Where has the Time Gone?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:34 am -

While my Paris and Washington friends have been suffering through colder than cold temperatures and snow, I’ve been living the life of luxury aboard a Seabourn Cruise that’s gliding between Hong Kong and Singapore.

It’s more than halfway over and I’m watching the temperatures wondering whether or not I’ll be able to make it to Washington in time for Christmas. Will the weather gods cooperate? Will flights take off and arrive so I’ll be able celebrate the holidays with my grandchildren? It’s more than a 28-hour-long trip and who’d want extra delays? Pas moi, merci. Nor anyone else.

People keep asking why Asia is my destination of choice—after Paris. It’s a long trip no matter whether I’m flying from the U.S. or from Europe.

As many time as I’ve visited this region, it becomes increasing evident that I’ve only scratched the surface. Perhaps I inherited my orientophilia from my great-grandfather who lived in Shanghai and started the China Export Company.

All places change, but it feels as if Asia is changing at a full gallop. If you blink, there will be a new building. Saigon was a real shocker. I was there only 12 months ago and since then, there are dozens of new ones. A new building is scheduled to open in a couple of months with a heliport. It’s 68 stories high and will house offices, luxury apartments, and a hotel. So much for low-rise and low-income.

Yes, there are still old-time markets where people can haggle with vendors. But don’t expect to walk away with something for pennies unless it’s worth pennies. When Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci have opened stores in a city (whether you choose to call it Ho Chi Ming City or Saigon), that’s an indication Vietnam may be a Communist country, but there are more than a few capitalists working and buying. Passengers on the ship were transported in Mercedes vans, and there’s a brand new dealership in case you’re in the market.

I wanted to see “old” Saigon that’s disappearing with each visit. I hired a scooter driver (yes, I was wearing a helmet) and we went into neighborhoods that were essentially alleys. Unfortunately, the chauffeur and I had a communication problem and he didn’t understand my asking him to stop so I could take photos. Perhaps it was healthier since the pollution in Saigon is terrible and I wished I’d bought a facemask.

We sped by the Basilica of Notre Dame, the railway station, the Opera House, the post office and other remnants of architecture constructed by the French. Don’t expect to speak French should you visit Saigon. Children are now taught rudimentary English unless they’re in tourist- or business-related industries.

We took a day trip on the Mekong Delta. That’s where you see old Vietnam. There’s something so beautiful and serene about the area that it touched my soul. People are by no means living anything other than hard and basic lives. But they’re renowned for being the friendliest in the country and few would opt to move to a city.

I’m writing from Bangkok, home of Jim Thompson silk and some of the most beautiful temples and antiquities in the world. One of the things I love doing (no matter where I am) is going to hotels during the holiday season and seeing how they’ve been decorated. The Four Seasons-George V in Paris is always a must-see.

I wandered into The Four Seasons in Bangkok to find the lobby has been redesigned, and coupled with its holiday décor it is an out-and-out knock-out. When I was last here, the lobby was looking somewhat tired, but no longer.

We’ll go to the night market tonight, but even it’s moved from the river area to the MBK Shopping Mall in the downtown area. I’m not planning on buying anything, but should I succumb, it certainly will cost less than if I were tempted in Paris.

As for the cruise, I’ve learned a lot about myself as well as others. There’s no question the Seabourne is one of the best if you’re a small-cruise-ship person (the Pride only has 207 passengers). The staff goes out of its way to accommodate the clientele. The personnel and the passengers consider themselves family, and many of the American passengers have cruised so many days that they could possibly file U.S. taxes as non-residents living abroad since they’re out of the U.S. for so much of the year.

The boat has many Australians and British aboard and by week two, you’ve encountered most of them one place or the other. The food is first rate; caviar and champagne aren’t a problem and are gratis so people are hot to pick up one another’s tabs. It’s the standard joke since because it’s free, everyone can afford to be magnanimous.

On the other hand, there are some off-limits topics, which I’ve learned about the hard way. Do not discuss: Religion, politics, cultural differences between your country and mine or any other, and health care.

