Bonjour Paris!!

Greetings, Ladies and Germs – we made it!

As it’s now Christmas Eve and, as we got a lot of livin’ to do, I’m going to make this a brief entry with some photos of the past 24 hours, starting at JFK last evening before our magic carpet ride (courtesy of OpenSkies) to the City of Light:

When you’re flying overnight on either British Airways or OpenSkies, there’s an option available where you can eat on the ground before you board the plane, so that you can go right to sleep – good idea, huh?

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I wasn’t kidding!

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And here’s AAC CPA, chowing down on his pre-flight supper

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At the gate, just a few minutes later

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A little preflight Rose Champagne

The flight offered dinner service, but AAC CPA and I opted to have our beds made up and – as the flight time was just a little over 6 hours – decided to get some shuteye. As it turned out there was a lot of bump and grind for a few hours but, thanks to my pharmaceuticals, I was blissfully unaware.

About an hour before landing, I had a little continental breakfast:

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There’s turkey and Swiss cheese inside that croissant, folks!

Once on the ground, we picked up our luggage and Uber’ed into town. It was a pretty great deal and, perhaps, even less than the cost of a taxi.

We got to the spectacular Hotel Peninsula – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe – in just about 20 minutes and our beautiful room was waiting for us – more about that in a later post. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little walk to shake off the jet lag.

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AAC CPA enjoying the sights

Of course, AAC immediately felt peckish, so we headed over to one of our favorite establishments in Paris for the elegant quick bite: Ladurée.

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Yummy, yummy, yummy

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A happy AAC CPA, who knows that lunch is about to be served

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The absolu-delish Club Ladurée

After lunch, our very satisfied AAC CPA and I made our way back to the hotel. And along the way, we stumbled upon this amazing and always surprising sight:

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Is that an amazing photograph or what?

And then, when we got back into our room, here’s what was waiting for each of us:

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And, yeah, there were some goodies inside!

And now, dear friends, it’s time for me to get changed and head downstairs to Le Bar Kléber for a lovely cocktail before we head out for our Christmas Eve dinner.

I’ll be back soon to report on our Paris adventures. In the meantime – whether you’ve been naughty or nice – I wish you a very Joyeux Noël de Paris!

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Let’s Spend the Holidays in Paris!

“New York has neon, Berlin has bars,
But ah! Paree!”

Follies, 1971

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Fifi D’Orsay extols the virtues of Paris in Follies

Greetings from a frigid (27° but feels like 18°) but brilliantly sunny afternoon in New York City, where the weather of late has been totally schizoid. We had weather in the teens a few days ago and, yesterday, it was pushing 60°. It makes a person lose faith in weather prognosticators!

But, we don’t despair – we pack. On Friday, we’ll be winging our way to the City of Light, a/k/a/ Paris, for a week of holiday cheer. You may recall, from a former post, that we were originally planning to be in Hong Kong for the holidays. But then there was that hip replacement and cancellation of a trip to Amsterdam. Because we didn’t want to forfeit the Amsterdam airfare (on British Airways), we had to come up with an alternative plan. Et donc – Paris!

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The Champs Elysee all gussied up for the holidays – December, 2014

BA has a subsidiary airline – Open Skies – and that’s how we’ll make our way to and from Paris. We’ve flown them on a couple of other occasions and, if you plan ahead, you can obtain a competitive fare (not now, of course, at the last minute). They have a good business class cabin (referred to, by them, as “Biz Bed”), which gives you a seat that fully reclines so you can get some shuteye on the flight over. Open Skies has a fleet of mostly 757s, and the cabin interiors are acceptable, but could use a redo. However, it’s a way to snag a good fare and fly nonstop to Orly.

Another thing to note is that, since these are evening flights, meal service onboard is minimal, as passengers mostly want to get some sleep. For those passengers in Biz Bed, there is a full meal service on the ground at JFK called “Sleeper Service”, which is available in the Terraces Lounge.

