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!

 

 

 

2015 Wrap-Up, Part II – Cuisine

At this time of year, everyone seems to be publishing “best-of” lists. As I’ve only been blogging for barely 3 months, I thought I’d challenge myself to post 3 of these lists: one each for travel, culture, and cuisine.

Today is dedicated to cuisine and, I’m pleased to share with you 10 dining experiences that we really enjoyed in 2015.

In alphabetical order:

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

In my last post, I told you about the wonderful Hotel Yountville, located in the heart of the Napa Valley. Remember how I mentioned that many of Yountville’s finest restaurants are located within a stone’s throw of the hotel?

Well, Ad Hoc is literally a 5-minute walk from our digs. The mastermind behind the restaurant is Thomas Keller. Yes, THAT Thomas Keller (French Laundry and Bouchon are also within walking distance, as is his amazing public garden just across the street.)

Ad Hoc - 01

Keller’s concept for Ad Hoc is simply this:

“We wanted a comfortable place for our community and families to dine. Five days a week we offer a four-course menu that changes daily, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list and our twist on classic cocktails.”

How great is that? When we dined there last June, their Monday night menu featured their traditional fried chicken. Not only was it succulently delicious, the portion was huge, so we were able to take the remainder back to the hotel for that midnight snack.

Ac Hoc Stone Fruit Salad

1st course: stone fruit salad

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken

2nd course – fried chicken w/sides

Plan ahead if you want to go – it’s a small place.

And there’s great value, too: this 4-course menu is currently running at $52 per person. There’s also an additional dish that’s available for a supplemental charge.

CUISINE TIP: Ad Hoc

Angelini Osteria – Los Angeles, CA

Opened in 2001, Angelini Osteria continues to turn out delicious and authentic Italian food night after night. Chef Gino Angelini hails from the town of Rimini in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna and he’s brought his homeland with him.

Angelini Osteria - 01

We try to get there every couple of visits to Los Angeles. We like the casual atmosphere and the serious food. When you go, I recommend sharing several things. We usually start with some kind of salad, split a pasta (their agnolotti di osso buco is sensational), and then either a piece of fish (the Mediterranean branzino melts in your mouth and can easily be shared by 2) or some other entrée.

3 Course dinner for 2 with wine, tax and tip will run you about $220.

CUISINE TIP: Angelini Osteria

Cantine Le Veinte – Miami, FL

Cantine - 02

Just before boarding Crystal Serenity last May, we spent 2 nights in Miami. I was looking for something new and fun for dinner one evening and landed on Cantine Le Veinte. Opened in August 2014, at a reputed cost of $14 million (!!!), it is a happening scene with delicious food and extremely tasty drinks. We were there on a Saturday night and the 225-seat restaurant was packed. Oh, and there’s a mariachi band, which will stop by your table to play a tune or 2. Service is very friendly and the food is seriously good. Cantina Le Veinte is a place for celebrations, not necessarily for that quiet intimate dinner. It’s a good-time place and we had a ball.

Cantina - 01

Cantina - Floorshow

Apps, entrees and Margaritas for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $150.

CUISINE TIP: Cantine Le Veinte

Casa Enrique – Long Island City, NY

Casa Enrique - 01

Opened in March 2012 by executive chef Cosme Aguilar, Casa Enrique has been a big hit ever since. Although Aguilar’s experience had been almost exclusively devoted to French cuisine, his brother Luis persuaded him to open their own food palace where they could feature their family’s traditional recipes. The results have been sensational.

Casa Enrique - 04 - sweet-bell-pepper-margarita

It’s a sweet bell pepper Margarita!!!

Awarded one Michelin star in 2015 (the only Mexican restaurant in New York to be so honored), it just made the list again for 2016. It’s that good.

Casa Enrique - 02 - Soft Tacos de Tinga

Tacos de Tinga!

Having said that, Casa Enrique is an unassuming neighborhood place that just happens to serve incredible food. For many of us, it’s a destination stop (no disrespect intended, but I’m not even sure where Long Island City IS!), but well worth the carfare. The Yiddish word “hamish” perfectly describes Casa Enrique – cozy, relaxed, warm and unpretentious.

Apps, shared plates and yummy drinks for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $120.

