Cool reasons to visit Curacao   no comments

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Affectionately dubbed “Holland of the Tropics,” Curacao is a melting pot on bold display with more than 100 nationalities calling the cosmopolitan island home. Forty- four miles off the Venezuelan coast and a three-hour hop from Miami, the island is below the hurricane belt making it a popular choice for travelers who can do without the angst of weather delays. Thirty-eight curvy beaches ring the coast. With a pastel-painted promenade, delightfully narrow streets and gabled colonial architecture in the capital city of Willemstad, Curacao is Caribbean chic at its finest. For an authentic slice of island life, check out our list of the coolest must-dos in Curacao.

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Time travel

Eye-candy for photographers, this 19th-century structure was built to protect the island from pirates. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage site boasts unrivalled views of Willemstad and more than 50 cannons still inside its coral walls. Reimagined by the Renaissance Curacao Resort, the former soldiers’ barracks now house designer boutiques, restaurants and bars where funky bands play after dark. For an afternoon respite, the resort’s clever faux-sand beach slopes into a pool filled with saltwater siphoned from the ocean right behind it.

Idyllic dives

Good-sized barracudas follow divers at Punt’i Piku across the channel from Barbara Beach; fishermen shoot the breeze at one end of Daaibooi Beach as snorkelers cavort with sponges and star corals below the surface. At Divers Leap, sea horses perch near the sea wall that is spectacular with an abundance of deep-water fish. A convenient home base for a diving vacay, Hilton Curacao makes it easy with “Dare to you Dive” that includes the room, snacks and excursions organized by Caribbean Sea Sports, the resort’s new PADI-certified dive center.

Local art

In an 18th-century plantation house overlooking the salt pans of St. Marie and the flamingo sanctuary of Willibrordus, Nena Sanchez Gallery is a vibrant feast for the eyes. Inspired by the flowers, cottages, banana trees and people of the island, her brightly-colored paintings and statuesque sculptures are popular buys with tourists and locals who also flock to her “Paint to Relax” workshop held every second Sunday of the month. A second gallery is now open in Willemstad.

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Taste the melting pot

Easy to remember because its address is also its name, No. 5 at 5 Penstraat — one of the most historic streets on the island — comes with a Belgian chef, a Dutch owner and a menu that marries French flavors with Italian recipes. A jazzy soundtrack, discreet service, and a shareable steak grilled medium-rare with a pesto swirl alongside have earned the tiny eatery high marks for a romantic dinner for two. East of the Queen Emma Bridge, Kome is owned by a pair of culinary whirling dervishes from Florida who love showing off their frenetic exhibition kitchen to hungry diners. Get there early for the fried chicken and Funchi Fries (think French fries but with a smooth middle made from corn meal) and the addictive tomato jam (like ketchup but better) made with onions, nutmeg, cloves, hot peppers and cinnamon.

Floating market

Arrive before 7 a.m., when Venezuelan schooners unpack their wooden fishing boats that double as their living quarters. Setting up shop along the water on the Punda side of Willemstad, rows of fruits, vegetables, herbs and fish plucked from the sea are for sale at the Floating Market. Next door in the big round building, vendors in the New Market hawk everything from handicrafts to homemade honey in reusable bottles.

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Eat like a local

Behind the Post Office in Willemstad, Marshe Bieuw is a no-frills food court dishing up ‘krioyo’ or local fare served at communal tables decorated with jars of pickled onions and hot peppers. Hearty plates of goat stew, stewed chicken and kingfish with sides of plantains and funchi will run USD$22 for two, including tip and drinks.

Cheese classes

A big hit with aficionados who crave the distinctive cheeses of Holland and Switzerland, Royal Dutch Cheesery in the Renaissance Mall now offers cheese classes and wine pairings. Palate pleasing for newbies and connoisseurs, reservations are recommended as classes fill up fast.

Beach getaway

Take the air-conditioned bus from Willemstad (USD$1.50 for a one-way fare) to Jan Thiel Beach. East of Willemstad, the beach is popular with families who come to enjoy lunch at the Papagayo Beach Club where the fresh tuna salad — ask for the vanilla-tinged salad dressing — is divine. At the dive shop on the sand, snorkel equipment can be rented and day tours arranged.

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Escape the crowds

Heading to Westpunt towards Mount Christoffel, the island’s highest point, the scene is less crowded than at the tourist meccas on the opposite end of the island. Keep your eyes open for the rock walls that were built by slaves in the 1700s and their small houses that are now museums. Snack bars serve iguana soup; gaggles of goats cross the highway, and plenty of small beaches make for lively distractions. A stop at Shete Boka National Park is worthwhile for the uninterrupted vistas of the rugged coast and a seat at a picnic table, where sharing a salted fish sandwich with a drizzle of Willy’s piquant pepper sauce is as local as it gets.

