Monthly Archives: July 2013

Russian & Turkish Baths: An Old World Approach to Modern Health

Going to a spa is one thing, but have you ever been inside a banya or booked a platza? You can find out what they are at Russian & Turkish Baths, a traditional bathhouse in New York City’s East Village since 1892.

photo-47On East 10th Street and near 1st Avenue, this institution is an old-school health club. Both men and women get basic services such as massages and scrubs or sit in steam rooms or saunas to relax or rejuvenate. If you’re used to upscale venues, here’s an important thing to keep in mind before your visit. There are no frills. It is very simple in appearance and formalities.

Upon entering, the staff at the front desk gives you a locker key (they take your wallet and keys for safe keeping inside a safety deposit box at the desk). You can grab a robe (a plain black one that is short in length) and black shorts to slip on and a pair of sandals. Pick up your towel or two before you walk into either the men or women’s locker room to get ready.

photo-48I decided to come to the bathhouse after seeing a daily deals promotion that included admission (a separate fee) plus the cost of a service. During my recent visit, I got a massage that ended up being a shiatsu, and headed to the upper level of the building where the massage rooms are. After the massage, my masseuse pitched some additional treatments such as scrubs I could purchase and have while I was still there. I found I had to be a bit firm but still polite on my decline. Also, keep in mind, there is a tip scale requirement. When I was ready, he took me around the building to show me where other services were.


Also upstairs, there is a sun deck which is an outdoor patio with lounge chairs for relaxing and hanging out. The lower level of the building houses two different saunas, a steam room, a pretty cold dipping pool and showers. A section called the Russian Room gets its heat from hot stones but has a shower head for cooling down quickly (I jumped at that one). This room is also where a treatment called platza happens. You’re scrubbed hard with a broom made of fresh oak leaves, which have a natural astringent, and dripping with olive oil soap. It’s said to be a major skin cleanser.

The lower level can also get quite communal, as you sit alongside both genders and various ages. Just relax and get comfortable. It also makes for some good people watching. Being a newbie, a few guys were kind to point me in the right direction to restrooms and showers and suggested how and when I should cool off. I also chatted with a couple that came here often and other women who were new to the place like me.

The Russian & Turkish Baths are co-ed most of the day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There are times for women only are on Wednesday mornings through early afternoon and then men only times most of Thursday afternoon and then again Sunday morning until early afternoon. Also note: the place is owned and operated by two different men who have separate schedules. You can only use admission passes you buy during the shift of the manager you bought it from. Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit and a bottle of water with you. Check the website for more information and a full schedule beforehand.

Fiji Airways’ New Flight Direction Takes Off

On June 27, Fiji’s national airline Air Pacific underwent a changeover in flight status by returning to its roots with its founding name, Fiji Airways. The launch date also rolled in a number of significant changes for the carrier, including a new line of three A330-200 airbuses and a rebranding that incorporates the Fijian tradition of Masi motifs.

photo(50)To reveal these changes to American flyers, Fiji Airways hosted a consumer launch party at the Flight Path Museum in Los Angeles on July 8. A private walk-through of an A330 led by the airline’s CEO Aubrey Swift provided a sneak peek at business and economy class with enhancements ranging from seat design to inflight entertainment.

Business class guests will sleep comfortably as the section’s 24 seats are now equipped with an eight degree in-flight sleep bed and 76 inches of bed length at 60 inches of pitch. Fliers in this section will also find Panasonic’s 15.4-inch LCD displays, a handset that includes a credit card reader and keyboard, a noise cancelling audio jack and a USB interface. They will also receive special amenity kits for overnight flights and noise cancelling IFE headsets.

With meals, fine dining will include world-class menus with more choices and a selection of fine wines. Another new feature for business class is a sleeper and breakfast service called Yadra Vinaka. Meaning “Good Morning” in the Fijian language, the service lets passengers specify when they want their morning meal served.


FJ-INTERIORS_01_6846_WBBottom photo provided by Fiji Airways

With seating, the 254-seat economy class on the A330 hasn’t been forget about. Slight adjustments relating to the armrest and seat angle have been made to increase personal space. Passengers can also stay entertained with a state of the art system from Panasonic’s eX2 that features on-demand television programs, movies, radio, video games, and other applications. The system also contains a USB port for charging devices. An outlet plug is located on the lower part of the seat. And for young passengers, a Fiji Airways Kids Club provides complimentary entertainment for children with movies, games and e-books.

