On the Road Again – Part One

Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.

I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.

But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones. 

The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.

Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new. 

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.

More about the cruise later.

But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure. 

It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.

We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.

Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!

So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?

(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)

To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.

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Our British Airways chariot from New York to London

BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!

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The Concorde Room at JFK

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You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.

After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?

The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.

The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!

Etihad 380
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right

Etihad Bar
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!

There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!

Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.

Theatre Royal Haymarket
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Goat
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!

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The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

Hawksmoor Air Street
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street

Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.

Hilton Exterior
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow

Hilton Room
Cool accommodations at the Hilton

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Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?

So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.

Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?

Tube Map to London
How to get from here to there.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.

Dubai
Iconic Image – Dubai

Raffles Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?

We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.

There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.

Enjoy!

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Au revoir, Paris: Our Photo Album

Bon soir, mes amis! This will be my last entry on our holiday trip to Paris and, instead of a lot of gabbing, it’s just going to be photos taken while we were there. Some you may have seen in earlier entries but there are some new ones here, too.

Enjoy!

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Friday evening: British Airways offers on-the-ground-buffet dining for some overnight flights

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AAC, CPA taking advantage of same

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Our Open Skies cabin

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Saturday morning: Checking into the fabulous Peninsula Paris

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Saturday afternoon: AAC, CPA arrives at the Arch de Triomphe: Bon jour, Paris!

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And then grabs lunch at Ladurée just down the Champs Elysses

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Classic Club Ladurée

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The hotel provides us with our own stockings

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Saturday evening: Negronis at Bar Kléber at the Peninsula

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Followed by Christmas Eve dinner at Bistrot de L’Oulette

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Sunday morning: Christmas continental breakfast at Le Lobby

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Sunday afternoon: checking out the competition – Four Seasons George V

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Sunday evening: Pre-opera dinner at L’Opera

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Followed by AAC, CPA at the Palais Garnier

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the Palais Garnier

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Iphigénie en Tauride curtain call

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Christmas Night: the Champs Elysses all gussied up

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Monday morning: Irina, of Paris Muse, shows us the Louvre

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And we get to see the Mona Lisa. Wait, what???

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Monday evening: AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Véfour

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Sensational duck liver ravioli – one of their “Classics”

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Post-dinner view from our Uber on the way back to the hotel

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Tuesday morning: AAC, CPA takes Le Metro to our next Paris Muse tour

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AAC, CPA outside of Notre Dame Cathedral

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And with our terrific Paris Muse guide, Jason

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Tuesday evening: Cocktails and dinner at Monsieur Bleu

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Cool light fixtures at Monsieur Bleu

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View from the best tables at Monsieur Bleu

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Wednesday afternoon: Lunch at Caviar Kaspia

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You always get pickles with your caviar – a Russian thing?

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2nd course of “The Rasputin Set” – caviar with a baked potato

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Famous sites on the way back to the hotel: the Madeline

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Place de la Concorde – late afternoon

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Wednesday evening: 42nd Street at Théâtre du Châtelet

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AAC, CPA at Théâtre du Châtelet

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42nd Street onstage at Théâtre du Châtelet

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Thursday morning: Paying a visit to Jeu de Paume

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Seeing the exhibit “Uprisings”

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Thursday afternoon: And now over to Bibliothèque nationale de France

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AAC, CPA pays homage to Richard Avedon and Audrey Hepburn

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Part of the Avedon exhibit at Bibliothèque nationale de France

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Thursday evening: Gala farewell dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc atop the Peninsula Paris

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc

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AAC, CPA takes a picture at L’Oiseau Blanc

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A replica of the actual L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird)

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Friday morning: AAC, CPA heads back to reality and New York City

That’s all, folks!!

The Peninsula Paris – Unparalleled Luxury and Pampering

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Avenue Kléber entrance to the Peninsula Paris

When traveling, there are those who use their hotels and hotel rooms as a convenience where they can drop off their luggage, take a shower and sleep. There are others, like AAC, CPA and me, who like to hang around the hotel, to enjoy our accommodation and to be well taken care of and, perhaps, to be pampered – just a little bit.

