Would You Do It?

One of my favorite travel blogs, The Points Guy, recently ran an article about the – surprising widespread – occurrence of one family member (usually the dad/husband) traveling in first class while the others (mom/wife and kids) travel in coach. You can find the article at http://thepointsguy.com/2016/07/first-class-with-spouse-and-kids-in-coach/

The article is surprisingly retro, making the point that most of these trips involve the husband, as the bread-winner in the family, being the one with enough status or a company willing to pay for business travel – and the family merely getting the dregs because they are lucky enough to have dad purchase a coach ticket for them. From where I sit in the front of the aircraft, this is both false and disturbing. First, I know plenty of women whose travel either includes business/first class travel paid for by their employers and/or earns more enough frequent flier miles than their husbands. I also know very few people – of either gender – who would stick their spouse and kids in economy while they traveled in first class on the same plane.

Chris and I are traveling to London for holiday in a few weeks with the kids, and finding a flight with seats together in business class was not easy. At one point, the airline agent I was working with at United suggested that the kids could be seated in coach and Chris and I could fly business/first class, as that was a configuration she could easily find on various flights. My surprise must have been obvious, as she responded: “I guess you’re not a family that does that?” I explained that part of the fun for us is the trip (yes, even with 14 year-old boys) – getting to talk about whatever awful movie we are watching, what we see when we fly over different places, and even debating what in the world possessed the airline to determine that “”bouillabaisse” was a good idea for an entrée with your meal. If we sit separately, we miss that. It also makes the boys feel like they are second-class (literally). Well, that and one of the boys is 6’2” already at his age – so coach would further be cruel and inhumane for him and his legs.

I am NOT suggesting that if you do not have the money or the miles to spend that flying coach is unacceptable; I have flown and continue to fly plenty of long-haul flights in coach. But if you have the miles or the funds, it seems ridiculous to put some of the family in coach and some in first/business. This summer, after much wrangling and several calls with the airlines, we’re cashing miles to fly everyone in business – albeit with a little more indirect route from Houston to London rather than Chicago to London. On the upside, that means we are flying the 787 Dreamliner, and everyone (me included) is pretty excited about that.  And, yes we are flying on my miles –I earn a lot during the year for business travel, and I’m happy to use them for vacations. 

For more thoughts – and even rage! – on this topic, check out the comments section of the TPS article.

Union Station – Washington DC

Traveling up and down the Northeast Corridor on Amtrak, those of who live in Washington DC get to know Union Station quite well.  Although the station dates back to nearly the turn of the 20th century, it lost a lot of its luster after World War II, and was a pretty grimy locale by the late 1970s. In the 1980s, recognizing the significant structural problems that were beginning to plague the station, and the opportunity to refurbish what remained a busy transit point, the US Department of Transportation provided funding for a full redevelopment. Union Station reopened in 1988, with its beautiful designs, opulent ceilings, and spacious great areas revitalized again.  The renovation also included the addition of a movie theater, indoor shopping mall and food court.

Unfortunately, the offerings of the shopping mall were always pretty bad, the food court catered to transient passengers (largely groups of excitable teenagers during spring break school trips), and the few sit-down restaurants that were available never lasted long, turning over to the next hopeful chef or food group – none of whom ever manager to find a niche that enticed a devoted foodie clientele.  The movie station ceased operations only after a few years – as one local DC newspaper headline put it: “Union Station Movie Theater Closes: No One Notices?”

Over the last few years, another renovation has begun – this time to gradually bring the station even closer to the glory it once enjoyed over one hundred years ago. The first glimpses of this transformation are already visible – most notably, the central interior hall once again shows off the classical elements of that beautiful room. Mercifully, a long-suffering, sadly ugly double-tiered restaurant that blotched that grand open public space has been removed. Now the marble, gold-leaf and granite ceilings – newly polished and refreshed – are fully visible and do justice to the room. The centurions proudly stand guard again over a worthy prize.