DSCN0016FJ-INTERIORS_01_6980_WBBottom photo provided by Fiji Airways

Right now for the U.S. market, the airline offers flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Fiji six days a week. In December, there will be seven flights per week (adding on Fridays) and, during Fiji’s peak travel season, eight flights a week out of LAX. In addition to the new A330s, the airline will be upgrading its existing Boeing 737s through the end of this year.

Culturally speaking, the airline has rebranded its trademark by incorporating Masi motifs. Created by recognized Fijian Masi artist Makereta Matermosi, this stone-toned symbol will grace the aircraft’s fuselage areas. As for inside in the aircraft, blankets and pillows also have Masi patterns with an earthy-shade for business class and a salmon hue in economy. Flight attendants will also be sporting color as well. Their new uniforms contain vibrant hues and rich tones and patterns reflective of Fijian culture.

photo(48)Accompanying our crew on board the A330, Elizabeth Powell, Fiji’s permanent secretary for public enterprises and tourism and director of the board for Fiji Airways, shared new marketing strategies aiming to promote Fiji to Americans as a potential vacation destination.

In visiting Fiji, Powell cited that Americans are more likely to seek to connect more with the country in ways that differ from their Aussie and New Zealand counterparts. The latter appear to opt for short stays or remain at one hotel or on one island.

With American visitors, their vacation interests involve pursuing adventure activities and interacting with local residents to learn more about culture. For those who love spending time in the ocean, water activity options in Fiji can encompass everything from surfing to water rafting to diving.

For newlyweds, Fiji can also be considered as a honeymoon location or even for holding a destination wedding (having a Fijian ceremony can happen too).

“If you’re the type of person looking for something that’s unusual [and] genuine, that allows you to be part of that experience; that is why [you] should think about Fiji,” Powell explained.


Fiji Airways CEO Aubrey Swift (center) is joined by Elizabeth Powell, permanent secretary for public enterprises and tourism and director of the board for Fiji Airways, (back) and the airline’s flight attendants in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

And that thinking appears to be on the rise. Since 2009, U.S. visitors to Fiji has increased by 3 to 4 percent, and 2012 welcomed in around 56,400 visitors. For this year, Powell cited that estimates will factor in double digit growth.

Oprah Winfrey’s visit to Fiji last December has also been a major tourism boost. A recent announcement about the historical port town of Levuka becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been good news for Fiji as well.

Right now, most of Fiji’s visitors primarily come from New Zealand and Australia, and Fiji is recognized for many attributes such as being called the “Soft Coral Capital of the World.”

According to Powell, Fijians are genuinely warm welcoming to visitors, noted for their sense of hospitality. “It’s in our DNA,” she added.

“We are about each other,” said Powell of Fijians’ sense of community. “Everyone is connected.”

Fiji Airlines’ rebranding compliments the tourism board’s new direction. Each of its three A330s will be named after Fijian islands. Two planes have taken their positions this past March and May. The third aircraft is scheduled to make its debut in November. All three of them are powered by twin Rolls-Royce’s Trent 700 engines that are made to be fuel efficient and produce less C02 emissions.

In changing direction with its marketing campaign, Tourism Fiji adopted a new slogan: “Fiji: Where Happiness Finds You.” This change alternates from the previous slogan, called “Fiji Me,” which was ended due to being difficult to define its meaning, Powell said. “For a small country, we have to do things smart.”

Similar to Tourism Fiji, Fiji Airways’ turnaround plan took off in 2010, and further product and service enhancements will continue through the rest of this year. To continue on its celebrated launch, the airline has launched a fare sale. Now through August 31, 2013, book round trip Los Angeles to Fiji direct starting at $999. Conditions may vary. Visit

For more information about Tourism Fiji, visit

Final Day on Fiji’s Coral Coast

The final place of stay during our media trip was at Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji in Sigatoka, on the Coral Coast region in Southern Viti Levu. Opened in 2005, the Outrigger is a beachside complex designed to replicate a Fijian village. Around the property, accommodations include 254 hotel rooms, suites and differently placed sets of bure bungalows. And just recently, this AAA five-star accredited resort opened an adults-only Vahavu swimming pool, bistro and banquet pavilion.


