Report from London – The First 24 Hours

Good morning and greetings from a gloomy, cool and wet London. Our first two days here were gorgeous, sunny and warm. Such is the weather in the UK, I suppose. But a little gloom and doom will not prevent us from having a marvelous time.

Here’s my account of our first 24 hours:

2017-08-27 01 - BA Check-In
Check in at JFK was nasty and very slow. BA reports being “woefully understaffed”

Fortunately, once past check-in and security, the Concorde Room awaited, where we had a lovely pre-flight dinner.

2017-08-27 02 - Heirloom Tomato Burrata
Heirloom tomato and burrata salad – very tasty

2017-08-27 03 - Steak
Perfectly roasted sirloin accompanied by vegetables and a lovely 2013 St. Emilion

Just as we finished dining, it was time to board our flight. Nothing much to report, except to say that BA took very good care of us. Once we reached cruising altitude, our beds were made and we drifted off for about 4 hours of sleep. Before landing, we enjoyed a hot breakfast to start the day.

Our flight arrived on time and, once past customs and baggage claim, we headed for the Heathrow Express, perhaps the best (and certainly fastest) way to get into London – it’s a 15 minute trip. And, by the way, you can get a nice discount if you book your trip online at least 30 days in advance of your travel date.

2017-08-28 04 - Heathrow Express
The Heathrow Express, comfortable and fast

TRAVEL TIP: HEATHROW EXPRESS

The train dropped us off at Paddington Station and, from there, it was a quick 15 minute taxi ride to our hotel, the Shangri-La at the Shard, across the river and a stone’s throw from London Bridge. (Normally, the trip can take longer, but it was a bank holiday, so the streets were pretty empty.)

Shangri-La Shard Logo

We arrived at the hotel at about 10:00 AM and, very fortunately for us, our room was available. Not only that but, because we had booked through the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, we were given an upgrade to the Iconic City View Room, which has the best views in the hotel. Thanks, Veronica!!

Iconic City View Room
Our Iconic City View Room – they weren’t kidding about the views

2017-08-28 05 - St. Paul
View #1 – St. Paul’s Cathedral (to the left)

2017-08-28 06 - London Bridge
View #2 – London Bridge (to the right)

TRAVEL TIP: The Shangri-La at the Shard

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program

Once we unpacked and got settled in, we decided to walk off the jet lag and grab a bite of lunch. Because we’re across the river from most (if not all) of the action, we took the tube over to  Leicester Square (in the heart of the West End), and started strolling.

Leicester Square
The tube delivered us to Leicester Square in the West End

From there, we walked through Trafalgar Square and over to Piccadilly.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square on a beautiful Monday morning in August

By the time we made our way over to Piccadilly, we were feeling a bit peckish, so we decided to stop in at one of our favorite restaurants in London, The Wolseley. 

A bit of history, courtesy of The Wolseley’s website: “In 1921, Wolseley Motors Limited commissioned the architect, William Curtis Green, to design a prestigious car showroom in London’s West End. He drew on Venetian and Florentine influences, as well as incorporating the Eastern exotic touches that were in fashion at the time. The grand, atmospheric interior with its towering pillars, arches and stairways was testament to the great ambitions of The Wolseley Car Company. The cars were displayed on the marble floor and cost between £225 – £1,300. Unfortunately, the cars did not sell well enough and by 1926 the Company was bankrupt.

Wolseley Showroom
The Wolseley Showroom, ca. 1921.

“Barclays Bank acquired the building and a new branch opened in April 1927. William Curtis Green was recalled to install managers’ offices on either side of the main entrance (now serving as a bar and salon) and a banking counter, further developing the Eastern lacquer theme. He also designed specialized furniture including a post box and stamp machine, still on display today.

“Chris Corbin and Jeremy King secured the site in July 2003 and its restoration and renovation was overseen by David Collins Architects. The Wolseley opened in November 2003.”

Wolseley Cafe
The Wolseley today

The great thing about The Wolseley is that it’s open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and post-theatre supper. So you can eat there just about any time of day.

We decided to share a couple of things:

2017-08-28 09 - Chicken Sandwich
AAC had a grilled chicken, bacon and avocado sandwich served on ciabatta

2017-08-28 08 - Salad Niçoise
I opted for the Salade Niçoise – a very sensible choice

The food at The Wolseley is always delicious and you’re in an unusual and beautiful dining room and, should you be interested, you’re directly across the street from the world-famous Ritz Hotel.

DINING TIP: The Wolseley

As we finished lunch, the jet lag hit us bigly. So we decided to tube it back to the hotel and take a substantial nap. It felt SO GOOD!