No-frills Friday

Open only on Friday, Equus is the neighborhood joint of choice for juicy skewers of beef and chicken grilled on a brick fire pit. Buckets of beer, garlic-smeared toast and dipping sauces come with the long strands of cubed meat that dangle from giant hooks hung over each table. With Country Western tunes punctuating the air, no menus, no cutlery and a cash-only policy, dinner is an un-guide-book gem. Low tech without a website or Facebook page, the best option for directions is via email:

Throw one back

The oldest bar in Curacao is also one of the most charming. In the non-touristy neighborhood of Otrabanda, Netto Bar has been around for six decades and although it’s a bit worn around the edges, shots of the signature green rum or Ròm Bèrdè still fuels sprightly conversations about football and politics among locals who gather every day at Happy Hour.

Jazzy August

For the fifth year, the North Sea Jazz Festival heats up the island on August 29 and 30 with marquee names like soul superstar Smoky Robinson and hip crooner Bruno Mars. Concerts are staged at the World Trade Center with after-parties island-wide until the sun comes up.

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Written by enfoquec on August 19th, 2014

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Tourism insights from around the world   no comments

Posted at 8:58 pm in the places I would like to go

Omar Khedr

By Omar Khedr

Changing perceptions and successfully rebounding an entire industry is generally a herculean challenge.  Representing approximately 6.5% of Egypt’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as being an important source of foreign exchange, Egypt’s travel and tourism industry forms a vital bedrock of her economy. The industry benefits from several competitive advantages. Endowed with eight UNESCO World Heritage sights and unparalleled historic landmarks such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Temple of Abu Simbel, and the great Luxor Temple Complex; Egypt is a magnet for visitors from across the world. The country also boasts a rich cultural diversity, hosting Al-Azhar University, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, as well as the recently restored Maimonides’ Synagogue – named after the Jewish court physician of Sultan Salahuddin Ayub. Egypt’s travel and tourism industry is further bolstered by the country’s location; positioned at a strategic crossroad between the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia.

Despite these favourable factors, since 2011, a heightened level of volatility due to a rapidly changing political and security climate has characterised Egypt’s travel and tourism industry. In the past three years, the number of international tourist visitors to Egypt has fallen from 14.7 million in 2010 to 9.1 million in 2013. Just as grim is the World Economic Forum’s study of global tourism destinations, which ranked Egypt an upsetting 85th overall and 10th among countries in the Middle East. However, Egypt is not the only country in the world to experience setbacks and a challenging operating environment while attempting to revitalise its tourism industry. By adopting certain best practices from countries that have successfully turned around their travel and tourism sectors, Egyptian policy makers can encourage new visitors. Furthermore, by taking a few additional measures, Egyptian business leaders and policy makers can more fully capitalise on the growing number of tourists coming from emerging markets and the GCC – opening a new avenue for growth.

Ranked 73rd overall in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism index, Peru experienced its own volatile period in the 1990s as the country faced a war on terrorism as well as undertaking a government transition in the early 2000s.  Peru with competitive advantages that, like Egypt, include unrivalled historic sites such as Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and 11 UNESCO World Heritage sights – began marketing itself by building a unique brand. Policymakers and business leaders in Peru combined the country’s historic landmarks, its cultural roots, along with its unique physical geography that offers beach resorts along the coast, ski resorts along the Andes Mountains and hiking trails along the Amazonian rain forest in an attempt to entice a greater influx of visitors. While tourism has been a strategic objective of Egypt’s economic development, policy makers have not sufficiently prioritised linking the different clusters of Egypt’s tourism sector. According to Michael Rochat, the General Director of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne – one of the world’s leading hospitality schools, hospitality has always been “a link between people and culture”. As Figure 1 illustrates, Egypt’s tourism infrastructure is currently ranked 90th globally, preventing tourists from connecting easily with Egypt’s cultural sites that are located far away from major airports in Cairo, Alexandria, and Sharm El-Sheikh. In comparison, Jordan is ranked at 69th and Lebanon at 27th in tourism infrastructure, highlighting the distance that needs to be addressed. By tackling the infrastructure issue and by building a unique brand that highlights and connects the diversity of Egypt’s cultural sites – Egyptian decision makers can enrich the cultural experience of international visitors as well as increase Egypt’s tourism percentage of GDP.


Based on data released by Egypt’s tourism related ministries, a significant portion of Egypt’s inbound tourists in 2012 originated from emerging markets. Cumulatively, the top five emerging markets represented 38.9% of total international visitors to Egypt in 2012. Russia, in particular, accounted for 21.7% of tourists with more than 2.5 million over that year. Furthermore, in recent years, tourists from emerging economies have been a source of positive growth for the sector. In the six years to 2013, tourists from emerging markets increased at an average annual rate of 8.0%. In comparison, during this same period, inbound tourists from all countries decreased at an annualised rate of 3.1%. Consequently, travellers from these rapidly growing markets can form an important avenue of stability and growth over the next few years.