CUISINE TIP: Casa Enrique

Caviar Kaspia – Paris, France

“Buddie, beware.
“Buddie, better take care.
“Since the day I was weaned,
“I’m a caviar fiend.
“So Buddie, beware.”
Cole Porter

OK, sports fans, get ready to have your socks knocked off. I heard about this joint from my great friend, fellow foodie and nonpareil bridge partner, Gillian, about a year ago. She’d just been there and was raving about it (but in a good way).

Caviar - Exterior

AAC CPA lunches at Caviar Kaspia

Located just across from La Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement, the ground level is a caviar take out place (also foie gras and other delicacies). Ascend the staircase to the 2nd floor and – voila! – you’re in a charming and cozy 2-room restaurant.

Here’s the thing:

If, like Cole and me, you’re a caviar fiend, this is your place. When Gillian was there last year, she found the deal of the century at lunch: at that time, for €49 you got the “Raspoutine Set”: a 2-course meal, starting with Traditional Norwegian Smoked Salmon, accompanied by the thinnest, dreamiest blini and drawn butter, followed a baked potato filled with 20 grams of Imperial Beari Caviar. Can you say “decadent”?

Caviar - Potato

Did you lick your lips and say “decadent” yet?

If you happen not to eat those delicious eggs, there are other menu options, as AAC CPA discovered both times we were there.

Caviar - AAC

AAC CPA contemplates his Crab Napoleon – no caviar for him!

I regret to say that the Raspoutine Set is now up to €76, so it’s not quite the bargain that it was last year, but I recommend it anyway – you deserve a splurge now and then, right?

Our lunch there in May with one Raspoutine Set and a 2-course a la carte lunch for AAC CPA, with a glass of wine each, service included, ran about $160.

CUISINE TIP: Caviar Kaspia

La Grenouille – New York, NY

La Grenouille is NOT a dinosaur, but it is the last of its kind. People of a certain age – and certainly the Ladies Who Lunched – will remember (fondly or not) the late, great, haute restaurants of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s: Lutece, La Côte Basque, Pavillon, and La Grenouille. In their heyday, these were THE places to dine, to see and be seen, in New York. As with everything, fashion changes and these legendary restaurants began to fade from view, one by one.

La_Granouille-3.jpg

But La Grenouille prevails – in style, as well as in cuisine. You enter the place and you immediately feel special. Notice the floral arrangements. I can’t even imagine what the flower budget is for this joint. Inside, it could be 1965; certainly some of the waiters could have worked there back then (well, maybe not, but it sounded good, so I wrote it). In this rarified atmosphere, you’re going to eat really, really well.

La Grenouille - 01

Is this place gorgeous or what?

But it’s not just about the food – it’s about going back in time and having an amazing culinary experience with attentive but not overbearing service.

Dining at La Grenouille requires deep pockets, but it’s worth it for a very special occasion. There are those who think that its time has come and gone. I say hell, no. Go and find out for yourself.

3-course Pre-fixe menu runs $118 per person (some supplements may apply). Last time we were there with our great friends A&K to celebrate our anniversary, our share of the tab ran about $470, including ample wine, tax and tip – not for the feint of heart, financially speaking.

CUISINE TIP: La Grenouille

Pap ‘Acorda – Lisbon, Portugal

Our Crystal Serenity crossing earlier this year ended with an overnight visit to Lisbon. As we were leaving first thing the following morning, we opted to go ashore and have dinner in town. We returned to Pap ‘Acorda, a restaurant at which we had first dined in 2001. We’d had a great time back then and wanted to see if lightning could strike twice.

Pap - 00

Pap ‘Acorda is a traditional Portuguese restaurant, serving local dishes – lots of fish, stews, grilled meats. The place was exactly as we remembered it. Apparently, it’s been there for about 30 years, so it must be doing something right. Although we arrived at about 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, the throngs were not yet there. We had a wonderful waiter, who explained the menu and made recommendations, including an excellent bottle of local white wine. The service was unrushed and friendly and we had a very leisurely dinner, even as the place was filling up. We must have done something right, as the waiter brought us a fabulous and complimentary chocolate mousse for dessert.

Pap - 01

Book ahead to insure that you’ll get a table.

Dinner for 2 with apps, entrees and a bottle of wine ran about $155, service included.

