes you just wanted to check in and get on with it. As far as I was concerned, the place was great, and Tania's antics were neurotically endearing.

We went over to Tania's restaurant for nachos and fajitas over Duvels before going in pursuit of the "alternative" scene Tania had mentioned to us. We washed up at the Hypothalamus, one of those bars at the end of the world. The '80s pink patterned wallpaper clashed coherently with the Delft tiles. A drunk quartet of clairvoyants took up their instruments and moved from "Proud Mary" through "Danza Kuduro" to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." (It was our duty as Americans to supply the Axl Rose caterwauls, which earned us some light applause.) A Lebanese leprechaun wearing a neat Lincoln beard collected donations in an inverted cymbal. Fresh out of euros, we threw our remaining kronor into the cymbal, and he bowed. This was precisely what Airbnb travel, at its best, might offer, if you don't mind the waiting to be let in, the agonizing search for a functional light bulb and the voluble owners who, after a long day of travel, stand between you and a drink. But if, despite all that, you've got the foolhardy curiosity to stay in Antwerp's only boho-Brazilian lodging, you've got a decent chance at ending up at the kind of place no guidebook and no concierge in his right mind would ever think to endorse. We toasted to Airbnb's special diminishment of ease in travel. Which, for some of us, isn't a price to pay; it's the reward itself.


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In Transit Blog: Walkabout – 5/6: Sungnyemun Gate Reopens in Seoul; Stockholm Welcomes Back ABBA

Walkabout

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

Restoration Celebration The 600-year-old Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul, which was destroyed in an arson attack in 2008, reopened this weekend with great fanfare, including a visit from President Park Geun-hye of South Korea. (Gadling)

Mamma Mia Memorialized ABBA the Museum, the first permanent exhibition devoted to the Swedish pop group behind such hits as "Dancing Queen" and "S.O.S.," opens in Stockholm this week. (Today)

Paradise Endangered Bali, the Indonesian province with a reputation as an enchanted tropical destination, is facing environmental threats thanks to the varied pressures of tourism. (Sydney Morning Herald)

The City Bathtub Rubber Duck, a 54-foot inflatable sculpture resembling the yellow bath toy by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, is floating in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour until June 9. (CNN)

Friendly Streets? New York City, a city known for its traffic and daring jaywalkers, will launch the nation's largest bike-sharing system this month, with 6,000 bikes at 330 stations in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. (Skift)


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T Magazine: Objects | Star Light, Star Bright

A colorful gem added to a simple white shirt and slicked-back hair creates a look as classically decadent as a long summer night.

See the interactive slide show


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Personal Journeys: In West Africa, a Dollar and a Meal

In the last slanted softening of late afternoon light, against the squealy repeated note of one small insect's cheep, under the bird-haunted acacia tree towering over the bare trampled compound, and near Camillo's derelict-looking car, dirt footprints on its doors — Camillo had been kicking it barefoot in fury for its refusal to start — an old woman approached through the sunlit risen dust.

She held a chipped enamel bucket in one hand and a long pair of metal tongs in the other. Her hair was wrapped like a bowl in a yellow cloth, this turban making her an unusual presence, giving her height and dignity and a look of quiet anticipation. She wore a limp blue dress that fell to her ankles ending in a tattered hem, and an apron that had once been white. She was barefoot, but her feet — her only indelicate feature — were as big and battered as shoes. No one paid any attention to her or to what she was carrying. In fact, Camillo stood aside, gripping a Cuca beer bottle as though he were about to throw it. His eyes were empty, and he looked less than futile. His body seemed uninhabited.

We had come north, crossing from Cunene province into Huíla province in southwestern Angola, but what did it matter? We were stuck for the night, at least, and maybe longer. Light was leaking sideways from the sky from membranes of cloud, leaving purpled tissue just above the horizon.

The old woman made directly for me. "Old" is probably inaccurate: she was undoubtedly much younger than me, 60 or less, but had the aged face of a kindly crone. I was standing apart from the others, who were drinking, and perhaps drunk. I looked for a log to rest on, but saw nowhere to sit, and the car seemed cursed.

Holding the bucket up so I could examine its contents, the woman smiled at me and worked the jaws of her rusty tongs.

"Boa tarde," she said, but it seemed more like evening to me.

At the bottom of the bucket were three pieces of chicken — legs attached to thighs. They were skinless, shiny-sinewed and dark as kippers, as if they'd been smoked. Each one was covered with busy black flies, and flies darted around the hollow of the bucket. It was more a bucket of flies than a bucket of chicken.

Squeezing her rusty tongs again, the woman asked, "Qual?" ("Which one?") Though I was hungry, I waved her away, retching at the thought of eating any of those chicken legs. Yet I had not eaten all day, and it had been a long and tiring journey, of harassment, of the border crossing, of the sight of misery and naked children playing in dust, flies crawling on their eyes and in the sores on their bodies. The off-road detours had been especially exhausting from the bucking and bumping of the vehicle. And the checkpoints, the shakedowns, the roadblock dictators.