We awoke refreshed and ready to get cleaned up and changed and headed out for our first theatrical adventure of the trip: the West End revival of the 1963 musical, Half A Sixpence

On our way to the Noël Coward Theatre, we passed the Colisseum, home of ENO (the English National Opera). This fall, the company is presenting the world premiere of a new opera by Nico Muhly, Marnie. You may recognize the title from the 1960’s Hitchcock film of the same name, which starred Tippi Hedren (of The Birds fame) and the quintessential James Bond, Sean Connery. Well, ladies and gents, how lucky are we that AAC and I will be back in London for the 1st performance this coming November?

2017-08-28 10 - Marnie
AAC looks forward to Marnie – isn’t that an amazing poster?

Half A Sixpence is based, I kid you not, on the novel, Kipps, The Story of a Simple Soul, by none other than H.G. Wells. It has been said that some plot points in the novel are autobiographical. The musical was revived by Cameron Mackintosh and created a star with the astonishing peformance of 23-year old Charlie Stemp. The actor playing the leading role of Arthur Kipps must carry the show, as he is onstage almost nonstop and is featured in no less than 15 songs. Stemp’s performance is not only accomplished – he is an amazing dancer and constantly in motion – but he’s also genuinely charming in the role and the audience adores him. The show is a constant delight and has been given a lovely and very substantial production.

2017-08-28 11 - Half A Sixpence
AAC arrives for his first show of the trip: Half A Sixpence

Stemp - 01
A Star is Born: Charlie Stemp onstage as Arthur Kipps in Half A Sixpence

Stemp 3
Stemp and Company: Pick Out A Simple Tune

I only wish that I could recommend this delightful show to you as a CULTURAL TIP but, alas, the production closes this weekend. Oh well.

Following the performance, we were peckish again, and so we decided to drop in at another of our favorite culinary establishments (and one at which we dine every time we’re in town), The Ivy, which is celebrating its centenary this very year. Unusual for us, we arrived without a reservation, but we were very lucky to score a table.

The Ivy
The Ivy – a great place to sup post-theatre

DINING TIP: The Ivy

We had a lovely supper and The Ivy is always so friendly and welcoming. 

By the time we finished, it was almost midnight and our first day in London was drawing to a close. It was time to taxi back to the Shangri-La, take some lovely pharmaceuticals and drift off into a delightful sleep with visions of what we’d done that day dancing in our heads.

 

 

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Seabourn Encore – The Reason We’re Never Hungry

Good afternoon and greetings once more from somewhere between Salaleh, Oman and Aqaba, Jordan. We had an internet outage last night for a number of hours, so it was as if someone had cut off my right arm. Peace (and internet service) has been restored and all is well with the world.

2017-04-25 - 01 - View
Tuesday morning view from our terrace as we sail towards Aqaba

We’ve been aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore for 8 days now and I thought I should give you a sense of what it’s been like on board. As I think about this particular entry, it’s going to focus mostly on food, as that’s one of the main features of traveling by ship. There may be a couple of detours along the way, but our main focus will be grub.

There are five dining venues on the ship:

  • The Restaurant
  • The Colonnade
  • Sushi
  • The Patio
  • The Grill by Thomas Keller

(There is also, of course, in-room dining 24/7.)

Of these venues, both Sushi (midship on deck 8) and, most importantly, The Grill by Thomas Keller (aft on deck 8) are new to Seabourn. In fact, Seabourn has entered into an agreement with Keller to provide venues on each of the Seabourn ships. For those of you “in the know”, Thomas Keller is an internationally renowned chef, whose flagship restaurant is the French Landry in Yountville, California. Just down the street and within walking distance are Ad Hoc and Bouchon, two less formal and more affordable restaurants. He also opened Per Se in New York in 2005. He is a big deal.

Sushi is the smallest dining venue and is open for lunch (Bento boxes) and for dinner (sushi and sashimi).

The Restaurant, located midship on deck 4, is the main dining venue, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Colonnade, aft on deck 9, is a casual dining venue, offering breakfast and lunch buffets. In the evening, it offers a theme cuisine and, on certain nights, it features a set menu by Thomas Keller and is by reservation only. The concept is a spinoff of the Ad Hoc experience in Yountville.  

The Patio is the most casual venue located poolside on deck 7. It’s the go-to place for burgers and hot dogs at lunch, light snacks, but also offers a dinner buffet each evening.

Arguably the prime dining experience is The Grill by Thomas Keller and is the only venue requiring advance reservations. When you’ve booked passage and paid for your cruise, you may make one online reservation to dine there. Once you’re onboard, you can then make a 2nd reservation and, if your cruise exceeds 2 weeks, you may request a 3rd reservation, which will only be guaranteed the night before. The menu offers many of Keller’s favorites and every ingredient is sourced from a purveyor with whom Keller and his team has had a long-term relationship. So, for instance, if lamb is on the menu, it will be sourced from Keith Martin’s Elysian Fields Farm; if it’s butter, then Keller uses the entire annual production of Diane St. Claire’s inventory. (According to Keller, St. Claire’s expansion has been specifically to accommodate Keller’s needs.)