No website; address: Rua da Atalaia 57, Bairro Alto, 1200, Lisbon 1200-037, Portugal; phone: 1-346 4811

State Bird Provisions – San Francisco, CA

How about some dim sum, American style? That’s the concept at this wacky, far-out place in the Fillmore. (I say this with total respect and admiration.) Created by Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, formerly of the well-loved Rubicon which closed in 2008, State Bird is one of the toughest tables in town. You’d better plan 60 days in advance if you want a reservation, or take your chances as a walk-in (in which case, you give your cell # to the maître ‘d and you’ll get a call when a table is available – not my preferred way to dine).

SBP - 01

Be very careful when you’re handed a menu: your inclination will be to order a few things before you see the trays circulating the room – these are, most likely, the dishes you’re going to want to try. What’s on the trays changes daily or, even, during the course of the evening, so exercise restraint.

STB - 03 - Stuart Brioza

Co-Owner Stuart Brioza working his magic

STB - Garlic Fried Bread w Burrata

Garlic-fried bread with burrata

State Bird continues to evolve even now. It is a really fun way to spend an evening – the vibe is hip, lively and the grub is so, so good.

Dinner for 2 with about 10 plates and a carafe of house wine ran about $155, tax and tip included.

CUISINE TIP: State Bird Provisions

Tuome – New York, NY

I have to thank my physical therapist Dan – who worked who worked me over but good last summer – for introducing me to Tuome. You see, Dan – like me – is a foodie and, in between my screams of pain (yes, he’s really good at what he does, and my shoulder thanks him to this day), we chatted almost exclusively about great food and where to get it.

Tuome - 01

Very early on, Dan told me that I had to go – “yes, make a reservation right now!” – to Tuome in the East Village. Chef Thomas Chen, formerly of Eleven Madison Park and Commerce, set out on his own in August 2014. It’s easy to think that Tuome is the new trendy place in the Village where all the cool people go, but it’s much more than that. The inventiveness and ingenuity of the menu sets it apart. There are very few choices here: 4 small plates, 4 big plates, and 4 sides. There’s also a dessert du jour. But, as Maggie Smith’s character in Gosford Park was fond of saying: “Yummy, yummy, yummy!!”

Tuome Cocktails

Pretty cocktails

If you like deviled eggs – and who doesn’t like deviled eggs?? – you must try them here – they’re not only deviled, they’re crispy, too.

Tuome Deviled Eggs

Crispy deviled eggs

The main attraction here is the Pig Out for 2. Think Beijing Duck, but it’s from the pig instead. And gorgeous on the plate. It’s also $52, the most expensive plate on the menu – and totally worth it.

Tuome PigOut

The Pig-Out for 2 – do I have to share?

I would go back to Tuome anytime and think you should try it, at least once.

Dinner for 2 including 1 cocktail and 1 glass of wine each, two apps, the Pig Out, and a shared dessert ran about $160, tax and tip included.

CUISINE TIP: Tuome

Via Corata – New York, NY

This newish Greenwich Village eatery is the brainchild of Rita Sodi (of the fabled and fabulous I Sodi) and Jody Williams (of the acclaimed Buvette). If, when you enter Via Corata, you face away from the street, you would think you’re at a gastroteca somewhere in Tuscany. It feels that authentic. The all-day menu features small dishes to share, lots of charcuterie and cheeses, an entire vegetable section, pastas, fish and meat. The wine list is varied and very Italianate. And their barman makes a delicious Negroni, one of my benchmarks for assessing an Italian restaurant.

Via Carota - 01

The food is delicious and beautiful on the plate; the service is friendly and gracious.

Via Carota - 02

Via Carota ArtichokesLook at those artichokes!

The only downside is that Via Carota doesn’t take reservations. If you’re willing to dine early or late, it shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Dinner for 2, with cocktails, a carafe of wine, apps, a shared pasta and entrée ran about $160, tax and tip included.

Oh – and this just in: the New York Times’ food critic Pete Wells just named Via Carota to his top-10 list (it’s #6, actually) for the year. Bravo!

CUISINE TIP: Via Carota

So that’s my top of the top for cuisine in 2015. Next up: my favorite cultural events of the year.

2015 Wrap-Up, Part I – Travel

 

At this time of year, everyone seems to be publishing “best-of” lists. As I’ve been blogging for barely 3 months, I thought I’d challenge myself to post 3 of these lists: one each for travel, cuisine, and culture.

Today is for travel and I’ve narrowed the scope of this post to four places I’ve slept during the past year that I would recommend to you.