I found myself in some very hot water stating how good I think the French health care system is, and there’s one couple with whom I won’t be exchanging email addresses.

And such is life. One thing’s for certain, I’ll never forget this trip.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Around the World, Paris |

L’Indochine Dreaming – A Long Way from Paris

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:32 am -

For anyone who’s interested, I’m halfway around the world and doing something I’ve never done before. Who knows if I’ll ever do a repeat performance.  It’s too early to tell.

When Toby, my frequent travel partner, and I discussed the idea of making a return visit to Vietnam, we realized one of the negatives of “adventure” travel is packing and unpacking and being subjected to airport security checks ad nauseam. She and I thought it might be time to try something different and called Susan at Imperial American Express Travel Services. If Susan hadn’t done the research, booking plus all of the coordination and answered my 102 emails, we wouldn’t be here.

Our first stop was Hong Kong. We splurged and stayed at the Hong Kong Intercontinental in Kowloon. Our room overlooked Victoria Harbor and had a bird’s eye view of Hong Kong Island where the majority of multinational headquarters are located. The buildings were decorated for the Christmas season and they didn’t hold back on the number of lights they used and how. If you weren’t in the holiday spirit before, you couldn’t help but be after spending a few minutes staring out the window.

If you stay there, bite the bullet and pay the supplement for the Club Intercontinental. It’s a lounge, but if you play your cards right, you never need to eat anywhere else—breakfast, tea and cocktails are served gratis—plus its members are entitled to free Internet in their rooms and the lounge has computers, so you’re not running up business center bills. In addition, the lounge’s personnel made guests feel as if they actually cared because they do. They couldn’t have been more accommodating and it was tempting to just stay there and veg out. In addition, I’d bet we ate and drank more than the cost.

But, I’m not suggesting you don’t go out to eat. There are wonderful noodle houses on Nathan Road, and Michelin just announced that its Hong Kong Macao 2011 guide has awarded four restaurants three stars, twelve restaurants two stars and fifty-three were given one Michelin star. In fact, the Yan Toh Heen in our hotel merits a one star and features healthy cuisine. If you like dim sum, you’ll be in heaven. So much for chop suey, which they don’t make or eat here anyway.

Toby and I relaxed and didn’t do our usual “hit all of the markets and buy it all” because we needed to rest up for our trip. That may sound strange but crossing thirteen time zones between NY and Hong Kong can play havoc with your internal clock.

As I write this, we’re sailing though the Gulf of Tonkin on the Seabourn Pride. This is by no means my first trip to Vietnam nor will it be my last. If I were substantially younger, I might have started Bonjour Hanoi rather than Bonjour Paris.

When we set sail this morning, passengers viewed the most incredible sunrise over Halong Bay. To be sure, cameras were clicking away recording the moment.

There are so many things about this country that touch my soul. Skip the war that (in my opinion) should have never been fought. There’s gentleness about the people, the gorgeous countryside, the growth pains from being an emerging country and its heritage, which includes Vietnamese traditional characteristics that were influenced by the Chinese and the Japanese.

So much of this is derived from Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism which are expressed in the country’s art, architecture and its not-to-be-missed temples and ruins. It’s amazing to think that archeologists just unearthed temple artifacts that date back to 1200 B.C.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the French influence on so much of the country’s architecture. Merci, M. Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House, for building some breathtaking buildings that are now being restored after years of neglect. The more you learn about the history of this country, the more meaningful seeing the Vietnam of today becomes.

One of the reasons we selected this cruise was because of its guest lecturer Denise Heywood, who makes the region come alive and is passionate about this area of the world. There are tours and there’s no dearth of guides in the area (tourism has become big business), but listening to a historian who’s willing to field questions is en enormous plus.

Even though this is my sixth trip to Vietnam, there’s no way visitors can do much more than scratch the surface.

About the boat (I’m told one doesn’t refer to it as a ship), there are 204 passengers and 175 staff members. The service is impeccable and the meals are worthy of a Parisian Michelin chef. The challenge is not to eat everything—which is hard not to do. I’m trying and taking the stairs up and down at a full gallop hoping I’ll burn off some calories. Yes, I’ll use the gym and will take Pilates classes rather than learning how to play bridge.

