Get Away With Fran

August 13, 2009

Off to Alaska

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:14 pm

Alaskablog

Sarah Palin, I’m a comin’. But no, I won’t be one of those stopping by the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau to see where you used to live, sometimes (though I understand the bus tours that go past the mansion have gotten popular). I’m lookin’ for wildlife to photograph (not to hunt) and glaciers.

This is, I think, my 10th trip to Alaska (I’ve lost track. And hence, btw, the fact I already have photos like the one above). As co-author of Frommer’s Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call (yes, a little plug here), I try to get there every season at least.

This time I’ll be three days on a ship – Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. And then I’ll be heading inland to Fairbanks, Mount McKinley, Denali and Anchorage. So stay tuned for my reports.

August 6, 2009

British Airways and cheese, please

A story I read while in London the other day had me saying noooo. You see, I am a fan of British Airways because a) it’s a good airline with convenient flights from Boston b) it offers easy connections through Heathrow – and the new Terminal 5 – to other parts of Europe and beyond, and  c) they serve “cheese and pickle” sandwiches (chopped cheese and chutney).

Now, apparently, my sandwiches are going away. The Times of London reports that cost-cutting has led to the decision not to serve the sandwiches any more on short haul flights. OK, I get it, who really needs a snack when you’re only traveling an hour or two from London to paris or Venice? And apparently cutting the snacks will save the carrier some $36.9 million.

(more…)

The sun shines on Celebrity Equinox

Celebrity Equinox exterior hi-resIt is not sunny in the UK today. Rather it’s a bit cold and a little dreary. But onboard the Celebrity Equinox there is much to celebrate – and in case you don’t get that message the art installation in the ship’s tall atrium declares “Here Comes the Sun,” the words appearing on multiple decks.

The sun shone as well, figuratively speaking, at the ship’s naming ceremony in Southampton yesterday, where godmother Nina Barough, founder of the breast cancer charity Walk the Walk (which has raised more than $75 million for the cause), got all the invited guests in the ship’s theater holding hands and doing collective hugging. I have known Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain for years but seeing him holding hands with the ship’s captain, as Barough encouraged, was a kick (her efforts for group interaction were impromptu but the crowd seemed to love it). An acrobat on wires helped Barough tug a pink ribbon to smash the bottle of champagne outside officially launching Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship. (more…)

The Good Life, in Cahors and at sea on Celebrity Equinox

HillsidevineyardSo far this week I shared a little of the “hidden secret” of Cahors and the Lot River valley, where I explored the world of precious French Malbec, foie gras and truffles. I loved the place, the people and the product, and will be writing much more on the subject. As the 37-year-old mayor of Cahors pointed out to me yesterday, “there is a lot to savor” in the Lot.

Celebrity Equinox Lawn KeeperBut first a detour to the world of cruising. Today I am in Southampton, UK, for the official debut and naming ceremony of the Celebrity Equinox (the second ship with a real lawn of grass on top, in photo).  This is the sister ship to the Solstice, my very favorite ship of last year. And like its big sister this 2,850-passenger ship is a modern stunner – with the addition this time of a little more color in the decor (a little red here, a little purple there). (more…)

Black wine and foie gras

Filed under: International — admin @ 2:36 pm

foodMy day began with foie gras and ended with tango. Not a bad day at all here in southwestern France.

For me, travel in search of food and wine is about experiencing the products where they are made and meeting producers. Because few American visitors come to the Lot valley – truly France’s little hidden secret place – people here gave me an overwhelmingly warm welcome.

P1013024In the morning, I visited a small foie gras farm to see the ducks and learn the process for fattening their livers and to get assured that the ducks do not mind the process of being overfed – those I saw looked fat and happy to me. And yes, the farmer here in rural France had heard about the Chicago ban on foie gras and had to poke fun (he also basked coca cola; go figure).

