This final entry is being written from home. I’ve had a few days to decompress and dispense with jet lag and, as always, it’s good to be home. This trip was filled with unscripted events, even including a 2.5 hour delay at Heathrow for my return flight. I spent it in the Virgin Atlantic First Class Lounge, so it was not a big burden, but it was just one more thing that didn’t go as planned. Over all, it was a good trip and nothing really bad happened (like lost luggage) so I shouldn’t complain.
I think my next trip will be focused on one location as it’s just too hectic travel-wise these days to try to pack too much in at once. I thank you for joining my here in my travels and hope that you can go to these places someday yourself, if you haven’t been already. The world isn’t so large after all and time is too short, my friends, too short. Au Revour!

When the Tube Doesn’t Run

I was planning on dashing around London today using the subway but there were service problems that prevented that. It was amazing to go down to the tube station and see an announcement that service was "suspended" on the Circle Line, due to a lack of train cars! It’s not quite the same because London has some alternate lines, but imagine the D.C. Metro closing down the Orange Line and the commuter chaos that would occur! Well, let’s just say that getting around London today was a bit harder than other days. The bus system is quite good but was, naturally, over-taxed with all those displaced metro riders.
So I didn’t get to the British Library and instead spent some time knocking around Notting Hill, which is a funky neighborhood with lots of interesting shops. No, I’m reliably informed that Hugh Grant does not live there. I did look into a movie theatre lobby and was shocked to see ticket prices at £9.90 (that’s almost $20, folks)! Notting Hill is to the west of central London, just beyond Hyde Park, is an affluent and fashionable area, and is famous for its Portobello Road Market.
Last night, over fish and chips (£7) and a pint (£2.90) at the pub, I watched the U.S. lose to Samoa, 25-21, in the Rugby World Cup. During the first period, we looked pretty bad: slow, small, and inept, as demonstrated by the early 15-3 lopsided score. Apparently the U.S. team rallied after I left the pub and made it pretty dramatic by the end, despite the loss. I gather we’re still developing our team. Pub dining is also an experience. There is no table service; you order at the bar and even collect your own silverware and condiments; consequently, there is little or no tipping.
I’ve had a few experiences in small restaurants on this trip have given me the food hygiene willies. For example, I was in line for a gyro at a place in Paris when I noticed the cook using a weird, Dremel tool-like rotating power slicer to cut slices from the gyro slab. I also noticed that he just tossed it aside, uncleaned, when he was done and that’s when I decided not to have a gyro, with an extra helping of bacteria. And last night I noticed a nice jar of Tartar Sauce on the condiment table, clearly marked "Refrigerate After Opening" that smelled liked it had been open for days. We do, you know, take a lot of this kind of thing, important food safety practices, more seriously in the U.S. and I’m glad we do.
For those of you who are Starbucks fans: I did have my favorite Chai Tea Latte at the Paddington Station store the other day and made a few notes comparing operations with outlets in the U.S.:
– The $4 Grande-size latte costs $6 here.
– The pastry and sandwich selection is better than I’ve ever seen at home
No Wi-Fi is available, free or otherwise
No self-service clean up; there are no public trash cans or tray returns, so dirty tables can sit that way for a while
– Apparently the Grande – Venti size nomenclature annoys customers here, too.
So, my vacation in Europe is ending for this year and tomorrow morning I’ll be going out to Heathrow one more time to catch my flight home on good old Virgin Atlantic. The hordes of businessmen, students, and other tourists I’ve encountered on this trip have proven that the fall is a busy time to visit Europe. I’ve never seen the hotels so packed and so many people on the go. I think, on the whole, I prefer to come here in the spring. It has been good to revisit my favorite places, art, and architecture and to get out of town for a while. I enjoyed some good food, good wine and interesting foreign cultures. As always, I do look forward to sleeping in my own bed tomorrow night.

