Around the World

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:13 am -

My body is in Washington while my mind is… well, trying to figure out where it actually is. There’s no question where my laundry is: transitioning between a suitcase, the washer and dryer, and a closet. Next week, I’ll start packing again for Paris. Have I come full circle or lost my mind for good?

The reality is I’ve traveled nearly halfway around the world since the week before Thanksgiving. Yes, my body is tired, but my mind is spinning while I’m trying to absorb all I’ve seen and learned. This isn’t only about the destinations, but what I’ve realized about who and what I am.

My mantra has always been that travel enriches people’s minds as well as their perspectives. Seeing other cultures can only be a positive. You may not like them or want to live among them… but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll have a more profound understanding of what takes place in the world.

When people used to ask where I live, I wasn’t always certain of the answer. Now I know. It’s Paris. As is the case with many expatriates, when traveling and moving, they lose a sense of being. They call home where they have family. But family moves, dies and life changes, and nothing is forever. People can’t help taking themselves with them, no matter their age, height or weight and how it fluctuates.  If I could sing, I’d belt out a chorus or two of “Anywhere I Hang My Hat is Home,” but that’s the idea—and I think it’s a good one. My most recent home, or home-away, was a ship.

My time spent on the Seabourn Pride cruise was a real eye-opener. The crew and passengers aboard the ship were from many countries. No, I didn’t do a count, but wish I had. The crew was primarily British, Australian, and Irish, with many people from Eastern Europe and a few from South America.

Many of the less-visible employees who made the ship work (in the galleys and those who were responsible for non-stop maintenance) were from the Philippines. The Executive Chef is from India. But he’s been cooking “Continental” for so long that he steers away from curries and spicy food because he no longer has the palate. Talk about finding a new home.

The majority of the passengers were Americans, British, and Australian with a smattering from Turkey, France, Germany and… well, I’m not sure from where. Not only were there cultural differences among the different nationalities, but also there were numerous people from the U.S. who were enigmas to me. I’ve lost touch with “real” Americans and came to the conclusion that the majority of the people with whom I come into contact share a common denominator: an appreciation (or more) of France.

Because the weather on the cruise wasn’t ideal, there were “sea” days when there was no point in rising and shining and racing to the decks for sun and calm seas. I don’t do sun. and even though I did frequent the gym, unfortunately (according to the scales) not enough. I ran up and down the stairs, rather than taking the elevator, hoping I could work off a few calories, but clearly that wasn’t the solution.

This might have been my chance to learn how to play bridge, but I decided not to. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t read enough because I was so busy asking questions and trying to get online. Nor are after-dinner shows my thing. Most of the passengers attended them, but if I did, I only stuck my head in and usually made a fast exit. What happened to my days of being a party girl?

Maybe something different happened. I’m not going to say, or even assume, it’s because I’ve been living abroad for so long, but some things that once were enticing just seem like ways of passing the time, not using it—and not really enjoying it.

On the ship, there were some very interesting things, including incredible lectures about Southeast Asia by Denise Heywood, who clarified so much about the history and culture of the area. But Denise only spoke four times, and I wanted her to be my mentor. One day, I’d love to tour the area with her and a very small group of people who want to learn about this part of the world.  It’s more complex than I had ever imagined and I’m not a newbie to the area.

I learned what I don’t do well. First, not having reliable access to the Internet is a nightmare. I’m an addict and realize that Bonjour Paris is my baby and an extremely demanding one. My computer and I visited numerous cyber cafés on the docks and in places with free Wi-Fi. One night, I even bailed and pulled a near all-nighter at the Four Seasons in Bangkok. If you love Thai food, Spice’s Market is a must-eat restaurant located in the hotel.

As for my spending a night in the city, many people would say, “How crazy is that?”  But, I needed a Skype fix so I could “talk and see” some friends, family and Bonjour Paris contributors.

