Greetings from Dubai – Day 1

I’m writing to you from the 12th floor of the fabulous Raffles Dubai. We checked in last night around 10:00 PM. More about that in a bit.

Thought I’d finish telling you about our Etihad experience yesterday. It was flawless – you actually wanted the flight to be LONGER!

As I signed off yesterday (during the flight and after my first meal service), I became filled with ennui (and extreme fatigue) – perhaps the combination of jet lag and alcoholic intake. One of the nicest features of The Apartment is that one side can be converted into a very comfortable bed. Even thought it was a relatively short flight, I thought that a brief nap could do me no harm. So I asked the purser to make up my bed.

ETIHAD Bed
My bed aboard the Etihad A380 – doesn’t it look delightful?

I climbed under the covers and it was so luxurious and extremely comfortable. I’ve had the good fortune to fly on numerous flights that feature “lie flat beds”, but none came remotely close to the comfort level this one had. I closed the doors to my suite, was out cold in 5 minutes and slept for about an hour. How lucky am I?

Upon awakening, I felt that it was time to eat again. Why, I can’t possibly tell you. But I’d been told that the Etihad Steak Sandwich was a must, so I ordered one straightaway. In order to mitigate the damage, I invited AAC, CPA to join me and share the meal.

2nd Meal Service
Table for 2 at 36,000 feet

AAC wants food
AAC, CPA needs feeding

AAC happy
Etihad steak sandwich for 2 – AAC, CPA happy

The sandwich was accompanied by a truffled mayonnaise and warm garlic chips. And, of course, Eren (our food and beverage manager) paired the sandwich with a delicious Rioja. Somehow we devoured the sandwich in record time.

AAC, CPA wasn’t quite finished, however. He requested a plate of sweets to finish off the meal.

Dessert
Our totally unnecessary dessert – but delicious, nevertheless

By the time we finished stuffing ourselves, we were about 45 minutes from landing. Our flight crew – chef, food & beverage manager, purser and attendant – couldn’t have been nicer and we’ve never had better service in the air.

So thus say I: If you ever have the opportunity to fly Etihad in The Apartments, jump at it! We did it on AAdvantage miles – 110,000 each (BA from JFK – LHR; Etihad from LHR to AUH, tho’ after June 1st, nonstop Etihad award flights from JFK – AUH will be a bit more available due to the additional A380 daily flight for the same 110,000 miles). We would never pay for such a flight – the nonstop from JFK will currently set you back $15,881 PER PERSON!!!! – but the award is very achievable, provided that you can plan about 3 months ahead of your travel date, which is when the awards seem to appear.

TRAVEL TIP: Etihad Airways: Flying Reimagined

We had arranged with our hotel – Raffles Dubai – for a car to meet our flight and drive us to Dubai. We were lucky to be given “fast track” cards for border control, and we were sped through. Our luggage came up almost immediately and, before we knew it, we were met by a driver and hotel greeter and quickly en route to Dubai – about an 80 minute drive.

When we were about 5 minutes from the hotel, our greeter contacted them so that we’d be met upon arrival. As we got out of the car, Anita was waiting for us, whisked us through the lobby and took us immediately up to our suite to check us in.

We reserved one of the Landmark Suites, situated on the 12th floor of the pyramid-shaped hotel. It’s a sprawling space, with a huge living/dining area, wet bar, bedroom with separate dressing area, beautiful master bath with a jacuzzi and, finally, a powder room. Oh, and did I mention that we have 2 terraces?

An added benefit of being in the Landmark Suite is that you have access to the Raffles Lounge down on the 10th floor. It offers complimentary continental breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapes and cocktails. It’s a nice extra.

Welcome to Raffles
Welcome sweets from the hotel

Living Room - Night
Our living and dining area with wet bar behind

Bedroom - Night
Our bedroom

It was well after midnight by the time we’d settled in, and we weren’t even really unpacking – we’re saving most of our things for the ship on Monday, and we’re just in Dubai for 2 full days. Finally, we passed out and got a relatively good night’s sleep.