So the next time you rush through Union Station, on your way to a warm Pepsi and a herky jerky train ride with Amtrak, be comforted at least by your entry or exit path through this grand structure – pretend you’re in Europe; soak it in and enjoy.

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DNA Testing for World Travelers?!?!

This news from Kuwait on the potential collection of DNA of anyone traveling into the country is really amazing. The following is from The Points Guy‘s website:

“If traveling to Kuwait has been on your radar, now’s the time to go — before the country implements its mandatory DNA testing for everyone in the country, including tourists. Starting sometime this year, Kuwait will be the first (and hopefully only) country to implement a law that will require everyone to submit a DNA sample in an effort to increase security.

The country has stated that the DNA testing won’t be used for genealogical analysis and it won’t impact personal freedoms or privacy. If you’re traveling to Kuwait, you can expect the following at the Kuwait International Airport (KWI) upon your arrival, according to the Kuwait Times:

‘From Visitors: Collections will be done at a special center at Kuwait International Airport, where in collaboration with the Civil Aviation Department, airlines and embassies, visitors will be advised on their rights and duties towards the DNA law.’ 

Wondering how authorities are going to collect your DNA at the airport? The Kuwait Times reports that the government will collect a saliva sample or a few drops of blood placed on special cards. From there, your blood or saliva will travel to a lab where it will be tested ‘according to international scientific and technical methods using special DNA examination equipment.’ As for how citizens’ DNA will be collected, mobile centers will travel to individuals’ offices to collect samples, or people can stop by citizen services centers to submit their DNA while ‘doing various transactions.’

Last year before the route ended, TPG flew on Kuwait Airways from New York to London. And while he didn’t fly to the country itself, he still had a less-than-pleasant experience while on board the severely outdated aircraft. It appears with the new law that those simply flying on Kuwait Airways (and on to another destination) won’t be required to provide a DNA sample — only those actually entering the country.

Will this new law impact your willingness to travel to Kuwait?”

The devil will be in the details of course, and I sympathize with the desire of countries to ensure robust security in the current global security environment.  However, this does seem a bit ominous – and I say this as someone who has submitted fingerprints and other personal information and data to the US government as part of joining the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry Programs. But DNA seems to take security and clearances to a whole new level.  It will be interesting to see if the US government –  which will no doubt be lobbied by US-based construction, contracting and consulting companies which have a heavy presence in Kuwait – pressures Kuwait to reconsider or amend its policy.  Kuwait and the US have a close relationship and the Kuwaiti people are still very grateful for US assistance in the liberation of the country in the 1990s. When I’ve visited Kuwait, the people could not be more gracious or kind towards Americans. It would be a shame for something like this new policy to impede travel and exchange between the two countries.

Source:

Kuwait Will Soon Require Everyone in the Country to Undergo a DNA Test — Even Tourists. (2016). The Points Guy. Source: http://thepointsguy.com/2016/04/kuwait-to-require-everyone-in-the-country-to-undergo-a-dna-test/

Les Bains – New Starwood Property in Paris

On a recent, semi-spur-of-the-moment trip to France, we needed a night in Paris when we first arrived before departing the next day for the Burgandy countryside.  I have a number of hotels that I like in Paris – ranging from the very basic Le Meridien to the very posh George V – but was looking for something different and new to try.

Searching the Starwood site, I found the latest addition to the company’s portfolio there – Les Bains – in the 3rd arrondissement.   Initially it was appealing because of the location (close to the Centre George Pompidou, Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame) and then additionally due to the legendary Haussman architecture that it showcases.  And, sure, it doesn’t hurt that Architectual Digest is also a huge fan.