I enjoyed my stay inside my oceanview suite, yet I think one of the resort’s best scenic views, in my opinion, can be found at reception, on the upper level of the property’s main building. This facility also contains shops, conferences and meeting rooms, and a “grab and go” eatery. Head to the ground level to exit and follow walkways leading to the resort’s restaurants, cafes and bars and pool area.


Dining options include Ivi Restaurant for fine dining; Sundowner Bar & Grill, with an extensive steak and seafood menu; Baravi Restaurant and accompanying bar, for eating by the pool lounge or bar side with Asian-inspired cuisine options; and Vale Ni Kana, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner inside a bure. And get before dinner drinks or a nightcap at the Vakavanua Lounge. A tennis court, fitness center and golf driving range (accessible by a underground tunnel) are also offered.

Guests receive personalized service called “Talai Touch.” As the Fijian word talai means “to serve,” among the Talai butlers’ deliveries is a nightly offering: a complimentary pairing of canapes and champagne (or other choice of beverage) right to your door.


On Sunday afternoon, I went for my spa appointment at Bebe Spa. You are escorted to this spa (Bebe is the Fijian word for butterfly) by car, as the sanctuary is based on a mountain ridge above the resort. Its high-hill location provides lovely views of the South Pacific’s ocean waters and also ties in with the notion of providing a sense of getting away. With the picturesque scenery, it’s surprising yet understandable to have a wedding chapel called Bure ni Loloma on the grounds as well as a Kalokalo Bar for perhaps a cocktail after your service is completed.


Spa services extend to specialty facials, body wraps, exfoliations and hands and feet treatments. With massages, offerings include ones that incorporate Fijian and other South Pacific techniques such as a Fijian Bobo massage that centers on using fluid strokes from the hands, elbows and forearms. As for me, I opted to get a Dilo and Cucumber Body Wrap, which is tailored to sunburned skin (which, due to being fair skinned, I had gotten a bit of). The wrap contains dilo and coconut oils to restore moisture to the skin and cucumber helps with cooling.

Around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, our group went to a village called Korotogo — a short drive from Outrigger — to attend a morning church service. Arriving early, we were able to take a quick walk and met and talked to older and younger residents who also were on their way to church. Dressed in their Sunday best, a group of small children walked back with us and sat near us for the roughly two-hour service. When the service ended, we got to enjoy a photo op with the children, who were very good in church!

photo(62) photo(61) photo(60) photo(59)

In the early evening, we packed up again and returned to Nadi for our Fiji Airways flight back to Los Angeles. Moce (goodbye) and Vinaka (thank you), Fiji!


Seeing Suva and Heading to a Cultural Center

Fiji’s capital city of Suva, on the Island of Viti Levu, has a number of retail shops, government buildings, shopping malls, a movie theater multiplex, and eateries. It’s also where heads of state and diplomats reside. Plus, it’s home to Suva Municipal Market, an open-air food market; seminaries and colleges like the University of the South Pacific; a Municipal Handicraft Centre; and the factory for Pure Fiji, a popular line of skincare and haircare products.

While in Suva, we drove by and stopped at many important places. The Presidential Palace is once where Fiji’s British governors resided during colonization. It also has a changing of the guard ceremony on the last day of each month. Next on to Albert Park, where aviator Charles Kingsford Smith landed his plane, a trimotor Fokker VII-3M, in early June 1928. Last Saturday, we saw rugby matches going on there.

Across from Albert Park, the Thurston Gardens is also the location for The Fiji Museum, which has two halls of impressive archeological findings and exhibits on Fiji’s various residents, indigenous and settlers that came to the islands over the past century. The museum has quite a collection, which dates back 3,700 years!


Having a good regular admission price, the Fiji Museum’s lower level contains exhibits relating to fishing and sailing. One eye-catching display is a double-hulled canoe with five steering oars that require a few hands to lift, as well as a house raft made out of bamboo. Pottery is also on view at the museum, particularly with the Lepati, a group of people who created a type of pottery known as Lepita pottery. Visitors can also learn more about Masi, which mixes intricate patterns and warm colors for detailed clothing designs.