We were up fairly bright and early this morning. We took our time waking up, as we’ve raced through 8 times zones since leaving New York on Wednesday night.

Dubai by Day
Good morning, Dubai – the view from our suite

Terrace - 01
Terrace #1 off the living room

Terrace - 02
Terrace #2 off the bedroom

Eventually we made our way down to breakfast at Azur, which features an extensive buffet of Eastern and Western dishes. If you book this hotel through the AmEx FHR program, breakfast is included, as is a $100 food and beverage credit. Thanks, Veronica!

HOTEL TIP: Raffles Dubai

Did I mention that it’s really hot here? During the day, the temperature climbs to about 100 degrees and barely dips below 80 at night. Although the skies are clear, there seems to be a haze around everything – not sure why that is.

Because of the heat, we were a bit concerned about getting around while we’re here. The hotel – lovely as it is – is not convenient to anything, so one would have to walk quite a distance just to find public transportation. We checked with the hotel’s concierge and found out that taxis and/or Uber are both viable ways to get around. We opted for Uber.

We decided to make a trip over to one of Dubai’s most famous destinations: Dubai Mall. For all of you mall-goers who shop ’til you drop, you may have think you’ve been to the mall. But not in your wildest imagination have you ever been to something like the one in Dubai. There are something like 1,200 stores, restaurants, cafes, etc., located in this one place. I’m not that much of a shopper, but I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the place. Oh, and if you want to put on the blades, there’s a skating rink!

Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall – Something for Everyone

Aquarium
Or maybe you’d like to visit an aquarium?

Ice Rink - 02
Or take a spin on the ice when it’s 98 degrees outside?

AAC - Garrett's
The Dubai Mall even has Garrett popcorn – a Chicago institution!

Shake Shack
Unlike in NYC, there’s no waiting here – step right in!

IHop
Or, perhaps, something very retro?

Diver Wall Sculpture - 02
Very cool art and so reminiscent of Rosa Mexicano in New York City

SIGHTSEEING TIP: THE DUBAI MALL

After about 90 minutes – when our eyes began to cross from all the different shops – we Uber’ed it back to the hotel. Oh, and entre nous, Uber is extremely affordable here and, so far, the drivers have all been great and very friendly.

Back at the hotel, we decided to sample the complimentary afternoon tea at the Raffles Lounge (which we needed like a hole in the head). But it was quite nice, as you will see below.

Afternoon Tea
AAC, CPA is happy again

After that, there was nothing else to do, except to laze on our terraces, which had just begun to move into the shade. While it was hot, it was also kind of dreamy just hanging around and taking in the sights. 

And then we passed out for an hour!

As I put the finishing touches on this entry, AAC, CPA is showering up in preparation for dinner at the beautiful Al Nafoorah Restaurant, located in the Emirates Tower. More about that later.

But here’s one last image for today – sunset in beautiful and exotic Dubai:

 

Sunset
“The sun sits low, (almost) as low as it’s going to go”
Wadaeaan al’an!

Los Angeles – 1st Full Day in Town

Greetings, gentle readers, from the City of Angels. We arrived yesterday afternoon and, so far, are having a wonderful time.

Our trip in from the airport yesterday afternoon was uneventful, except that one can no longer travel on the freeway, as they have all turned into parking lots. But we know how to get around and where all the shortcuts are. Of course, so did our taxi driver, so all was well.

We’ve stayed at L’Ermitage annually, probably going back at least 10 – 12 years. It’s always a pleasure to return here, almost like our southern California home: perfect location, comfortable surroundings, great staff.

The hotel had a major renovation last year so, after we settled in, we went snooping around. Almost every element of the hotel has been rethought. The guest rooms have been totally redone from scratch and are both practical and gorgeous.

Here are a few pix of our room:

L'Ermitage Room
Our bedroom and sitting area

L'Ermitage Dressing Room
The dressing room and closet area
L'Ermitage Bathroom
The bathroom

Yes, we’re very comfortable here.