Welcome to the Peninsula Paris – one of the most luxurious and beautiful hotels it’s been our pleasure to visit. Originally opened in 1908 as the Hotel Majestic and conveniently located on the Avenue Kléber within a 5-minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe, the building was sold by the French government in 2008 for a reported $460 million; it reopened as the Peninsula Paris on August 1, 2014. The extensive rebuilding cost €338 million. 

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The lobby entrance to the hotel – town cars at the wait

We first stayed at the Peninsula Paris in 2015 for a too-quick 36 hours, and were dazzled by the experience. It immediately became one of our top-5 favorite hotels of all time. When AAC, CPA’s hip thing forced us to juggle our travel schedule (see my earlier entry “Hips and Ships” for details), we decided to spend Christmas in Paris. 

Although I generally book all of my hotel reservations through the sensational Veronica at AmEx FHR, on this occasion the hotel was offering a deal that was too good to pass up and which, unfortunately, AmEx was unable to match: stay 2 nights and get the 3rd free. As we were staying a total of 6 nights, we ended up getting 2 nights for free. Additionally, when we booked the trip in August (sometimes it definitely pays to plan ahead), the rates at the hotel were as low as I’ve ever seen them, literally hundreds of Euros lower. Perhaps it was a flash sale, and we got lucky.

In the months leading up to our arrival, I must commend the superb concierge team, who assisted us in making dinner reservations and dealt with an assortment of requests. Because we were in Paris over Christmas week, we decided that we wanted to send our holiday cards from the hotel and, sure enough, our intrepid hotel concierges were happy to oblige. Always prompt, always cheerful, armed with lots of useful information, each of them was a joy.

A great feature of the Peninsula hotels and that they basically have 24-hour check-in; that is, you let them know what time you plan to arrive and, in most cases, your room will be waiting for you. As we flew overnight from New York to Paris, we were at the hotel before 10:00 AM and, yes, we were immediately escorted up to our room, a junior suite. 

The guest rooms in this hotel are gorgeous, and I thought you might enjoy seeing where we stayed.

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Our bedroom area

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iPads on both sides of the bed – they did everything. We had dueling remote controls!

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The living area (printer included at the desk)

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We got goodies.

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As we arrived on Christmas Eve, we were given these for Santa to fill.

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This is our dressing room – loads of room for all our stuff.

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Perhaps the pièce de résistance: our bathroom

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We each had our own sink.

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Generous walk-in-shower

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Excusez-moi, but here’s our Japanese toilet (with heated seat)

Perhaps now you understand why we didn’t mind spending time in our room after a day of sightseeing or museum-going. It was the perfect place to hang out and relax.

The rest of the hotel is equally gorgeous. Allow me to give you a quick tour of some of the public spaces:

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The lobby

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Side entrance to the hotel

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The grand staircase

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AAC, CPA under the Christmas tree

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Le Lobby, the main restaurant, where we had breakfast each morning.

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AAC, CPA’s Continental Breakfast – enough to share

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On Christmas morning, we were treated to a floorshow with breakfast!

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The intimate Bar Kléber – great for a pre-dinner cocktail

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Negronis, anyone?

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L’Oiseau Blanc, the hotel’s rooftop gourmet restaurant, view included

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc on our last night in Paris

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A replica of the real L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird), which gave the restaurant its name

Just a final word about the hotel staff: from the front desk, to the doormen, to the maids, to all of the restaurant personnel, everyone was pitch-perfect. It’s the mark of a truly great hotel where everyone makes you feel welcome and always greets you with a smile.

There are Peninsula hotels all over the world. We’ve been extremely fortunate to visit the ones in Beverly Hills, Chicago and Paris. They are each in their own ways superior properties, but the Paris hotel is the absolute top. If you have the means to splurge for a special occasion, by all means you must stay. At the very least, drop by and take a walk through the lobby and, perhaps, have a cocktail at the Bar Kléber or afternoon tea at Le Lobby. You won’t regret it.