This is the third day of the trip and the beginning of a fabulous adventure that you’ll hear about if you want to.

Do I have a complaint? Well, yes. The Wi-Fi connection leaves much to be desired and isn’t always working. Some people have placed bets as to whether or not I can break the Internet habit. I just hope my Blackberry will pick up the satellite signals. And if it doesn’t, thank goodness there are many people who can fill in for me in making sure Bonjour Paris is regularly updated.

Bless them.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Around the World |

It’s Getting to Be That Time of Year

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:29 am -

It’s getting to be the time of year when family and friends ask what I’d like for the holidays. When I respond love, peace, health and happiness, I’m told that’s not the right answer—not an answer at all. When I told my granddaughters that I didn’t want them to fight, they responded in unison, “We can’t give you that, Gran,” as they hugged the other.

My other answer tends to be “nothing.” My take is that gifts shouldn’t be given (or exchanged) on a specific day. Unless a child’s bubble will burst because he or she would definitely know there’s no Santa or Père Noël, my philosophy is presents should be given when you see something that someone would love or really needs.

Leaving out the fact that many of my friends are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, December has become the ho-ho-ho month of giving—and Christmas, which has become generic rather than religious, is simply our largest commercial festival. So, as I listen to Christmas carols, here’s a list of what I’d like to receive, merci. Hey, I can dream like everyone else!

First on my list would be a yearlong pass on Open Skies.  That way, I could hop on a flight between Paris and Washington, DC, wherever I felt the urge. Even though I do travel between the two cities frequently, I’m having a mini-guilt attack that I missed Grandparents’ Day at my 7-year-old’s school. That’s an example of when the Kodak moment, now e-mailed, is not quite the same as being there.

So here’s the rest of my wish list—and forgive me if it’s not in logical or alphabetical order. Holidays and birthdays have that type of impact on me. On the other hand…

I do love chocolate, and having tasted and tested more than my fair share, those from zChocolat have a special place in my heart. One of the company’s slogans isA single bite is an instant of pure seduction and sensory bliss one has never experienced before.” You know, the French really do have a hard time getting to the point—or writing advertising copy. But their stuff does make me weak in the knees.

I’ll never forget the day Born to Shop Suzy Gershman and I agreed to be chocolate guinea pigs. We drove to Aix and sampled so many that we finally yelled ça suffit! Not only are these chocolates you’ll never forget, but also J-P (who owns zChocolat) is a genius when it comes to packaging. Perhaps I’ll have a box made this year for my son and daughter-in-law; the box will have a photo of their daughters, two of the loves of my life.

That was the day (or one of the many) that we got lost, so a Garmin GPS would have come in more than handy. Suzy and I were always taking off in pursuit of cookware of all types and we amassed quite a collection. Perhaps if we had the perfect pots, we’d become accomplished chefs. It’s a doubly good excuse—to shop and not to cook.

Those were the days before you could download cookbooks on a Kindle but we’re both converts now. For people who haven’t made the jump to the i-Pad (I’m waiting for the price to come down before adding it to my wish list), the Kindle is a great solution.

Another gift I’d give my travel-holic friends is a MedjetAssist policy. This is a service that guarantees to transport you to the hospital of your choice if you’re away from home and get sick. As much as I love France and French medicine, friends from the U.S. want to be able to return to States in the event of being in medical extremis.

On the cheerier side: gift certificates to restaurants from Ideal Gourmet make ideal presents for so many occasions.

What do I really want this year? I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d be more than delighted to spend more than a few nights at various hotels. The elevator in my apartment building is going to be redone and it’s going to take six weeks.  Walking up five steep flights of stairs will do nothing but good things for my weight and lord knows I won’t need a gym.