London & The Terra Cotta Army

Since my last installment here, I navigated the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport, made the quick flight (45 minutes; the pilot never turns off the seat belt light) to London’s Heathrow airport, and delivered myself to the Paddington Hilton. I finished the day with a trip to a local pub for a pint and dinner. That was Tuesday.
One of my travel strategies is to increase the quality of my accommodations as the trip progresses. Hey, travel can be a tiring business and over the weeks it wears on you. So finishing the trip in a nice hotel is just a matter of being good to yourself. Naturally, the costs associated with these improving accommodations increase, too, so I can’t go overboard with this idea.
Sometimes I select a hotel for its location or relative charm or relative cost. In Paris, for example, I stayed at the Elysa-Luxembourg, a hotel du charm or hotel created out of what was once a private residence. I’ve stayed there annually since 2001 and it’s a bit worn and funky but generally good. Oh, it’s improved year by year, too: for example, the first few years my room key was what looked like your standard "skeleton" key and you had to use it to lock yourself into your room at night, and this year they’ve installed magnetic-stripe card keys and new locks. The Elyssa is an OK hotel, clean, inexpensive, and in a great location. However, this year I drew a room with no shower stall or curtain, just a tub and a sprayer head on a hose. Not really my "cup of tea" and after four days of that, I was delighted to get to the Hilton and its modern bathroom.
I initially picked the Elysa-Lux because it sits quite near both the RER subway station, on the route from the airport and, of course, the Luxembourg Gardens. So location and ease of access played a large part in that decision. So, too, with the Paddington Hilton. It sits right on top of Paddington Station, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, where four subway lines pass through and the great Heathrow Express delivers you directly from the airport.
Paddington Station is also something of a mini-mall, with all sorts of shops at hand. For example, as I write this in my hotel room, I’m sipping some nice wine and munching on terrific hummus and crackers from the Spencer & Marks grocery store downstairs. In addition, other stores include a Starbucks, a Krispy Kreme shop, the Mad Bishop and Bear pub, a Sushi bar (where dishes circulate on an endless belt and diners just help themselves, Dim-Sum style), McDonalds, Burger King, news stands, and a drug store.
The Heathrow Express is a special train that runs directly between Paddington and Heathrow. It’s a great improvement over the 30-45 minute ride on the subway, though more expensive ($28), but well worth it in my view. The four subway lines below Paddington will take you just about anywhere you want to go in London. The neighborhood around the station, Bayswater, is on the west side of the city and nice. It has quite a selection of ethnic restaurants and pubs and nearby Hyde Park is the Enlish equivalent of Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens. What’s not to like?
Today, Wednesday, I had a hearty traditional English breakfast of eggs, sausage, ham, potatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, toast and fried tomatoes at the Mad Bishop then bought a discounted off-peak, 1-day subway ticket (off peak = good after 9:30 am) and went to the British Museum. I had a prepaid ticket for an exhibit about the first emperor of China. He was the ruler who buried himself with an army of 7,000 terra cotta soldiers so he could continue to conquer and rule in the afterlife and the show included the largest number of these soldiers (20) ever allowed out of China. It was spectacular! This all happened 3,000 years ago and the emperor, who conquered all his neighbors and essentially formed modern-day China is still revered as the country’s "founder". The exhibition was well-organized and presented and very interesting.
The emperor’s tomb is a 200+ acre site, where 57 separate excavations have been made so far, revealing the terra cotta army and many other interesting artifacts. The main tomb, where the emperor is interred, was said by contemporary historians to have "running rivers of mercury" and a "sky" with pearls for stars and occupies the top of an artificial mountain in the middle of the complex. It has not been excavated yet so an archeological mystery remains. The emperor is still so revered that disturbing his burial place is taboo, at least for now. Sadly, no picture-taking was allowed, so I have no pics of my own to post. I did post two pics of the museum’s inner courtyard and here’s the Wikipedia entry for the terra cotta army.
The British Museum is a great place, by the way, and any visitor to London should plan to spend some time there. Their Egyptian collection, in particular, is superb. It also has (still) the Elgin Marbles – the marble friezes stripped from the Parthenon in Athens – although the Greeks continue to demaind their return. And, like our Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., admission to the British Museum is free.
I came back to the Hilton in time for afternoon tea and plan to tackle some genuine fish ‘n’ chips for dinner tonight.