In alphabetical order:

L’Ermitage – Beverly Hills, CA

L'Ermitage - 01Entrance to L’Ermitage

We’ve been staying at this property for years. Back in the day – the early 80’s, to be precise – L’Ermitage was one of the very first “all-suite” hotels. I remember staying there in June 1982 and being wowed by the concept – all that space for lil’ ol’ me. The property was completely renovated and upgraded about 15 years ago to maintain its edge.

L'Ermitage - 02L’Ermitage Pool and Cabañas at Dusk

We were last there this past June and the hotel was in the midst of a major makeover. Because of our longstanding relationship with the hotel, we were given a sneak preview of the new rooms, and they’re extremely beautiful and up to the minute in terms of amenities and technology.

Another big plus is that L’Ermitage has a great location, just a few minutes walk (wait: who walks in Los Angeles??) to Rodeo drive and other Beverly Hills landmarks.

I’d also like to put in a word for the service at the hotel – couldn’t be better. You’ll be very well taken care of at L’Ermitage.

L'Ermitage Cabana LunchA bite of lunch in a poolside cabaña

TRAVEL TIP: L’Ermitage

Glenmere – Chester, NY

Glenmere - 01
A Tuscan mansion in upstate New York?

We discovered this fabulous property just after it opened in 2010. A 75-minute drive from Manhattan, it is the former Tuscan-style mansion built in 1911 by Robert Wilson Goelet on his enormous estate in Sugar Loaf, a hamlet in Chester. The original architects, Carrere & Hastings, also designed the New York Public Library and the Guggenheim Museum.

The estate was sold during World War II and converted into a resort hotel. By the 1960s, however, it had fallen into disrepair.

In 2007, the property was purchased by Alan Stenberg and Daniel DeSimone and over the next several years – and at an estimated cost of $30 million – was transformed into a magnificent luxury 19-room hotel and restaurant. A spa – perhaps unlike any you’ve seen before – was added a couple of years ago.

Glenmere - 02 - Spa

The Spa at Glenmere – Do I believe my eyes?

We returned to Glenmere for a couple of nights last August. If anything, they’ve upped their game. Butler service and a complimentary breakfast are now included. The grounds are magnificent, as is the property itself. If you want to splurge for a special occasion, Glenmere is the place to do it.

Glenmere - AAC arrives

AAC CPA arrives at Glenmere

Glenmere - View

Check out the view from our room

Glenmere - Terrace

AAC CPA relaxes on the terrace on a Wednesday afternoon

TRAVEL TIP: Glenmere Mansion

Peninsula Hotel – Paris, France

Peninsula EntranceEntrance to the Peninsula

We were in Paris last May following our crossing from Miami to Lisbon aboard Crystal Serenity. The Peninsula opened about a year ago and, as with all grand Parisian hotels, it is a masterpiece of design and execution. Located steps away from the Arc de Triomphe, it is an ideal location for a visit to the City of Light.

The rooms are beautifully designed and feature up-to-the-minute technology, including iPads on either side of the bed to control virtually everything in the room (except for AAC CPA, of course). This can result, of course, in dueling remote controls when watching television. (Should anyone have time to watch TV in Paris?)

Peninsula - iPad

Dueling iPads

The bathrooms defy description and I mean that in the best way possible.

Peninsula - 02

Do you believe me now?

There are several dining venues in the hotel, including the elegant rooftop restaurant, L’Oiseau Blanc, which has wonderful food and awesome views of the Eiffel Tower. It is adjacent to a very deco bar, which serves extremely tasty cocktails. In good weather, the bar opens onto a terrace where you can appreciate the territory.

Peninsula - AAC - 01

The outside terrace at the Peninsula

Peninsula - AAC - Cocktails

AAC CPA and I enjoy evening cocktails at L’Oiseau Blanc

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Hotel

Hotel Yountville – Yountville, CA

Yountville - AAC - 01

AAC CPA arrives at the Hotel Yountville

Any oenophile worth his or her salt will travel to California to enjoy the wine country. These days, there are so many wine regions out there but, for many, the Napa Valley is the place to go. We’ve stayed in the wine country on several occasions but, last summer, spent a few days in Yountville at the Yountville Hotel and I highly recommend it to you.