 

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Our Open Skies chariot awaits

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The “Biz Bed” Cabin

And as an added treat, Open Skies currently has a promotion that entitles us to a complimentary Uber to and from JFK, so we’ll start our trip off on the right foot.

TRAVEL TIP: Open Skies

So what, you ask, will we be up to in Paris? For starters, we somehow scored the deal of the century at the Peninsula Paris. It’s a new property, under 2 years old, and it’s sensational. Located on Avenue Kleber within 5 minutes of the Arch de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, it a very convenient base of operations. When we booked last August, the hotel had a promotion wherein you paid for 2 nights and the 3rd night was complimentary; as we’re staying 6 nights, we ended up with 2 free nights. The rates were so low, in fact, that I booked directly rather than reserve through the AmEx FHR program (which features all kinds of giveaways and benefits), as it was still less expensive to book through the hotel.

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Side entrance to the Peninsula

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The spectacular lobby at the Peninsula

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Paris

By now, you’re perfectly aware that I’m intrepid when it comes to planning, so I know you’ll believe me when I say that we have all of our evening meals planned. Whenever we go to Paris, we typically have one blowout, super, over-the-top Michelin meal. This year, we’ll return to one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, Le Grand Vefour, a jewel box of a restaurant, originally opened in 1794 and located in the arcades of the Palais-Royal. We usually don’t return to restaurants in Paris, except on rare occasions where we might go back for a 2nd visit. However, our dinner at Le Grand Vefour next week will mark the 4th time we’ve dined there. It’s that special. One of the charming details of the dining room is that the banquettes are named for notable Frenchmen and women: among them, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Emile Zola, Joséphine de Beauharnais and, at the adjacent banquette, General Bonaparte. The banquette we always request is named for the noted French author, Colette (né Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette).

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Le Grand Vefour in the arcades at the Palais Royale

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Vefour

CUISINE TIP: Le Grand Vefour 

Other highlights of our week in Paris:

We’ll be going to the famed Palais Garnier on Christmas night to see a performance of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the opera house. If you’ve never been to the Palais Garnier, it’s a must – think Phantom of the Opera on steroids.

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The spectacular Palais Garnier

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Inside the auditorium with the famed Chagall chandelier

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The grand stairway to the stalls

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The ultra-Rococo grand foyer

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A scene from Iphigénie en Tauride

CULTURE TIP: Palais Garnier

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L’Opera, which is adjacent to Palais Garnier

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera

And, while we’re on the topic of shows, the famed Théâtre du Châtelet has, over the past 10 years, presented over 25 Broadway musicals on its stage. Several years ago, we saw an excellent production of Sweeney Todd and, two years ago, we saw the out-of-town tryout of An American in Paris on Christmas Eve, which opened on Broadway a few months later. This year, the Châtelet is presenting a new production of that old chestnut, 42nd Street – not our favorite show, but a fun way to spend an evening. After all, the show contains these immortal words: “Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language!” And the Châtelet always delivers: full (sometimes oversized) orchestra, large casts and it never stints on the glitz and glamour.

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Théâtre du Châtelet

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The gorgeous auditorium at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

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42nd Street at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

CULTURE TIP: Théâtre du Châtelet

Although it’s going to be our 13th or 14th visit to Paris (can’t get enough), we still do a bit of sightseeing on occasion and maybe revisit some favorite places. Because we are Philistines when it comes to art (sad, but true), we decided to avail ourselves of this outfit called Paris Muse, which specializes in private tours in and around Paris. So we’ve booked two excursions: the first will be a 2½ hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre and the second will be a 90 minute tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. We’ve been to both places in the past, but not as an immersive experience. I’ll report back to you and let you know how it goes.

