Here comes the Javelin: High speed rail transit arrives in the U.K.

Written by admin on June 29, 2009 – 5:22 pm -

On June 29th, passengers in the UK will be able to ride their first high-speed train, which has been dubbed the Javelin. The fleet of 29 Japanese-built trains will travel at 140 miles per hour.

People are celebrating its launch since this new rail service will ferry passengers between London and southeast England at twice the speed of regular trains. This is part of a program to improve rail travel prior to 2012 Olympic Games that are going to be held in London.

The service will originate at the St. Pancras Station in London and will have three stops: Stratford (in east London), Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent. The Stratford station is near the site of the as-yet-unfinished Olympic stadium.

The International Eurostar train terminal is located in Ashford. In addition, Ashford is the area’s transit hub for tourist destinations such as Canterbury, Dover and Sandwich.

The company that has the rail contract has decided not to offer mobile refreshment carts. It fears passengers wouldn’t have enough time to purchase and eat their snacks before arriving at their destination.

The trains, plus the newly installed rail tracks, will cut the travel time between London and parts of the UK by more than half. Areas such as East Kent are experiencing a dramatic real estate booms because they’ll now be commuter accessible by people who work in central London.

Lord Adonis, the UK Transport Secretary, said that the launch of the Javelin represents a “seminal moment” for the UK, which now joins the ranks of countries that have high-speed trains, including France, Germany and Japan.

Adonis hopes the success of the new service will spur the development of a second high-speed line between London and the West Midlands and the north of England. All the high-speed trains, both current and future, are intended to facilitate transit and jump start economic development in the areas they serve.

Tourist officials hope that the faster trains will entice people to explore more parts of England than London and its outskirts.

France’s extensive TGV system has been a catalyst in the country’s development in addition to its economic growth. For example, many people have purchased primary residences in the Loire Valley, since it only take 58 minutes to commute between Tours and the Gare Montparnasse in the 14th arrondisement, a central connecting point for Paris’s metro system.

If you’re  planning to come to the UK for the Olympics, will you prolong your trip in order to visit parts of the country that were previously accessible only by slow train or by car? Not everyone likes driving “on the wrong side of the road.”

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Could the DC metro crash been avoided?

Written by admin on June 26, 2009 – 5:25 pm -

At approximately 5 p.m. on Monday, June 22nd, two trains crashed on the packed commuter metro Red Line near Tacoma Park, Md.

The accident is the deadliest in the D.C.’s Metro’s 33-year history. Nine people were killed and least 76 people were injured and transported to hospitals.

After New York City, Washington’s rapid transit system, called the Metro, is the second-busiest urban rail system in the country. An average of 800,000 people use it each day. During President Obama’s inauguration, more the 1,200,000 people used it. The system has been in a constant growth mode as the  Metropolitan D.C. area has exploded into the suburbs.

Since the crash, there has been extensive debate as to whether or not the crash was due to a human or a mechanical error. Initially, reports attributed the accident to a human error on the part of the conductor, who was killed. After further examination, some of the cars were found to have mechanical faults.

District of Columbia’s Mayor Adrian Fenty has said the crash dramatizes the need for the rail system to be upgraded because some cars were found to have mechanical defects and others were overdue to be inspected. Federal transportation inspectors say it will require a minimum of six months until the reason for the crash is ascertained. Fenty said federal safety investigators are still searching for the cause of the crash and there’s no question the issue of rail car safety is a valid one.

The mayor is adamant that the transportation system must protect more people with stronger cars. The governments of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia operate the system jointly.

According to the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority,  metro trains in Washington will be manually operated by operators until further notice. This way, the train operator has full control of the train’s starts, stops and its speed. The operator must operate within specific speed parameters set by the signals or the train will automatically shut down.

Many people are questioning the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s liability. Many feel this accident could have been easily avoided. They don’t remember this is only the second accident where there were fatalities in the history of this rail transit system.

Do you think this will be a wake up call for cities throughout the world to institute more assiduous inspection systems?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

President Sarkozy makes a Bold Move that may have Negative Ramifications

Written by admin on June 26, 2009 – 11:42 am -

On Monday June 22, France’s President addressed a Parliament meeting that took place in Versailles where he addressed one of the most hotly contested social issues debated in France.

