Pooches, Cats, You and Me

Written by admin on July 13, 2006 – 4:13 pm -

It’s been an ongoing battle about how to bring your canine and feline “children” into the EU and not have to have them sit in quarantine because they haven’t been guaranteed 100% rabies free.

The Brits have been the strictest of all, so much so that Liz Taylor and Richard Burton (husband #five and six – out of eight) were forced to charter a yacht so their beloved, much spoiled dogs wouldn’t be separated from their masters, while the tempestuous duo was filming in the Queen’s territory.

The laws have changed over the years. The definitive site for now is: www.Defra.gov.uk, which lists the strictest rules, so there is less chance for oversight on your part, hence, problems.

Be sure to keep checking here frequently, since laws and regulations constantly change and you don’t want to get stuck leaving animal family member(s) behind – - something that recurrently happens  when people are transferred from one country to another.   Defra addresses the regulations regarding all types of animals, as well as produce.

To make it short and sweet, the following is required so your four legged critters can have their own EU marine blue passports complete with the circle of tiny yellow stars!

All animals must have readable micro-chips implanted in the neck area to verify that you’re not trying to bring a stray into the EU with phony papers. These chips are also a good idea in any case your animal should wander. When/ if they are found, the animals can be scanned and vets can access precise identification regarding the owner.

Rabies shots are mandatory; six weeks after they are administered, animals are required to undergo a blood test (just a prick of the paw) affirming the vaccine was potent enough to take. You’d be surprised how many animals flunk this test and have to start again from the get-go. Until the blood test comes back clear and clean, documenting the animal is rabies-free, your animal won’t be permitted to enter the EU.

Make certain you don’t miss any shots. If you do, the previous vet visits and dollars/ Euros (and other currencies) you’ve gone through to get your sweet creature EU ready will be for naught.  Only a few labs have the monopolies to do the blood analysis, so expect the investment to be considerable.

Within ten days of leaving one country for another, the animal must be examined by a local veterinarian and given a clean bill of health. Remember to do this coming and going. If you forget to go through the same routine on the return voyage, you’ll be required to wait until a vet in that country can perform a health examination.  This may take days and cause avoidable frustration.

Some people don’t mind sending animal to kennels – or camp.   I happen to be one who does and, since I plan to be away for more than a month, wouldn’t want to miss my cat’s creature companionship. Our Kitty has just made her maiden transatlantic voyage for which we were charged 90 Euros each way. I’m lobbying she should have her own frequent flyer number but suspect I’m going to lose out on that battle.  I might not have brought her with me to the US had she not been able to ride in the cabin. Kitty (or Voila – as she was named by a dear friend — since her appearance was unexpected and unwelcome) didn’t make a peep.

No one was aware she was onboard. She didn’t even request a drink (but I requested ice chips for her to curb any dehydration), which is more than I can say about some of the passengers who were feeling no pain. – much to the chagrin of the flight staff who were threatening to turn the plane around since two people were drinking booze they had brought on the plane and ultimately had to be restrained.  Drinking liquor that hasn’t been purchased from the flight attendants is highly illegal and these two men (who might have been undergoing alcohol and/or drug detox) were met upon arrival by a dozen police and airline officials.

I suspect they didn’t make it through customs. But, Kitty had zero problems and is now learning there’s a world outside of France. For a while that is ….

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Posted in Around the World |

Travel Insurance – No Wonder It's a Mystery

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:27 pm -

Do you worry  about travel insurance and its intricacies?  People want to know about the following:  trip cancellation coverage (for myriad reasons), what if they become sick while traveling, repatriation insurance (you can’t blame someone for wanting to be home if struck by a major illness) and/or insurance coverage if they’re too ill to be transported home. These questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

If you think there are easy answers, try Googling “trip insurance.” You’ll be amazed by the number (more than 50,000) of Internet Sites that pop up. Some policies are clearly better than others — it’s a question of defining your specific needs.

If you’re a road warrior, it’s probable your employer has a blanket insurance policy. If not, before signing the contract, stipulate that you require it in your benefits’ package. Travel insurance is not a perk; rather, it’s a necessity; read the fine print. You don’t want to be stuck in a country where the medical facilities are less than optimal only to find out you’re not covered for any and all situations. Giving your all for your job is one thing; dying is another.

If travelers become sick – and I don’t mean a cold — will the policy: pay for hospital costs abroad; transport for a family member to be with them; upgrade patients from tourist class to business class, if indicated, once they’ve recuperated and are well enough to return home? One friend recently broke his leg while vacationing in New Zealand and was required to have immediate surgery then and there. The insurance policy not only paid for an airline upgrade, but for a nurse to accompany his wife and him back to the U.S.  The company took care of all of the arrangements and the nurse ran interference at airports, insuring wheelchairs and porters were on hand to expedite the New Zealand – Washington, DC voyage.  When someone is in medical extremis, it shouldn’t be expected that the person or the family can anticipate all of the factors entailed in such a trip.
The insurance was expensive but cost nothing compared to what AIG (American International Group) had to fork over to get the patient home. In addition, it paid for their having to prolong a trip that certainly didn’t end up as a vacation.

If doctors in your country of residence, as well as the country you are visiting, all agree you’re too sick to be moved and the operation must to be done ASAP, will the insurance policy cover the cost of the surgery without your being out-of-pocket until you do the paperwork?  If you’re in a place where medical facilities aren’t adequate, can you be jetted to the closest first-rate medical center?  If you’re forced to miss work, will you receive any compensation?

Some issues to consider before enrolling (and we cannot stress enough, again: read the fine print!):

  • Do you need trip insurance for one trip or for multiple ones?  Your answer to this will dictate what type of policy is needed.
  • Are you traveling as an individual or as a family?
  • Do you need trip insurance if you get sick before the trip; or if a member of your family (such as a parent) falls ill or whose physical situation deteriorates?
  • If you’re over a certain age (75 is usually the cut-off), travel insurance will cost substantially more and undoubtedly will require a physical exam. Pre-existing conditions may be excluded. You’ll find you’re paying a lot of money in the event you break your leg. Buyer beware.
  • Will you be in a country for more than a month and require quasi-expat insurance?  Will the insurance company pay for translation service and/or send you abroad with a medical dossier?
  • Are you insured for evacuation in the event of a terrorist threat?
  • Under what conditions, will and won’t a medical jet land in specific countries?

Where and how to find insurance:

Check with your credit card company(ies) and see what’s included if you buy a plane ticket using a specific card.  For example, Starwood Platinum American Express charges those who have enrolled in its insurance program a fee that covers insurance situations and pays a hefty premium in the event of death.  This holds true when renting a car.

Study your existing medical policy and see what it includes (and does not include) if you’re out of the country. Ditto for your car insurance coverage.

Credit cards offer myriad premiums –it’s worth a call to the issuing company; and, yes, again, read the fine print on the flyers that many people toss in the trash which accompany newly issued pieces of plastic.

If you’re reserving via a booking service or travel agency, many offer cancellation policies and/or trip insurance.  It’s another way of generating income and, if needed, is a blessing.