Still, I wouldn’t mind spending some nights at a hotel or three in many places throughout the world. I grew up reading Kay Thompson’s Eloise at the Plaza and wanted to live in a hotel where I could call room service. The Meurice or L’Hôtel would certainly fit the bill. If I wanted to stick closer to home, I’ve always wanted to stay at Hôtel des Academies et des Arts which is considerably less expensive!

This is some of what I want—and you may want as well.  Feel free to ship them to me, even if they arrive a few days late. The French tradition of giving étrennes on New Year’s Day gives everybody an extra week.

And what would you like? Let us know because you never can tell what good things may happen if you just ask.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Paris |

Living in Paris for Too Long?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:26 am -

Wait, there’s no such thing as living in Paris for too long. Anyway, that’s my opinion.  Anyone who reads Bonjour Paris is aware I’ve been a champion of its positives for so many years that I feel as if the French government should be employing me. At the very least, it should give me a medal. A Légion d’Honneur would be acceptable, but I’d never be so presumptuous.

Paris isn’t perfect, but it’s always pretty good. UNESCO, suffering from too long a diet of Parisian cuisine, wants to declare French cooking a World Heritage… thing, I guess. Next, we can start looking for monumental bronzes of blanquette de veau, navarin d’agneau, and moules marinière strewn here and there around the city to reflect—or gloat at—the honor. Any city has its frustrations and annoyances, but France is filled with so many good things beyond its food that I always look at it with something like stars, or maybe they’re tears of joy, in my eyes.

I’m writing from Washington, D.C., where my family and friends gathered for Thanksgiving. As expatriates know, being with family takes on a very significant meaning the longer you’ve been away from where you were born, grew up or where your nuclear family resides.

When I moved to France in 1988 (for six months that morphed into 13 months and then…), seeing family and friends was no big deal. Invite and they would appear—and more often than one might really want when there were deep-discounted airfare wars so Americans could travel to Paris, often for less that $300 round trip, including taxes, but excluding TSA knows-all-sees-all screenings or security pat-downs.

My son would come to Paris at the drop of a hat and an issued ticket. My mother even arrived one year with a Butterball turkey defrosting in the cargo department because those were the days when it was impossible to buy a large enough bird to feed our friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

Since then, times have changed. Family members have died and dynamics have shifted. My son and his wife have two perfect daughters, and transporting this mob isn’t so easy, plus the cost isn’t insignificant. The children also have other grandparents and interests that have nothing to do with strolling around the Luxembourg Garden. Expats can either decide to miss out or take their turn to pick up and make the reverse commute, whether it’s transatlantic or simply flying across the continent.

Much to my surprise, it’s hard to avoid culture shock no matter how frequently you go from one place to the other, and this even holds true when assembling this traditional family meal where you’d feel guilty if you were to serve roast beef.

What’s the most striking when you live in France versus the U.S. is that a fresh turkey costs 89 cents per pound (if you have a grocery store loyalty card) and one trip does it all. The cranberries and all of the fixings were in the same area and I didn’t need to go to four stores to find what was needed to serve the crowd.

I certainly needed a car to get the many (too many) bags home, but come to think of it, if I’d been in Paris, the groceries could have been delivered whereas relatively few chain grocery stores offer that service unless you order online, and somehow that doesn’t feel right for such an important meal.

If you’re the type of cook I am, you have to meet the turkey (even through it’s wrapped in plastic) before making the commitment to stuff the bird and spend part of the day basting and making two different types of potatoes, corn bread, cranberry sauce—and that’s just the beginning.

Living away from the U.S. causes you to forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the dirigibles or are they blimps or very large blow-up dollies? The thing that has shocked me the most is the Black Friday phenomenon. I haven’t been away from the U.S. so long that I do remember the day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been the kick-off date for Christmas shopping, but it seems to have acquired a new and malign branding, as if a holiday itself. Shop or else! Line up at three in the morning! Trample the slowpokes!  Sounds a little like bayonet training.

