Posts Tagged ‘london’

Great Idea When Traveling With Kids – Hotel Business Cards

August 6th, 2008 at 9:54 am (AST) by Jake Richter

As is undoubtedly obvious, we travel a lot with our kids. While they are 11 and 13, we still worry about what would happen if we somehow got separated from them while out and about in a big city. To deal with that possibility, we try to make sure they always have a laminated card with contact information for us (cell phone numbers) as well as for their grandmother. And we make sure that they have cell phones – but those don’t always work in international locations.

Imagine our pleasant surprise when we checked into the Marriott Park Lane in London back in May, and the front desk staff made a point of handing each child a business card with the hotel’s contact information on it, telling them that if they get separated from us to just use the information on that card to get in touch with the hotel and they would help make sure the kids got back to the hotel safely.

Of the hundreds of hotels we’ve stayed at with the kids over the last decade or so, this is the first and only time the front desk (or anyone at a hotel) has ever suggested or offered this additional piece of mind.

So kudos to the Marriott Park Lane, and other properties, please take note of this simple but useful idea.

Card Given to our Kids at the Marriott Park Lane

 

We’re Back Home – The Missing Week or So

May 24th, 2008 at 9:44 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived back on Bonaire, safe and sound, yesterday morning around 3am. The trip home was uneventful, although we had concerns about being able to leave Paris due to a strike which was to have affected Air France as well as lots of other things, but that proved to be a non-issue for us.

My postings to the blog have been, well, missing, since the one below about The Fat Duck, and that’s because once we had control of our own schedule in London and Paris, we abused the schedule, pretty much getting up, going about, getting back to the hotel and going to sleep.

So a very quick summary of what we did (with only a couple of photos because we’ve not had time to process more)

May 14, Wednesday – London
We visited the British Museum, and there visited exhibits about Celts, Romans, Mesopotamia, Assyrian culture, Greek Parthenon, and the Rosetta Stone.

The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

This was followed by excellent dinner at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Excellent service, great wine pairings, and a tour of the kitchen included.

May 15, Thursday – London to Paris
We had a late start, enjoyed conveyor belt sushi at Yo! Sushi at St. Pancras station, and took the Eurostar train to Paris’ Gard Nord. Dinner was at an excellent small Auberge recommended by the hotel concierge at the Marriott Rive Gauche.

May 16, Friday – Paris
We took a privately guided tour – just the four of us in a mini-van with our driver/guide Rupert – to Versailles to see the palace there and then Giverny to visit Monet’s home and lily pond. Lunch was at a very scenic restaurant located in a water-wheel driven mill along the way, but sadly we ended up in the “tour” dining room with a fixed menu, so we didn’t get to enjoy the breadth of the restaurant’s real culinary offerings. Dinner was at a nice bistro near our hotel.

May 17, Saturday – Paris
Our Dutch friends Martin & Angela drove down to Paris from Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and we went back to Versailles with them, this time by Metro and train, to see the amazing gardens at Versailles as well as some outbuildings, including Marie Antoinette’s “modest” home.

After a mediocre lunch at a cafe at Versailles’ grand canal, we walked around to visit the musical fountain “performances” near the palace. We discovered this was nothing like the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Instead, they had merely turned on the fountains for the show (they are normally off except for a few fixed times on the weekends) and piped in music into the area around the fountain. Kind of a let down – an example of where expectations and reality did not intersect.

We then returned back to Paris, visited Notre Dame, and walked around the nearby parts of Paris for a bit before taking shelter from the rain at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. Not bad, but not great.

May 18, Sunday – Paris
We met up with Martin and Angela again that morning, and headed out to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Krystyana and I were the only ones of our group who braved a tour of the innards of the Arc, which included a large number of stairs to a small museum section upstairs, as well as more stairs to access the open top of the Arc. There we found a great view of Paris, but it started to drizzle, so we headed back down.

We then walked in the drizzle to the Eiffel Tower, where we had a very nice (and very expensive) lunch at Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant, half-way up the Eiffel Tower. We learned later that this was the place that Tom Cruise rented out to propose to Katie Holmes (although the restaurant was not under the management of Alain Ducasse at the time).

Great view, and perhaps the best asparagus and best sea bass we have ever had (two separate courses). There was a mashed pea course which could have used a bit more of a salty counter-point (more caviar perhpas) as far as we were all concerned, but the food, and especially the desserts, were great.

Linda also enjoyed (I think) a belated Mother’s Day, as the kids gave her small froggy presents. The only real negative at our meal was that we had to frequently and repeatedly request to get our water glasses refilled, something that should never happen at as fine a restaurant as Jules Verne (it should be done automatically without us needing to ask). And I couldn’t quite tell if the sommelier was being condescending to me or just trying to be funny and not really pulling it off well, although the wines we ended up with were quite nice. We did miss having pairings by the glass for our meal, however – again something different from other high end restaurants we’ve enjoyed. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Martin and Angela then made their way north to Schipol airport in Amsterdam, to eventually arrive back at our house here on Bonaire (where they still are, with us, at this moment).