So, without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of our onboard culinary adventures over the past week:

Night #2: Dinner at the Colonnade featuring a 4-course set menu by Thomas Keller:

Located aft on deck 9, the Colonnade features both inside and outside dining. In the evening, it’s so pleasant to eat al fresco as a gentle breeze keeps you cool and comfortable.

2017-04-18 - 02 - AAC - Keller Colonnade - 01
AAC, CPA anticipates his candlelit dinner, courtesy of Thomas Keller

2017-04-18 - 03 - Keller Colonnade Menu
The menu for this evening’s feast

Over the course of this voyage, The Colonnade will present 3 different Thomas Keller 4-course menus. The others feature ribeye steak and a traditional clambake.

2017-04-18 - 04 - Keller Colonnade Gem Lettuce
First course: gem lettuce with green goddess dressing – huge portion!

2017-04-18 - 05 - Keller Colonnade Ribs
Hickory smoked BBQ ribs with deeeelicious sides

2017-04-18 - 06 - Keller Colonnade Cheese
Cheese course with amazing honey

2017-04-18 - 07 - Keller Colonnade Potted Cheesecake
Save room for potted cheesecake with poached blueberries

Before going any further, I must mention the excellent service at all dining venues. It is friendly, genuine and very professional. Within a day or so, all of the servers knew us by name and they have, without fail, delivered every time.

Night #3: Dinner at The Grill by Thomas Keller

Having made an online reservation in advance, we were delighted to be able to dine at the Grill so early in the cruise. Before dinner, however, we stopped by the bar adjacent to the Grill so that our new BFF, head mixologist Bobby, could create some fabulous libation for us. 

2017-04-19 - 02 - Bobby
Bobby’s amazing Negronis – our fave cocktail

2017-04-19 - 10 - Bobby
And the man himself, Bobby, hard at work doing his magic

After enjoying our Negronis, it was time for the main event.

2017-04-19 - 03 - AAC Thomas Keller Grill
AAC, CPA seated and anticipating dinner

2017-04-19 - 05 - Thomas Keller Grill - 02 - Caesar Salad
Caesar Salad prepared tableside – hearts of romaine only, please

2017-04-19 - 06 - Thomas Keller Grill - 03 - Veal T-Bone
For me, the broiled and naturally fed veal T-bone with a silky bernaise

2017-04-19 - 07 - Thomas Keller Grill - 04 - Lamb Medallions
For AAC, CPA Elysian Fields Farm lamb medallions with herb crust

Although wine and spirits are all-inclusive, we decided to spring for a bottle from the premium wine list as a fond reminder of a wonderful Malbec we had last year in Buenos Aires.

2017-04-18-11 - Catena
A lovely 2013 Catena Alta Zapata Malbec from the Mendoza region

2017-04-19 - 08 - Thomas Keller Grill - 05 - Chocolate Cake
How about a slice of dark chocolate layer cake for dessert?

Let me again commend the entire wait staff – the service was absolutely first rate and we enjoyed our meal immensely.

Day #6: Lunch at Home

We decided on Saturday that we wanted to eat on our terrace for lunch. We were docked that day in Salalah, and decided not to leave the ship.

2017-04-22 - 01 - Lunch at Home - 01
We craved club sandwiches and pommes frites – tablecloth included

2017-04-22 - 02 - Lunch at Home - 02
And, for dessert, my fave: mint chip chocolate ice cream and cookies

(And they even brought us chocolate sauce for the ice cream!!)

Detour #1:

The reason we ate at home was that we needed to do some laundry. One of the few flaws in Encore’s design (which we’re told will be remedied in about 3 weeks) is that there is no self-service laundry. Now I know that it may strike you as strange that something like that would be an issue with us, but the fact is that AAC, CPA likes to do his own laundry. We were told that we could stuff a laundry bag with as much as it would hold and it would only cost $50!! AAC, CPA took that as a challenge and he determined that we would do it ourselves and pocket the $50.

2017-04-23 - 01 - Laundry Day
Laundry day aboard Seabourn Encore

Detour #2:

And, for no particular reason, here’s another photo of the fabulous sunsets we’re enjoying every evening. Because we’re sailing westward and our cabin is at the very front of the ship, it’s as if we’re getting a front-row seat.

2017-04-23 - 02 - Sunset
Another fabulous sunset 

2017-04-23 - 03 - Sunset AAC
AAC, CPA enjoying the sunset with glass in hand

EVENING #8: Sushi for One (or “If you knew sushi, like I know sushi”)

For those of you have been with me for the long haul, you may recall that our very own AAC, CPA has some food quirks – his likes and DISlikes are legion. Sad to tell, he intensely hates sushi – not that he’s ever tried it, I’m pretty sure. As Sushi (the dining venue) serves only sushi and sashimi at dinner time, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll give it a shot.

