The Great Beauty of Bogotá’s Street Art


Interviewed by Joel Centano

“Bogotá is now one of the meccas for street art in all the world,” says Crisp, an artist whose work often calls attention to political injustices and the beauty of nature. An Australian native, he’s one of many talents who’ve transformed the city’s streets into colorful open-air galleries that showcase everything from Colombia’s indigenous cultures to comic book characters.

After traveling the globe and making art in Europe, Asia, North America, and beyond, Crisp settled in Bogotá in 2009, and now serves as an unofficial ambassador for the city’s urban art scene. In 2011, he helped launch an art walk – your travel advisor can arrange the tour as part of a customized Colombia journey – that wends its way through Bogotá’s creative La Candelaria neighborhood. He also gives back by teaching art to underprivileged youth.

Following a recent Colombia trip with Big Five Tours & Expeditions that included time to contemplate La Candelaria’s canvases, I tracked Crisp down to get his take on Bogotá’s urban art scene and some of the people who’ve put it on the map.

A bird’s-eye view of Bogotá’s San Felipe neighborhood. (Photo: Crisp)

Why is urban art booming in Bogotá?
The laws have been generally permissive; street art isn’t strictly illegal. This means there’s a more open and respected environment to create in public. Saying this, laws are changing under the current mayor, who’s instructed police to enforce tougher penalties. However, if artists have permission from building owners or the city council – both are realizing that urban art and the interest it generates benefits businesses and the community – there typically isn’t a problem.

There are also a host of potent issues that inspire graffiti and street art here – just for example, social inequalities or Colombia’s 52-year civil conflict and recent peace process. Last, there is so much beauty to draw from Colombia’s people, mountains, coasts, jungles, animals, and plants.

Iconic La Candelaria: A portrait of an indigenous woman by Carlos Trilleras. (Photo: Joel Centano)

What inspires you?
My work varies from the sociopolitical to the purely aesthetic. Sometimes I like to send a message or try to make people think about an issue I feel strongly about. For example, I highlight the fact that urban sprawl and our modern lifestyle are disrupting our natural ecosystems that we all ultimately rely on to live. Other times I enjoy making blank spaces or congested parts of the city more beautiful by adding scenes that depict nature and the wild.

Colombia’s fauna, like this frog in La Candelaria, is a recurring motif in Crisp’s work. (Photo: Crisp)

A word on your fellow artists:
Grafiteros represent many different types of creators – from graffiti writers and taggers to sculptors, stencil artists, muralists, and more. They also come from diverse backgrounds and from every level of society. Many are highly educated and work as university lecturers, architects, jewelers, physiotherapists, designers, or doctors. That’s the beauty of street art – it transcends all stereotypes and reaches everyone!

Some grafiteros of note?
It’s difficult to single out a list of artists, considering the amount of talent here. That said, keep an eye out for the Bogotá Street Art Collective, which includes Juegasiempre, Toxicómano, Lesivo, and Guache. There’s a strong female contingent covering the city, so look for pieces by Erre, Ledania, Lik Mi, Leela, Melissa Vásquez, Gleo, and Mugre. Works from Rodez and his two sons, Nomada and Malegria, also should not be missed. I’ve only mentioned a fraction of the active artists here, however, and it’s best just to wander around to find your own favorites.

Malegria’s art, including this mural in La Candelaria, often focuses on fantastical creatures with pronounced eyes. (Photo: Joel Centano)

When in La Candelaria …
For lunch, you can’t go wrong at Sant Just, which serves fresh, high-quality French-Colombian fusion cuisine at decent prices. To purchase local street art, head to the Dibs by Culture Shock Colombia gallery in La Candelaria or Visaje Graffiti Colombia and Beta Galería; both are just a short taxi ride away. These places help support local artists by selling their pieces and exhibiting their work.

Flower power: “Smelling Peace” by the artist Goin on display at Visaje Graffiti Colombia.

Farther afield …
The whole of Bogotá is covered in great works, and it’s almost impossible to find a street in the city without some form of urban art in it. Some of the other more popular neighborhoods for street art include Chapinero, Chico, San Felipe, Suba, Ciudad Bolívar, and the centro area.