Three recommended insurance sites are:
Med Jet Assist

I keep a Med Jet Assist policy going at all times. I hope I’ll never have to make use of it. But it’s cheap considering the peace of mind it creates.

Posted in Around the World |

Let’s Do Breakfast!

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:16 pm -

Power breakfasts have been around for a long time in the US. But in France, they’re a relatively new phenomenon which is growing as people are trying to fit more into the workday. Even very elegant breakfasts take less time and cost less than lunch in a comparable restaurant. For one, there’s (usually) no booze. Plus, this is a stellar way for women alone to entertain and/or conduct business. It’s hard to “get in trouble” after breakfast unless it’s the beginning of a romantic day!

When extremely senior French business executives and clients used to meet, more than likely they’d opt for lavish lunches.  Those were the days when people felt they had three hours to sit and savor sumptuous meals accompanied by panache of wines and possibly a digestif. You’ll still see plenty of over-the-top business lunches in Paris’s very best restaurants. But that’s usually when people are into negotiating the final intricacies of a contract or sealing a deal. And even though wine consumption is dramatically down in France, working after extended lunches presents its own challenges.

Now, classy breakfasts are becoming more accepted in the world of Paris “let’s do” business. An executive confided that breakfast is a more expedient way of deciding whether or not there’s business to be done. Gerard said, “Drinks after work may be tricky – most especially if the person isn’t from Paris. At a certain hour, it may be problematic if you have to invite the person to dinner. You may want to if you smell potential business. But if you have other plans, it’s awkward.”

So for “impress you – impress me” breakfasts, here are a few suggestions:

Please note: all of the dining rooms have enough space between tables so if you want to do something “vulgar such as discussing money,” you can do it in privacy.  You’re paying not only for the breakfasts but for the ambiance and the training of the waiters in discretion.

Plan on paying approximately 35 Euros (for a continental breakfast) or more (40-50 Euros) if your guests eat a full American breakfast.  Naturally, you can opt for a champagne breakfast (a specialty at the Ritz) but there goes the budget.  Prices vary from one place to another but factor in that you won’t have to pay two Euros for the International Herald Tribune and more than likely, there are complementary issues of the Financial Times.

Hotel De Crillon: Les Ambassadeurs’ refined cuisine is prepared by one of greatest chefs in France, Jean-Francoise Piège. The dining room is nothing less than palatial; a mini-Versailles with a lighter touch. Round tables facilitate conversations and there’s nothing wrong in contemplating a business proposition with a view of the Concorde and the Assemblée Nationale

The Hotel Plaza Athénée pays special homage to breakfast.  Its pastry team, headed by the ‘2005 World Pastry Champion’ Chef Christophe Michalak,   prepares homemade pastries such as the Kugelhopf and sugar tarts to accompany coffee, tea or hot chocolate. As is true in all of the palace hotel/restaurants, you can opt for a continental breakfast or an American one which includes items such as eggs and more.

The Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris is another grand hotel that makes a statement. No one can help but be impressed by any meal here and breakfast is no exception. The hotel’s flowers are some of the most beautiful in the world and have set a new standard in floral arrangements. Le Cinq (a 3* Michelin restaurant) is clearly another room that shimmers as if you’re in a palace. Steps away from the Champs-Elysées, it’s conveniently located for business (or pleasure)http://www.fourseasons.com/paris/

Walk into the Hotel Meurice from the Rue Rivoli and you’ll know you’re in Paris as you overlook the Tuileries Gardens and have a glimpse of the Ferris wheel.  Besides being one of the most elegant dining rooms in the City of Light, the breakfast is as memorable as the décor. Be prepared to be pampered and given enough space to do business in privacy.

Meet me at the Ritz has a certain je ne sais pas quoi. The Espadon Restaurant has entertained the crème de la crème and them some. Sitting under the trompe l’oeil ceiling of this dramatic dining room can make anyone feel powerful or for that matter, glamorous.  This may be the right ambience for discussing a make or break deal – or a potential romance.  If it’s not a go, you can walk around the Place Vendome for added inspiration.

Hotel Le Bristol, most especially the winter dining room, reeks power.
Located on the Rue Faubourg St-Honoré, a stone’s throw from the Elysée Palace (the President’s home), don’t be surprised if you see politicians and high flying business types immersed in heavy conversation. Some hotel guests are such regulars that the hotel’s operators act as their personal assistants tracking the regulars’ comings and goings.

The Hilton Arc de Triomphe Paris is the newcomer on the scene. Many business people and others stay here. Just a short walk from the Champs Elysées, it’s a convenient stop for people who want to be sure they’ll have access to business services and be in a central part of the city. The Safran restaurant offers a breakfast where you’ll spot diners from all countries reviewing papers while (rather, if) they’re eating Eggs Benedict. The hotel has extensive conference facilities so if you’re meeting bound.

If you’re looking for a less formal meeting place, consider the Les Orchidées at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. It’s an open space lounge located in the center of the hotel. The décor is modern and the room is spacious with seating areas composed of sofas and chairs covered in sumptuous custom designed silk and cotton chenille fabrics.  It’s a good place for an exploratory business rendezvous.  If you’re a lover of modern design, this may well be the hotel for you.

If you want to experience a Parisian institution, all you need to do is walk into the lobby of the Hotel Raphael that was built in 1925. It has been a favorite among the French who appreciate the tradition of this family owned hotel; something that’s rare in these days of chain hotels. The dining room is very elegant and the food is considered comme il faut. Expect to see many regulars since some people eat there each week day – and have been doing so for years.

So what do others do who aren’t indulging in “power breakfasts”? Before heading to work, many grab a café at the bar next to their offices for a last minute caffeine fix. More likely than not, they’ll stand at the bar. The morning routine is pretty much the same. They walk into the bar, shake hands with the person manning it, a coffee is placed in front of him or her and money is left on the counter. They might eat a croissant or a tartine (a piece of baguette with a smear of butter but rarely anything else.

The money is rung up by the person manning the cash register. More likely than not, it’s a woman.  This certainly isn’t conducive to conversation about anything meaningful and frequently, you get a tobacco fix (whether you’re smoking or not) since many offices have the non-smoking mandate. And off they go to work.

Posted in Around the World |

The Art of Packing Light

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:05 pm -

One of the most frequent questions Bonjour Paris readers pose is what they should pack when traveling. There are no hard and fast rules except that less is better. And that takes substantially more planning. If you’re able to survive with a carry-on suitcase, (and do check the airline’s specific regulations), traveling is, hands down, easier. Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Your baggage is lost;
  2. Air-handlers are on strike;
  3. You have a tight connection;
  4. It’s impossible to get a porter or even a chariot (cart);
  5. Hopping on and off trains is much easier if you’re not overburdened;
  6. Hearing the conductor announce that when you stop you have only two minutes to disembark, can strike fear in a loaded-down travelers’ heart. It can look like a Marx Brothers’ replay as passengers toss suitcases from the train onto the quai in a race against time.

In order to be efficient, you need to plan ahead:

If you’re Paris-bound, don’t count on the weather. With the exception of summer months, pack a set of silk underwear that can be worn under everything. It takes no space in suitcases, and is often a blessing when the chill factor sets in.