The woman was smiling because I was smiling. The absurdity of "Which one?" had just struck me — three identical pieces of chicken in the dirty bucket, each of them specked by skittering flies; an existential question to the stranger in a strange land.

"Não," I said. "Obrigado." ("Thank you.") Something in my smile encouraged her and kept her there, rocking a little, flexing her bruised toes, running her tongue against her lips to show patience. She was gaunt, and she herself looked hungry. But I said no again and, shoulders slackening in resignation, she turned away, making for the others, who were standing in a group still drinking bottles of Cuca beer.

A muscle twisted sharply in my stomach and yanked at my throat: the whip of hunger.

"Olá!" I said, and she turned to me, looking hopeful. "That one," I said, pointing at the one with the fewest flies on it. "Frango," she said in a gummy voice, as though naming a delicacy, and she wet her lips with her tongue and swallowed, as people often do when handling food. Then the word spoken all over Angola for cool, or O.K., "Fixe" — feesh.

She folded my dollar and tucked it into her apron.

I borrowed Camillo's cigarette lighter and made a small fire of dead grass at the corner of the compound, and I passed the piece of chicken through the fire, believing like a Boy Scout that I was killing the fly-borne germs. Then I found the log I'd been looking for and sat, and slowly ate the chicken. It was like chewing leather. The straps and thongs of sinew wouldn't break down, and its toughness made it almost indigestible, my chewing turning the meat into a rubber ball.

Queasy over a meal he called a "mess of bouillabaisse," Henry James said that it was "a formidable dish, demanding a French digestion." Maybe I needed that. I was defeated by the food, and disgusted with myself for being in this position, and I mocked myself with a pompous phrase I'd heard a foodie use on a TV show: "I regret to say this dish is not fully achieved." But it was something in my stomach, and that was a victory in this hungry province.

Then I replayed my first glimpse of the bucket — the chicken, the flies and the old woman asking "Which one?" It was the sort of choice you were faced with in Africa, but I had never seen it so stark, in the extravagant splashes of a florid sunset.


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Check In: Hotel Review: Capri by Fraser in Singapore

Written By wartini cantika on Senin, 06 Mei 2013 | 17.35

Juliana Tan

The Capri is about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown.

Rates from 250 Singapore dollars, about $208, at 1.20 Singapore dollars to the U.S. dollar.

Basics

The relatively sleepy and leafy stretch of the Changi area on Singapore's far east coast may seem an unusual spot for a stylish new hotel — and yet, in September, there it appeared: Capri by Fraser, a sleek property with 313 rooms designed for travelers who may be staying awhile. The rooms, described as "studios," are large, with sofas and kitchenettes, meant, no doubt, to appeal to the conventioneers and businesses in the new forest of office buildings sprouting around it.

Location

In the heart of Changi Business Park, the hotel is adjacent to the Singapore Expo convention center, a short walk from the Expo train station and about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown Singapore. It's also next door to a large mall packed with a supermarket, clothing and shoe stores as well as a long list of restaurants, bars and fast-food places that sell everything from egg tarts to Subway sandwiches.

The Room

Spacious and well designed — with built-in adapters for international travelers and a small kitchenette equipped with saucepans, plates, utensils, a microwave, an induction stovetop and a medium-size refrigerator — our "studio deluxe" would have made for a comfortable stay of several weeks. There was a king-size bed, DVD player and large-screen TV. The pale wood furnishings and décor punctuated with cheery orange and chocolate accents in throw pillows and artwork were pleasing to the eye. But our bedside lamps didn't work; even after a maintenance worker repaired them, one flickered out completely.

The Bathroom

A similarly roomy affair with a large shower area outfitted with a rain-shower head and a hand-held nozzle. Toothbrushes, a sewing kit, an ironing board and a large laundry basket, along with an abundance of Malin + Goetz toiletries, were provided.

Amenities

This is a hotel with something for just about everyone — a spa that offers massages and Javanese slimming sessions; a small business center; in-room dining as well as a Western-style restaurant and bar; washers and dryers on every floor in plush rooms that each have a different theme (a foosball table offers distraction in one; a workout bike in another); free bikes (the beach is about a 30-minute ride away), parking, wireless Internet and airport shuttle; a 24-hour glass-encased rooftop gym and a rooftop pool. (But swimmers beware: office workers in the surrounding glass buildings have a fairly good view of all sunbathing action.) There's also a generous happy hour on weekdays with free-flowing wine, beer and cocktails. Expect slow service, though — after waiting more than 20 minutes for my Long Island ice tea, the waitress explained that the bar had only one cocktail shaker.

Breakfast

Breakfast wasn't included in the basic room rate; we were encouraged to try the weekday buffet for 28 Singapore dollars. But after examining the sparse Western spread of scrambled eggs, dry-looking chicken patties, limp bacon and tiny croissants, we headed elsewhere.

Bottom Line

An off-the-beaten-path hotel that provides top-notch comfort and service, despite a few small kinks.