There are also exhibits showing historical periods such as the arrival of religious missionaries to Fiji and other nationalities such as Indian peoples who came to Fiji during its time as a British colony as indentured labor.

Heading toward Pacific Harbour, we visited the Arts Village, a cultural center that holds demonstrations on Fijian traditions through reenactments. Locals perform various roles found in a village. On the property, a guide takes visitors to a tribal chief’s bure to meet him and observe interactions between him and his tribe’s various members in his home. First, a “visitor” would give a Tama, which is a call to asking permission to enter the bure. A yes or no answer from the chef would be delivered.DSCN0422photo(45)photo(46)

Removing our shoes upon entering the bure, we learned that the chief has a spokesperson that interacts in him giving order or responding to delivered messages. Inside his home, the chief has one wife, other “wives” serve as concubines, and servants. Each person in a tribe has a specific role such as a messenger or a spokesperson. Actors demonstrated how the chief would react to certain news, as well as showing his interactions with his tribesmen.  Also, while inside the bure, we also participated in a kava drinking ceremony.

Among the shows performed at the Arts Center are a fire walking demonstration. One island where fire walking is credited to being from is Beqa. Only males are permitted to participate in fire walking, where they move across heated stones, and they have to refrain from certain activities like having coconuts in order to do so. Meke, form of traditional communal Fijian dances, were also performed.

DSCN0432The Arts Village also has a number of restaurants and shops, with the option of having a lovo lunch. This type of meal is cooked in an earthen fire pit. Guests too can choose to stay at the site in dormitory accommodations inside its Tsulu Beach Bunkhouse. These cultural offerings make The Arts Village at Pacific Harbour worth a visit!

Maintaining Responsible Luxury: Royal Davui Island Resort

For Thursday, July 11, my group departed to the next place on our Fijian itinerary for one night’s stay and a good amount of time in the early afternoon to explore the property. This time, we headed off to Royal Davui Island Resort, arriving to this waterside location by speedboat.


On an island called Ugaga, off the southwestern coast of Viti Levu, Royal Davui Island Resort is a private Fijian paradise whose owners maintains a healthy philosophy in providing “responsible luxury” to guests. Established as a partnership between Grahame Southwick, his wife, Margaret, and their friend, Keith Watkins, the land in which Royal Davui now stands on had been a place where the three friends often went for picnicking.

DSCN0255 DSCN0247
Sharing an interest in opening a resort, these friends decided to go in on developing the five and a half-acre property, which opened in 2005 after a two-long construction period.

Presently, Royal Davui’s layout consists of 15 villas (a mix of Vales and Suites) slightly varying in features but all have ocean side views of Southern Beach and Western Beach (which is said to be best for snorkeling) and even the Davui Marine Sanctuary. One villa presently serves as the temporary location for Spa Davui. A permanent home for this spa, which uses Pure Fiji products, is set for completion by the end of this year.

photo(19)DSCN0307 DSCN0299 DSCN0284

In keeping its eco-setting in mind, each vale and suite was constructed from timber directly coming from sustainable plantation stock . All depict South Pacific living as well. For both air ventilation and energy conservation, they contain a Vengola, a retracting set of ceiling blinds that guests can use in place of turning on AC units, or also open their patio doors. Bedding gets changed every third day to lessen the amount of detergents – biodegradable cleaners are used – that get into the waterways. Water purifiers are also found inside each villa.

photo(27) photo(28)DSCN0285


In my island plunge pool vale, number 6, I had two patio choices, leading from either by bedroom or front room, for sitting out and taking in the South Pacific scenery. A stone plunge pool was adjacent to both decks. The bathroom included a Jacuzzi, dual vanity sinks, stand-up shower and closet. A flashlight is kept in the closet so guests can walk back to their suites at night along well-kept pathways.