Downstairs, there’s a new restaurant, Avec Nous, where we take our breakfasts which, thanks to the AmEx FHR program, are included (or, at least, we get a $60 per day credit). Thanks, AmEx! Thanks, Veronica!!

Avec Nous
Avec Nous, L’Ermitage’s new restaurant

Avec Nous Bar
The fancy bar at Avec Nous

We’re also very fond of the rooftop pool and cabanas at the hotel. It’s usually pretty quiet and they’ve installed a bar adjacent to the pool so, should you become thirsty, you’ll find instant gratification. Also, there’s a food menu, should you feel peckish. 

L'Ermitage Rooftop Pool
L’Ermitage’s rooftop pool and cabanas at sunset – nice, right?

Anyhoo, after we finished our tour of the new and improved L’Ermitage, it was time to settle down for awhile, a/k/a passing out for an hour or so. It had been a long day and we were looking forward to our first dinner in LA.

Following a refreshing nap, we were ready to clean up and head out. Thanks to the amazing concierge team at the hotel, we were taken in the hotel town car to Sotto, over on West Pico. This place does some serious southern Italian food. It’s located in a so-so area and it’s underneath something else, so it’s not unlike eating in someone’s ground level apartment, only much better.

Sotto - AAC
AAC CPA arrives at Sotto

We were cordially welcomed and escorted to our table. Our waiter, Angela, took incredibly good care of us. Because I’d checked it out beforehand, we knew that we wanted to start with the Chickpea Panella, sort of mashed-up chickpeas and then deep-fried and topped with shavings of pecorino cheese. It was the perfect compliment to the icy cold Negronis we had requested.

Following, we had a 1st course of charred broccolini and spicy pork meatballs which was served over a salad of mixed greens and salata ricotta.

Charred Broccolini
Charred broccolini
Sotto - Pork Meatballs
Spicy pork meatballs

We then decided to share a primi, in this case a delicious paccheri (a tube pasta) in a sweet and spicy pork ragu with rapini and – get this – fennel pollen. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the flavors were intense.

About this time, we started in on a glass of the most ruby red Montalpulciano, which was a perfect compliment to the pasta and the next course: the guanciale pizza, made with house-cured pork cheek and ricotta and cooked to perfection in Sotto’s wood-burning oven.

Sotto - Pizza
Guanciale Pizza

We had hoped to save room for some made-at-the-last-minute cannoli, but we just couldn’t – you know what I mean. So, our wonderful waiter, Angela, brought us a little box, which was filled with complimentary cannoli, for a late-night snack. How great is that?

Remember how I said that we opted not to rent a car for the first time ever in LA? Yes, friends, we decided to go all 21st century and just Uber our way around town. And it worked pretty darn well, although we almost got into the wrong Uber at the restaurant, which was waiting for someone else. It all worked out in the end however, and we returned to L’Ermitage and literally fell into bed. It had been one long day.

This morning, we were up at a reasonable hour, made ourselves presentable, went down to breakfast and, once again, hopped into the hotel town car, this time bound for LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see a special exhibition: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium. For those of you too young to remember (and you know who you are), Mapplethorpe was an extremely talented and even more extremely controversial artist in the 1970’s and 80’s. Even after he died of AIDS in the late 1980’s, controversy raged around him. If you don’t believe me, just google Jesse Helms and Robert Mapplethorpe and see what pops up. It’s utterly fascinating.

LACMA
Banners proclaiming the Mapplethorpe exhibit at LACMA
LACMA - AAC
AAC CPA goes to LACMA and checks out the street lamp exhibit

The Mapplethorpe exhibition is at LACMA through July 31st, and we’d highly recommend it. PS. It’s not for the young ones.

CULTURE TIP: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium

By coincidence, HBO has been broadcasting a documentary about Mapplethorpe, entitled “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”, which I encourage you to check out. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s extremely rewarding.