It’s whether or not Muslim women should be permitted to wear the traditional burqa that totally cloaks her body and essentially all of her face.

Sarkozy stated, “The issue of the burqa is not a religious one. It’s a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” President Sarkozy said, adding, “It’s a sign of the subjugation and the submission of women.”

“In our country, we cannot permit women to be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Sarkozy said to extended applause from the lawmakers, who gathered for the meeting at Versailles, where French kings once held court.

But there were mixed messages in the mandate: an admission that the country’s long-held principle of ethnic assimilation that insists newcomers shed their traditions and adapt to French culture is failing because it doesn’t give immigrants and their French-born children a fair chance. President Sarkozy solemnly stated that the burqa would not be welcome in France.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of France’s Representative Muslim Council, said he agrees with President Sarkozy’s position on burqas, calling them “an extremely marginal phenomenon.” His group promotes a moderate version of Islam. “When we meet women who wear burqas, we try to educate them and explain that moderation is a better choice,” Moussaoui says.

The unemployment rate for immigrants and their French-born children is higher than the national average. Many children of immigrants complain about discrimination, saying they get passed over for jobs because they have “foreign-sounding” names.

France’s three-week wave of riots in 2005 was partly attributed to the frustration felt by many children of North African and black immigrants over not being able to obtain jobs. They have fewer opportunities and less education than the average white French student.

Dalil Boubakeur, director of the largest mosque in Paris, said Sarkozy’s push to keep out the burqa is typical of French culture. Boubakeur is concerned this pronouncement might inflame tensions among Muslims. France is home to Western Europe’s largest population of Muslims, estimated to be between three and six million. A small but growing group of French women wear burqas and niqabs, which either cloak the entire body or cover everything but the eyes.

The French government has been divided on a burqa ban. Immigration Minister Eric Besson said a ban would only “create tensions.” His colleague Rama Yade, Junior Minister for Human Rights says she’s open to a ban if it’s aimed at protecting women forced to wear the burqa.

The burqa has come under criticism in some parts of Europe. In 2003, Sweden’s National Agency for Education gave schools the right to ban pupils from wearing burqas if it interferes with the teaching or safety regulations.

The issue of a whether or not women should wear burqas isn’t simply about costume but has more to do with women’s rights. Some people are concerned that there will be demonstrations.

But what the world has watched transpire in Iran may change Westerners’ perspectives. Many people with whom I spoke are of different opinions. Some say that no government has the right to dictate what people do or don’t wear while other people feel that people who are singled out as not melding into the mores of the society that they live is putting them at an enormous disadvantage.

What do you think? This is a sensitive issue and most especially right now.

For background and context on the burqa, access http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa.


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Posted in Around the World |

The night the crew saved my flight from hell

Written by admin on June 22, 2009 – 5:27 pm -

When I see a plane, I want to be on it. But after last Friday’s unplanned red-eye between Los Angeles and Washington, I’m having second thoughts.

I’ve been commuting regularly to the West Coast for family reasons and even though it frequently feels as if these flights are like traveling on overcrowded buses, I’ve learned to grin and bear it. So far, I’ve arrived at my destination in one piece and not too much the worse for wear. The revving of airplane engines is a soporific for me.

But this flight was not like the others I’ve experienced and it gave me an entirely new perspective on jetsetting. I’ll call it the flight from hell because it was; and I’m still recovering.

The LAX to IAD flight was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. and land at Dulles just after midnight. I arrived at the terminal more than two hours early and headed to the Red Carpet Club.

At the appropriate time, those of us who were DC bound headed to the gate, boarded and were set to go. Because the airlines are using smaller aircraft and have cut back on the number of flights going from one destination to another, there wasn’t an unoccupied seat. But this was going to be an on-time departure until the head flight attendant announced that everyone was there with the exception of the pilots, who were detained because of bad weather in the Midwest.

No one wants to hear, “Please deplane, take all of of your possessions and return in two and a half hours.” Some passengers grabbed their cell phones and booked seats on different airlines. They were business types who were flying on full-fare tickets and had nothing to lose since their return was refundable.

I was amazed by how well most people took the delay. There weren’t any visible meltdowns. All was attributed to the weather gods and so be it.