What’s the value of urban art?
It’s important that politicians, police, and corporations don’t have total control over our urban spaces. Seeing only gray concrete walls and paid-for advertising isn’t healthy for humans. One of the main reasons I love urban art is that it’s free for everyone. Observers don’t have to pay to go inside a museum or gallery to see it. It’s a free space of expression, communication, and interpretation.

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The Great Beauty of Bogotá’s Street Art


Why We Love The Peninsula Beijing



In China’s capital city, fifteenth-century palaces stand beside modern skyscrapers, and a quick stroll separates high-end shopping malls from more traditional outlets. The 230-room Peninsula Beijing’s recent three-year renovation emphasizes this juxtaposition with a mix of high-tech amenities and thoughtful elements honoring the city’s imperial history. Hong Kong-based designer Henry Leung commissioned several artists for the $123 million overhaul, and the result is a soothing respite of traditional feng shui and contemporary appeal. Here are five things we love about The Peninsula Beijing:


The Peninsula Beijing’s art gallery.

Art Everywhere.

A soaring three-story lobby welcomes guests with ornate Palisandro marble work and abstract ink art. Beyond, dozens of contemporary sculptures, paintings, and photographs by acclaimed artists such as Zhang Du and Qin Feng are scattered throughout the property, and a new third-floor gallery displays rotating collections curated by Museum of Contemporary Art Beijing executive director Michael Suh.

Local Promotion.

The Peninsula hopes to foster new work, too: An artist-in-residence program provides a purpose-built studio for local artists, which guests are welcome to visit.

One of the hotel’s Beijing Suites.

Beijing’s Biggest Rooms.

The hotel decreased its room count from 525 to 230, allowing it to double the size of each. (Starting at 645 square feet, its guest rooms are now the largest in the city.) The subtle gray and cream palette complements Italian furnishings by Cassina, and the hotel’s art theme continues within its rooms with paintings inspired by the Ming dynasty and framed architectural photos of the city’s newest buildings. The 17 Beijing Suites include living areas and family-friendly cinema rooms with 80-inch televisions.

Fresh Food.

The farm-to-table concept is relatively new in China, so it’s impressive that executive chef Dominique Martinez spent months sourcing the local fruit, vegetables, and meat used in the hotel’s updated restaurants. Those ingredients shine at Huang Ting, which serves authentic Cantonese cuisine, and at Jing, which offers more European-influenced fare.

A private dining room at the hotel’s Jing restaurant.

Traditional Touches.

All of the classic Peninsula flourishes are here: smartly dressed doormen, afternoon tea accompanied by performing string musicians, and a fleet of limos at the ready. It’s also one of the first hotels in China with 24-hour check-in and checkout. “The Peninsula Beijing is always included in my recommendations because of its history, location, afternoon tea, and more,” says Houston-based Virtuoso travel advisor Laura Woo. “It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city.”

Virtuoso travelers receive an upgrade at time of booking, breakfast daily, and a $100 dining credit.

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Why We Love The Peninsula Beijing


The Top 10 Summer Travel Destinations for Americans


We know where upscale American travelers are going this summer, and apparently they want pasta and wine. The top-booked destination is eternal favorite Italy, with European destinations dominating the list, as well as a couple of other international favorites – South Africa and close neighbor Canada.  Europe is particularly appealing this year, due to a relatively strong U.S. dollar against both the euro and British pound.

Munich, Germany
Munich, Germany.

Virtuoso mined its bookings data (totaling $39.7 billion in transactions) from U.S.-based travel agencies. This data reflects future bookings between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2017.

1. Italy

2. United Kingdom

3. France

4. Spain

5. South Africa

6. Germany

7. Ireland

Ashford Castle, Ireland.

8. Canada

9. Netherlands

10. Denmark

All photos by Annie Fitzsimmons.

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The Top 10 Summer Travel Destinations for Americans


Dim Sum 101: How to best enjoy these bite-sized Asian snacks



The original dim sum originated in the Chinese province of Canton. Historically, travelers stopped at tea houses for dim sum, enjoying afternoon tea and snacks.