True Rest and Relaxation

Uncharacteristically, I slept in on Sunday and then set off in search of a restaurant recommended by Pudlo to serve a good American-style brunch (Gilles Pudlowski is a respected Parisian restaurant critic whose book was recently translated into English). Sadly, the restaurant did not open until noon, an hour that I think puts it firmly in the lunch, not brunch, category. Given the effort I made to research places to eat before making this trip, I’ve been somewhat disappointed at the results.
So I had a muffin and Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks instead. Yes, Starbucks; they are here, of course. There’s even one in the basement of the Louvre. The "barristas" and their customers are somewhat less regimented than in the States, though. Same decor, same menu (no Half-n-Half, which doesn’t seem to exist here), and same outlandish prices for a cup of coffee or tea.
I spent the remainder of the day lounging in the Luxembourg Gardens, where I listened to an audiobook, took in an orchestra concert in the gazebo, and just generally "vegged" in the great weather. At 4:00 pm I walked up to the Sufflot Cafe and watched a bit of rubgy on their TV over a glass of red wine.
I posted pictures of several bicycles, some of the 10,000+ bicycles the city of Paris bought and has made available. This is the "Velib’" program and the bikes are part of a high-tech system installed recently to discourage car use. Here’s how it works: each bike "docks and locks" into a steel post that comes out of the pavement and a nearby kiosk can be used to sign-up to use the system. Once enrolled, you swipe your membership card and can take a bike; you ride it to your destination and then leave it at another dock and lock station. The first 30-minutes of usage is free, next 30 minutes: $1.30, next: $2.60, etc. They’re nice 5-speed bikes, with self-balancing front and rear braking, lights, and a large front basket.
There are about 20-30 bikes and docking posts at each station (which takes up about 3-4 parallel parking spots at the curb) throughout the city. They say there are at most only about 300 meters between stations, so they are everywhere. Naturally, the location, condition, and status of each bike is tracked by computer. It sounds like a great idea and, if you make mainly short trips, you might never pay a cent. The program has worked very successfully in Lyon where they only had about a 10% bike attrition rate (theft, damage) and cut down on traffic by 20%. By the end of next year, the plan is to have 20,000+ bicycles available in Paris. Of course, you must be a fearless tourist to decide to hop on a bicycle and brave Parisian kamikaze-style traffic! 
Random Paris observations:
– When you buy a meal or drink, your receipt may contain the access code needed to use the establishment’s bathroom. This is their way of ensuring that only customers use their facilities.
– In restaurants, there are no napkins, condiments, or other consumables available out in the open in unlimited quantities, the way there are in the U.S. If you need a napkin and ask for one, they’ll give you one.
– Same thing happens every multi-lingual trip: my Italian continued to improve after I left Italy and I mix it into my French in Paris. Luckily, the French (like most Europeans) speak 2-3 languages and understand me perfectly.
– No hotel wi-fi or Internet; I’m posting these reports from an Internet Cafe with 100 PCs!  And one thoroughly infected with viruses: each time I use my USB drive to transfer photos, a virus is installed on it (which I then delete). Caveat Emptor.
Today, Monday, I awoke to gray skies and drizzle, so I jumped on the RER (a variety of Metro train) and went to spend most of the day at the Hotel des Invalides. This massive building was built by Louis XIV as an "old soldiers home" but now mostly holds military museums and Napolean’s Tomb (see photos) which is six nested coffins and stands about 25-feet tall (his body was brought back to Paris 16 years after his death). In the Medieval Armor museum, I saw more suits of armor, pikes, and swords than you would believe, and came out of the World War I – World War II Museum rather depressed about man’s inhumanity to man. Did you know that 74 million soldiers took part in WWII? France lost such a large percentage of their male population that their society was affected for decades. Definitely something to think about. I think more congressmen, national security advisors and presidents should visit these museums…
I took the bus back to Latin Quarter and the sun and a blue sky came out as I walked back to the hotel – I think I’ll take a turn in the gardens before dinner. 
On that happy note, I’ll conclude my reporting from Paris. I’ll pack my things tonight and head for Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning, on my way to London. See you there!