Capri by Fraser, Changi City, 3 Changi Business Park Central 1; (65) 6933-9833; capribyfraser.com


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Bites: Restaurant Report: Found in Evanston, Ill.

Eugene Galdones

The chef's board at Found. Lamb meatballs and flatbread appear in the background.

With its walkable streets, rumbling "L" train, sprawling university campus and diverse population, Evanston, Ill., is a suburb that has long appealed to Chicagoans who vowed they'd never move to the suburbs.

Amy Morton, who is as close to restaurant royalty as you can get (she's the daughter of the steakhouse mogul Arnie Morton), counts herself among that tribe. So it should be no surprise that last November Ms. Morton opened Found Kitchen and Social House, a thoughtfully conceived storefront featuring succulent local fare in a decidedly urban, brick-and-candlelight environment that fuels perhaps the brightest dinner party vibe between Chicago and Milwaukee.

"It's been 20 years since my last restaurant, and this space is really a full expression of my personal evolution," said Ms. Morton, 50.

Stylishly reupholstered "found" furniture and lots of globes set a worldly, living room tone.

"I couldn't justify buying everything new," she said, pouring tea from a vintage silver pot. Ms. Morton has also sprinkled arch conversation starters in strategic spots, like a quote from Gertrude Stein scrawled above the bar: "If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me."

That sort of haute-but-homey touch pops up everywhere, from a family-friendly caption on the menu ("kids or caviar, just ask!") to the quirky selection of vintage tomes in a library area in the back of the dining room (Plato, Tarzan). There is plenty to look at while you wait for a table; Found does not take reservations.

The menu, which Ms. Morton created with her chef, Nicole Pederson, is focused on seasonal small plates. Our wintertime selection included tender braised brussels sprouts and bright-tasting kale with cranberries, and grilled baby octopus with picholine olives and sunchokes that melded sea and earth. Dessert selections rotate; here's a vote for a return of the butterscotch bourbon pecan gelato sundae with sour cherry and pecan sandies.

Our top dish, chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade and toast, meshes both women's Francophile bent with the chef's affinity for whole-animal cooking.

The new spring menu includes a shareable plate of pickled beef hearts with deviled eggs, beets and baby greens — perfect for alfresco dining in a new sidewalk area. 

Found Kitchen and Social House, 1631 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Ill.; (847) 868-8945; foundkitchen.com. An average dinner for two, without wine or tip, is about $60.


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T Magazine: Treescapes

For the past decade, the artist Myoung Ho Lee has been wandering around his native South Korea, shooting trees like some kind of arboreal Avedon, in stark relief against a plain white canvas. His pictures possess the glamour and focus of studio portraits, yet they're set in the landscape — be it a golden meadow or a cloudy blue sky dotted with balloons. It's a deceptively simple trick, a way of foregrounding what would ordinarily be background. The purity of the final image belies the incredibly complicated rigging that makes it possible — a process that usually involves industrial cranes, ropes and numerous artisans. Lee, 37, retouches the photographs to erase any trace of his own hand. "If the mechanics of the artwork were visible, it would be easier for people to recognize the scale and the method," he said. "But I want to hide them, to infuse a magical and vague aspect to my work, so that viewers may question and try to find answers themselves."

See the interactive slide show


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T Magazine: Su Casa Es Mi Casa


You may not get room service or a terry cloth robe, but what Airbnb vacation rentals lack in amenities, they make up for in unbelievable, sometimes rather bizarre experiences.

One of urban life's uncommon diversions is the chance to ransack the drawers of an anonymous neighbor. Airbnb is the Internet service, for those of you who don't have a Danish architect leafing through your local Lonely Planet at your kitchen table right now, that lets "hosts" rent their extra bedrooms or entire apartments, mansions, tiki huts or goatskin yurts to travelers. In only five years, Airbnb has created a marketplace that offers 300,000 listings in 35,000 cities in 192 countries. It's been so successful that half the tech start-ups these days go around flattering themselves with Airbnb comparisons: there's an Airbnb for boats, and one for power tools, and probably one that will let you rent out your extra sheep to fertilize somebody's lawn. Airbnb, for its part, might bill itself as a cheaper, roomier, warmer way to overnight — less deracinated than a hotel, but without the creaky-floorboard unease of a bed and breakfast — but the great unadvertised draw is the chance to spend time amid somebody else's trappings.

In olden times if you wanted to sleep in strangers' beds, you generally had to have sex with strangers; Airbnb lets you book their linens from your phone. There's been a lot written about the "sharing economy": on the one hand, services like this make for more efficient resource allocation; on the other, they offload what was once regulated institutional risk onto the consumer. But somehow these arguments, which will be worked out in the courts and capitols, have tended to ignore what's actually weird and interesting about this new mode of travel: Airbnb indulges the fantasy that we might temporarily inhabit another life. It's in part because of this lived experience that Airbnb guests aren't just users, they're evangelists. I recently lit out to sightsee three other people's lives in three nights in three European cities: London, Stockholm and Antwerp.