Now popular as a festive weekend ritual with family and friends, dim sum is widely available across Asia and in cities from Sydney to San Francisco. Most people enjoy it for Sunday brunch, although some specialty restaurants serve dim sum seven days a week. To the uninitiated, the meal can be a bit overwhelming at first: A wide variety of savory and sweet dishes are stacked on carts and rolled out throughout the dining room. Plates typically contains three to four bite-size steamed or fried items meant to be shared family-style.

Order tea first, and if you like sauce with your snack, mix a little soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil for dipping. Then, arm yourself with chopsticks and eat adventurously! Here’s a beginner’s guide:

Savory and Safe

1 – 3. Steamed Dumplings: Rice-flour parcels filled with different varieties of meat (shu mai), shrimp (har gow), or vegetables. You can sort of tell the flavor by the colors under the translucent parcels. Shrimp dumplings are my personal favorites.

4. Shanghai Soup Dumplings: Also called Xiao Long Bao, they’re filled with pork and stock. Put it on the spoon and devour in one bite – carefully, as the soup inside is steaming hot.

Pork pot stickers.

5. Pot Stickers or Gyoza: Steamed, pan seared, or fried dumplings with meat or vegetables inside.

6. Steamed Buns: Soft and pillowy, filled with sweet barbecue pork or lotus-seed paste in vegetarian versions.

7 – 8. Sticky Rice with Meat: Varieties include chicken, sausage, pork, and a range of other meats steamed inside a lotus leaf. Ask the server to cut them in half for easy sharing.

9. Chinese Broccoli: Steamed, drizzled with sesame oil, and served with salty oyster sauce on top.

10. Prawn Balls: Deep-fried minced prawns shaped into a ball.

11. Stuffed Peppers: Green bell peppers, stuffed with shrimp paste and basted with a light sauce.

12. Rice-Sheet Rolls: come with different fillings, such as pork, shrimps, or vegetables.

Intermediate to Adventurous 

13. Taro and Radish Cakes: Crispy and creamy, these contain either taro root paste or radish paste steamed with rice-flour batter, then pan fried.

14. Tofu Skin: Steamed tofu sheets filled with meat. I promise, it tastes better than it sounds.

15. Beef Tripe: Beef tripe that’s boiled, stir fried, and then steamed with ginger and green onions.

16. Chicken feet: If it looks like a chicken foot, it’s a chicken foot. Normally, I pass the plate of claws that have been steamed with fermented black beans to my dad and let him enjoy it all by himself.

Sesame balls and (right) egg custard pies.

Sweet Ending

17 – 18. My two favorite sweet bites are sesame balls (filled with sweet red bean paste) and mini egg custard pies, which are similar to Portugal’s famous Pastéis de Nata.

Dim Sum Dos: Four Favorite Brunch Spots 

My favorite restaurant for Sunday Brunch is Kirin Court in Dallas. I asked several dim-sum loving travel photographers, who shoot for Virtuoso Life, for theirs as well. Singapore-based Lauryn Ishak, recommends her local: Imperial Treasure Nan Bei. Ball and Albanese, an NYC-based duo, have high praise for Dim Sum Go Go in NYC, Imperial Tea Court in Berkeley, California, and Yank Sing in San Francisco.

All photos by Virtuoso Life art director Melanie Fowler.



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Dim Sum 101: How to best enjoy these bite-sized Asian snacks


Why We Love The Towers at Lotte New York Palace


On a recent visit to Virtuoso’s New York City offices, the Virtuoso Life editorial team settled in for the week at The Towers, the 176-room hotel-within-a-hotel on the top 14 floors of midtown’s Lotte New York Palace. After days packed with planning meetings and hotel scouting trips, we all appreciated returning to our quiet retreats above the buzzing city. Here are five things we loved about our stay:

Spacious rooms.