We proceeded from the Eiffel Tower to Les Invalides, which houses the Musée de l’Armée, a military museum which Bas greatly enjoyed as it contained a panoply of armor, swords, guns, and other battle gear. This was followed by a visit to Napoleon’s Tomb under the great golden dome one can see from any high spot in Paris (also at Les Invalides).

We headed back to the hotel to freshen up, and then took a taxi back to the area of the Eiffel Tower, where we boarded a dinner cruise on the river Seine, which took us through sunset and into the night. Very nice views, but very poor food (Linda and I had never had mealy, mushy duck breast before).

May 19, Monday – Paris
We had another late start, but then finally ended up at the Louvre, where we viewed exhibits about various artists and schools of art, include the Dutch Masters. Part of the exhibit in the Dutch Masters section also included modern works by Dutch artist Jan Fabre – some very odd stuff, such as people made out of thumb tacks, sculptures made out of scarab beetle wings, others made out of slices of bone (crosswise), and yet more made out of other bugs, beetles, and even feathers. We also got to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo first hand.

We walked around a bit and ended up at Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysées, where we saw a large police presence, apparently in response to a possible strike.

Dinner was at Les Foundus de la Raclette, a restaurant serving, of course, fondues and raclette cooking (where you get small pans and cook your own meal, with liberal contributions of Raclette cheese). Very enjoyable meal, although our cheese fondue could have used a bit more flavor. A 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 20, Tuesday – Paris
We met up with Diane, the friend we had made aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. Diane was also in Paris for the week. Together we went to Montmatre and visited Sacré Coeur, a large cathedral atop the hill that is Montmatre. We planned to go on a tour of the crypts there, and paid admission to something similar to an ATM machine (except it takes money instead of giving it) to get to the “dome & crypt”, not realizing that “dome” meant the top of Sacré Coeur. The stairs up (the only way to go) nearly killed Diane, but the view, once we got there, was phenomenal. I believe it was the highest point in Paris mere mortals could visit, taller than the top of the Eiffel Tower. Going back down, we found the crypts closed for renovation. Sigh.

We wandered about Montmatre for a bit, had a reasonable lunch in the open square where all the artists paint under the open sky, then wandered downhill to the Pigalle area, where we saw the famed Moulin Rouge. From there it was another cafe stop, and then a walkabout which led us to covered shopping galleries featuring unique and interesting shops – antiques, collectible toys, philatelists, galleries, etc.

We had an excellent dinner at a small restaurant we stumbled across, part of which had a retail specialty foods section, although the name eludes me at the moment.

Diane then parted ways with us to go back to her hotel while we made our way to the Eiffel Tower for the last elevator up to the second level (the top level – the third level – was already closed, alas) for a nice night-time view of Paris. Got back to the hotel around midnight.

May 21, Wednesday – Paris
We attempted to visit the Musée Rodin, home to Rodin’s famed Thinker sculpture as well as dozens of his other works, but found instead a massive police barricade around the museum. People were walking past the barricade, so we joined the small flow to discover the museum had been closed for the day. The police presence was there to corral a hundred or so protesting and striking fishermen who were protesting that the combination of high fuel prices and EU restrictions on the types of fish they could catch were hurting their livelihoods.

When we asked one of the policemen in riot gear about this strike, thinking it was the civil servants getting an early start for their announced strike on Thursday, he explained that that strike was scheduled for the following day, and that the fishermen were “today’s strike”. When we asked if there was another strike on Friday, he responded “probably”. Pretty funny and sad at the same time that strikes and protests are so much a part of the Parisian (and perhaps French) culture.

We ended up going to the Picasso Museum instead, where we saw hundreds of his works as well as a film showing him exercising his creative processes.

Dinner was at the Michelin three star restaurant Le Pre Catalan, which had a mind-boggling wine list. We all tried the chef’s menu, which provided a decent sampling of many of the dishes on the menu, but while the food was quite good, nothing really stood out to us. Again, the lack of pre-researched wine pairings was something of a disappointment, and we again had to ask to have our water refilled regularly, although at least here, in contrast to Jules Verne, the refilling was done as soon as we asked instead of having to repeat the request several times. Service otherwise was quite good, but for what the restaurant cost, it could have been better. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 22, Thursday – Paris
We spent the morning packing, checked out, and then ended up going to the catacombs at Place Denfert-Rochereau. The catacombs are the resting place for the bones of countless people (records indicate it might have been as many as seven million bodies) who ended up there from cemeteries on the Right Bank which had begun to seep into people’s homes in the 1760s. The bones we saw were mostly neatly stacked and organized, a macabre tribute to mostly unknown people, however plaques on the walls in the catacombs indicated that a fair number of those executed by guillotine in the late 1700s during the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath also found their way there. The catacomb tour was self-guided, and one way. After going in at Place Denfert-Rochereau, we came out about a mile south in a small neighborhood.

Lunch was at a very good and busy bistro on a side street, and we then made our way back to the Rodin Museum, which was now once again open (the day’s strikers and protesters were in a different part of town), but the top floor of the main museum building was closed due to a lack of personnel (due to the strike du jour). A number of Rodin’s sculptures were in a large garden, and more inside the ground level of the main building. We finally got to see The Thinker first hand as well. There was also an exhibit of the works of Camille Claudel, one of Rodin’s protégés. Amazing what these artists could do with marble and bronze.