CULTURE TIP: Maplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

After all that culture, we were ready for some lowdown activities, so we got ourselves over to The Grove, most particularly so that we could drop into See’s Candies, which is an obsession of ours’. If you’re never sampled See’s, you’re really missing out. It’s like an old-fashioned candy shoppe, and the first thing that happens when you walk in is that they give you a free sample which, as they say, gets the juices flowing. We walked out with over 2 pounds of the stuff.

Although See’s is based throughout California, it’s also available online. If you’re a chocoholic, please check it out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you: this stuff is ADDICTIVE!

FUN TIP: See’s Candies

Then it was time to Uber back to the hotel, change into casual attire, and hit the roof deck pool and cabana. There was an available cabana in the shade, so we snuggled in, ordered a turkey panini, and now we’re just lazing about as I write this blog entry to you.

AAC - Cabana
AAC CPA devours the New York Times from his rooftop cabana

Tonight we’re having a very special culinary experience at Maude. I’ll close for now, but report back to you very soon all about it – it’s going to be the cherries, I’m sure.

 

 

 

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.

Bullet Train - 02
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.

Bullet Train - 03
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.

Hoshinoya - 01
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.

Hoshinoya Boat - 01
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!!!

London Recap

Greetings and Salutations. And sorry to be MIA over the past few days – it’s been a very busy time and all that.

The last time you’d heard from me, we had just attended a performance of Funny Girl, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was a real treat. If you’re planning a trip to London in the spring (and beyond), you can get tickets to see the production, which is transferring to the Savoy Theatre in March. Ticket sales are quite brisk, I’ve been told.

CULTURE TIP: Purchase Tickets to Funny Girl

Otherwise, our trip to London last week was a raving success. We had a blast and, rather than talking about it too much, I thought I’d share some photos with you to give you the flavor of the trip – you’ll get the idea.

On our 1st full day in London, we took afternoon tea at The Georgian at Harrod’s. The place was all gussied up for the holidays, of course.

Day 2 - HarrodsWorld famous Harrods

Day 2 - Harrods GeorgianIt’s the Georgian for your afternoon tea.

Day 2 - Harrods Tea - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his afternoon tea

Day 2 - Harrods Rose Tea
Rose Tea made with actual Roses!!

Day 2 - Harrods Tea Tray
And all of the tea goodies.

CUISINE TIP: Take Tea at Harrods

Our first show in London was Terence Ratigan’s 1948 comedy, Harlequinade, starring and co-directed (with Rob Ashford) by Kenneth Branagh, preceded by Ratigan’s 1968 one-woman monologue, All On Her Own, starring Zoë Wanamaker. This double-bill is part of an ambitious six production season that the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company is presenting at the Garrick Theatre and is currently playing in rep with A Winter’s Tale, again starring Branagh alongside Judi Dench. The season culminates next summer and fall with Branagh taking on the touchstone role of Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer. Needless to say, I already have my tickets for that one!

Day 2 - Harlequinade - AAC
AAC CPA does Harlequinade at the Garrick

CULTURE TIP: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

Following the performance, we had supper at one of our favorite London restaurants, the venerable J. Sheekey which serves, arguably, the best fish in town.

Day 2 - J Sheekey

Day 2 - J Sheekey Fish & Chips
AAC CPA had the fish and chips – enough for many

CUISINE TIP: J. Sheekey

Next day – typically cloudy but unusually mild for December – we were walking around our hood and snapped this pic of the Shard, where the Shangri-La is located:

Day 2 - Shard from a Distance

Following the Funny Girl matinee, we had dinner at another of our favorite London establishments, Hawksmoor, which is where you go for beef and great cocktails. There are several locations and we ate at the one just off Picadilly in Air Street:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Exterior

Each Hawksmoor has its own distinct design and this one is Deco:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Deco Detail
Fab Deco Chandelier

Day 3 - Hawksmoor AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his cocktail and dinner

The grub is really good here, too. In addition to amazing beef, this Hawksmoor has lots of fish on the menu. We shared the scallop appetizer:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Scallops
Great presentation, right?