Please don’t worry, I managed to take the incredible Sky-train, do a wee bit of shopping and visit the flower market, then spend a few hours on a river cruise. It was déjà vu from the times I’ve spent in Bangkok during numerous visits in the past fifteen years. The city is shifting away from the river area to a more urban center. The traffic isn’t any better and even the night market has moved. The seedier parts of Bangkok weren’t a must-see for me because I’ve seen them and—here’s something else I don’t do well—I hate watching young girls being forced to sell their bodies and souls in order to send money home to support their families in the countryside.

Still, if you are a lover of Buddhist temples, you’ll be in heaven, have the chance to meditate and take photos that will make people understand why you’ve chosen to spend time in a city that never sleeps.

Since this was my first cruise, I was fascinated by how the ship worked, people’s motivations for being there and choosing that specific cruise and what they learned in addition to what they saw. Some passengers rarely left the ship and used it as a floating five-star hotel. Others went on every excursion and couldn’t get enough. Some opted to hire private tour guides so they could see what they wanted to see at their own pace rather than having to wait for others.

I generally hopped in a cab (yes, I was subjected to being taken for the scenic ride… or route) even though I knew well enough to have the destination written out in the local language and carried a map with X marks the spot.

I did make it to Washington to celebrate the holidays with my son, his wife and my grandchildren. I’ll spend some time having the girls over for a sleepover or two and tell them all about my travels. To them, I’m the grandparent who lives in Paris but goes to exotic places. For that matter, all of their grandparents do, and I hope they will as well. In the meantime, I can’t wait for them and their parents to come to Paris this summer.

I want them to be part of my home, after all.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Berlin — Getting an overview of this massive German capital

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:26 pm -

Traveling from Paris to Berlin on no-frills Easy Jet Airlines was perfectly fine. The planes were clean, the flight attendants professional. One flight steward even had the courtesy to laugh when someone asked if there were a charge for a glass of water. In his very British accent he replied no, but there was one for coffee. Best of all, the flight was cheaper than cheap and, once in the air, it took only 90 minutes.

We decided to train it to the hotel rather than spend money on a cab. That was possibly a mistake since it was a 15-minute-long walk to the airport station and a subsequent 30-minute wait for the next train, which was the slow train into the central station. No RER that whisks by the outskirts of the city and we immediately spotted the considerable graffiti that’s considered an art form there.

By the time we arrived at The Westin Grand Berlin (thank goodness for Starwood points), we weren’t feeling so perky. But, that wasn’t going to deter us, come hell or high water. Nor was the bone-chilling cold weather that had us wearing so many layers that I felt like Charlie Brown. A friend, who lives there, says there’s a reason the city is called Buuurrrrrlin. And the summers tend to be hot. OK, one doesn’t travel for the weather unless you’re off on a beach vacation and then, you can only hope.

The hotel was very, but very nice, albeit without free WiFi, one of my pet peeves on my hotel list, but I won’t go there. Its location is ideal if you want to get around by public transport. The Welcome Pass is a real bargain for tourists. My friend and I spent hours on the hop-on-and-hop-off City Tour bus and were impressed by how much we were able to see and how comprehensive the narration was and in impeccable English, thanks to earphones.

Our M.O. was to do a complete tour and then decide where we wanted to spend time. Berlin has incredible museums and there’s no way you can see a fraction of them and do them justice. The Jewish Museum consists of three buildings and is more than 3000 square meters in size or about 32,000 square feet.

We were forced to make an executive decision. Were we going to see the city, which is known for being the hip and happening place in the EU, or spend all of our time in a museum or two? We opted for the former, vowing we’d return and do only culture.

Contrasted with Paris, it’s huge and the German capital takes a lot of exploring in addition to a more than superficial knowledge of history. The more we saw of Berlin, the more we realized people can spend weeks sightseeing and only get a glimpse of the city and its many layers. It still has the feeling of an Eastern Bloc city where so much was leveled during WWII. Its architecture is a tribute to those who rebuilt the city after the WWII and after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, when there was another massive wave of construction.