The voyeuristic frame gives some Airbnb experiences a kind of erotic charge, or at least it did during the impromptu Airbnb get-together I somehow ended up throwing in London, where I was staying in a duplex warehouse in Shoreditch. While I'd been waiting in the freezing courtyard to be let in — Hotels 1, Airbnb 0 — I'd read down the list of my neighbors-for-the-night, which read like the billing for a trip-hop reunion: the tenants had such names as Darq and Magnetised. The owner, who was "surfing/working" in Australia, had described the apartment in an e-mail as "a good space to chill and paint, so feel free to paint if you'd like!" Once I finally got inside, the flat revealed itself to be perfectly contiguous with its Shoreditch environment: with its casually abused pleather settees, mannequin torso and panels of decoratively broken surfboard, it looked like one more cafe-bar-bike-repair joint. In Airbnb's spirit of connectedness, I Instagram-crowdsourced descriptions of the owner's artwork; one friend commented that it was "Warhol goes Ke$ha." My bedroom, in a windowless basement, had a stairway that curved upward to meet curtains, which in turn hid a cardboard wall.

I hadn't planned to bring anybody back with me, but the more I talked about the place over drinks at the pub with friends, the more the gang assembled clamored to see it. They could sit around and whinge at the pub any night, but it wasn't often they got to have a hotel party at a neighbor's flat. "It's 'Queer Eye for the Absent Guy,' " my friend Tom said, flicking the switch that backlit the Euripides bust by the bongos, in front of the skateboard-mounted vinyl couch. The group noted the unreconstructed "Point Break" aesthetic and the fact that everything from the lime-green shag to the wall mirrors had been set at rakish angles. They argued over the rent (probably £4,000 to £6,000 per month), the municipal legality of windowless bedrooms and the merit of the Tesco-brand sweet potato, coconut and chili soup in the fridge. My new friend Anna had never heard of Airbnb, and asked if she could do this in her own flat, up the road in hipper Dalston. I showed her listings on her block. "Do I have to let them use the bathrooms?" she asked.

But the promise of voyeurism can undermine itself: once you've introduced the kind of self-consciousness that results from having to put verified photos of your upholstery on the Internet, at least some owners take down their Euripides busts. It's been increasingly noted that one of the unfortunate surprises of the contemporary Internet is the proliferation of corporate uniformity. This is nowhere more apparent than on Airbnb, where it often seems as though each residence is striving to out-Bulthaup the next. The place I'd booked in Stockholm was an altar to minimalism, showcasing the no-place of international design with the star(c)k accouterments of a boutique hotel: Vitra chair, antique apothecary bottles, home D.J. kit, paperback of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom." My host, Erik, who'd e-mailed me from an H&M address, met me and my friend Christian, whom I brought along from London, at the door in a nice-looking outfit recognizable from one of a variety of commensurate urban enclaves: a fitted denim shirt, indigo knit tie and jeans cuffed up over handmade British boots.

Erik didn't seem put out as we inventoried the possessions that had become, by dint of our arrival, decorations: in the foyer, Comme des Garçons cologne and Lonely Planet's "Fiji"; in the kitchen, home-pickled carrots and dried goji berries. Perhaps to compensate for his recent Airbnb experience in New York, in which the host had dropped off the keys and split, Erik very kindly offered to spend the rest of the afternoon showing us around. As we walked in the fashionable Sodermalm neighborhood, Christian asked him what was new in Sweden. "Exercise," Erik ticked off, "and sourdough." By the latter, he explained, he meant a certain consciousness of time, a methodical slowness — foraging for your own mushrooms, going sailing, anything that would get you offline for a while. We strolled through the area where, Erik said, they'd filmed the "Dragon Tattoo" movies, though he admitted with pride that he hadn't seen any of them. "I am also proud to be the last person on earth who hasn't seen 'Gangnam Style.' " The whole experience was an almost cartoonishly apt example of how handily the Internet drove anti-Internet culture: we'd picked Erik's flat for its international homogeneity, but what we got was a meandering day with odd and engaging Erik.

Antwerp, home of such designers as Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, is exactly the sort of place where the austere tyranny of international design has made a lot of the Airbnb offerings seem sort of bland — sleek and overcurated. I looked, in turn, for the most deranged-looking option: a "Bohemian" flat crowded with Brazilian antiques that seemed entirely sui generis. My host, Tania, was from Rio, and had just begun to list this apartment, atop a bar that she owns with her husband. They kept another flat for themselves across the street, over their Brazilian-Mexican restaurant. They had decorated the place with work imported from a collective in Minas Gerais, Brazil. On the walls floated jetsam palings emblazoned with disembodied religious limbs: a bloodily outstretched arm over the four-poster bed, a slim cut of a naked torso over the door to the kitchen. There were sculptures made of mounted whale vertebrae, and a coffee table book, captioned in Dutch and Italian, on the life of Steve McQueen. As Tania ran up and down the stairs looking for an entirely unnecessary replacement bulb for the bedside lamp, I gave Erik, of Stockholm, an effusive five-star review on my phone. Christian grumbled that, Tania's kindness notwithstanding, sometimes you just wanted to check in and get on with it. As far as I was concerned, the place was great, and Tania's antics were neurotically endearing.

