Andiamo in Italia!!

Ciao, ragazzi!

It’s time to hit the road again and, as usual, we have something special planned. (So what else is new?)

In just a few hours, AAC CPA and I will make our way to JFK where, early this evening, we’ll depart for a 3-week adventure. We’ll start with our usual BA flight to London’s Heathrow airport, and then we’ll make our way to London City Airport, where we’ll board a flight bound for Firenze. 

BA 747
Our winged chariot to fly us across the Atlantic on our way to Firenze

By this time tomorrow, we’ll be beautifully ensconced at the Portrait Firenze, part of the Lungarno Collection. This property is very close to the Ponte Vecchio, a landmark that no visitor to Firenze is likely to miss.

Portrait Firenze
Our digs in Firenze – yup, that’s the Ponte Vecchio practically next door

Florence - Duomo
The Duomo, one of the most famous sights in town

Our original plan was to stay in Firenze for 3 nights, and then fate intervened. The centerpiece of this vacation will be our rental of a villa near the town of Città di Castello in Perugia. We are sharing said villa with our wonderful and very glamorous friends, Christine and Marty. They have been to Italy on numerous occasions and “know the territory”. They’re also great fun.

Anyway, as I was saying – 3 nights in Firenze and then on to the villa. That was the plan until several months ago when Marty asked me for my opinion of James Taylor. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I don’t have much of an opinion, as my musical tastes run mostly to theatre and classical music. 

It turns out that a good friend of Marty’s is Lou Marinia (a/k/a “Blue Lou” Marini) who, aside from being an extremely talented saxophonist, arranger and composer, also happens to be a part of the James Taylor band. And wouldn’t you just know that JT is touring Europe this summer. And what a coincidence that JT, along with Bonnie Raitt and the band, is going to be giving an open-air concert at the Piazza Napoleone in Lucca the night before we take possession of the villa! And, if Lucca is only an hour away from Firenze, wouldn’t it make sense to attend said concert, especially if Lou offered to “set us up”?

JT and Bonnie Raitt
James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt will sing in Lucca on Friday night

So, between our (now) 2 days in Firenze and moving onto our villa, we’ll have an exciting detour to Lucca to hang with JT, Bonnie and the band (well, maybe not “hang”, but you get the idea).

Alla Corte Degli Angeli
Spending the night in Lucca at the charming Alla Corte Degli Angeli

And, then, onto our Villa!

A word about the villa – AAC CPA and I have never done anything like that before. We’re tried and true hotel habitants. And we like it that way. However, when we started talking to Christine and Marty about spending some time together in Italy, the notion of having our own place seemed irresistible. So we all headed to the internets and one of us (I don’t recall who it was), came up with this place. If the reality is half as good as the pictures we’ve seen, we’re going to have a blast. 

Casa Sant'Anna Exterior - 01
Home

I’ve established a good relationship with “La Padrona”, a British woman named Carole, and she’s been great, answering all of our questions and giving us lots of great tips about the area. 

The villa is beautifully laid out, features a 42-foot pool and a music room with a Beckstein baby grand. As Christine and Marty are in “the show business” and very musically inclined, we’ll have beautiful music wafting through the house. 

Casa Sant'Anna Sitting Room - 01
Our sitting room

Casa Sant'Anna Tapestry Bedroom - 02
One of the two master bedrooms

 

Casa Sant'Anna Bechstein Baby Grand
Our music room with Beckstein baby grand

Casa Sant'Anna Pool - 02
Our pool with stunning views of our olive grove

We also have access to a personal chef, who will be happy to cook for us on request. As AAC CPA has a birthday while we’re in residence, we’ll avail ourselves of her services.

The closest town is Città di Castello, a mere 8 kilometers away.

Città di Castello
The beautiful Cittá di Castello

After 10 days at the villa, AAC CPA and I will bid a fond “addio” to Christine and Marty and drive up to Venezia, one of our favorite cities in the world. This will be our 5th visit to this enchanted place and, rather than stay at our usual digs, the Cipriani, we’ve decided (on the advice of our very good friend, Billy Z) to stay at the Aman, located on the Grand Canal and just a short distance from the Rialto Bridge. 

The hotel, opened in 2013, is the former Palazzo Papadopoli and, we’ve been told, no expense has been spared. There are fewer than 25 rooms at the hotel and the location is superb.

Palazzo Papadopoli - 1890
Palazzo Papadopoli, ca. 1890

Palazzo Papadopoli - Now - 02
And, now, the Aman Venice with the Rialto Bridge in the distance

Aman Venice - Garden View
The hotel garden on the Grand Canal

Aman Venice Mirror Lounge
The Mirror Lounge

Aman Venice - Dining Room
The Dining Room

We have some really fun escapades planned for our 4 days in town, which I hope to share with you when they happen.

From Venezia, we’ll wing our way to London – our last stop – for 4 days. Lucky us – this will be our 3rd visit to London this year. We’ll be back at the Shangri-La at the Shard, our favorite property in London right now. And, over our last few visits, we’ve discovered that it’s located in a great neighborhood.

Shangri-La
The Shangri-La, located on the upper floors of the Shard

Allora, that’s the plan. Some familiar things, some new things, and I haven’t even told you about our plans for eating. For the most part, you can’t go wrong in Italy when it comes to food (not to mention wine), but we’ve got some nice things planned.

Stay tuned, amici, and – if you can’t be bothered with these blog posts – you can definitely find me on Istagram – jefftakespix

Ciao, ciao!!

Report from London – The First 24 Hours

Good morning and greetings from a gloomy, cool and wet London. Our first two days here were gorgeous, sunny and warm. Such is the weather in the UK, I suppose. But a little gloom and doom will not prevent us from having a marvelous time.

Here’s my account of our first 24 hours:

2017-08-27 01 - BA Check-In
Check in at JFK was nasty and very slow. BA reports being “woefully understaffed”

Fortunately, once past check-in and security, the Concorde Room awaited, where we had a lovely pre-flight dinner.

2017-08-27 02 - Heirloom Tomato Burrata
Heirloom tomato and burrata salad – very tasty

2017-08-27 03 - Steak
Perfectly roasted sirloin accompanied by vegetables and a lovely 2013 St. Emilion

Just as we finished dining, it was time to board our flight. Nothing much to report, except to say that BA took very good care of us. Once we reached cruising altitude, our beds were made and we drifted off for about 4 hours of sleep. Before landing, we enjoyed a hot breakfast to start the day.

Our flight arrived on time and, once past customs and baggage claim, we headed for the Heathrow Express, perhaps the best (and certainly fastest) way to get into London – it’s a 15 minute trip. And, by the way, you can get a nice discount if you book your trip online at least 30 days in advance of your travel date.

2017-08-28 04 - Heathrow Express
The Heathrow Express, comfortable and fast

TRAVEL TIP: HEATHROW EXPRESS

The train dropped us off at Paddington Station and, from there, it was a quick 15 minute taxi ride to our hotel, the Shangri-La at the Shard, across the river and a stone’s throw from London Bridge. (Normally, the trip can take longer, but it was a bank holiday, so the streets were pretty empty.)

Shangri-La Shard Logo

We arrived at the hotel at about 10:00 AM and, very fortunately for us, our room was available. Not only that but, because we had booked through the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, we were given an upgrade to the Iconic City View Room, which has the best views in the hotel. Thanks, Veronica!!

Iconic City View Room
Our Iconic City View Room – they weren’t kidding about the views

2017-08-28 05 - St. Paul
View #1 – St. Paul’s Cathedral (to the left)

2017-08-28 06 - London Bridge
View #2 – London Bridge (to the right)

TRAVEL TIP: The Shangri-La at the Shard

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program

Once we unpacked and got settled in, we decided to walk off the jet lag and grab a bite of lunch. Because we’re across the river from most (if not all) of the action, we took the tube over to  Leicester Square (in the heart of the West End), and started strolling.

Leicester Square
The tube delivered us to Leicester Square in the West End

From there, we walked through Trafalgar Square and over to Piccadilly.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square on a beautiful Monday morning in August

By the time we made our way over to Piccadilly, we were feeling a bit peckish, so we decided to stop in at one of our favorite restaurants in London, The Wolseley. 

A bit of history, courtesy of The Wolseley’s website: “In 1921, Wolseley Motors Limited commissioned the architect, William Curtis Green, to design a prestigious car showroom in London’s West End. He drew on Venetian and Florentine influences, as well as incorporating the Eastern exotic touches that were in fashion at the time. The grand, atmospheric interior with its towering pillars, arches and stairways was testament to the great ambitions of The Wolseley Car Company. The cars were displayed on the marble floor and cost between £225 – £1,300. Unfortunately, the cars did not sell well enough and by 1926 the Company was bankrupt.

Wolseley Showroom
The Wolseley Showroom, ca. 1921.

“Barclays Bank acquired the building and a new branch opened in April 1927. William Curtis Green was recalled to install managers’ offices on either side of the main entrance (now serving as a bar and salon) and a banking counter, further developing the Eastern lacquer theme. He also designed specialized furniture including a post box and stamp machine, still on display today.

“Chris Corbin and Jeremy King secured the site in July 2003 and its restoration and renovation was overseen by David Collins Architects. The Wolseley opened in November 2003.”

Wolseley Cafe
The Wolseley today

The great thing about The Wolseley is that it’s open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and post-theatre supper. So you can eat there just about any time of day.

We decided to share a couple of things:

2017-08-28 09 - Chicken Sandwich
AAC had a grilled chicken, bacon and avocado sandwich served on ciabatta

2017-08-28 08 - Salad Niçoise
I opted for the Salade Niçoise – a very sensible choice

The food at The Wolseley is always delicious and you’re in an unusual and beautiful dining room and, should you be interested, you’re directly across the street from the world-famous Ritz Hotel.

DINING TIP: The Wolseley

As we finished lunch, the jet lag hit us bigly. So we decided to tube it back to the hotel and take a substantial nap. It felt SO GOOD!

We awoke refreshed and ready to get cleaned up and changed and headed out for our first theatrical adventure of the trip: the West End revival of the 1963 musical, Half A Sixpence

On our way to the Noël Coward Theatre, we passed the Colisseum, home of ENO (the English National Opera). This fall, the company is presenting the world premiere of a new opera by Nico Muhly, Marnie. You may recognize the title from the 1960’s Hitchcock film of the same name, which starred Tippi Hedren (of The Birds fame) and the quintessential James Bond, Sean Connery. Well, ladies and gents, how lucky are we that AAC and I will be back in London for the 1st performance this coming November?

2017-08-28 10 - Marnie
AAC looks forward to Marnie – isn’t that an amazing poster?

Half A Sixpence is based, I kid you not, on the novel, Kipps, The Story of a Simple Soul, by none other than H.G. Wells. It has been said that some plot points in the novel are autobiographical. The musical was revived by Cameron Mackintosh and created a star with the astonishing peformance of 23-year old Charlie Stemp. The actor playing the leading role of Arthur Kipps must carry the show, as he is onstage almost nonstop and is featured in no less than 15 songs. Stemp’s performance is not only accomplished – he is an amazing dancer and constantly in motion – but he’s also genuinely charming in the role and the audience adores him. The show is a constant delight and has been given a lovely and very substantial production.

2017-08-28 11 - Half A Sixpence
AAC arrives for his first show of the trip: Half A Sixpence

Stemp - 01
A Star is Born: Charlie Stemp onstage as Arthur Kipps in Half A Sixpence

Stemp 3
Stemp and Company: Pick Out A Simple Tune

I only wish that I could recommend this delightful show to you as a CULTURAL TIP but, alas, the production closes this weekend. Oh well.

Following the performance, we were peckish again, and so we decided to drop in at another of our favorite culinary establishments (and one at which we dine every time we’re in town), The Ivy, which is celebrating its centenary this very year. Unusual for us, we arrived without a reservation, but we were very lucky to score a table.

The Ivy
The Ivy – a great place to sup post-theatre

DINING TIP: The Ivy

We had a lovely supper and The Ivy is always so friendly and welcoming. 

By the time we finished, it was almost midnight and our first day in London was drawing to a close. It was time to taxi back to the Shangri-La, take some lovely pharmaceuticals and drift off into a delightful sleep with visions of what we’d done that day dancing in our heads.

 

 

On the Road Again – August, 2017

Greetings and salutations, gentle readers! I know it’s been months since TCT posted; we’re just about to undertake our next travel adventure. We’ll be starting in a very familiar place and, after that, visiting some amazing places we’ve never been before. Added to which, we’ll be traveling like we’ve never done before.

Just about 24 hours from now, we’ll be arriving at JFK for an overnight flight to London, via British Airways. Once we’ve checked in, we’ll have the very good fortune to dine at the airport, courtesy of BA’s Concorde Room.

