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Destination Taste: Canal Canoodling

Take a break from Mid-Term Election Madness and dream about a land where gay marriage is actually legal—check out my Amsterdam tips in my latest post on GayWeddings.com.

EXCERPT:  Paris and Rome may get all the attention as romantic European honeymoon destinations, but for my money, gay and lesbian love blooms brighter in Amsterdam. The Holland Tourist Board runs a cheeky ad campaign in the US that announces “Everyone’s Gay in Amsterdam”—and they asked me recently if I’d like to verify that claim. Here are some of my tastey tips for your gay honeymoon getaway to the charming city of canals.

CLICK HERE to read more.

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Green Globe Trekker: Gayer in Amsterdam (Part 2)

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul reveals the gayest spots in Amsterdam to be mary—Shop, Drink, Party, Sex.  Viewer Discretion Advised.

If you read Gayer in Amsterdam Part 1, you’ll probably remember that after three nights in the canal city courtesy of the Holland Tourist Board, I returned gayer than ever.  Well, buckle your KLM seatbelts because this post takes it up a queer notch.  Here is Part 2 of my travel tips—for both gays-by-nature and gays-in-spirit: Be Mary—Shop, Drink, Party, Sex.

For Stay, Move, Eat, See—visit Part 1.

Shop.  Thanks to the Inside Design Amsterdam 2010 fair sponsored by Elle Won happening at my groovy green hotel Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy, I got a preview of H&M’s newest home store concept that will debut in Amsterdam’s Dam Square this Fall.  Instead of loading up a shopping cart with shower curtains and pillows, customers grab a magnet with an image corresponding to their chosen item and attach to their hand held magnetic shopping cart.  At checkout, the magnets are traded for the actual items.  The result is a streamlined shop that is greener in that it doesn’t require wasted floor space and unnecessary packaging.  Also courtesy of the design show, I was introduced to Holland’s leading eco-luxe blogger Annouck Post of Hiphonest.com.  Check out her blog before heading to Amsterdam for her recommendations on designers and shops that blend luxury and sustainability, like the don’t miss store Charlie + Mary.  For those with a little darker, heavier tastes with a splash of fetish, head to Mr. B flagship leather store on busy Warmoesstraat near the Red Light district.  No need to be embarrassed if you’re like me and just indulge in fantasy from time to time, the staff was incredibly friendly in helping me choose and fit my newest harness.  Hey, I’ve lost weight and pumped up my chest, so a girl’s got to look good at The Eagle, right?

Drink.  Escape the madness of the nearby Red Light District and duck into The Queen’s Head for a drink and a friendly chat with owners Don and Arjan—who celebrated quite the gay wedding recently.  The lush red interior with palm plants and disco balls has a view out to a canal, and had an easy mix of gay and lesbian locals and tourists.

Party.  Curiously for such a rocking city, Amsterdam lacks big dance clubs.  But one gay hotspot that is packing them in to a rather small venue is Club Church.  The only worshipping going on here is of the male form—besides the dance floor there are several dark areas where the boys are getting busy.  Check the website for theme nights—the underwear party I went to on Friday was packed, in multiple ways.

Colin Farrel as Oliver Stone's "Alexander" with Jared Leto playing gay lover

See.  While the ad campaign may be true that Everyone’s Gay in Amsterdam, someone forgot to tip off city’s branch of the Hermitage Museum.  Their exhaustive exhibit of artifacts related to Alexander the Great—one of the world’s most successful arguments against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy—there’s not one word scrawled about the famous warriors longtime male lovers Bagoas or Hephaestion.  I couldn’t help thinking the omission was related to homophobia in Russia—where the original Hermitage is based.  Still, the building itself is

Amstelhof's restored kitchens

worth a look for its historic importance.  Built in the late 1600s, the enormous complex served over the years as a home for the old, infirm, and finally a nursing and medical home known as Amstelhof.  After two years of renovations, the building reopened in June 2009 as a branch of the famed Russian museum, and separate from the exhibits, guests can get a glimpse of the old kitchens and restored church hall.

the airline fit for a queen

Go.  I think it’s fun to fly the international carrier of the country you’re visiting—so the journey begins even before arrival.  Well, I’ll admit to some exceptions for a few countries in the Asia-Pacific regions and Africa (not mentioning names).  But I was in luck flying to Amsterdam on KLM.  The extra 80 Euro I paid to sit in their Premium Coach area with extra legroom and bigger seat pitch was definitely worth it.  The on-demand in-flight entertainment system kept me happily occupied coming and going watching the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove (run, don’t walk your fingers over to your Netflix cue to order this gem—I’ll be meeting the director Louie Psihoyos at this month’s Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Congress in Singapore).  J. Lo’s Back-up Plan was entertaining only from the perspective of marveling at how the filmmaker stretched a razor thin plot into 90 minutes of froth mostly by requiring Alex O’Loughlin to remove his shirt.  And I’m not sure I should even begin to discuss what possessed me to sign up for the two and half hours known as Sex and the City 2.  All I have left to say is Really?

For You Gays Only.  Speaking of sex in the gay city, let’s get down and a little dirty.  So if you’re just gay-in-sprit and offended, then move on.  But if you’re titillated, then by all means, read on.  For the most part, this is not a city where gays are going to find it hard to hook-up.  Many of the bars and clubs have back rooms for sexy encounters (see Club Church, above).  A bevy of international gays descend on Thermos Sauna—one of the nicest, cleanest, and most happening gay sex palaces I’ve had the pleasure of visiting around the world.  In addition to the usual set-up of steam room, sauna, dark room, private cabins, porn theater, there’s a bar and restaurant, clothing shop and beauty salon.  Clearly, the Dutch have a welcoming and unshameful attitude when it comes to gay sex.  Except, oddly, if you’re staying at Lloyd Hotel.  Weirdly, the hotel’s Internet provider blocks access to popular hook-up sites Manhunt and Adam4Adam.  So if that’s your chosen method of meeting locals, you might just want to check with your hotel in advance about their policies.  For the most part, Grindr worked fine, although occasionally it would tell me that every horny boy in Amsterdam was 0 feet away.

