Suzy Gershman Tribute

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 6:35 pm -

This post is dedicated to “Born to Shop” Suzy Gershman who died on July 25, 2012 after a brave but ugly battle with brain cancer.  Suzy affected the lives of people she never met through her books, travel bibles to many, and the lives of those who knew her because she was Suzy.

We met pre-Internet in California and ran into one another when she was in Paris in 1992 covering the opening of Euro Disney. (We used to laugh about the small world coincidence considering the tens of thousands people at that event.) Suzy stood out of the crowd sporting pink satin “Chanel” mouse ears that she’d made and decorated with sequins.  That was pure Suzy straight up—no ice, no mixers, not even a little straw. She had an incredible ability to make work fun.  As soon as she signed a contract to work for Galeries Lafayettes, she asked me about the possibility of Bonjour Paris hosting an online magazine for the store. “Mais oui.”  I said. Was another answer possible? Not if you knew her.

After Suzy moved to France, my life took a different turn. She was an integral of so many aspects of life in Paris and she bought a house in Provence, seven minutes away from mine. Frequently the phone would ring advising me that we were going here or there to research a shopping destination. A destination as in Paris, Provence or London, but just as likely in China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia.

I kept telling Suzy I wasn’t a dedicated shopper, a fact that fell on deaf ears. And after all, I did show up. As she’d say, “c’est la vie.”

In reality, Suzy was the best of friends to many people and will be sorely missed. Her joy in life and living was the greatest gift she gave to countless numbers. I’m lucky to be among them, still and always.


Posted in Around the World |

Do you book train and plane travel based on gourmet meals?

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:55 pm -

Some people live to travel while others travel by their stomachs. If you fall into this category, perhaps the Eurostar’s announcement will cause you to book the high-speed UK, French and Belgium rail.

Chef Raymond Blanc, of television fame, has devised new menus to (hopefully) persuade passengers that train food can be gourmet. He’s not the first chef to try to alter public opinion about travel fare and probably won’t be the last. Blanc’s new menus include dishes inspired by the rail network’s French, British and Belgian destinations.

Are trains and planes with gourmet food the answer for you? Or would you prefer to bring your own? Gourmands differ in their druthers.

If you’re traveling in business premier class, expect to be served poached pollock in an English white wine sauce and an apple, celeriac and Belgianpas de bleu cheese salad, among other selections. Passengers departing from Paris will find mainly French food on their trays, such as salmon paté with horseradish and cauliflower. Those leaving London will be served mainly British fare, including English Camembert cheese.

Blanc hopes to improve the caliber of train food by “removing delicate foods to concentrate on stronger foods with a lot of personality, like cheese, sardines and apples,” said the Frenchman, who has lived in Britain since the 1970s. He adds, “I want simple food. You have less chance of messing it up,” acknowledging the considerable challenges in serving high-quality food on a mass scale.

The meals will be prepared in the Eurostar’s three kitchens, in Burgundy, Sussex and in Brussels. Blanc aims to have his meals compete with those served in the first and business classes on any airline.

And yes, airlines have solicited the aid of numerous chefs, including Heston Blumenthal for British Airways; Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon, Alice Waters, Guy Martin and the list goes on.

Will a meal cause someone to book one flight or take a train rather than another? Probably not, but you can dream. Some claim this is just celebrityhype, marketing and a way of obtaining press.

“Think about it,” comments food writer Margaret Kemp. “How can you control the quality of food when you’re dependent on rotating ‘chefs,’ too-tight spaces, pre-cooked and pre-prepped food, ovens that are difficult to regulate, not to mention the elements?”

She has a point, when you consider how hard it is to create gourmet on the ground, where kitchens have been designed to minimize surprises. Kemp has traveled all over the world hoping to taste a great meal prepared by one of her favorite chefs, and says she’s never tasted food approaching the standards of their restaurants. “Something strange happens at high altitudes and speeds. Even wines taste strange.”

Sure, people would rather have good food than mediocre food and who wants bad? Most people say they eat to combat hunger and boredom, but unless you’re traveling first class, how often do you hear people raving about plane or train food? Would you book a flight based on a menu? Most people opt for flights according to convenience, price or loyalty programs and that’s it.

Plus, have you noticed an increasing number of passengers bring their own food? Most travelers say they just want to get off a plane or a train without getting sick. Many are suspicious after reports of tainted food.

On a recent train trip between Paris and London, many people were toting picnics — some of which were definitely gourmet — saying they were better quality and better buys than train food. Many people are opting to bring their own food on flights where they’d have to buy their meals on board. One person admitted the only time she eats airline food is if it’s free and even now, she’s considering changing that after reports of unwanted debris and tainted food.