Concorde Room - JFK
Entrance to the Concorde Room, JFK

Here’s a sample menu from the Concorde Room:
Corcorde Room Sample Menu

Then it’s off to the gate to board our 747 chariot which will transport us across the pond:
British Airways

Because we’ll have already eaten, we’ll just climb under the covers and grab some zzzzzs.

Fortunately, we’ll get some “fuel” before landing at LHR:
British Airways Breakfast

One of our favorite ways to travel from LHR into Central London is to take the Heathrow Express. If you’re able to manage your own luggage, it’s a painless (and very economical) way to get there. And, best of all, it’s 15 minutes from the airport to Paddington Station. And then we’re just a short taxi ride from the station to our hotel.

Heathrow Express
The Heathrow Express – only 15 minutes from LHR to Central London!

This time, we’re back at the Shangri-La, atop the amazing Shard

Shangri-La - Shard
The Shangri-La at the Shard is a stone’s throw from London Bridge

Shangri-La - Guest Room
Guest rooms at the Shangri-La are spacious and have amazing views

While we’re in London, we’ll have having some new adventures, starting with London theatre. We’ll be checking out the following shows:

Dreamgirls
Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre

Follies
Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Follies, at the National Theatre

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The hardest ticket of all: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (in 2 parts)!

We’ll also have a few other adventures, whilst in London town.

Dulwich Picture Gallery - Exterior
The Dulwich Picture Gallery

Sargent - The Watercolours
Visiting the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see “Sargent: The Watercolours”

Selfridges
Checking out the world-famous Selfridges – the real thing, not the TV series

Selfridges Roof Deck
Having a spot of lunch at Selfridges’ new dining venue, the Roof Deck

After spending the week in beautiful London, we’ll be heading back out to LHR and boarding a flight for Vienna – our 1st visit there.

Vienna
Vienna: City of My Dreams

So, you may ask, why have we chosen Vienna? Besides the fact that it’s one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with amazing culture and culinary treasures, and an incredible history all its own, it’s the place where we’ll start our next adventure:

Crystal Mozart
Crystal Mozart

Yes, we’re embarking on our first river cruise aboard the year-old Crystal Mozart. Although this boat is wider than just any other river boat (double width, in fact), it’s still a bit small by the standards to which we’ve become accustomed.

Crystal Mozart PH with French Balcony
Our cabin is a “Penthouse with French Balcony” – actually, there is no balcony.

The Mozart is a 4-deck boat, accommodating about 150 passengers, and carrying about 90 crew. That’s a lot of crew for 150 passengers!

Crystal Mozart Top Deck
Deck 4 of Crystal Mozart. When going under low crossings, everything on this
deck is hydraulically lowered – it’s magic.

Here’s a map of our itinerary:
Crystal Mozart Itinerary Map

As you can see, we’ll be visiting some interesting places, all new to us.

The river cruise will be 11 days and we’ll start and finish with an overnight in Vienna.

On the last evening of our cruise, we’ll be taken to the Belvedere Palace for champagne and a command performance, just for us and our fellow passengers.

Belvedere Palace Vienna
Belvedere Palace

When we disembark in Vienna at the conclusion of our cruise, we’ll remain for a few days so that we can really experience the city.

Ritz-Carlton Vienna
Our digs in Vienna: The Ritz-Carlton

Ritz-Carlton Junior Suite
One of the Junior Suites at the Ritz-Carlton

Ritz Carlton Junior Suite Bathroom
Dreamy and well-stocked bathroom at the Ritz-Carlton

Things to do while we’re in Vienna:

Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace (seeing how the other half lives)

St Stephen's Cathedral
The magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Cafe Demel Vienna
“Caffee mit schlag” at Cafe Demel

Spanish Riding School
Seeing the horses rehearse at the Spanish Riding School

Steirereck - Vienna
Dining at the multi-Michelin starred Steirereck

Musikverein
Attending an all-Mozart concert at the beautiful Musikverein

And, most improbably, we’ll be paying a visit to Vienna’s Volksoper (The People’s Opera), where you can hear opera, operetta, concerts and, in our case, something completely surprising and unexpected:

Gypsy
Arthur Laurents’, Jule Styne’s and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy – in German!

All-in-all, it’s going to be a very interesting trip. We’ll be gone for about 3 weeks, and I hope to post for you while we’re away.

In the meantime, ta-ta and auf wiedersehn for now.

 

 

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!

Greetings from London – Part 1

Happy holidays, everyone! We made it safely to London. Left on a jet plane Sunday morning and a mere 8 hours later were checking into our digs at the Shangri-La at the Shard, just a stone’s throw away from London Bridge.

We love London, what can we say. As I type this missive to you, night is falling over the City – look at this dramatic view from our room atop the Shard as afternoon turns into night and you’ll see what I mean:

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See what I mean?

Because I’m on a tight timeline – off to theatre and supper afterwards – here are a few images of our adventures so far:

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Packed and leaving for the airport (too much luggage for only 6 days?)

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Our BA 747 Chariot awaits to whisk us off to London

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AAC CPA buckles up – fasten your seat belts!!

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Our final approach into Heathrow

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AAC CPA under the tree and ready to eat

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The view from our room last night just before bedtime

I’ll have more to report as the days go by. Tomorrow we’ll be seeing Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory – a very, very hot ticket. Your faithful correspondent will let you know what we thought. (As it that matters at all, it’s already announced a transfer to the West End and tickets are very, very scarce!)

In the meantime, tally-ho!

Countdown to London

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

How lucky are AAC CPA and I?

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

How could we not go?

TRAVEL TIP: The Points Guy

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

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

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

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Menier Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Funny Girl at the Savoy

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

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

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

Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

A Quick Check-In From London

Greetings, everyone. It’s just about 12:30 AM in London on a Sunday morning. We’re leaving in exactly 10 hours for Southampton where we’ll board Queen Mary 2 and I thought I’d give you a VERY quick check-in from our whirlwind day in London.

If you read my post from the other day, you’ll know that we had a fast and furious day here. Our flight landed Friday evening and it was non-stop since then.

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Our intrepid AAC CPA getting ready to fly

We got into our hotel room around 10:00 PM Friday evening and here’s a little look at our room. Quite nice.

Shangri-La Premiere Room
Premiere Room at the Shangri-La

And here’s what we saw when we awoke this morning:

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Good morning, St. Paul’s

After a lovely breakfast down at Ting Lounge, we were on the run. Off to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Audrey Hepburn Exhibit. While it wasn’t large, what was there was cherce. And we enjoyed it. And the place was filthy packed. I guess there are a lot of Hepburn fans out there. Us, too. She was a good woman.

From there, back to the Shangri-La for lunch with the aforesaid Lynne and Garry. It was so good to see them. We did have a bit of a kerfuffle at the restaurant, however. I must say that the hotel has some issues with service in the restaurants. Getting seated was a bit of an adventure, even with a reservation. And then we had the most leisurely lunch. Too leisurely, in fact. I mean, does it really take almost 2 hours for an appetizer and a burger? I mean it was wonderful visiting with good friends, but we were all getting a bit anxious about it all. We took it in stride but I may have to have a word with the manager before we leave, don’t you think?

Anyway, here are the lovely Garry and Lynne with our own AAC CPA:

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Garry, Lynne and AAC CPA

And check out Garry’s fashion statement:

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Garry is one stylish dude!!

Because lunch ran SO long, AAC CPA and I had to make a decision: nap or cocktails at the Corinthia. No chance to do both. For better (at least for our livers) or for worse, we opted for the nap. Good thing, too. We were out like lights!! Woke up in time to clean up and head out, over to the Duke of York’s Theatre.

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Duke of York’s Theatre

The theatre was packed, a hit in the making.

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A little unauthorized pre-show activity – shhhhh!

So, what did we think of the show? Enjoyed it – marvelous cast and production, didn’t really fulfill our expectations, and that’ll teach us to have expectations!! Actually, as AAC CPA says, sometimes you need to sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. We’ll get back to you on it.

Intermission was interesting, however – look at the entrance to the bar:

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Finding Neverland, anybody?I

Got out of the play and walked over to The Ivy – one of our favorite London establishments. We always feel so welcome there and the place has a great vibe.

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The Ivy, all gussied up on a Saturday nightI

And, here’s our own AAC CPA enjoying his evening out:

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AAC CPA after his 1st cocktail

And, so that was our day in London. Have to be up and out in the morning for our drive down to Southampton, where we’ll embark Queen Mary 2 bound for lil’ ‘ol New York.

Next time you hear from me, we’ll be somewhere on the Atlantic!

Good night, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are!!