National Catastrophe Averted!

I was not awakened last night by the sound of enraged French rubgy fans trashing Paris after their team suffered a humiliating defeat. No, instead the French team soundly beat the Irish 25-3, redeeming their honor, staying in the World Cup tournament, and averting the predicted national catastrophe. Magnifique! The U.S. has not fared so well – we lost 28-10 to England and 25-15 to Tonga and are out of it.
Have you ever watched rubgy? I stopped at a bar this afternoon and watched a match for a while. For one thing, the players run into and tackle each other with the same force as NFL players, yet wear no protective gear. Play does not stop just because the ball hits the ground; in fact, it can be given a low, bouncing kick into the "end zone" and if the kicker’s team gets their hands on it there, they score. Fascinating to watch, not quite as brutal as reputed, and actually played with rules. Having a 20" neck and weighing 280 lbs. helps, apparently.
I had a fine meal last night at Soufflot Cafe, near the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, not far from my hotel. During my visit to Paris in 2001 with daughters Lindsay and Sarah (hello, ladies!) we ate dinner there and a wonderful older waiter named Guy (pronounced "Gee") took a shine to the girls. He advised them on how to order meals in French, teased them about their aversion to escargot (snails in butter and garlic – yum), and had them add up our bill with a pencil on the table cloth. We took a photo of the him and the girls and after we came home we sent him a copy of the print and a thank-you note, care of the cafe, and we got a nice reply back from him. Guy retired a few years ago, but my loyalty to Sufflot Cafe was firmly set. I ate while sitting outside, facing the sidewalk, enjoying both the food and the people-watching.
I got a good night’s sleep and in the morning hopped the #27 bus to visit some of my local friends: the Orsay Museum and the Louvre. I spent some time with my favorite works by Degas (pastels of dancers), Delacroix ("Liberty Leading the People"), and Gericault ("The Raft of the Medusa"), some of which are included in my photo gallery. It seems weird to take photos in a museum but, as long as you don’t use a flash, it is allowed. This of course leads to large numbers of idiots who don’t know how to use their cameras taking flash pictures. Digital cameras allowed the camel’s nose, as they say, under the tent and it’s open season now. All those flashes are bad for the artworks, of course, and annoying to the visitors. In fact, sadly, museums are losing their status as special places: there’s so much cell-phoning, texting, MP3-listening, and photography going on now that they’re more like Main Street. Nonetheless, I always feel it is a privilege to be in the presence of the result of such genius. Even now, after so many visits, I still look closely at Degas’ pastel strokes and marvel, even revel, in the mastery of technique and creativity displayed.
I also snapped a (non-flash) photo of Winged Victory (the statue) and La Grande Odalisque by Ingres. The Louvre was not crowded for once and I had a leisurely cappucino at noon in the snack bar there. There’s a large underground mall (Carousel du Louvre) next to the museum with a food court. Speaking of malls, I meant to mention yesterday that the Marco Polo airport is really a shopping mall with an airport attached. After clearing security, I was amazed at how luxurious the retail area was, nicer than Tysons II. The stores had some very high-end decor and fixtures and even the hallway floor was parquet!
I hopped the bus again back to the Latin Quarter but set off on foot in a new direction down the Boulevard St-Germain. Whew – what a "Miracle Mile" of wall-to-wall boutiques! Scattered here and there are some cafes (Les Deux Magots, Le Procope, etc.) made famous by writers from Voltaire to Hemingway, arty rebels who would no doubt be shocked at the designer fashions now on sale in the neighborhood.
After an unsuccessful search for a patisserie offering the "best macaroons in Paris", according to a newspaper article I clipped, I headed south on foot, past the St-Sulpice church, to my one of my favorite places in Paris: the Luxembourg Gardens. I posted some of photos of the 60-acre park, including the Medicis Fountain and a couple having a picnic with my favorite champagne (Veuve Cliquot) in the photo gallery. An orchestra was giving a free concert in the band stand and the day, sunny and 70-degrees, was just beautiful, perfect for sitting and enjoying the music, the breeze, and the dappled sun.
After a late lunch of kabobs (more like a gyro than the kebabs we’re used to) and a short rest, I went into a bar for a cocktail and met a fellow Harley-Davidson owner. It turns out he, too, had been to Key West (small world) and so we talked Harley talk for a while. It was nice to enjoy the universal language of motorcycles.
Tomorrow is Sunday and the pace of Paris will slow down. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings for me and it’s very nice not to have a plan.