Yountville - Balcony

Our private balcony

Besides being a lovely place to stay, it is located on the main drag and within walking distance of all the great Yountville restaurants. (French Laundry, anyone?) And Yountville is an extremely convenient place to stay as you’re within a 30-minute radius of many of the great wineries in the Valley.

Yountville - AAC CoffeeAAC CPA relaxing after breakfast

Oh, and for those of you who like to get in a morning run before debauching yourselves at the myriad of wineries in the vicinity, here’s the view from one of my jogs:

Yountville - Jog

I actually jogged here!

Before checking out of the Hotel Yountville, we had already booked the hotel for a return visit next summer. That’s how much we enjoyed it.

TRAVEL TIP: Hotel Yountville

Next up: 2015 Best of Cuisine!

 

“Your Attention, Please – Now Boarding Flight 007 For Paris”

Last time, I shared with you how attending an Air France exhibit in Chelsea on a warm June afternoon morphed into spending Christmas week in Paris. Any chance to go to Paris is a gift, whether at Christmas or any other time of the year. And add to that, the wonderful luck we had in being able to take advantage of highly discounted fares, which enabled us to fly in first class (a/k/a La Premiere). Mon dieu!!

Our adventure began at the La Premiere check-in desk at JFK. After handing over our passports, we were given our boarding passes and our personal “handler” – at least, that’s what we called him – arrived. He was very nice and very French and escorted us through Terminal 1 to our waiting area. Along the way, he insisted on carrying our carry-ons as he whisked us through security.

Eventually we arrived at what seemed to be a private dining room, which had 2 tables, a seating area and lots of windows. We were immediately greeted by a waiter who offered us a glass of champagne or cocktail and presented us with a menu. No matter that we were on a dinner flight – perhaps we were feeling peckish and required some grub before boarding. We decided to have champagne and a couple of hors d’eauvres, both of which were yummy. 

Paris - AAC choosed dinner
AAC CPA checks out the menu….

Paris - Champagne

Paris - Tasty Vittles
….and has some bubbly with a little tasty thing 

After awhile, our friendly handler arrived to escort us to the plane. We were taken to a private elevator and then towards a special boarding area. As we were flying on an A380 (double-decker configuration), we boarded through the lower deck, at which point our handler wished us a bon voyage.

Paris Chariot Awaits
Our chariot awaits

Check out the AF A380 Aircraft

The purser met us as we stepped onto the plane, introduced himself and escorted us to our seats. There are only 9 seats in the cabin, so we could have easily found them ourselves, but who were we to complain?

Paris 1st Cabin
Our cabin and our seats in front

Once at our seats, we met our flight attendant (FA) and, again, offered a glass of champagne while he explained how the seat worked and presented us with an amenity bag, along with pajamas and slippers, as well as a dinner menu.

The Air France A380 holds up to 516 passengers, so you can imagine that it took awhile for boarding to be completed. While we were waiting to leave the gate, we chatted with the FA and got used to our surroundings.

Paris - AAC settles in
AAC CPA settles in

Finally, it was time to depart. The plane doors were closed and we pulled away from our gate and began to taxi (which, at JFK, can sometimes seem almost as long as the flight). What’s really cool on the A380 is that there is a closed-circuit camera in the tail of the aircraft, so you can see where you are going. Even though it was dark, it was still interesting to see where we were going, especially at takeoff and, later, at landing.

Paris - Watching our taxi
Taxiing towards the runway

Once we were wheels up, the FA was immediately at our seat to take our cocktail and dinner order. As it was a relatively short flight (about 7 hours) and because we had already eaten on the ground, we opted to have 1 or 2 dishes and then have our bed made up so that we could get right to sleep. We’d always heard that food on Air France was among the best in the sky. And the airline did not disappoint; however, the real culinary treat awaited us on our return home. For some reason, the food when flying out of Paris is superior. More about that later.

Paris - Menu Cover

Paris Joel R

Paris OnBoard Dinner Menu
Our dinner menu

Note the chef’s bio in the menu. As stated, Joël Rubuchon is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world.

Once we had eaten, we changed into our PJs – by the way, in our cabin there was one bathroom and one changing room, which was particularly luxurious. And the pajamas were kinda cute, too.

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper on planes, even when I have the luxury of a full-size bed (not to mention pharmaceuticals). In this case, I think I managed to get about 4 hours which, for me, is a bloody miracle.