Which makes you think — are train companies and the airlines throwing good money after bad, chasing the gourmet dream? Margaret Kemp says no. “These chefs improve the quality because they care. Any efforts are better than none.”

Do you agree that it’s worth it or is this much to do about nothing?


Posted in Around the World |

Vietnam: two different ways of seeing a world

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:51 pm -

This wasn’t my first trip to Vietnam. Actually, it was my seventh or eighth. But it was completely different from my other visits because my travel partner, Pierre, had never been there before, is an urban planner. Although we spent all of our time together, following our itinerary from our Vietnam-based travel agent, Exotissimo, his Vietnam and mine could have been a thousand miles apart.

Two different realities
Many of the things I loved about the country during prior trips were gone. Progress was the culprit, I guess, but I was automatically making comparisons between what I had seen in the past and what was in front of me now. Some of it I didn’t like. Like many travelers, I get lazy and tend to gravitate to favorite haunts. For me, it’s always been Hanoi with all its maze-like tiny streets that are a warren where people can get lost and lost some more.

I kept looking for familiar places that were no longer. What happened to my tailor? Why had everything become so homogeneous? Was it because of the onslaught of tourism? Or, is it the fact that as people become more prosperous, they lose some of their uniqueness — or is that quaintness?

I imagine it must be to some extent Vietnam’s comparative prosperity. Per capita income has risen to $3,000 a year, a small fraction of ours in the States or France, but incomparably more than ten years ago. It is, of course, the Chinese-model, cowboy capitalism blended with Communist governance. The results are government-gray drab and somewhat dismaying. As is frequently the case in emerging economies, there is rampant inflation and a huge rich-and-poor dichotomy.

Pierre’s focus during our travels was completely different. He was experiencing the country for the first time without memories or any case of nostalgia. He had also been reading Vietnamese history, saying to me, “It’s the only way you can understand how a place has become what it is now.”

The importance of history
Vietnam was controlled by the Chinese for more than 1,000 years, occupied by the French and went through a war with the French and the Americans for more than twenty years. India had a strong influence in some areas of the country, as well, for an equally long time; the Champa people, essentially a colony of India until the nineteenth century, reflect this in their faces and material culture. “In essence, throughout its history, Vietnam has been controlled or occupied by different countries, which has kept it from developing a unique culture,” Pierre explained.

Pierre spent time surveying the country on Google Earth and saw details I’d never considered. He insisted on sitting by the window each time we took a plane — three times during this whirlwind trip. We also traveled by train twice and spent two nights on boats in different parts of the country.

Pierre studied topography and urban street patterns. I looked for bakeries and restaurants. We agreed the bread in Vietnam is so much better than what’s found in the U.S. Could it be the water? Or, that the French left the baking legacy?

Pierre viewed things that were foreign to me as I kept commenting on stores that had come and gone, hotels that have sprouted up, how many more coffee shops had opened and the number of restaurants that served Italian food. Pierre, observed and commented on Vietnam’s new roads, cranes on urban horizons and the fact that ever-growing traffic is going to affect so much of its development.

Pierre spent time studying the roads, the terrain and the country’s infrastructure. In his role as an urban planner, whose work has taken him all over the world, he also likes to see places by helicopter. Listening to his insights was fascinating.

The Chinese influence and growing prosperity
The north of Vietnam has been indelibly stamped by China. During one of our many drives, we found ourselves standing on a bridge linking Vietnam and China at the border of Lo Cai. Our guide explained that she’d been to China once. But it wasn’t easy for the Vietnamese to get visas. And, yes, the bargain shopper in me asked, “Do electronics cost substantially less on the Chinese side of the border?” The answer: yes.

On each flight we took from the south to the north and finally returning to Ho Chi Minh City, we were nearly the only tourists. Because we were traveling during the Lunar New Year, everyone in the country seemed to be in transit. This made it almost impossible to reserve flights. So it was not surprising that there were many Chinese and Asian tourists in Vietnam. This compensated for the fact that fewer Europeans and Americans were traveling because of the downturn in their economies.

I must admit I was busy people-watching and was very aware that many of our fellow passengers had never been on a plane before this trip. They would stand when they were supposed to sit, even though announcements were made in Vietnamese. This indicated a new mobility and prosperity. Plus, many people were going to bigger cities where more jobs exist. Besides, in the old days, very few Vietnamese could afford plane tickets.

We both noticed country’s architecture, which varies radically depending on where you are, and its wealth. We both marveled at so much of its physical beauty and we were both engrossed by Vietnam’s economic and vital statistics, so we had a couple of common denominators even if our interests and reactions were different.