Farewell Venice, Bonjour Paris

After a good night’s sleep and a nice complimentary breakfast at Hotel Campiello, I took care of some errands Thursday morning. If you want to see the Venetians, the actual Italians who live in Venice, you will find them out early in the morning, going to work, going to the market, and avoiding the still-snoozing tourists. You get a better opportunity to listen to their unique Italian dialect and see them undiluted by the cultural stew of the visiting hordes.
At midday I ventured off into the Dosodoro neighborhood, where I’d never been before. This is an area to the east of the Grand Canal, behind the Accademia museum and, apparently home to a large student population. I trekked to Campo San Margherita and found the Pier-Dickens Inn, an Italian "pub" with an impressive array of pizzas. I ordered Quattro Stagione, a pie with four sectors, covered in turn with ham, artichokes, and mushrooms. The crust was paper thin and delightfully chewy in the middle and crunchy at the edges. It was an excellent pizza, accompanied by some house red vino, and well worth the walk.
On the way I passed something you don’t see anywhere else: a market boat in the canal, loaded with fruits and veges and selling to those on the dock (see picture). Perhaps Giant and Safeway should consider it?
After lunch, I headed south for the Biennale of Venice Exposition, an every-other-year arts festival. Sadly, the film portion ended a few weeks ago, which I why I missed staying with George Clooney at his palacio this year. Instead, I spent a few hours walking around the huge Arsenal building and its modern art display. My gosh, there was some weird stuff. Europe appears to be more deeply affected than the U.S. by the last few decades of war. There were many works that covered aspects of conflicts in Yugoslavia, Africa, and the Middle East. The most gruesome: a continuous film of a 10-year old vigorously practicing his soccer skills in a rubble-strewn yard in Belgrade, with blown-out buildings in the background, studiously kicking, flicking, and manuevering a human skull instead of a soccer ball.
Other lovely works included collections of newspaper war headlines, razor wire sculpture, and a large-scale map of the U.S., made up entirely of 3×5 cards, each with the hand-drawn face of an American soldier who has died in Iraq, with each card located in the deceased’s home town. That last one really gave you some pause. Like a lot of modern art, there were a lot of works that made you think, "Hey, I could have done that" and "That’s art"?
I was watching the vaporetto "conductor" yesterday and thinking about U.S. and Italian differences. The conductor tosses a rope onto a cleat at each dock as the boat approaches and ties it off; the boat captain uses the tension of this rope, the current, and his engine to temporarily hold the vaporetto against the dock for boarding. The conductor opens a simple sliding gate, held in place by a metal notch at one end when closed, to allow riders to board and disembark. It’s a simple process and no more complicated than it needs to be. How would this play in the U.S. I wondered… well, first there are the OSHA regulations, then goverment’s tendency to over-engineer everything. You get the idea: it would never work as easily or cheaply. Italians: 1 U.S.: 0
However, today when walking down the shoreline to the Biennale I was came upon a huge pedestrian bottleneck at one of the foot bridges that cross side canals. When I got to the bridge, I found that vendors had laid their wares out on the bridge, narrowing it down to a few feet wide. These "vendors", several of whom I talked with, are from Senegal and they are unlicensed (which angers the retail shop owners). They lay a sheet on the ground and on it lay out knock-off belts and handbags. As night falls they can be quite aggressive in pursuing potential customers. They’re part of organized gangs of these sellers (I happened to see a gang and its leader in action in Florence last year) and they use cell phones to stay one step ahead of the polizi. They can scoop up their sheet and wares into a trash bag in seconds and then lay them out again nearly as quickly when the cabinieri (patrolling cops) pass. It appears that they can block public walkways, ignore licenses, interfere with regular commerce, and harass tourists at will. In the U.S., I imagine a similar effort on say, the Mall in D.C., would be met with a much different level of police zeal: arrests, internment, and eventual deportations. U.S.:  1, Italy: 0.
After a quick, late afternoon break, I took my chances at Vino! Vino! again and this time I was seated because I went fairly early when they weren’t very busy. To be honest, the food was just so-so (except the roasted potatoes which were heavy with olive oil and rosemary and were out of this world). As a finale, they didn’t take credit cards (as Chow Venice said they did) and it was just dumb luck that I had enough Euors in my pocket to pay the bill.
I’m writing this from my hotel room in Paris, having made the vaporetto, bus, and plane journey here without incident in about 8 hours, doot-to-door. Thank God for aisle seats on airliner exit rows. I’ve managed to land such a seat twice now and the added legroom is fabulous. So, tomorrow I’ll be prowling the town, so stay tuned.
By the way, tonight France, the host country in the Rugby World Cup, plays Ireland. If France loses, they’re out of the competition, which says the newspaper, would be a "national catastrophe". Bars are gearing up and fans from both countries in jerseys and face paint are roaming the streets. I await the post-game carnage!

