Eating out — what are your expectations?

Written by admin on October 28, 2009 – 4:31 pm -

Eating at a restaurant should be a positive experience. But is it? After all, it’s the time when someone else shops, cooks, serves you what (you think) you’ve ordered and takes away the dishes and glasses to a mysterious place. Best of all, you’re not responsible for washing them. In spite of these definite pluses, people appear to have more gripes than you’d think. And they make no bones about voicing them.

Whether it’s your  local joint down the road,  a  recently opened trendy new café or a big name/big chef /big tab restaurant that’s drawing rave reviews, small and large irritations can mar a dining experience.

Pet peeves about dining out — Here’s a laundry list of what a survey of dedicated eaters had to say.

  • Dining rooms that are so noisy you can’t hear yourself think much less hold a conversation with your tablemates.
  • Tables that are placed  so close together you have to be a contortionist to get in and out and there’s no possible way to hold a private conversation.
  • Music too loud. People want to eat their meals in peace and relative quiet and not feel as if they’re in a high-decibel dance hall.
  • Lighting should be bright enough that you can read the menus; but not so bright that you feel as if you’re getting the third degree.
  • Restaurants should have coat rooms and sufficient space that you and your things aren’t competing for space on the chair and at the table.
  • Bathrooms should be clean and well stocked. More than a few people feel there’s a direct correlation between the cleanliness of a restaurant’s WCs and the kitchen.

Service irritations:

  • Being greeted at the door and grilled as to whether or not you have a reservation. If you don’t, the host or hostess will often shoot you a dirty look and lead you to a table as if they’re doing you a favor.
  • Finding yourself even more irritated because when you get up to leave, the restaurant is still half empty.
  • Sitting down and waiting more time than you care to before being handed a menu.
  • When you’re ready to order, being forced to wait. The group of people, who were seated after you, have the waiter’s attention and are firing away what they want to eat. You’ve missed your chance.
  • While you’re waiting, not being asked if you’d like to order a drink or being served water.  Some restaurants serve bread immediately, Others force you to wait so you’re crying, “bread and water — please.”
  • Waiter etiquette:  There are the ones who act as if they’re doing you a favor by serving you. Then, there are too many who want to become members of your family and participate in the conversation. I’m glad your name is John but please remember who’s the waiter and who are the clients.
  • The service personnel not being sensitive to your needs and wishes:  e.g. – when you want attention and when you don’t. There are times conversations are private and should remain that way. Professional waiters appear to have a sixth sense about anticipating a diner’s needs and seem to have eyes behind their heads.
  • Spare diners from waiters who refuse to write orders down. Being able to memorize a list of dishes may impress some people but others would prefer being served the correct dish.
  • Please don’t ask, “Is everything all right?” before someone has tasted the food.
  • Not serving everyone at the same time; Ditto for clearing the table. Many people find it offensive when a waiter removes a few plates at a time, as if to say to the diners who are still eating, “hurry up and leave.”
  • Meals that arrive so quickly that you know they’ve been sitting on a steam table or have had a quick zap in a microwave.
  • Having to wait forever to be served and then receiving the check before you’ve had a chance to drink your coffee. A meal should not be a marathon. Rather, it should be orchestrated to fit the scenario.
  • Some people complain that portions are so large they detract from the meal and its presentation. Not everyone wants a doggie bag.
  • Waiters who fail to check back with you after the meal is served.

There were complaints about parking, stratospheric menu prices, outrageous mark ups on wine. People jumped at the chance at adding their input. And I want to hear yours. You’re bound to have a lot of comments and post away.

Before you do, please stop and ponder what complaint is missing. It seems so obvious. But it doesn’t appear to be a high priority among the majority of people who eat out.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

(Photo: seventh.samurai/Priscilla Flickr/Commons)

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How Business Manners Differ in France—And No, It Isn’t All Bad

Written by admin on October 25, 2009 – 3:45 pm -

Have you noticed that in U.S. offices, people who work together tend to confide in one another? They frequently spend more waking hours in each other’s company than they do with their families. If you opt to work in a French office (or for that matter, conduct business in France), be prepared to encounter differences. Some are subtler than others, but it’s important that you understand the ground rules. It’s a different playing field in France compared to the U.S.