We made our way back to the hotel to hang out in the executive lounge for a while, and then were off to the airport for a smooth check-in and flight to Amsterdam, and then from there back to Bonaire.

And that’s it for The Traveling Richters’ Moroccan and European adventure.

Our next trip is to Texas in about a month to see one of the showings of the True Colors tour (and we’re scheduled to briefly meet Cyndi Lauper as part of our ticket package too). And, as we’ll already be in Texas, we will be visiting The Alamo as part of the children’s American history school work. Best to see history first hand than merely read about it in a book – or at least so we think.

 

Portsmouth to London

May 17th, 2008 at 4:31 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

On Monday, May 12th, the Endeavour arrived at the final port of our trip, Portsmouth, England.

We had an early final breakfast aboard the Endeavour, and then were off with 22 of our fellow passengers on yet another tour bus, this time with all of our luggage stowed below. After a brief partial tour of Portsmouth we arrived at the Naval Yard, where we got an in-depth, private tour of the HMS Victory. The tour was conducted by Peter Goodwin, the curator of the HMS Victory. Peter and his wife Katy had been on-board with us on the Endeavour since Lisbon, and had been both very informative as well as fun folks to hang out with.

The Traveling Richters pose in front of the HMS Victory
The Traveling Richters pose in front of the HMS Victory

This part of our trip was in fact the only one which exceeded our expectations, as we had not expected to find the HMS Victory or its curator to be so interesting, and getting a private tour by someone as passionate about the Victory as Peter obviously was.

The curator of the HMS Victory, Peter Goodwin, holds up glassware which belonged to Admiral Nelson
The curator of the HMS Victory, Peter Goodwin, holds up glassware which belonged to Admiral Nelson

The two key things we took away about the HMS Victory are that it is the oldest British Naval vessel still in active service, even though it has been in dry dock for over six decades. And, the HMS Victory is the vessel upon which the much admired Lord Admiral Nelson died during the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805.

The Victory is a fabulous vessel, and now in excellent shape, thanks in great part to the efforts Peter has been making. But I also learned that back in the early 1800s, people were a lot shorter than I am (as the sore bumps on my head will attest).

After our tour of the HMS Victory, we visited an exhibition which describes how the top sail (which is the size of a soccer field) was being cared for, and what had been learned about its history. This was followed by more touring of Portsmouth.

Peter and Katy also joined us for lunch at a restaurant called the Lemon Sole, where we found the food and service to be mediocre, and the staff reluctant to adapt to eaters who could not or would not eat fish for lunch.

We then bid Peter and Katy adieu, and were off to London on our bus, arriving at the Hilton Hyde Park in the late afternoon. Due to my Gold-level HHonors status we got upgraded to a very nice corner room with the kids next door. The only bad thing was that an ear problem Linda had been suffering from since the prior night had become so painful that we had to have a doctor come pay a visit. He prescribed her some medicine, which we went out to get before having an excellent dinner at Royal China, a small chain of high end Chinese restaurants in London. We opted for Chinese because we had tired a bit of food without a lot of spice and zest during our travels, and were not disappointed.

We went to bed with full tummies, but Linda’s ear problem prevented her from sleeping well, unfortunately.

 

Our Next Trip… Spain, Morocco, Portugal, England, France

April 13th, 2008 at 8:48 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re now in the final throes of getting ready for the next expedition of The Traveling Richters. We depart Bonaire on Friday, April 18th on a five week journey which will take us to Spain and then Morocco.

We start in Spain in Barcelona for several days (which including meeting up with our friend Martin and his father), then fly to Granada to see the Alhambra. We then rent a car, drive south to the mountains of Andalusia to stay at villas managed by Peter, an old friend from Bonaire. We’ll use his place as a base to visit Gibraltar for a day, and then when we leave, go via Ronda to then spend several days in Sevilla before flying south.

In Morocco we join up with a group as part of a Lindblad Expeditions tour which includes academic lectures on culture, history, and sociology, as well as hands on work with a National Geographic photographer.

After a few days in Marrakech and the Atlas mountains visiting with Berber tribes, we board the National Geographic Endeavour in Safi, visit Kenitra and some historical sites there, and then head up to spend three days learning about Portugal (including the making of port wine) and then visit the largest and most revered cathedral and third most visited Christian pilgrimage site at Santiago de Compostella.

Then, after a couple of days at sea, we will go to Mont St. Michel off the northern coast of France, then Sark in the Channel Islands the next day, before finally arriving in England. After a private tour with the curator of the HMS Victory, we spend three days in London. On the night of May 13th, we take part in a BonaireTalk mini-meet in Surrey – if you’re in the London area that night and want to join us, drop a note on BonaireTalk.

On May 15th, courtesy of the TGV high speed train and the Chunnel, we head to Paris to finish off our trip with non-stop tours of museums, galleries, and restaurants. Our friends Martin and Angela will join us over the weekend we’re there as well.

And, assuming flights all work out, we’ll be back home sometime on May 23rd!

The itinerary, by date, is here.