Some people headed to a restaurant. Others went to the bar. Some remained in the waiting area while members of the Red Carpet Club walked back a few gates to make phone calls and continue talking business or vegging out in front of the TV.

At the appointed hour, passengers boarded again. This time, some seats were empty but there wasn’t a lot of griping. When the pilots entered the cockpit, the passengers literally applauded.

The flight attendants were responsible for much of the relatively cheerful mood of the passengers. They had been apologetic, accommodating, scurried to find blankets and pillows and maintained their smiles and sense of humor.

As the passengers were settling in, the captain announced there were some technical problems with the aircraft and it was being “retired.” Another plane would be rolled out within 30 minutes and the passengers would repeat the boarding exercise. The captain was up front about refusing to fly this plane. No one booed — I suspect the Air France crash is too fresh in everyone’s minds.

When we boarded for the third time, the crew maintained its graciousness. Clearly, everyone was fading but we were going and what was supposed to be a late flight had morphed into being a ‘red eye’ since the flight didn’t land until 6 a.m.

No one was happy but there weren’t any unpleasant incidents. Indeed, there was a feeling of solidarity as the pilots navigated through turbulent weather that dictated we keep our seatbelts buckled during the majority of the trip.

After finally landing at Dulles Airport with the sunrise streaking across the sky, the passengers and crew, rather than complaining, talked about surviving a difficult time together. Perhaps this was because of the open communications between the crew and passengers. Everyone knew what was happening and could understand it.

The flight crew was 100 percent professional and didn’t let their frustration or exhaustion show. They were the essence of calm.

I did learn something new about myself and flying — unplanned red-eye flights are a killer. Had I planned to take the red-eye, I would have been prepared and would have slept. I’ve been a zombie for the past two days and am suffering from acute jet lag. Today is another day and thank goodness, I don’t have to board a plane.

I thought I was immune from jet lag as one who lives in any and all time zones. Wearing earplugs and noise canceling earphones can block the sounds generated by crying babies and excited children.

How much of flying has to do with being psychologically prepared? What do you think?  Would you have remained in Los Angeles overnight and taken the morning flight? How many Tripso readers have been subjected to flights from hell? What was your reaction? Sign me tired and curious.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Weekend in Sydney: Confessions of a mileage run junkie

Written by admin on June 15, 2009 – 5:30 pm -

Who goes to Sydney, Australia for only two days? I did. And there were specific reasons.

First, it was a mileage run. Since United Airlines has been holding a double your miles incentive program to entice people to fly (and that means qualifying miles that count towards one’s premium status) which ended today (June 15th, 2009) a trip to Sydney from Washington would add nearly 40,000 miles to my United account.  Some people access their bank statements on line. Others check their airline miles. Then there are those who do both.  I fall into the latter category.

More people than you think do mileage runs. A flight attendant told me she’d had a passenger who’d flown from San Francisco to Sydney and returned the day she arrived. That’s a bit extreme.

But, the man sitting next to me explained that being a 1K member of Star Alliance, enabled him to book the least expensive ticket (and since United was running a promotion, it cost approximately $800 round-trip) and use a system-wide upgrade. As a result, he was flying business class.

Second, it was an endurance trial. As a woman of a certain age, I wanted to test my stamina and how I would cope with jet lag. Would I arrive “down under” and spend my two-and-something days there in the hotel room? Not on your life, even though the 100-room The Blue Sydney was a more than tempting place to veg out.

So many business fliers and road warriors fly from one city or country to another and never give it a second thought. In the past when I’ve had to be lucid upon deplaning, I’d find myself nodding off during the presentation. But then, I was flying coach.

Third, I wanted to experience United Airline’s business class. I’d never flown on the new 180° flat bed seat with individual 15” monitors and plugs and enough room to work on my computer and even be able to look at some reference materials without dumping them on my neighbor or in the aisle. Most seats in coach don’t have plugs so people who want to work are out of luck when the battery goes dead.

From San Francisco to Sydney, I flew on the upper deck and sat downstairs on the return portion of that run. If I have the choice again, I’ll opt for the upper deck since it’s quieter and there’s not as much commotion. One caveat about the new seats: as wonderful as they are, there’s not a lot of overhead storage for suitcases and there’s no storage on the floor. And the person sitting next to the window needs to be agile enough to climb over his or her neighbor if the seat is configured into the bed position.