Assemble a “mix and match” wardrobe. Each item should coordinate with the others, to be dressed up and down. Squelch the urge to pack a knockout dress that can only be worn once.

Select clothes you know and love and ones that don’t wrinkle. Although you can always borrow an iron (or have items pressed), there are so many “travel-perfect” clothes being manufactured these days. If you’re a frequent traveler, they’re worth the investment.  Bonjour Paris highly recommends the clothes offered from Magellan.

Color coordination is essential. For women, it means wearing the same shade of clothes with a few accents. I’m always comfortable in black or beige. A city wardrobe can consist of two skirts or dressy pants, a pair of casual pants, a jacket to be worn with all of the above, and three shirts or sweaters which can be made to look dressy with different costume jewelry or patterned silk scarves.

I always wear a colored shawl over the coat that I wear on the plane.

Pack a small fold-up umbrella. More than likely, it will come in handy.

Men are less “packing challenged.” If they’re traveling on business, one dark suit is invariably enough. Add a navy blazer, a pair or two of gray pants, three dress shirts, plus a couple of casual ones, and call it a day.

When it comes to shoes, it’s not a good idea to buy new ones unless you’ve had sufficient time to break them in. There’s nothing more miserable than not being able to walk.  Bring a maximum of three pairs: a pair of casual ones, good walking shoes and a dressy pair for evenings.  Wear the heaviest ones on the plane.

Many people pack more underwear than they’ll ever need. Bring three pairs of light ones that dry quickly. You can wash them and hang them in your bathroom overnight. You don’t need to sport detergent. The hotel bath gels do the job. Ditto when it comes to nightgowns, robes and pajamas. If you’re staying in hotels, check to see whether or not they offer robes.

Another suggestion:  Invest in a selection of different colored plastic bags. Pack your “essentials” here.  They can be squeezed into a suitcase and identified at a moment’s notice. If you’re running short, use every-day plastic kitchen bags as a supplement.

Not having to grope for socks and/or stockings, underwear, ties or scarves, medications, bathroom amenities, etc., facilitates unpacking and makes life more orderly.

The choice of a suitcase is another consideration. Hard-sided ones with rollers have been extremely popular. But they’re not as flexible and weigh more before placing an item inside them. Recently a new variety of duffle bags with rollers has come out, and they are definitely worth a look-see.  They are more pliable when it comes to fitting into an airline’s overhead bin.  But do clothes end up more wrinkled?

Some people swear rolling clothes is the way to go. Others, most especially men, swear that method spells disaster.  You might want to include a (light) travel iron in your suitcase to be on the safe side.

For serious packers, pack two days before your departure and resist the urge to stuff anything more in the suitcase.  That’s the real challenge!

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Posted in Around the World |

London Bound and Living the Life of Luxe!

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:03 pm -

In spite of being president of a website about France, it would be a lie if I said there weren’t times I have a hankering to hear English being spoken all around me. Not that I necessarily understand the “Queen’s” English but not everyone’s perfect. It’s nice to go to the theater and take a walk in Hyde Park, hit Fortnum and Mason, visit the “old Tate,” the British Museum and wander in and out of the Mews that evoke twinges of nostalgia for Boston.

Last weekend, I climbed aboard the Eurostar between the two cities. Passengers need to remember to bring passports since they’re traveling across two countries’ borders. This feels somewhat strange since the train ride takes only 2 hours and 40 minutes. But as the train races along, you’ll see definite changes in scenery within France and once you cross through the “Chunnel.”   Looking out the window gives an abbreviated bird’s eye view of how different the neighboring countries are when it comes to housing, agriculture and scenery.

The trip will be 20 minutes less when the new UK terminal opens in 2007. To buy a ticket, access:  Rail Europe There are so many options when it comes to tickets (the same as planes) but if you choose to spoil yourself and travel business-premier, you’ll be served a full meal at your seat. You can even specify the menu in advance if you have special dietary needs or preferences. If you’re holding a rail pass, you can travel throughout the EU for a fraction of what it costs were you buying individual tickets.

Arriving in London always comprises an element of culture shock. Climbing into the ever so British traditionally black (or sometimes, covered by ads) cabs, that are being modified to conform to EU emission standards, makes visitors realize that life in London isn’t cheap unless they use public transport. All taxis accept credit cards as if the drivers are accustomed to hearing people gasp at the last click of the meter. And if you don’t immediately adopt the habit of looking in both directions of the road, you could be dead before you arrive at the hotel to check-in.

But one doesn’t pull up to the ever so elegant The Dorchester trailing luggage behind you. Guests have to make the right appearance since this is one of London’s extremely elegant palace hotels. It’s the type of place people gravitate if they’re doing big-bang deals or want to see and be seen.

The rooms (with the exception of the top floor where the bigger-than-life roof deck suites are situated) have been redone with taste and elegance. Some of the public areas are still in the process of being renovated. But the work is slated to be finished by the end of the year.

Renovation is quietly taking place and the Dorchester will have a new super-ritzy spa in addition to a new bar and a tres chic store within the complex. In the meantime, guests luxuriate in the lobby where breakfast is served (the smoked salmon is some of the best ever and a relative bargain at 13 pounds) to high tea and cocktails.  The atrium/lobby (with its comfortable banquette seating) attracts people from all over the world in addition to neighbors who wouldn’t let a day go by, when they’re in Mayfair, without stopping by for a cup of tea or one thing or another. During breakfast, I sat next to a woman who religiously comes to the Dorchester for her breakfast kippers once a week.

The Grill dining room has been renovated. It’s very red and reminscent of King Arthur’s Knights. People may not love the décor but hey do love the standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding…..served from a silver trolley and ever so traditionally British.

The rooms are glorious and large. If your taste runs to elegant chintz, contrasting upholstery and conservative and yet not stuffy décor, you’ll like it here. There are patterns on top of patterns but none are the “in your face – the decorator was here spending billions.” The hotel’s design wreaks tradition and cabinetry that weren’t retrofitted circa yesterday. Rather, it has been lovingly restored from when the property was converted into a hotel 75 years ago.

Enough details about the hotel.  What type of people stay here?  Nigel Bolding, Director of “The World’s Best Hotels” says that people are traveling more and demanding higher levels of service as well as accommodations. This is especially true of business travelers who can’t take the chance things will go wrong when they’re conducting business. The number one request among business travelers is requiring high-speed Internet. My guess would have been gym facilities but no. And it’s not as if you can jog everyday in London.

Bolding explained there’s a new influx of rich clients to go around. Russians and people from other countries have and spend money when they travel. This is certainly true for the Japanese and Americans aren’t bad when it comes to dropping big bucks. It’s not as if many New York City hotels are actually cheap.

Studies have been done showing that people spend a larger proportion of their incomes traveling and the trend is definitely on the rise. 2006 appears to be the year that Italy will win the tourist tally  – but that could change since so many bookings are being done on-line via the Internet and people aren’t planning anywhere as near as far ahead as they used to in the past.

What’s essential is that people are traveling and seeing different parts of the world and it’s becoming easier to go from one country to another without spending days in transit.

