Passion Points: Style
Spotlight: Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has been through a lot of recent hardship: there was the 2004 tsunami, which greatly affected this tropical island nation, as well as the resolution of a lengthy civil war in 2009. But despite all this, the destination, about 18 miles off the southeastern coast of India, has slowly, quietly been transforming itself, thanks to dedicated rebuilding efforts and significant growth. (Its southern resort of Kalpitiya was featured on the exclusive list of the New York Times’ 46 Places to Go in 2013.)
Indagare insider Stephanie von Watzdorf, founder of Figue, visited Sri Lanka recently and returned with rave reviews about the up-and-coming destination that she dubs “the next Bali.” Having spent much of her childhood in Europe, Stephanie first cut her fashion teeth with an Yves Saint Laurent internship in Paris. Today she’s trusted for her impeccable style, which comes through in her globally-inspired womenswear brand, Figue. Indagare spoke to the frequent traveler about her trip and why Sri Lanka should be on the lists of savvy globetrotters.
What prompted this trip to Sri Lanka? Had you been to other areas of Southeast Asia before?
I’ve always wanted to go to Sri Lanka since I was a child–in my mind it was this magical kingdom with beautiful people and incredible jewels. I travel to India a lot, and it’s so close, it would have been crazy not to go once. My visit coincided with Sri Lankan Fashion Week, so I got to see some of the shows and hang out with a friend who lives there. The fashion I saw was a mix of Balinese and new-wave India. It was interesting to watch because I think it’s going to be a real hot spot for travelers in the coming years.
Sri Lankan culture is still evolving, and while parts of the country are sophisticated, others are very raw and untouched. The country has been ravaged by hurricanes and tsunamis, so they are in a period of regrowth and modernization.
How did you map out your itinerary and what were your stops?
I knew I wanted to visit Colombo, Galle, and the coastline, and spend about 2-3 days in each spot, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time. I’d read a lot about Galle (a UNESCO World Heritage site), so I wanted to see it first-hand. I was very impressed, and our hotel, Dutch House (www.thedutchhouse.com/dutch.html), was an adorable little property with majestic rooms teeming with antiques. In Colombo I stayed at this uber-chic hotel called the Titangel (www.paradiseroadhotels.com/tintagel), which had a lovely colonial feel to it. I went to some events at really big hotels that were in need of major refurbishments, so I would definitely recommend travelers stay in boutique hotels in Sri Lanka.
Our third stop was the coastal town Bentota, where we stayed at Villa Bentota (www.paradiseroadhotels.com/villabentota). The refurbished villa was perched right on the beach with a beautiful outdoor seating area overlooking the coastline. We had to traverse two railroad tracks to get to the long, massive beach–a beautiful adventure, and a study in contrasts!
The Sri Lankan people were so friendly and welcoming. For many, meeting us was their first encounter with Americans. For us, interacting with the locals was truly one of the most memorable parts of the trip. We had a tuk-tuk driver in Galle who was so kind and helpful that we hired him for the rest of our time in the city—he even wanted to take us to his house to meet his family and make us dinner!
Did anything surprise you while on your trip?
The lush, vibrant palm trees were incredible. I would sit with my tea and watch the trees move, mesmerized by how they swayed in the wind like belly dancers. It was truly magical, and made even more so by the fact that they grew back with such vigor after being destroyed just years ago.
What kinds of travelers would you recommend a Sri Lanka trip to?
Sri Lanka is best for a sophisticated traveler who is not too particular. The service is a little slow; there aren’t always high-end amenities like a gym, and the air-conditioning can be spotty, so a trip to Sri Lanka requires patience. You have to go with the flow, so if you’re curious and interested in witnessing a culture in the throes of a cultural Renaissance, the lack of super-luxurious amenities won’t matter. The same traveler who goes to India can go to Sri Lanka.
I think Sri Lanka could be the next Bali, that’s how impressed I was. There’s enormous regrowth after the tsunami and some really chic places; in ten years it will be in every magazine and chic travelers will flock there.
What item in your suitcase were you most grateful for/use the most?
My pareos were crucial because it was so hot. I use them as scarves on the plane or wrap them up into a skirt or dress. I also brought caftans that were light and great for the heat.
What were your most interesting purchases?
