South America Posts
…or “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
The Traveling Kings pride themselves on experiencing destinations, hotels, and cruise ships so we can speak with authority to you, our friends and clients, about the places we recommend (and, on some occasions, pan). The past few days are no exception to the rule.
I, Barbara, valiantly set forth on a journey to Torres del Paine in Patagonia—an area known for its natural beauty, hikes, treks, fishing and rock climbing—without my intrepid mountaineering spouse, Michael. What? Yes, Queen King donned her tiara, packed my North Face jacket, hiking boots, and long underwear (or as we say, cushy first layer) and headed out to explore the wilds of Patagonia. Keep in mind that I define adventure as staying in a Holiday Inn that has a black and white TV and no pool, so my idea of adventure has a big SOFT in front of it (Seeking Outdoor Fun Temporarily)
So what happens when Tiara meets Tierra? LOVE! Tierra Patagonia has my name and my lifestyle all over it! Gracefully tucked into the natural beauty and landscape of Patagonia, Tierra Patagonia achieves the perfect blend of adventure meets creature comforts: breathtaking views everywhere (yes, everywhere!); to-die-for comfortable beds; seasoned guides for the myriad of outdoor options available (thank you, Sergio and Carlos!); food fit for a King (that would be me, of course!); a Spa that out-spas many classy spas I’ve visited; and a staff that almost anticipates my needs.
Day 1 I opted for a half-day introduction to Torres del Paine and a visit to the Blue Lake, a perfect way to convince a timid city girl she can get into the adventure mode without ruining her nail polish, yet a great way for the intrepid to incorporate local lore, an overview of flora and fauna, and a sampler of treks to be had. Fiona, from Tierra Hotels main office in Santiago, immediately sensed my desire to hold onto a sturdy arm, and magically appeared every time I wondered how I’d maneuver an incline or descent. I also learned that Fiona has a wickedly dry sense of humor so I immediately bonded with her!
Day 2 featured an all-day excursion that I was told would include about 20 minutes of walking. Well, let’s make that a couple of hours, but, hey, had I known this in advance, I probably would have chickened out. Instead, I was treated to one of the most enjoyable experiences I could imagine! We saw the Towers (Torres) from a variety of locations and enjoyed lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, ice fields, lots of guanacos (similar to llama), condors, and a mama puma with two cubs–one of which was missing a tail (I want to know who did that and why? Mean, jealous male puma—shame on you!).
Today, while my friends went for a horseback ride, I stayed indoors—sitting here blogging, sipping cappocino, and preparing for a massage! Chris, the manager at Tierra Patagonia, has mastered the art of attending to a guest’s needs without being obsequious and he has succeeded in making each of us feel like the most important person in the world.
After communicating with Michael via email, we’ve scheduled a return visit here in 2014 and we will add the Tierra property in the Atacama Desert and the Explora Lodge on Easter Island. Who knew that Tierra would add some class to the Tiara?
The answer is: San Telmo, the oldest barrio (neighborhood) in Buenos Aires. For those of you who answered “Barbara King”, you can stay after class and write 100 times, “I will respect my elders.” For those of you who were kind enough torefrain from mentioning me, thank you!
Wednesday’s agenda for Virtuoso’s International Symposium 2013 was called “Design Your Day” and it included a vast array of options to explore BA-by foot, car, boat, and even on horseback at a nearby estancia. Our on-sites, Mai10 and A&K Argentina coordinated all the tours. I picked the Antiques and Silversmith tour, which is what took me to San Telmo.
San Telmo is widely known for its Sunday market where over 200 vendors crowd into a small square selling all sorts of goods—think of it as a glorified flea market. What we discovered today is a more genteel neighborhood, an area of cobblestone streets, art galleries, antique shops, and the studio of renown silversmith, Juan C. Pallarols.
The Pallarols family traces its silversmith lineage back to the 1700’s in Barcelona. The first “New World” Pallarols silversmith was the 2nd generation, notably Rafael Pallarols, who after witnessing Buenos Aires as a city in conflict, returned to Spain, and Vicente Pallarols y Sabate, who spent time in Buenos Aires, but returned to Spain as well.
Jose Pallarols y Torres (1879 – 1951) was the family member credited with settling permanently in Argentina and the Pallarols silversmith craft has flourished ever since. Eva Peron, inspired by European monuments, involved the famous silversmith in her plans to create similar splendor in Argentina. When Eva Peron died, Pallarols was commissioned to create a sarcophagus to house her remains. However, when the revolution occurred in 1955, all things related to Peron were ordered to be destroyed. The Pallarols family secretly kept some of the artwork and in 1983, when democracy came to BA, Juan Carolos Pallarols restored and completed The Mask of Evita.
