Sunday: Back in Fort Lauderdale . . . . .

Greetings, gentle readers.

AAC CPA and I are back on terra firma and again ensconced  at the Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale where we began this adventure 8 days ago. We disembarked Celebrity Silhouette early this morning (around 8:00 AM) and were in checked-in at the hotel and unpacked by 9:15. How’s that for good travel karma?

(We heard from a fellow passenger – who wasn’t able to disembark as early as we – that disembarkation had a bit of an immigration kerfuffle and everything stopped mid-morning, and he and his party were delayed from getting off the ship for quite some time. No fun, that.)

Since I haven’t posted for a couple of days, I should tell you that the remainder of our cruise was quite lovely. Today’s post will be, mostly, about all the food we consumed. For Friday lunch, we ate at Murano, arguably the best table on the high seas and certainly the best restaurant on the ship. I wasn’t hungry (of course), so I had 2 appetizers: a crab salad, followed by a risotto, both of which were deeeelicious.

Murano Lunch 2
Crab Salad with Avocado

Murano lunch 3
Porcini and Morel Risotto peaking through a truffle foam

Then we may have made a tactical error: we were invited to (and attended) a special Champagne Tea on Friday afternoon. Did we really need all those tea sandwiches, scones and pastries? Not really, but we cut back to save ourselves and our waistlines – we cut the tea.

On Friday night, we began our evening with cocktails back at the Molecular Bar, followed by dinner at Tuscan Grille, both of which were delightful although, for some unexplained reason, we had lost our appetites (which didn’t stop us from over-ordering, as usual). We had an amazing window table at the very back of the ship. 

Molecular Bar
Wacky and wonderful cocktails at Molecular Bar

Tuscan Grill
Our window table at Tuscan Grille (in the rear)

Tuscan Grille specializes in pastas and steaks and it didn’t disappoint. After sharing a Caprese and a “Chop Chop Italian Salad”, we split 2 pastas as a middle course: a fabulous Spaghetti alla Bolognese and Pappardella Alfredo con Aragosta (that’s lobster), which was dreamy. For the main, we split a grilled filet mignon and seafood skewers with Tuscan fries and Mediterranean vegetables as sides. No need for desserts.

Oh, and the holidays were getting closer and closer as every day something new appeared somewhere on the ship:

Celebrity Noel

Saturday was the last day at sea and the last day of the cruise. The passengers seemed to move into high gear so as not to miss out on anything. It was very high voltage.

The “highlight” of the last day – if one can call it that – was the “Egg Drop Competition”, in which various teams built protective devices into which 2 raw eggs were placed. Said device was then dropped from the 7th floor of the ship’s atrium down to the 3rd floor. Their devices had to land within the target range (“x” marks the spot), at which point a designated team member had to extract the eggs which were, hopefully, intact (ie., no “egg casualties”). Then the assembled onlookers would rate each team on a scale of 1 – 5. Some of the voting was brutal and mean (schadenfreude, anyone?). Some of the devices were very clever, as were some of the team names: “Eggstacy”, “Great Eggspectations” “Eggsasperation” and so on. I have no pictures to post, as they would not do justice to the event.

After all that excitement, it was time to start packing. Yes, all good things must end. We had made arrangements to have a farewell gala dinner with our group at Murano. Because there were 8 of us, we were given the private “wine cellar” for our last supper. It was definitely the finest meal of the cruise and there was quite a bit of hilarity around the table as well. Some of what we had:

Murano Scallop
How about Diver Scallop Wellington Style to start the meal?

Murano Rack
Followed by a sensational herb crusted lamb rack

Oh, and followed by a cheese course, just ’cause (no pix, unfortunately, but we all know what it looks like).

Murano Dessert
Six shots for dessert for 2

After all that, it was time for “au revoirs” and “toodle-loos”. We’ll meet again, don’t know when, don’t know where, but it was just one of those things.

Oh, and btw, remember that I was telling you about the over the moon pastries that were offered with breakfast every morning? Take a look:

Celebrity Pastry

Here’s your Rorschach question for today: What do you see when you look into the pastry?

Next time, I’ll regale you with tales of our final 2 days in Fort Lauderdale before winging it back to lil’ ol’ New York City.

 

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Blog Detour – Bayreuth

Gentle Readers:

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m enrolled in an online blogging course in order to improve my skills and, hopefully, to give you a better experience.