Get up and go — and you don’t have to stay in a “palace” hotel even though it’s nice!

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Posted in Around the World |

The Ultimate Vacation Destination – Heaven on Earth

Written by admin on February 13, 2006 – 4:31 pm -

Close your eyes as you board the hotel’s launch and after a 15-minute ride across the Straits of Malacca. When the launch arrives you’ll feel as if you’ve landed on heaven on earth. The Pangkor Laut Resort is located on a private island off the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula. Although it may be a long way to travel to experience nirvana, once you’ve arrived, you’ll know it was worth the journey.

The Pangkor Laut Resort has won every award in the travel industry and they’re merited. There’s something for everyone. Some choose it as the ultimate spa vacation; for others it’s a Buddhist retreat where they go to get in touch with their spirituality; others are taken with its many aspects of nature and spend the days walking and exploring. Others simply enjoy being spoiled and consider it the vacation of a lifetime.  If they live in that part of the world, they return repeatedly since it’s impossible to be bored at the 300-acre resort that initially opened in 1993. Even though it’s one island and one resort, no one departs feeling identically. It’s impossible to board the returning launch without leaving a bit of your soul at Pangkor Laut and taking away some of its enigmatic beauty.

For those in the market, you can even get married at Pangkor Laut.  When I visited, a wedding was taking place. The radiant bride and groom and friends and family members flew in from the U.K for the occasion. It was a spectacularly beautiful ceremony where vows were exchanged as the sun was going down. The hotel had arranged for everything to be picture-perfect and even for the minister who officiated. Couples can obtain wedding licenses within a day so this is the ideal location for a destination wedding.  If the couple were to decide to divorce, where could it be better to make the break legal?

In spite of being one resort, there’s nothing homogenous about the getaway. There are 126 deluxe villas and suites on the main but the settings are so different that you could be on a different island albeit the view of the vibrant emerald green water that’s surrounded by a coastal fringe of palm trees and low vegetation.  All of the materials used in the villas are natural and indigenous to the area – from the wood to the fabrics.

Depending on your mood, you have the choice of twenty-one Sea Villas which are perched on stilts; Beach Villas have private outdoor bathtubs; Garden and/or Hill Villas are selectively placed throughout the property subtlety blending in with its tropical environment.

I stayed in one of the 22 Spa Villas. No matter the time of day, I was continually overwhelmed by the beauty of the interior design. It was sumptuous in an elegant and understated way. After a day of various therapies from all parts of Asia, I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated that I’d return to the room and listen to tranquil music emanating from a CD player before falling asleep either on the king-size bed or on the chaise overlooking the water. This island isn’t a place where you’ll find televisions or high-speed Internet connections. It reeks of tranquility — it even feels out of place to speak much above a whisper. Each day, guests are given batik sarongs to wear from their air-conditioned temporary home to the spa area. Evening temperatures cooled down so the room’s plantation fan more than did the job as I felt the bay’s breezes.

Spa – did I say spa?  People can always find massages but the treatments at Pangkor Laut are more of a healing process. All of my aches and pains were addressed. I met with a Chinese physician at the Ayurvetic Hut; he looked into my eyes, took my pulse and asked questions and subsequently prescribed treatments which he felt would be appropriate for me. I happen to love hot stones and could have extended the two-hour-long massage that included herbal steaming, a Malay-style whirlpool that was strewn with flower petals. Afterwards, my body was caressed with oils (I chose the lemon one) and would gravitate to the Yoga Pavilion where I would meditate and stretch. Each spa treatment began and ended with a cup of tea served on a tray accented by perhaps, a single blossom.

For the more active, there’s a fitness center, tennis and squash courts (wear white please), swimming pools, a water sports center where guests can sign up for sailing, water skiing, fishing and more.  There are water and land excursions.

For the fitness crowd, there are three jungle treks from which to choose that meander through 350 acres of forest. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a snake. I was assured that snakes are more afraid of me than vice versa. However, I opted to take the chauffeured golf carts between longer destinations. I’m terrified of snakes and didn’t want to meet one or the on-site doctor.

What would a resort such as this be without restaurants varying from extremely casual to more formal?  The five restaurants offered different cuisine. I especially liked the Fisherman’s Cove that specialized in seafood that is fished daily from local waters.

Would I return?  In a heart beat. I have a “significant birthday” approaching in a couple of years and hope I’ll have enough money to rent the private complex that is composed of three bedrooms, a living area, a dining room , a private pool – not to mention a personal butler.  I’d want my family to come and celebrate and experience the beauty of this oasis.

It’s a dream — but one about which I’d like to fantasize and will until I return.


Posted in Around the World |

Luxurious London

Written by admin on January 13, 2006 – 4:22 pm -

I should have been raised in a hotel. I would have been the consummate Eloise at the Plaza. I’ve met a lot of hotels I haven’t liked. But then, there’ve been the hotels I’ve loved — and London’s 51 Buckingham Gate would more than qualify. It has something for everyone: location, charm, comfort and intimacy. It essentially feels like a club.

Big hotels aren’t my thing. Invariably, I get lost in the corridors, and I hate hotels which resemble railroad stations, where guests feel as if they need to take numbers to check in or out. I cherish my privacy and don’t necessarily care having other guests keeping track of my comings and goings. However, the same doesn’t apply for the hotel’s staff members. I love being spoiled by them in an understated fashion.

Understated has a very special connotation for me. It signifies niceties such as having the room cleaned when I duck out for a couple of hours, half-used bottles of shampoo replenished and hotel concierges offering me directions without my having to ask. I appreciate being presented with a cup of tea when I return to the hotel looking frazzled. Perhaps I’m spoiled but I love evening turn-down service. So many hotels have put a stop to this luxury.

During visits to the United Kingdom, I’m invariably surprised. After all, English is our common language, but Americans are lingo-challenged. And, there’s no question that manners and customs are different and in many ways more formal. The British are simply different.

I should clarify that I’m an American who chooses to live in Paris. I arrived in the ‘City of Light’ seventeen years ago, on a six-month assignment, and never permanently returned to the US. I frequently go to Washington, DC because I have family there. I travel enough that I’m never quite certain where to set my inner time-zone clock.

On this trip, my departure city was the Nation’s Capital.   The British Airways Washington-to-London flight takes less than seven hours, so crossing the Atlantic feels like a proverbial snap once strapped in my airplane seat. For me, every trip is an adventure because I suffer from perpetual wander lust. Architecture may remain constant, but time never stands still. I’m always amazed by visible changes and trends wherever and whenever I travel.

Not long after clearing customs at Heathrow Airport, the driver pulled into the courtyard of 51 Buckingham Gate, less than five minutes from Buckingham Palace. The massive black wrought-iron gate protects the enclave and gives the entrance a regal appearance. In the center area, there’s a charming small garden that changes according to the season. There’s a story about the courtyard but you’ll have to ask.

Smiling staff members were on hand, and my luggage disappeared. I was handed a magnetic card to the room, attached to a black-and-silver key ring with the number 51. Little did I know that the key ring would be my checkout gift.