However, having stores open at midnight is news to me. In recent years, Wal-Mart would open before dawn, but now everything is discounted and how. Winter sales in France don’t begin until January 12th, so don’t think you can get away without paying retail for gifts that are going to be delivered by St. Nicholas, Santa or an emissary. And now that people walk around with electronic devices that can surf the internet such as an iPhone, iPod, Android, Blackberry or some other claptrap, the retailers are expecting you to say you’ve located the desire of your heart for six bucks less somewhere else and they’ll meet the lower price.

Even though the developed world is becoming more homogeneous, there are simply traditions that don’t change in one place contrasted to another.  Most people would consider that a plus, but it still takes more than a bit of compromising and adapting to different styles of living.

The one constant is that if you cook a turkey either in France or in the U.S. these days, there always seem to be leftovers. But I’m still convinced that born-and-bred-in-the-USA birds are fatter. The other constant is that no matter where this meal is served, the hosts leave the table wondering how so many dishes could have been used, and if they’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, odds are that more than one load will be required if you’ve invited a crowd.

Even though I consider myself more than flexible, will I be continually confronted and feel a boomerang effect because of cultural differences.  Or will I be able to say, here is here and there is there?

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Paris |

How Times Have Changed When Talking Turkey in France

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:22 am -

Ah, it seems like yesterday, but it wasn’t. To be precise, it was twenty years ago. Being a good American, there was no way that I wasn’t going to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was the one holiday where we’d get together, eat too much, laugh and have a good time.

Of course, getting up at the crack of dawn in the U.S. so the bird would be ready before noon was kind of a pain, but Thanksgiving and the NFL football games went hand in hand. It seems distant now, but that was the way it was in those days when I lived in Washington.

After Victor and I moved into our new Paris apartment, we decided to invite our American friends to come and celebrate, which (for Americans) falls on the fourth Thursday of November unlike Canada where it falls on the second Monday of October. We included some French friends who thought it was more than a strange meal and a stranger ritual.

All I knew was that I was hell-bent on having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. What I didn’t anticipate was that we could have gone to the most expensive restaurant in Paris and eaten for less than that dinner cost, but we wouldn’t have feasted on turkey—and please don’t say “so what?” In those days, it mattered.

Being of the Butterball generation, it didn’t occur to me that chemically treated über humongous birds simply didn’t exist in France. I went to the butcher only to be told that it was impossible to buy a turkey large enough to feed twenty people before Christmas.  Didn’t I understand these were free-range birds and weren’t going to grow large enough just because I wanted one?

OK, that was no problem. Being resourceful and being able to add, I ordered two turkeys. Defeat would not be mine. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t been able to add when the bill was presented. It was nearly $125. Were the birds stuffed with gold?

By the time the fixings were purchased (what do you mean one can of Ocean Spray cranberries costs $6?), it was time to contemplate taking out a loan. But defeat would not be mine: a tube of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce on a plate, with the marks from the can looking like ribs, is a sine qua non of Thanksgiving, particularly if no one eats it and it is thrown out whole.

I won’t bore you with what it cost to import enough pecans to make a sticky and gooey pie. It was sheer determination… defeat would not be mine. Ah, hmmm. That was until I picked up the fowl that morning only to realize there was zero way both could possibly fit in one oven, especially ours which was French and small.

That was the year of our becoming extremely friendly with the concierge of our building. We usurped that oven and shuttled up and down five floors so we could baste both turkeys. Each time we went down to the ground floor apartment, we took a bottle of wine. After all, that was only polite.

Dinner was a roaring success. In fact, it was the best Thanksgiving we ever had as twenty people were stuffed into our dining area, which usually seats eight.

I went to bed with a headache that night, undoubtedly from the stress of cooking for so many people and the fact that the guests each brought a lovely bottle of wine—and there was no way we could insult anyone by not drinking all of them.

Since this wasn’t a French holiday, dinner didn’t begin until 8 p.m. By the time it ended after midnight (thank goodness someone brought a bottle of first-rate cognac), I wondered how our guests were going to be able to work the next day.

But this being France, the only one who had a real hangover was I. And clearly it was due to the fact that I refused to go to bed until all of the dishes, glasses and silver were washed and put away.