CUISINE TIP: Hawksmoor Air Street

We took an after dinner stroll and saw some fab sights on Picadilly:

Day 3 - Picadilly

Picadilly, itself

Day 3 - Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade

Day 3 - Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason all tarted up for the holidays

Next day, we woke up to a brilliantly sunny day. Look at the view from our room:

Day 4 - Shard Shadow over St. Paul's
Note the shadow of the Shard to the right of St. Paul’s

After breakfast at the hotel – by the way, a great deal when booking through the AmEx FHR program, because your breakfast is included – we checked out the lobby men’s room:

Day 4 - Bathroom with a View
A (Bath)Room with a View

Day 4 - Mens Room Amenity
The Shangri-La thinks of EVERYTHING!!

And, if you want a thrill, take note of how the hotel keeps its windows clean:

Day 4 - Window Cleaners
This photo was taken on the 35th floor, kids!

What trip to London would be complete without a visit to Covent Garden:

Day 4 - AAC - Covent Garden

That afternoon, we experienced our first Panto, a holiday tradition in which drag plays a prominent role and lots of audience participation is encouraged (and expected). Today’s Panto was Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Day 4 - Panto - AAC
AAC CPA does Panto!

Day 4 - Panto Show Curtain
The Panto show curtain

Following the Panto, we rushed back to the hotel to change for the evening performance of Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre where, last Spring, we had seen Imelda Staunton’s star turn as Madame Rose in Gypsy.

Day 4 - Savoy Guys and Dolls - 02
Doesn’t this photo remind you of a publicity still from the film?

Day 4 - Savoy AAC
AAC CPA studies the Hot Box Cuties

Day 4 - Savoy Show Curtain
Opening image of the set

Needless to say, the show was aces. It’s such a great musical, definitely one of the 10 best of all time. Even when the show ground to a halt in the last few minutes – technical difficulties, they said – the audience was totally enthralled by the show, roaring its approval at the end.

On our way out – no pix, please, we’re British! – we noticed, sitting directly behind us, Jim Carter (Carson on Downton Abbey, and a former Big Jule himself) and his celebrated wife, the aforementioned Imelda Staunton. I couldn’t help myself and, in a very un-British-like manner, told them how much we’d enjoyed their performances and thanked them. They looked a bit startled (I guess that my outburst just isn’t done) but thanked me very graciously.

After humiliating myself, we strolled over to The Ivy, which is our favorite London haunt. As I reported when we were there earlier this year, the place had a makeover last spring and looks terrific, but the service and congeniality of the place remain unchanged.

Day 4 - The Ivy Exterior
The one and only Ivy

Day 4 - The Ivy - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his Americano whilst perusing the menu

CUISINE TIP: The Ivy

Next day – Christmas Eve – was another double-header, starting with Jim Broadbent starring as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Noël Coward Theatre. Dickens’ story was adapted by Patrick Barlow (whose 4-actor adaptation of The 39 Steps played for years and years both in London and in New York) and was designed by Tom Pye and directed by Phelim McDermott. We initially wanted to see the show for Jim Broadbent, a fave actor of ours’ since the 1999 Mike Leigh film,  Topsy Turvy, in which Broadbent played W.S. Gilbert. As it turned out, we found the production imaginative, enchanting and surprisingly moving. I guess that Dickens knew what his was doing.

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - Exterior
Marquee at the Noël Coward Theatre

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - AAC
AAC CPA does Dickens

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol Show Curtain
A Christmas Carol show curtain

And, by the way, can I just put in a word about the London theatre-going audience and, in particular, the kids? We saw two matinees in which the audience was literally filled with children (as young as 4 or 5, I’d say). They were amazing! Respectful, attentive, and really into the experience. Dare I say that I prefer them to most of the audiences to be found on Broadway these day? OK, come and get me for that last remark.

Another rush back to the hotel to change for our Christmas Eve festivities. And look what we found in our room upon our return:

Day 5 - Christmas Tree
Our very own tree. AAC CPA thought it might be edible. It wasn’t.