Fourth, I wanted to see how much I could see in two days of non-stop sightseeing. Thanks to some dear friends, I compressed a week’s worth of seeing into two fabulous days  — which I’ll write about sooner than later.

And lastly, as I have been on the road so much recently and have crossed a total of 18 time zones in the past month, I wanted to see whether or not a person could actually live in no (or all) time zones without losing their sanity. The resounding conclusion is yes – but they may need to resort to medicinal aid.

I’ve discovered, after spending so much time in the air that as soon as I hear the plane’s engine revving up, my body now goes into a sleep mode no matter the hour. After popping a pill, I use my own pillow, blanket, wear men’s cashmere socks, put on my noise canceling earphones and padded eyeshades, and slip into a cocoon. It’s essential to get as much sleep as possible, even if there’s a movie that’s been on your wish list forever or a book you’ve been dying to read. It’s not that you can’t do those things. But make sleeping your priority.

Other hints: Even if you have a drink or two of alcohol (and many people say it can be your ruination on planes), drink a lot of water. No matter in which section of the plane you’re flying, either request a big bottle of water or bring an empty plastic one through security screening and fill it when you’re in the safe zone from the nearest water fountain.

When you board the plane, set your watch on local time and hope your body takes the hint.

Other frequent flying things I’ve learned: Having to change planes and make connections can be the straw that breaks the camel’s (or your) back. Being a member of an airline club makes life easier so you can relax. Plus, if there are delays, you’re somewhat covered and less frezzled when you board the next flight. This is the time when buying a “day pass” to a club can be an excellent investment.

Another revelation: I must have the look of a terrorist or the customs officials at the Sydney airport are as strict as they come. I was stopped twice for a passport check before I was exiting with my luggage.

I thought I was all clear but was ushered into a line where a very polite young woman unpacked my suitcase, my carry-on plus my purse. Contrasted with some TSA officials I’ve encountered, she repacked everything with total precision. I never could figure out what she was hoping to find. I literally had nothing (not even nuts which are verboten) that could qualify as contraband.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I made a fast run to the gym and worked out as quickly and hard as I could. The shower did wonders and off I went for 12 hours of touring.

No, I was not upgraded to business class on the U.S. portions of the flight. It would have been a nice bonus — but I managed to sleep anyway and went to bed at midnight after returning to DC.

It’s a bizarre feeling to have crossed so many time zones, the equator, lost and gained a day and still be alive to write about the adventure. And after two days in one place, I’m preparing to board another plane.

If I don’t make 1K this year, I’ll be one very unhappy person.  Come to think of it though, because of this past promotion, there will probably be so many 1K members that we’ll all be sitting in the back of the plane since there are so few upgradeable seats when flying domestically. The airlines are using smaller planes and cutting the number of flights.

I’ll never be a Global Services Star Alliance member since those are people who don’t buy discounted tickets or use miles to upgrade. It’s rumored they need to spend $50,000 on tickets per year to qualify.

People are welcome to post their tips as how to best deal with living in the skies as well as their jet lag secrets. And please confess whether or not any of you are doing mileage runs. Obtaining your preferred carrier’s top status comes with all types of perks. At least, let’s hope it does.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The Obama Family Comes to France

Written by admin on June 13, 2009 – 11:49 am -

Eighty million people can’t be wrong since that’s how many came to France last year. And France must be doing something right. According to the French Ministry of the Economy, the country leads the world in attracting foreigner visitors. Some people may simply be passing through on the way to final destinations because of France’s central European location and airlines using Paris as a hub. But many people stay.

The world had its eyes on France last weekend when many watched the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Normandy invasion on television. They saw people gather to salute the veterans and heard President Barack Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy speak at the ceremony. People couldn’t help but view a bit of the beauty of that area of the country and realize there’s history bonding the U.S. and France.

After the ceremony in Normandy, the Obama family spent time touring the City of Light. How exciting the sites must have been for Sasha, who celebrated her eighth birthday in Paris, and ten-year-old Malia. They’ll have a lot to tell their friends and classmates. No child leaves the Eiffel Tower without stars in her eyes — even ones who live in the White House. The family visited Notre Dame Cathedral where they heard a 45-minute-long private concert and climbed the 350 stairs to the top of the landmark. The Pompidou Center was another stop during this special weekend.