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No caption necessary

CULTURE TIP: The Louvre

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Cathedral

CULTURE TIP: Notre Dame Cathedral

We also discovered that one of our favorite museums – the Jeu de Paume, located at Place Concorde and on the edge of the Tuilleries – is currently featuring an exhibit entitled Unrest, which is described as “a transdisciplinary exhibition on the theme of collective emotions, political events insofar as they imply crowd movements in conflict: there is talk of social disorders, political agitation, insurrections, revolts, revolutions, vacancies, riots, upheavals of all kinds”.

Seems like an appropriate time for this exhibit, right?

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Musée Jeu de Paume

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume

Otherwise, weather permitting, we hope to walk the streets of Paris until we drop. It’s a city made for strolling and we intend to show off AAC CPA’s new and improved hip as we make our way through the Marais or the Champs Elysee or the Place Madeleine, especially as we’ll be having a lovely lunch at Caviar Kaspia one afternoon.

So that, in a nutshell, will be our Parisian holiday adventure. I’ll fill in more details as they happen.

Restez à l’écoute et de joyeuses fêtes à tous!

 

 

Hips and Ships

A Farce in Three Parts

Part One: AAC, CPA Goes Hippie

Hola, amigos!! Did you miss us? It’s been a really long time, I know, since TheCulturedTraveler took pen to paper (as it were) to fill you in on what’s going on with us.

Well, the answer is – in a word – PLENTY!

The intrepid star of our blog – AAC, CPA – has had an exciting few months (with an assist from yours truly). You see, he’s had this hip that’s been giving him a pain-in-the – well – hip. He has a truly excellent surgeon and support team and we knew a hip replacement was in his future. In fact, we visited the surgeon this past July to set up the procedure for this November. But, while we were there, the doc wanted to take some new film of the old hip so that he’d have a revised benchmark when it came time for the surgery.

So, we were in his office manager’s office mapping things out, schedule-wise, when said doc popped his head into the office and said: “When you’re done in here, come see me.” We didn’t particularly think anything of it, so we were a bit surprised when we were told that there was essentially no cartilage remaining in the hip and he had fast-tracked AAC, CPA for surgery 10 days later. Yes, sports fans, you read that correctly.

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AAC CPA on his way to the hospital – 5:05 AM 

In a way, it was a good thing, since AAC, CPA was really suffering with his bum hip. So, better to get it over with and put it behind us. And, in fact, he was SO READY for the operation that he was grateful not to have to wait another few months.

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New York City street scene – 5:07 AM

Without going into a lot of gory details, the operation was an incredible success. After a brief hospital stay, AAC, CPA returned home with his new and improved hip and, for the first couple of weeks, had a visiting nurse and physical therapist dropping in to check on him and to put him through his paces. We are now 10+ weeks since the surgery and our AAC, CPA is good as new, perhaps even better.

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The view from AAC, CPA’s hospital room – Triborough Bridge in the distance.

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AAC, CPA the day after surgery – in a very good mood.

So, a huge debt of thanks, kudos and a shout-out to Daniel Nawabi (AAC, CPA’s surgeon), the Hospital for Special Surgery, their fantastic staff and the visiting nurses and physical therapists who got AAC, CPA back on his feet! If you ever have an orthopedic issue, HSS is the place you want to be.

Part Two: The Travel Challenge

Well, you might ask, what does a hip replacement have to do with TheCulturedTraveler? Aside from being a witness to the whole thing – and it was a very interesting experience – we were both affected travel-wise, and I’ll tell you how:

First: His surgery was on August 4th. We had been scheduled to fly to Amsterdam for Labor Day Weekend – 4 weeks later – didn’t happen.

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Amsterdam – Nee

Note: To any of you contemplating this kind of surgery, please allow sufficient time after surgery to travel;

Second: In early October, we had planned to fly to London and then to Paris and, finally, to Lisbon to board the beautiful Crystal Symphony and sail back to the states – see below;

Third: We had planned to fly to Hong Kong for the holidays (on Cathay Pacific using American Airlines miles) – uh-uh, as you’ll see below.