Therefore, I decided to go all by my lonesome last night, just for a pre-dinner hors d’eauvre. I sat at the sushi bar and, once again, had wonderful service and a delicious sampling of the menu, accompanied by a lovely French Sauvignon Blanc.

2017-04-24 - 01 - Sushi - 01
Nigiri – Akami and Safe (tuna and salmon)

2017-04-24 - 02 - Sushi - 01
An Okayo signature roll (salmon, asparagus, avocado, salmon roe)

2017-04-24 - 03 - Sushi - 01
And our sushi chefs – hamming it up for the camera

So there you have it, a small sampling of our culinary adventures thus far. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the buffets yet!

More to follow!

PS. Look what just sailed by us:

IMG_4927
Friend or foe, I wonder?

 

 

First Sea Day and Doha Recap

Feeling very relaxed (nay, lazy) on this Wednesday afternoon as I begin this blog entry. It’s our first sea day, which is my favorite thing about being on a ship.

When last I wrote, we were in Doha, Qatar and I promised to tell you all about our all-too-brief visit.

Doha Morning Pic
Good morning, Doha – as seen from our suite

Well, in about 2 words: not much. Qatar is another of these Gulf states that, like Dubai, is a very modern and covered with skyscrapers and in constant construction mode. Unlike Dubai, however, it’s not quite as exciting and, at least where we were, there were no sidewalks for walking.

The one thing we were interested in seeing was I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Tuesdays – bad luck for us. 

Museum of Islamic Art
I.M. Pei’s imposing Museum of Islamic Art – closed Tuesdays

Before checking out the sights, AAC enjoys his first breakfast on board:

AAC - 1st Breakfast

Having realized that the museum was not an option, we elected to go out for a nice lunch at Sridan, a restaurant within the Shangri-La Hotel. We’ve had the good fortune to visit several of the Shangri-La properties – in Tokyo, Paris and London – so we knew we’d be in for a good time.

As it turned out, the ship offered complimentary shuttle service to and from the City Center which, as it turned out, was a 3-minute walk to the Shangri-La. How convenient is that?

Doha City Center
Our drop off point – City Center – unsurprisingly in the center of the city

It was so convenient, in fact, that we didn’t feel the need to exchange our US dollars for the local currency in Qatar – the Dirham, the Qatari Riyal. We took a chance.

The Shangri-La in Doha is very much in keeping with their other properties around the world: Elegant, serene and very Zen. Upon entering their properties, you immediately sense a scent that is familiar to you, a nice touch.

Shangri-La-Hotel-Doha-Lobby
The lobby at the Shangri-La – spare and elegant

And look what else we found in the lobby:

Falconry
Yes, falconry at the Shangri-La

You probably won’t notice it, but the falcon was wearing a Shangri-La cap on his cute little head.

We headed upstairs to Sridan, which offers a spectacular daily buffet. Just what we need – more food, right?

Sridan Logo

Sridan - 01 - Mezze
Beautiful mezze station

Although there were Italian and American stations (which we could get anywhere), we opted for made-to-order kebabs from the Indian station. Fancy place: you order what you want and it’s brought to your table.

Sridan - 02
The Indian station

Sridan - 03 - Sweets
Did we leave room for sweets? Not really

Sridan - 04 - Coffee
Finishing off the meal with Arabic coffee – a taste sensation

Following our lunch, we were ready to get back onto the shuttle and return to the ship.

There was one big highlight on our shuttle ride back to the ship:

Kissing Camels
The Royal Camel brigade – or Kissing Kamels!

Encore in Port
Encore docked in Doha

We just lazed around on our terrace until it was time to sail at about 6:00 PM.

Doha Sunset - 01
Another beautiful sunset as we sail out to sea

And then it was time to get ready for cocktails and dinner. On several nights during the voyage, the Colonnade – which usually offers a casual buffet dinner – transforms itself into another Thomas Keller venue, offering a 4-course set menu. The concept is exactly the same as Keller’s casual restaurant in Yountville, California, Ad Hoc. For these evenings, advance reservations are required. It’s a really good deal: at Ad Hoc, the cost of the meal would be around $55 – 60, plus wine; on Encore, it’s all included.

Before dinner, however, we returned to the bar adjacent to the Thomas Keller Grill, probably the most elegant bar on the ship. We made friends with superstar Bobby the night before, and he promised to dazzle us with his mixologist talent. 

So last night, he prepared for me my very first Vesper (a/k/a the James Bond cocktail): Tanqeray 10, Ketel One, Lillet – iced up real well – stirred, never shaken. Poured into a Marie Antoinette glass and finished off with twist of lemon, it was a sight to behold. It was also an extremely potent libation. Kudos to Bobby!