(AAC CPA, on the other hand, can go to sleep while sitting up straight as the plane is taxiing towards the runway.)

I must have awakened about 90 minutes before landing, and our FA offered me some breakfast (heaven forfend that I should be hungry!).

After a delicious (and I mean deeelicious) Croque Monsieur and some tasty fresh fruit, I was ready to change back into my traveling clothes and prepare for gay Paris.

Paris - Croque Monsieur
My extremely yummy breakfast

As we made our final approach, the captain reactivated the closed-circuit camera and I was able to watch our descent and landing from my seat. We landed a bit early, and it was a slightly overcast and cool looking day.

Coming in for a Landing
Our landing into CDG, Paris

We gathered our carry-ons and our FA wished us a very happy holiday and safe travels.

As we stepped onto the jet way, we were immediately met by our next handler, who seemed to know exactly who we were, as he called us by name. With a brisk “Bonjour et bienvenue à Paris”, we were escorted off the jetway, down a corridor, into an elevator and taken onto the tarmac.

Get a load of this: We were then handed off to a chauffeur and private car to drive us to customs and baggage claim. How much fun is this!!! Our handler met us at customs and whisked us to the front of the line (oops, “Pardonnez moi, tout le monde!”) So customs was a breeze, and then we were escorted to baggage claim.

And then, we had an experience that had never ever happened to us before. Can you imagine what it was? It was so rare that it never would have occurred to us. It seemed inconceivable that it could ever happen. The baggage carousel started to move and – much to our amazement – the first piece of luggage on the carousel was mine! I mean, what are the chances? We both tingled a bit when that happened. Zoweeee!

Our handler assumed that, of course, we’d be met by our own car and driver, but we had to ruin his day and say that a taxi would do nicely, merci. So he escorted us out of the terminal and, somewhat embarrassingly for us, took us to the head of the taxi queue, and made sure that we were given the first taxi. And, off we headed to the City of Light for a lovely Christmas week. 

To be continued……

Travel Fantasy Memory – Bucket List Item: Flying Air France to Paris

It started like this in June, 2014:

You – in this case: AAC, CPA – see a poster on the street alerting you to an upcoming exhibit that’s right up your alley (and, best of all for AAC, is free!). And there it is:

AF is in the Air
Invitation to an exhibit

What a cool thing to do of a summer Saturday afternoon in Chelsea, right? So, after meeting friends for brunch, we head over to the far west side on a street full of interesting art galleries (who knew?) and then into a loft building.

An attractive young woman outfitted in a beautifully tailored Air France uniform greets us. In fact, as we move through the exhibit, there seem to be dozens of Air France uniforms all around us, smiling, helpful and very welcoming.

And what, exactly, is the exhibit? Throughout, you see Air France memorabilia: photographs, videos, samples of their beautiful crystal, china, silverware, etc.

AF Model

AF Cards

AF Concorde Dining

There’s also fun, silly stuff to walk through. Even a kids area where they can play and run around while their folks ogle the exhibit.

2014-06-28 13.55.46
AAC CPA attends an exhibit and has fun

But, mostly, as you work your way through, you can sample the various cabin classes on board, which is the real purpose of the exhibit. Air France wants to put butts in seats.

In fact, if you want to try out the seats, go for it!

We start in economy (meh) – looks like lots of seats pushed together.

AF Economy

Premium economy is next – getting better, as there’s a bit more legroom – 6 inches more pitch.

AF Premium Economy

Business? Now we’re getting warmer, the seats are comfortable but, also, angle-flat, not flatbeds – phooey!!

AF Business
See what I mean about “angle-flat”?

And then it happens, you go through a curtain and, suddenly, you’re in first class (a/k/a La Premiere). And you gasp just a little bit and your heart may skip a beat. It’s magic time.

AF - 1st - New Product
La Premiere – Pretty swank, huh?

Wouldn’t you just know? This is the one cabin of the plane where you can’t sit in the seat!! “Make ‘em beg for more, and then DON’T give it to them!” The creeps!

After seeing the first class cabin, there’s nowhere to go but down. Literally, that is, as it’s the end of the exhibit. But on the way out, those cute AF uniforms give you posters and the best ice cream sandwich ever. And both are yummy. So are the uniforms, come to think of it.