What We Did:

After the city bus tour, we took a boat trip on the Spree. Because it was before the season began, we couldn’t find a barge with English narration. We followed a map noting where we were and drinking hot chocolate laced with rum. It was an eye-opener that there are approximately as many canals in Berlin as there are in Venice.

On the banks, there is nothing but restaurants and even though it was frigid, people were eating outside, bundled in blankets the restaurants supply. If you spy a red or bright yellow fleece blanket with fringe, chances are people have helped themselves.

Residents of Berlin so love the sun they’ll seize every opportunity to sit outside. Rumor has it that there are more convertibles there than in any other European city. This may reflect the fundamentally optimistic nature of Berliners, who concludes that putting down the top means the weather must really be nice and warm and sunny, even if they’re wearing clothes appropriate to hit the ski slopes.

We walked throughout the city, not always precisely certain where we were going. Always a believer in leaving time for serendipity, we explored streets and came to one conclusion: living in Berlin costs substantially less than it does in Paris. That gave me pause and more of an understanding as to why Berlin has become a center for artists and writers. Before going any further, I am NOT moving there for so many reasons including that fewer people speak English and there’s no way I’m ever going to learn another language even if I took total immersion classes. At my age, life is too short.

Photo by http2007 Flickr Creative Common

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What to do and not to do when setting out on a nine-hour-long drive

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:24 pm -

It’s school vacation in France and the time when some families pile into cars and go to ski resorts or to grandmother’s house. For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’re a family of four — two adults and two children. I’ll skip infants, who require diaper changes and more.

Would you stop overnight if the drive were nine hours long?

Most people say no: They’d go for it in one shot. Others claim that breaking up at trip into two days is part of the adventure. Plus, it saves wear and tear on vocal chords and on nerves from requesting the younger set (or driving partner) to behave.

One person said he leaves around 7 p.m. (after rush hour) and he and his partner drive for four hours to a pre-reserved hotel on the highway. Their children generally sleep part of the way and remain asleep after arriving at the hotel. Jean-Luc qualifies that one of their secrets is having their children wear outfits that can double as PJ’s so the need to change clothes is negated. The family stokes up on breakfast the following morning and is at their destination in time for lunch. The hotel room may cost  but Jean-Luc feels it’s worth it.

What to bring on these trips:

• Books for the children

• Electronic gadgets that preferably don’t make noise

• DVD players with ear-phones

• Paper and colored pencils – skip crayons since they can stain upholstery

• Children’s own pillows and blankets

• Food and drinks:  some people are adamant children are allowed only to drink water inside of the car.  Others are more liberal regarding what’s consumed.

• Granola bars, fruit and bags of potato chips are up for discussion. Some drivers allowed them to be eaten in the car, while others insist they’re eater at rest stops.

What to do:

Stop every two hours to stretch, use rest rooms, avoid fatigues and factor in a few minutes to breathe. If the children are young, it’s a plus if there’s a playground at the rest stop.

Some people say children should not be stuck in the back seat but the passengers should rotate places.  It may be a chance to have some quality time with your seat partner.

Have pre-set games such as spot the red Ferrari.

Must haves:

• Tissues

• Trash bags

• Hand wipes

• Socks

E.A., a UK resident wrote:

“I don’t have children, so I have no idea of what it is like traveling with children in the back, I can imagine it must be a nightmare.”

Absolutely Don’ts in my car:

No smoking
No food or any drinks at any time. (exception bottled water only to be consumed outside the vehicle at a pre-scheduled stop).
No sat navs or any devices that will leave marks on the windscreen, be a distraction, cause unnecessary light pollution or any cables cluttering the interior.
No mobile phones (only allowed it securely switched off)
No clutter
No muddy shoes

Things to have in my car:
Enough petrol in the tank
First aid kit
Warning triangle
Hi-visibility vest
Spare bulbs and spare fuses.
Tools to change a wheel
Battery starter cables
Torch (flashlight)
Glass cleaner, quick detailer and microfibre cloths to keep windscreen, windows and headlight clear.
Plastic bag to put any rubbish

If traveling to Europe:
passport, international driving license, insurance certificate with European coverage and road assistance.