Thomas Keller Cocktails
AAC, CPA’s Campari/Soda and my 1st-ever Vesper – a taste sensation

After enjoying our cocktails and schmoozing with Bobby, we climbed one deck to Colonnade, aft on Deck 9. It was such a beautiful night, that we opted to dine al fresco at the very back of the ship. The entire outside ceiling area is covered for our protection from the elements. It was simply magical.

Immediately upon being seated, we were brought the most delicious fresh baked bread and a glass of delicate Chardonnay.

As I already mentioned, these evenings are conceived in the same way as Chef Keller’s restaurant Ad Hoc in Yountville. 

Check out last night’s menu below:

Colonnade - Keller Menu.JPG
Are you licking your lips and salivating now?

And then the food – with wine pairings – started to arrive:

Colonnade - Course 1
Gem lettuce salad with beets and radishes and green goddess dressing

(Note the size of the portions for just the 2 of us!)

Colonnade - Course 2
Next up, the Hickory Smoked BBQ ribs with yummy sides

We were served a lovely Italian red to compliment the ribs. It did.

Colonnade - Course 3
The most delicate cheddar cheese I’ve ever had – served with flatbread and mustard

Colonnade - Course 4
Potted cheesecake with poached blueberries – did we have room for same?

The meal, the service, the ambience of dining al fresco in a beautiful setting was totally intoxicating – the perfect evening, in fact.

After that, there was nothing left to do but stagger back to our cabin and fall into bed.

So here we are on our first sea day, with all kinds of various activities, should we want to partake.

One interesting side note is that we found this letter in our cabin this morning:

Piracy Drill
Better safe than sorry, right?

At noon we tried our hand at team trivia to see how stupid we can be – no comment.

Then lunch in the restaurant at the invitation of the head sommelier – he wants to discuss wine with us – we’re all in.

And then a duplicate bridge game to keep the little gray cells working.

Later, ‘gator!!

 

 

Greetings from Doha, Qatar

Good afternoon from Doha, Qatar. We’ve been on board the beautiful Seabourn Encore for a little over 24 hours as I type to you. We landed in Doha this morning around 8:00 AM and will be setting sail at about 5:00 PM and tomorrow will be our first (of nine) sea day(s). More about Doha in my next blog entry but, first, I thought I’d show you the ship.

Embarkation yesterday was easy as pie. Seabourn had provided us with a private transfer from our hotel in Dubai to the dock. Due to a little scheduling snafu, our car and driver showed up about 45 minutes early! Good think we were ready to rumble, so we just got on the road a bit earlier.

AAC embarks Encore
AAC, CPA about to embark Encore

Within 15 minutes of arriving at the pier to check-in, we were aboard. There was something akin to a receiving line at the gangplank – lots of Seabourn crew, introducing themselves and welcoming us aboard. It was extremely nice.

We were onboard at about 12:45 PM and were told that our cabin would, most likely, not be ready until around 2:00 PM, but that we were invited to visit the Colonnade for a lunch buffet.

A little ship tip: we’re often told that the cabin isn’t ready, although many times it is! Because we were carrying valuables and wanted to get them into our safe, we decided to take a look-see. Wouldn’t you know: the cabin was, indeed, awaiting us. However, we walked in on an Australian couple, traipsing about and taking pictures of our suite. We caught them red-handed, which was pretty hilarious. They told us that there were just having a look around, as they wanted to see what the suite was like. That was fine by us, and they made a quick exit, embarrassed by their pluck. We loaded up the safe, dropped off our carry-ons, and made a hasty retreat.

Funnily enough, as we were leaving our cabin, we ran into our stewardess, Simone, introduced ourselves, and warned her not to be alarmed, should she find our stuff in our closet. She took it all in stride.

On the way to the Colonnade, we made a stop at Seabourn Square, the central hub of the ship that provides, reception, concierge, computer and excursion services, as well as a barista and light snacks, pastries and gelato service.

We met with William, as we wanted to get our wi-fi accounts up and running. Then we wanted to see if we could make additional reservations at the Thomas Keller Grill, the only dining venue on the ship that requires advance planning. (Actually, the Colonnade has “special nights” that require reservations, too, but that’s another story.) Done and done and with a smile, if you please.

Then we really did make our way to the Colonnade, aft on deck 9 for some lunch. It was a lovely setup with lots of delicious food and sommeliers wondering around pouring complimentary wine and champagne, if you were in the mood to imbibe.

By the time we finished eating, our cabin was “officially” ready. Our luggage had been delivered so we got settled in. We’re lucky that our cabin has a walk-in closet with plenty of storage, as well as additional nooks and crannies in the living room.

I know what you’re really interested in is our cabin, right?