I didn’t buy anything, which is weird for me! I’m always hunting for incredible jewelry; I find it all over the world and it’s always one-of-a-kind, whether it costs $20 or $5,000, but I just couldn’t find anything in Sri Lanka. There were lots of gemstones that would have required settings, but I couldn’t find any sophisticated jewelry already polished and finished. I was disappointed not to find any gorgeous vintage pieces, but I think unfortunately a lot of antiques were swept away or destroyed in the tsunami.
Was there anything you wish you had known before leaving on your trip?
The food was kind of tricky there—it was good but not great. I would describe it as clean Indian food for lack of a better word. Even at the nice restaurants there were only one or two choices for the entrée, and while I’m admittedly picky, the cuisine definitely leaves a bit to be desired.
What were the challenges of visiting Sri Lanka?
We visited in the spring, when it is insanely hot. I would say the weather around Christmas and during January would be better. Also, our flight leaving at 4am was killer, and the airport was pretty awful.
Where are you traveling next? Where are you dreaming of traveling next?
I’m going to Brazil soon and to Kenya in December. I’m going to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a haven for baby elephants that we donate some of our proceeds to. The trust is dedicated to protecting elephants from the rampant, horrendous poaching going on all over Africa. I’ll be on safari for a couple days after that, and then I will finally visit Lamu, a fabulous little island off the coast of Kenya where my father vacations often. I’ve been dying to go.
Read a member postcard from Sri Lanka.
Read about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Q&A with Brad John, Flight 001
It seems impossible to read a Sunday newspaper, lifestyle magazine or globetrotting tumblr blog without encountering the ever-present, often-bemoaned gripe about ‘air travel these days’. Everyone has their pet peeve, a particular horror story and endless rhetorical questions; How is that child still kicking my seat? Who are these airplane designer sadists? Why is my seatmate talking to me? And while most of us grin (or grimace) and bear it, two men are trying to bring a level of cheerfulness to the dreaded flight. Fifteen years ago, business partners Brad John and John Sencion created Flight 001, a shop dedicated to products that make travel easier, tidier and chicer. Items like the multi-colored, multi-outlet convertor plugs have devoted fans returning to the stores (located in North America, Australia and throughout Asia). Co-founder Brad John spoke to Indagare about future products, favorite in-flight entertainment and some well-tested tricks to battling jetlag.
What annoyances in travel haven’t you been able to create a solution for (yet)?
We are always working on solutions to make traveling easier. We have just introduced a color-coded adapter, which is easy to use and easy to spot so you will not forget it in your hotel room. We are working on other items to help travelers get through security faster and to more easily organize all their travel documents.
What is your biggest travel pet peeve?
Being around travelers who are not enjoying the journey. I see so many people getting upset and stressed about things like security lines, crowded planes, long waits at airports. I believe in making the best of it, trying to enjoy yourself and turning travel into a positive experience. One of the things that bothers me the most is seeing passengers being inconsiderate to flight attendants. Why should anyone be disrespectful to a flight attendant because the bag they brought is too big to fit into the overhead compartment? I am super friendly to flight attendants and, in return, they are to me as well.
How do you combat or avoid jetlag?
I travel a great deal internationally; having some jet lag is unavoidable. I am a good sleeper on the plane (especially after several drinks, even though most people say to not drink alcohol while flying). I try to put my mind in my destination’s time zone as soon as I get on the plane.
What’s your in-flight entertainment of choice?
I love to catch up on movies that I have missed in the theaters. I also like to watch foreign films, especially Indian, which I never do at home. I never work on a plane even if I am traveling for a work trip. For me, flying is great, and I find it an ideal time to relax, not to worry about things and to disconnect from the world.
Would you consider a partnership with an airline to create fresh designs for boarding passes or offer products for sale in-flight, for example?
We have spoken with airlines in the past, and yes we would like to have a partnership with one or more. Several have asked us about doing amenity kits for them but while we are not ready to do that right now; we will in the future. Our Flight 001 partner in Australia is making co-branded bags for QANTAS airlines, which we are happy about.
Which Flight 001 products are you most proud of?
Our Spacepak system is a packing cube that we invented. It is a compression system with a clean and laundry side and it has changed how people pack and made travel so much easier. It is our bestseller in the stores as well as online. Once people buy one, they come back and buy more and tell their friends.