Laurence Caracalla, a former French press attaché, has tried to demystify the subject by writing a guide about office life in France that covers subjects including clothes, manners, parties, and romances. The first book became such a quasi-bible that Caracalla wrote a sequel. It’s considered the Emily Post for office etiquette, instructing readers how to rise to the top of the pyramid without committing a career-breaking faux-pas.

For example, there may be a bit of a caste system in both the U.S. and in France. American female executives may try to keep things secret from people in the rank and file. Part of the work ethic is doing your own typing and organizing, and welcome to the world of answering your own phone and voice mail.

In France, there are still vestiges of support staff – that is for now. Some men and women still have secretaries. But they’re rarely taking dictation, and they hold the title executive assistant. These assistants inevitably hold the keys to their bosses’ lives and decide who may and may not be granted audiences. These powerful people can make or break a business deal by determining whether you’re allowed to speak to Mr. (M.) or Ms. (Mme.) X.

Americans are fast to tell work colleagues about their children, romances, and fights with their spouses or significant others. There’s considerable talk (and occasional gossip) during coffee breaks. It’s not unusual for coworkers to share intimate details of their lives with their bosses.

If your child is sick, it’s public knowledge. Should you need to do an extra car-pool duty, American colleagues will probably know why you’ve left the office without giving advance notice. French workers more than likely will leave citing a family emergency, and coworkers will rarely query whether there’s been a death in the family.

Americans are simply more open. Is this a positive? Probably not, considering some people remember things you wish they wouldn’t. When all is said and done, people go from being dear friends to “yes, we worked together” if and when someone changes jobs or snags a big promotion.

There’s invariably a pecking order wherever you’re employed. The French are simply more cautious that something they say today doesn’t come back to haunt them tomorrow.

Dying to talk about your daughter’s exams or being stuck in traffic on your way home the previous evening? How about your dental work? People are convinced their lives are enormously interesting. The reality, Carracalla reminds us, is that these things may only be of interest to the closest of friends. Certain subjects just aren’t appropriate during business hours.

The French are more reticent except with their friends—and work colleagues aren’t necessarily considered friends. Problems tend to be left at home, and conversations dealing with money, romance, or even childcare issues generally remain private. When working, the French consider themselves professionals and usually act and dress the part. Protocol is important.

French women have a certain je ne sais quois when it comes to appearance. How they manage to look as fresh at the end of the day as at the beginning is a mystery to those of us who tend to look increasingly bleary and rumpled as the day progresses. At 7 p.m., a French woman will look as if she’s just showered, and clothes will still have that just-pressed look. Some people say it’s because the French tend to buy fewer clothes, but the ones in which they invest are better quality, and many French women have their clothes altered to fit just right. Or perhaps they starch their blouses and their backbones.

Other rules French women learn and never forget: Don’t overwhelm yourself and others with perfume—a couple of dabs behind the ear are quite enough. Don’t wear jewelry that clings and clanks, and steer clear of bling.

Keep your voice down, and don’t carry on long conversations on your cell phone for all to hear. It’s an invasion of other people’s privacy as well as yours.

If you’re at a business lunch, refrain from waving across the room if you spot a friend or business associate. A smile will suffice.

Never drink more than one glass of wine (and you may want to stick to water) in a business situation. Being professional in France means being dignified and (okay) somewhat aloof. At office parties, be careful not to get tipsy. The French may like their wine, but don’t drink too much, and whatever you do, steer clear of those who do. Don’t tell jokes unless you know you can tell them well, and avoid any story that may be construed as being a wee bit off-color. Not everyone may understand the humor, and there’s nothing worse than being greeted by silence plus some stares. It’s all in the cultural nuances.

If your work superior wants to tell you his or her life story, including the problems of the day, listen carefully and with interest. Do not think this means he or she wants to hear yours. Discretion is an important part of climbing the corporate ladder.

The French may flirt, but it’s considered bad form to have interoffice romances. If they occur, be certain they happen as far away from the premises as possible. Then, there’s always the problem that the affair might not last, and you’ll be forced to confront one another in meetings or halls. Whatever you do, don’t confide in a third party about your indiscretion. If you decide to announce your engagement, that’s another story.