LODGING TIP: The Peninsula Paris

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

CUISINE TIP: L’Oiseau Blanc

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

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Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

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Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

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My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

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A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

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Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!

 

 

 

Memo from Glenmere Mansion

” . . . . a weekend in the country,
How amusing,
How delightfully droll.
A weekend in the country,
While we’re losing
Our control.”
Stephen Sondheim

Good evening and greetings from Glenmere Mansion in Chester, New York – a mere 75 minutes from Manhattan. This is our 3rd visit to this enchanted hostelry and we couldn’t be happier to be here. The occasion is the 10th anniversary of our very dear friends, A and K, who we met aboard Crystal Serenity on an Atlantic crossing back in 2013.

About Glenmere Mansion: Designed by famed architects, Carrère and Hastings, Glenmere was built in 1911 for multimillionaire Robert Wilson Goelet (1881-1966). Goelet’s charge to his architects was to think “Tuscan villa”. The mansion was built on a hilltop overlooking a lake amid hundreds of acres purchased by Goelet. The stunning gardens surrounding the estate were originally designed by Beatrix Jones Farrand, America’s first major female landscape architect.

Glenmere Goelet

Glenmere was sold during World War II and became a resort hotel; over the years, the hotel sadly fell into disrepair and, eventually, was seized by the local authorities and a tax lien was placed upon it. 

In 2007, the mansion and estate was acquired by Alan Stenberg and his partner, Daniel DeSimone, whose inspiration it was to restore Glenmere Mansion to its former glory. It took several years to complete the multimillion dollar project and you can see all that was spent from the moment you arrive. 

In fact, Glenmere Mansion is held in such high esteem that it is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux which, at present, has only 530 properties worldwide.

Glenmere Entrance
Arriving at Glenmere Mansion

Glenmere - AAC Arrives
AAC CPA has arrived

As soon as we drove up, the mansion’s butler, Charles, came right out to meet us. If we didn’t know already know Alan, we’d swear that Charles ran the place – he’s extremely knowledgeable about everything Glenmere, and has the knack of anticipating what you want and/or need, sometimes before you do. He’s that good.

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AAC CPA and the indispensable Charles

While Charles took care of our luggage, we went to check-in. Michelle at reception told us that, thanks to Alan, we’d be upgraded from our usual #16 (there are only about 19 or so rooms in the place) into the Master Suite. (How lucky are we?) Charles got us into the private elevator and we ascended to the top floor and entered our digs for the weekend.

Glenmere Elevator
Private elevator to the Master Suite

We knew, from past visits, that every inch of this place has been thoroughly and lovingly thought out and impeccably designed, but we were still unprepared for the sumptuousness of the Master Suite. We later realized that the “formal” entrance to the suite is on the floor below, after which you ascend a gorgeous staircase. The suite has a master bedroom with en suite bathroom which features a free-standing bathtub (rubber duckies included), a steam-shower and (even in July) heated floors. Down the hallway is the beautiful living and dining room. Outside the living room is a private terrace, which runs the entire length of the suite. Thank you, Alan, for your generosity!

Manor Suite Entrance
Lower entrance to the Master Suite
Manor Suite Hallway
Master Suite Hallway
Manor Suite Bedroom
Master Suite Bedroom
Glenmere Tub
Bathtub with rubber duckies
Manor Suite Living Room
Master Suite Living/Dining Room
Manor Suite Terrace
Master Suite terrace overlooking the Cortile

After settling in, we met the boys for lunch in the mansion’s Cortile (or inner courtyard). We started with a perfectly chilled bottle of an Italian Rosé, followed by salads and – for one of us with a real appetite – a chicken and waffle sandwich with lots of French fries. Everything was delectable.