In Winter:
Snow boots

The above is an extensive list.  Clearly, there are many things that aren’t  included that would make your drive easier. Please feel free to add items and ideas, which have been omitted. I know I’d need a GPS system to help me get to my destination. Not that the directions are always right or the shortest distance between two places. But, that’s another article.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Egyptian tourist sites to reopen next week — but will you go?

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:23 pm -

The newly appointed Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Affairs  Zahi Hawass, has announced that Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern sites will reopen on  Sunday, February 20th. This is considered one of the more important steps in bringing the country back to normal and getting the economic engine running.

Egypt’s economy has been greatly impacted by the halt in tourism due to the country’s civil unrest that included 18 days of protests and ultimately, the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Zahi Hawass says he hopes tourists from around the world will return, in spite of the fact the many of Egypt’s antiquities were damaged or looted during the upheaval. After a break-in at the nation’s Egyptian Museum in Cairo, 18 artifacts are missing. However, many of the museum’s major masterpieces, such as the Golden Mask of Tutankhamun were unharmed.

There has been substantial damage and looting from other historical sites including the tomb of Hetep-Ka, in Saqqar and also in Abusir, where a portion of a false door was stolen from the tomb of Re-Hotep. The full extent of the damage is still unknown. But, undoubtedly there’s been extensive destruction done; including to some royal pyramids and burial sites.

It’s hoped  many of the artifacts will be returned since they cannot be sold on the open market. Extensive restoration will be necessary for the  many pieces that were vandalized.

The real question is if whether or not you would feel safe traveling to a country where there was violence, mass demonstrations and a change of government (not yet formalized) so recently?

What are government officials going to need to do make you feel confident enough to book a ticket to Egypt? Without a doubt, there will be some real travel bargains. But, will they be enough?

Some people will go because they love Egypt and feel a sense of solidarity.  But, will you be one of them?

Photo: wilhelmja, Flickr creative commons

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What you should do if you are in or traveling to Egypt

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:22 pm -

The current political situation in Egypt is going to have an impact on tourism as well as travel. U.S. carriers have already ceased flights to Cairo and other parts of the country.

Tourists in Cairo are being advised to remain in their hotels and not get involved in the demonstrations. Stay away from the U.S. Embassy since it’s situated where many of the protests are taking place. The American government announced this morning it will arrange flights to Europe for U.S. citizens who are currently in Egypt.

Communications are difficult. Government officials have banned internet usage, cell phone coverage is uneven and frequently does not operate. Ironically, much of the news that’s being dispersed has been via social media, especially Twitter.

If friends and relatives are there, contact their tours operators and employers and see what information they’re able to convey to you and to people there.

Many government Foreign Affairs Ministries have  facilities for travelers to all foreign destinations, including Egypt  where they can and should register  their contact details. This is essential in the  event travelers need to be evacuated from Egypt.

If you plan or need to go to Egypt right now, be sure you’re covered by  appropriate travel insurance.

The situation in Egypt is fluid. Keep yourself updated on the political situation as often as possible during these uncertain times. Don’t  travel to Egypt unless it’s essential. Even though areas of Egypt are safe, other regions should be avoided. Egypt a not a no-go zone but this may not be the time to head for a beach vacation.

Most important, let’s hope this civil and political unrest is resolved quickly and does not spread to other areas of the middle-East.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City — call it what you want but it’s not what you remember

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:21 pm -

I was in Saigon just twelve months ago and now I’m back. Based on my visit , you’d think my previous trip had been a decade before. My, how a city changes when the powers in charge decide to allow people the freedom to be capitalists. Granted, Vietnam may have a Communist government but the population is definitely out to make money.