Another thing I’ve learned from working in France that may or may not stand you in good stead: Don’t go up and introduce yourself. Wait for the introduction to be made. When I used to do this, I’d occasionally hear someone say “Why did she tell me her name?” It took all of my restraint not to reply “Because I’m an American and was raised that way.” What’s polite in one country isn’t necessarily in another. Cultural differences are precisely that.

My last bit of advice: always send a thank you—whether in letter form or, as the French say, un mail. You never know where that person may end up in his or her next job, and politeness goes a long way in La Belle France. And yes, your communication will probably be remembered. If the recipient doesn’t, you will.

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Posted in Paris |

Breakfast on the road — Go native or bacon and eggs?

Written by admin on October 16, 2009 – 4:35 pm -

When you’re taking a trip, whether it’s business or pleasure, what foods to you want to see at the first meal of the day? There’s a reason, it’s called break fast.

Do you prefer buffets over menus? How much time do you usually allot? Do you eat and run or do you find it’s a good time to conduct business?

Some hotels offer breakfast as part of the room rate. How much does that impact your housing decision? Do you have lower expectations if breakfast is included in the room price?

If you’re in a foreign country, e.g., Japan, are you ready, willing and able to eat steamed rice, miso soup, and side dishes such as broiled/grilled fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), onsen tamago, tsukemono pickles orseasoned nori (dried seaweed)? Or do you want Corn Flakes? How local are you willing to go?

Some people don’t want to eat the same breakfast they would were they at home. If they’re in another country, they consider eating what the natives do a cultural experience. The most extensive buffets I’ve ever seen have been in Asian hotels. If you have the fortitude to eat just a few of the selections and don’t appear at the crack of dawn, you can make the meal breakfast, lunch and (almost) dinner. Dim sum anyone? That’s only the beginning if you want to pig out.

American travelers do appear to have expectations no matter where they’re staying.

Coffee – and plenty of it. Some people like it stronger than others so if there’s an espresso machine, so much the better (milk, cream, sugar and a low/no calorie sugar substitute).

Decaf coffee

Tea – there should be a selection from which to choose

Juices – and could the orange juice be fresh please

Fresh fruit and yogurts

A selection of hot and cold cereals

It goes without saying there should be a copious selection of breads, bagels, muffins, croissants and pastries. Bring on the butter, cream cheese, jellies and jams

Eggs, glorious eggs and they shouldn’t be too hard or too runny. Ditto for sausages and bacon. Undercooked, overcooked – it’s all so subjective.

Bob Murphy, a senior software engineer from the San Francisco area, is an authority when it comes to breakfast. He has personal favorites and isn’t hesitant about sharing them.

• “The Lotte Hotel, Seoul. Go to the big restaurant underground for breakfast and get the buffet. It’s insane – every major world cuisine is represented. One of my favorite combinations is American bacon and link sausage, croissants, Norwegian smoked salmon, oshinko (Japanese pickles), and kimchi. He eats this accompanied by a cafe latte.

• German hotel breakfast buffets are also great. A half-dozen different kinds of bread, cold cuts and sliced cheese, muesli, and fresh juice. For a change, skip the coffee and try Trinkschokolade. Or grab a cold cut sandwich and a coffee from a vendor at the train station.

• French hotel continental breakfasts range from sucky to marginally okay. They really haven’t figured out the breakfast thing the way the Germans have. A croissant and a cafe au laitare decidedly are too small for me. However, if you stay in Paris in the Quartier Latin, go wander around the streets just off the Seine. There are all kinds of little boulangeries with fresh cold-cut sandwiches that make a great breakfast, plus innumerable Turkish, Moroccan, Greek, etc. cafés. If you can find a restaurant with Breton food, try a galette complète (buckwheat crêpe with egg, ham, and Emmental cheese) and some cidre (hard cider) for breakfast.

• Continental breakfasts at British hotels, range from awful to merely okay. However, if you leave the hotel, you may be lucky enough to find a restaurant serving a traditional English breakfast with eggs, streaky bacon, beans, grilled tomato, chips.”

I guess I’ve lived in France too long and only want very strong coffee and (possibly) a slice of baguette to begin the day.

Bob is clearly a man who looks forward to breakfast. What do you crave? Will you select one hotel over another because it puts on a better spread?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Home is Away from Home

Written by admin on October 16, 2009 – 3:48 pm -

You’ve moved to France, (or another foreign country), and it’s now your primary residence. Unless you were kidnapped at a very early age, it’s nearly impossible to lose your native identity and your sense of place and roots. Even if you wanted to, you can’t—and most people don’t and shouldn’t. But the question remains:

How do you become acclimated to a new environment? Some people don’t and choose to live exclusively in a community comprised of fellow countrymen and -woman. Realistically, that’s the same as never leaving the security of home (with some added inconveniences) and why bother if you’re not up for a new adventure and the opportunity to be exposed to different things and new cultures? Sure, there are trailing spouses who’d rather not be trailing. But there’s a reason they signed up for that duty and it’s better to make the best of it than sitting around bitching and moaning.

If I sound somewhat emphatic about moving from place to place, it’s because I left the U.S. kicking and screaming and full of resentment over giving up my fast-track job. My husband was offered a six-month-long gig that was simply too enticing for him not to accept. That was nearly 22 years ago and I became the one who developed an incredible sense of travel lust. But our initial foray into living in Paris didn’t begin well at all.

While Victor was working 18 hours a day (yes, people do work in France—if they’re foreigners), I was left to deal with the nitty-gritty and back-to-back house-guests in a language I didn’t speak… mais pas du tout. Learning how to operate the appliances was a major challenge, and I’m not quite certain I do now. Fahrenheit and Celsius, ounces and grams and all of the dry measurements left me stumped. Please have compassion. This was pre-internet and I assembled a list of each and every conversion.

There are so many ways to throw yourself into a local community—clearly some places are easier than others. Contrary to what some people may say about the French, they’re comparatively open, if you make the effort. This isn’t to imply they’re ingrained with the “welcome wagon” culture. But they won’t go out of their way to snub you unless you’re downright unpleasant. And they’re as curious about the newcomers to their apartment building or street as you are about them.

My husband had no idea about the stress I was assuming. All he knew was he was going from one office tower to another and had to produce and quickly. Victor was talking the same “language” and actually could have been in any country because his working environment was essentially the same. The canteen at his new job in a building at La Défense did serve substantially better lunches accompanied by wine. But they didn’t merit his coming to Paris since he wasn’t in Paris proper and couldn’t see buildings designed by Baron Haussmann unless he was looking through binoculars.

Back to getting settled—and no, I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in Paris: I knew I had to take drastic measures. I attended one meeting at the American Women’s Club, and knew it wasn’t my thing. Most of the attendees had children and wanted their offspring to retain their American background and not have their lives disrupted more than absolutely necessary. The women insisted on drinking instant Nescafe—but I won’t go there.

Children actually facilitate matters when making international moves. They meet on the playground and start chattering away nearly immediately. If only adults had the same language facility as young children, their lives would be so much easier. Parents soon find themselves struggling to converse with the other park goers. Schools bind people together because of shared common goals and seeing that their children are educated.

If you don’t have a child (and don’t think that moving can’t and doesn’t take definite tolls on them), a great equalizer is dog, especially in France, which is pooch heaven—almost literally: the largest pet cemetery in the world is in Asnières, just north of Paris. Even if you don’t speak a common language and can’t carry on a conversation, dog owners are always able to communicate.

Attend bi-lingual groups where people do language exchanges. There’s always an English-language publication where people want to meet and mix. And I don’t mean dating sites even though having a French significant other will catapult you into speaking the language quickly, that is, if your spouse or mate doesn’t object.

If you’re in France, attend wine tastings. Take cooking classes. Go on tours of neighborhoods where attendees aren’t speaking exclusively English. Take or tag along on museum tours. I’ve even been known to read French children’s books and find the pictures help a lot.

Give yourself permission to watch French TV. One of my most vivid memories of that was watching four women sitting in a group nude from the waste up. One man was clearly in charge and this was at 10 am. After a few minutes I realized that the doctor was discussing breast cancer and the importance of women doing self-examinations each month. But for a moment, I was startled and wondered exactly where we’d moved that porn was being shown during the day.

If you’re politically inclined, join the overseas chapter of Democrats and Republicans Abroad. Not everyone speaks only English because many members are coupled with natives.