Cross cut: While all this is going on, we’re aware that a Broadway bound production of An American in Paris will be playing its out-of-town tryout at the Théâtre du Châtelet – IN PARIS!!!! So, in his ever-so-sweetly passive-aggressive way, AAC CPA just casually suggests “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could see An American in Paris (in Paris)?”

An American In Paris

Yes, gentle readers, AAC CPA knows how to push-my-buttons.

From there, I’m off and running (actually sitting at my laptop):

First thing: When, exactly, is the show playing in Paris? Easy enough to find out, just go to the Châtelet website and – wait for it – OMG: it’s playing over the holidays. Are seats even available? How about 10th row center on Christmas Eve?? Woo-hoo! Hold that thought.

Next: Take a big breath and head over to the Air France website and find out what’s available for a round-trip to Paris over Christmas week. It’s the holidays, so it’s going to be difficult to get seats, right?

What I see stuns me. Based on what we’ve heard, flying on Air France in first class (excusez moi – La Premiere) has been a bucket list fantasy dream for a long time. But we couldn’t possibly – the fares would be over-the-moon-too-expensive-out-of-our-budget-impossible.

But wait, for some unexplained reason, the fares over the holidays have been discounted by something like 70%. And, on top of all that, we’d get to fly on the new A380. Whaaaaat? Do my eyes deceive me? Apparently not. Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that it wasn’t beaucoup bucks but, on the other hand, who doesn’t want to take advantage of a great deal, at least once?

AF A380
The new double-decker A380

Reminder to myself: How lucky are we that we could even consider such an indulgence?

So, then I call AAC CPA at work (yes, he was still doing THAT), and said: “OK, buster, you planted this seed – how would you like to go to Paris for Christmas and, oh by the way, fly over and back on Air France (traveling in La Premiere!, no less) and, yes, see An American in Paris on Christmas Eve?”

Yes, I called his bluff and what could he say but: “Well, OK, sure.”

And in a couple of mouse-clicks – I had windows open for both Air France and the Châtelet – we locked in our fantasy holiday trip: We were going to be two Americans in Paris, seeing An American in Paris on Christmas eve– IN PARIS!

Seriously, how lucky ARE we??

Next time: the Air France treatment (or, “Is there any way that you can make this flight LONGER?”)

Travel Fantasy: Let’s Fly Around the World

NOTE: If you’re not a travel wonk (and totally obsessed) as I am, you may not enjoy this post at all – or your eyes may glaze over or, worse, get permanently crossed. Proceed AYOR!!

So, how did I not know about this one? It was only a couple of months ago that a good friend (and fellow obsessed traveler) – AB-M – told me that there is this thing called “Round the World Air Fares” that is offered by the 3 airline alliances: One World (American Airlines), Sky Team (Delta) and Star Alliance (United).

It works like this:

You go to a dedicated website, input your itinerary and class of service, choose your flights, and off you go. What’s really interesting is that there don’t seem to be any blackout dates and the round-the-world fare is deeply discounted by comparison to what you might spend if you were purchasing each travel segment separately. You can also choose which class of service in which you want to fly: economy, business or first class – it’s all there for the taking.

There are a few caveats: you must fly in one direction, you must cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there will be a minimum and maximum number of flight segments you are allowed. There are time rules, also, but they tend to be very liberal.

Cathay Pacific
Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So how much will this flight of fancy cost us? Very generally speaking:

Economy: About $4,600 per person
Business: About $9,900 per person
First: About $15,300 per person

By way of comparison, let’s suppose you wanted to fly around the world, but paid for each segment individually without choosing the round-the-world fare. How much would it cost you:

Economy: About $13,650 per person
Business: About $27,700 per person
First: About $43,500 per person (whaaaat?)

If you were so-inclined to fly round-the-world, there is a huge savings to book the tickets via one of these airline alliances, right?

Since AAC CPA and I have gold status for life on American Airlines, we tend to go with them for most of our air travel, when we can. Having said that, our gold status gives us basically: NOTHING. And, since we fly mostly on miles, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Boo-Hoo!

Anyway, I got it into my head that it would be really cool to fly around the world. So, just for fun, I’ve developed the following itinerary and tried it out on all 3 airline alliances to see how it would shake out.