Near reception, there is an entertainment room, a fitness room, and Banyan Restaurant & Bar. Wi-Fi is only accessible in the restaurant, which has a daily changing menu, and the reception room. However a strong mix of complimentary and charged activity options would encourage guests to step away from laptops and smartphones.

photo(21) photo(22) photo(23) photo(24)

Guests can do just about any water or outdoor interest from stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling to nearby hiking and scuba diving. Dive sites are about within 15-45 minutes of the resort. The property also contains a swimming pool, and a Marine Centre, where activity bookings take place, and guides accompany guests on excursions such as Hobie Cat Sailing and an island snorkeling tour.

photo(32) photo(33)

As an adult’s only resort, the resort’s lush and remote setting is fitting as the setting for special occasions for couples ranging from honeymoons to anniversaries. Even weddings can be held there; guests can opt to have Fijian ceremonies performed. To make a couple’s stay extra special, guests can opt to purchase time in a private dining hut nicknamed the “Love Shack” to enjoy a meal for two.


As Fijians are noted for their warm, welcoming nature, it’s present here. And in song. All visitors receive a warm melodic greeting. With each guest’s arrival and departure, the resort staff gathers in unison to welcome or bid guests adieu, as a chorus presenting traditional Fijian songs such as a farewell song called Isa Lei.

Transportation options to Royal Davui Island Resort include by seaplane, helicopter or speedboat.

Taste the ‘Flavours of Fiji’ at New Cooking School

To get a “taste” of Fijian culture, hopefully you would like to try local dishes. On Fiji’s Denarau Island, the Flavours of Fiji Cooking School takes your culinary interest a bit further by having you get “hands-on” in learning more about traditional cuisine. And, of course, you get to eat what you make.

Opened this past May, Flavours of Fiji Cooking School’s focus is on teaching tourists and visitors how to cook what is called the “Fijian way.” Instructors who are also home cooks share time-honored cooking methods and stories about Fijian living inside this modern-purpose cooking facility. The school also has a gift section selling local products such as teas and spices and cookware and tableware. DSCN0193DSCN0175DSCN0189

When our group arrived at the school, we were greeted with a refreshing drink: a delicious Chilled Bu (coconut) juice. And the “glasses” were coconut shells. After settling in, we were given a brief lecture about the various ingredients we would be using.



On a table across from us, an arrangement of different fruits and green and root vegetables were displayed with their Fijian names and accompanied by factual information in English. This selection of produce included:

DSCN0182–       Bhindi, which is okra

–       Rourou, which are Taro leaves and taste like spinach

–     Dovu, which is sugar cane

–       Wi, which is a fruit like a plum

–       Kumquat, which is a citrus fruit

–       Weleti, which is a papaya

photo(10)–       Vudi, which is a plantain or banana

–       Painapu, which is a pineapple

Food can also be significant in other ways. For example, villagers have used bamboo shoots as cookware for roasting root vegetables by placing them inside a shoot and then placed the shoot into a fire. Banana leaves also double for wrapping meat, chicken or fish for grilling and even can serve as placemats.

Coconut, which is Nui in Fijian, is an essential ingredient in Fijian cuisine. Our teachers described the coconut tree as “the tree of life” in that this fruit has multiples uses, from cooking its meat for food to making coconut oil for beauty needs.

We got to see how its flesh and water are extracted. First step: look for the “three lines” on a coconut that will be hit with the back of a knife to crack it in two. Then, once it’s split, each half of the coconut is scraped against a sharp edge on a tool made from the wood of a guava tree.

photo(7) Standing near the school’s coconut scrapping stations, we watched as one of the instructors demonstrated  a method for scrapping off the meat known as a “1, 2, 3 rhythm.” You curve your hands around each side of the coconut shell, and then you move the coconut’s interior up and down again the sharp metal portion of the stick to scrap the meat off.

Our three and a half-hour cooking class centered on preparing six dishes, three Fijian and the other three, Indian. Our teachers prepped all of our ingredients beforehand, organizing and filling bowls, cups and side plates, with necessities with oil, water, and spices.

We started off with the Fijian recipes, and first sautéed rourou with onion, tomato, and garlic to create a spinach side dish. While it cooked, our teachers told us about how rourou is a food fixture in Fijian households, and for good reason. In emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables in the Fijian diet, they explained that elders regularly eat rourou (with the younger generation, it can be iffy) and how, as a result, they are hardly sick.

Fish was next. “Kokoda,” a raw fish salad, consists of a white fish called walu marinated in lime juice, with onion, tomato, chili, and coconut cream. Our third dish was a bit sweeter. For dessert, we made “Vudi Vakasoso,” plantains simmered in coconut milk mixed with freshly grated coconut and cane sugar.