I was eager to go my room in the Kings section, one of the three restored buildings, which are striking examples of Edwardian and Victorian architecture. Former town houses, they were converted to long-term rental apartments and luxury suites by the Taj Group, which owns and manages a chain of luxurious hotels in India. The group decided to expand and make this property its London showcase.

Bernard de Villele became the hotel general manager in 1999 and converted the circa 1897 buildings into a five-star jewel of a retreat. This man doesn’t suffer incompetence, and although he’s usually onsite at 51 Buckingham Gate doing inspection tours, (you imagine he wears white gloves and has eyes behind his head), M. de Villele has been made Vice-president of Business Development & Operations for Europe and the Americas. He’s developed a stable crew of team members who know the clients and vice-versa. So many guests are repeat visitors because of the special environment, reception and attention they receive.

Prior to my arrival, I had requested soft down pillows. They were waiting and I fell into a profound sleep. I would have spent the day in bed if it weren’t for the guilt factor. The decor was stunning, and the living room had breathtaking flowers cascading out of a shopping bag from the chic Fleur Couture in the equally chic Mayfair area. The bedroom’s incredibly comfortable king-size bed was covered with a 100% down duvet with an Egyptian 600-thread count cotton cover and a bedspread that was nothing less than sumptuous. I’m a beige person, and I admired the suite’s clean design, which used modern furniture with subtle and never jarring color accents.

Rather than rooms, guest accommodations (82 in all) range from junior suites to four-bedroom residences, with full kitchens that are perfect for those who want to have champagne and goodies without leaving the inner sanctum.  Each suite’s kitchen includes a mini-dishwasher and combination washer/dryer. There’s also a DVD and a CD player, a printer/fax machine, a private telephone number with voicemail. All of the accommodations have data-ports but if you’re a computer addict, rooms are equipped with a high-speed or WiFi modem connection. Oh, and yes, there’s a safe in every room.

The beige marble bathrooms have high-tech elements and a tub and separate shower stall. I showered using the Molton Brown bath amenities. I crawled into bed before my hit-the-road wake up call. There was so much to see in so little time.

For those who desire service equivalent to what you’d experience were you a guest at The Buckingham Palace, book an Ivor Spencer suite. You’ll have a personal butler for sixteen hours a day who’ll do everything required to make your trip stress-free. A limousine will be awaiting you at the airport, your suitcases unpacked, your bath drawn, dinner reservations and/or business needs will be attended to, always with the utmost of competence. If you’d like to have a private dinner served in your suite, all you have to do is ask.  The meal will be served on Wedgwood China and Villeroy and Boch crystal. If you want special activities to be arranged for your traveling companion, don’t hesitate to ask. That’s all part of these rarified butlers’ jobs.

I didn’t ask, but I suspect you can request to be tucked into bed. I wouldn’t be in the least bit shocked if more than a few guests had taken advantage of that service. After a long dinner including champagne, wines and cognac, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Don’t be surprised if you spy a rock star or a head of state at 51 Buckingham Gate.

I certainly didn’t require this type of attention. Each time I returned from an outing, a goodie was waiting to welcome me. Tea sandwiches, cookies, chocolate strawberries and a box of chocolates from the French Z-chocolat.com were just a few of the surprises in case I’d worked up a hunger while out on the town.

The first day was supposedly easy. After a buffet lunch in the hotel’s library, where you can always order something to eat, including a four tier silver tray of delectable sandwiches and different pastries for “high tea,” we set out to see London from on high. It was our second flight of the day as we climbed aboard the British Airway London Eye, a 450-foot monster Ferris wheel built for the millennium celebrations but held over by popular demand. Thirty-two glass capsules, each holding as many as 25 passengers, rotate for 30 minutes. During that time, passengers have privileged views of the Thames River and buildings and gardens rarely seen from the ground. It’s worth buying the guidebook in order to know what you’re seeing from this perspective.

Off we went to Fortnum & Mason, purveyor to many royal families over the years. There are a lot of gourmet markets, but Fortnum’s is an experience unto itself. Food sales are so brisk that the store is closing other departments because, when all is said and done, what’s better than gourmet indulgences?

I happily fantasized about spending a vacation in the hotel suite, reading, relaxing, and eating caviar and smoked salmon and other delicacies while living in the lap of luxury. The chocolate section is so vast that Fortnum’s has a dedicated buyer who spends her life traveling the world and assembling the most extensive chocolate collection anywhere. The chocolate buyer’s apartment is climate-controlled to accommodate chocolate tastings. And she is skinny as a rail.  Don’t think this was an easy job to land. There were more than 450 qualified candidates!

Returning to the hotel, I was booked to have a massage in the spa. After an hour-long treatment, I emerged feeling like a new person. Any jet lag had dissipated, and I was rejuvenated to go onward and upward. Well, almost.

What’s a London weekend without eating, sightseeing, shopping and lots of walking? During the weekend, I took a look-see into Buckingham Palace; the Victoria & Albert Museum; and the Tate Modern, the former Bankside Power Station, which was converted into a museum of international modern art. There are critics who feel more strongly about the museum’s architecture than its exhibits.

One of the highlights of my visit was a tour of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Seeing backstage, costume rooms and dance rehearsal halls gives the performing arts a new meaning. The Covent Hall has an excellent restaurant that is crowded at dinner but not at lunch, and the food is lovely. Once a month, there’s a tea dance where participants dance up a storm. Some of the women jitterbugged, wearing dresses and hats from the ’50s. Dapper men waited their turns to ask women to take a swirl on the dance floor, accompanied by big-band musicians.

I had visited the British Museum and so many other cultural landmarks. I’d done my fair share of shopping in London. But, I had never thought of London as a culinary-market town. How wrong I was. Since its opening in 1999, the Borough Market near Southwark Cathedral (subway stop is London Bridge) is worth a visit Friday and Saturday mornings. Many of London’s finest chefs can be spotted here, in addition to food aficionados. Gourmet selections are widespread, and many vendors have gone organic — even organic baby food.

Every market worldwide has its own style of displaying products that invariably gives insights into the region’s culture. If you’re a foodie, don’t miss this market, which won the 2003 London Tourism Award as being the best “London experience.”  It was cold and raining when we left the market, so we sought refuge in the nearest pub, where numerous beers were on tap and bangers and mash — sausage and mashed potatoes — on the menu.

Speaking of food, all those years of thinking London had a dearth of good restaurants, are best forgotten. The city is full of top-notch eateries serving sophisticated and excellent food. The Bank Westminster Restaurant offers light and tasty bistro food in elegant and sleekly modern surroundings. Its bar, the Zander Bar (all of 140 meters long), is one of the places to see and be seen, especially if you’re young and hip. There are also seating areas should you tire of bar stools. If you’re noise-sensitive, this is not the place for you, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, when the music is blaring away.

The 51 Buckingham Gate complex also has a very good French bistro (aptly named Bistro 52) that serves classic French and British fare in an informal setting. If you’re into Indian food, Quinlon, the sister restaurant of the renowned Bombay Brasserie, is the “in” place in London to eat South Indian coastal cuisine.