But when we checked in we learned more about the history of this building and hotel – known now in its marketing and logo by three  distinct milestones in its past: 1885, 1978 and 2015 (more on that below).  To get a feel for why this is a truly unique property (and, by the way, with surprisingly reasonable rates even in the spring in Paris), here is the description from Harper’s Bazaar London in September 2015, noting this as one of “the best places to stay in Paris”:

As the Studio 54 of Paris, in its heyday Les Bains nightclub welcomed everyone from Yves Saint Laurent and Mick Jagger to Kate Moss and Johnny Depp. Since reopening in March, the Marais icon – once a 19th-century private bathhouse [opened in 1885] visited by Marcel Proust – invites you to carry on the party and stay the night in one of its 39 rooms and suites. The grandeur of the Haussmann architecture is enhanced by glorious marble bathrooms, wood panelling and antique furniture belonging to former guests, including a rug once owned by Gainsborough. Public spaces galore – including a bar, lounge, terrace and club – mean you can drink and dance almost anywhere, anytime. Or book into La Salle à Manger restaurant, headed up by Michelin-starred Philippe Labbé, where you’ll find a 15-metre-tall private dining-room in the former water tank of the Bains Guerbois.

Impressed yet?  No?  Then check out the New York Times’ review from June 2015, noting in part:

There were other clubs in that golden age of Paris night life, but perhaps none of them were as era defining. Opened in 1978 on the site of a 19th-century bathhouse in the Third Arrondissement, Les Bains Douches made stars of its designer (Philippe Starck) and resident D.J. (David Guetta), who were unknown at the time. Joy Division recorded a live album in the basement, where Prince performed impromptu and Depeche Mode played years before selling out stadiums. And then there was the crowd. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Saint Laurent, Mick Jagger, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss were there, indeed. But it was really about the cross section of clubgoers and creatives, highbrow and low, glamorous and underground, big names and nobodies, all mingling by the mosaic tile pool.

Oh, and by the way, the rooms are awesome – including red velvet sofas modeled on the ones in Andy Warhol’s Factory.  A few pictures below – the product of the 2105 renovation and reopening – showing the very modern sleek bathroom, terrace doors, the oh-so-retro telephone (dial 911 if you need anything at all in service, we were advised – no, seriously, 911, really), and the Marshall radio replica which is now your personal stereo system for the stay.

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Masada

When you travel a lot as I do, sometimes you can get pretty jaded about what you see, even complacent – things are fun or interesting but not inspiring or overwhelmingly beautiful. Hence, it was especially nice on a recent, albeit brief, trip to Israel to have the amazing experience of seeing Masada, high above the Dead Sea, on a beautiful, clear January day. The travel time from Tel Aviv is about 90 minutes, but the journey is well worth it, even as you descend downwards in altitude and feel the change as you enter into the West Bank.

Along the way, the settlements, the date trees, and vineyards provide a view that prepares you for the amazing sight of Masada from a distance. Up close, however, it’s even more striking as you consider what it represents for the Jewish people. The story of the choice between freedom and slavery, and the history of the conflicts that have marked this place are powerful.

Not everyone considers Masada to be worth the time it takes – a full day is best, given the travel that is required – but I highly recommend it and would not have missed seeing it for anything.  One of the highlights of my travel life!

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New York

I travel a lot to New York for business but very seldom have the opportunity to enjoy the “tourist” things that others do.  Too often, my trips are quick up-in-the-morning and back-in-the-evening to DC – a one-day turnaround.  Occasionally, I stay overnight but not very often.

This year, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, Chris, the kids and I went to New York for a week without work.  It was that rare time of the year when the emails are slow and the office is all but closed.  That gave us the chance to really see New York, and enjoy the places we know we love – The Modern, MOMA, Candle 79, and the Strand – as well as some places that the kids were interested in – Dylan’s Candy Bar, Forbidden Planet, the Lego store, dim sum in Chinatown, and the Whitney (yes, the kids were keen to see the Whitney, especially the Frank Stella exhibit).