After completing these Fijian favorites, we then set aside our pots to cool and then got ready to prepare our Indian recipes. Fiji is a multicultural society that has blended in flavors from other nationalities that have come to live on the islands; particularly Indian.

Two of the dishes in this second set were curry based. Bhindi Curry, which is okra blended with cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry powder, onion and garlic, gave off an amazing aroma as the mixture cooked in the pot. A chicken and potato curry called Murghi and Aalu Curry also infuses poultry and potato with a blend of similar spices.


To accompany these curries, we concocted a vegetable chutney made by dicing up cucumber, tomato, onion, chili and coriander and added in a drizzle of  lemon juice. Finally, as bread is served with traditional Indian dishes, we prepared Roti, a flat bread made from wheat flour. We had two dough balls to edge out and then flattened into a circle by first your hands and second with a rolling pan. Then each is placed one at a time in a hot skillet. As the dough begins to bubble, oil is brushed on each side and then is cooked and flipped over like a pancake.

DSCN0186 DSCN0187

After our dishes were completed, we enjoyed eating what we made alongside plates with cut-up taro, pineapple and papaya and a freshly made juice. We also “graduated” that day. The school staff presented our group with diplomas naming each of us as a Local Master Cook. For a tasteful lesson on Fijian culture, schedule time for enrolling in a class at this school!

From a Marketplace to a Mud Bath

Wednesday afternoon was our first group venture to explore Fijian culture. Heading back to downtown Nadi, we stopped at Nadi Municipal Market, a daily-run (except for Sundays) marketplace where farmers bring in their crops for sale and city folk and villagers come by to buy them. Merchants are friendly and, after asking for approval first, are okay with you taking a picture of them at their spots or stalls.

While exploring the market, you get to see and learn a lot about the fruits and vegetables that are staples in the Fijian diet. There is also similar produce to what we have at home.

DSCN0069 DSCN0072 DSCN0086 DSCN0081 DSCN0079

Taro, a stout and starchy root vegetable, tastes close to a potato is found here in stalk bunches. Jackfruit, another common Fijian produce, reminds me of a watermelon due to its green rind and shape. Tomatoes, ginger, chilies, yams, green beans, carrots, plantains and pineapples are also found here. Also, kava, the roots from a peppery plant used in making kava, the liquid drink, can be bought.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, spices such as cumin, mustard and fennel seeds, cinnamon, and anise stars, are also sold from booths. There is also a fish market on the premises, selling recent catches (my guide tells me it’s better to get fresh fish straight from fisheries) such as, surprising to me, barracuda.

Sri Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple

DSCN0108DSCN0117DSCN0117 DSCN0116

Also with culture, Fiji has an Indian population dating back to when Indian labors were brought to Fiji by the British in the late 1800s (Fiji had been colonized from 1874 until the late 1970s) to work on sugarcane plantations. Our next stop was at the Sri Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple, a colorful house of worship erected in 1994 by skilled workers flown in from India.

This South Indian-style temple is built in dedication to Muruga, a mythical general, and is graced with an array of basic colors with intricate patterns. Visitors can explore the temple and its grounds for a small admission price but they are required to remove their shoes before entering. You also have to cover your bare shoulders and legs with a sulu (a wrap skirt).

Garden of the Sleeping Giant

Most people might remember the late actor Raymond Burr for his role as Perry Mason, but he has ties to Fiji, living here. In 1977, Burr established a garden to house orchids that is now known today as “Garden of the Sleeping Giant,” because of it being in a mountain region called the same name.

Located four miles north of Nadi Airport, this garden is said to hold Fiji’s largest orchid collection. Walking through this garden, you’ll catch various species with different shapes, sizes and colors (there is one that looks like toucans), along with other unique and lovely tropical plants.

DSCN0146 DSCN0136DSCN0147 DSCN0148

The garden doesn’t stop at orchids. In fact, you can follow along a path that leads you to a shady region that is like stepping into a Garden of Eden. A guide accompanies you along this walk, pointing out and giving descriptions on various plants, and the path winds along near a leaf pond and ends near a rustic fixture used for ceremonies. You also get a closer look at the mountains.