There were so many places where we could have eaten but didn’t. One night, we were guests at a private dinner guided by wine expert Hugo Dunn-Meynell. Wine and food are not to be taken lightly, and Mr. Dunn-Meynell enlightened the group on which wines were compatible with various foods. Much to our surprise, they weren’t necessarily the ones we had predicted.

A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a walk in Hyde Park. After our share of such exercise, we returned to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park for tea and scones. Tea is served in the hotel’s dining room, which opens onto one of the most verdant views in the city. If you’re watching for more than a few minutes, you might well see a parade of horses being ridden in perfect formation.

The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park has opened a beautiful spa that transplants guests to Asia. If you’re the ultimate sybarite, you might want to book a series of treatments.

All I wanted was to return to 51 Buckingham Gate. It’s rare when I find a hotel where I’d definitely rather live than in my own home if only I could afford it. I guess I’m not alone in my choice. 51 Buckingham Gate has won the Conde Nast Johansens award for most excellent London hotel.

I have a confession.  I already have my next trip planned to “my home away from home. This time the start and finish destination will be Paris. What a pleasure it’ll be to hop on and off the “Chunnel” that takes just over three hours and there’s only an hour’s time difference. I think I’ll even time my arrival to have lunch in the Harrods’ Food Hall.  I suspect I’ve even take some Stilton cheese back to 51 Buckingham Gate – naturally with a bottle of Port. When in London, do as the natives do!

• • •

51 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E6AF; phone, 44/20-7769-7766; fax, 44/20-7828-5909; www.51-buckinghamgate.com

British Airways London Eye;  www.ba-londoneye.com

Fortnum & Mason  181 Piccadilly, London W1A1ER

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Piazza
London WC2E9DD

Bank Westminster Restaurant and Zander Bar
45 Buckingham Gate
London, SWIE 6BS

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Posted in Around the World |

The Travel Bug

Written by admin on January 13, 2006 – 4:20 pm -

Many people think I should stay in France overseeing my “baby”, www.bonjourparis.com. The reality is the more I travel, the more I want to hop on a plane and explore the world. And this time, my husband Victor was having none of this, “I’m going on a press trip. See you in a week.” He was adamant that I wasn’t leaving home without him.

I loved having the companionship but worried about certain things.  Victor is 20 years older than I and would he be able to keep up with my pace? The reality is that he did more than fine.  There were times he’d grabbed a nap but I could always work.

Around-the-world trips present special challenges. Had we not just finished one, I’d never have known just how complex and precise the planning has to be. Visiting Paris from the US is a piece of cake compared to circling the world. Next time (and there will be more trips), I’ll use a spread sheet to organize all the components laid out.

First key piece of advice: If you’re going long haul and clocking thousands of miles or doing multiple stops, flying business class is not a luxury. It’ll ensure that you can walk – and stay awake – the next day. Usually it also gives you a more generous baggage allowance and use of airport club lounges (see below). The problem, of course, is the cost.

My husband and I lucked out and found Dave, http://www.ax.imptrav.com/ our new “best friend.”  For less than the cost of flying us west in business class from Paris to San Francisco, he was able to get us there by going in the opposite direction – through India, Cambodia, China and Japan, with LA, Washington and NY thrown in, before returning home to Paris. In other words, around the world.

The fat envelope with tickets arrived on schedule. It provided for thirteen stops, including some intra-country tickets – all in business class and all on major carriers. No trick tickets, changeable dates, valid for a year and yes, we’re earning frequent flyer points.

The only caveat: to save $1600 each, our trip had to originate in Stockholm rather than Paris. The additional tickets from Paris to Stockholm cost $80 each. No big deal. We seized the opportunity and spent the night at the elegant Grand Hotel overlooking the harbor. What are another two hours of air time and a relaxing overnight in a historic hotel?  We were starting our vacation in elegant style.

Dave’s air travel planning service  http://www.ax.imptrav.com/ was impeccable and very personalized. He swears computers help but aren’t essential to his company. Maybe it’s because he started the business when they didn’t exist.

In retrospect, ticketing may be the easy part. I won’t get into reserving hotels now. Just let me say this: that’s part of the fun – or the horror — depending on the places, dates and circumstances, and whether or not you’re the last minute type.

Some major considerations in planning your RTW adventure

Before leaving home:
Be sure to have a list of all of the medications you normally take. If you have any ongoing medical problems, ask you doctor to write a medical summary in the event another doctor needs the information.

Visas. Don’t forget that for some countries they’re still essential. If you require more than one, a visa service is often the way to go. Our current trip required three.  Rather than standing in line at three consulates, we used an expediter that charges a fee for their efforts plus the cost of the visas, etc. But, unless you have unlimited time (not to mention patience) and live in one of the few cities with all the consulates you need, you’ll be glad for the service. The expediter will require your passport, so be prepared to part with it for a minimum of ten days. Be sure to send passports by a tracked shipping service.

Vaccinations. Check which ones are required as soon as you’ve booked your trip, and whether your doctor can do them. Be sure you have them early enough to be effective. Road warriors to developing countries make sure to keep them up to date. It had been a while since I’d been inoculated for polio and Hepatitis B so after my boosters and shots for ominous new diseases, I felt like a pin cushion.

Travel Insurance. Buy repatriation insurance if your company or travel agent doesn’t provide it. If you plan more than a couple of overseas trips a year, it makes sense to buy a one year policy instead of the one-trip version. A year’s repatriation insurance policy costs about $200. It will make sure you don’t get stranded in a place that doesn’t offer the right medical facilities. If needs be you‘ll be flown to a hospital that does, and by a well-staffed medical jet – a sort of flying ambulance. All arrangements (they can be very complicated) and costs are taken care of by the insurer. Keep in mind that features and benefits vary by company and by price level.

Health Kit. You may need one some day – really need it — so you might as well have it with you. During these days of increased health concerns, here’s a list of things you may want to pack (but please check with your doctor and/or consult www.travel.state.gov):

Cipro (a powerful wide-spectrum antibiotic)

Tamiflu (not that you’re planning to kiss any live chickens). Some countries such as Vietnam are pulling it off the open market so that the ten-day treatment can now be administered only by a doctor.

Anti-malaria pills (for Africa and India plus some other countries)

Airborne (an herbal remedy that some people swear by) that allegedly keeps people from getting sick while sitting on plane breathing re-circulated air.

Boroleum (a great ointment to keep nasal passages clear and for superficial cuts and sores)

Anti-Diarrhea medication (a MUST!)

Purell hand sanitizer (1/2 ounce bottles are the easiest to pocket)

Lip balm

Baby Wipes (you’ll be glad you brought them along under so many circumstances…’nuff said).

Some doctors recommend taking packaged syringes from the US or the EU. We didn’t go that far.

Red Tape and Other Aggravations:

Getting to and from airports, clearing security and customs… some airports are clearly better than others when it comes to minimizing bureaucratic hassles. If only airports would standardize methods. But after 9/11, dream on.

Some airports require you have all your baggage x-rayed and given the security officer’s stamp of approval even before arriving at the check-in counter.  If you’re traveling heavy, your back may be aching by the time you get to the front of the security line – especially when it feels as if the word “line” isn’t anyone’s vocabulary. For example, Delhi.