Well, on second thought, maybe that was true.  After all, Everyone’s Gay (and green) in Amsterdam.

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Green Globe Trekker (Series Premiere)

Today on Alphabet City: JP premieres the new series Green Globe Trekker—a personal look at stylish & sustainable travel; first stop gay & green Amsterdam

Sometimes it’s easy for me to overlook the seeds of my interest in green travel, because my bookshelf is filled with pre-teen travel journals that include these hilarious pronouncements:

Age 12, 20 February 1981, London Journal “Today was so exaspirating! (sp)  We got on the plane o.k.  But, they put us in the smoking section!  So, we traded.  The movies were Hopscotch & Raise the Titanic.  The food was awful!  It was a great trip!”

Age 12, 24 December 1981, Canadian Adventure “I was not as impressed with the Four Seasons in Calgary as I was with others.”

Age 13, 16 June 1982, Rhein (sp) River Adventure “I say, you seen one palace, you seen ‘em all”

Dad holding me down

But next to these riveting written accounts of my early life as a travel critic, there’s an old black binder of pictures from a family eco-adventure I will never forget.  Instead of our usual cushy stay at Point Clear, Alabama’s Grand Hotel, my family spent six days white water rafting down the Grand Canyon.  At the time, I was six years old and one of the youngest kids allowed to undertake the semi-dangerous excursion.  Because I was so light in weight (and probably the loafers), my father had to sit on top of me in order to hold me down when we passed through treacherous rapids.

Bio-soapy fun with my sisters

The thing I remember most about the trip is not my mother wrapping her legs around my sister Pam to save her from going overboard—but soap.  Biodegradable soap, mind you.  I was fascinated with the concept that there were special, glycerin cleaning products for use in the muddy waters of the Colorado River.  My sister Paige, a budding environmental advocate who now works for Whole Foods Market, explained to me how important it was to try and leave as little impact on the surroundings as we could—and that included sensitive detergent that didn’t harm the ecosystem.

Queen Rania pumps it up at World Savers Congress

It’s been 35 years since my first taste of green travel, and now I am right back in the thick of it.  For the past four years, I have been advising Condé Nast Traveler on issues of social responsibility and the travel industry, including the planning of the magazine’s annual World Savers Congress.  The conference is a gathering of over 200 leaders of the travel industry designed to celebrate, promote and encourage a range of efforts—from poverty alleviation and health initiatives to environmental and cultural preservation.  Speakers have included everyone from noted economist Jeffrey Sachs to musician-activist Wyclef Jean, from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times to Queen Rania of Jordan (talk about stylish—staring at her Versace pumps almost got me in security trouble).

At this year’s conference on October 20 in Singapore with keynotes by Academy Award-winners Mira Sorvino (UN Goodwill Ambassador advocating against human-trafficking) and Louie Psihoyos (environmental activist and Director The Cove), I will be moderating the panel  “To Preserve and Protect: Can Going Green Coexist with Luxury?”  Joining me will be Debra Erickson, Executive Director of the Kerzner Marine Foundation; Hans Pfister, President and Co-owner of Costa Rica’s Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality; Adine Roode, Managing Director of South Africa’s Camp Jabulani; Gary Stickland of Melbourne’s Alto Hotel on Bourke; and Brigitta Witt, Vice President Environmental Affairs, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.  I’m excited to dig into some important questions like how can big corporation scale up the amazing green advancements made by small hotels and lodges.  And perhaps, more importantly, how does (or should) a company communicate to consumers their commitment to these causes?

Some question whether the travel industry, thanks to its expansion, is responsible for killing the planet.  But visionary Virgin mogul Richard Branson tackled this thorny question rather well at a recent luncheon hosted by Condé Nast Traveler at the Council on Foreign Relations.  “I don’t think asking people to hold back progress is the way to deal with global warming.  Rather, we should all invest a percentage of our profits in energy that is clean.”  Whatever my feelings about Branson’s braggadocio, he is an innovator that is leading the way on clean aircraft fuel development.

Fellow Brit Tony Blair backed up Branson’s belief in the tourism industry being a positive force, albeit from a completely different standpoint.  Mr. Blair made a very powerful and forceful argument for tourism development as being critical to the Middle East peace process in helping Palestine achieve a viable economic state.  Blair in-person has that Bill Clinton-effect of mesmerizing an audience.  I hung on his every word.  At times, I wondered if maybe I had seen Love Actually too much, equating the real Blair with Hugh Grant’s version.  Regardless, by the end of his impassioned plea, I was ready to write a check and become an investor in a hotel in Gaza—for the sake of the planet.

Given my interest and knowledge of sustainable travel issues, I thought maybe it was time to start writing about it on ABCityblog.  So when the Holland Tourist Board asked me if I’d like to find out if it was true what their ad campaign proclaims—Everyone’s Gay in Amsterdam—I queerly said yes.  I have had some memorable, sexy times in Holland’s eco-friendly capital.  So what a perfect place to combine gay style and green travel in my new series of columns I’m calling “Green Globe Trekker—a personal look at stylish & sustainable travel.”

So stay tuned while I try to prove Kermit the Frog wrong—in this day and age it should be easy and fun and chic being green.

Let’s just hope that throughout this journey there are copious amounts of biodegradable soap.

The dawn of the Green Globe Trekker

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