Venice Is Always Worth The Trip

Let me start by backing up. My initial flight from the U.S. on the ever-reliable Virgin Atlantic airline was excellent and I remain a big fan of their "Revivals Lounge" at Heathrow and my luggage even arrived with me. There were, however, more people (I estimated 400) at Customs than I’ve ever seen before. I don’t usually travel on Mondays & Tuesdays, so perhaps this is normal. Even with the Virgin "Fast Track" pass that sends you through a special Customs line, there was quite a delay and, in general, it seems that there are more travellers and that everywhere is more crowded than in the spring when I usually travel.
As detailed in my previous post, my scheduled flight to Venice was cancelled due to a 1-day "industrial action" (aka strike) at the Venice airport and I spent the day in London instead. My subsequent flight the next day went perfectly and I arrived in Venice by about 2:30 pm. God Bless the Exit Row with its superior leg room. The nasty weather in Venice from the previous day was gone, the sky was sunny, the temp cool and it was beautiful. Waaay too many tourists though; I was again surprised by the hordes of people. My 30-minute vaporetto (water Metro) ride to the hotel was glorious, with the water not too choppy, a lively breeze in my hair, and the wonderful tapestry of Venice passing by.
It’s always a treat to observe the Europeans: how they dress, how they talk, how they gesture. Wonderfully entertaining people-watching, indeed. The Hotel Campiello is great and it was nice to come back to it again. After freshening up and changing clothes, I headed for the famous Harry’s Bar around 6 pm for cocktails. Which at Harry’s means either a Bellini or a martini, and it was the latter for me. While seated at the bar, I met a couple from Michigan who own four Italian restaurants, a couple from Melbourne, Austrailia, and finally two guys from Majorca, Spain who were here for an international bar tending contest. Great stuff, and the martinis were nice too.
I then headed off to Vino! Vino!, a restaurant recommended by the great "Chow Venice" book and I experienced a First there. As I fantasized about their lasagna with artichokes, for the first time in my life I was turned away by a restaurant for being a "Single"; they would not seat me because I was alone. Now, as a single, I’m relatively used to being given the least desirable seats, by the door to the kitchen, etc. but I’ve never been told to go away before. Actually, I was told to "come back later" when they got less busy. But as it was already 8pm and I was starving, that was not an option.
So, I hopped a vaporetto and went up to the Rialto bridge, then on foot to al Peocetto di Risorto, a wonderful place recommended to me by my friends Joanie and Chuck Tooley of Billings, Montana (thanks again, you two). At al Peocetto, though busy, they welcomed me and even offered me a choice of seats. The food was excellent: spaghettti aio oio pepperocino (with oil, garlic, and peppers), scallopine de limone (veal with lemon sauce) and a mixed salad. The house red wine was superb. The wine here in general has a smoothness to it you just don’t get at home. Happy and sated I took the vaporetto back to San Marco Square and topped off the evening with some tasty gelati before going to the hotel and hitting the sack. After the general craziness of traveling, Venice was heaven.
One day in Venice and much to do…