Sabeto Mud Pool and Hot Spring


We ended our outing at the Sabeto Mud Pool and Hot Spring, located halfway between Nadi and Lautoka. Here we had two options: having a mud bath, by being coated in mud (with minerals good for the skin) and then rising off in a hot spring, a Fijian massage and then also a rinse, or doing both. After you complete your choice, you take a tip in a hot spring to rinse off. I decided on getting a massage.

Our group will soon get going to the Pacific Coast, to get to our next place of stay by motorboat! But first, we will be staying on Denerau Island most of the day to learn more about Fijian cuisine, by cooking it.

Goodbye LAX, Bula Fiji!

Leaving Los Angeles abroad Fiji Airways’ new A330-200 airbus late Monday night, my group and I touched down at Nadi International Airport Wednesday morning around 5:30 a.m. Fijian time.  I was in economy class with about four others in my group and I was a bit nervous about how I would handle a (my first) 10-hour flight. And would I get enough sleep?

photo(47)I did get to rest successfully, and enjoyed the inflight entertainment. The A330 sports Panasonic’s state-of-the-art eX2 entertainment system provides on demand video and audio. My list of choices ranged from recently-release movies and episodes from American and UK television programs, to video games and album playlists. It was also great to be able to keep my iPhone charged thanks to a USB outlet next to the center’s flat screen. Also, if needed, there was a power outlet around my seat.

Although it can be tough to sleep comfortably in economy class during overnight flights, the A330’s seat design helps. Its economy seats have more of an extended angle for reclining and the width of the armrest has been reduced to give back a little extra personal space. I discovered my seat had a pullout headrest which helped make my sleeping position more comfortable.

Sheraton Fiji Resort and Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa

Being greeted and escorted by Fiji Tourism, we spent our first evening on Denarau Island, which is about a 20-minute ride from Nadi International Airport. Each half of our group stayed at one of two properties at Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ five-star integrated resort complex: the Sheraton Fiji Resort and Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa.

My second-level ocean view room at the five-star Sheraton Fiji Resort had a great outdoor patio for just sitting out on the deck and gazing at the water. The bathroom was well sized with a walk-in shower and dual vanities. It was also nice to be staying directly near the beach area and I just literally had to walk around the corner to get there.

In addition to having 264 guest rooms with views of either the ocean or tropic gardens, this Sheraton property fits both vacationers and families, particularly with activities suited for young guests. For families, there are designated children’s play areas, a family-friendly lagoon and a “Lai Lai Kids Club” for youngsters. With rooms, there are ones that interconnect so parents and children can go from one to the other.

Dining selections range in taste and choice from Feast, a specialty breakfast and dinner buffet restaurant overlooking a swimming pool, to Flying Fish Restaurant, with an international menu offering a wide selection of seafood dishes and a nice waterside view. The Pantry provides “grab and go” options, Chime serves up tropical cocktails in its lounge setting, and Ports O’ Call specializes in fine dining.



About a five-minute walk from the Sheraton Fiji Resort, the 271-guest room Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa offers similar options for indoor and outdoor activities with children’s playgrounds, a spa jacuzzi, a fitness center and swimming/lap pools. Its signature Heavenly Spa by Westin is set in 1350 m2 of meditation gardens, complete with 10 open-air therapy rooms and two suites to replicate a traditional Fijian bure (a home).

For your morning meal, Ocean Terrace centers on Continental and American breakfast with a lookout view of Nadi Bay. At night, Ocean Terrace becomes the setting for Zing, which offers Asian-inspired cuisine. STEAKHOUSE by Peter Kuruvita has a beach and poolside location, with a wine bar. In addition to a specialty steak menu, other choices include fresh seafood, pork, duck, and vegetarian dishes.

Also found on the Starwood property, the Sheraton Denarau Villas consist of two bedroom villas and three bedroom seafront villas. Guests at all three locations can use the facilities at their neighboring accomodations. And for those who play golf or tennis, the Denarau Golf & Racquet Club features an 18-hole course designed by Eiichi Motohasi, six natural lawn and four floodlight all weather tennis courses, and a clubhouse with pro-shop, bar, and locker rooms.

As Denarau Island is graced with a number of resort options, I found the Starwood Hotel & Resorts Fiji properties as a good option for a first-time visit to Fiji!