Chris is a big foodie, as is one of the boys, so food was a major focus – Junoon is a terrific Indian place that we tried on a previous trip and loved, so we returned for another meal.  Dirty French and Serafina were new to us – and those were hits as well.  Of course, there was the absolute must of dining out in New York – hot dogs on the street – followed by the absolutely must of dining in – Chinese food delivery on New Year’s Eve in the hotel to avoid the craziness of Times Square and also to maximize our viewing in front of the TV for the Cotton Bowl.

A few pictures below – courtesy of Chris – that capture a wonderful week.

– Laura Flippin

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Latest Photos from Traveling: New York City

Hello fellow travelers! As you may remember, I recently traveled to New York City for New Year’s eve. Here are a few pictures I snapped (and more to come!):

 

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Latest Photos from Traveling: Dubai and Romania

Just wanted to share some of my latest photos from my trips to Dubai and Bucharest, Romania. Enjoy!

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A Great View of Dubai

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In Dubai, Burger King delivers via motorbike

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A retail store in Dubai

 

 

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Christmas market in Bucharest, Romania

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Dancers at dinner in Bucharest, Romania

New York, New York

Chris and I have strategized and planned, schemed and leveraged, and we’ve finally done it – managed to collect points and miles so that he and the kids and I can go to New York for fun for the week after Christmas and before the New Year.

We know, of course, a lot of things that we want to see – and teenagers are interested in seeing a lot of things that adults are as well, which makes it easier to plan in some respects. On our list: the 9/11 memorial; MOMA; some great restaurants to tempt our foodie palates; definitely a play or a musical or both; and some shopping at the Strand and a few other favorites.

A question for dear readers, however, as one issue has stymied us – what should we do for New Year’s Eve? We are staying in Midtown but are firmly against going to Times Square or any other crazy, crowded places that night. We’ve talked about ice skating but I’m not keen on that, and not sure that Rockefeller Center won’t be a nightmare of people queued up for skating too. Going to dinner early, or even ordering Chinese food into the hotel (see my 2014 blog post for more details on why that is one of my favorite NY experiences) and watching movies in the room is something we have talked about. But are we missing something?

Keep in mind anything outdoors is likely to be cold – if not snowy and slushy – at this time of year. And that all four of us like history, great music, and cool art – if any of that inspires you with ideas. Wait, maybe the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis is calling us . . . .

– Laura Flippin

The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), held annually in October in Washington DC, is a great way to see people from all over the world traveling to the US capital. Of course, all marathons attract runners from every corner of the globe – but the MCM somehow seems special. First, there are no qualifying thresholds, so anyone can enter and plenty of people do – as proven by the signs along the race course that challenge runners to beat the famous alumni in particular (“You can do better than Oprah!” – yes, she ran it and in pretty good time, too).

Second, because the race takes place in the nation’s capital, many runners want to be part of the excitement that comes in running past monuments, the White House, the Capitol building and along the Potomac River – it’s a well known city and one people want to see even if they are just spectators and not runners.

Third, there is an incredibly patriotic element to the race. It is hosted by the US Marines (guaranteeing it is done on time and without a glitch), and attracts many servicemen and women, both active and retired, both runners and wheelchair. At the end of the marathon – should you finish – a Marine puts the finisher’s medal around your neck while people of all different nationalities look on. Everywhere there are American flags, but also plenty of signs that there are plenty of travelers there – a runner in full Scottish kilt and bagpipe; Australian flags; oompah music from Germany; and lots of chatter in dozens of languages. I saw all of that this year – it was Chris’s third time running the MCM, which means it was my third time as pit and support crew (I’m getting better every year). And on Monday, when it’s over, at the airport, you can see runners flying home — or to their next marathon perhaps – to far flung places, proudly wearing their medal and being congratulated by everyone from gate attendants to TSA agents.

To the Marines, thank you for hosting and providing such a great event – that attracts people from all over the world for a unique kind of tourism. And to Chris – congratulations on sub-four, 3:57 to be exact!

Laura Flippin Washington DC

 

– Laura Flippin

 

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