Being increasingly vital for a rebound in Egypt’s travel and tourism industry, Egyptian policy leaders can take additional steps to fully capitalise on visitors from emerging markets. As Figure 2 illustrates, Egypt’s overall occupancy rates is at 44.5% much lower than peer countries, despite Egypt being ranked as the fourth most price competitive country in the world. The situation is worse in Luxor, were the occupancy rate has fallen by more than 15% since 2010, according to data provided by the Egyptian Hotels Federation. Policy makers must do more to stress the value proposition to tourist agencies in these rapidly developing countries. For instance, compared with countries that, like Egypt, host one of the new Wonders of the World – Egypt is the most affordable according to the hotel price index. Beyond promoting the affordability argument, Egyptian decision makers should also improve the tourism eco-system. One way to do so is to increase the number of ATMs across the country. Currently, Egypt has one of the lowest ATMs per capita globally. Increasing the amount of ATMs will provide tourists with greater accessibility to their funds, which will increase their economic activity within the country.


In a recent report on one of Egypt’s key industries, researchers at Harvard University’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness highlight that Egyptian policy makers must forge a clear vision for economic improvement that can be sustainable across political and business cycles. By prioritising the tourism sector and taking concrete action to encourage more international visitors, Egyptian decision makers can begin to turn around this important industry.

Omar Khedr is an analyst at IBISWorld, a graduate of New York University, and currently a member of the United Nations Association of Young Professionals. 

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Written by enfoquec on August 19th, 2014

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Sectarian Past and Pluralist Hopes for Iraq’s Likely Leader   no comments

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Written by enfoquec on August 19th, 2014

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Gaza’s long-neglected heritage hard hit by latest war   no comments

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The site is believed to have hosued a mosque since the seventh century and parts of the Omari were said to date back to the 14th century.

A modern building was added several years ago, but the Omari had been one of Gaza’s few remaining historic buildings. Now it stands in ruins.

The muezzin was killed after he had given the call to prayer, residents said.

The narrow sliver of territory tucked into the eastern Mediterranean between Egypt and Israel has been home to settled communities since at least 3,300 BC, historians say, governed by the Caananites, Pharoahs, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century AD.

It was ruled by the Mamluk dynasty in the 13th century, and three centuries later joined the Ottoman Empire, which held sway until the British took the area in 1917.

But Gaza has relatively little to show for its history.

Centuries of conquest and conflict, and rapid population growth since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 have hit the enclave’s cultural heritage badly. Squat apartment blocks built from breeze blocks line many of the city’s streets.

“It’s not a priority for anyone,” said Yasmeen al-Khoudary, who helps curate a private museum set up by her engineer father Jawdat.

“When you think of Gaza you never think of history, or ancient Gaza or archaeology, you always think food, medicine, refugee camps, Hamas.”

To compensate for the lack of state-funded museums, her father started collecting artefacts from the Canaanite era to World War I that he unearthed while working as an engineer.

He set up the private museum on the seafront in Gaza City in 2008 to showcase the ancient pottery, coins, bronze work and weapons.

He added a restaurant and hotel, incorporating historic items into the centre: the pillars on the verandah at the restaurant were originally part of the tracks of the railway that ran through Gaza.

Yasmeen said her family planned to expand the collection and renovate the museum, and that two French archaeologists visited in April to help.

One returned to continue her work in early July, but was forced to leave once the war started.

Indirect damage 

Stood in the rubble of the Omari mosque, Ahmed al-Barsh, from the tourism and antiquities ministry, says the fighting has caused both direct and indirect damage to Gaza’s heritage since it broke out on 7 July.

“Indirect damage since it was impossible for visitors, foreigners, students and scholars to enter,” he said.

Even before the war, the Israeli blockade imposed in 2007 made his work nearly impossible, he explained. 

Israeli authorities restrict the entry to Gaza of some key construction materials, including cement and steel, which they say Hamas could use to build attack tunnels, and so renovations look difficult.

“Israel banned the entry of materials for renovation, and international foundations and organisations working in the field cut support,” Barsh said.

Another site obliterated in the latest fighting was the 15th century Al-Mahkamah mosque in Shejaiyah, in Gaza City, one of the neighbourhoods worst hit by shelling.

All that remains of the original structure is the Mamluk-era sandstone minaret, its intricately patterned masonry still intact in a pile of rubble, electricity cables and twisted metal.