“I loved the residential feel of my Tower Executive Suite [pictured above], with its proper entry foyer, separate living area, and huge bathroom – I’m a sucker for double sinks and a separate tub and shower, and there’s even a bidet,” says Virtuoso Life editorial director Elaine Srnka. “The simple-to-use bedside tech panel lets you easily operate the drapes to take in the incredible views – or turn off the lights and shut out the city completely. The suite can connect to an Executive King room, making it a great option for families.” (King rooms start at 465 square feet, an impressive stat for NYC standards.)

Lotte New York Palace’s Villard dining room.

Breakfast at Villard.

“It’s hard to overstate the decadence of starting your day in the Gold Room,” says Virtuoso Life senior editor Justin Paul of the historic Stanford White-designed dining room. “Put the cell phone away, order the fruit plate or avocado toast, and plan on enjoying a full pot of coffee with the New York Times amid the vaulted space’s three stories of gilt ceilings, wainscoting, and walls.”

For those mornings when breakfast needs to be a bit more on-the-go, the hotel’s Pomme Palais Bakery stocks an assortment of sweet and savory croissants (made on-site), sandwiches, and, to save for later, pristine tarts, cakes, and macarons.

Macaron art at Pomme Palais. (Photo: Melanie Fowler)

Top-Notch Service.

Staff greeted us by name, made sure our preferred newspapers were delivered to our rooms, and gave us extra Molton Brown shower gel when we fell in love with the scent. “On my first day, I asked my housekeeper for ice, and for the rest of my stay, my ice bucket was never empty,” says Melanie Fowler, Virtuoso Life’s art director.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Midtown Manhattan from the The Towers. (Photo: Korena Bolding Sinnett)

The views.

Our Towers rooms looked directly over the neo-Gothic spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Virtuoso Life associate art director Korena Bolding Sinnett woke up before dawn to capture the morning light in the photo above, while assistant editor Rebecca Ratterman enjoyed the twilight vistas: “I loved the nighttime views of the cathedral and the city’s glittering lights,” she says.

VIP Access: The Towers’ dedicated lobby.

VIP entry.

Upon arrival, Towers guests are whisked through the Lotte New York Palace’s bustling lobby and into a private check-in space. “The Towers’ dedicated lobby and check-in desk are a great – and quiet – place to land after the jaunt from the airport through Midtown,” says Virtuoso Life managing editor Marika Cain. “Plus you feel like someone special going through that little side door into the private lobby.”

Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.

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Why We Love The Towers at Lotte New York Palace


You Should Be Eating More Hot Dogs This Summer

Jaquez slings NYC’s most delicious dogs between 12 and 5 PM. You’ll find him a block off the park on East 77th. (Photo by Ball & Albanese.)

NYC native Manuel Jaquez currently serves the city’s best deal on a gourmet lunch: $6 hot dogs from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s cart outside Upper East Side hotel The Mark.

Why hot dogs at a five-star hotel? The Manhattan staple has always been an easy grab-and-go lunch for busy New Yorkers and travelers. Ours are elevated by chef Jean-Georges’ ingredients.

A proper dog is all about … Creativity and precision when applying the condiments – rather than a standard squirt of ketchup, mustard, and mayo, I like to take the time to be a bit more artistic.

Your personal favorite: The grass-fed beef frank loaded with sauerkraut, kimchi, and yuzu pickles, then perfectly drizzled with ketchup, mustard, and sriracha mayo.

True or false: You’d order that from a corner cart and keep your street cred. True – and false. I can’t think of many places where you can get a gourmet lunch for under $10, especially if you are looking for something organic. It’s Michelin-starred street food, a class of its own.

Most common question you’re asked: “What’s so special about these hot dogs?” See above.

So, we’re ordering the organic chicken or a beef frank? Dietary restrictions aside, it depends on your preferred taste and texture: Beef franks have that classic “crunch”; the chicken dogs are supremely tender.

Eating-while-standing skill to master: Proper bite size keeps the toppings on the dog and off the ground. You shouldn’t need more than five to finish it.

Recommended number of napkins per hot dog? At least four (two paper towels and two napkins).

The one other NYC food every traveler should taste: A really good slice of New York-style pizza – try Joe’s Pizza, Prince Street Pizza, or Roberta’s.

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You Should Be Eating More Hot Dogs This Summer