Other items that I am very proud of are our F1 SEATPAK, which has multiple zipped pockets ideal for storing essentials in the plane’s seatback pocket. We have just introduced F1 AVIONETTE, a retro-style luggage that has a modern feel.
What is your favorite place you’ve ever travelled?
My two favorite destinations are Beirut, Lebanon and Tokyo. My heritage is in Lebanon so I find it very comforting to be there. And Tokyo, well it is the most exciting city in the world to me. I recently visited Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for the first time and found it fascinating.
Where to next? Where are you dying to go?
Two places that I have never been to and would really like to visit are Finland and Norway. In the winter, of course.
Learn more, and shop Flight 001 products here.
San Francisco Rising: Hayes Valley & NOPA
Two neighborhoods in San Francisco are leading the way in regards to the cool-factor.
People have long been talking about the emergence of Hayes Valley as a neighborhood for hipster style and independent, cutting edge design. With the inauguration this year of the San Francisco Jazz Center and the opening of several new restaurants in the area, Hayes Valley is no longer emerging. It’s here.
The country’s first stand-alone structure built expressly for jazz, the 35,000 square foot SF Jazz Center (201 Franklin St.) adds to the richness of the neighborhood’s cultural offerings. The transparent structure is in the same three-block radius as Davies Symphony Hall (201 Van Ness Ave.), the War Memorial Opera House (301 Van Ness Ave.), home of the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak St.).
The Jazz Center provides a fitting home for SF Jazz (www.sfjazz.org), which has brought world class music to San Francisco for three decades and presents the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival. Another bonus: the Jazz Center’s café South at SFJAZZ is under the expert guidance of famed chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door. South at SFJAZZ is yet another addition to an impressive culinary scene in the neighborhood. Not long ago most Hayes Valley restaurants served primarily as stopping points on the way to the symphony, opera or ballet.
That time is past. New Hayes Valley restaurants are destinations in their own right, with the most recent arrival, Rich Table, on everyone’s list. Other options include the diminutive and delectable Bar Jules, German-inspired Suppenkuche (525 Laguna St.), or the Arlequin Café (384 Hayes St.), with its peaceful garden in back.
If it isn’t lunchtime, at least stop for a coffee at Ritual Coffee Roasters (432 Octavia St.), located inside a converted shipping container, the brainchild of the Proxy Project, which sees in used containers a waste-saving and playful building material. Or have a luscious hot chocolate at Jonathan Elbow Artisanal Chocolates, (401 Hayes St.).
After your refreshment, it’s time to shop. You won’t find a single major chain store in Hayes Valley; rather, a plethora of quirky and cool independently owned clothing and furniture stores purveying precious wares from local, European and Japanese designers. On the furnishing front, favorites in Hayes Valley include Propeller (555 Hayes St.), Zonal (568 Hayes St.) and In Bed (597 Hayes St.). If it’s shoes you seek, you’ll find them in the Hayes Valley branch of Gimme Shoes and at Paolo (524 Hayes St.). For the hottest men’s sneakers, jog over to Undefeated (516 Hayes St.). The clothing options are even more expansive. Top choices are Alla Prima for imported lingerie (539 Hayes St.), the Cotton Shop for precious Japanese styles (572 Hayes St.), and Nomads for hip, casual menswear (556 Hayes St.).
Now that Hayes Valley has established itself as a bona fide shopping and dining destination, all eyes are on Nopa, an newly named neighborhood inside the Western Addition along Divisadero Street. When the restaurant Nopa arrived, the “Nopa” contraction of “north of the Panhandle,” finally caught on.
The latest newcomer to the ‘hood is the famed Bi-Rite grocery and ice creamery, right next to Nopa the restaurant. Also brand new is The Mill (736 Divisadero St.), specializing in coffee and delectable breads. The oyster and seafood spot Bar Crudo (655 Divisadero St.) has also moved here from downtown. Nopa’s sister restaurant Nopalito serves organic Mexican fare.
Shopping is still oriented towards young, limited budgets, with hipster duds at Backspace (351 Divisadero), vintage items at The Other Shop (327 Divisadero St.) and a mix of knickknacks at Magpie & Rye (262 Divisadero St.).
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