Get Away With Fran

December 21, 2009

Art deco elegance highlights Silver Spirit

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:29 pm

Silver Spirit is all about art deco elegance which may come as a surprise to fans of the line who are used to ships that are more sleek and contemporary – Euro trendy. Call this one – Silversea’s largest ship at 36,009 tons and 540 passengers – more old-fashioned traditional; a luxury throwback in a good way.

Art deco touches include etched glass in new spaces like The Bar, a new bar and coffee area off the reception area – boasting aqua blue colors and a light “winter garden” ambiance. Cool new spaces include Stars Supper Club with live jazz and a menu that Silversea’s top F&B guy terms as “snacks” but other line executives call dinner – I guess it’s all a matter of how much you eat; the bites at Stars are meant to be shared, like tapas.

My own dinner tonight in the La Terrezza was amazing, the Italian restaurant one of six on the ship – I had the beef carpaccio, house-made vegetable ravioli and the most delicious fresh sea bass with grilled vegetables.

But another surprise – make this one even a shocker – came tonight in the ship’s theater (really a show lounge and an odd affair design-wise with all seats two-person banquettes and no bar service, but I digress). The surprise was the show – very Carnival Cruise Lines, on a psychedelic set complete with a VW van and eight performers (four singers and four dancers) prancing around the small stage in a 1960s/70s-ish production, and singing songs like “Aquarius” from “Hair” and even some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Mamas and Papas and Simon and Garfunkel. I nearly fell off my banquette when one fellow appeared on stage all in leather to sing “Born to Be Wild,” accompanied by women in skin-tight jumpsuits basically pole dancing on chairs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it wasn’t good – it was decent as these things go – just not what you’d expect from an ultraluxury cruise line. Then again, the show brought back recollections for me of an, ahem, hazy variety, so maybe that’s the goal.

The ship very much delivers in terms of elegance, beautiful all-suite accommodations with all the amenities Silversea passengers have come to expect (the suites are big) and more – the TVs hidden in the bedroom mirrors are a nice edition. And the ship has spaces that Silversea fans will very much recognize and surely embrace – comfy lounges, an expanded casino, an H Stern jewelry shop.

Different can be good, but so can familiarity.

My preview cruise of Silver Spirit continues tomorrow in Barcelona (I will be checking out the ship’s spa including the unique hammam).

December 15, 2009

Best deal to China ever

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:24 am


I got a press release today that advertised “Best price on a China Package – Ever.” And the funny thing is I think it just might be. If you can leave, like, now, or even in the next few weeks, you can do China, complete with air and hotel, from under $1,000.

China Spree’s China Express – Bejing Free-style Travel package (say that five times fast) is a 7-day deal with roundtrip air on Air China and five nights’ accommodations at the 4-star Beijing Huabin International Hotel, described as a comfortable, 290-room property only a 10-minute walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (my Beijing photos, above and below). The hotel offers LCD TVs with satellite channels, broadband Internet access and minibars, hairdryers and coffee makers, so how bad could it be?


The operator is even throwing in airport to hotel transfers (by bus, not pedicab) and daily American breakfast. The tab? From $588 per person if you can get yourself to San Francisco; from $988 from New York’s JFK (plus airport fees and taxes from $299). Fares are available from other cities as well.

There is also a land-based price for those who have frequent flyer miles to burn. Reasonably priced tours and other add-ons are also available once you’re in Beijing – so you can get too to the Summer Palace and the Great Wall (from which I sent txts to friends bragging I was on the GREAT WALL). There are meal packages available too.

The low prices are available for departures in December and January.

November 9, 2009

Remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:06 am


Back in 1961, the leaders of East Germany probably didn’t imagine that the foreboding wall they were putting up around Berlin – to keep East Germans in – would someday be a big tourist attraction.

But visit Berlin in 2009, as I did a couple of months ago, and you’ll find remnants of the concrete barrier – and the culture of GDR (German Democratic Republic) – are very much part of the tourist scene in Berlin.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, and through the end of the year there are special exhibits highlighting the Wall years and peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the wall and end of the GDR (including at Alexanderplatz, the square in the heart of the city).

