Two days in Sydney, Australia – Are you crazy? You flew how many miles?

Written by admin on July 31, 2009 – 5:10 pm -

Who flies from Washington, DC to Sydney, Australia, for slightly more than two days? Clearly only a nut or someone on a mileage run who was taking advantage of the deeper than deep discounted fares to go “down under.” In my defense, I would have stayed a few days longer but couldn’t snag a return seat for another week and was unable to schedule such a long trip.

Had it not been for some lovely friends who live in Sydney and have an apartment in Paris, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But Fiona and Paul were nice enough to say they’d line up someone to play tour guide. Ann was perfect and gracious as she dragged me all over the city.

My flight arrived at just after 6 a.m. and I taxied straight to the Blue Sydney on The Wharf at Woolloomooloo on the outskirts of the center city. The hotel’s entrance was dramatically modern and guests can’t help but see some more than impressive boats (meaning huge) moored at its pier. My room with an incredible view was ready. I immediately headed to the small but well equipped gym to get my adrenalin pumping since I was going to see as much as possible in a finite period of time.

After a fast workout, I went upstairs, unpacked, showered, dressed, gulped some coffee and was ready to go. I’m lucky because when I am on a really long flight, I sleep as if I’m among the living dead. Besides, I didn’t have time to indulge in being jet-lagged. Ann, who became an instant friend, was waiting downstairs and off we went to see Paul and Fiona Dane. They’re retailers and were working like maniacs to launch a new hip and trendy woman’s clothing boutique in the QVC building that’s recently been renovated to its original splendor and more. We kissed and received our marching orders including where to meet for dinner at 8:30 that night.  It was 10 a.m. I wondered whether or not I’d be alive at the appointed hour.

This wasn’t the time to contemplate such thoughts so off we went. Ann’s car was equipped with a GPS but it was quickly apparent that driving within inner Sydney is nutty. It’s not the traffic. Rather, it’s the cost of parking. Most commuters park on the outskirts and take public transport into town. If you buy a  pass, you can hop on and off ferries, buses and trains; you’ll be financially ahead and not spend your time looking for parking spaces on the street or in garages and paying a fortune for the privilege.

What I didn’t realize is Sydney is an adult playground. With the exception of a few days during its winter (remember, the seasons are reversed since it’s in the southern hemisphere) it’s blessed with temperate weather. The city is built around a natural harbor with much of its shore being designated a National Park. Some of the best views of Sydney are seen from the water. People can choose from cruises that last a day where you’re fed and feted. Then there are ferries where you can climb on and off to get a feeling for the area. We opted for the latter. The diversity of the city made an impression I’ll never forget.

Parts of it were funky such as Luna Park. It’s a 1930s amusement park. There are still rides such the Tango Train. But the showstopper is the superbly restored Ferris wheel. If you’re brave enough to take it, you’ll be treated to incredible views including the world-famous Opera House.

Ann and I were on the run but we stopped for lunch on Manly Beach where people spend their summers – even though you can take the ferry and be in the business district in approximately 40 minutes. There was an almost retro feeling about it. The idea of being able to have lunch overlooking the water and watching people sail-boarding in wet suits was an enigma for someone who commutes between Paris and Washington, DC.

Ann and I didn’t go to the Taronga Zoo that’s reputed to be beautiful and yes, I missed seeing the largest collection of native and exotic animals in New South Wales including koalas, kangaroos, platypus, echidnas and frilled lizards. We also opted not to visit the Aquarium – which most tourists consider a must.

Our must-dos included a tour of the Sydney Opera House, a Walk through Hyde Park, a fast look-see of the Australian Natural History museum, which houses an incredible collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts. We paid a quick visit to the city’s famous Botanical Gardens.

We raced through the CBD (Central Business District). The area is home to many hotels, office buildings and is the city’s downtown area. There’s a lot of shopping but nothing yelled, “Buy me.” Shops in Sydney aren’t cheap. There is an arts and crafts markets on weekends, that’s one of the many things I missed on this whirlwind tour.