Here’s my fantasy – and slightly bizarre – itinerary:

New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Hong Kong to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem (TLV)
Tel Aviv to Paris (CDG or ORY)
Paris to London (LHR)
London to New York (JFK)

Why did I choose these particular locales? Well, we’ve never been to Hong Kong and I’ve heard amazing things about flying on Cathay Pacific (which is part of the One World Alliance). Tel Aviv? I haven’t been to Israel since the last millennium and AAC has never been. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that Cathay Pacific may inaugurate nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv next year. (Do I detect a theme here?) Paris and London are no-brainers, as they’re two of our favorite cities and are sort of on the way home. Actually we’ve been to those 2 cities so many times that they almost ARE home.

I started with the One World Explorer website:

One World Alliance

Under Round-the-World fares, choose oneworld Explorer and go from there. The interface is very user-friendly, and it’s and all difficult to play with it.

Warning – here comes the real wonky part:

Starting with JFK – HKG, no problem. Cathay Pacific flies a daily nonstop. 16 hours!! But we’ve heard that it’s a great airline and you’ll be well treated.

Plus – and fellow-wonks, this is IMPORTANT – the Cathay Pacific flight also operates as a codeshare on American Airlines. So if, for instance, you’re in American’s AAdvantage Mileage Program and you can book the flight using the codeshare, you should be entitled to AA miles (in addition to bonus miles if you’re flying in a premium cabin). Woo-Hoo!

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

Hong Kong
Let’s go to Hong Kong!!

From HKG – TLV, at the present time (until Cathay Pacific initiates nonstop service), the best way to fly is Cathay Pacific to London (LHR), and then onwards to TLV on British Airways. (We’re also enrolled in BA’s Executive Club, so we should pick up some Avios miles on the 2nd segment.) Total travel time here is about 20 hours (ouch!!) whereas, if you can fly from HKG – TLV nonstop, it’s more like 12 hours. For what it’s worth, the HKG – TLV segment on Cathay Pacific is in 1st class, and the LHR – TLV segment is in business class. If Cathay Pacific eventually flies nonstop from HKG – TLV, it’s been rumored that the only premium cabin will be business class.

Tel Aviv
Let’s hit the beach in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem
Jerusalem by night.

dead-sea
Or a dip in the Dead Sea?

(Are your eyes glazing over yet??)

After our week in the Holy Land, it’s off to chic Paris. In the One World Alliance, this is kind of a stinker itinerary, as you have to fly through LHR on British Airways, change planes and then to Paris. Instead of a 4 – 5 hour nonstop (if it were available), you’re now facing total travel time of 8½ hours. This is one of the compromises of flying within one of these airline alliances and a core lesson to learn: you can’t always get from point “A” to point “B” without making a few stops along the way.

AAC - Paris
AAC CPA in Paris – May, 2015

Paris to London is no biggie – now it’s an easy 80-minute flight from CDG to LHR. After what you’re already been through, this is nothing!

AAC-London
AAC CPA does London – May, 2015

Finally, on the flight back to New York, you have 2 options: either fly on American Airlines, which has 3 nonstops every day (but only 1 with a first class cabin), or British Airways. Again, if you want to collect AAdvantage miles, go with AA. If you want Avios, BA is your man.

When I attempted this itinerary on the Star Alliance (United) and Sky Team (Delta) websites, there were immediate problems. If, for instance, you wanted to fly in first class, almost all of the Star Alliance flight options were downgraded to business class, so it would make sense to choose “business class” as your class option and save thousands of dollars (duh?). Additionally, because of this particular itinerary, in some cases there were as many as 2 changes of plane to get from one city to another. That doesn’t sound like fun.

And, not for nothing, did you realize that – once you’ve completed your circumnavigation of the planet – there’s even a club for you to join:

Circumnavigators Club

Yes, it’s the vrai – a special club for special people!!

So here are the takeaways:

  1. If you want to fly round-the-world, use an airline alliance to book your ticket – the savings will be HUGE and you won’t have to worry about things like blackout periods; and
  2. As you think about your specific itinerary, be aware that each alliance has its pros and cons with respect their favored cities and the ease with which you can get from here to there.

But, in the end, it’s all about the adventure of travel and the idea of making a circumnavigation of our planet makes me kind of tingle.

So what is YOUR favorite itinerary on your round-the-world fantasy adventure?

Bon voyage!!

PS. Here are links to the other airline alliance websites for booking round-the-world fares:

Sky Team Alliance Round-the-World Fares (Delta Airlines)

Star Alliance Round-the-World Fares (United Airlines)