That evening, we had a brand-new London experience, and long overdue! We attended the last performance of Carols By Candlelight at the famed Royal Albert Hall. This concert is an annual event and completely fills the 5,200 seat venue. It was a real thrill for us to be there.

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World famous Royal Albert Hall with a full moon overhead

Day 5 - RAH - AAC
AAC CPA checks out the program pre-concert

Day 5 - RAH - Concert
The Mozart Festival Orchestra and Chorus in performance

Day 5 - RAH - Doris Day
For all you film buffs, AAC CPA has a Doris Day moment

We had a great time at the concert, although there was too much audience participation for my taste. I didn’t realize that we were expected to sing traditional carols!! Standing, no less, and I’d already had a long day. (Bah, humbug, you say?) And added to all that, most of the carols were sung to different tunes than their American counterparts. Who knew??

CULTURE TIP: Royal Albert Hall

After the concert, we had another magical view of the full moon over London:

Day 5 - Moon Over London

Merry Christmas, everyone!! Friday – our last full day in London – and did you know that the entire city shuts down?? We had thought we might go to a movie, or ride around, or something. Uh-uh!! No dice (as they’re currently saying at the Savoy Theatre). Fortunately for us, we were staying in a beautiful hotel with gorgeous views, so we didn’t mind hanging around our digs and relaxing after seeing 6 shows in the previous 4 days.

As we subsequently found out, Uber was available for getting around – whew!! We had decided to have our farewell dinner at another of our favorite London hotels, the Corinthia, and Uber got us there and back. Not only that, but Uber turned out to be cheaper than taking a cab (if we could have gotten one)!

Day 6 - Corinthia ExteriorThe gorgeous Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place

We started our evening at the Corinthia’s Bassoon Bar, one of our favorite watering holes in London.

Day 6 - Corinthia Bassoon AAC
AAC CPA chooses his cocktail from the iPad menu

We moved from the Bassoon to the Northall for our dinner. It’s a beautiful room and the food was delicious.

Day 6 - Corinthia Northall
My starter: Beef Tartare and it was yummy!

Day 6 - Corinthia Lobby
AAC CPA strolls through the Corinthia lobby after dinner

Ubering our way back to the Shangri-La from the Corinthia and look at what we saw:

Day 6 - Uber View of London Eye

By the way, did I mention that we ate on the early side so that we could get back to the hotel in time for – wait for it – the series finale of Downton Abbey? Yes, gentle readers, we had already seen all of season 6, save for the final holiday episode. How lucky are we? No spoilers here. Just know that we’ve seen it all, and mum’s the word.

Day 6 - Downton Finale
Opening Downton Abbey credits – for the very last time

All good things must come to an end and, on Saturday morning, we got into a taxi and made our way to Heathrow, where our BA flight was waiting to return us back home (and to reality).

Day 7 - BA Concorde Room - AAC
AAC CPA hanging out in the Concorde Room prior to boarding our flight

Day 7 - BA 177 - AAC
And settling in for the 8-hour flight home (with Mimosa)

Here’s our lunch menu:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Lunch Menu

I opted for the fillet of veal, which was pretty good:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Entree

And then, several hours later, it was time for afternoon tea, British-style:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Tea

Post-script: The flight landed a few minutes early but, due to some unexplained issue involving attaching the jetway to the plane, we were delayed for about 40 minutes!!

An imperfect end to a just-about-perfect trip.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

PS. Next week, we’re off to Buenos Aires and then, via Crystal Symphony, we’re sailing to Antarctica. More to follow!

Countdown to London

“As a foreigner in London, I like that there are so many other foreigners.”
David Sedaris

How lucky are AAC CPA and I?

For the 3rd time this year, we’re on our way to London. This trip came about thanks to a blog entry by The Points Guy a few months ago giving us the skivvy that fares were being slashed to Europe over the holidays. If you happened to be an AARP member (reminder: you don’t need to be 50 to join AARP, just sayin’) and, for instance, went through the AARP website to a dedicated British Airways link, you automatically got a $400 per person discount. Added to that, we cashed in some Avios miles to save even more money.