Hundreds of people stood behind police barriers to watch the Obama family take a brief sightseeing excursion that also included their driving by the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde, across the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. Bystanders cheered and applauded as the motorcade passed.

President and Mrs. Obama dined at La Fontaine de Mars, a traditional French bistro with red-and-white checked tablecloths that’s located near the Eiffel Tower. The restaurant, which opened in 1908, is popular with both natives and tourists. It isn’t fancy, but it’s fun and the food is good.

The family stayed at the 19th century residence of the U.S. ambassador, 200 yards away from the Elysée Palace. The mansion, once owned by the Rothschild banking family, has a lush garden with roses and magnolia trees. President Obama said he’d love nothing more than to spend free time in Paris touring with his family and taking them to the Luxembourg Garden. But he returned to Washington while his family remained in Paris for a couple of extra days. The girls’ school year has already come to an end.

In spite of the global economic downturn, there was only a .3% decrease in the number of people who came to France in 2008 from in 2007.

Thierry Baudier, CEO of the recently formed tourist entity, Atout France, Jean-Phillipe Perol, Director Americas of Atout France office in New York, have staged major marketing campaigns targeting Americans. The French may not have approved of the Bush Administration’s policies, but they hold nothing against Americans as individuals. If Anglophone visitors attempt to speak French in Paris, I’ll wager they will receive a response in English, especially in hotels and restaurants and service-oriented businesses.

In spite of getting a bad rap, the French are incredibly gracious to Americans who are considered among the best visitors. The younger generation tends to like all things American, its movies, music and most especially McDo’s. France is the second largest market for the burger chain.

Tourism accounts for 6.9% of French GDP and is a high priority for the government. Between 2.5 and 3 million Americans come to France yearly and many are repeat visitors.

One explanation for so many American coming to France may be because they perceive France to be a good value, even with the strength of the euro against the dollar. Once you get out of Paris (much in the same way as in other major cities such as New York or London), you can travel well and find decently priced hotels and restaurants, which serve wonderful meals, for a fraction of what you’d pay in Paris.

Another factor may be that Americans, as well as 78 million other people, love France for its food and wine. French chefs are fast to say many Americans are more knowledgeable about gastronomy than the French, who tend to take it for granted.

I’m prejudiced and appreciate so many things about France, especially its incredible wealth of culture and its diversity. It’s an easy country in which to travel because of high-speed trains and its highway system. The fact the entire country is only about 200,000 square miles — less than twice the size of the state of Colorado — makes France easy to tour in a finite period of time. As much as I love to travel and learn new things, not a day goes by in Paris, when I don’t discover something I’ve never seen before.

Do you think an increasing numbers of Americans will opt to visit France now that President Obama has embraced the country and the two presidents are making a conscious effort to work together? My vote would be yes.


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Posted in Around the World |

France, the world’s #1 tourist destination

Written by admin on June 8, 2009 – 5:33 pm -

Eighty million people can’t be wrong. That’s how many visited France last year. France must be doing something right. According to the French Ministry of the Economy, the country leads in attracting foreigners. Some people may simply be passing through on the way to final destinations because of France’s central European location and airlines’ use of Paris as a hub. But many people stay.

The world had its eyes on France this past weekend when many watched the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Normandy invasion on television. They saw people gather to salute the veterans and heard U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy speak at the ceremony.  People couldn’t help but view a bit of the beauty of that area of the country and realize there’s history bonding the U.S. and France.

After the ceremony in Normandy, the Obama family spent time in Paris touring the City of Light. How exciting the sites must have been for just eight-year-old Sasha and ten-year-old Malia. They’ll have a lot to tell their friends and classmates. No child leaves the Eiffel Tower without stars in their eyes – even ones who live in the White House. Notre Dame Cathedral is always incredible as is the Seine and Paris by night.

In spite of the global economic downturn, there was only a .3 percent decrease in the number of people who came to France in 2008 than in 2007.