While  I was living the life of luxury aboard a Seabourn Cruise, I couldn’t wait to jump ship and spend some time on land. We were docked within ten minutes of the center of town and if you negotiated the fare before hopping into the taxi, you could be in the center of town within a matter of minutes and for less than two U.S. dollars.

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 the region, it becomes increasing evident I’ve only scratched the surface. Perhaps I inherited my love of the orient from my great-grandfather who lived in Shanghai and started the China Export Company.

All places change. But, Asia is changing at a full gallop. If you blink, there will be a new building. Saigon was a real shocker. A new building is scheduled to open in a couple of months with a heliport. It will be 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 open stores in a city, that’s an indication Vietnam has become consumer and brand conscious, and they are buying. Passengers on the ship were transported in Mercedes vans on excursions and there’s a newly opened Mercedes dealership.

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 minimal 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 can never spend enough time in Vietnam but I wonder whether or not I’m the only person who suffers from acute culture shock after every visit. Is there such a think as too much progress too fast? I guess only time will tell. For me, the change in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, from one year to the next was positively jarring.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about what might be too much change.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 reasons you may decide not to board a plane

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:20 pm -

You’re at the airport and ticketed. You’ve gone through security and your flight has been announced. What could cause you not to board or to bail?

Some people call it intuition. Other travelers state they don’t like how others passengers look or appear. There are myriad motives. But, they may not be ones you think.

Ten reasons:

1 – Change of equipment: You expected a larger plane only to find that older and smaller equipment had been substituted. Some people are leery of prop planes rather than jets.

2 – Weather you perceive as threatening even though the flight was departing.

3 – Boarding the plane, feeling sick and not wanting to proceed with the trip.

4 –Discovering the plane had originated from a country where there had been an outbreak of  a communicable disease.

5 – Some people have bailed from budget planes that looked as if they hadn’t been well maintained. This is especially true during inclement weather.

6 – One person boarded a flight to be greeted by other passengers, who were intoxicated and decided not to proceed. The take-off was delayed since the airline had to unload her luggage. She didn’t care in spite of being chastised by airline personnel.

7 – Believing the flight might not be safe. One person reported passengers had been deplaned because there were technical and engine problems that included overheating. After the third false start, he decided to cancel and booked another flight. The plane took off without him.

8 – Being alerted of sudden illness at home that necessitated not traveling. Or, being seated next to a sick passenger and not being change seats?

9 – Seeing the pilot and perceiving he or she might have been drinking and/or was not in condition to be in charge of your life and/or well-being.

10 – One person reported he deplaned when there was an announcement that the majority of the WC’s on the plane weren’t operative and there was a shortage of water. He attributed it to shoddy maintenance.

I’d want to avoid a long-haul flight where the caterer was unable to stock any food or drinks. I suspect I’m not alone.

Please add any and all reasons you’d decide not to take a specific flight. The above ones must be the tip if the iceberg. And, how would a $150 or $250 change fee affect your actions?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How do you decide on a major trip? Do you call a travel agent or go at it on your own?

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:17 pm -

As a supposed travel expert, I was stumped when it came to planning my most recent trip. Talk France and I’m fine. But this was something else.

Ms. Get Up & Go was embarking on a new adventure. Had it simply involved only hotels, I might have bitten the bullet and done it myself. But, we were taking to the seas and cruises aren’t my thing – or so I didn’t think. Perhaps I’d grown up watching too many episodes of the television series, “The Love Boat.”

This trip entailed traveling with a very dear older friend who has some mobility issues. There was no way we were going to be climbing aboard camels or surveying the countryside in hot air balloons. Since adventure travel was out so, we decided to take a cruise, but were overwhelmed by the choices. I’d read about  The Royal Caribbean’s biggest new ship, The Allure of the Seas, that accommodates 5,400 passengers, and immediately nixed it. No matter what it offered, I’d spend the entire trip trying to find the cabin.