Speaking of fat and happy, I lunched at Le Gindreau, a Michelin-starred restaurant in St. Medard, a town with less than 200 residents (only in France!), where Chef Alexis Pelissou gave me more foie gras education and talked about his adoration for Kant, (more…)

“Deep France” delights in Lot valley

Blof1When I told a French friend I was going to Cahors, he said “it’s in the middle of nowhere.” What he failed to mention is this “nowhere” is a gorgeous fairytale landscape. From the room of the castle where I am staying – yes, I shall now be known as the countess de Golden (or at least I feel that way at the hilltop Chateau de Mercues, a Relais & Chateaux property) – I can see the Lot valley unfold in all its glory (see photo from my room). We’re talking green, tree-covered mountains, meandering river, farms and vineyards. This part of southwestern France is breathtaking; a French version of Vermont with the stunning addition of small medieval (more…)

BB King and blues with passion in Cognac

BBKing

I have fulfilled one of my dreams – to attend an outdoor concert in Europe. And the BB King concert at the Cognac Passions Blues Festival was indeed a magical experience.

Imagine a clear night, an enthusiastic mostly-French crowd, historic buildings and steeples as a backdrop. And pre-concert helpings of the local brew – fine cognac. This little city in southerwestern France is afterall home of Remy Martin, Martell, Hennessy, et al (all the world’s cognac production comes from this area).

The King of Blues was enthusiastic and charming and an amazing performer, as sharp at age 83 as ever (even if he kept reminding the crowd of his age). Cognac was thrilled to have him back at this major festival for the second time and even gave him keys to the city, the mayor announcing Cognac would soon even have a BB King Street. The King paid his tribute to cognac and Cognac in return. (more…)

Exploring Cognac – Music and Spirit

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:52 pm

Cognac7

My day began with a seat on the top deck of an overnight Air France 747 from Logan to Paris, included much cognac tasting in Cognac, France, the home of the spirit, and ended with a late-night concert by British rocker Charlie Winston at the Cognac Blues Passion festival. It was a long day.

First things first: I didn’t sleep much on the flight (for no reason really, I had a nice comfy emergency row coach seat with extra legroom) but surely did sitting up in the Paris airport waiting for my flight to Bordeaux. Don’t you love when you pop awake and realize you’ve been sleeping with your mouth wide open and people staring? (more…)

Cognac in Cognac with Passion and Blues

cognac7

Very much in the in the category of it’s a tough job but someone has to do it, I am off today to Cognac, France, where (oh poor me) I will be forced to sample the finest varieties. And, if you don’t hate me yet, I will share that I am also attending the Cognac Blues Passions festival, with tickets to see BB King.

This is the 16th year of the blues fest – and it’s BB’s third time performing there. What’s better, the welcoming crowd, the French food or the cognac? I can’t yet say, but I’ll let you know.

I’ll also be exploring the French countryside including Cahors, where I’ll be meeting with one of the top truffle experts in the world (mmm, truffles!). I’ll also be visiting a foie gras farm (mmm, foie gras!) and sipping a little local wine (mmm, well, you get it).

Stay tuned for reports and videos.

I love Paris and cheap hotels

Filed under: International — Tags: — admin @ 1:34 pm

langlois

Every summer I get at least a few e-mails or phone calls from friends asking if I know any cheap hotels in Paris. I know my friends. They don’t mean youth hostels. But they do want a bargain on a decent place to stay.

I’ve been collecting such places, based on my own experiences and those of my aquaintances. And this year, most of the hotels on my list are offering special bargains as tourist numbers are down. The Paris tourist board has a campaign to get Parisians to smile, which is cute, but bargains are better.

So if you’re off to the City of Light, here are some hotels to check out:

Hotel Langlois (in photo above) is a 2-star property in the 9th Arrondissement (on the Right Bank) and has a place in movie history – it’s where Jonathan Demmefilmed “The Truth About Charlie.” In fact, the hotel changed its name to reflect the name of the property in the movie. (more…)

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