Thierry Baudier, CEO of the recently formed tourist entity, Atout France, and New York based Director Americas Jean-Phillipe Perol, have staged major marketing campaigns targeting Americans. The French did not condone the U.S. involvement in Iraq and some Americans feared there would be anti-American sentiments.

But  they held nothing against Americans as individuals. If an Anglophone visitor attempts to speak French in Paris, I’ll wager they will receive a response in English, especially in hotels and restaurants and service oriented businesses.

In spite of getting a bad rap, the French are incredibly gracious to Americans who are considered among the best visitors. The younger generation tends to like all things American, its movies, music and most especially Mickey Ds. France is the second largest market for the burger chain.

Tourism accounts for 6.9 percent of French GDP and is a high priority for the government. There were an estimated 45 million visitors in 2008. Between 2.5 and 3 million Americans come to France yearly and many are repeat visitors.

One explanation for so many American coming to France may be because they perceive France to be a good value, even with the strength of the euro against the dollar. Once you get out of Paris (much in the same way as in other major cities such as New York City), you can travel well and find decently priced hotels and restaurants, which serve wonderful meals, for a fraction of what you’d pay in Paris.

Another factor may be that Americans, as well as 78 million other people, love France for its food and wine. French chefs are fast to say many Americans are more knowledgeable about gastronomy than the French, who tend to take it for granted.

I’m prejudiced and appreciate so many things about France, its incredible wealth of culture and its diversity. It’s an easy country in which to travel because of high-speed trains and its highway system. The fact the entire country is only about 200,000 square miles (less than twice the size of the state of Colorado) makes France easy to tour in a finite period of time. As much as I love to travel and learn new things, not a day goes by when I am in Paris that I don’t discover something I’ve never seen before.

Do you think an increasing numbers of Americans will opt to visit France now that President Obama has embraced the country and the two presidents are making a conscious effort to work together?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Have the French Become Less Food Conscious?

Written by admin on June 6, 2009 – 11:55 am -

A newly released book, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France by Michael Steinberger believes that chefs in other countries are taking center stage in the arena of cuisine. The American journalist and wine expert’s premise is that food in France is no longer what it used to be and it’s on a spiraling permanent decline. Can it be reversed before it’s too late? From personal experience, I think he may have a valid point but refuse to believe French food won’t continue to a contender for some of the best in the world.

How well I remember a trip throughout France in May 1968. It was an eating orgy where the itinerary was planned with a Michelin Red Guide in one hand and a map in the other. We drove 3,000 kilometers in the new car we’d picked up in Germany that would be shipped to the US. What we saved on the price of the car paid for our vacation. Plus we were getting 10 French francs to the dollar which was probably the best currency exchange rate-timing ever. In retrospect, rather than simply eating, why didn’t we buy property?

What an indelible impression that trip made. We drove from town to town to eat and to absorb the culture. We underestimated how long the driving would take on the two lane roads and how we would be forced to forego many of the sites that were highlighted in our green Michelin Guide. In reality, we were in France to eat and drove seven hours to eat at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant on the outskirts of Lyon. In spite of curtailing the urge to have our faces fall into our plates (and they kept coming), the meal was so memorable I still remember the menu.

It was a personal turning point when food and wine became an integral part of my life. I took cooking classes and spent hours with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Thank goodness there was a French Market in Washington, DC, where you could buy special cuts of beef, incredible produce and pay double what you’d have to in the supermarket up the street.

It used to be hard to get a bad meal in France but you can now. There’s no longer the same pride in cuisine as there was less than 25 years ago.  The glory, grandeur, starched white table clothes with food being served by waiters, who consider their work a profession and one of which to be proud, is on the wane.

Paris’s former New Yorker correspondent Adam Gopnik published an article in 1997 suggesting that French food had become “rigid, sentimental, dull and incredibly expensive.” Gopnik said, the “muse of cooking had moved on to New York, San Francisco, Sydney and London. In these cities, the restaurants exude a dynamism that was increasingly hard to find in Paris.”

In addition, the French were cooking less at home than ever before, and pre-packaged and processed food had made enormous inroads into daily life. The French still eat out a lot, but they don’t have the same type of disposable income.