Take a gander and tell me what you think:

900 - Entry
Entry to our cabin

900 - Living Room
The living room

900 - Dining Area
Dining area

900 - Bar
Bar setup

900 - Bedroom
Bedroom

900 - Bathroom
Master bath (with jacuzzi, separate WC and walk-in shower)

900 - Closet
Walk-in closet

Balcony - AAC
AAC, CPA on our wraparound terrace. It’s so big!

Balcony
More terrace!

So that’s our home away from home for the 19-day cruise. Nice, right?

Once we were unpacked and had changed out of our traveling clothes, it was time to go exploring. In a word, the ship is gorgeous. Designer Adam Tihany’s concept is that Encore should feel more like a yacht than a passenger ship. And that’s how it feels. Nothing is too large but feels intimate and just right – inevitable, in fact.

Check it out for yourselves:

Encore Atrium
The famed atrium – extending 6 or 7 decks

Encore Seabourn Square - AAC
Seabourn Square – aft on Deck 7; gelato a-go-go

Encore Dining Room - 01
The Restaurant (main dining venue), aft on Deck 4

Encore Dining Room - 02
Another view of The Restaurant

Encore Card Room
The card room (for duplicate bridge on sea days)

Encore Thomas Keller Grill - 2
Thomas Keller Grill – by reservation only – aft on Deck 8

Encore Thomas Keller Bar - AAC
AAC, CPA checking out the bar at Thomas Keller Grill – see and be seen!

Encore Retreat - 01
The Retreat – rent a private cabaña for the day ($349!!)

So that’ll give you a bit of an idea about Encore. Our sailaway was scheduled for about 5:00 PM, so we came back to the cabin and hung out on our immense terrace. Just when the ship started to move, we popped the cork on our complimentary bottle of champagne and toasted the voyage and each other.

Sailaway - AAC - 01
AAC, CPA is ready to go sailing

Sailaway - 02
We’re moving now with the sun reflected in our cabin window

As we sailed out to open sea, we passed by an important piece of maritime history. Following its illustrious career as one of the last true ocean liners, Cunard’s QE2 was sold, in 2007, to an investment company in Dubai, whose plan it was to convert the famed liner into a floating hotel. Alas, the plan was never realized. Due to the 2008 financial crisis, and a string of bad luck, the liner sits in disrepair in Port Rashid. We snapped this photo as we passed by her while Encore sailed out to sea. In my opinion, the captain should have sounded the ship’s whistle as a sign of respect to a former beauty.

QE2 
A former beauty, QE2, destined to sit abandoned in Port Rashid

Oh well, on to happier thoughts.

As we passed into open waters, we sailed into another glorious sunset.

Sunset - 02
They certainly have amazing sunsets in this part of the world

More tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about our 1st dinner aboard and the short visit we made today in Doha Qatar.

Greetings from Dubai – Day 2

Good morning, sports fans! It’s about 7:30 AM Dubai time as I share this entry with you. So I’ll try to be a bit brief – HAH! Do I even know the meaning of that word? – as we finish packing, grab some breakfast and then embark Seabourn Encore in just a few hours.

Before we do, however, I thought I’d tell you about the remainder of our visit to Dubai.

On Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of dining at Al Nafoorah, an excellent Lebanese restaurant, in the imposing Emirates Towers, another hotel located about 10 minutes from our temporary home, Raffles Dubai. It has been highly rated for both its food and service, so I thought we’d give it a go. And, besides, when in Rome, right?

Emirates Lobby
The lobby at Emirates Tower

Emirates Lobby - 01
Fabulous floral arrangement in the Emirates Tower Lobby

Al Nafoorah Dining Room
The Dining Room at Al Naforrah

Because it was a beautiful evening – only about 85 degrees, but very dry – we opted to dine al fresco on the restaurant’s terrace. Our waiter was wonderful and made sensible and delicious recommendations, as we’re somewhat unfamiliar with traditional Lebanese cuisine. He suggested that we try a sampling of hot and cold mezze and then see how it goes. We accompanied the food with a delicious Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon.

Al Naforrah Hummus
Tasty hummus – not too much garlic for AAC, CPA

Al Nafoorah Chef Salad
The chef’s salad, with an amazing pomegranate dressing

Al Nafoorah Chicken Livers
Sensational sauteéd chicken livers with pomegranate sauce

We had a marvelous meal, but never got beyond the mezze – the portions were just too large. One of them, the sauteéd chicken livers in a pomegranate sauce, is a must if you go. We also enjoyed the labneh (cucumber/yogurt/olive oil), and the grilled halloumi. Again, the service was so good, and we really appreciated that the waiter realized – after finishing off the mezze – we had no room for more food (and told us so). However, he presented us with a complimentary dessert of incredibly fresh melons and pineapple, accompanied by a delicious Ashtha bin asail (fresh cream with almonds, honey and pistachios) – the perfect ending to our meal.