We went over to Tania's restaurant for nachos and fajitas over Duvels before going in pursuit of the "alternative" scene Tania had mentioned to us. We washed up at the Hypothalamus, one of those bars at the end of the world. The '80s pink patterned wallpaper clashed coherently with the Delft tiles. A drunk quartet of clairvoyants took up their instruments and moved from "Proud Mary" through "Danza Kuduro" to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." (It was our duty as Americans to supply the Axl Rose caterwauls, which earned us some light applause.) A Lebanese leprechaun wearing a neat Lincoln beard collected donations in an inverted cymbal. Fresh out of euros, we threw our remaining kronor into the cymbal, and he bowed. This was precisely what Airbnb travel, at its best, might offer, if you don't mind the waiting to be let in, the agonizing search for a functional light bulb and the voluble owners who, after a long day of travel, stand between you and a drink. But if, despite all that, you've got the foolhardy curiosity to stay in Antwerp's only boho-Brazilian lodging, you've got a decent chance at ending up at the kind of place no guidebook and no concierge in his right mind would ever think to endorse. We toasted to Airbnb's special diminishment of ease in travel. Which, for some of us, isn't a price to pay; it's the reward itself.


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Panama City Rising

Written By wartini cantika on Minggu, 05 Mei 2013 | 17.35

Tito Herrera for The New York Times

Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City, left, and a newer, more vertical skyline, right.

Traffic into Panama City was flowing for once, so Miguel Fábrega had only a moment to point out the crumbling ruins in the distance. They were the remains of a 16th-century New Spanish settlement that the British privateer Sir Henry Morgan eventually sacked in 1671. Ahead of us rose Old Panama's modern replacement: a forest of green, blue and yellow glass skyscrapers that sifted the metallic Central American sky into great vertical columns.

"You're going to hear a lot about identity, who we are and where we are going," said Mr. Fábrega, a 37-year-old artist, writer and partner in a creative think tank called DiabloRosso, which promotes emerging artists in Panama. We had met over e-mail a few weeks earlier while I was searching for creative residents willing to show me their city, and moments ago he had picked me up at the airport.

Despite being founded in 1519, Panama is really only 13 years old, Mr. Fábrega argued, its birthday being Dec. 31, 1999, the day the United States gave the Panama Canal and its surrounding land back to the Panamanians. For the first time in a century the country was whole and independent.

"My generation inherited this blank canvas," said Mr. Fábrega, his salt-and-pepper hair fluttering slightly in the Audi's air-conditioning. "Now we have the chance to make it our own."

Today, that canvas is far from blank, however. Over the past 13 years, Panama City has been racing to become a world-class metropolis, and for travelers, the changes have been enormous. In 1997 there were perhaps 1,400 hotel rooms in Panama City. Now there are more than 15,000 with another 4,582 rooms in the pipeline, according to STR Global, a London-based agency that tracks hotel markets. In the last two years alone, Trump, Starwood, Waldorf-Astoria, Westin and Hard Rock have opened hotels here. A new biodiversity museum designed by Frank Gehry is nearly complete. The country's first modern dance festival unfolded last year, the same year Panama held its first international film festival. The Panama Jazz Festival is going strong after 10 years. The country even has its own year-old microbrewery.

"Panama was this compressed spring just ready to go," said Keyes Christopher Hardin, a New York lawyer-turned-developer working to restore the city's old colonial area. "When the Noriega dictator years ended and the U.S. returned all that canal land, things just took off. Everything that could go right did go right."

Indeed, since 2008, when much of the world was in a recession, the Panamanian economy has expanded by nearly 50 percent. The canal itself, which frames the western edge of Panama City, is undergoing a $5.25 billion expansion that is expected to double its capacity and fuel even more economic growth.

Yes, Panama still struggles with crime and poverty, but foreigners are clearly intrigued with the way things are unfolding. In 1999 just 457,000 international tourists visited Panama, World Bank figures show. In 2011, more than 1.4 million came. Plenty are staying, too: sun-seeking Americans, Venezuelans and wealthy Colombian expatriates who are buying second homes and retirement properties all over Panama. In short, this city of about 880,000 people has gone from a ho-hum business center on the navy blue Pacific to a major leisure destination in record time. In doing so it has become a place full of the kind of paradoxes that occur whenever a very old place grinds against the very new. While the capital now has luxury apartments and five-star cuisine, the thing it needs most is a solid sense of identity.

"You drive in and see all these skyscrapers and you have to wonder, is it just a mirage or does it have any substance?" Johann Wolfschoon, an architect and designer, told me. "What we need to be is amazing. Not amazing for Panama, but amazing."