Glenmere Cortile
The cortile (or inner courtyard)
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The chicken and waffle sandwich
Glenmere Nicoise
Salade Nicoise

After lunch, it was time for a walk around the grounds. In addition to the gorgeous pool area, there’s a loggia (which was set out with jigsaw puzzles and games), the bocce ball courts, the tennis courts, the croquet lawn (all very Gatsby, don’t you think?) and, finally, the fabulous spa, the main feature of which is one of only four authentic hammam spas in the entire United States. If spas are your thing, Glenmere is where you want to be.

Glenmere Formal Gardens
The formal gardens

Glenmere Pool
The pool
Glenmere Hammam
The fabulous hammam

Then we came back inside to snoop around the common areas of the mansion: Frog’s End (the more casual restaurant where we’ll be dining tonight), the library, which has a wonderful collection of books and more games, the “living room”, where cocktails are served each evening, the Supper Room (the more formal restaurant, where we’ll be dining on Saturday night) and, finally, the China Room, which is available for private dinners. The thought and care that has gone into every detail of every room is absolute and complete.

Glenmere Supper Room
The Supper Room

Glenmere Terrace
AAC CPA on the terrace

Before I forget, I want to put in a word for the Glenmere staff. Alan and his partner, Dan, have assembled an outstanding group of local professionals who are here for one reason only: to insure that you have a memorable visit. We remember many of them from past visits and some of them have been here since the mansion opened in 2010.

So now the rain has stopped and we’re going to have another walk around before inviting the boys up for cocktails in a few minutes.

Stay tuned for more details of our Glenmere adventure.

To be continued . . . . . . . 

PS.
Glenmere Sunset
Another perfect Glenmere sunset

 

TBT: Kyoto and the Hoshinoya

Greetings and salutations!

I know that lots of peeps celebrate TBT on Thursdays, but I say why not Throwback Tuesdays? That way, you get thrown back 2 days earlier. Win-win, right?

So today, ladies and germs, I want to share with you an amazing experience AAC CPA and I had in April 2014 when we were visiting Japan. We had flown to Tokyo so that we could have the great pleasure of sailing back to Los Angeles aboard the beautiful Crystal Symphony. (Sound familiar?)

Whilst making our travel plans, we were told by our fellow travelers – nay, commanded – that we could not visit Japan without seeing Kyoto, for almost 1,100 years (794 – 1868) the capital of Japan.

We heeded their advice and had a marvelous adventure. Being train aficionados, we elected to travel from Tokyo Station to Kyoto via the famous Shinkansen, a network of high-speed trains, aptly nicknamed the “Bullet Train” because, I surmise, it travels faster than a speeding bullet. The distance between the 2 cities is 319 miles, which we covered in 2 hours, 18 minutes, or at an average speed of about 138 mph.  

Bullet Train - Mt. Fuji

Before arriving in Tokyo, we’d contacted our hotel’s concierge to arrange for round-trip tickets on the Bullet Train, so everything had been reserved for us in advance.

On the morning of our departure for Kyoto, we walked the short distance from our hotel into Tokyo Station and to the departure track for our train. We arrived with a comfortable 15 minutes to spare. As we were waiting, we noticed a brigade of young women impeccably dressed in what appeared to be Jackie Kennedy pink suits. (Does my memory betray me, or do I also recall matching pillbox hats as well?) In any event, we wondered who they were and what they were doing there. The answer wasn’t long in coming.

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AAC CPA gets ready to board Nozomi 21 bound for Kyoto

As our train pulled into the station and the arriving passengers departed, these ladies rushed on to “refresh” each car of the train, making sure that each interior was perfectly tidy and clean. When we entered the train a few minutes to find our reserved seats, the car was indeed neat and spotless. We later learned that, should a seat cushion be stained, it would be immediately replaced. 

Amtrak: Please take note!

Need I mention that the train departed absolutely to the minute on time? Once we cleared central Tokyo, the train started to pick up speed, which you could totally feel, but not in an unpleasant way. With the majestic Mt. Fuji in the distance, we enjoyed the quick journey to Kyoto. Snacks and beverage service were available, if desired.