Not All According to Plan

Tonight’s installment comes from the Heathrow Hilton. Yes, I’m not in Venice as planned. I
love the Travel Gods sense of irony: I was concerned about the forecast for my arrival in
Venice, which was "Heavy Rain". Venice, with no cars, is all about getting around on foot.
Even getting onto the vaporettos (water bus) was going to be interesting with heavy rain and
(probably) lots of wave action bouncing the docks around, trying to juggle tickets, luggage,
and umbrella.
So, as usual, I prepared: I packed the galoshes, the rain coats, the rain hat, and the umbrella.
I thought through a plan of action for deploying all of this stuff at the Marco Polo
airport. However, the airport workers decided to stage a 1-day strike (sooo very Italian)
and when I reported this morning to check-in, I found my flight to Venice was cancelled. I
spent today in London instead of going on to Venice and am rescheduled to go tomorrow.
Forecast for tomorrow: you guessed it, sunny and mild.
Aside from costing me a small fortune to stay at the Heathrow Hilton and a also incurring a
boatload of other  unanticipated, unbudgeted costs, the day was not a total loss. I recently
became aware that the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden offers great backstage tours and
attempted to sign up for one while planning this trip. However, no tours were offered the
day I had open in my schedule, so it was not to be. However, today was another matter and I was
able to dash into London, have lunch at a great place (more food than I could eat for 5
pounds), and take the opera house tour. The Travel Gods take and they also give.
The Royal Opera House was amazing, covering 2.4 acres, and outfitted with some really great
stage machinery. Our guide was very knowledgeable and the tour was very interesting. I had
a tiny personal connection to the place: my grandmother performed in operas there in the
So, now I have a sunny, lovely return to Venice to look forward to (and one day less there).
 Viva Italia.

2007: Europe in the Fall for a Change

Greetings Travel Fans,
I’m delighted to report that plans have been laid at last for my annual (2007) European trip. This year, for the first time, I’m going in the autumn. Many folks have told me that September-October is a great time there, with nice weather and fewer crowds. Over two weeks I’ll be visiting Venice, Paris, and London.
August 23, 2007 –
Just 25 days and 3 hours to go before departure (but who’s counting?) and all of my plans are essentially in place. Starting in late September I’ll have three days in Venice, four in Paris, and three in London. I’m planning on expanding my knowledge of these cities and will be visiting districts and neighborhoods I’ve not seen before. This opens up the possibilities of finding new restaurants, cafes, shops, architecture, and broadening my skills at getting around. Should, as usual, be a blast.
Are you going to be in Europe, too? Perhaps we can meet for a martini at Harry’s Bar in Venice or some vin rouge in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris? I enjoy talking with other travelers and sharing experiences and travel tips. Post a comment here if you’re interested.