We spent a bit of time in the city’s Chinatown but not nearly enough. When I return to Sydney, I plan to spend more than just a day exploring the area and eating Dim Sum. We perused The Rocks and ate in a tearoom that had excellent French pastries. Much to my surprise, they were every bit as expensive as if we’d been in Paris. The Rocks is a maze of sandstone lanes, cul-de-sacs and courtyards, jam-packed with shops, warehouses and terraces that were built in the early 19th century. Even though The Rocks was once home to Sydney’s dockworkers and stevedores, it’s now a magnet for visitors who frequent its many shops, boutiques, pubs and restaurants.

Since my Paris friends, Fiona and Paul are in the process of moving to a house in Paddington, I was eager to see the area. The houses are  filled with character and charm and many have a history that’s worth studying. Some have Victorian terraces complete with cast iron railings. In addition, Oxford Street is home to some of Sydney’s trendiest boutiques and its florists, vegetable markets and butchers reminded me of Paris. The vendors pride themselves in having a sense of presentation that’s competes with some of the best shops in Paris and New York City.

This wasn’t an haute cuisine gastronomic tour even though Sydney is famous for some stellar restaurants. We ate well but we were too tired to sit through multiple courses prepared by one of Sydney’s well-known chefs.

To be frank, I was delighted to return to the Blue Sydney. I even had a couple of drinks in the glitzy bar in case I might spot Russell Crowe, who lives in the same building as the hotel when he’s based in Sydney. Of course, that part of the wharf is closed to the public because only the rich and famous can afford to buy digs there.

Will I return to Sydney? The answer is yes. But this time, it won’t be for two days. I got an initial taste and want to have sufficient time to explore more of the city and go out into the countryside and visit the vineyards. The country is so vast that you could spend years there and never see half of it.

Australian Tourist Site

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Kitty—She Stole People’s Hearts and was the Ultimate Jetsetter

Written by admin on July 30, 2009 – 2:08 pm -

She appeared at the kitchen door of our Provence home and even though the last thing I wanted or needed was a cat, she adopted us.

Perhaps the plate of milk and a little bit of tuna persuaded her she’d found some suckers. But, there was no way we could have a feline friend dependent upon us.

We traveled too much plus we commuted between Paris and Provence. Stability was not our middle name. There wasn’t even a reason to name this cat since there was no way she was going to become a family member. As a result, she was called Kitty—even though a friend named her Voilà. I was having none of it since she wasn’t a keeper. Or so I thought.

After a ten-month-long absence, we returned to Provence to be greeted by a striped cat with a crook in her tail waiting in the parking lot. My husband was delighted. I was not. On top of that, she was feral and would drag snakes to the door as a present. Plus the carcasses of birds she snared. For someone who’s a city person, this was too much.

Fast forward—Kitty wormed her way into our lives and into our home. Before I knew it, she hiccupped and produced four offspring. Thank goodness Sarah Fox, Executive Editor of Bonjour Paris and her three-year-old daughter were visiting and took over supervising the miracle of birth. I knew it was natural. But it was too natural for me especially at 5:00 a.m.

When I took her to the vet to be spayed, have her shots, and so on and on, I knew I was trapped. By this time, Kitty was adapting to being an indoor cat and liked sleeping under an electric blanket when the mistral was blowing.

Perhaps Kitty liked Provence but I didn’t love it during the winter when it was cold and the wind was roaring down the Rhone Valley. Could Kitty adjust to being an apartment cat? After buying a carrier, she hopped in it and we both started commuting by TGV between Avignon and Paris. Her ticket cost five Euros. She was a trooper and never made a peep throughout the entire trip. When she was in the apartment, she’d look outside but never attempted to escape. Kitty knew when and where every ray of sunshine was going to appear and you could find her in the precise spot—sleeping.

She was such a seductress that she even persuaded Joseph Lestrange to take her to a café. I was against it but had zero say. Kitty liked Paris and quickly understood why I so loved the City of Light where there was action and so many more people to make a fuss over her.