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AAC CPA settled in and ready to go

All-in-all, a very pleasant trip.

Upon our arrival in Kyoto, we were met by a private guide and driver we had engaged to show us the sights, and suffice it to say that we saw some amazing things.

But what I really want to share with you is our experience staying at our ryokan (or traditional Japanese inn). Thanks to the oft-mentioned and fabulous Veronica at AmEx Platinum, she arranged for us to stay at the amazing Hoshinoya.

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The Hoshinoya at night

When, by mid-afternoon, our sightseeing was over for the day, our guide dropped us off at what looked like a small enclosure adjacent to a tranquil river. As it was raining and a bit cool, we were immediately offered hot tea and a Japanese cookie. Within a few minutes, we were escorted from our waiting area to a small river boat. From there, it was a 15-minute ride down river to the Hoshinoya.

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Our boat driver taking us down river to the Hoshinoya

Hoshinoya - Arrival
Being greeted on our arrival

We were met at the dock and escorted to the check-in area and then to our lovely rooms, which consisted of a living room overlooking the river and separated by shoji screens from the double-futon bedroom. Adjacent was a lovely bathroom with a birchwood soaking tub. Next to the tub: a bottle of Saki. It was explained to us that, while it was certainly OK to drink the Saki, it’s real purpose was for soaking in the tub. Let me tell you: it was a fair exchange – after a long day of travel and sightseeing, it was delicious to soak in that Saki-filled tub.

Hoshinoya - 03
Our living room with river view

Hoshinoya - 04
Double futons in the sleeping area

Hoshinoya - AAC Bath
AAC CPA in the Saki-filled birchwood tub

Hoshinoya has a very well-regarded restaurant and chef (Ichiro Kubota) and we elected to have dinner there. When we were shown to our rooms, our host showed us two sets of pajamas: one for sleeping and another fancier set to wear around the premises. Also included were Japanese sandals and a slicker. We were encouraged, if we so desired, to wear our “going out” pajamas to dinner and we thought that was a great idea, especially as we were traveling light and it was still raining.

So we got ourselves all done up in our fancy  pajamas, sandals and slickers, and made our way to the restaurant, assuming that – because it was a Monday evening – the restaurant would be quiet and we’d have an intimate dinner. 

Well, we were half-right.

As we entered the restaurant, we could hear a somewhat boisterous group singing a Japanese version of “Happy Birthday”. And guess what? Everyone there was fully dressed: jackets and ties for the men, fancy dresses for the ladies, and AAC CPA and I schlumphing around in our pajamas!

However, we were taken away from the other diners and shown into our own private glass-enclosed dining room, which was surrounded by a beautiful garden in full bloom. It was magical and like being in our own private world.

The Hoshinoya offers a multi-course dinner, which one of us was excited to sample. Someone else begrudgingly agreed to go along with it (no names, please). There were just a couple of hiccups along the way, for instance: when the uncooked octopus leg made an appearance at the table and somebody shrieked in response. But, mostly, we had a wonderful dinner with wine and saki pairings and the most discreet and attentive service imaginable.

Upon returning to our rooms, which had been turned down for the night, we immediately fell into bed (that is, we fell into futon) and had a lovely night’s sleep – it was so quiet, except for the sound of a light rainfall, that you couldn’t help but be lulled to sleep.

Hoshinoya View
Foggy and mysterious early morning river view

The next morning, we had the option of ordering breakfast in the room (at an additional charge), and we totally took advantage of it. A discreet knock at the door at the appointed time, and we were greeted by 2 smiling faces. They came in, reconfigured the furniture for dining, and prepared our breakfast for us. We were totally charmed by the service and the food was delicious.

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 01
Our breakfast is prepared for us en suite

Hoshinoya Breakfast - 02
And a lovely breakfast spread

After breakfast, we made preparations to depart, as we had another half day of sightseeing before boarding our Bullet Train for the return trip to Tokyo.