In 1960, France had 200,000 cafés and now it has fewer than 40,000. Many of them were replaced by fast-food chains and McDonald’s where’s there’s high turnover and big profits. There are more than 1,000 McDonald’s and the chain has become France’s largest private-sector employer. And even though many people swore that McDonald’s would never succeed, France is the second most profitable market for it worldwide.

French vintners are also feeling the pain from increased global competition and perhaps more important, the French are currently drinking 50% of the wine they did in the 1960’s.

This isn’t to imply that you can’t get wonderful food in France. Stellar chefs such as Christian Constant trained some of the people, who have become Paris’s best chefs, when he headed to the kitchen at the Crillon Hotel, and can take credit for inaugurating a less expensive but more innovative type of cuisine found at many three-star restaurants. Sadly, some of them may have been floating on their past reputations and all of them are incredibly expensive.

Many of Constant’s disciples have gone on to create small restaurants with wonderful food but without lavish décor and ostentatious surroundings. Pascal Barbot, who struck out and opened L’Astrance was awarded a third Michelin star in 2007, when he was only 34. Barbot is the most revered of the group of young stars. And let’s hope the French government enables small restaurateurs to realize a profit during this difficult economy via taxation. 

Some feel the French have become complacent about their gastronomic heritage. I refuse to believe that and am optimistic this has been a temporary aberration plus people worldwide have become increasingly interested in good food and are more discerning than when France had a hold on gourmet cuisine.


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Posted in Around the World |

Staving off starving on domestic flights

Written by admin on June 4, 2009 – 5:35 pm -

It depends on the airline, but if you’re flying domestically, chances are good you aren’t going to be served food. Lord knows how much money the airlines are saving by cutting out the tiny packages of pretzel snacks that used to be served with your soft drink.

Before heading to the airport, check to see if there’s a meal included. Even if there is, you might want to pass. Airline food can be akin to food much in the same way as military music may be an ersatz form of music.

Yesterday I was on a scheduled five-hour-plus flight that took more than six hours. I’m usually fine without eating but realized I’d left for the airport three hours prior to the flight. My stomach was audibly growling.

I broke down and bought a “chef’s” salad and a beer for $15. The beer won the taste prize by miles.

Looking around, I could see and SMELL so many different meals. I am not a curry fan and the odor made me queasy. The people sitting next to me had raided McDonalds and smells of grease were intensified in the confined area with minimal circulation.

So what food should pack for flights? Here are some ideas:

Power bars, snack mixes, raisins and candy are compact. The later should be in moderation if you’re traveling with children. Sugar highs are great recipes for making kids want to run up and down the cramped aisles.

Peanut butter sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese or your favorite sandwiches cure lots of hunger pangs

Fruit (fresh or dried) is healthy and you’ll feel virtuous in the calorie department.  When grapes and cherries are in season, freeze them at home and by the time you’re ready to eat them in flight, they’ll have that fresh taste. Ditto goes for many sandwiches. Pack them in a small-insulated bag.

Raw vegetables with a dip can be filling and are good for vegetarians and the weight conscious.

If you’re watching your budget or are a quasi-gourmet, steer clear of buying food at the airport. Chances are it was made in an off-site kitchen hours before it reached its destination. And it may sit there even longer. The main exception is yogurt which may not make it through security.

Stop at your favorite deli and have them pack a picnic. Please steer clear of sauerkraut. People dislike food smells on planes. A business flyer said,  “It’s generally the leisure traveler who thinks it’s a good idea to bring barbeque food or chicken laced with garlic accompanied with cabbage.”

Other musts — and you’ll be sorry if you forget them:

Napkins, a plate or something that can serve as one, utensils (plastic – to insure they pass through security screening), a couple of plastic bags for leftovers and hand wipes should be on everyone’s list. And do bring a plastic bag so you can dispose of your garbage. It’s only polite to try to keep planes clean.

Some people go to extremes. On one Paris-New York trip and another between Los Angeles and Washington, DC, I sat next to passengers who had picnic boxes prepared by the glitzy hotels where they’d been staying. I was surprised since we were in business class. But they shared the religion of refusing to eat airline food and drank only bottled water.

How are you dealing with hunger without fainting from starvation on flights that are longer than a few hours? This is where the Boy Scout mantra of being prepared needs to be taken to heart!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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