The Pallarols make a silver cane given to each new President of Argentina and create fountain pens that are works of art, along with several other remarkable silver items. Currently, they are creating a simple hammered silver chalice for the new Pope, Francis.
Ready for the uber cool part of this story (it’s not just a lesson in Argentine history, friends!)? Each of us on the silversmith and antiques tour had the opportunity to add a few hammer marks to the Pope’s chalice! Our host for the tour, A&K Argentina, arranged this special surprise for us, once again underscoring the Virtuoso commitment to extraordinary experiences.
After our extensive tour at the studio of Juan C. Pallarols, we strolled through a few antique shops (prices of antiques in BA are quite reasonable) and ended our tour with a stop at the famous Café Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Argentina (founded in 1858).
Now, back at the Four Seasons, I am packing for the next part of my journey—4 nights at Tierra Patagonia in Chile. You realize, of course, we Virtuosos do not go quietly into the night and BA is no exception. Last night’s extravaganza, hosted by Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt, included polo ponies, hand-rolled cigars, a 16 piece orchestra, and food stations placed strategically throughout the hotel. As for tonight, I can only imagine what Leading Hotels of the World has planned! I know I’m supposed to be at the Faena Art Center at 7:30 PM in “glam cocktail attire” — which translates into time for a nap my friends! Adios!
Answer: a horse running in Buenos Aires’ Virtuoso Derby!
Virtuoso, Specialists in the Art of Travel, is an understatement! Tuesday set a new record for Virtuoso creating extraordinary life experiences!
After a morning of breakout sessions for members and suppliers, we were taken to the Palermo Hippodrome, a racetrack in Buenos Aires for The Virtuoso Derby, a series of 3 races for the exclusive benefit of attendees at the 2013 Virtuoso International Symposium. The races were run strictly for our enjoyment and we were treated like royalty the entire time.
As we entered the Hippodrome, we were directed down a few steps to the grassy area that borders the perimeter of the race track. We were greeted by hostesses, dressed in vintage gowns and stylish hats, who handed each of us a program, a paper fan and paper umbrella. While we strolled around the area enjoying a variety of tasty passed hors d’oeuvres, we shaded ourselves with our umbrellas and watched the famous Argentine mounted police demonstrate their horsemanship skills.
Then the “serious” betting began. Race #1, The Sponsors Cup I, featured horses who had names such as A Walk in the Park Hyatt and Betting on Inprotur. We didn’t use dollars or pesos to bet, we bet via business cards. After scientific research such as liking the horse’s name, the way the horse looked, or the jockey’s colors, we chose what we hoped would be the winning horse by dropping a business card in a box whose number corresponded to the horse’s number. My scientific approach was to choose a venue I enjoyed, the Faena Hotel Buenos Aires, and I boldly placed my bet on The Fabulous Faena. My friend, Sam, actually picked the winner, “Mai10 Queen” so she was entered into the prize drawing for the first race.
After the first race, we transitioned from trackside to a sit-down luncheon in a glass-walled dining room overlooking the race track. As we dined we watched the horses parade by us for Race #2, The Sponsors Cup II. This was a hard call because I liked several of the horses. Should I pick Azamara’s Advocate, HAL Double Dutch Treat, or Makin’ Great Travel Impressions? Decisions, decisions. Finally, something in the air caused me to lean towards Lovestruck by LATAM (I am not above cheap double entendres!). Alas, I lost again because the winner was Party Like an RCI Rock Star. Of course, we had a fabulous luncheon of rib-eye steak, so we all won in the dining category!
Race #3 was the final race, The Destination Derby. One of my table mates picked Pretty in Paris; another chose Something About Sydney; and I went with my heart, picking The Belle of Buenos Aires. Sadly, I was 0 for 3 because the winning horse was Bite of the Big Apple.
By the way, the prizes were excellent and I really wanted to win one: 7 iconic itineraries combining the Southern Cone Virtuoso properties (20 hotels plus Australis Cruise)and services of the Virtuoso On-Sites; a print from Bruggens Art Gallery; air tickets on Etihad Airways, on Virgin Atlantic Airways and on Delta Airlines. Lucky winners included Amanda Klimak of Largay Travel, Lynda Johnson of Cruises Etc. Travel LLC, Leslie Shaw of Travel Resource, Kevin Loveless of Global Travel, David Lowy of Renshaw Travel & Cruise Concepts, and Linda Munson of Rsoyal International Travel Service Inc, to name a few. Finally, it dawned on me. We all won because we had an unforgettable afternoon and are here in Buenos Aires, members and our vendor partners together, participating in yet another stellar Virtuo
Buenos Aires: What has 6 legs, a mane, a tail, a poncho, a moustache and cowboy boots with the Virtuoso logo?