When I started needing to spend more time in the U.S., I found out what it was really like to spend money. In order for her to have an E.U. passport, she needed to have a series of shots including rabies. After six months, she needed a blood test to show the shot had been effective. The regulations are constantly changing but those were the days when animals couldn’t be admitted to the U.K. unless they were quarantined for six months.

Then there was the obligatory identification chip that had to be inserted in her neck (90 Euros, merci) and the vets on both sides of the Atlantic knew they had an annuity since Kitty needed an international health certificate (how many stamps can you put on multiple copies of the same health form?) within ten days of traveling. When I heard my neighbor on the plane hack and sneeze, I wished the same criteria applied to humans as to our pampered pets.

Kitty crossed the Atlantic a minimum of 25 times. When United Airlines raised its fee to $250 EACH way, I would stay on the phone and tell the agent Kitty deserved frequent flyer miles not to mention a meal. All I asked for was some ice in case she was thirsty.

The adage that pets become like their owners and vice versa is true. Kitty would board a plane and immediately fall asleep and stay that way until we landed. Many people are allergic to cats, but no one ever complained about my furry companion since no one knew she was there. I’d put a blanket loosely over her carrier and she wouldn’t even snore.

Kitty was accumulating a packet full of papers, instructions in French and in English, two vets and numerous caretakers to cover when I was traveling to Asia or places where she wasn’t welcome or would have been a prime catch for someone’s dinner.

Thank you Stacy, Riza, Jenny, Jonann (who’d send me a daily update about the princess complete with a photo) and Budd who became a second parent for this femme fatale feline. Budd and Kitty were so bonded that she’d go for walks with him in the hall of his apartment building.

Kitty died prematurely because she had feline AIDS and couldn’t fight off an infection. When I held her as she was going to sleep, she mumbled a meow. I’m certain it was with a slightly French accent.

To Kitty—thank you for being my friend and companion and I’ll miss you forever. And to be sure, when we have our “conversations,” we’ll continue to discuss how you were able to get an E.U. passport and I wasn’t.

With love, July 27, 2009


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Posted in Paris, and more |

7 basic standards of excellence needed to merit 5-Stars

Written by admin on July 27, 2009 – 5:13 pm -

There’s no one answer. The 5-Star hotel and restaurant standards varies for different people depending on personal requirements and expectations. There’s no question that some part of a 5-Star ranking is subjective. But here’s a summary of a few musts and there are additional criteria.

1 – Service that makes people feel like stars and important. It’s when the staff gives you the feeling they love their work and it’s not simply a job — that’s 5-Star. They genuinely want to please guests and if it means going out of their way and doing something extra, the client won’t know if it’s an imposition.

2 – Hotels where the staff is impeccably dressed and caters to clients’ needs and wants. For example, high tea being served using silver and perfectly white pressed linen. Cocktails should be served on a tray accompanied by cloth cocktail napkins and well-presented hor d’oeuvres.

3 – Cleanliness and décor are big 5-Star factors plus total attention to detail. There’s nothing like a room with a wonderful view where the bed linens are ironed and there are flowers. The bathrooms should be elegant and you shouldn’t have to grope for the soap or be confronted by scratchy towels. Noise from the hall or adjoining rooms should not be heard.

4 – Five-star service requires an effort on the part of the staff to understand the individual being served and to specifically tailor the service so that he or she feels completely at ease.

5 – The 5-Star service is uninterrupted by negotiation or by the customer having to explain or educate the personnel about their expectations. A five star establishment has already calibrated its service to the highest level.

6 – Every 5-Star restaurant is flawless when it comes to food and service. A large staff serves the courses but they’re choreographed to make it seem as though only one person waiting on you. There is no noise or bumping into other dining room personnel as wine is poured or during the meal. Guests aren’t rushed but when they ask for the bill, it should be processed in a timely manner.