Even though I am a seasoned traveler, my perspective was altered by Pierre’s observations; I think for the better. And, perhaps his way of seeing Vietnam was influenced somewhat by mine. Another pair of eyes can always been useful and interesting — not a bad way to travel. We saw the same country, the same sights, the same hotels, the same roads, the same airports and the same cities, but differently.

Am I the only person who’s had a reality check such as this? I so love Vietnam, perhaps the “old” Vietnam. My next trip to Asia will include Burma too.

Photo: From prospectjournal.ucsd.edu


Posted in Around the World |

Vietnam bound: Planning itineraries and redeeming points and miles for a trip to remember

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:49 pm -

Planning a vacation isn’t always easy unless you’re going around the corner to grandmother’s house (not always, even then). But this year, Vietnam was my destination of choice and my plans were to do and see all — as much as I could squeeze in. Asia presented me with a new set of problems both with planning and with moving around once I landed.
Mapping out a trip in France is easy for me as are most places in the E.U. However, Asia is a very different story. Not speaking the language is a huge barrier when it comes to getting around. Don’t make the mistake that everyone speaks English because unless they’re in the hospitality industry, they simply don’t.

Rather than looking for cheap fares, I decided it was time to cash in accumulated air miles because they’re less valuable than they used to be, seats are more difficult to come by and 200,000 miles I had on one carrier’s frequent flyer program simply disappeared.

Getting the frequent-flier tickets was a do or die affair and that included spending hours on the phone trying to redeem miles to travel between Washington, DC, and Vietnam. Rather than going west, the only available seats were via Paris, which added considerable hours to the trip. (Who’s complaining when free is free, or almost, after factoring in taxes and some other minimal charges.)

People who say you don’t need a travel agent are a great deal more adventuresome than I. Perhaps, they may want to cover substantially less territory or they aren’t on a tight time schedule. This trip had 13 days: That was it. I wanted a good travel agent.

The trip necessitated planning like a military operation. I figured that travel agencies have a network plus a lot more pull than an individual. Vendors want repeat business and because reputable agencies aren’t here today and gone tomorrow, you’ll more than likely score a better accommodations.

The trip was good to go with the air portion. My thought was, how much trouble could it be to book our itinerary within the country? I quickly learned after my first email to http://www.exotissimo.com. I received a response saying, “If all possible, don’t come during Tet,” which is the Chinese New Year. This is the time when the Vietnamese return to their families for the annual celebration and many attractions and tourist sights are closed. In addition, obtaining plane and train reservations would be difficult. Tet is also known as the Lunar New Year and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

I dismissed this request because after having snagged reward seats, there was no way the dates could change. After so many emails and itinerary changes (yes, we were being fussy) it was clear that the agent wasn’t kidding when she said it would hard to get some reservations. Some internal flights were full for days and days; even when we were planning the trip nearly two months in advance. I’ve always respected travel agents but this group went all out.

Clearly it was going to take a dragon to plan this trip, which included seeing nearly the entire country, taking three plane flights, spending two nights on a train, sleeping two nights on boats and no two consecutive nights spent in anyone place. Were we crazy? Perhaps? But, it was a trip we’ll always remember.

Initially, we wanted to steer clear of American-style hotels. On the other hand, WiFi was a necessity and the Vietnamese cater to tourism because that’s where the money is. The Vietnamese are very tech savvy — everyone with a computer seems to know how to circumvent the government’s ban on Facebook with a special IP address and many of the locals have iPhones.

Contrasted with my first visit more than 10 years ago, Vietnam is no longer cheaper than cheap unless you’re into backpacking. If you are, that part of Asia is still a bargain. But to be sure, there are less expensive destinations because that’s where the well-to-do Vietnamese go since they can get more for their money and want to do and see other things

Trying to save money and use up accumulated points, we opted to stay in a Starwood property in Ho Chi Minh City, or as you may remember it, Saigon. The city’s growth has mushroomed at such a lightening fast speed that charming guesthouses are few and far between. We stayed at the Sheraton Saigon and upgraded to one of the tower rooms. Because our flight arrived early in the morning, we were able to go to the hotel’s tower lounge, wait there comfortably until our room was ready and have breakfast as part of the cost. Many people opt to go to the spa to relax. The more energetic went to the gym while others jumped into the pool. I sat in a trance while my traveling companion attacked a few of the emails awaiting him.

Though, a room with access to the executive lounge might seem like an extravagance, for my dollars and cents, it really isn’t. Traveling (and yes, I’ll go anytime and nearly anywhere) can be tiring and most especially when you’re crossing 12 time zones. I simply wanted time to decompress from the marathon travels and steel myself for the journeys to come.