I surfed the cruise sites and to be honest, I became increasingly confused. It’s hard to read between the lines, the print and the copywriters’ accolades.  What is included in the fare was the least of my concerns because I expected to be nickeled and dimed in today’s travel environment. To complicate matters, I kept reading about all of the deep-discounted cruises and started wondering. How could you live for less on a ship than if you never left home?

The idea of fighting over where and where to eat dinner plus deck chairs isn’t my cup of tea. Before we decided on the cruise line, I already had the feeling, “Stop this boat, I want to get off.”

Having come to the conclusion that people shouldn’t take out their own appendix, it was time to consult someone who knew the ins and outs of cruise vacations and could negotiate the best price — plus get us to our destination and back — which might have been a challenge during this past December’s weather nightmares. Not to mention, we were flying during the time when North Korea was flexing its military muscles.

“Hello Susan,” at Imperial American Express Travel Services. We were quickly labeled her “PITAs” (pain in the derrière clients) because of the number of emails generated. Rather — I. We had to give her some criteria. Toby (my friend) and I were pretty flexible. We could go anywhere as long as it would be an experience. Our dates weren’t set in stone. Nor were the number of days we wanted to be aboard.

Ultimately, we opted  for South-East Asia since we both love that part of the world and had traveled there twice together. We wanted to return there before it becomes the world of Buddhist and Hindu temples and casinos.

But which ship? It couldn’t be too big because we didn’t want to have to board tenders to get into ports. We didn’t want to be on a cruise with lots of children, or one that required dressing in our finest for dinner each night. Two single women can present a challenge. On the plus side, splitting the cost of a cabin helps when you’re signing up and on for an expensive cruise.

A main selling point of cruises is you don’t have to get up and go each and every second. Nor do you have to pack and unpack each day. If you’re tired and need to relax, it may be precisely what the doctor ordered.

I was in Washington, DC, and Toby was in NY. Since we wanted to fly half way around the world together, we met at Kennedy and flew to Seoul on Asiana Airlines before heading to Hong Kong, where we boarded The Seabourn Pride. If you’re a cruise aficionado, this is among the  ”best” of the small cruise ships. Crew members know your name the minute you board (O.K., they have cheat sheets with your photos – but still) and immediately make you feel as if you’re part of the Seabourn family.

How they’re able to turn around a ship in a matter of hours and start the performance again, where they make the newly boarded guests feel as if they’re “old friends,” will remain a mystery to me. To be truthful, names are my downfall even though I remember faces.

The ship holds just over 200 passengers and is small enough to anchor places larger vessels can’t. Sound good? It was.

In addition, everything, with the exception of land excursions, the spa, beauty appointments and some especially expensive wines, (including tips) is included in the price. As a result, there aren’t any nasty surprises and major credit card bills when disembarking.

Are there negatives? Hate to sound like a complainer, but the answer is yes. One is when a ship isn’t able to dock near a destination, which might be on your “to see” list. This was the case when we made our first stop in Vietnam. There was a land excursion to Hanoi but there was no way it was worth the effort to get there and back and see anything, since we were in port for only one day. We opted out of spending eight hours in a van to be able to see the city for only a few hours. Off I went to a nearby beach area where I located a cyber-cafe and some sea pearls.

Not only do I love Hanoi’s architecture but its history is so rich that if I hadn’t spent five days there last year, I would have been one unhappy camper if I’d only been there for a fast and easy tour.

After doing some research, I realized it would have been substantially less expensive if we’d booked a local tour company, and specifically designed trips that pleased us and hadn’t been subjected to waiting for others or had to endure “shopping opportunities.”  I’ve taken enough tours in developing countries that I’ve learned that when you stop at a workshop where the guide steers you, more than the vendor has his or her hand out. If I go with a native, I have the driver/guide negotiate with the proviso we split the savings.

Cruising on a first rate ship offers so many advantages and I spent a lot of time polling the other passengers about their criteria when booking cruises. I was amazed by the answers that varied from soup to nuts. Some people are company-loyal while others go according to the destination. Other people choose a ship because of the food, wine and selection of liquor and are cruising to cruise and the hell with the destination.