It turns out that today’s assignment is to write a post that builds on a comment that I posted on another blog that was of interest to me.

Therefore, I’ll apologize in advance for those of you who may say: “Why is he talking about that opera crap again?” But please bear with me, as you might find this post more interesting that you had originally thought.

Imagine this:

There is a opera house in Bayreuth (pronounced bye-roit) Germany, which was built between 1872 – 75 for the express purpose of presenting Richard Wagner’s magnum opus, Der Ring des Nibelungen. For those of you unfamiliar with the Ring, Wagner spent over 20 years composing these 4 operas or, more specifically, a Prologue (Das Rheingold) with 3 operas to follow (Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung). If nothing else, the audacity of an artist creating an entirely new style of music and operatic presentation spread over 4 evenings (and 15+ hours) has to be respected. This grand work would be presented as a Festival and, indeed his theatre is called the Festspielhaus (Festival House). The demands (and, hopefully, the rewards) of presenting the Ring placed upon the singers, orchestra, designers and, not least, the audience, would be unprecedented.

Bayreuth - R Wagner
Richard Wagner – The Meister

Why Bayreuth? Wagner wanted a location that was far away from virtually anything that would interfere with the audience’s complete concentration on and attention to his Ring. Additionally, he needed a huge stage on which to present the operas. There is another opera house in Bayreuth that Wagner thought might work, as the stage was unusually deep. However, when Wagner saw the opera house, he thought it was too rococo for him and the Ring. He wanted something much simpler that, again, would not distract his audience from what he had called his Gesamtkunstwerk, defined by Webster as “an art work produced by a synthesis of various art forms (such as music and drama)”.

Bayreuth - the Other Opera House
The other opera house – too rococo??

And another challenge that continues to this day: Bayreuth is not easy to get to (unless you live somewhere in Europe and like to drive). The first time I attended the Festival, I was able to fly from New York to Frankfurt and then fly on a “puddle-hopper” to Bayreuth. Nowadays, you’d need a private plane to fly into Bayreuth, which, in the alternative, leaves you with a 4+ hour train ride from Frankfurt (with a change of train in Nuremberg). It’s a LONG trip!

Bayreuth Map
How to get to Bayreuth

In order to get his theatre built, Wagner finagled the funds from mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was entirely under Wagner’s spell ever since he had seen a performance of Lohengrin as a child. (Wagner had that effect on many people. He was, by most accounts, a terrible person but, arguably, the most important and influential artist of the 19th century.)

Bayreuth Ludwig
King Ludwig of Bavaria

The theatre was unique when it was built and still is. Inspired by the Greek amphitheaters, the main floor is fan-shaped and has 30 rows. Behind and above are several sections (loge and balcony) and, of course, a royal box for the Swan King (Ludwig). There are 1,900 seats altogether and no boxes for the “important people”. Seating was intended to be entirely democratic.


The Festspielehaus

Bayreuth - Interior
Inside the Festspielhaus

The most unusual feature of the theatre is that the orchestra pit is famously and entirely concealed from view of the audience. Wagner intentionally designed it this way so that there would be no distractions when watching his grand works. Additionally, Wagner’s theatre was the first ever to present the operas with the house lights entirely turned off, an innovation at the time. In this way, the audience, sitting entirely in the dark, couldn’t “yoo-hoo” at friends and frenemies during the performance and had to pay attention. The beginning of Das Rheingold with its ominous E-flat bass notes which morph into the music of the Rhine river is played in complete darkness, so dark that you can barely see your hand in front of your face. Imagine what that must have been like for audiences accustomed to a totally different experience when attending the opera. It was nothing less than revolutionary.

Bayreuth Orchestra Pit
The invisible orchestra pit

Wagner originally had the crazy idea that he would build this theatre, the Ring would be presented and, afterwards, the theatre would be torn down. Well, that didn’t happen, did it? Wiser heads (including his own) prevailed and after the world premiere of the completed Ring in 1876, plans were immediately made for another Festival at which all of the mistakes of the first year (and there were many, many mistakes) would be corrected.

But it was another 6 years before the next Festival and, as it happened, the Ring was not presented. Instead, it was the world premiere of Parsifal that the audience heard and which Wagner had composed with the Festspielhaus’ unique acoustic in mind. This time, Wagner had a complete triumph: the perfect opera, with the perfect cast and a perfect production (perfect, at least, for 1882). Buoyed by this success, plans were made to get the Ring back into the theatre pronto. And then, 6 months later, Wagner died in Venice.

It took several years, but the Festival was eventually resurrected by Wagner’s widow, Cosima (who, incidentally, was the daughter of Franz Liszt).

Bayreuth R Wagner Cosima Siegfried
Family Portrait: Cosima, Siegfried, Richard

Over time, certain traditions were created that continue to the present day. It was decided that, in addition to the Ring and Parsifal, only the Master’s mature works (Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde) would be presented. Without fail, the Festival would open each year on July 25th and close on August 28th. The Festival would be a workshop, at which each production would be presented for several years and, in each successive season, return to the rehearsal studio to refine, improve and rethink each opus.

After Cosima’s death, the Festival was handed over to her son, Siegfried (who, by the way, was GAY, but people didn’t talk about such things back then). Upon his premature death in 1930, the Festival was taken over (stolen??) by his widow (wait – he was MARRIED????), Winifred, who presided over the Festival for the next 14 tumultuous years.

You see, during the 1920s, she had become friends with this up and coming politician with whom she was much enamored. In fact, she was so bewitched by this charismatic young man that, or so the story goes, she provided him with the paper on which he wrote his most famous book: Mein Kampf. And that’s how Adolf Hitler – who was Richard Wagner’s #1 fan – came to be a fixture at Bayreuth through the 1930s and, finally, the 1944 Festival, after which the theatre shut down (almost for good).

Bayreuth - Hitler
Winifred, Adolf and Wagner Progeny

But wait: Siegfried and Winifred had 2 sons – Wieland and Wolfgang who, after the war (and after being denazified), were allowed to reopen the Festival in 1951. Because there was no money, and because there could be no compromises on the presentation of the music, Wieland caused another revolution by what he put on the stage which was, basically, nothing except the singers, some very simple set pieces (such as a circular platform for the presentation of the Ring) and the most effective lighting that had to that time been seen in a theatre. It caused a sensation: although the old guard was outraged at what they were (or more correctly, weren’t) seeing, there were others who were enchanted and, in fact, relieved not to be seeing all that Teutonic stuff strewn all over the stage.

I think it was a masterstroke of luck that the Festival was practically bankrupt after the war, which enabled Wieland and, to a much lesser extent, Wolfgang (who didn’t possess anywhere near the talent of his brother) to create a new style of presenting their grandfather’s work, which completely severed it from any connection to Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, Wieland was solely responsible for ushering in “Der Neue Bayreuther” or New Bayreuth.

Compare and contrast:

Bayreuth - Original Rheinmaidens
The original Rhinemaidens, 1876

Bayreuth - Chereau Rhinemaidens
Patrice Chereau’s Rhinemaidens, 1976

Since 1951 and the reopening of the postwar Festival, there have been more revolutions: the Centenary Ring in 1976, staged by the late, great Patrice Chereau and conducted by Pierre Boulez. It was Chereau’s concept to present the operas in Wagner’s own time (and during the Industrial Revolution) and to focus on the evils of capitalism and anti-Semitism. Chereau, who had directed only one opera before taking on the Ring, was a masterful director who had no preconceived notions about these operas and worked from the text. The singers in this production who most benefitted from working with Chereau – Gwyneth Jones as Brünnhilde, Donald McIntyre as Wotan, Peter Hofmann as Siegmund and Heinz Zednik as both Loge and Mime – gave the performances of their careers and presented acting that was so natural and believable that it created a very special experience for the audience.

Bayreuth - Chereau ca 1976
Patrice Chereau, ca. 1976

Bayreuth Chereau Rheingold

Bayreuth Chereau Walkure Jones Hofmann

Bayreuth Chereau Walkure

Bayreuth Chereau Gotterdammerung
Images from the Chereau Centenary Ring, 1976

Two interesting anecdotes about these premiere performances:

The initial performance of each opera was broadcast around the world and the audience grew more and more testy as each production unfolded. Now it wasn’t necessarily unusual to hear booing at the Festspielhaus at the end of a performance, but how about at the beginning of Act III of Götterdämmerung DURING THE MUSIC?? You can actually hear the opening of the act, imagine the curtain rising and, then, there it is – LOTS of boos, along with some segments of the audience “shushing” the dissenters, or were THEY the dissenters?? The production was so controversial that it’s hard to tell.

Fast forward to the Festival of 1980 and the retirement of Chereau’s Ring. I happened to hear the very last performance of  Götterdämmerung on a radio broadcast and what a difference 4 years makes. At the conclusion of Götterdämmerung, the curtain calls (and cheering, no boos this time) lasted for something like NINETY minutes! Whatever it was that repelled and outraged the audience in 1976, they were now completely under the spell of a masterful and game changing production.

So, after all that, you wanna go to Bayreuth? Any opera lover worth her salt should make that pilgrimage at least once. Hold on. It’s not that easy.

Remember when I said that the theatre had 1,900 seats? Generally speaking, there are 30 performances presented each year for a total of 57,000 available seats. However, attendees to Bayreuth are not going to travel all that way to see one show – they’ll probably want to see everything presented that season (usually the Ring and 3 other operas).

So, there are 57,000 available seats. But each year, the Festival gets something like 250,000 requests for seats. And each of those people wants to see everything, too. In the past, ticketing was managed by the “Wagner computer” and, if you applied every year without fail (you’d be punished if you missed even one year), the typical waiting period to actually get seats was about 10 years!!! Nowadays, some tickets for each season are available on the internet at the Festival’s website and, if you’re fast and lucky enough, you might even secure seats. These intrepid souls may actually hop to the front of the line and get in, and good luck to you!

As if that weren’t enough, Wagner never factored comfort into the design of the theatre. What do I mean? Well, for instance, the seats are pretty uncomfortable (not much padding and no arm rests) and the theatre is not air conditioned. This may not seem like much, but I’ve been to Bayreuth during incredible heat waves and the temperature inside the auditorium rises to over 100 degrees. In the old days – I don’t know about now – formal attired was REQUIRED, so there you were in your tuxedo with the sweat running down your back.

And did I mention that Wagner’s operas are LONG?? Das Rheingold, the “prologue” to the Ring, runs anywhere from two hours, fifteen minutes to two hours, forty-five minutes (depending on the conductor) and is played in ONE ACT!!!!! No intermission!!!!!!! No bathroom breaks – no one would DARE to attempt to leave the theatre during a performance, and you couldn’t even if you wanted to!!! And in a theatre in which, during a heat wave, you could bake a cake!!!!!

But guess what? It’s totally worth it. On the right night, with the right singers and conductor, and with a director who knows what s/he’s doing, you will have the most magical, inspiring and moving experience you’re likely to have in an opera house.

CULTURE TIP: Bayreuth Festival Website

PS. Part of my assignment is to link this post to the blog which inspired it. Here ’tis:

Emily Abroad

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?”)

Hello – I Must Be Staying!

Hey Everyone!

So, it’s been just about 7 weeks since I started TheCulturedTraveler and I’m thinking that I want to recap what’s been happening with the blog and the life.

OK – full disclosure – I was offered a “blogging 101” primer to help me improve my blogging skills (such as they are) and, perhaps, to breathe new life into this adventure. I’m game for it and eager to see what may happen as a result. Of course, that means that I’ll have to do my “homework”, which means you may be seeing a lot more of me over the next few weeks.

For those of you who have stuck with me (and many, many thanks for that), you’ll know that I had a lot of friends who have encouraged me over the years to share our travel experiences, as well as our culinary and cultural adventures. Living in New York City, we’ve had the very good fortune to take advantage of all that this amazing place has to offer, and we’ve been equally lucky to be able to travel hither and yon and to meet some wonderful people along the way.

Version 2
Blog Highlight #1 – AAC CPA gets ready for takeoff.

Finally, just before our Queen Mary 2 crossing in later September, I took the plunge and, even since, have posted about 2 times a week. What’s been really interesting to me is that the travel posts get a very good readership, while the posts pertaining to culture and food, less so. That’s something I’ll have to figure out as we go along.

03 - Vogue
Blog Highlight #2 – AAC CPA on Embarkation Day aboard QM2

My goal is to connect with fellow travelers, culture and food mavens and to share experiences. I’m pretty good on all of these tracks, but I’m also fortunate to have good friends who share their experiences as well which gives me – well – food for fodder.

IMG_1388
Speaking of food for fodder: Blog Highlight #3 – Post-theatre dinner at The Ivy in London

I’ve had some success so far in connecting with other bloggers who somehow found TheCulturedTraveler, and that’s been great. It’s given me other blogs to read and, from them, to get ideas about things that I might want to do myself. Hopefully, that’s what my blog will do in turn.

Looking a year ahead, where would I want the blog to be? Here are some initial thoughts and goals:

  • I’d like to build the blog so that it can be used as a resource for like-minded people.
  • I’d like to attract a larger following giving TheCulturedTraveler more exposure.
  • I’d like to make the blog itself more attractive with, perhaps, more bells and whistles, so as to make it more interesting to the people who come to visit.
  • I’d also like to arrange for “guest-bloggers” to take over the space from time to time and share some of their experiences.

Finally, I’ve enjoyed posting so far and hope that I feel the same way as time goes by.

As always, thanks for reading stay tuned for more of our adventures.

Lulu Dress
Today’s Blog Highlight – Attending the dress rehearsal of Lulu at the Met

Planning Our London and QM2 Adventure

Why, you may ask, are we off to London when we were just there this past May and have already planned to return for Christmas week (more about that during the Yuletide season)?

Well, gentle readers, it’s like this: It starts when you’re made an offer that you cannot refuse.

To wit: some months ago, I received a promotion from Cunard, in celebration of its 175th anniversary, to sail on Queen Mary 2 at a pretty fine price point and with all kinds of swag thrown in:

$60 per day Onboard Credit per stateroom
Complimentary Gratuities
The Captain’s Wine Collection
Alternative Dining Credit
Internet Minutes (whew!)
Keepsake Photo (meh!)
Specialty Coffee Card (AAC will be SO pleased)

Plus, we’d get to do one of our favorite things: cross the pond in style from Southampton (the British one) to New York City over a leisurely 7 days (and nights).

QM2
Queen Mary 2

So, naturally, I went into full-on travel mode, multitasking to find the best deal on a flight over to London, contacting what is, arguably, the best service for booking travel by ship, Tully Luxury Travel, and arranging our digs in London, via AmEx Platinum.

I’d like to take a little detour to tell you about Tully Luxury Travel. We’ve been working with them for the past 10 years and they are sensational. Should you be planning to sail anywhere on the seven seas (or, perhaps, on some fabulous river), they will weave their magic to get you onto that gangplank. My go-to ladies there are Nada and Monika and I am in such good hands with them. They are real sweethearts.

You should also know that, over the past few months, Tully Luxury Travel has rebranded itself, under the stewardship of founder and CEO Mary Jean Tully, and expanded its services in a very meaningful way.

TRAVEL TIP: Tully Luxury Travel

While my ladies were getting me information on this voyage, I was checking out flights. For better or worse – and I welcome your comments on same – AAC CPA and I have lifetime gold status on American Airlines, which gets us, basically, not much of anything. But, we have accrued lots of miles (note to self: future post on my Excel spreadsheet keeping track of AA miles for travel for the next 2 years), and use them as strategically as possible.

For this trip, however, I found that it was better to purchase our flight over to London rather than using miles (which, believe it or not, do have some value attached). The reason is that I happened to find on AA.com a codeshare for a British Airways flight and the business class fare was at least 70% below the regular fare. (For kicks, I checked out the same flight on the BA.com website and, yesiree, the codeshare fare was some kind of red hot deal.) So before hitting the “purchase” button, I checked with AAC CPA and said to him, “Can we please take this trip???” Between the Cunard promotion and this fab fare, it’s like a sign telling us that we must go. And there it is and so we will (go, that is).

In the meantime, Nada got back to us and said that she could get us the cabin of our choice – Deck 9 on the sunny side of the ship, natch – and that Tully Travel Service would throw in another $600 in shipboard credit. So now we’ll have about $1,020 in mad money to spend on the ship. I’m telling you, it’s like we have this great travel karma.

Next stop was to contact my other favorite travel guru: Vernonica at AmEx Platinum. For those of you who like to travel, having the AmEx Plantinum card can definitely work to your advantage if you know how to use it. It’s true that you’ll pay an annual fee of $450 but, again, if you travel and make use of the perks through the AmEx Fine Hotel and Resorts Program (FHR) it is well worth the price.