The wall that divided the city was really two walls, separated by a “death strip.” Border crossings allowed those from the West to enter the East, but East Germans were not allowed to leave. Hundreds died trying to flee.

In the euphoria that followed the breach of the wall in 1989, much of the concrete was dismantled (pieces of the Berlin Wall now reside not only in Berlin but around the world including in New York). But there is still plenty in Berlin to remind travelers and locals alike of this chapter in world history. (more…)

October 27, 2009

Passion for Portugal

Filed under: Food,International,Travel Advice,Wine and booze — admin @ 8:00 am


The Portuguese are passionate people. Some might even call them emotional (anyone who has ever seen Fado music performed in Lisbon will surely get this). And this month, I had a couple of opportunities to see how that passion pours over (excuse the pun) to Portuguese wine.

At a tasting featuring several dozen vintners, I sampled everything from young verde(the Portuguese prefer not to call it “green wine” though that’s how most American’s know it) to aged port (a personal favorite).


And last week at Grill 23 n Boston, I sampled a full range of red wines – and one rose – created in the Alentejo region by the Adega Cooperativa de Borba (and distributed locally by L & B Beverage of East Providence, R.I.).

The Rose 2008 was fine with a terrine of foie gras with apples poached in cherry lambic, served with a tarragon egg and “soldiers” toasts.

But the perfect pairing for me was the Reserva Red, 2004, one of three wines served with the main course of slow roasted and braised elk (with yummy creamed bacon and salsify and tobacco onions). In fact, this very drinkable red (which goes for a bargain price of about $15 per (more…)

October 26, 2009

Air France passengers get new class with more space

Filed under: Airlines,International — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 2:00 pm


Air France passengers on AF 023 from New York to Paris yesterday got to see something new. They were on the first flight equipped with the line’s new Premium Voyaguer cabin, which is not quite business class but gives passengers deeply reclining seats with 40% more space than coach.

Christine Ourmières, Vice President and General Manager of Air France and KLM in the U.S., cut the ribbon yesterday officiallyinaugurating the new cabinon the Boeing 777-200ER.

I met with Ourmières recently in Boston, and she was gleeful about the new service. The seats are separated by a curtain, so really are a new class – in addition to coach, business and first.

You can reserve the new seats online- from about $1,303, or about twice the cost of a discounted economy ticket from New York to Paris (but substantially less than the cost of business class). The seats are being added this year on other long-haul routes from the U.S. and Paris as well.

Speaking of Air France, a few years ago I wrote a column on their Phoenix Project, which basically is a (more…)

October 23, 2009

Whiskey dreams and Ireland


The other night I had very unusual dreams involving Leprechauns and such that I can only credit to the fact I went to a Bushmills Irish whiskey tasting at the brand new Post 390 restaurant in Boston. I am beginning to understand why Jim Morrison was such a fan of the stuff. I did not quite hallucinate, but…

First let me admit I know very little about whiskey. I’m much more a vodka gal. But my whiskey education included learning the fact I actually rather like the Bushmill 16 year, with a little water and ice, especially when accompanying a gussied up version of meatloaf – Post 390′s is veal, beef and pork, stuffed with ham and Fontina cheese and topped with a slightly sweet Marsala sauce. Yum (and my favorite dish of the evening). But I digress.

Colum_Egan I am newly intrigued with Irish whiskey and just may have to head to Ireland to discover more. There could probably be no better guide than Colum Egan, my host at the tasting in Boston and the Master (more…)

October 19, 2009

Vodka with taste, from Slovakia

Filed under: International,Travel Advice,U.S. — admin @ 9:54 am

Combine really good vodka, Double Cross, and the culinary expertise of Boston top chef Michael Schlow at Via Matta, at a vodka tasting, and of course you have a winning combination. And for those who say vodka has no taste I say blahhh. If there is not taste (which I would argue there is) vodka certainly presents itself in a sensory way, and in Schlow’s hands even a sensual way as well.