TIM NEVILLE is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.


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Check In: Hotel Review: Capri by Fraser in Singapore

Juliana Tan

The Capri is about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown.

Rates from 250 Singapore dollars, about $208, at 1.20 Singapore dollars to the U.S. dollar.

Basics

The relatively sleepy and leafy stretch of the Changi area on Singapore's far east coast may seem an unusual spot for a stylish new hotel — and yet, in September, there it appeared: Capri by Fraser, a sleek property with 313 rooms designed for travelers who may be staying awhile. The rooms, described as "studios," are large, with sofas and kitchenettes, meant, no doubt, to appeal to the conventioneers and businesses in the new forest of office buildings sprouting around it.

Location

In the heart of Changi Business Park, the hotel is adjacent to the Singapore Expo convention center, a short walk from the Expo train station and about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown Singapore. It's also next door to a large mall packed with a supermarket, clothing and shoe stores as well as a long list of restaurants, bars and fast-food places that sell everything from egg tarts to Subway sandwiches.

The Room

Spacious and well designed — with built-in adapters for international travelers and a small kitchenette equipped with saucepans, plates, utensils, a microwave, an induction stovetop and a medium-size refrigerator — our "studio deluxe" would have made for a comfortable stay of several weeks. There was a king-size bed, DVD player and large-screen TV. The pale wood furnishings and décor punctuated with cheery orange and chocolate accents in throw pillows and artwork were pleasing to the eye. But our bedside lamps didn't work; even after a maintenance worker repaired them, one flickered out completely.

The Bathroom

A similarly roomy affair with a large shower area outfitted with a rain-shower head and a hand-held nozzle. Toothbrushes, a sewing kit, an ironing board and a large laundry basket, along with an abundance of Malin + Goetz toiletries, were provided.

Amenities

This is a hotel with something for just about everyone — a spa that offers massages and Javanese slimming sessions; a small business center; in-room dining as well as a Western-style restaurant and bar; washers and dryers on every floor in plush rooms that each have a different theme (a foosball table offers distraction in one; a workout bike in another); free bikes (the beach is about a 30-minute ride away), parking, wireless Internet and airport shuttle; a 24-hour glass-encased rooftop gym and a rooftop pool. (But swimmers beware: office workers in the surrounding glass buildings have a fairly good view of all sunbathing action.) There's also a generous happy hour on weekdays with free-flowing wine, beer and cocktails. Expect slow service, though — after waiting more than 20 minutes for my Long Island ice tea, the waitress explained that the bar had only one cocktail shaker.

Breakfast

Breakfast wasn't included in the basic room rate; we were encouraged to try the weekday buffet for 28 Singapore dollars. But after examining the sparse Western spread of scrambled eggs, dry-looking chicken patties, limp bacon and tiny croissants, we headed elsewhere.

Bottom Line

An off-the-beaten-path hotel that provides top-notch comfort and service, despite a few small kinks.

Capri by Fraser, Changi City, 3 Changi Business Park Central 1; (65) 6933-9833; capribyfraser.com


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Bites: Restaurant Report: Found in Evanston, Ill.

Eugene Galdones

The chef's board at Found. Lamb meatballs and flatbread appear in the background.

With its walkable streets, rumbling "L" train, sprawling university campus and diverse population, Evanston, Ill., is a suburb that has long appealed to Chicagoans who vowed they'd never move to the suburbs.

Amy Morton, who is as close to restaurant royalty as you can get (she's the daughter of the steakhouse mogul Arnie Morton), counts herself among that tribe. So it should be no surprise that last November Ms. Morton opened Found Kitchen and Social House, a thoughtfully conceived storefront featuring succulent local fare in a decidedly urban, brick-and-candlelight environment that fuels perhaps the brightest dinner party vibe between Chicago and Milwaukee.

"It's been 20 years since my last restaurant, and this space is really a full expression of my personal evolution," said Ms. Morton, 50.

Stylishly reupholstered "found" furniture and lots of globes set a worldly, living room tone.

"I couldn't justify buying everything new," she said, pouring tea from a vintage silver pot. Ms. Morton has also sprinkled arch conversation starters in strategic spots, like a quote from Gertrude Stein scrawled above the bar: "If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me."

That sort of haute-but-homey touch pops up everywhere, from a family-friendly caption on the menu ("kids or caviar, just ask!") to the quirky selection of vintage tomes in a library area in the back of the dining room (Plato, Tarzan). There is plenty to look at while you wait for a table; Found does not take reservations.

The menu, which Ms. Morton created with her chef, Nicole Pederson, is focused on seasonal small plates. Our wintertime selection included tender braised brussels sprouts and bright-tasting kale with cranberries, and grilled baby octopus with picholine olives and sunchokes that melded sea and earth. Dessert selections rotate; here's a vote for a return of the butterscotch bourbon pecan gelato sundae with sour cherry and pecan sandies.

Our top dish, chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade and toast, meshes both women's Francophile bent with the chef's affinity for whole-animal cooking.