7 – With 5-Star service the staff is more than gracious, always smiles, is willing to go more that all out to please clients, anticipates their needs and follows up. For example, I was bowled over when I returned to one hotel after a two-year hiatus and it had a VERY soft pillow in my room when I arrived. Plus, there was a yogurt waiting for me each night because I take a medication that requires it at bedtime. I didn’t have to ask because it was entered in the hotel’s data bank. I call that impressive since how could they know I’d ever return. And even more amazingly, I was treated as if I were a regular.

Now it’s your turn to add what makes a hotel or a restaurant a 5-Star experience for you.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

5 think-ahead strategies that make travel easier

Written by admin on July 25, 2009 – 10:12 am -

There are ways of minimizing stress when taking to the skies but sometimes, it takes imagination in addition to organization.

Think ahead about packing
Pack the day before or even earlier, then take everything out of your suitcase and whittle down your possessions. Unless you’re going to be seeing the same people for two solid weeks (and who cares) and have to attend a black tie event, travelers can do with half of what they think they need to bring.

For city travel, black is always safe for women. Bring a skirt, a pair or two of pants, a jacket, some wash and wear tops, one dressy blouse and different accessories. Scarves, shawls, costume jewelry and a silk flower to pin on your jacket or place in your hair can give women an entirely different look.

Men have always had it easy. Unless they have business meetings that require a suit, a navy blazer and gray pants with a shirt and a tie is usually as dressy as they need to get. Add some khaki pants and knit shirts and most men are on their way.

Assemble a plastic bag containing pills and copies of the prescriptions (generic please) that you need to pack in your carry-on bag even if you’re checking a suitcase.

And give careful thought to electronic accoutrements. All the many cords, converter plugs, chargers, camera apparatus such as a memory card reader or extra camera batteries are some of them. Separate the cords with rubber bands or twist-em’s so you’re not confronted with having to untangle everything.

Whether or not you check a bag is up to you. I try to avoid doing so since I’ve arrived at a destination too many times without my luggage — or have had to wait longer than I care to for the carousel to cough it up.

One caveat — don’t try dragging such a large carry-on that your back hurts before boarding the flight, or you’ve alienated your fellow passengers and the flight crew before getting your suitcase into the overhead compartment.

Think ahead about clearing airport security
Some frequent flyers are opting to become members of CLEAR where they’re on an immediate fast-track to be waved through security.

The most challenging items are electronics and personal items that require screening. Clear plastic zip-lock bags are godsends.

Have your computer ready for inspection as well as your cell phone, camera, keys and anything that might set off alarms. This sometimes includes coins and sometimes not.

Then there’s the make-up, toothpaste, etc. etc. bag, which invariably contains liquids and has to be removed from the suitcase to be screened.

They should be placed on the top of the bag for easy removal. I place all of these items together in a cloth bag so I can pull everything out in one easy swoop.

Clearing security is stressful at best. But take your time while being as efficient as possible and don’t let people push you. Airport lost and found areas are treasure troves and there’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve lost an essential.

I never wear a belt, shoes that aren’t slip-off or heavy jewelry. If I had any “important” jewelry pieces, there no point in traveling with them and being worried about robbery. Also, there’s less to take off in line.

I also have succumbed (inelegant as it is) to wearing a neck pouch containing my passport and boarding pass. This isn’t high fashion. But after leaving these essential papers in a tray, I’ve come to the conclusion there are times to be chic and other time when being secure is more appropriate.

Think ahead about waiting at the airport
I’m a great believer in belonging to an airline club because I travel enough to justify the cost. Plus, it’s not unheard of when one of the employees is able to wangle a better seat or possibly an upgrade. There are occasions when you can buy a last-minute upgrade for substantially less money than it would have cost if you’d bought a business class ticket.

One-time passes can be purchased for airline clubs if you find you’re going to be delayed. As crowded as some may be, it’s more comfortable waiting in a club and if you want or need to work, you can get on line. Be certain that if you’re not flying internationally you keep track of time because many clubs don’t announce domestic departures.

Many people go to the bar, or in some airports where there are decent restaurants, eat before the flight leaves and thus avoid eating (or buying) mediocre airline food.