Our first airport in Asia, Delhi, was a nightmare. From the time we hit the ground to when we were greeted (thank God)! by our Taj hotel driver, nearly three hours had gone by. We were extracted from the crowds, relieved of our luggage and rushed into a car where there were hot towels and bottles of cold water waiting. Total chaos as people had to push and shove to get to immigration control. There were no provisions for queues or cops to keep order. While we were in India, numerous outraged letters were printed in the Hindustan Times over the situation the airport. Authorities clearly weren’t anticipating times of high influx. To add to the traffic, this past November two additional non-stop flights – Continental and American — from the US to Delhi were inaugurated.

Airport Lounges:  If you’re flying business or first class, you’ll automatically be presented lounge passes with your boarding tickets. If you’re flying coach, invest in a Priority Pass. Being able to relax or work, have something to drink or just snooze in a quiet place is a godsend especially if there’s a delay, as often happens in developing countries.

Reserving cars to meet you:

I used to think this was an unnecessary extravagance. But if you’re arriving in a country where you speak not one word of the language, a hotel driver greeting and delivering you to the airport and facilitating your check out and can be well worth the extra money. The drivers and the hotel representatives have an on-going relationship with the airline counter personnel. Probably they’ll be able to sneak through a few extra pounds of luggage.

Too Much Luggage … Never again!

Traveling light may not be an option if you’re going to be away for an extended period; or, more specifically, jumping from one climate to another and back again. During this trip, we’ve needed to be dressed for all climates – from tropical to cold-and-snowy, and for social situations from utterly casual to prim and proper. (Thank goodness for silk long underwear and permanent press!)

Another pitfall: If you are traveling to China, Viet Nam, Thailand and other low-cost countries, acquisitive types may not be able to resist the urge to buy.

We ended up doing our gift shopping for the next 22 years — including having to buy an additional mega suitcase to transport all of our treasures.

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Posted in Around the World |

On Your Own … Make Solo Dining Anything Less than Lonely

Written by admin on January 13, 2006 – 4:14 pm -

As president of Bonjour Paris I field a lot of questions. The majority are France-related but are applicable no matter where you are traveling.  This is especially true when it comes to meals. Even people on a diet must eat! I’ve listed some favorites in Paris but the same types of restaurants exist everywhere.

There are two types of single travelers.  Some are delighted to call it a day, whether it’s business or pleasure travel, and seek solace and sustenance by calling room service and vegging out.  They may have done too much shopping and/or sightseeing or had too many meetings and are peopled out. Their rooms are havens and their destinations of choice.  They want to be ready for what the next day brings. They’re delighted to have the opportunity to read, watch television and/or prepare for the following day’s meetings. Some people have eaten large lunches and prefer a light snack (or nothing) before they hit the sack.

There’s the second type of person traveling alone who isn’t the solitary type and wants to eat out. Their idea of eating is not McDonalds. In Paris, as is the case in most cities in the U.S. and the EU, there are places where you can go and have wonderful meals and not feel alone.  Some single women travelers are more restaurant-challenged, not wanting to appear on the prowl.

The reality in Paris is that unless a woman is on the hunt, she’ll rarely, if ever, be bothered… unless she’s wearing come hither clothes. There’s a recent trend and it’s becoming global. Bars in some chic Paris restaurants have place settings during meal times.  Why not squeeze in a few extra covers?  It’s essential you reserve at some; however, it’s more than likely the restaurant manager will be able to squeeze in a solo as contrasted with a couple.

Wine Bars:
Wine bars generally serve food at the bar. Sometimes the food isn’t a five course dinner but often it is. People should always take something to read. But wine lovers share an affinity and frequently end up discussing the merits of different appellations. Some wine bars that score high on the lists:

47 rue de Richelieu
01-42-97-46-49Closed Sundays and Monday lunch.
The owner is Scottish Tim Johnson and the bar attracts a lot of Anglophones.

Jacques Melac
42 rue Leon Frot
Closed Sundays
This wine bar is an institution and the owner is a character.
The plats du jour are hearty but most people stick with the wooded boards loaded with charcuterie.

Willie’s Wine Bar
13, rue des Petits-Champs

Oeniphiles hang here to sample good to great wines. British owner Mark Williamson servers up more than presentable bistro fare.  Another favorite among the Anglophone group: Cuban-American Juan Sanchez opened a wine store and soon after, followed with a restaurant called Fish.  Don’t get the wrong idea that only fish is served – rather, its connotation is “drink like a fish.”  The wine selection is extensive and the food is actually good. Regulars from the neighborhood stop by for a glass of wine and/or something to eat. The bar scene attracts all ages and it’s hard not to end up speaking with a neighbor.

69, rue de Seine
Open for lunch and dinner everyday but Monday.   It’s the hangout for Anglophone expats and the food is much improved, thanks to a new chef. The wines have always been first rate.

Sushi – Sushi! And more Oriental
Part of the fun of sushi restaurants that serve brochettes is sitting at the bar watching the chefs perform their culinary show. Again, singles don’t feel lonely even when they’re alone. If you want to strike up a conversation with your neighbor, you know what to talk about.  If you don’t feel like talking, tant pis. That’s up to the diner to decide.

3, rue Andre-Mazut
Closed Sunday lunch and all day Monday. This Japanese restaurant is very upscale and the prices reflect it. As is the case with Japanese food in Paris, it’s expensive compared to the US. If you’re having Japanese food withdrawal, financially you’ll make out better if you go for lunch where there are moderately priced formules.

41 Monsieur-le-Prince 75006, 01-34-29-00-54
Open every day and moderately priced.No matter where you look in Paris, there appear to be Japanese restaurants popping up. The adage that you can tell how good a restaurant is by the number of Orientals sitting at the counter may not be a bad one. When Japanese tourists come to Paris, they eat as if there’s no tomorrow.  Americans may find Japanese food expensive in the City of Light.But the Japanese pig out since it’s so much less expensive here than it is in Japan. Plus, they can order salmon which isn’t available at home.

Noodle Shops
If you’re on a budget or simply love Oriental noodles, you will think you’ve died and  gone to heaven if you walk down the Rue St. Anne in the first arrondissement.There are noodle shops everywhere. If you can’t read the menu, all you need to do is sit at the counter and point. Do bring your own reading material unless you can read ideograms.

French Diner with a Flair!
Leave it to Christian Constant to decide he wanted to open place with good food and no pretensions. Don’t be surprised if you see the master cusinier holding forth, meeting and greeting. Some people in the 7eme swear the affable (not to mention, mega-talented) chef is running for mayor. There’s counter service and you can eat lunch and dinner there for a fraction of the cost of his flagship restaurant, Le Violen d’Ingres,

Haute Cuisine
Alain Ducasse was among the first to introduce an eating bar in one of his restaurants, Spoon.  Just because you’re on a bar stool, don’t expect the tab to be cheap.