But it is the Darraj neighbourhood which is home to some of Gaza’s oldest buildings, including the Grand Omari Mosque and the Church of Saint Porphyrius, both of them in good condition.

The Hamam al-Samara, Gaza’s only remaining Turkish bath, has served the residents of Darraj for more than 1,000 years, and has more recently become a tourist attraction for the few who visit.

Mohamed al-Wazeer’s family has run the baths for nearly 100 years, but they were forced to shut when the latest conflict began. 

“The war happened to everyone. Everyone who had a business shut it,” he shrugged as he smoked a cigarette under the domed ceiling of his empty bath house.

He plans to reopen as soon as a permanent truce is reached. Despite the financial damage caused by the war, he plans to use the hammam to offer Gazans a respite from the war.

He said he would encourage people to return and relax in the baths by cutting entry from 20 ($6) shekels to 10 ($3), “out of solidarity with the people, because of the situation we have just been through”.

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Written by enfoquec on August 17th, 2014

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Those who have little understanding of life in the Middle East watch the current events and wonder about what has happened to the vehicle we call “practice of democracy” there in the recent months. Revolutions were held, wars have been fought, and in some countries, such as Iraq and Egypt and Turkey, the keys to the vehicle were handed over (but apparently without a manual)!

Many Westerners do not realize that the idea of democracy is only in the infant stages in this part of the world, with the Republic of Turkey being the most experienced on the road.

To understand the present, you need to be acquainted with the past and its heritage. The average Westerner has no real understanding of the Ottoman period and Islamic tradition. During the Ottoman period, every aspect of a person’s daily life was not only influenced, but ruled. If not, there were consequences. One wonders if the days of such times have not only returned, but are here to stay. As local and international news reports, the current situations in Iraq and Syria, some would answer in the affirmative, without any hesitation, but with much regret.

It is frightening to watch on the television reports of the specter of a humanitarian calamity in Iraq towards Yazidis and Christian minorities. Since the American invasion of 2003 in Iraq, the doors have been opened to opportunity — be it democracy or whatever.

Intelligence now reports that thousands of citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria as “jihadist tourists.” It is alarming that sometimes they entered through ports of entry from Turkey to go and provide support to the Islamist insurgency in control of certain parts of Iraq and Syria.

Perhaps if more orientation and experience and support with guidance to use the new “vehicle” had been provided before handing over the keys, the situation would be different. But on the other hand, there comes a time when one needs to take responsibility. The idea of democracy is new to the Middle East. Before introducing democracy in the region — confederations, emirates, dictatorships, monarchies and, of course, the 600-plus years of Ottoman reign were practiced or, shall we say, imposed.

To understand the current trends, you need to be familiar with Ottoman history, and no better scholar can do this than Norman Itzkowitz, an Ottoman scholar who points out in his book “Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition” that the history of the Turkic peoples in Anatolia develops from the Oghuz confederation to emirates and then to empire.

Itzkowitz explains how the Seljuks, a Turkish Sunni Muslim dynasty, “started as military bands hired by Muslim princes and soon emerged as governors of provinces, and eventually became autonomous rulers of vast areas.” Baghdad had been the seat of the caliphate, but it fell to them in 1055. This was, Itzkowitz states, the start of High Islam and its twin pillars of orthodoxy and taxation.

Those of us who have been raised elsewhere than the Middle East are familiar with other governing styles: In the West, the Athenians and Romans gave us democracy and the city state. The founding fathers of America defined government as being of the people, by the people, for the people. Many kings and queens in Europe believed in absolute monarchy — their divine right to rule — until some of them lost their lives in revolution. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, espoused communism. Islam has been embraced and practiced by the majority in the Middle East for centuries.

The idea of democracy is one of complete contrast to that of Islam. Islam functions not only as a religion but also serves as a social structure and form of government impacting one’s worldview and religious views in particular. Westerners tend to overlook the fact that the choice of model for a nation’s government and social order is often inextricably linked with their view of God.

Let’s not forget that it was not that long ago during the Cold War we had a stand-off between on one side the United States — “one nation under God” — and on the other, the Soviet Union, which upheld the teachings of Marx that “religion is the opiate of the people.”

The only quotation many foreigners know about the Ottoman Empire is “sick man of Europe” — an epithet applied to it by its enemy Tsar Nicholas II. But in 1603 the English historian Richard Knolles less famously called it “the present terror of the world.”

It seems that what Knolles describes of the past is what is happening in the present before our eyes.

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Written by enfoquec on August 17th, 2014

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In Pictures: Gazans pray in destroyed mosques   no comments

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Written by enfoquec on August 17th, 2014

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Anti-Semitism Stirs in Latin America   no comments

Posted at 8:41 pm in the places I would like to go

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Written by enfoquec on August 15th, 2014

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