Think ahead about your seat on the plane:
Some airlines aren’t permitting passengers to pre-select their seats, while others save advanced booking for premium clients. If you’ve bought your ticket though a travel agency, they can arrange for a seat to be assigned. If you’re flying United or some other carriers, opt to pay the extra money for somewhat more legroom. Five inches can make a big difference.

Consult Seat Guru and you’ll be able to tell the seating configuration of specific planes. If you can pick and choose and there isn’t a plane change, you’ll have an advantage when selecting your seat.

There are different theories and if you’re flying coach (and most of us are these days) hope the flight isn’t full and you can stake out five middle seats and the armrests go all the way up. One of the best transatlantic flights I recall was when I lucked out and slept across the ocean.

Think ahead about getting from the airport to your hotel
This tip, passed along to me by a wise traveler, has saved me time and aggravation countless times. Take a clear folder with your itinerary. Access Mappy.com or Mapquest.com and print out a map of your destination including the directions from the airport. This will put a stop to a lack a communication or a joy ride should you encounter a cabbie with whom you don’t share a common language. And even if you do, some streets are difficult to locate.

Please add your hints for making trips easier. These are just a few.

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis.


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Posted in Around the World |

8 ways to stretch vacation dollars

Written by admin on July 25, 2009 – 9:45 am -

The Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and the travel industry is going all out for your business and travel dollars.

Many people are feeling nervous about the economy and whether or not their jobs may be cut. Will they be asked to work fewer hours, accept less pay or lose their jobs? Getting away may be out of the question.

Here are some bargain options that should stretch anyone’s traveling budget this summer.

With a family, drive
Many families are taking vacations closer to home so they can drive.  Gas prices are lower than they were last year — even though the cost has been gradually on the climb in the past month. Some experts are predicting that filling your car’s tank will continue to rise.

All-inclusive deals
Other people are renting cabins or spending a few days at resorts where everything is included. If you’re able to be flexible and don’t have your heart set on a specific destination, you can snag a last minute special that will minimize your feeling guilty about the cost.

Cruises are a bargain
Cruises are hotter than hot on this year’s vacation list. Many companies are practically giving away cabins and this may be the time to go to Alaska. Yes, there may be supplemental charges (e.g., liquor, off-shore excursions) but you can factor them into your budget. Again being flexible and having the ability to go at the last moment is a plus. Travel agents who specialize in cruises will know which cruise lines are discounting and which ships are floating bathtubs. Cheap may be cheap. But do your due diligence.

Bargain cities
The agents ranked the top U.S. cities for the value as: Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; New York and Los Angeles.

Use frequent flier and credit card points, take shorter vacations
A recent survey of 600 American Express travel discovered that clients are finding ways to offset costs by using credit card reward points, booking last-minute trips and traveling mid-week when air prices are lower and they are taking shorter vacations

Go where the dollar is strong — Central and South America

They’re picking destinations where the dollar goes further such as Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Mexican tourism is suffering. But for people who feel the swine flu was greatly exaggerated, there are incredible deep-discounted deals begging to be booked.

Europe looked good, but be wary of the exchange rate
Many people have been showing interest in Europe because of the dollar’s strength. Unfortunately during the past month, that’s taken a hit and no one is quite sure why. In the meantime, travelers may have booked (in dollars) an incredibly reasonable package get-away to the EU.

More friends than ever
If you own or rent a summer retreat, some acquaintances become new and dear friends and, “May we come stay with you for a few days? We won’t be any trouble.” If you happen to live in Europe as I do, you assemble a list of house rules and email them to your guests before their arrival. You may consider moving into smaller digs. Another option is to say no – which may sound heartless – but can save one’s sanity.

Well June is here. Although the economy is tentative at best, are you succumbing and signing up and on for vacations? If so, let’s hear where and how you’re intending to stretch your budget. People can learn from others various ways to beat the system. For some, it’s become a science.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


Posted in Around the World |

The French Get a Bad Rap

Written by admin on July 17, 2009 – 2:17 pm -

There a times when I get tired of defending the French.  People who travel extensively overseas expect to encounter rude people no matter where they go.  Call it a lack of language skills, cultural differences, or not knowing how to behave in a new (and strange) environment.