Buenos Aires, Argentina | Answer: Matthew Upchurch, astride a horse at La Ruralwelcoming participants to Virtuoso’s 2013 International Symposium
Barbara King, of Great Getaways Travel here, blogging from the gorgeous European-style city of Buenos Aires. Sunday night was the official beginning of our annual Symposium and what a spectacular way to start 4 days of 400 members and our vendor partners networking, brainstorming, networking, dining, touring, networking, learning, and, oh, did I mention networking?
Sunday’s event held in the venue that houses Buenos Aires’ annual agriculture and livestock show was sponsored by Holland America Line and Seabourn Cruises. Mark Kammerer, Lori Bohn, and Doug Seagle, sponsors for the evening’s festivities, welcomed us and invited us to enjoy a demonstration of horsemanship mixed with dance, a true pageant! I’m still trying to figure out how the female tango dancers, who wore very high heels were able to navigate in the sawdust arena while horses tangoed next to them!
The show was followed by an Asado, Argentine BBQ, of all varieties of meat, sausage and chicken. Before, during and after dinner, guests strolled through the pop-up shops of local artisans. Maita Barrenechea, Managing Director of Mai10, orchestrated the evening. In fact, she organized the entire symposium with help from A&K Argentina, our host hotels, The Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, Alvear Palace Hotel and the Faena Hotel.
Monday was a very long day and oh so worthwhile! Meeting at Catholic University, our General Session began with a presentation by David Kang and Robert Carey, of McKinsey & Company, authors of The Trouble with Travel Distribution. We explored topics including travel advisors influence on purchasing behavior of our clients, the wealth of customer data we have and how to leverage these insights to increase loyalty, and the most effective ways to adapt to the different generations of travelers.
Lunch was a magnificent affair at Buenos Aires’ Alvear Palace followed by 2 ½ hours of intense networking. We had just enough time to dash to our hotels to gather once again at the Four Seasons Hotel for a knock-your-socks-off cocktail reception and heavy hors d’oeuvres (I always think describing a plethora of hors d’oevres as “heavy” is not very appealing—oh well!).
Blink your eyes and we are off to Argentina’s Presidential Palace, called The Pink House, where Granaderos greeted up and escorted us to the Bicentennial Museum in the Palace. Welcomed by Argentina’s Minister of Tourism, Carlos Enrique Meyer, we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner and we were serenaded by an exceptional opera singer. Thank you Larry Pimentel and Edie Bornstein of Azamara Cruises, Ivette Pimentel of Celebrity Cruises, and Vicki Freed and Erick Valdes of Royal Caribbean International, for sponsoring an unforgettable Buenos Aires dinner.
Here’s the take-away from Day 1: This Symposium has an excitement, almost electric. Members and Vendors are collaborating to raise the bar of the customer experience. We all agree the focus must be on our clients and how to best serve them and we are stretching beyond the usual and familiar to create something both unique and vital. Bravo, Virtuoso, you not only orchestrate dreams, you create dynamic, thought-provoking Symposiums.
By the way, I looked up the word “symposium” and Dictionary.com offered (edited by me):
sym·po·si·um [sim-poh-zee-uh m]…noun
1. a meeting or conference for the discussion of some subject, especially a meeting at which several speakers talk on or discuss a topic before an audience. [Yes, that fits!]
4. (in ancient Greece and Rome) a convivial meeting, usually following a dinner, for drinking and intellectual conversation. [“intellectual” conversation after drinking? Really? Strike-through at the editorial choice of the blogger]
Travel to Abu Dhabi, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Bhutan, India and the Maldives, made up our 5 week odyssey last year. When we returned, Michael and I decided we’d travel less in 2013. Like other resolutions made around the beginning of a new year, this one seems to have fallen by the wayside. We’ve already taken several trips within the US – Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Hawaii – and Michael returned a couple of days ago from 12 days in France. I travel on Friday to San Diego for an intensive workshop with Mari Smith, queen of social media, and a Social Media conference, Social Media Marketing World. On April 19 I leave for Buenos Aires for Virtuoso International Symposium 2013 followed by 4 nights in Patagonia, Chile returning home on May 1.
A week at home follows my South American journey— long enough to do some laundry — and we travel for 3 weeks in South Africa and Namibia. We’re attending Indaba, a trade show in Durban, South Africa and then we will head to Namibia for 2 weeks of site inspections and game viewing.
Sprinkle in a few domestic trips and Michael will soon be back in Africa, hosting a group of our travel clients on a safari in Tanzania and gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Today I considered joining the Tanzania safari, but sanity returned for the moment, so I think I’ll stay home.
Be on the alert for blog posts from the Traveling Kings as we venture forth once again. What are your travel plans for 2013? We wish you a world of memorable vacations!