The new spring menu includes a shareable plate of pickled beef hearts with deviled eggs, beets and baby greens — perfect for alfresco dining in a new sidewalk area. 

Found Kitchen and Social House, 1631 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Ill.; (847) 868-8945; foundkitchen.com. An average dinner for two, without wine or tip, is about $60.


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T Magazine: Treescapes

For the past decade, the artist Myoung Ho Lee has been wandering around his native South Korea, shooting trees like some kind of arboreal Avedon, in stark relief against a plain white canvas. His pictures possess the glamour and focus of studio portraits, yet they're set in the landscape — be it a golden meadow or a cloudy blue sky dotted with balloons. It's a deceptively simple trick, a way of foregrounding what would ordinarily be background. The purity of the final image belies the incredibly complicated rigging that makes it possible — a process that usually involves industrial cranes, ropes and numerous artisans. Lee, 37, retouches the photographs to erase any trace of his own hand. "If the mechanics of the artwork were visible, it would be easier for people to recognize the scale and the method," he said. "But I want to hide them, to infuse a magical and vague aspect to my work, so that viewers may question and try to find answers themselves."

See the interactive slide show


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Panama City Rising

Written By wartini cantika on Sabtu, 04 Mei 2013 | 17.35

Tito Herrera for The New York Times

Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City, left, and a newer, more vertical skyline, right.

Traffic into Panama City was flowing for once, so Miguel Fábrega had only a moment to point out the crumbling ruins in the distance. They were the remains of a 16th-century New Spanish settlement that the British privateer Sir Henry Morgan eventually sacked in 1671. Ahead of us rose Old Panama's modern replacement: a forest of green, blue and yellow glass skyscrapers that sifted the metallic Central American sky into great vertical columns.

"You're going to hear a lot about identity, who we are and where we are going," said Mr. Fábrega, a 37-year-old artist, writer and partner in a creative think tank called DiabloRosso, which promotes emerging artists in Panama. We had met over e-mail a few weeks earlier while I was searching for creative residents willing to show me their city, and moments ago he had picked me up at the airport.

Despite being founded in 1519, Panama is really only 13 years old, Mr. Fábrega argued, its birthday being Dec. 31, 1999, the day the United States gave the Panama Canal and its surrounding land back to the Panamanians. For the first time in a century the country was whole and independent.

"My generation inherited this blank canvas," said Mr. Fábrega, his salt-and-pepper hair fluttering slightly in the Audi's air-conditioning. "Now we have the chance to make it our own."

Today, that canvas is far from blank, however. Over the past 13 years, Panama City has been racing to become a world-class metropolis, and for travelers, the changes have been enormous. In 1997 there were perhaps 1,400 hotel rooms in Panama City. Now there are more than 15,000 with another 4,582 rooms in the pipeline, according to STR Global, a London-based agency that tracks hotel markets. In the last two years alone, Trump, Starwood, Waldorf-Astoria, Westin and Hard Rock have opened hotels here. A new biodiversity museum designed by Frank Gehry is nearly complete. The country's first modern dance festival unfolded last year, the same year Panama held its first international film festival. The Panama Jazz Festival is going strong after 10 years. The country even has its own year-old microbrewery.

"Panama was this compressed spring just ready to go," said Keyes Christopher Hardin, a New York lawyer-turned-developer working to restore the city's old colonial area. "When the Noriega dictator years ended and the U.S. returned all that canal land, things just took off. Everything that could go right did go right."

Indeed, since 2008, when much of the world was in a recession, the Panamanian economy has expanded by nearly 50 percent. The canal itself, which frames the western edge of Panama City, is undergoing a $5.25 billion expansion that is expected to double its capacity and fuel even more economic growth.

Yes, Panama still struggles with crime and poverty, but foreigners are clearly intrigued with the way things are unfolding. In 1999 just 457,000 international tourists visited Panama, World Bank figures show. In 2011, more than 1.4 million came. Plenty are staying, too: sun-seeking Americans, Venezuelans and wealthy Colombian expatriates who are buying second homes and retirement properties all over Panama. In short, this city of about 880,000 people has gone from a ho-hum business center on the navy blue Pacific to a major leisure destination in record time. In doing so it has become a place full of the kind of paradoxes that occur whenever a very old place grinds against the very new. While the capital now has luxury apartments and five-star cuisine, the thing it needs most is a solid sense of identity.

"You drive in and see all these skyscrapers and you have to wonder, is it just a mirage or does it have any substance?" Johann Wolfschoon, an architect and designer, told me. "What we need to be is amazing. Not amazing for Panama, but amazing."

TIM NEVILLE is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.


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Check In: Hotel Review: Capri by Fraser in Singapore

Juliana Tan

The Capri is about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown.

Rates from 250 Singapore dollars, about $208, at 1.20 Singapore dollars to the U.S. dollar.