Fiji Airways Celebrates Changeover with New Carriers

futurebrand-fiji-airways-brandmarkHere it is: Tonight, Monday, July 8, I will be heading off to Fiji! A few weeks ago, I was selected to go on a press trip, hosted by Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji. And it’s my first one!

In addition to seeing this region in the South Pacific, the trip is to promote Fiji Airways’ new direction with branding. On June 27, Fiji Airways went from being called Air Pacific back to its original name, which Fijian carrier had during its founding in 1958. The change is central to the airline’s turnaround plan, initiated in 2010.

This turnover coincides with some additional milestones, as the airline mixes its 60-year legacy with new initiatives.

The carrier’s latest brandmark is a Masi design, created by Fijian artist Makereta Matemosi, which reflects the airline’s roots. What’s also new? Well, Fiji Airways has ushered in a fleet of three new Airbus 330-200s. Each plane is named after Fijian islands. The first of this line is called the “Island of Tavenuni,” and the second aircraft, which made its debut in May, is known as “Island of the Namuka-i-Lau.” The third is scheduled to be unveiled in November.

And, from reading my materials on them, they will be quite nice! The three new Airbus 330s are powered by twin Rolls-Royce’s Trent 700 engines that are made to be fuel efficient and produce less C02 emissions. For inflight entertainment, Panasonic’s eX2 will offer multiple options including games, video on demand, and applications.

I’ll find out more this afternoon and then get ready to depart. I’m going to try to post more via my Facebook page, She Is Going Places. Or on my Twitter (@micheleherrmann) or Instagram accounts (micheleherrmann).  Bula, Fiji!

Still Turning Pages: Connecticut’s Independent Bookstores

As much as online retailers and chain stores make shopping for books more convenient, I’m glad to see that independent booksellers aren’t fading away. Like many states across the U.S., Connecticut has a good number of stores successfully staying in stock. They have mass selections or promote specialty genres, carry a signature look and know the importance of good customer service.

While I’m trying to hit up as many book sellers as I can around Connecticut, start off with these two “good reads”:



The Book Barn, Niantic

Many friends of mine have driven up to this fun place. So I had to see it too. It’s right off of I-95, and I made it the first of two stops on my literary day trip.

In 1988, Randi White and his wife Mo turned a new chapter in their lives when they co-founded The Book Barn, an always-evolving book business that is a collection of amusements. Literally.

photo-33On the grounds adjacent to a three-story barn, which is called the Main Barn and contains nonfiction, teens and children’s, The Book Barn has a fun approach to stacking. Whimsical makeshift homes along the property shelve various paperbacks and hardcovers by category or subject.

Named after the famous landmark, Ellis Island is a depository for new arrivals (the public can bring books for potential sale) to be sorted. Some section names are fitting, others fun. The Haunted Bookshop has mystery and suspense, while Hades holds romance and chick-lit. As for books, the inventory contains a wide range of rare finds and popular titles, dating back to the 1600s up to this week’s bestseller.

Along with its main location on West Main Street, there are two other venues in Niantic: Book Barn Downtown and Book Barn Midtown.

RJ Julia Bookseller, Madison



This second stop is not too far from I-95. Though a Main Street fixture in Madison, RJ Julia Bookseller gets visitors from all across the United States and some even from overseas. They photo-38are authors who frequently come in for lectures and signings. Wall photos show off many guests such as the late writer Nora Ephron and celebrity TV chef and local resident Jacques Pepin.

Opening its doors in 1990, owner Roxanne J. Coady founded her store in an empty brick building with the notion of caring for and calling her customers as what they are: readers. With two levels and a separately run café and bistro, the store is graced wooden panel shelves and a neat green ceiling above the main cash registers.

An attached yellow building extends RJ Julia’s holdings with a children’s section and has space for visiting authors that come in for appearances at least a few times every week. Recently the bookstore invented its own Espresso Book Machine to encourage aspiring authors to bind personal writings and mementos into freshly made paperbacks. I understand that Coady has been looking to retire and sell her store. However, as a staff member told me, she’s waiting for the right buyer to come that will stay in line with her shop’s mission.

So, tell me. What’s your favorite “indie” bookstore?