Happily, Thanksgiving comes only once a year—it takes that long to recover. But that evening was one I’ll never forget.  Nor will our guests and the concierge who’s still talking about it:

Vivent les Américains (even if they are crazy).

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Paris |

Christmas in Paris & Some Make Merry Suggestions

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:19 am -

There’s no place more magical than Paris during the Christmas holidays. Even if you’re not a believer, when Paris is decked out and decorated to the nines, the city is incredible.  Eye Prefer Paris Tours & Cooking Classes is celebrating the holidays by launching special Christmas Tours & Cooking Classes during the month of December.

Sign up for a tour:

Richard Nahem will personally lead private Christmas tours highlighting the magical shop windows, gleaming outdoor lights, beautifully decorated trees and festive Christmas markets throughout Paris. You’ll visit the department stores Galeries Lafayette & Printemps, walk on the Champs Elysees, duck into the famed gourmet shops Fauchon & Hediard on Place Madeleine, and peruse the rue St. Honoré. Because it will be cold (dress accordingly please) you’ll welcome a mandatory hot chocolate stop at one of the top shops in the city.

Beginning on November 29th and ending on January 9th, 2011, Richard will be leading them seven days a week, except on December 25th, 26th & January 1st and 2nd.

Tours are three hours long from 11 AM-2 PM, or 3PM to 6PM and the cost is 225 euros for up to three people; each additional person 75 euros. Tours are private and limited and the maximum number of people is eight.

Cooking Classes:

Cordon Bleu trained chef Charlotte Puckette of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes, has devised a spectacular five-course Christmas menu (see below) with traditional French holiday foods.

- Sea Scallops with julienned celery root and garlic butter

- Roasted quails with a foie gras stuffing

- Roasted chestnut and potato pureé

- Seasonal cheese course

- Profiteroles with chocolate sauce

Students will be given a tour of a fresh local Parisian food market to shop for some of the ingredients and then go to Charlotte’s private commercial kitchen near the Eiffel Tower. Charlotte will assist and teach students how to make this holiday feast.

At the end of class, students will dine on the menu they prepared and drink Kir Royal and wine.

Classes are offered Tuesday through Friday the month of December from 9AM to 2PM, with a minimum of two students, maximum of six. The cost is 200 euros per person.

Contact: Richard Nahem  Email: r.nahem@gmail.com

Tel +33 6 3112 8620

Be sure to tell Richard Bonjour Paris recommended you contact him.  The 10th and 25th people who sign up will receive a prize – it’s a holiday secret!

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Posted in Paris |

Will the Asian cruise industry score 7 million passengers per year by 2015?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:17 am -

While cruising between Hong Kong and Singapore, this news is hot off the presses. At the first Asian Cruise Terminal Association meeting that just took place in Singapore, Mr Soo Kok Leng, chairman of the Singapore Cruise Centre, stated that projections for the cruise industry in this part of the world, have been dramatically underestimated.

If all goes well, Asia’s cruise industry may attract seven million passengers per year, three times the number than previously projected.

The association was created last June to help its twelve members raise standards in order to attract more people. Among its members are China, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Mr Soo said the forecast of two million cruise passengers published in 2005 by the British-based Ocean Shipping Consultants was “too conservative.”

What accounts for the dramatic differential? Most likely, it’s due to the fact that five years ago, the consultants didn’t take into account the emerging middle class in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asians, whom I’ve encountered during this trip, have said they like seeing their area of the world by water and not having to deal with airports and security.

In addition, if you access the Internet, you’ll find many more local companies offering land tours. Tourism is big business and even though a country such as Vietnam may be Communist, people have the same drive of being out-to-make-money capitalists. There are schools for tour guides mushrooming. Our guide had spent four years studying. Today, tour companies have constructed places where tour groups can stop and eat in a clean environment. The lunch we were served on the Mekong Delta was cooked to American standards. This is a change from ten years ago when a trip through this area was adventure travel.