In addition, any group of tourists who travel en masse tends to feel superior. Have you noticed how butchers, bakers and Indian chiefs behave at professional conventions?  It’s as if they rule the world and certainly the area within a two-block radius of where they’re meeting.

The French have just been dubbed the world’s worst tourists. My guess is they’ve inherited this reputation because they tend to travel frequently and often take package tours. With 5+ weeks of vacation annually, they get up and go because they have the time in addition to enormous curiosity.

What they don’t know and should is that tipping isn’t included on U.S. restaurant bills.  Most waiters hate waiting on Europeans because they suspect they’re going to be stiffed. Some restaurateurs note at the bottom of their menus that tips aren’t included and many automatically add a tip for groups of six people or more.

In these economically distressed times, tourism in France is down by 17% since January, compared with the same time period in 2008. The French government wants people back and is going all out to try to seduce them to return.

Airfares are at an all-time low (if you’re flexible and adept at surfing the Internet). There are so many hotel and package deals to be had that if you’re interested in visiting France that this is the ideal time—if you have the time, the money, and the patience to figure it out.

The government has lowered the value added tax to 5.5% from 19.6%. This will make a dramatic difference on the bottom line when it comes to dining out.

In a survey conductor by TripAdvisor.com in May, the findings were that France is the most overrated country in Europe and the second-most expensive. In addition, the French were perceived as being unfriendly.

Trust me, the French aren’t. They’re simply more reserved and you’re not going to be their immediate best friend just because you happened to come to their country. They are more aloof and distant than Americans and don’t think they need to jump when you walk into their store. It didn’t take me long to learn that one says, “Bonjour” and “s’il vous plait” before barking orders or handling the merchandise.

To counter the slump and boost revenues, French tourism officials have set up stands manned by teams of “smile ambassadors” to welcome tourists at some of Paris’s most popular spots. Hundreds of roller-skaters gathered at Place Vendome and formed a giant smile.

Two holiday rental groups, Pierre et Vacances and FranceLoc are even offering weather insurance if there are four days of rain during a one-week rental period. That might be an excellent investment since France’s weather can be uncertain especially in these days of climate change.

Herv Kayser, who conceived the insurance, idea told Le Figaro that in a trial run last year, 10% of the people who bought the insurance policy received rebates because of rain.

But back to the smiles.  This isn’t the first program of its sort. Tourism officials launched a program approximately fifteen years ago that encouraged people working in the hospitality industry to smile and learn English. Perhaps the downturn in business has caused people to be grumpy and they needed to be reminded.

Paul Roll, Director of Tourism, said, “If we want tourism, which has generated more than two million jobs, to remain a leading sector in the French economy, everyone has to make visitors feel welcome including professionals, elected representatives as well the French public.”

As much as I fear asking this question, have you found the French rude? Any more than if you were a foreigner going to New York or another U.S. city where people didn’t speak your language and they didn’t speak English?


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Posted in Paris |

France will do (almost) anything for your tourism dollars

Written by admin on July 15, 2009 – 5:16 pm -

Tourism in France is down by 17 percent since January compared with the same time period in 2008. The government wants people back and is going all out to try to seduce them to return.

Airfares are at an all-time recent low (if you’re flexible) and adept at surfing the Internet. There are so many hotel and package deals to be had, that if you have any interest in visiting France, now’s the ideal time – if you have the time and the money.

Restaurants have lowered the VAT (value added tax) to 5.5 percent from 19.6 percent. That will make a dramatic difference on the bottom line when it comes to dining out. Even though I find it hard to believe, the rule is the tip is even included.

In a survey conductor by TripAdvisor.com in May, the findings were that France is the most overrated country in Europe and the second-most expensive. In addition, the French are perceived as being unfriendly.

That hasn’t been my experience. But I’m prejudiced.