How could we not go?

TRAVEL TIP: The Points Guy

In the event, we’re leaving early Sunday morning, will arrive early evening local time, Heathrow Express our way into central London and be at the Shangri-La at the Shard in time for a late supper with our friends A & K, who will have arrived the day before. As I said, how lucky are we?

We also got lucky with a special promotion through the AmEx FHR program. Although we’d already booked a return visit to the Shangri-La, it turns out that, thanks to AmEx, you can pay for 2 nights and get the 3rd for free. Our awesome AmEx travel agent, Veronica, was happy to rebook the reservation so that we could take advantage of this offer. The only fly in the ointment is that we’re planning to be in London for 6 nights, and the hotel refused to let us use the promotion twice on this visit. Other hotels do it all the time but not the Shangri-La. Good thing it’s a really nice hotel or we’d be very miffed. (Well, maybe we are, just a wee bit.)

Shangri-LaTime for a return visit to the Shangri-La

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program

TRAVEL TIP: Once you’ve booked your hotel reservation(s), go back every so often either to the hotel’s website or the AmEx FHR website and check for better deals. I’d say that there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a lower rate or, even, a promotion like the one we’re taking advantage of next week. If you have the forbearance (and the time, of course), you may end up saving significantly on your hotel bill.

“In London they don’t like you if you’re still alive.”
Harvey Fierstein

Before we pulled the trigger on the airfare deal, I checked to see if we could score tickets to, arguably, the biggest theatre deal in London this fall: the revival of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. At the time, I went to the theatre’s website to check on availability and found that tickets didn’t go on sale to the general public until the following day. Call it my cultural sixth sense, but I decided that I had to get tickets right then so, for a modest donation to the Chocolate Factory, I was able to select prime seats (well, in a 188-seat theatre, I guess that ALL seats are prime), for a little more than tuppence. Having taken care of that task, we went ahead and booked the air tickets. Thank you, AARP; thank you, British Airways; thank you, Avios miles. (And thank you, Chocolate Factory!)

And, wouldn’t you know, when general public seating opened the following day, the entire engagement sold out within 2 hours!! The Chocolate Factory had never seen anything like it. Ever!!

So even if you can’t obtain tickets at the Chocolate Factory to see the show, don’t despair – before it even started previews, a transfer to the West End was announced! And, if you’ve never been to the Chocolate Factory, you really should pay a call. It’s a great space and some amazing productions have started there.

Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Menier Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Funny Girl at the Savoy

“London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce the serious people, or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don’t know.”
Oscar Wilde

As usual with our visits to London – I believe that this will be our 14th time there – we tend to book up heavily on the cultural side of things. This visit is no exception: 3 shows on the West End, the aforementioned FG at the Chocolate Factory, our first ever Panto (Cinderella at the Hammersmith), and another venue new to us: a Candlelight Christmas Eve Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. (AAC CPA has promised not to scream at the climactic part of the concert a la Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.)

Doris Day
Doris Day or AAC CPA? You be the judge.

Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall

“London is a roost for every bird.”
Benjamin Disraeli

In between all the culture, there’s the eating. We’ve booked some fun meals at some of our old haunts, and I’ll be reporting on them as merrily we roll along. We’ve also been invited to join A & K for a holiday dinner with A’s family, as they reside in Merry Olde. We’re very flattered to be part of their family for that special evening.

The other fun thing is that, on Christmas Night in London, the very final episode of Downton Abbey will be telecast and we’ll be there to see it. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve already seen the final season and it’s GOOD! Shhhhhhhh!) We’re a bit sorry to see the series go, but it seems to be ending on a high note.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
What would Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham say?

I’ll try to post a couple of entries while we’re across the pond to let you know how it’s going.

In the meantime, I hope that all of you are enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Leavin’ On A Jet Plane

Greetings from a beautifully sunny Thursday morning in New York City.