Our first day was relatively quiet. We left the hotel that afternoon for a long walk and a drink on the roof of the Rex Hotel, which was the lookout point for many correspondents during the Vietnam War.

Our real adventure began very early the next morning when we started our tour of Vietnam at (nearly) full gallop.


Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

8 suggestions for spending time while stuck in an airport

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:47 pm -

Who wants to be stuck in an airport for hour after hour? But, stuff happens. “How do you make the best of it?”

Whether in transit or dealing with a plane that has been delayed, what do you do if you’re forced to spend more than a few hours in an airport?

When waiting for a plane that’s sitting on the tarmac, which might be ready to go at a few minutes notice, you’re really at the mercy of the airline gods. That’s when you have to make the best of a bad situation, hope you have a good book, an I Pad or an equivalent. If you’re traveling with a computer, you can always catch up or get ahead on your work. Then, there are the projects you’ve been contemplating but haven’t had the time upon which to concentrate.

It goes without saying that these tips don’t work so well when traveling with young children. Then you’re forced to grin and bear it and think of ingenious ways to keep them amused. Plan on getting your exercise chasing after your charges. That’s when you give thanks for airports with playgrounds.

But, if you have a long layover between flights, here are some suggestions gathered from seasoned travelers. Some travelers even plan longer-than-normal layovers to take advantage of these options.

Head into town — Going into town can be chancy unless it’s a layover that’s very long or one you’ve planned so you can see a specific destination that’s been on your must-see list.

Shop — Some travelers use the airport as a shopping opportunity to buy gifts for their families. One person said he found a shop in the Seattle airport and bought a mug and serving plate made by a local potter. His purchases were shipped so he didn’t have to keep track of them for eight hours and the store made sure they arrived home in one piece.

Many international airports can be great shopping opportunities. Anyone who has been in the Dubai Airport knows that transit passengers can shop until they drop and absorb different cultures and sample foods from around the world.

Find a comfortable, quiet nest — Some head for the nearest bar or place of worship, while many frequent flyers recognize the advantage of an airline club – many of which you can access by buying a day pass.

Airport hotels — An airport hotel offers a change of pace and venue and perhaps a more relaxed meal. People who frequently fly on business will often arrange meetings while they’re waiting. When you see people on Skype, they may not be talking to their loved ones. They may be racking up billable hours.

Naps, art and chores — Large airports with day rooms where you can grab a nap can be godsends for the weary traveler. Some airports have excellent art installations, but you’ll have to look for them. An increasing number of large airports have places when you can get a massage, have you hair done and you get the drift.

Blame your travel planner? One person responded that if you have a six-hour layover, you should get a new travel agent. Then Bjorn Nilsen, a Procurement Representative who’s based in Kansas City admitted, “Actually, I’ve had a few of these. 
I had a 10-hour layover between flights and different airports in Amman, Jordan. I did some business with my travel agent there and following that, I was treated to a great tour of the city, local foods, and the best Arabic coffee I ever had! The time simply flew.”

In Dubai, an 8 hour lay-over resulted in a complimentary hotel room and a much needed nap!” 

Nilsen purposely booked a long layover in Frankfurt and was able to convince his cousin to come to the airport and spend the time with him. They had a wonderful meal together and used the time to catch up on too many years spent apart and out of touch.

Recharge yourself and your contraptions — One thing you should forget to do is factor in time for exercising, even if it’s only doing deep breathing and stretches. Don’t miss the opportunity to recharge laptop/portable DVD player batteries.

People watch — You’ll find no better place. Some passengers curl up on an empty chair and simply veg out and try not to become stressed.

Strike up a conversation — Though, this may feel strange to some, who knows, you may actually meet fellow travelers who will become friend. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Feel free to add your suggestions as to how to make the time fly by.


Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

Karen’s rules: How to fly around the world and not get sick

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:45 pm -

Flying around the world, especially on vacation may sound glamorous. But in reality, you’re taking your health in your hands. Should you break up the trip? Wear a face mask? What are some tricks and tips for not arriving home sick?

Frequent long haul flyers offer all types of advice. Pick and choose and from it and please add your feed back about what’s worked for you.

Try to be rested before taking off. If possible, take a late evening flight with the first leg of the trip being the longest, so you can hopefully sleep. When you arrive at your first stop, if the connection is more than two hours, being a member of an airline club can and often does make great and good sense. Many have rooms where you can take a shower and clean some off some of the grunge.