14, rue de Marignan
Open Monday- Friday Lunch & dinners. www.spoon.tm.fr
Even though it’s only a small bar at the restaurant’s entrance, reservations are needed. You might luck out but why take the chance?    This is the closest rendition of French cuisine a la tapas style. There are 40 seats around a multi-sectioned bar where it’s nearly impossible for four people to hold a cogent conversation. Diners watch the chefs perform and go “oh la la” at all of the vertical food presentations. Reservations are accepted exclusively at the beginning of the lunch and dinner service. If you don’t want to eat at 11:30 or at 6:30, be prepared to stand in line. It’s definitely a plus to be single here.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
5, rue de Montalembert
Open daily.
Guy Savoy (actually his incredibly handsome son) has taken over the helm of this chicer than chic restaurant where the food is some of the most innovative in Paris. It also has a bar where to eat. Both the food and the people watching are out of this world.

3, rue Arsene Houssaye
Closed Saturday lunch and Sundays. http://www.lechiberta.com/en/chiberta/chiberta.html

There are so many “single friendly” places in Paris that I wouldn’t hesitate to set out on my own and frequently do. Even starred restaurants don’t mind when a person is sitting alone. If you’re a woman, so much the better; most waiters show a bit more interest and are often likely to bring you a kir and make sure you’re comfortable. It’s advisable that you leave a supplementary tip because normally the waiter would have been serving two people.

There are plenty of Irish bars in Paris when you can grab a beer and a burger. Or, you can sit in a “palace” hotel bar or lounge and enjoy dinner alone. Most Europeans don’t think it’s bizarre if you’re traveling alone and not staying in a super business-style hotel. Take a book or a magazine as your companion.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve ended up in pleasant conversation with people from around the world. If you’re in the mood to talk, more than likely, your eating “companions” will be as well. If the truth be known, there are times when it’s a pleasure to eat “alone.” Most especially, if you’re curious by nature and like to know what other people are thinking!

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Posted in Around the World |

Tokyo on the Run

Written by admin on January 13, 2006 – 4:09 pm -

The adage that you take yourself wherever you travel couldn’t be truer albeit sounding trite. Visiting Tokyo was a prime example of integrating my American and French backgrounds with a bit of Japan. No two cities are identical but Tokyo struck a chord in incorporating some of Paris and much of New York City, while maintaining its powerful cultural uniqueness. Plus as a Caucasian, there was no way we weren’t going to look like tourists.

Driving from the airport to the Conrad is a minor case in point. The Japanese drive on the on the wrong (e.g. British side) of the road and battle incredibly heavy traffic no matter the hour. Contrasted with their French counterparts, drivers are incredibly well-behaved. Even though the JAL trip took more than 13 hours, we weren’t dreaming as we passed the “Magic Kingdom.” Disney’s theme park loomed over the distant horizon. I was so well rested that had there been time, I would have been curious to compare it with Euro Disney on the outskirts of Paris that opened in 1993. Whereas EuroDisney has taken years to be accepted, Disney-Tokyo was an immediate hit since opened in 1983. It’s a big dating destination among the younger Japanese and tourists from all over the world.

Skyscrapers are spouting like mushrooms as is the pollution level. Areas that were previously water are now landfills where some of Tokyo’s most expensive real estate sits. Some of the architecture and “public art” are examples of architectural muscle. When a building is showing wear and tear, rather than renovating it, it’s torn down and another is built. Some say this is an attempt to protect the city’s buildings from earthquakes and typhoons, which are more likely to hit the Pacific Rim as time progresses and Tokyo’s density increases.

During our stay at the Conrad, we took a quick cruise along the waterfront. Passengers were able to get on and off at various stations. We might have been riding on a Bateaux Mouches and were privy to seeing a replica of the Statue of Liberty at the Rainbow Bridge. We had a glimpse into the type of housing where the Japanese live – if they’re lucky enough to be able to live in the city. It’s not usual for people to commute more than an hour each way to work. For the time being, the buildings on the waterfront are low-rise; they have balconies where the residents hang their laundry to dry, a sign of prosperity since it signifies that the apartments are south-facing. Mixed-use development is forbidden as it’s been the cause of devastating fires.

During our four day stay, we attended a tea ceremony in a beautiful timbered shelter situated in a relaxing garden. Tea salons have made the Paris scene but there’s no comparison when it comes to the Japanese ritual. We first removed our shoes and were given white anklets. The mistress of the tea house stated it takes three decades to learn to serve tea properly. I tried to feel a sense of spirituality. Rather, my legs hurt from sitting with them under me for over an hour. Japan also is going more modern and has a Mariage Freres tea room that Parisians know and love.

We walked through the very beautiful and peaceful Hama-rikya Gardens which was the official hunting grounds for the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century. The garden is an enigma with its duck ponds, an inner moat, the only sea-water pond in Tokyo and 1200 peony bushes showcasing 57 varieties of the flower that blooms in late April. The garden offers a complete sense of tranquility and is home to a 300-year-old pine that’s reputed to have been planted by the sixth Shogun.

Why the Japanese come to Paris is shop is a mystery to me. Racing through the Matsuzakaya and Mitsukoshi department stores, it’s easy to find more French labels than at Paris’s Galeries Lafayette or New York’s Barneys. I bought the few souvenirs I needed at the Oriental Bazaar which has a good selection of traditional gifts. The Japanese are very upscale label oriented by now that Paris’s Louis Vuitton has placed a quota of two leather items per customer without having to pay the VAT. Coming to Paris to buy for your sister, cousin and best friend no longer makes sense. Born to Shop Suzy Gershman (URL for Paris Shopping Guide) reports that the Japanese have been known to hire “buyers” at 100 Euros each, the Vuitton label is so much in demand and costs approximately 50% of what it does in Japan.

New things I’ve never done in Paris or in the US.

Going to a tuna auction at 5 a.m. and then visiting the fish market. This gives new meaning to sushi or sashimi – something for which the sushi restaurant at the Conrad is already famous, since they hired the most revered sushi master in Tokyo. Forget mundane things such as California rolls. At the Conrad, the fish is a delicacy like none other. It is so beautifully prepared it’s an art form. Be creative and order a hand roll specifically prepared for you.

No tourist goes to Tokyo without visiting the colorful stalls of the shopping alley Nakamise that leads to the Asakusa Kannon Temple complex.  There we first inhaled incense that’s said to have curative powers. We then bought fortunes. If you didn’t like your fortune, you tied it on a wire so as not to take it with you or your journey through life. Luckily, there was a wedding taking place that day and the bride and groom were all too happy to have us snap away with our digital cameras.

Everyone seems to be carrying a cell phone taking and taking . Even though I have a tri-band, I couldn’t get it to function.  Only after returning home did I learn I needed a quad-band or a new phone with a local Sim card.

Four days in Tokyo is only a glimpse into a country and civilization begging to be explored.

When (not if) I return, I want to be spoiled by flying on Japan Airlines, (http://www.jal.co.jp/en/) stay at a dream hotel such as the Conrad (www.conradtokyo.co.jp).

For that matter, Tokyo is a city comprised of dream hotels ….

And, I’d want to explore much more of what there is to be seen.

Visit the Japan Government Tourist Office in NY Site (www.jnto.go.jp) and however much time you’ve scheduled to be in Japan, you’ll realize it isn’t enough.

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