On the Road Again – Part Three

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

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

227
AAC, CPA with the bags

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

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

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

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

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

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

Getting back to business:

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

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

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

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

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

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

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

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

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

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

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

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

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

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

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

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

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

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

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

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

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

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

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

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

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

BA 1st - 777
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!

Concorde Room JFK - 01
The Concorde Room at JFK

Concorde Room JFK - 02
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!

Bassoon Bar - 02
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

Walkway LHR - Hilton
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!

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?

pre-flight-supper
I wasn’t kidding!

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

at-the-gate
At the gate, just a few minutes later

pre-take-off-champagne
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:

in-flight-breakfast
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.

aac-arch-de-triumph
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.

laduree
Yummy, yummy, yummy

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

laduree-club
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:

eiffel-tour
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:

stockings
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!

Let’s Spend the Holidays in Paris!

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

Follies, 1971

fifi-dorsay
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!

2014-12-22-22-41-12
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.

 

open-skies-02
Our Open Skies chariot awaits

open-skies-04-biz-bed
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.

peninsula-hotel-01a-holiday-exterior
Side entrance to the Peninsula

peninsula-hotel-03-lobby
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).

le-grand-vefour-06-signage
Le Grand Vefour in the arcades at the Palais Royale

le-grand-vefour-06
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.

palais-garnier-01-exterior
The spectacular Palais Garnier

palais-garnier-03-auditorium
Inside the auditorium with the famed Chagall chandelier

palais-garnier-04b-grand-stairway
The grand stairway to the stalls

palais-garnier-07-grand-foyer
The ultra-Rococo grand foyer

iphigenie-en-tauride-01
A scene from Iphigénie en Tauride

CULTURE TIP: Palais Garnier

EG: Restaurant
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.

Théâtre du Châtelet
Théâtre du Châtelet

chatelet-04-interior
The gorgeous auditorium at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

Forty Second Street - UK Productions
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.

louvre-01-exterior
No caption necessary

CULTURE TIP: The Louvre

notre-dame-01-exterior
Notre Dame Cathedral

notre-dame-02-interior
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?

musee-jeu-de-paume-01
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!

 

 

Tuesday: LHR Layover

Good morning from an overcast and cool London. We arrived about 2 hours ago following our transatlantic flight from New York. Due to unfortunate scheduling, we have a 7 hour layover here until we can board our flight for Lisbon and, from there, to the beautiful Crystal Symphony, where we will board in about 9 hours – not a minute too soon.

Backing up 12 hours:

Our car and driver picked us up right on time and swept us out to JFK. Considering it was rush hour, Sammy made excellent time and we were checked in, whisked through security and seated in British Airways’ Concorde Room within minutes of our arrival at the airport.

concorde-aac-enters
AAC, CPA enters the Concorde Room at JFK

We are very fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of the facilities of the Concorde Room, as it has a very nice restaurant with table service. Here’s the dinner menu from last night:

concorde-dinner-menu

And the wine and cocktail list, which is on an iPad:

concorde-wine-spirit-list

concorde-aac-toast
AAC, CPA makes a bon voyage toast

We’ve dined in the Concorde Room before and the great advantage is that you can eat on the ground and then sleep on the plane (unless you’re a certain couple who have a second dinner on the plane – no names, please). And the food you get in the Concorde Room is likely to be better than the food on the plane.

concorde-beets
First up: Roasted baby beets and charred goat cheese

concorde-rack-of-lamb
Followed by a delicious rack of lamb

concorde-dessert
Our waiter insisted that we have this pumpkin mousse

By the time we had finished eating, it was almost time to board.

ba-116-waiting-to-board
AAC, CPA waits for the boarding announcement

Then, a 5-minute walk to the gate and – voila! – we board our 747 chariot bound for LHR.

ba-116-aac-01
AAC, CPA gets settled in for the night

As I mentioned, we could have had another dinner but I just wanted to put on the pajamas that were provided for us and get into bed. So, I opted for this:

ba-116-cocoa
White chocolate cookies and some hot cocoa (with a drop of Bailey’s!!)

Following my little meal, I popped some Sudafed, aspirin and an Ambien and I was off to the races for the next 4 1/2 hours. 

By the time I woke up, we were about an hour from London, so I took care of some business, made sure that AAC, CPA was awake and just relaxed.

When we had landed at LHR, we knew we had to change terminals for our flight to Lisbon. However, we had been under the assumption that we’d be able to spend most of our layover in the Concorde Room over in Terminal 5, which turned out not to be true. That’s a shame, as the Concorde Room here is perhaps even nicer than the one at JFK. Not only that, but we had requested a complimentary private “cabana” for a few hours so that we would have been able to get some more sleep. No such luck.

So we traipsed from Terminal 5 over to Terminal 3 and here we are in the first class lounge. Not bad, not great. They also have a sit-down restaurant, and we’ll probably go over for some lunch a little later.

As a friend of ours’ says, “These are champagne problems”; ie., I’ll get over it.

So here’s a little look at the Terminal 3 lounge – it’s not terrible 🙂 

ba-bar-01
One of several bars here – all complimentary, of course

ba-bar
Another bar – what, no Campari??

ba-champagne-bar
It’s the champagne bar – too early in the day, perhaps?

ba-aac-breakfast
AAC, CPA chows down on a light breakfast

ba-flight-board
The departure board – see how far down the list our Lisbon flight is?

So, that’s where it’s at, kids. I’ll update you tomorrow when we’re ensconced in our digs about Symphony.

Have a good one!!

 

 

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.

aac-to-hospital
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.

aac-street-scene
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.

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

aac-post-surgery
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.

amsterdam
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.

hong-kong
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.)

london
London – No!

paris
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.

open-skies-airline-5-1024x576
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!)

peninsula-paris
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!

lisbon
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.)

ba-747
Redeye to from JFK to London LHR aboard a BA 747

concorde-room-bar
7½ hour layover in the Concorde Room – LHR

symphony
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!

 

 

 

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.

Day 5 - RAH - Moon
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!