Hoshinoya - AAC
AAC CPA on his way back to our river boat to reenter the real world

A stay at the Hoshinoya is not inexpensive – it should rightly be considered a “splurge” – but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

So it turns out that we were given great advice, which I now pass on to you – our brief visit to Kyoto and the Hoshinoya was an enchanting experience and not to be missed.

TRAVEL TIP: Hoshinoya – Kyoto

Buenos Aires – Day One

Buenas noches, gentle readers!

I’m sitting here on the 15th floor of the beautiful Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt on a balmy Buenos Aires evening listening to – what else? – tango music to get me in the mood as I report to you.

Tango
Inspiration for this blog entry

Yes, we’ve arrived.

But before we arrived, we had to pack – and you know that this is a very delicate topic around certain people – no names, please. Here’s our luggage just before we left for the airport:

Luggage for 3 Weeks
Think we brought enough for 3 weeks?

As it was a late night flight (departure was at 10:00 PM), we opted to eat in the terminal at JFK, which has an outpost of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse. By doing so, we could (a) get a decent meal (don’t expect to eat well on the plane!), and (b) go to sleep as soon as we wanted.

Bobby Van's
Grabbing a quick bite before our flight

Our flight down was about as painless as it could be. American Airlines has a non-stop every night from JFK. They’ve reconfigured their business class section with very comfortable seats that can be adjusted into lie-flat beds.

AA Reconfigured
My bedroom last night

So within an hour of takeoff, I’d taken my pharmaceutical of choice, changed into “something more comfortable” and got under the covers. Miraculously (for me), I slept for almost 6 hours. Woke up in time to see a really good flick – The Walk – and had some breakfast, changed into my Buenos Aires attire, and prepared to land. Total flying time was just a bit over 10 hours (traveling almost 5,300 miles).

Final Approach into BA
Here’s our final approach before landing this morning

Getting through passport control was pretty much a breeze in spite of the long queues and, by the time we arrived at baggage claim, our luggage was already circling the carousel. How lucky are we? From there, we had to go through customs and have our luggage scanned (never seen that before when entering a country). Fortunately for us, Veronica at AmEx FHR had arranged with the hotel to have a waiting car and driver for us, so we were literally whisked into Buenos Aires and to the hotel.

Thanks again to Veronica and the Platinum FHR program (of which I’ve spoken many times), not only did we get the usual FHR amenities (complimentary breakfast, late check-out and $150 spa credit), but we were also afforded a DOUBLE upgrade! So, we’re beautifully ensconced in a Deluxe Park Suite. TheCulturedTraveler’s travel karma continues!!!

The Palace. jpg
A view of the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt

Turns our my sister and her husband beat us to the hotel. They had flown in from the west coast, so we met up with them after getting settled in. Feeling a bit peckish, we checked out one of the hotel restaurants, all of which have lovely terraces, and had a delicious bite of lunch.

From there, we went for a little stroll to get acclimated to our surroundings and saw the restaurant we’ve chosen for tonight, Fervor, only a couple of blocks away.

Then back to the hotel where AAC CPA and I passed out for about an hour.

As I began this entry, he took care of his evening ablutions. This being our first night in town, we’re having an early dinner, so we can hit the ground running tomorrow.

Tick Tock – Three hours later:

Just back from a fabulous dinner at Fervor. It had been recommended by several friends, including some folks who live in BA. Our new friend at the hotel’s reception desk said it’s one of the best meals in town.

Fervor
Definitely check out this establishment if you’re coming to BA

He wasn’t lying – it was great. Basically a beef place, we ordered 3 different cuts of beef to share. All were succulent and perfectly prepared. To compliment the beef, we had this amazing Malbec that you’ll all want to Google and find for yourselves:

Wine at Fervor
This wine will blow your mind.

Afterwards, a short walk back to the hotel and calling it a day in anticipation of our first full day in town.

Luckily for us, we’ve engaged the services of a local guide to squire us around the city for the next 2 days. More about it and him in my next post.

For now: adios, amigos!!!