Time seemed to fly during our recent training sessions in Cartagena. Being in such a wonderful place always leaves a visitor convinced that time passes far too quickly.
While the time allotted for the training seemed too short, it was extremely well utilized. I believe the smiles of the attendants, all of whom received their well-earned certificates on Saturday, 12th May, speak for the whole of the course: each and everyone devoted all their attention and efforts to the Instructor and the subjects being taught. As a result, their progress was outstanding and the “final product” was a great team, ready to surpass clients’ expectations. Thanks to all of you…and not just for your attention, but also for your presents!
The first present was the extraordinary kindness of the staff. Second was the hotel itself: a former convent for the Clarisas nuns, building first started in 1617 and the convent was finally opened in 1621. Hence the name of the hotel’s upscale restaurant, the “dieciséis-veintiuno” (meaning “sixteen twenty-one”), a must-dine-in for any visitor staying in Cartagena. Here, sommelier Oscar Santos introduces, every Wednesday, three new wines from their vast cellar to anyone interested in the subject and so helps deepen the knowledge of any wine amateur. Excellent food and wine combine with the delightful ambience of the restaurant, and are accompanied by lovely music, a pleasing temperature, kind service and wonderful decorations.
Have a close look at the lower part of the restaurant walls, where the local humidity (a constant 90% during my stay) causes a decorative moss growth that creates a one-of-a-kind phosphorescent effect on the gold colored walls. Altogether, an experience that no one should miss.
The always-friendly visits of Mateo, the hotel’s toucan, were another present; some days he was more eager to be photographed than others. The toucanness, named Clarita, was just as beautiful as Mateo, but harder to get along with: it proved almost impossible to have my picture taken with her (at least for me!).
The day before my departure, the hotel staff organized a tour for me around their beautiful city. Located in the north of Columbia, Cartagena is especially known for its port, which has been one of America’s most important ones since the founding of the city by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia in 1533. In those early days, the port and the city were a continuous target for the British and the French, so it was forced to constantly improve itself to defend its population, its interests and its marketing power. To protect Cartagena from these invaders, wide walls were built with sloped fronts so as to minimize damage if the city were attacked by cannon balls. Likewise, the fortress of San Felipe de Barajas included labyrinth-like hidden passageways to help the defending forces beat back the invading enemy if they ever managed to conquer their quarters.
The beautiful La Popa Convent is located at the highest point of Cartagena, and received it’s name because of its similarity to a ship’s back end when viewed on arrival to the city from the sea. The Augustine Fathers founded the convent in the early 17th century. Nowadays it is home to the unique Santa Clara altarpiece that was originally kept at the Santa Clara Convent, which today houses the beautiful Sofitel Santa Clara Hotel.
There are still more sights to enjoy in the streets of Cartagena, which are lined with beautiful houses one to three stories high, depending on the county they are built in. The number of stories was a mark of the acquisitive power of the owners. However, what is common to all properties are the bright colors on the outside walls and the beautiful architecture dating back to colonial times, always accompanied by the natural green of the indigenous trees and shrubs. All in all, Cartagena was truly an unforgettable experience.
About the Author (Author Profile)Amer A. Vargas graduated with a Tourism Degree specializing in hotel management from CETT (Center for Tourism Studies) in Barcelona and spent the following decade in the service industry. Beginning as a waiter and then supervisor in high-end restaurants, he was next made responsible for raising service standards through staff training programs. After receiving further training as a butler, he worked as a butler and valet in private service as well as hotels in England and Europe. During this time period, he translated the best-selling industry texts Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals and Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators into Spanish and is currently creating butler training materials in the Spanish language. As the Director of Spanish-speaking Markets, Amer is responsible for making the technology of butling available in private residences and hotels in the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. He provides consultation, placement, and training services in these countries.
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