On the Island of Jersey, Fortifications Turned Lodging

The New York Times
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“IT’S in the details,” said Dave Bull, the caretaker of a former military bunker on the island of Jersey in the English Channel. He heaved open a cast-iron door and ran a hand over its bolts and heavy wrench-like handle. “This was all built by slave labor, by prisoners the Nazis marched here from Europe.”

The bunker in question is located on the ground floor of a radio tower on Jersey, erected by occupying German forces during World War II. The stout concrete structure still keeps a quiet vigil over the channel.

Today, though, it serves a different, and far more festive, function: as a holiday home for travelers. The top floor, which once served as a Nazi watchtower, is now a 360-degree observation deck cum living room.

The Radio Tower is one of 10 historic fortifications, built between the mid-1800s and the mid-20th century, to be renovated by Jersey Heritage, a local organization dedicated to preserving the island’s history and culture. Profits from the rentals are then put toward further restoration.

“It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time because there are so many of these amazing buildings which the public can’t see,” Jonathan Carter, director of Jersey Heritage, said of the restorations. The latest was of an 18th-century battery tower called La Tour Cârrée, inaugurated at the end of last summer.

Then there are the Martello towers, 24 small defensive forts that dot the Jersey coast, a testament to the geopolitical allure of an island caught between long-warring English and French naval forces. The most striking is the red-and-white-striped Archirondel Tower, which stands guard over France’s once-menacing horizon, visible from Jersey’s east coast.

Inside, the tower is fairly pared down: the circular granite interior spans three floors and is bare except for a handful of wooden beds and mattresses. There is electricity, but guests must use the adjacent cafe for a bathroom and running water, and are expected to bring their own sleeping bags.

Michael McGlynn, a Dubliner, spent a week with his wife, children and dog at the better-provisioned Fort Leicester at Bouley Bay on the island’s north coast. “When I think of paradise I’ll always conjure up an image of Bouley Bay,” he said. “It’s remote and yet has everything you might require.” Split across three levels, the 19th-century fort contains two large furnished bedrooms, a living room and fully fitted kitchen area with a view over the bay.

Visitors looking to take the experience up a notch can make the mile-and-a-half-long trek at low tide to the 223-year-old Seymour Tower in the parish of Grouville; the hike is led by a guide, who stays overnight. This boxy little fortress becomes completely surrounded by water when the tide comes in and is an excellent spot for clamming when it goes back out again.

“It’s basic accommodation,” acknowledged Mr. Carter, the Heritage director, “but you are sharing an experience people have enjoyed for hundreds of years.”

Weekly rental prices for the furnished properties, like Fort Leicester, are £360 to £1,680 ($587 to $2,740 at $1.63 to the pound), depending on the season. The unfurnished stone huts, like Archirondel Tower, start at £140 for a minimum two-night stay. Bookings are made through Jersey Heritage (44-1534-633-304; jerseyheritage.org).

Beijing’s Art Scene Raises Its Profile

The New York Times
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On a recent Sunday afternoon in the sunken terrace of Beijing’s sleek Opposite House Hotel, an art event was in full swing. The wine was chilling, the dumplings steaming and a few dozen locals and foreigners were looking on with curiosity as the artists Yan Wei and Yinmai O’Connor ran their black paintbrushes over the walls, furniture and even the human occupants of a whitewashed room.

The event was put on by a company called Surge Art and was its third in three days, its contribution to Beijing Design Week that ended in early October. The turnout seemed reasonable, though Tom Pattinson, Surge’s director, told me it had nothing on the party they held the previous Friday night at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Casual art events like this one are gaining traction in Beijing: Emerging artists who were previously overshadowed by the country’s high-end art stars are increasingly being given more of a platform by galleries and dealerships. While the works of established Chinese artists are still selling well internationally, the lower end of the market is now also beginning to open up in China, helped along by online sales of artworks.

The target market is twofold: the new generation of high-salaried Chinese professionals who are turning more toward contemporary artworks than designer trinkets, and foreign visitors for whom a painting by a hot young artist is the ultimate souvenir from the country’s capital.

Surge is one of a growing number of businesses in Beijing boosting the market for works by emerging artists. Others include the Hi Art Store — another online outlet — as well as institutions like the UCCA (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) store in the 798 Art District, which also sells limited-edition prints online, and some of the more trailblazing galleries like Red Gate.

“Buying a work of contemporary Chinese art is buying a little piece of history and a window into how society is changing,” said Mr. Pattinson, whose passion for Chinese art began more than a decade ago when he moved to Beijing from England and, as an art lover with a small budget, was pushed to find affordable inroads into an art market that was, in his opinion, “elitist and lacking any depth.”

“After speaking to friends in the art world, I realized there was both a supply of great young artists looking to sell their work and a huge number of people interested in picking up something contemporary, original and yet affordable,” he said.