By the end of the two-week cruise, I felt as if I could write an article about the different cruise lines, what they offer and not, why someone prefers one over another and more. And I discovered an amazing new fact — some people never leave the ship.

As one passenger said, “You must be a journalist or doing a market study for a competitive cruise company.” I’ll admit to the former. Since my return, I’ve been looking at cruise brochures and have come to the conclusion some trips are for me while others definitely aren’t.

The main thing is I learned was a lot about myself and that there are some topics that one should not to be discussed. In addition, by no means, does everyone like France. Let’s not go there. It’s not good for my blood pressure.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Singapore – an island unto itself

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:16 pm -

Welcome to Singapore. If you’re looking for dirty, don’t come here. If you’re looking for old world charm, it’s hard to find. The Republic of Singapore’s is a 710 square-mile-area that’s situated between Malaysia and Indonesia. This is the heart of Southeast Asia and the area has become a major center for commerce, shipping, electronics and more.

It’s a shop until you drop capital;  it would be hard to count all of the air-conditioned complexes where you can buy something from every designer who’s ever made a fashion statement.

It has excellent hospitals and medical facilities. People from this part of the world come to Singapore for serious medical problems. People from all over gravitate here for cosmetic surgery and anything you might like to have a wee bit refined. Medical tourism has become big business and many first-rate people in the medical field have set up shop here.

The subway system is pristine and you don’t need to surface and be confronted by what’s generally hot and humid weather.

But, will you be able to chew gum? Not on you life unless it’s for medicinal purposes and a doctor has authorized it. If you’re a smoker who’s arriving from another country, be forewarned: In January 1991, Singapore withdrew duty-free privileges on any and all tobacco products. People do smoke but certainly not in any closed environment. And you’d better be sure not to leave trash (including cigarette butts) for others to see.

But, don’t dispair if you’re a gambler and love glitz. That hasn’t been outlawed. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel opened this year and includes 2,560 rooms. You can choose from 18 different room types and 230 luxury suites. It’s worth a look since it’s the most expensive complex of this type to constructed until now and makes a definite splash on the landscape. It’s been a magnet for many Chinese who like to gamble. If they or others win (or lose), there’s no problem spending their bounty in any one of the omni-present designer stores and boutiques that are in shopping centers throughout the area. For British expats, there’s even a Marks & Spencer.

For old world charm, run don’t walk to Raffles. The hotel is an institution in itself (Singapore Sling anyone?) but there’s serious talk of closing it in order to do a massive renovation. One person commented it’s in need of a facelift.

I happen to like The Four Seasons. It’s elegant without being pretentious and has a wonderful collection of Asian art. Lunch there was an out and out feast. As is the case with many hotels in this part of the world, buffets are extremely popular. I just wonder how these young skinny women manage to eat as much as they do. And why don’t they get fat after eating their second dinner plate filled with so many sweets that it could cause some people to go into a diabetic coma? And people say French women don’t get fat!

I was hoping to buy an IPad. Forget it. They cost essentially the same as they do the U.S. and why be in the position of having to pay duty? There are electronics galore but you need to know precisely what you’re looking for and go for it.

Other highlights of Singapore: Universal Studios has opened a theme park and more. It’s jettisoned the area into more of a family destination. I didn’t have the time to visit but would be interested in hearing if you have and your impressions. Nor did I see the zoo this time. Did I miss a must-see?

Am I right in assuming that Singapore may be the cleanest high density area in the world with one of the world’s best infrastructures? Even when driving to the airport, there’s no sign of any slums.  The taxis are clean and I didn’t have the feeling I was being taken for a ride.  Someone told me it’s illegal to pick up a dollar off the sidewalk and pocket it. Instead, you’re duty-bound to take it to a police station’s lost & found or you could be fined. So much for finding a good-luck penny and keeping it.

My visit was short – but if I come back , what should I see and do?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

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 |
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