Basics

The relatively sleepy and leafy stretch of the Changi area on Singapore's far east coast may seem an unusual spot for a stylish new hotel — and yet, in September, there it appeared: Capri by Fraser, a sleek property with 313 rooms designed for travelers who may be staying awhile. The rooms, described as "studios," are large, with sofas and kitchenettes, meant, no doubt, to appeal to the conventioneers and businesses in the new forest of office buildings sprouting around it.

Location

In the heart of Changi Business Park, the hotel is adjacent to the Singapore Expo convention center, a short walk from the Expo train station and about a 30-minute taxi ride from downtown Singapore. It's also next door to a large mall packed with a supermarket, clothing and shoe stores as well as a long list of restaurants, bars and fast-food places that sell everything from egg tarts to Subway sandwiches.

The Room

Spacious and well designed — with built-in adapters for international travelers and a small kitchenette equipped with saucepans, plates, utensils, a microwave, an induction stovetop and a medium-size refrigerator — our "studio deluxe" would have made for a comfortable stay of several weeks. There was a king-size bed, DVD player and large-screen TV. The pale wood furnishings and décor punctuated with cheery orange and chocolate accents in throw pillows and artwork were pleasing to the eye. But our bedside lamps didn't work; even after a maintenance worker repaired them, one flickered out completely.

The Bathroom

A similarly roomy affair with a large shower area outfitted with a rain-shower head and a hand-held nozzle. Toothbrushes, a sewing kit, an ironing board and a large laundry basket, along with an abundance of Malin + Goetz toiletries, were provided.

Amenities

This is a hotel with something for just about everyone — a spa that offers massages and Javanese slimming sessions; a small business center; in-room dining as well as a Western-style restaurant and bar; washers and dryers on every floor in plush rooms that each have a different theme (a foosball table offers distraction in one; a workout bike in another); free bikes (the beach is about a 30-minute ride away), parking, wireless Internet and airport shuttle; a 24-hour glass-encased rooftop gym and a rooftop pool. (But swimmers beware: office workers in the surrounding glass buildings have a fairly good view of all sunbathing action.) There's also a generous happy hour on weekdays with free-flowing wine, beer and cocktails. Expect slow service, though — after waiting more than 20 minutes for my Long Island ice tea, the waitress explained that the bar had only one cocktail shaker.

Breakfast

Breakfast wasn't included in the basic room rate; we were encouraged to try the weekday buffet for 28 Singapore dollars. But after examining the sparse Western spread of scrambled eggs, dry-looking chicken patties, limp bacon and tiny croissants, we headed elsewhere.

Bottom Line

An off-the-beaten-path hotel that provides top-notch comfort and service, despite a few small kinks.

Capri by Fraser, Changi City, 3 Changi Business Park Central 1; (65) 6933-9833; capribyfraser.com


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Bites: Restaurant Report: Found in Evanston, Ill.

Eugene Galdones

The chef's board at Found. Lamb meatballs and flatbread appear in the background.

With its walkable streets, rumbling "L" train, sprawling university campus and diverse population, Evanston, Ill., is a suburb that has long appealed to Chicagoans who vowed they'd never move to the suburbs.

Amy Morton, who is as close to restaurant royalty as you can get (she's the daughter of the steakhouse mogul Arnie Morton), counts herself among that tribe. So it should be no surprise that last November Ms. Morton opened Found Kitchen and Social House, a thoughtfully conceived storefront featuring succulent local fare in a decidedly urban, brick-and-candlelight environment that fuels perhaps the brightest dinner party vibe between Chicago and Milwaukee.

"It's been 20 years since my last restaurant, and this space is really a full expression of my personal evolution," said Ms. Morton, 50.

Stylishly reupholstered "found" furniture and lots of globes set a worldly, living room tone.

"I couldn't justify buying everything new," she said, pouring tea from a vintage silver pot. Ms. Morton has also sprinkled arch conversation starters in strategic spots, like a quote from Gertrude Stein scrawled above the bar: "If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me."

That sort of haute-but-homey touch pops up everywhere, from a family-friendly caption on the menu ("kids or caviar, just ask!") to the quirky selection of vintage tomes in a library area in the back of the dining room (Plato, Tarzan). There is plenty to look at while you wait for a table; Found does not take reservations.

The menu, which Ms. Morton created with her chef, Nicole Pederson, is focused on seasonal small plates. Our wintertime selection included tender braised brussels sprouts and bright-tasting kale with cranberries, and grilled baby octopus with picholine olives and sunchokes that melded sea and earth. Dessert selections rotate; here's a vote for a return of the butterscotch bourbon pecan gelato sundae with sour cherry and pecan sandies.

Our top dish, chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade and toast, meshes both women's Francophile bent with the chef's affinity for whole-animal cooking.

The new spring menu includes a shareable plate of pickled beef hearts with deviled eggs, beets and baby greens — perfect for alfresco dining in a new sidewalk area. 

Found Kitchen and Social House, 1631 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Ill.; (847) 868-8945; foundkitchen.com. An average dinner for two, without wine or tip, is about $60.


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