While en route, don’t drink liquor (Ok, perhaps a glass of wine) and drink lots of water. Get up and move around and whatever you do, wash your hands well and often. Many people carry their own wipes or a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. Remember to clean your hands after leaving the lavatories because the handles are used by everyone on the plane, whether or not the passenger is healthy. Some travelers carry a face mask and use it if people are sneezing around them. Germs have a way of spreading when air isn’t being constantly recirculated.

Try to upgrade for a portion of the trip if possible. As temperatures vary from flight to flight, pack clothes to take aboard that keep your body temperature constant.

Travel aids:
Some people swear by Airborne and a multitude of other vitamins. Pack your own fruit, nuts, health bars and items you know and know your stomach. Skip the meal if you’re able to sleep before it’s presented or if you think you might not digest it well. Many frequent flyers say that setting your watch (and your psyche) on your destination’s time zone helps.

Breaking up the trip:
When the flight time is 24 hours or more, and that’s not counting the time spent waiting to board, in transit and getting out of the airport when you arrive at your destination, some claim spending an overnight to acclimate to the time difference is worth the time and money. Others simply push on; there’s no one answer.

Assume a Zen attitude:
Many say that retreating into their own cocoon is what makes the difference. Wear a pair of quality noise canceling ear phones, try not to engage in conversations with neighbors, become totally self-absorbed and retreat into their own world, accompanied by a fully charged IPad, a computer plus a do-not-disturb sign. I’ve found extra thick eye pads to be a godsend.

If there’s a less crowded area of the plane, go for it (providing it’s in your class of service). Don’t eat and drink everything that’s placed in front of you, try not to hear other passengers and avoid stress. Watch some downloaded movies or listen to your choice of music and catnap when possible.

David Christensen, an executive who lives in Singapore and spends a great deal of his time up in the air says, “I am sure the way I retreat into my own world and try to let things wash over me without getting too upset while I’m traveling has helped me cope psychologically at least. I am confident that this also has positive benefits in keeping me out of harm’s way as much as possible.”

At your destination:
When you’re on your trip, take care to eat and drink things you hope are safe. If you’re a place where’s there’s street food, some travelers say it’s verboten. Others will eat it if they watch it being prepared and can see how it’s cooked. Many drink only bottled water that’s clearly sealed, never drink anything out of a can unless they use a straw they’ve unwrapped, never have a drink with ice and refrain from eating nuts (or anything) out of a communal bowl.

People tend to use caution when they’re in strange and exotic places. The question comes down to how to fly around the world and not come down with a hell of a cold or something more.


Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

Thanksgiving, or, How Do You Eat Your Turkey?

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:24 pm -

Karen FawcettFor Americans the fourth Thursday of November holds special significance.

Since I moved to Paris more than a few years ago, this holiday, more than any of the others, draws Americans together in a unified pursuit of cooking and eating turkey. And for giving thanks for many things, including living in France. It’s a festive occasion that’s usually accompanied by a selection of wines.

We don’t necessarily give thanks only once. It’s a double-whammy since American expats frequently have the chance to eat two dinners, one on the real day and the second on the following Saturday, since Thursday is a school and workday. Even though the French really like Americans and they cherish holidays, the French government hasn’t told people it’s okay to take the day off and expect to be paid. Few corporations give American employees the day off either, since if you’re in France, you do as the French do and you probably have plenty of vacation.

In this world of change and progress, finding a turkey that’s big enough to feed a group is no longer a do-or-die challenge. Small grocery stores don’t necessarily stock +8 kilo dindes, but they’re available at large Parisian stores, such as Monoprix and Carrefour.  It’s no longer necessary to place a special order weeks before chez le boucher, which was invariably so expensive you could have bought a filet de boeuf.

Snaring bags of unsalted pecans and molasses used to necessitate going to specialized “American” stores and paying a small fortune for these “exotic” foods, but that’s no longer the case. If there is an item you need, there’s always The Real McCoy or Thanksgiving to the food-chase rescue.

One of the most memorable dinners I ever hosted was so long ago that airfares were cheap(er), security at airports was casual, and the airlines didn’t charge for extra bags, and so my mother could arrive from Washington with a Butterball turkey stashed in a Styrofoam chest and with suitcases crammed with cranberry jelly, pumpkin puree, sweet potatoes, and bags of Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix. I’m not sure I’d want to eat like that now, but at the time it was amazing…

And it’s still amazing to me that mother made it through French customs lugging a frozen turkey into a country that prides itself on producing the best for the table. Well, she said something about the officers commenting on her beautiful eyes—and who could say no to a mother?—but smuggling is smuggling, and it’s a miracle we didn’t all die from botulism and (possibly) from all of those hormones that went into making the turkey a Butterball. Stuffing 20 people into our apartment, including American friends who were geographic orphans, plus a few French friends, who were incredulous at the sheer mass of the turkey, is what made this holiday special.

Thinking of turkey in the past I remember one year when a friend, who worked at the American Embassy in Paris, bought a big one for us at the commissary. When I finally decided to go native, we had to buy two French turkeys in order to feed the troops, who’d gathered chez nous, les Américains. That was the year my husband shuttled between our fourth floor apartment to the gardienne’s on the ground floor. Maria was kind enough to let us use her oven and we were undoubtedly the laugh of the building. After all, how often do you see a grown man, wearing an apron, holding a poultry-baster and a thermometer, going up and down in an elevator every 20 minutes?

That year I learned that French turkeys tasted so much better and might even be considered a delicacy, having escaped sitting in freezer containers for months. I also learned that we really didn’t need two turkeys because our friends were thoroughly French and ate less meat. In subsequent years, the meals became very much more French even though it’s easy to buy (practically) everything American in Paris now. Alisa Morov of Sweet Pea Baking & Catering, and a cookbook author, helped clarify why we don’t need super-big turkeys. “People don’t do leftovers here, and most people don’t have the space to store leftovers. Refrigerators and freezers are commonly puny compared to the big American version.”

Actually, it’s hard not to be confronted with American products. Forget McDo’s— hamburgers are an everyday staple on French menus, bagels are easily available and chocolate chip cookies and muffins can be purchased at many Parisian bakeries. Morov added, “When Philadelphia Cream Cheese became a standard at every Monoprix, Franprix and on-line market delivery service, at the same price as Fromage à tartiner— under 2€ for 150grams, my life improved here… the French are no longer eschewing all things American. Oreos are also a regularly stocked item.”

In fact they seem to be chewing them up. Cupcakes are very much in vogue here.  Go figure. It’s a testimonial to the internet and the fact the French appear to be more American than many Americans—yes, they’re gaining weight, too.

But wait: When I cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family, who live in Washington, it has definite traces of French cuisine. Is it a question of mixed identity? Perhaps. But, one thing that’s certain, no matter where I am, there will be some people, who’d otherwise be alone and French wine. After all, loyalty and a sense of togetherness are the most important aspects of this holiday.

Wishing all of our readers a warm Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.


Posted in Around the World |

Sitting out Superstorm Sandy in Paris

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:22 pm -

Okay, Superstorm Sandy is real. No matter where I’ve gone today, everyone has asked whether or not I have friends or family who are affected. Don’t get the idea that I’m being questioned by people who know me because you’d be ever so wrong. The reality is my accent is a sure-fire giveaway that I’m an American in Paris.

What’s happened in the world that people are so incredibly aware of what’s taking place on the East coast of the U.S.? The fact that my family is in Washington, DC clearly makes me more concerned about the weather than if they were elsewhere, but total strangers…?

Surf, surge, with power outages on the way, not to mention the thousands of planes that are grounded. The New York Stock Exchange is closed for the first time since 1985 because of the weather. The U.S. Presidential elections are taking a detour that might change the course of history.

All of this caused me to tell my son to leave his SKYPE on so I’d know he and his family are safe. In reality, they’ll probably lose power, since trees, begging to be cut, surround their house. Their electricity goes down often enough and Pepco, Washington’s utility company always has a helluva time restoring it, but then again their real business is sending out bills. Hunker down, don’t go out and what else would I do if I were in the same city? Nothing.

Realistically, D.C. isn’t going to be as hard hit as many communities. But, I’m at total and full alert. The last time I experienced these feelings was when the twin towers collapsed on 9/11. The world has changed that horrible day and not always for the better.

I remember that Tuesday vividly. It was one of the times I regretted being separated by an ocean from my family. It was an act of terror without warning, completely unlike Hurricane Sandy where there’s been nothing but warning, even though many people won’t be prepared for this huge and menacing storm.

Yes, CNN broadcast as much and as fast as they could and did it well. But it took French stations time catch up. The Internet was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as it is now, and people were dependent on AOL instant messaging and still on dial up modems. There were cell phones, but relatively few friends had them and calling the U.S. via France Telecom took hours and was nearly impossible. Come to think of it, there weren’t any “smart” phones and it was before non-stop texting rather than talking.

Communicating is different now and most people believe it’s for the better.  Television anchors are advising people to update their social networks, and I confess I’m checking my friends’ and family’s Facebook pages. The Bonjour Paris FB page is also being monitored in the event readers want to meet or…. Twitter didn’t exist in 2001 but many people are getting updates and news that way. Come to think of it, some of my friends have gone the no-television route but that doesn’t stop them from streaming news and videos on phones and various electronic readers.

Rather than sitting here fretting and wondering how people are all of the time, I think I’d do better if I took a walk and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Paris. My sitting glued to the computer and the television won’t do anyone a bit of good, and anyway I’ll have my phone. It’s hard to ponder life before we were all so connected, but it will be hard for me to accept life after the print version of Newsweek is no longer. And it’s still better, and I think will always be, to hear the sound of a friends voice rather than a tweet on my phone.

To everyone everywhere, stay safe and be careful. And yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all ride it out in Paris…even though no one should come here for the weather.

© Karen Fawcett


Posted in Around the World |

Getting Sick when Traveling

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:21 pm -

For those of us who live to travel and travel to live getting sick isn’t on the top of our anxiety list. We know what to, and what not to eat—fast food from street vendors— and never to drink out of bottles that seem to have passed through too many hands, and so on. We arm ourselves with the shots the CDC advises and off we go. If we’ve been a place numerous times, we’re sure we’ll be OK.

With this mindset, I headed to Vietnam for the seventh—or was it the eighth?— time. By no means do I consider this exotic travel since I’d been here so many often; I even have a tailor in Hanoi. Or thought, since it had closed in the name of progress. But that’s another story, as was my health.  This has been a wake-up call that even the most experienced travelers shouldn’t be complacent. Had I not assumed I’d never contract an exotic disease, perhaps I would have been more on guard.

Don’t get me wrong. I travel with tiny jars of Purell and other stay healthy accouterments. But, you feel kinda silly acting as if you’re going to get sick when you’re staying in lovely hotels or spending a memorable night on Halon Bay aboard the Emeraude.
Exotissimo Travel had taken care of our ground arrangements and we weren’t roughing it. Anything but—this trip was luxurious. Even though we hiked (well, it was more of a long walk) in Sapa, getting there from Hanoi on the Victoria Express Train could hardly be considered hardship travel. We also spent a night cruising the Mekong delta aboard the “Bassac,” a more than comfortable wooden boat.

Yes, it was a glorious trip. Except for overnight sniffles contracted by my travel partner, Pierre, we didn’t confront any germs that were out to do us in…

We flew back to Washington, DC, before I was scheduled to return to Paris a few days later. All was going according to plan until I started sneezing on the first leg of the flight back to the U.S. and, by the time we arrived at Dulles, my nose was running. Within two days, I had a major fever and was miserable. My return to Paris was postponed so many times that it was either use or lose the ticket. What the hell, I’d prefer to be sick in my real home than where I stay in D.C.

Yes, I was miserable and had contacted a doctor in the District, but was too sick to get out of bed, between the fever and the chills. Besides, my real doctor was in Paris and it was time to get home to her to discover what was really wrong with me.

By this time, and it was nearly a month later, I was sure I was at death’s door, and if I wasn’t, I wanted to be. My life was miserable. Sleeping 20 hours a day seemed normal and I lost any and all balance.

Each time I’d venture out of the apartment, I’d crawl back into it and straight into bed. To give you an idea of how terrible life was, I could no longer hold my arms up long enough to type on my computer. If it hadn’t been for my Blackberry, I would have been incommunicado.

By this time, I had a new career. I saw more doctors in the following six months than I’d seen cumulatively my entire life. Since I felt so crummy and was physically unable to navigate the métro, I learned how expensive Paris is if you take only taxis.

Another thing I experienced was how difficult Paris is for the disabled. Why were so many W.C.’s in the basement? Stairs, that never seems steep before, were impossible. Even though I began to get better, my sense of balance, as well as my memory, was shot to hell. Why wasn’t there a diagnosis? And YES, I’m sure the doctors probably thought I was crazy because, at this point, so did I.

Fast forward: I still felt terrible and as if I’d lost so much motor function that I was certain I’d never travel again. Yes, I was getting better but not good enough. I’d become so adept at surfing medical sites on the Internet, that I was convinced I had at least eight diseases. Even though I am a great proponent of French medicine, perhaps a doctor in the U.S. would be able to solve my health problem.

After returning to DC, I made (more) appointments to see doctors, who prescribed many more tests. I felt as if I’d become a class A hypochondriac. Thank goodness the neurologist decided to take what seemed like a pint of blood. No one was more surprised than I, when she greeted me with the verdict that I’d tested positive for this year’s “hot” virus that’s spread by mosquitoes. So much had been in the U.S. press about the West Nile virusthat’s reached epidemic proportions in the States this past summer. I was vindicated when people who’d heard me complaining read, a journalist’s article about how he’d become a “West Nile zombie.” Finally, a diagnosis and more importantly, I learned there are no drugs that would cure me and it would simply take time.