To counter the slump and boost revenues, the tourist board has set up stands manned by teams of “smile ambassadors” to welcome tourists at some of Paris’s most popular spots. Hundreds of roller-skaters gathered at Place Vendome and formed a giant smile.

Two holiday rental groups, Pierre et Vacances and FranceLoc, are even offering weather insurance if there are four days of rain during a one-week rental period. That might be an excellent investment since France’s weather can be uncertain especially in these days of global warming.

Herv Kayser, who conceived the insurance idea, told French daily newspaper Le Figaro, that in a trial run last year, 10 percent of the people who bought the insurance policy received rebates due to rain.

But back to the smiles; this isn’t the first program of its sort. Tourism officials launched a program approximately fifteen years ago where it encouraged people working in the hospitality industry to smile and learn English. Perhaps the downturn in business has caused people to be grumpy and they need to be reminded.

Paul Roll, Director of the tourist board, said “If we want tourism, which has generated more than two million jobs to remain a leading sector in the French economy, everyone has to make visitors feel welcome including professionals, elected representatives and the French public.”

As much as I fear asking this question, have you found the French rude? Anymore than if you were a foreigner going to New York or another U.S. city where people didn’t speak your language and they didn’t speak English?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The Heated Sunday Shopping Debate

Written by admin on July 11, 2009 – 2:22 pm -

When I first moved to Paris, I was amazed stores weren’t open on Sundays.  If you wanted to do any real shopping, you were out of luck.

A law in 1906 forbade shopping on Sunday. A few businesses, like bakeries, butcher shops and other small stores were allowed to be open in the morning so Maman could buy the ingredients for the day’s lunch. Sunday lunches were sacred and the time when the family would gather.  Besides, this has been useful for fiction writers who wanted to work out their familial demons

But it’s a new world and President Nicolas Sarkozy is taking on the “Sunday cause” with renewed passion. He has proposed a bill that is being debated in the legislature. If passed, stores could open.

Sarko’s blood pressure rose this past June adding new ammunition to his case.  He had to call the children’s store Bonpoint on the Left Bank and ask for it to be opened for Mrs. Obama and Malia and Sasha. “Is it normal, when Madame Obama and her daughters want to go shopping on a Sunday, that I have to make phone calls and ask a store to open?” the French President asked. “How are we supposed to explain to them that we are the only country where shops are closed on Sunday?” he said last week as MPs geared up for the latest legislative fight.

This isn’t a new concept. But it’s been shot down for the past 20 years and opposed by the church, unions, conservatives in Sarkozy’s center-right party and the Left.

This latest proposal would allow shops in designated tourist areas and special commercial zones to open on Sundays and specifies that employees can work on that day on a voluntary basis in order to placate the unions.

But it’s a Catch-22.  Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a leading member of the Socialist Party, is opposed to classifying Paris as a tourist zone. “Sunday is a day of rest respected by most citizens. It must not be sacrificed to this vision of a deregulated economy that doesn’t take into account the family and personal lives of workers.”

“The world is changing and we need to stop burying our heads in the sand,” states Richard Mallie, a deputy from Sarkozy’s UMP party and one of the authors of the bill.

Dismissing French opposition to Sunday shopping as irrational,” Mallie defended the bill as a necessary answer to the huge rise in on-line shopping and demands placed on modern working couples.

Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign promised to allow more shops to open on Sundays. His government argues the measure would help cushion the blow that the recession has dealt to the job market, estimating that 15,000 jobs could be saved.

For example, Paris’s Galeries Lafayette has said it would create between 300 and 400 jobs and boost sales by 10 percent if the store were allowed to open on Sundays.

As an American, I think stores being open on Sundays would facilitate life for many families where both the husband and wife work. Most people are betting the bill will pass.  But some feel that allowing stores to open on Sundays will diminish the quality of life in France. Clearly some people do maintain the family lunch tradition. But does it need to be every Sunday?


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Posted in Around the World |

Broadcasting your comings and goings through social media? You might regret it

Written by admin on July 10, 2009 – 5:18 pm -

In an era of social networking, when people are posting the happenings taking place in their lives and are tweeting and posting every move on Twitter, Facebook and other sites, we know more about one another and strangers than we ever have before.

Tripit is a great site for recording travel plans and there’s an application for linking it to your LinkedIn, profile so if friends or business colleagues are traveling to the same place at the same time, you can meet up.

Some people have many followers. And we’re no longer referring to only young people, since the demographics of social networking have rapidly changed in the recent past.

Now, baby boomers have taken to networking big time. With the advent of cell phones with innumerable social media applications, we can twitter about trips in progress and shoot photos of our family standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in real time.

Are we setting ourselves up to be robbed or have our identities stolen by broadcasting our every movement?

What happened to the days when parents advised their children not to tell their classmates the family was taking its annual vacation or going to Grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner?

It wasn’t so many years ago when people were nervous that a person’s house might be robbed if an obituary were printed in the local newspaper or if there were a for sale sign posted in front of a house that was still furnished.

Many people have alarmed their houses and apartments with complex and intricate alarm system. But sophisticated robbers — with enough time and advanced warning — may be able to crack the codes and clear out your life and possessions as you’re posting your every movement for the cyberworld to read.

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says, “People just don’t realize the kind of information they give out in social networking sites can be used on its own or with other information to commit identity theft and other fraudulent activity.”

We know robberies have radically increased during the recent recession and neighborhood papers are filled with notices of who and what’s been taken via break-ins and muggings.

I have a kitty/apartment sitter coming to stay in my digs during my upcoming trip. And I spent the money to install an alarm system for extra precaution.

What steps are you taking to protect your home and safety not to mention your peace of mind?

It’s a whole new world. For better or for worse.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

One lost drivers license can really ruin your whole day

Written by admin on July 6, 2009 – 5:20 pm -

Sometimes, even the most seasoned travelers can find themselves up a creek without a paddle.

I just had a day like that.

Somewhere, somehow between my going through airport security and boarding the plane, I managed to lose my driver’s license.

Was it in the Red Carpet Lounge? Did I stick it among my possessions?  Did this indispensable piece of plastic fall into a tray as I was rushing to collect my computer, bag of liquids, the bag filled with electronics and more cords than anyone should need?

All I knew was I’d become a non-person and even though I’d reported my losing the license to everyone with whom I’d came into contact at United Airlines, I boarded the plane suspecting it was going to be a day of no good news.

I spent the first hour of the flight tearing through every pocket, bag and the new wallet I recently purchased.

I don’t drink alcohol on morning flights but succumbed this time. The flight attendant brought me a screwdriver, which I quickly downed and went to sleep.

Perhaps the license would surface when I awakened.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. As instructed, I checked with airline officials when I arrived at LAX as well as the lost and found. No luck – no news – no license being transported on the following flight.

You don’t come to Los Angeles and think you can exist without a car. Even though I’d rented cars from the same rental company numerous times, there was a pit in my stomach that this would be a no go. Too bad the car was prepaid and that I had my insurance card plus a newly filed police report certifying I was licenseless.

Oh yes, the details of my driver’s permit were on file but there was no way the agent was going to give me keys. “It’s against California law,” he said and called a cab.

After the cab arrived and the driver was given my destination, he said he didn’t know where we were going even though it was downtown L.A.  This time, I was prepared and whipped out my GPS. People complain they’re frequently taken the scenic route when hailing Paris cabs and watch the meter ticking. Portable GPS’s may be the solution.

Since my arrival, I’ve had a copy of my passport, license, French residence card emailed and printed. The United executive advised me I should be at the airport early  for an extra security check and was nice enough to make a notation about my lack of identification.

If you’re into betting, how many people think someone might have found and mailed the license to the DC address that doubles as Bonjour Paris’s office?

If not, I know how I’ll be spending a few hours this week. And the Department of Motor Vehicles isn’t renowned for its charm.

Has this type of incident ever happened to others? I can’t imagine it hasn’t and want to hear how you solved the dilemma.

Karen Fawcett is president of  BonjourParis


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |