Showing posts with label travel advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel advice. Show all posts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Be Prepared.

Save the date - Strike Action. 

The Belgians are striking. Apparently they love Monday strikes because they are having them for the next three Mondays.

Tomorrow's strike will impact rail routes going to Germany. If you have a meeting in Hamburg, I highly recommend rescheduling. If you are planning to get to London, you are golden. If you want to get to the airport, I suggest booking a car service or cab. Nothing like getting all sweaty walking to the station to find out that the trains are also out of service and then having to fight someone for a cab.
Strikes can take a crap on your travel plans.

The next two strikes are predicted to be more severe. Eurostar services are cancelled, as are local and international services and the airport transportation will be shut down.  If you are planning on leaving on Brussels on the 15th, think again.

I appreciate getting the notice of these strikes.  The Italian railways announce strikes months ahead of time.  I feel like each strike needs a save the date card sent out with the information because you are likely to forget it. I recommend special ordering fridge magnets striking workers of the world for each action or in the case of the Belgians a set of three. They are really cute and handy.

Joking aside, I understand the need to strike and the consideration by those striking to allow others to make alternate arrangements, but does this lessen the impact of your strike?

What if you had a strike action that closed the airport and no one came?

Not always. Be prepared. Carry a good book, your charger, know your rights and always use the bathroom before you board your flight.  
On that note, always check with your transportation carrier ahead of time for strikes, flight cancellations, ticket cancellations (me,twice in this trip) and be a savvy traveler. No one is going to do you favors, even if you are super zirconium status. Your concierge may have taken the weekend off and you may be SOL.

Happy Trails my friends.

Friday, November 07, 2014

See something, Say something

I have learned a lot about myself in the last few years. One thing is that I am much better off confronting a situation that stewing for hours . It is better to face whatever is nagging or bothering me instead of losing sleep or involving others in my web of crankiness.

There is nothing like remembering a trip because of the one shitty thing that happened to you instead of the 300 awesome things which occurred at same time.

"I loved x, but all I can remember was the rude waiter, crappy valet, lack of turn down service or smelly seat opponent." 

Trying to turn this around to - "Greenland was amazing, I even enjoyed the surprise overnight visit to Disko Island thanks to the ferry running aground.  We got to meet some folks we would have never of met and saw way more icebergs because of it".  

So, not everyone has had  the joy of being stranded in Greenland, but I'm thinking all six of you who have read this blog post have gotten a sub-par room in a hotel and have either shut up and unpacked your suitcase or have bitched about the room to someone other than the Front Desk Manager.

Now, I just confront whatever it is that is bothering me - hotel rooms, inadequate service or ferries that run aground. If I get resolution, great. If I don't, I tried and can move on. Moving on is hard, but sometimes it is all you can do.

What about you?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Paris for beginners - Part 2

1979, a bad year for fashion
The family M, 1979. Trip one of a million to Paris.

Continuing on the Paris theme, let's talk about food and eating in general.  My first trip to Paris was in 1979.  My brother and I were teenagers and suffice it to say, it was not a good scene food wise or hormone wise. As my trips grew more frequently, I ventured away from McDonald's to try couscous, onion soup, pizza and Campari soda. I felt so sophisticated.

After 40 plus trips to Paris, I still get intimidated by eating and ordering when I step into a restaurant.  I do a great job of researching where we'll eat, but then fret that I will order the wrong wine, not enough food (Hello McDonald's!), or just hate the food.  Why is something I love to do at home - eat out, seem so vexing while traveling?

Maybe because I am afraid I'm going to be identified as a tourist and given a menu in ENGLISH (quelle horreur!).

Here's my advice, relax and enjoy the food.  As with all experiences, you will have five good to one bad.  You will faint at the prices for some things and feel like you stole out of the cash drawer for others, it all ends up about the same in the end.

Breakfast - If your hotel has it, take advantage of it especially if you need to be fueled in the morning.  Buffets are full of protein as well as the boulangerie goods you think of when you think of Paris.  If you are lucky enough to have a in room breakfast, enjoy freshly selected and not picked over goods.  Skip coffee in the morning, have tea (usually freshly brewed for you) or chocolat chaud. 
If breakfast is not available, suss out a local cafe and if you love keep on going back. Conversely, you can find a patisserie such as Erik Kayser and have a sit down pastry and coffee, but it is usually not very comfortable.

Parisians love brunch. I don't get it, but TH loves one place in particular - Sésame - on Quai Valmy on Canal St. Martin. It is tiny spot, but the food is plentiful.  Des Gars dans la cuisine is also great for brunch and a steal at lunch!  I would rather eat a huge lunch somewhere and walk it off than mix eggs with  an open faced sandwich and a brownie at 10 am.