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Hong Kong – 没有

Why all the travel drama? Here’s why: AAC, CPA’s surgeon wouldn’t clear him for travel until 12 weeks following his operation which, actually, would take us to October 27th. Therefore: no London and no Paris!!! Because we had already paid our fare for the Symphony voyage (and were into the penalty cancellation period), we negotiated with the surgeon to shave 1½ weeks off of the 12 week travel embargo (which is how we lost London and Paris), and he agreed. (Whew.)

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London – No!

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Paris – Non!

So why in the world did we have to cancel Hong Kong, which was certainly outside of the 12-week period? Well, when we had to cancel Amsterdam, we had to figure out a way not to forfeit our airfare to and from. We had gotten “the deal of the century” on British Airways (one of their famous “flash sales”) which, unfortunately, was non-refundable. When I contacted BA, I was told that, if we produced a letter from our surgeon that (a) AAC CPA was unable to fly on our original itinerary; but (b) would be cleared to fly after a certain date, then (c) the airline would allow us to change our itinerary without penalty. However, there might be an up-charge for the new itinerary. Are you with me so far?

Because of our travel commitments (we’re actually booked through August, 2018!!), and because the BA fare we originally paid was good only until May of next year, we had to jettison Hong Kong (Boo-Hoo) and, instead, go somewhere else for the holidays. Well, as a “consolation prize”, why not Paris? Turns out that OpenSkies, a subsidiary of BA, has non-stop flights from JFK to Paris. We’ve used them a couple of times and, while they’re not Air France, their flights are more than adequate. So, for a slight upcharge, we’ll spend Christmas week in Paris.

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Open Skies from JFK to Paris Orly

It’s a good thing that I’m a type-A obsessed travel person, as that little transaction somehow took over a month to complete, due to a certain amount of incompetence on the BA side. There, I said it.

The great news is that I got another “deal of the century” on digs in Paris, as the Peninsula Hotel was running an insane sale that, if you blinked, you almost missed it. (Woo-Hoo!)

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Entrance to the Peninsula Hotel – Paris

So, that took care of the Amsterdam cancellation.

Then, I had to change our flight itinerary for Lisbon. Originally, we would have flown to London, then Paris and, finally, Lisbon, all on miles. Now we just needed to get to Lisbon. So, I had to contact American Airline, British Airways and Air France to make changes. We were very lucky to be able to return the miles to our accounts with very few penalties and, most especially, we able to get award flights to Lisbon – through London. We’ll be traveling in style all the way – lucky us!

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Lisbon – Sim!!!

I know you’re concerned that we aren’t able to spend the holidays in Hong Kong, a place we’ve never been. Never fear, we’ve now slotted it for December, 2018. (I TOLD you: I’m a type-A travel obsessed travel person.)

Part Three: Anchors Away!

Are you still with me? Here comes the good part.

After all of the travails of the past few months, isn’t it time for us to have some fun? Well, I think so, too.

Of course, it’s no secret that we plan our trips well in advance. How else can we be certain that we’ll get that certain flight on miles in a premium cabin or, speaking of cabins, the stateroom that we want on our next ocean voyage?

To that end, we planned (back in 2014) to be in Lisbon this coming Tuesday to board Symphony for a leisurely 13-day crossing back to the States. Fortunately, as posted above, our surgeon cleared AAC, CPA for travel so that, on Monday evening, we’ll take the redeye to London, with a connecting flight to Lisbon. If all goes well, we’ll be in time for dinner at our usual starboard midship window table. (If we’re running late, we sent an emergency e-mail to Remi, Symphony’s superb Maître ‘d to keep a plate in the oven for us.)

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Redeye to from JFK to London LHR aboard a BA 747

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7½ hour layover in the Concorde Room – LHR

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The beautiful Crystal Symphony – our home for the remainder of the month.

Life is good.

PS. Stay tuned for further tales of our adventures on the road!