Al Nafoorah - 02
Al Nafoorah’s light dessert – perfect finish

DINING TIP: Al Nafoorah

In Dubai, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Yesterday being Sunday, it was the first day of the work-week. We found that out as we Uber’ed over to the Jumeirah Mosque for a morning tour. For the first time, we had traffic issues, but that was OK.

The Jumeirah Mosque offers an English-speaking tour at 10:00 AM every day, except Friday, for a very nominal fee. When you arrive at the Visitor’s Center to check in, there’s also a complimentary buffet. The tour attracts a large crowd, which I’d estimate at close to 200 people yesterday morning.

Our tour guide – originally from England – was Latifah, also know as Terry. She was very engaging and approachable, and walked us through not only the 5 pillars of Islam but, also, explained how the Mosque (any mosque, actually) is used for the formalities that are a part of the experience, including the ritual washing before entering and the removal of shoes and, even, how one prays when inside. This particular mosque, btw, dates back to the mid-1970s, so it’s rather new, as mosques go.

In a way, the experience felt like a bit of propaganda, but in a smart and strategic way. Especially interesting is that, when Latifah had finished her remarks, she opened it up to questions and she said that nothing was off limits. The assembled crowed, however, was a bit tame, so the questions were mostly benign. All-in-all, it was 75 minutes well-spent with several takeaways for thought.

Jumeirah Mosque - 01
Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque AAC - 01
AAC, CPA inside the Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque - Latifah - Terry
Our tour guide, Latifah

Jumeirah Mosque - AAC - 02
AAC, CPA back in his shoes following our tour of the Mosque

SIGHTSEEING TIP: Jumeirah Mosque

Once we returned the hotel, we decided to visit the adjacent Wafi Mall, which was accessible through an interior entrance. While our visit the previous day to Dubai Mall was nothing short of overwhelming and created all kinds of sensory overload, the much smaller Wafi Mall was much less intimidating – and almost empty of customers!

But it was fun to walk through and see what was on display. Some of the big names were there, and some of the design elements were photo-worthy.

Wafi Mall
Exterior entrance to Wafi Mall Souq

Wafi Mall Interior
Stained glass ceiling, consistent with Egyptian design 

We happened upon a wonderful venue – Wafi Gourmet – where one could shop or sit at one of several counters and enjoy a meal or a coffee or a sweet. It combined both modern and traditional kinds of merchandise.

Wafi Mall Spices
Fabulous selection of fresh spices at Wafi Gourmet

FOOD TIP: Wafi Gourmet

Having concluded our expeditions for the day, we hung around the suite and relaxed for a few hours.

Dubai Sunset
Another perfect Dubai sunset, as seen from our terrace

We elected to stay in the hotel on our 3rd and final night. We started off with cocktails at the Raffles Salon, located in the lobby.

Raffles Dubai Saloon
Raffles Dubai Salon

Cocktails - AAC
AAC, CPA anticipates his bespoke cocktail, the Gin and IT

While we awaited our cocktails, we had a chance, once again, to appreciate the lobby decor.

Raffles Lobby
The Raffles Dubai lobby – imposing but very welcoming, too

I’d like to be able to report to you that we enjoyed our cocktails but, alas, they were the one thing that let us down at this otherwise superb hotel. My Gordon’s martini was sorely lacking in gin, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the barman did to it; AAC, CPA’s Gin and IT, a concoction of gin, Martini Rosso and Angostura (as close to a Negroni as we were likely to get) was marginally better, but disappointing. The olives, however, were a smashing success. Dubai does olives really well.

As we left the Salon, we noticed the tea service (below), which is quite elegant. Note, if you can, the 3 miniature sand-timers in the lower part of the picture – to brew your tea for 3 or 4 or 5 minutes. Cool beans.

Raffles Tea Service

We then headed up to Raffles Gardens for dinner. Once again, we elected to dine outdoors as the weather was perfect for it.

Dinner Tent
Raffles Gardens

Dinner Tent - AAC
AAC, CPA inside our tent and anticipating more food

As the night before, we had a great waiter who helped us navigate the menu. This time we elected to share a mezze platter and a mixed grill, accompanied by a lovely bottle of rosé, perfect for a warm night.

Dinner Tent - Wine
A little underexposed, but you get the idea.

Raffles Night Exterior
Another view of the hotel from our tent in the gardens

After enjoying our food and wine, we returned to the suite for some final packing and preparation for today’s transfer to the ship.

As I contemplate our visit to Dubai, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to be here, even for only 2 full days. We had been told, from friends who had already been, to lower our expectations, that Dubai was some kind of Las Vegas on steroids. (There is, in fact, some truth to that.)