Lunch - I love lunch. I prefer lunch to dinner. Lunch is less expensive and easier to get reservations at some of the posher places in town.  In some cases, Michelin starred restaurants have great prix fixe menus for lunch.  Many courses for 100 euros per person.  Dinner at these places run three times that and you will be completely over catered to and stuffed and have to taxi home.  Bring comfortable shoes to change into after lunch and walk back to your hotel.  My suggestions include Taillevent, L'astrance and Le Table du Joel Robuchon.  Here is a list of other awesome places that I am going to hit on my next few trips.

I am not going to give you a million lunch suggestions, other than you can't go wrong with omelets, salads with chevre, steak frites and the daily dish.  Have coffee, skip dessert and go find a macaron to munch in a little bit. 

Dinner - One word of advice - if you are peckish or need to eat long before the restaurants open, by all means have a snack. Fake fact - bad decisions and meltdowns between loved ones happen between 5:15-7:15 pm when you are starting to get hungry and nothing is open.  Great time to run back to hotel, take a shower, drop off all your stuff and have a snack in your room or the hotel bar before going out.
I like to stay near the hotel for dinner. This can be challenging if you are in an area that is devoid of decent food (office parks, La Defense, the AIRPORT), but most folks are probably not in the category. If  I'm tired and cranky, I will visit a local cafe and order an omelet and green salad and call it dinner.  If that doesn't work and your hotel room can tolerate the smells of take out, go to a local traiteur (deli serving hot food) and pick up some noshes. I love the hole in the wall places off of Rue St. Honoré.

Smart travelers always bring a plastic picnic pack of utensils and use the towels for a table cloth.  If you want quick and filling, head out for felafel in the Marais or near the Sorbonne. I have no favorites, but others do.

If we are in the mood for fancy food, we try and hit a nice restaurant, preferably one that takes reservations. We like baby brother restaurants of Michelin restaurants or brasseries around the corner. A great concierge can take your requested list of restaurants and make all reservations for you. If you are lucky, the hotel will even have a list you can fill out on line. If there is somewhere you are dying to try, I suggest emailing the restaurant, the hotel concierge or Skyping them and requesting a table.  The more popular restaurants will require a confirmation the morning of your reservation, so make to follow up or you will be eating at McDonald's.

Finally, there is McDonald's. I am not saying it is my favorite place to eat, but they make a decent cup of coffee and have free WiFi.  If you are homesick and want to check in via the Internets or Skype, you can do it here better than nearly everywhere, including outside of the restaurant.

The important thing is to be flexible and have a plan at the same time. While this seems contrarian, it works. Have two options to chose from - somewhere close when you are tired and can't fathom walking or taxiing from your destination to the restaurant and somewhere further afield if you still peppy with energy.

Remember to take lots of discrete pictures, but spend your time loving the food and paying attention to your dining companion.  You can latergram your finds in your hotel room later that night.

Paris eating links I like - John Talbott's Paris
David Lebovitz  - Paris suggestions  
Phyllis Flick - Paris notebook

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Paris for beginners -Part 1

on the way up
This blog post is really for my friends M and A who are going to Paris for a week.  They are quite lovely people - well traveled and have an amazing perspective on the world. I believe the last time they were in Paris, they might have been roughing it a little more.

In any case, here is my best what to see in  Paris advice. Take what you can from it and throw the rest away.

Welcome to a city that is full of amazing stuff - croissants spilling out of shop doors, dogs clad in Chanel, millions of instagrammable shots everywhere you look and tourists, scads of tourists.
Be a tourist for a few days, take in the city by bites, there is no need to see it all in a purposeful way. Make it fun, not a trudge.

Paris is a bunch of cities in one. Pick a few things that appeal to you - gardens, fashion, art, technology,  revolution, food and focus on them. No need to be greedy. Paris will always be there. Focus on those things and do them well. 

Interested in gardens and adaptive reuse?  Visit Parc Andre Citroen, Parc de la Villette, Viaducts des Arts, Canal St. Martin, Bercy, Bois de Boulogne, Giverny spring to mind and don't forget the Jardins des Plantes.

Interested in Markets - pick three to see - one with a great view is the  Marche Au President Wilson, Posh Organic Market - Boul. Raspail, Ethnic Market - one on the Canal, Covered markets are worth a look as well... The Quai de la Mégisseries and others close by have great plants. From this you get a sense of how Parisians try hard to eek out a little green in the smallest of balconies.

Outdoor Art - Musee Rodin, Pompidou and the sculpture garden located at Quai St. Bernard on the Seine.

Understanding Hausmann - walk the Grands Boulevards, at least for bit - Start at Opera, look down the Avenue, go towards Madeleine, marvel at the square and the poshness that surrounds. If you are strong willed, walk up Boul. Malesherbes to see the grandness of the streets.  You can stop anywhere along the way to rest your feet.  Contrast this with the Marais and its medieval feel.

Find the best box of chocolates - you know my favorites - Foucher, Jean Paul Hevin, La Maison du Chocolat, compare and contrast.  Do the same for macarons - you don't have to order a whole box, it is perfectly okay to order one or two.

The maps that you get from the hotels are remarkably well designed and should be used in conjunction to those you use to navigate on your phone.