First to the vodka. If you haven’t yet heard of Double Cross you will, if for no other reason than it comes in an incredibly cool narrow rectangular bottle and that it hails from the unusual vodka destination of Slovakia (the double silver cross on the bottle is reflective of the Slovakian flag and there are sayings in Slovakian on the label). In fact, Double Cross is the only Slovakian vodka distributed in the U.S.

And the vodka does not even hail from any place in Slovakia you’re ever heard of. It comes from a 13th century village in the mountains near the Polish border and not from Bratislava, and not from more cosmopolitan Bratislava (Slovakia’s up and coming capital city). The vodka uses locally-grown winter wheat and mountain spring water drawn from aquifers located 200-feet below ground level.

How a Slovakian vodka landed in fine restaurants, bars and liquor stores in Boston involves an (more…)

October 13, 2009

Around the world in 26 days and in luxury style


If you have $29,995 handy, 26 free days and want to see the world and/or are looking for a perfect holidaty gift, check out the “trip of a lifetime” being organized by AHI Travel in Chicago.

The “Grand Journey Around the World” tour visits eight countries on three continents, stopping at nine UNESCO World Heritage sites (including Jordan’s Petra, in photo, above).

You also fly in business class, stay at world-famous hotels (including the Peninsula hotels in Asia) and do tours with only 20 fellow passengers. Nice.

You start off flying from the U.S. to Japan, and do Kyoto and Tokyo before flying on to Beijing, Bangkok, Dubai, Cairo, Jordan (Petra), Jerusalem and Germany’s Rhine Valley – yes, an odd but interesting assortment of exotic and not.

Some meals are also included as are gratuities and other extras. And you can even earn more than 25,000 frequent flyer miles on Star Alliance carriers (not a reason to spend $29,995, of course, but add it all up and it’s a pretty good deal).

Departures for the tour are August to October 2010.

October 9, 2009

Bermuda and U.S. Virgin Islands – Book now and snag a bargain

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 12:39 pm


Act fast and you can get a great deal that will allow you to explore the pink sands of Bermuda (one of my personal favorite islands) at a bargain price, and at the fancy Fairmont Southampton Princess, no less.

The hotel is holding a 7-day sale, with rates from only $149 per night if you book by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 13. And that’s an amazing deal. They are even throwing in breakfast for two (plus kids eat free), complimentary golf on the resort’s championship course, and free access for kids to the resort’s Explorer’s Club camp. And here’s the best part: The offer is good Nov. 1 to Apr. 16, including holiday periods. When booking, use promotional code PTLZ. (BTW, that’s lovely St. George’s in the photo.)


Speaking of deals, the U.S. Virgin Islands is enticing travelers with a $.25 room promotion. Yup, a quarter, with a maximum of three nights at that price. The Cent-sational Promotion is sensational (despite the cutesy name), and honors the fact there’s a new U.S. quarter in honor of the USVI. Participating hotels include Bolongo Bay on St. Thomas, the Carambola on St. Croix, the Marriott on


September 21, 2009

On through Germany on Viking Legend

Filed under: Cruise,International — admin @ 12:01 am


The Danube rose just enough for the Viking Legend to pass up river, so we experienced only minor itinerary changes, afterall. Sunday we docked in Regensburg, one of Germany best-preserved medieval cities and home to the 12th century Old Sone Bridge (above).


And then we headed by bus to Nuremberg, known today for its notorious role in World War II – including views of the fairgrounds where Hitler held massive Nazi rallies (the above building is at the site where a giant swastika was once displayed – it was the first thing the Allied Forces bombed when they got to Nuremberg).

We passed too the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials took place, post-War, calling to attention of the world some of the crimes that had been committed.

I left the Viking Legend at Nuremberg, flying up to Berlin (a quick 50-minute flight) where today I will explore the more recent and joyous history of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 20th anniversary of which is in Nov. My fellow passengers headed on to the Main and Rhine, for another week of cruising. There was word the Rhine waters were shallow too, but the crew was crossing their fingers, toes and anything else they could think of in hopes of getting through to Amsterdam.

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