Without a doubt, cruising is big business. Will you become a convert and take to the seas rather than to the skies?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

6 air-travel tips for the mobility-challenged

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:15 am -

I’m currently traveling with a friend who has difficulty walking and airports are so huge these days, that it’s better to be prepared than to suffer — or even miss a flight because you don’t make it to the gate on time.

1. When you make your flight reservations, call the airline and inform them that you will need a wheelchair. You can either specify that you be met at drop-off point outside or at the check-in counter. Ask whether or not the airport allows escort passes for a family member to accompany you.

2. My travel companion can walk through security. But, for those who can’t, you can request a manual security check. And yes, you can insist that it be performed by a same sex inspector.

3. Take your time and refuse to be rushed. (This applies for people who aren’t mobility challenged.) Travelers are required to remove all outer layers, belts, shoes, liquids, electronics and more. Make certain you collect everything before leaving the screening area. Don’t think that because you’re being escorted by an airline employee, that he or she will make certain you retrieve all of your belongings. If anything, they’re on a cell phone being instructed when and where to pick up the next passenger (or perhaps talking to their significant other).

4. Most airlines allow people with disabilities and those with children to board first. Don’t be surprised if the person who’s pushing your wheelchair asks for a tip. This is not mandatory since they’re paid to perform this service. It’s up to you whether or not to tip. My friend does unless the the escort has been ruder than rude.

5. Make certain you inform the flight attendants before landing that you’ll need wheelchair assistance. Even if the airline has it in your record, details do get lost in transit.

6. Have all of your papers (passport, driver’s license, alternative ID, doctors’ papers, itinerary and boarding pass) in one easily accessible place. Around the neck pouches are often the best bet. However, don’t keep credit cards or money (except for what you’ll use for tips) in it.

If there is a plus to being mobility challenged, it’s that you’re generally escorted through security or customs before others and don’t have to wait. But, please please, don’t take advantage of wheelchair escorts for this privilege. People do and it’s a sad commentary on what some will do to beat the system.

The above are just a few fundamental tips. What others can you add? Let’s face it, air travel is no picnic these days and any advice as to how to make it easier, is appreciated.

Photo: Piotrus, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

It’s a long way to Hong Kong – but are cruises my thing?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:14 am -

I’m in the process of embarking on the trip of a lifetime. Let’s see if it’s what I imagined. Whether or not it is, it’s going to be an interesting voyage and to be sure, one heck of a saga.

Typing from the a room at the Hong Kong Intercontinental I’m excited to be in one of my favorite cities. Watching the sun rise over Victoria Harbour and seeing the buildings on Hong Kong Island takes my breath away. The boats ranging from freighters, junks with red sails and cruise boats peacefully coexist. And then there’s the Star Ferry which shuttles back and forth.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hong Kong and consider it an adult playground. If I were younger, I might have opted to move to Asia rather than Paris. Please don’t tell Bonjour Paris readers.

If you stay at the Intercontinental, bite the bullet and pay the supplement for the Club Intercontinental. If you play your cards right, you never need to eat anywhere else—breakfast, tea and cocktails are served gratis in the lounge — plus its members are entitled to free Internet in their rooms and guests have access to free computers, so you’re not running up business center bills. There’s no question we got our money’s worth. Plus there’s nothing like being served very good French champagne, merci. How many glasses can you drink in two hours while sampling a more than generous selection of hors d’œuvre?

I’m not suggesting you don’t go out to eat. There are wonderful noodle houses on Nathan Road, and Michelin just announced that its Hong Kong Macao 2011 guide has awarded four restaurants three stars, twelve restaurants two stars and fifty-three were given one Michelin star. In fact, the Yan Toh Heen in the hotel merits a one star and features healthy cuisine. If you like dim sum, you’ll be in heaven. So much for chop suey, which they don’t make or eat here anyway.

Toby, a friend with whom I’ve traveled for many years, decided we were getting a bit old for adventure travel and packing and unpacking every two days and being subjected to way too much airport security as we flew from here to there. Seeing the area by water might be the ideal solution. We relaxed in Hong Kong and didn’t do our usual hit all of the markets and buy it all because we needed to rest up for our trip. That may sound strange, (resting up to go on vacation?) but crossing thirteen time zones between New York and Hong Kong can play havoc with your internal clock.