Do take language classes. They’ll enrich your stay and ability to communicate with potential friends and neighbors. Plus, you won’t miss out on some of the subtleties of the place that’s your temporary (or longer) home. Whatever you do, and this is hard for a lot of people, speak the language even if you do it with a terrible accent. People appreciate your trying and you will improve.

It may not be quickly and you may never develop a refined accent. But you’ll know you’ve arrived when you can do battle with the phone company. The representative will probably call you Américain(e) but what the hell. That person can’t usurp what you’ve learned and experienced. No way, Jean-Claude.

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Posted in Paris |

Airport lounges – worth the price of admission?

Written by admin on October 13, 2009 – 4:39 pm -

Do you think you need access to airport lounges? If so, why? If you need to ponder the question, you’re probably not a frequent traveler, who’s been bumped from planes or missed connections. It’s unlikely you know the interiors of airports as if they were second homes.

Those traveling in business or in first class internationally don’t need to join a club. Paying big bucks for plane tickets usually entitles them to a guest pass. It’s the least an airline can do to show its gratitude. It may not sound like a big deal. But, for passengers with connecting flights and a lengthy layover, these retreats can be godsends.

Some clubs/lounges are clearly better than others. For example, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the Red Carpet Clubs in the U.S. The ones is Asia (for that matter anywhere but in the U.S.) are so much nicer.

There are some airport clubs, where no one would be devastated, if they were stranded for the night. These clubs come complete with hot and cold running food, lounge chairs where someone can sleep (some even have a sleeping room) and a large selection of libations. Lucky passengers can have a free massage then continue on to their next destination in a more relaxed, Zen-like, state.

If you’ve decided to join a lounge, what would you like to find?

The following are a few suggestions on my list. Please, feel free to add more.

- peace and quiet
- enough area in the lounge so passengers don’t feel as if they’re sitting on each other’s laps
- separate areas for children
- good food and good beverages; alcoholic ones should be free
- an extensive assortment of newspapers and magazines – in different languages
- large flat-screen TVs with different broadcast channels. Not everyone wants to watch the news or sports
- a business area with computers, printers, copiers and even a fax
- plenty of plugs including multi-standard ones; there should be a collection of electrical cords and adapters that may be used in the lounge
- free WiFi

Moving right along:
- well maintained washrooms and showers available for passengers with a long layover or who want to clean up before proceeding to the next destination
- sufficient amenities in the event travelers can’t put their hands on a toothbrush, etc.
- quiet areas that are designated for people who want to sleep in a lounge chair, chaise or massage chair where cell phones are forbidden
- Band-aids and simple medications (e.g. Tylenol, Tums) for heart-burn and headaches, so club members aren’t forced to leave the premises to find a pharmacy

Club members voice that they want personnel staffing the clubs, who are qualified and are authorized to provide VIP service, can answer questions and solve problems.

Additional things on travelers’ wish lists:
- Priority check-in facilities for passengers and their luggage
- Announcements at boarding time in the lounge so people aren’t forced to continually check the airlines’ monitors

Some say the ultimate perk (other than better-than-usual customer service) would be having a door on the outside of the security perimeter that leads directly to the screening area. And a special exit area for club members to use when boarding flights – so they aren’t forced to wait with other passengers.

What would provide you the incentive to part with hundreds of dollars to become a club member?

Realize, there’s nothing wrong with sitting in an airport’s concourse (most have WiFi) and new restaurants and bars inside the departure areas are finding that captive travelers spend real money eating and drinking because it’s a good way to fill time.

If you belong to an airline club, which ones do you consider the cream of the crop? And which clubs do you think are the worst?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Ready, Set, Go

Written by admin on October 9, 2009 – 3:53 pm -

You’ve made the decision to move to France for most of the year. Or, you’ve decided to invest in a pied à terre, even though the dollar doesn’t have the buying power it once did and your heart is set on Paris, rather than la France profonde, where living is easy and a lot cheaper. That is, if you’re willing to live in the country or in the land of second homes where selling prices have softened by an estimated 20 percent.