But we arrived with open minds and were not disappointed. It’s pretty amazing to be in a city which, until about 20 years ago, was almost nonexistent. The amount of building and infrastructure that has occurred here over that period of time is mind-boggling. When I consider the two “touristy” things we did here – visits to the Jumeirah Mosque and the Dubai Mall – it perfectly describes Dubai as a city of contrasts: the traditional versus the modern; the sacred versus the profane. Dubai attempts to have it both ways and, in many ways, succeeds.

Okay, kids, it’s time to get organized and on our way. The next time you hear from us, we’ll be aboard Seabourn Encore!

 

If You Blinked, You Might Have Missed It

Or: 8 Hours in London, including travel time!

So, it’s Friday morning and we’re just about to embark on our Etihad fantasy, and I thought I’d give you the details of our sprint through London yesterday. In a word, it was “perfect”.

Our flight from JFK arrived right on time and, because we were fast-tracked through border control, we sped down to baggage claim and, unlike all US baggage systems, our luggage was already on the carousel and ready for us to pickup. We were on the street moments later.

We had intended to take a taxi from Terminal 5/Heathrow to the Hilton London Heathrow, which is located at Terminal 4. As it turned out, our intrepid AAC, CPA saw a shuttle bus which would do the very same thing. Ten minutes later, we were dropped off at the hotel.

Hilton Exterior
AAC, CPA does the Hilton and does it well

We had requested an early check-in (for a nominal surcharge), so our room was ready upon arrival, rather than the usual 3:00 PM check-in. We chose a king junior suite to give us some extra room and it was more than adequate. And the bed was SENSATIONAL!

We got settled in, checked out the hotel – there are several different dining venues down at the lobby level and a nice bar. 

And then we were off to London. Remember how I mentioned that there is a 10-minute covered walkway directly from the hotel to Terminal 4, getting us to both the Piccadilly line for our trip into London and, also, to Etihad check-in for our flight to Abu Dhabi? Well, I wasn’t misinformed.

Hilton - Walkway
Follow the walkway!

We hopped onto the Piccadilly line and – an hour later – we were exiting at the Green Park Station. You may think that’s a long time to get from Point A to Point B, but with London traffic as heavy as it is, we arrived in London possibly faster than if we’d taken a taxi. All for 3.10GPB each!!

AAC Puts on The Ritz
AAC, CPA puttin’ on the Ritz

Strolling along Piccadilly towards the theatre, AAC CPA was a bit peckish, and we all know how he gets when that happens. So we stopped into one of our favorite casual spots, Paul, and picked up some sustenance.

Paul - pre-matinee snack
Dee-lish!

From there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where we had tickets to see Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? What better way to spend a lovely afternoon that with Mr. Albee and his twisted characters?

AAC - Haymarket - 01
AAC, CPA in the theatre throng

AAC Damian & Sophie
AAC, CPA and Damian and Sophie

Haymarket Interior
The beautiful interior of the Haymarket 

The Set
The dimly lit set

Verdict on the play? Let’s just say that it was a very intense 1 hour and 50 minutes. Due to a bit of jet lag on both our parts, AAC, CPA and I may have had a few long blinks during the show….. But we enjoyed it nevertheless. (BTW, this play is not for the feint of heart!)

From the theatre, we shimmied over to our favorite hotel, the Corinthia in Whitehall Place, so that we could have a pre-dinner cocktail at the trendy Bassoon Bar. It’s a beautiful and low-key space with excellent cocktails. We know the manager there and he always takes wonderful care of us. They also have yummy nibbles.

Bassoon Bar Negronis
No, No, Negroni!

Corinthia Tulips
AAC, CPA tiptoes through the tulips as we leave the Corinthia

After lazing around the Bassoon Bar for an hour or so, it was time to get back on the road and head over the Hawksmoor Air Street, one of several Hawksmoor establishments throughout London. It’s basically a steak house, but really well done. We shared a couple of apps, a beauty of a beef fillet, yummy sides, a lovely Malbec and, for dessert, a very special Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
The aforesaid Sticky Toffee Pudding at Hawksmoor Air Street

By then, it was time to tube it back to the Hilton. Piccadilly Station was just 2 minutes from the restaurant and, within an hour, we were back at our digs.

Hilton - Walkway - Night
AAC, CPA retraces his steps after our 8-hour London adventure

By the time we got back to our room, the combination of not sleeping too much the night before and all of the day’s activities conspired to send us right to bed. We set a 6:00 AM wakeup call, slept fitfully and, now, here we are awaiting our flight, which we will board in about 30 minutes.

Etihad Lounge Entry

AAC orders breakfast
AAC, CPA fortifies himself before boarding our flight.

Etihad Flight Board
The flight board

So now it’s time to pack it in for awhile. Barring any surprises – both your’s and mine – the next time you’ll hear from me will be when we get to Dubai.

That’s all, folks!!

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

227
AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.