We’re going to be taking a two-week-long cruise on the Seabourn Pride. We’ll be sailing through Vietnam, stopping in Bangkok and disembarking in Singapore. I’ve made many trips to this part of the world since my husband had a consulting project here. But, we were always on land with the exception of a few get-from-here-to-there boat trips. Oh yes, there was the outing in Manilla on the Chinese Junk where the entertainers sang Hawaiian songs and we ate Indian curry.

Some people love cruises and others don’t. I’m curious to find out whether or not they’re for me. My understanding is they’re are people who wouldn’t consider traveling any other way. Will I be one of them? Are you? Please give me as many hints as possible about what I should expect.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Business class travelers are not always business like

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:13 am -

You think you’ve seen it all. And then, you encounter someone on a flight whom you’ll always remember. Just because a person has money and/or points or miles to upgrade, does not make him or her a good traveler.

As a matter of fact, because they’re not in the back of the plane may make people feel more entitled. Rich isn’t synonymous with well bred. Give people some slack and they may take full advantage. During my travels in coach and in business class (I buy nothing without accumulating points, hoping for an upgrade), my experience has been that the majority of people sitting in the front of the plane sleep during most of the trip.

Many are road warriors and they want to work, not to spend countess hours involved in chit-chat and prefer to be left alone. You can spot them. They travel with headphones and probably, a computer. Many drink nothing but water and some eat before they board so they can sleep from here to there.

On a recent 14+-long-trip between Kennedy Airport and Seoul, Korea on Asiana Air, a truly first-rate airline where the flight attendants couldn’t be more gracious or accommodating, I was seated across the aisle from the epitome of an ugly American. Mr. pain-in-the-neck walked and emanated a “pay attention, I am here” attitude. He didn’t like his seat, he was annoyed that wine wasn’t being served before take-off and all but asked, “Don’t you know how important I am?” People don’t dress when traveling as they used to, but this guy was plain grungy.

If you couldn’t miss seeing him, there was zero way you could miss hearing him. He was on the cell phone from the moment he sat down. I assume he wasn’t calling his wife because he repeatedly ask the person on the other line what she was wearing. After he said for the fifth time he wanted her to be wearing “only panties.” I was ready to kill. If she wouldn’t go to Atlantic City with him, perhaps her sister would welcome his company when he arrived in the Philippines. They could paint Manila red each night since he was going to be there on business. Ah hum.

When a member of the flight crew announced electronics had to be turned off, a sigh of relief was audible from people in the cabin. Mr. Pain-in-the-arse couldn’t sit still and started fidgeting with a folder filled with papers. Was he getting down to work? Think not since there were photographs of nubile young Asian women that he let fall to the floor between our seats. This was the first time I didn’t help someone collect things but I simply wasn’t in the mood. By no means am I a prude but enough was enough, merci.

The flight finally took off and Mr. Pain wanted to change seats and to sample all of the wines that were stocked. The answer to request one was no since the seats were reserved for the crew. After the other passengers were served, the flight attendants were kind enough to let my neighbor sample all of the wines plus the champagne.

Even though Mr. Pain was told the seats were off-bounds, that didn’t stop him. He made himself at home even though he was asked to return to his assigned seat. The image of what some American flight attendants might have done flashed through my mind.

Enough of my ranting. Things went from bad to worse and I was awakened at least five times as he moved around the cabin and more wine was served. And then, there was more.

Have you ever been seated next to someone who thought he’d chartered the plane and didn’t care one iota for fellow passengers; plus, was disrespectful to the crew? What did you do and did you complain? How do you avoid such pains? And no, there weren’t any other seats,

Frequent fliers expect to not love all seat-mates. But, sometimes, earphones and eye shades don’t do the trick. Who knows, he may possibly be seated next to me on my return flight. I know it’s illegal to open the door and shove people out of a plane. Ideas and suggestions please?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |