Two girls kissing on cheek

BELGRADE–FOR ME, IT’S one of the biggest expat conundrums: to kiss or not to kiss. I grew up in the Midwest of America, where we were all about giving big bear hugs to friends, family and colleagues. But then I moved to London and I was thrown into the deep end of European kissing culture, which still remains awkward for me as it feels rather false and I have never worked out the unspoken understanding there seems to be between two people of whether the greeting should be a kiss or a handshake.

I once had a very cringeworthy exchange with a British army colonel at an exhibition opening. We had met a few times for interviews and also exchanged friendly emails, but in my mind our relationship was still on the handshake level. So when we saw each other, I went for the handshake and he went in for a kiss. It ended up being a very cloddish and uncomfortable greeting. Read more

Warsaw Poland

WARSAW, POLAND –Warsaw has long been seen as the ugly stepsister of Krakow. While Krakow gets all the invites and accolades—pretty, special, sweet—the Polish capital is forgotten, seen as nondescript and cold. But scratch beneath the surface and Warsaw is a dynamic and lovely old gal. Read more


IDLEWILD, MICHIGAN—John Meeks apologises profusely for his grimy clothes. “I’ve been moving tree stumps with my tractor,” the 90 year-old says, as he dusts off his tan trousers and white t-shirt that reads, “Idlewild, Michigan: The Black Eden.” The spritely Mr. Meeks—who started summering in Idlewild in 1954 and later retired here— has, since the late spring, been building a small park to mark the centennial of the founding of what was once America’s largest black resort.  Giving a tour around Idlewild, a three hour drive northwest of Detroit, Mr. Meeks points out several spots of interest including the home of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful open heart surgery in the US and the site—vacant since it burned down more than two decades ago— of the Paradise Club, which saw the likes of the Four Tops, Della Reese and the Temptations perform there. Stopping in front of a sprawling boarded up building, Mr. Meeks starts to chuckle. “This was the Casa Blanca Hotel where all the dignitaries would stay,” he says.  “One night the exotic dancer Lottie ‘The Body’ Tatum-Graves, who was just 16 at the time, jumped out of a second floor window during an after-hours party because she could not dare be caught under age.” Read more

Football fans visiting the Polish capital for this summer’s Euro 2012 finals will not leave its restaurants disappointed.


Tamka 43
With huge bay windows that face the Chopin Museum across a pretty courtyard, Tamka 43 exudes relaxed chic without the pretence of tablecloths and hovering waiters. Head chef Robert Trzópek is one of the leaders of Nowa Polska (New Polish) cuisine, having earned his chops at both elBulli and Noma. Think bright, fresh food such as duck breast with cherries in a brown butter sauce and plaice with snow peas and avocado. Puddings are equally refreshing, with the likes of green apple sorbet and beetroot tapioca with pistachios.
Ul. Tamka 43, +48 22 441 6234;

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(originally published in Newsweek, November 20 2010)

The road from Colombo to Kandy was a traffic jam of cars, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis), and buses—along with the occasional cow—so we didn’t arrive at Mackwoods’s Labookellie Tea Estate until after dark, missing the scenic hills and waterfalls of Sri Lanka’s central highlands. The next morning, when we opened the doors out to the patio, my friend Oleg and I were greeted not only by the stunning, terraced hills, but also by the strong, rich fragrance of tea coming from the thousands of surrounding bushes. We spent the morning strolling the grounds of the plantation and taking a tour of the tea factory. (The company makes its own brand of tea and sells wholesale to companies like Lipton). Then I had an in-room massage. Not a bad way to start a holiday.

Opened to guests last year, the three luxury bungalows on the estate are just a few of the upscale plantation properties—including rubber, coconut, and palm oil—that Taprospa (a subsidiary of the Mackwoods Group) runs across Sri Lanka. It’s a good time to get in on the action. Since Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by government troops 18 months ago, effectively ending Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic conflict, the country has seen a boom in tourism. The number of annual visitors remained stagnant at about 400,000 for the past decade, but this year has seen a 46 percent increase. More than 700,000 are expected to visit in 2011. According to Nalaka Godahewa, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Board, the number of new hotel rooms will also rise by 30,000 by 2015. Hotel chains such as Shangri-La have already plotted out sites in Colombo, while Four Seasons and Hyatt have expressed interest in creating luxury properties on the island. “There has not been any investment in the north and east of the island in the last 30 years because of the conflict,” says Godahewa. “But these are some of the most beautiful areas of the country, and investment is coming.”

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