When you make a reservation at a hotel in the FHR program, you get several amenities, including your breakfast, an upgrade at check-in (when available), an early check-in (whenever possible) and a special amenity (which can be a property or spa credit, for instance). When you stay in one of those fancypants hotels in Europe, the free breakfasts alone can offset the annual fee you’re charged for the card, not to mention the possibility of a room upgrade.

And, by the way, AmEx Platinum benefits go far beyond the FHR program. There are discounts and credits and freebies galore.

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program 

Please allow me to tell you about Veronica. Again, we hit the travel karma jackpot. I don’t know how long Veronica and I have been working together, but it’s been well over 10 years, at least. She is the best and the most fun to work with. And, believe me, she puts up with a lot (working with me, that is). Not that I’m that demanding, but I do like to get a good deal, if you know what I mean. And Veronica always works with me to insure that will happen whenever possible. We also spend a lot of time laughing together, and why shouldn’t we?

Although our go-to hotel in London has been the elegant and well-located Corinthia for the past few years, we wanted to try something different this time, and we decided to book the Shangri-La at the Shard. We’ve previously stayed at Shangri-La properties in Paris and Tokyo and they were both wonderful experiences. (Note to self: remember to share how we got an upgrade at the Paris Shangri-La that had its own private terrace and a full-on view of the Eiffel Tower, which was only a stone’s throw away. Oh wait, I just did. Never mind.)

Shangri-La Shard
Shangri-La at the Shard

TRAVEL TIP: Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard 

So, within just a matter of hours, we’d purchased our flight over to London, put down a deposit for our cabin aboard QM2, and booked a lovely room at the Shangri-La.

As it turns out, we’ll have barely 36 hours in London that, I think, will set a record as our briefest stay there. And, wouldn’t you know that we’re already booked up for the entire time we’re there?

Stay tuned . . . . . . .

The First Post – Sunday, September 13, 2015

(OK. Telling myself to take a deep breath and then exhale.)

Here goes:

For many years, friends and acquaintances have encouraged me to start a blog, to which I have always replied: “HUH?”

Their arguments are that I do cool and interesting things regarding cuisine, culture and travel, not always in that order, but they are the things that I do do (as Cole Porter might have sung). My friends always seem to take interest in my exploits and, they say, why shouldn’t I share these experiences with others? After all, someone else might just be interested or, even, benefit from these shenanigans. To which I have always replied: “SERIOUSLY?”

I’ve finally decided to stick a big toe in the blog water (ewww) and see what happens. To get started, I (of course) googled “How To Start a Blog”. (I had no clue.) I was directed to check out this thing called “Word Press”, which seems to be the go-to for idiots like me who have no idea what they’re doing, blog-wise. I signed up (for free, just in case my blog is a disaster), chose a design template, and OFF WE GO! (Thank you, Word Press??!!!)

The leading roles in this enterprise will be played by me and my husband, AAC, CPA. And, for his first closeup, here he is aboard Crystal Serenity last Spring (yes, that’s a full moon in the background):

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He is my muse, my best friend, my everything. He will be the face of The Cultured Traveler, as he’s the prettier one (and a pretty good sport in putting up with me nagging him about all these photos). On rare travel exploits, you may see the occasional photo of, for instance, my feet, but that’s about it. As Christopher Isherwood appropriately put it (at least, for me): “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

Well, maybe I’ll think while I blog, at least a little bit.

Rather than looking backwards and sharing past experiences, I’ll start with what’s on the food/arts/travel horizon.

First up:

We’re flying to London on Friday for a quick 36 hours and then motoring down to Southampton, where we will board QM2 for a crossing back to little old New York City. It’s a 7-day voyage across the pond, a trip we’ve made many times (12 or 13 times previously?), but not on QM2 since 2004. It will be interesting to see how the old girl is behaving and I’ll endeavor be your faithful reporter whilst we cross. Yes, new blog friends, to be precise and nautically correct, it’s a “crossing” or a “voyage” but NOT a “cruise”. I’m not even kidding about it. That’s the lingo.

So, I hope you enjoy The Cultured Traveler and I look forward to entertaining you.

Next Stop: London!

PS. Oh, and if you like what you’re reading (or even think there’s the remote chance that you will), please share with absolutely everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life. AAC, CPA and I thank you in advance.