Beijing’s art scene has already become a staple destination on the sightseeing itinerary. Companies like Bespoke Beijing and Context Travel have been leading walking tours through the 798 gallery district in the northeast of the city for several years and setting up studio visits to meet and greet artists. What was once a small, alternative scene there has flourished, an expansion that has forced many artists to move to more affordable nearby areas like Caochangdi (home to Ai Weiwei), Huantie and the 318 International Art Village, as well as the farther-flung Songzhuang.

The price of artwork bought online starts at about $75, making it a tempting foray for a souvenir hunter with no previous aspirations of art collecting.

Janice MacLeod, a 76-year-old social worker from England, was one such unassuming buyer first exposed to Chinese contemporary art at one of Surge’s art fairs, while visiting her son, a journalist, in Beijing in 2013.

“I was blown away by the exhibition, got wonderfully carried away, and bought my first piece of contemporary art,” she said, referring to the painting “Chinese Cabbage” by the artist Ma Jing, which now hangs in her Oxfordshire cottage.

Other buyers are also entertaining the possibility of some return on their vacation purchase: One potential perk of buying art in China over a souvenir porcelain tea set is that the art is more likely to appreciate a few years down the line. Artists like Sheng Qi, Zhou Jun, Hei Yue and Gonkar Gyatso, now selling their creations for five-figure sums, originally started selling their work online for just a few hundred dollars.

Bradley Schurman, a 37-year-old Washington, D.C., resident — who came away with an original sculpture by Huang Yulong after a trip to Beijing earlier in 2014 — has been surprised to discover that the work he bought online is now worth several times more than its purchase price.

Mr. Schurman said that his art purchases have always been for aesthetic reasons. “That mentality was no different when I bought this piece,” he said of the artist’s gold ceramic skull, his Chinese art keepsake. “However, there is something incredibly gratifying when these beautiful pieces grow in value at a rate similar or substantially above the market.”

New Face of Mercado Santurce in San Juan, P.R.

The New York Times
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“BUSINESS isn’t what it used to be,” Ramón Tellado Rosa said from behind a pile of bananas at his stall at the Mercado Santurce in the Campo Alegre district of San Juan, P.R. — for decades the place where Sanjuaneros have come for fresh produce.

Mr. Tellado Rosa, 86, blames the fall-off in business on a transformation the area has seen of late, as myriad bars and restaurants have gradually cropped up around the market’s plaza. Now the plaza — La Placita, as it’s known — along with the surrounding area, has been undergoing a fresh wave of popularity as it is rediscovered by a new generation of young professionals.

A short walk but a far cry from the whitewashed high-rises of Condado and the manicured streets of Old San Juan, La Placita is a worn world of wooden Creole porches, brightly colored shop fronts and — most important to the new crowd — cheap beer and cocktails sold in plastic cups.

The Mercado Santurce itself has been active for almost a century. Merchants once would teeter atop heaps of fruit and vegetables with a pair of scales and a fistful of cash. Today the vibe is a little more subdued, but it’s still one of the most atmospheric places in Puerto Rico to forage for local fare, like giant avocados, guineitos (small and very sweet bananas) and mameys.

El Coco de Luis (787-721-7595), a hole-in-the-wall joint nestled in a corner at the front of the market, has locals lining up for the soup of the day or a cup of a brew indigenous to the plaza: whiskey and fresh coconut water.

Across the street, a spot for regular live salsa and a relaxed rum and coke is Taberna los Vázquez (Calle Orbeta, 1348; 787-723-1903), an open corner bar with a fried-food counter for late-night alcapurrias (meat enclosed in grated yautía, a tarolike root vegetable) and sorullitos (deep-fried cornmeal fingers), about $2 a piece.

From the market, head down Calle Dos Hermanos and take a right on Juan Ponce de León for a taste of culture at the MAC, Puerto Rico’s Museum of Contemporary Art (Parada 18; 787-977-4030; http://www.museocontemporaneopr.org) with an extensive collection of modern local works exhibited in blissfully air-conditioned rooms.

For a classic Placita dining experience, try the Tasca el Pescador (Calle Dos Hermanos, 178; 787-721-0995). The green polka-dot tablecloths and garish neon lighting may be uninviting, but the handwritten daily fish menu is a no-nonsense bill of freshly caught and simply prepared seafood. The grilled white sea bass is delicious and arrives with mofongo (mashed, fried plantains) or tostones (flattened fried plantains). A meal for two costs about $40.

Since it opened in 2008, Piropos (Calle Iturriaga, 1361; 787-723-5577) has become a go-to spot for dining and drinking, especially on Friday nights. It offers a modest tapas menu that can serve as a satisfying dinner, with options like stuffed peppers, chorizo and churrasco ($8 to $22). The owner, José Martinez, who vividly recalls the squeal of pigs being led to the market in the early mornings of his childhood, agrees that the face of La Placita is changing and thinks his old family neighborhood is now worth investing in. “I think of this area like SoHo in New York,” he said, “though I don’t think it should be limited to just a drinking hole.”