Packing is well-underway and we’re now less than 24 hours from lift-off to London. We’ve checked in for our flight (isn’t it great how we can load our boarding passes into our mobiles? I just LOVE that.), and we’re taking care of this ‘n that. Have to be up at 5:00 AM tomorrow to get ourselves out to the airport. But it’s great to be able to take an AM flight to London so that we arrive in the evening, have a light dinner, hit the sheets and then hit the streets first thing on Saturday (our only day there, as it turns out).

Speaking of which, remember how I said that we’re going to be in London for only about 36 hours before motoring to Southampton to board Queen Mary 2? And that our “dance card” is full, as they say? I thought it might be interesting to share our London itinerary with you for Saturday. Here goes:

Following a lovely (and included) breakfast at the Shangri-La at the Shard (courtesy of AmEx FHR Program) here’s how our day unfolds:

11:00 AM – We’re off and running to the National Portrait Gallery to see the “Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon” exhibit. For those of you who might be able to make it, the exhibit is on until October 18th.

Hepburn

CULTURE TIP:  Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon

After a leisurely stroll through the exhibit, we’re hoping to have time to drop by Anya Hindmarch (the bespoke store only a stone’s throw from Harrods), where we did some shopping last May. I needed a new travel portfolio (long story short: we got the referral from the Concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Paris, and he was SO right), and got a beautiful one there. This store is amazing, even just to walk through to see their merchandise.

IMG_0911
AAC shops at Anya Hindmarch

SHOPPING TIP:  Anya Hindmarch

1:30 PM – Lunch back at the hotel – Ting – with our dear friends, Lynne & Garry. They are a lovely couple we’ve sailed with aboard the Crystal ships on several occasions. We have so much fun with them and it’s always a pleasure to be in their company.

Ting
Ting at the Shangri-La

3:45 – Nap!!!!!! (Is there anything better than an afternoon nappy?)

IMG_0750
From last May aboard Crystal Serenity

6:30 – Pre-Theatre cocktails at the Corinthia. The Bassoon Bar there is a must. I mentioned the other day that we’ve stayed at that property several times over the past few years. The hotel is perfectly placed: just 5 minutes from Trafalgar Square and the Strand and, in just a few minutes more, you’re on the West End. The bar is very snazzy. Last time we were there, the manager (who always makes sure we have a really good time), waltzed over to our table, and said (in a very low tone of voice): “Don’t look, but to your left – – – – – OPRAH!” And indeed, there she was.

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The Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

TRAVEL TIP: Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

7:30 PM – Farinelli and the King, now in previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre. This is the West End engagement of a production which started at Shakespeare’s Globe and stars Mark Rylance as King Philip V of Spain. Mark Rylance is such a sensation that tickets to this production are impossible to obtain. I tried for months before getting lucky. (Persistance pays off.) This play is a cinch to transfer to Broadway, so keep an eye out for it.

Rylance
Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King

CULTURE TIP:  Farinelli and the King

10:15 PM – Post supper at The Ivy. Who doesn’t love the Ivy, I ask? It’s been around for over 30 years and never fails to impress. The place closed down earlier this year for a complete renovation and we were there last Spring for its soft opening. The place is gorgeous, the service impeccable, and the food delicious, whether you’re enjoying a burger, a steak, or fish ‘n chips. I’d say it’s the go-to place in London for your post-theatre supper. And you never know who’s going to turn up. We’ll never forget the night many years ago when Princess Margaret was two tables away and having a “really good time”. Then there’s the time in 2012 when AAC CPA and I were shown to our table, and who turned up at the next table but the cast of Sweeney Todd, which we’d just seen. The Ivy is a place you should try at least once.

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AAC enjoys his fish and chips at the Ivy

The Ivy
The Ivy refurbished and renewed

FOOD TIP:  The Ivy

And that’s our planned whirlwind day in London on Saturday. I figured that I should post it now as I may not have time when we’re actually there and doing it.

Bon voyage to us?