But hold on. I didn’t contract the virus in the U.S. According to the blood test, not to mention the symptoms, I’d been bitten months before. Why had I been suffering?  My Paris internist simply said the West Nile virus hasn’t come to France and I fell in a hole.

Now that I’ve been diagnosed, I’m encountering numerous others who’ve had West Nile. To think I might have avoided that mosquito’s bite if I’d sprayed insect repellant, whether or not, I thought I needed it.

This falls into the “stuff happens” category. But, happily, this “stuff’ won’t keep me from traveling. But, I’ll certainly be on the look out for mosquitoes no matter where I go, even though I now have an immunity to the West Nile virus. In this case, life (happily) goes on and you’ll see me on the métro.

© Karen Fawcett


Posted in Around the World |

Surviving Long Flights: How to Fly Long Distances and Stay Healthy

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:15 pm -

Paris bound or, for that matter, traveling anywhere? Air travel is rife with health challenges because planes are essentially flying Petri dishes. Even if you’re 100% germ-free, as soon as you board the flight, chances are one of your neighbors isn’t. Don’t forget the myriad (germ) perils involved with getting to the airport, checking in, clearing security and waiting for your flight to take off.

How many people, surfaces, lavatories and germs will you encounter?  If you stop for something to eat or drink while you’re waiting, the people behind the counter may have the sniffles, the tables are invariably unwashed, at least in recent memory. You may sweep everything to the side or dump it into the nearest trash bin. But don’t count on getting the Good Housekeeping’s cleanliness seal of approval. Whatever you do, if you’re having a drink at a bar, don’t help yourself to a handful of pretzels because you have no idea whose hands have been there before you. Or where those hand have been.

Frequent flyers have many tips and tricks for surviving flights where air isn’t constantly being recirculated.  Pick and choose the ones you like and cross your fingers.

Be as rested as possible. That’s easier said than done since most people are making mad dashes to get away from their offices and homes. Yet, if you’re able to pack a day or two before (less is more) and score some extra sleep before your trip, you’ll be at an advantage.

Medicine and other tips. Take extra vitamins. Many people swear by Airborne. Some travelers say that coating their noses with Vaseline helps with the germ factor.

Drink lots of water (steer clear of liquor) and walk around the cabin when you’re not (hopefully) sleeping or taking catnaps.

Flying overnight. Try to book a flight as late as possible to maximize your ability to sleep. Eat something before you board, carry a stash of nuts, granola bars, fruit and whatever knows your stomach and vice versa.  If you can sleep before the meal is served (and let’s face it, missing most airline meals isn’t the end of the world), you’re ahead of the game when it comes to your rest quota.  The more sleep you’re able to score, the better off you’ll be when you arrive at your destination. Many say that setting your watch at the time of your destination is a trick that helps with acclimating to the new time zone. Remember to fasten your seat belt so if there’s turbulence, a flight attendant won’t need to awaken you.

Be your own thermostat. Since some flights are freezing while others aren’t, and some airlines are no longer dispensing blankets, bring clothes so your body remains at a constant temperature.

The joys of fasting. If you’re on a long-haul flight, there’s no need to eat everything that’s placed in front of you and now is not the time to start sampling different types foods that may not agree with you.

A flight attendant added that since they’re discouraged from taking sick days, many of her colleagues work when they should be home in bed. I bet you didn’t think about that.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Washing your hands when you’ve used the lavatories is essential. And that means the handles since they’re touched by everyone. Many travelers pack wipes and a tiny jar of hand sanitizer. Use them. Don’t touch your eyes unless you know your hands are cleaner than clean. So many people contract infections that way. It may look anti-social, unless you’re in Asia, but an increasing number of people are wearing facemasks. Consider one if it’s flu or cold season.

Create your own cocoon. Even though (and most especially, if you’re going on vacation) you may want to party, DON’T.  Pack good quality ear phones, thick eyeshades, an iPod, iPad (or the equivalent) with your favorite music, books or movies, your computer and try not to speak to your neighbors. This may sound anti-social and it doesn’t always work. If there are empty seats (in the same class of service) dry to snag one or more. This isn’t always possible in these days of planes flying at maximum load factor—but you may get lucky.

Fly in the front of the plane. Not everyone can afford First Class or Business Class tickets and even if you have miles galore, don’t bet you’ll get that precious upgrade. If you’re flying with the masses (and let’s face it, most of us do) try to get a seat as far up in the front of the plane as possible where the air is cleaner.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that business people, who fly all the time, tend to be the least demanding. They don’t perceive a flight as something exciting. It’s a means to an end to get to their destination with the minimum of hassle—flight delays and strikes notwithstanding.

Bon voyage.


Posted in Around the World |