You don’t want to wait for the dollar to improve because you probably won’t live that long. Currently, there are more properties on the market, but don’t expect them to sell at fire sale prices. Rather than real estate being snapped up as if there’s no tomorrow, even first-rate spaces tend to sit a bit longer than in former years, when lots of people appeared to have money to burn.

If you’re going to make this a quasi-permanent move, meaning France is going to be your primary residence, you need to deal with the law, which means lots of paper plus racking up some expenses. Snagging a carte de séjour isn’t easy and must be done in French consulate in the U.S. Don’t think you can do it—easily, if at all—while you’re living in France, because according to the written rules, you can’t.

If you’re a US citizen and want to spend most of your time in France, you’ll be required to supply more paperwork than you realized you had; make certain your birth certificate is issued (and officially translated) within three months of your application date. Ditto for your marriage license, your divorce decree, any legal settlement papers and everything but the kitchen sink.

EU citizens, who want to move to France, have it a whole lot easier. They’re only required to fill out forms so the French and their own country’s government know where they’re domiciled. They’re entitled to health care benefits since they’ve already paid into a system that has reciprocity with France.

Just because you qualify for a carte de séjour doesn’t mean you have the right to tap into the country’s medical insurance plan—because you don’t. People applying for residence papers are required to have medical insurance that covers them in France. Don’t think you can move to France without enough documented income that you won’t need to work. Come to think of it, the U.S. government doesn’t open its gates to anyone who comes knocking. No government in any developed country is saying, “Come one, come all” unless that person happens to be providing employment for its residents.

With France’s high unemployment rate, don’t assume you’ll land a job unless you have a (nearly) unique specialty. The main exception might be you’re being sponsored by a business (and the chances of finding one is becoming less each year) that’s willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops for you.

If you happen to the executive who can save the business, you might have a chance. But don’t hold your breath since unless your company happens to be a mega-multi-national where you’re known to be an expert with a long and successful track record for parachuting in and performing P&L miracles, human resources hate to make the expenditure for relocating families. Gone are the days when golden expat packages were the norm, and a local “expert” working for a relocation company was standing by to facilitate you and your family’s move.

It’s simply too expensive, many spouses refuse to give up careers to “trail” their partner and children’s schools (American, International, etc.) cost a not-so-small fortune.

Expect it to take anywhere from four months to a year before you receive permission from the government to legally move to France. Once you arrive on French soil, there will be additional paperwork and before you know it, you’ll be standing in line at the Préfecture to renew your resident’s card. A year goes quickly when you’re having fun.

Actually the first year will fly by as you get acclimated to your new home. If you’re going to do one thing other than getting settled and identifying your grocer, baker, café, dry-cleaner, hardware store and getting the public transportation edged into your memory so you’re not a constant slave to a metro and/or bus map, take French classes.

Even though more people than you can imagine speak excellent English, you’ll be missing out on many of the nuances of French life if you don’t make the effort. Sure, there’re people who have lived in France for decades and have managed not to learn any of the country’s language. But, you don’t want to be among them.

Next week … how to meet people and create a life you wouldn’t have if you’d stayed in the U.S. It’s actually easier than you imagine. Even though the Parisians (and the French) aren’t known for being warm and cuddly, Paris, in many ways, is a village.

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Posted in Around the World |

The Tides Inn: a relaxing escape for those who don’t want non-stop action

Written by admin on October 8, 2009 – 4:41 pm -

If your thing is big city glitz, The Tides Inn in Irvington, Va. isn’t for you. If you like the water, watching boats, biking, playing a few rounds of golf on a par 72 Golden Eagle Golf Club, designed by George Cobband and taking it easy, you’ll love the Tides Inn. Travel and Leisure has named The Tides Inn its number one choice for Best Resort in Virginia (and the only Virginia resort mentioned in their Top 100 issue last year).

The 106-room inn overlooking Carter’s Creek, surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the East, the Potomac River to the north and the Rappahannock River to the south, is an ideal place for family vacations. There’s so much for children to experience while adults do their thing.

The Tides has a camp called Crab Net Kids, where children do more than just basket weaving. They learn about the area’s ecology and the surrounding environment. City kids (perhaps for the first time) are exposed to croquet, shuffleboard, basketball, bicycles, volleyball and bird watching not to mention fresh water fishing. There are nature trails galore and it’s a superb and diverse area to explore. In other words, children are kept constructively busy while parents and grandparents enjoy grown-up time without guilt. Specific rooms have been designated “pet” friendly so you aren’t forced to leave those members of the family home.

The Tide Inn also has a sailing school and paddle boats, canoes and kayaks are available. There are four tennis courts and a swimming pool plus a spa for those who crave a stone massage, a seaweed wrap, a facial and other sybaritic delights.

If you like boats, you’ll probably see some glorious ones since it’s a frequent stop for the 125-foot variety that are making pilgrimages from one destination to another and rent one of the hotel’s slips. Each boat is given a room number and its occupants have access to all of the resort’s facilities. Don’t be surprised if you see crews of well dressed people in the bar or in one of the two restaurants. Smaller boats frequently moor at the hotel and rent a room or a suite for a night or two, since even dedicated sailors occasionally crave a break, especially if their vessel is the 27-foot variety and doesn’t have all of the comforts of home e.g., a really good shower.

The Tides Inn is an approximately a three hour drive from Washington, DC and Baltimore. It’s ideal if you’re planning a visit to Colonial Williamsburg since it’s only 45-minutes away.

The Tides’ executive chef T.V. Flynn is a master when it comes to preparing fresh cuisine and he’d give many French Michelin chefs a run for their money when it comes to presentation. Flynn insists on only the freshest of ingredients. You won’t find anything frozen on the menu and most of the herbs are grown on the property. Flynn’s salmon is grilled with honey glaze, the Filet Mignon is served with cheddar grits and perfectly cooked green beans and the signature She-Crab soup, chock full of soft-white fresh local crab, merits a second order. The tuna is seared rare and draws rave reviews.

If you’re a wine lover, Virginia is making its mark. There are more than 125 vineyards in the state now and some of the wines are very good with the whites currently taking the lead. The area isn’t Napa or Sonoma Valley yet. But don’t be surprised if you’ll be reading about and tasting more Virgina wines in the future. Most vineyards are about five-acres large, but hey, you have to begin somewhere. Wine tours are becoming another tourist attraction. Remember, you’ll need a dedicated driver even if you taste and spit. All those sips add up.

Would I return to the Tides? Yes and with pleasure. I’d love to take two grandchildren with me. It’s time their ‘city’ grandmother exposes them to nature.

The Tides Inn isn’t just for families. Irvington, most definitely a southern town, has some boutique shopping where you’ll spot some chic people buying clothes and more. Many military and government employees retire to the area and more than a few of the homes fetch hefty seven-figure prices. There’s a real community of residents and newcomers (that means you weren’t born there) who socialize and take pride in the area and plan activities such as the First Friday (of the month) evening festival and the following morning’s Farmers’ Market where more than 150 vendors (many who sell organic products) set up stands and people from all over the area congregate.

Oh, if you’re thinking wedding, getting married by the water at the Tides would be a romantic way to begin your lives together. Be sure to have some of Chef Flynn’s succulent grilled oysters and miniature crab cakes to accompany the Champagne toasts! Sante.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The case for adults-only vacations

Written by admin on October 7, 2009 – 4:44 pm -

In this economy, the travel industry needs to remain fluid, even if it means saying children aren’t welcome. Don’t take this trend as being nasty or uncaring. But, there are times when “adults only” is the way to go.

For example, if you’re planning a honeymoon or anniversary cruise or a romantic getaway, do you really want wee ones under foot? Not necessarily and you don’t have to feel guilty.

Some camp grounds cater to an older clientele without little ones in tow. Perhaps occasional things take place among consenting adults that aren’t meant for  children’s eyes. Contrasted with the rough and tumble days of pitching a tent and cooking over a Coleman stove, campsites are being refurbished with modern amenities. Approximately 445 camp grounds in the U.S. and Canada have added Jacuzzis, movie theaters and restaurants.

Adults-only travel has recently gained considerable popularity. Hoteliers report that guests are requesting adults-only areas. Presently, a number of resorts are being built which don’t welcome children. Is it a crime to crave peace and quiet?

When do you want to get away and not see or hear children? Do you have them at home and want to escape to the land of peace and quiet? Are you bothered by children when you’re on a business trip? How many of you would search out an adults-only retreat and when?

If you happen to have children or grandchildren who think they should accompany you, how do explain you’re taking off alone and not have them call a social services agency and cry “neglect”? After all, it’s important to remain politically correct.

(Photo: Four Seasons Maui at Wailea — adults only serenity pool)

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Paris Dreaming

Written by admin on October 1, 2009 – 7:34 pm -

People always ask me why I love Paris. I’ve lived in other places, and seize every opportunity to hop on a plane and explore the world. But Paris is the place I know and the one where I feel the most comfortable.  My French is less than stellar, so I don’t opt to make France my home because I’m not language challenged.  Because I am.

Now that I’m relatively footloose and fancy free, I could move anywhere. The world is my oyster. Ah hum. It’s a funny situation to be in as I’ve always considered myself the “responsible one” who has been at other people’s beck and call.

Now I read books and more books and surf the Internet about places to retire. The more articles and books I read, the more convinced I am that Paris is the correct place for me. It’s home—at least, I ‘m beginning to believe that.

It’s wonderful being able to walk out of the door and be in a café within minutes. Being able to buy a baguette and be sitting in the Luxembourg Garden in five minutes is a treasure. Not being responsible for the extensive plantings and always being surprised by the gardens’ constantly changing beauty is such a gift. I’ve lived in the same apartment for nearly 20 years and am always discovering new things since Paris is full of eye candy.

Not being tied to a car is the ultimate freedom.  Excellent public transportation and the availability of clean taxis make life so much easier. I feel safe walking home from a neighborhood restaurant alone at night and even though I always use big city caution and smarts, I don’t feel if I might be robbed if it’s after dark.

Before waxing poetic, there’s plenty wrong with the City of Light. Taking care of the most mundane things, such as having a phone installed, can assume monumental proportions.  It used to be obtaining a high-speed Internet connection was next to impossible. Those days are over and happily the French have become pros when it comes to the Internet.

People can now cyber-commute to their jobs and there’s no reason you can’t live one place and work in another. Plenty of my friends do precisely that and their professional colleagues are in the dark as to where e-mails, reports or phone calls are generated. It’s a whole new world, barring some of the nitty-gritty realities that rear their heads, when you’re least expecting them.

It helps if you’re independently wealthy and clip coupons. If you need to renew a visa, set up a business or even open a bank account, import a giant bottle of Excedrin from the U.S.—where it costs relatively little—money helps. And those pills will come in handy when you’re navigating the quagmire of red tape, where French government officials need and want everything translated yesterday (well, within the past three months) and S’il vous plaît in triplicate and you’ve forgotten the most important form, je suis désolé, madame.

Money helps because French bureaucracy can be daunting. If you’re not willing (or able) to do battle yourself, find someone who will assume that responsibility. For example, renting an apartment isn’t a slam-dunk. You’re required to furnish more paperwork than most Americans can fathom. U.S. residents are getting a bit of a taste now that it’s more difficult to get a loan for whatever.  But if you’re not clipping coupons, count on spending a lot of time, learning to intone Ommm, and practicing counting from one to ten.  But the time is most important.

Even though many people assume I’m an expert because of my years of writing about France on Bonjour Paris, the reality is that the longer I’ve been a French resident, the more aware I am of the need for professional advice in certain situations. Real estate, wills and anything that might be considered an inheritance is out of my comfort zone.

Paris is by no means cheap and the cost of living keeps many people from relocating to the EU if they’re dependent on a dollar income. Few economists forecast that the dollar will rebound enough to make Americans feel rich any time soon.  What I’ve discovered is that even though Paris is expensive, most people are willing to do with less. They may go out to restaurants less frequently, but my friends limit their clothing expenditures, and few people move to keep up with the Jones.  Few crave the equivalent of a McMansion—and there aren’t any, anyway. They may buy a run-down château, but do it as a long-term project. Few people expect it to be renovated and decorated yesterday.

The French are taking shorter vacations and they’re staying closer to home. But each week when the travel specials come flying across my computer screen, it’s so apparent that travelers can be in so many different countries and cultures within a few hours and package deals are really deals.

Some people are out of their comfort zones if they move from one state to another. And then there are those of us who are born part-gypsy.  Which type of person are you and why?

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Posted in Paris |