Friday, December 14, 2007

Cafe de Paris, Columbia, MD (Revisited)

Cafe de Paris
8088 Center Park Drive
MD 410 997 3904

Today I visited this restaurant for a quick bite for lunch. They now offer crepes in a little cafe atmosphere. They serve the crepes with a fresh salad, and they are delicious. I had a Shellfish Crepe, and my daughter had mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. Both were served promptly. They were freshly cooked and delicious.

The total bill for the two crepes, a soda water, and tax was under $18. This is a good new addition to Columbia's options at lunch.

For a (rather old) description of my last full dinner at this restaurant, click here.

This is a recommendation.  I paid my own way and do not have any connections, sponsorship, or freebies from Cafe de Paris.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

MAXjet -- The Washington Route (IAD)

Well, I never got to try it!

Almost two years ago, I posted a comment about MAXjet, the airline that was trying to compete on the London to Washington route flying business class-only Boeing 767s. I wondered whether the story would end in "ignominious defeat."

Business class fares on this route have always been really expensive, and I welcomed the idea of a new competitor -- particularly since they offered fares as low as $750! I also liked the idea that you could transfer on to an EasyJet flight since they flew to Stansted rather than Heathrow.

Unfortunately, MAXjet has given up on Washington. But it is hardly ignominious defeat as the airline seems to be thriving on the New York (JFK), Las Vegas (LAS), and Los Angeles (LAX) routes!

So we are left with United, Virgin, and British for our non-stop options. (They all fly into Heathrow.) So how much does it cost? According to Kayak, the site that searches for the cheapest fares, leaving on February 12 and returning one week later), you would pay $3390 on United, $4060 on British, and $4050 on Virgin Atlantic. A lot of money!

The United option is certainly the best deal particularly as they now offer lie-flat seats in Business Class with 15-inch monitors! For a description of United's new and improved Business Class, follow this link. But you should book with caution as these upgrades will not be complete for some time!

Quite often the best (but less reliable) way of getting into Business Class is to buy an Economy ticket and upgrade. I have frequently been offered a $500 upgrade -- sometimes less -- even when I have been holding a really cheap cattle class ticket.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hampton Inn -- Bloomsburg

Hampton Inn
255 Paper Mill Road
USA 17815

Tel: +1-570-380-1020
Fax: +1-570-380-1035

I have traveled frequently with my old friend and business partner, Dr. A. It seems as if he has a principle that he applies whenever he stays at a hotel: If he doesn't like it, he complains a lot. If he likes it, he complains a little. There is a rumor that hotel owners across the world have him on a watch-out list! I remember him once warning a hotel manager that he was about to instruct the head of travel of the North American division (of our then twenty-eight person) company to blacklist the entire hotel chain and expressly forbid all our (two) sales representatives from staying there!

His usual complaint used to be a lament for the basics. "Just give me a decent bed, a clean room, and an adequate bathroom, and I'll be happy," was his usual cry as we would leave a hotel. Added to his list of basics was a morning banana without which he would growl for the rest of the day.

I used to find this refrain somewhat unconvincing coming from a man whose agonies tend to be making up his mind between the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton. I often used to wonder how the basics would really sit with this Lexus-driving, Perignon-drinking, foie-gras eating consumer of luxury goods and services while listening to his plea for "just the basics" typically made while sitting in Seat 2A on a British Airways transatlantic flight.

Anyway, we spent the better part of this week at a Hampton Inn in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania, and Hampton Inn really is a chain that just gets the basics right with few loftier ambitions or pretensions. And while I had some minor complaints (shower not warm enough, no signs of recognition for a Hilton Diamond member, a room with two queen beds when I really wanted a king, a rather noisy window-situated heating system), Dr. A was ecstatically happy. "Perhaps the tables have turned, and now you are the complainer," he commented as he cheerfully munched his way through his second banana.

To summarize, the Hampton Inn in Bloomsburg is an excellent basic hotel with a few minor flaws. An adequate breakfast is provided by an extremely friendly English server in the morning on, alas, disposable plates.

But for only $114 a night, you can hardly complain! In general, I really do like this chain, and I appreciate being able to get Hilton points when I stay there.

This is an enthusiastic recommendation.  My employer reimbursed me for my expenses. I do not have any connections, sponsorship, or freebies from Hampton Inn or Hilton Hotels except for those associated with my HHonors account.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Holiday Inn, Athens, Greece

The top floor of the Holiday Inn in Athens
Holiday Inn
Telephone 30-210-7278000
Hotel Fax: 30-210-7278600
I never used to stay at Holiday Inns. They seemed a little "basic" for expense account travel and a little expensive for personal travel. But I have changed my opinion somewhat, and they fill a very useful niche for people traveling with families in Europe. Most of the big chains don't allow you to put four people in a room, and that is how we have made many of our trips affordable. Holiday Inn is the exception to the rule, and that was why we chose to spend the first couple of nights at the Holiday Inn in Athens.
The rooms were comfortable, and the price was right -- about 140 Euros (including tax) for a room for four. It is really easy to get to this hotel from the airport -- just take the metro. The people at the front desk were really friendly. The rooftop pool looked lovely, but it closed early in the evening so we were not able to use it.
The only little shock was the price of a club soda in the bar, which was about 6 Euros! But these prices are typical of Athens, which is now an expensive city!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


This picture is just an apartment block, but it is the site of where of the British Embassy school, where I went in about 1959.

My relationship with Greece has three chapters. The first was when I was very small. We moved to Greece when I was two and stayed there until I was six. Of course, those memories are more about early childhood and don't have a lot to do with Greece. Like all early memories, you can never be sure whether you remember the story or you remember the actual event.

But I remember my mother complaining to my father that he ran over her toes in our driveway, and I believed it. I remember thinking that didn't seem to harm her all that much and I was tempted many times to stick my toes under the wheels of cars to see what it was like. Fortunately, I never did! I remember not wanting to go to Rafina because once the see was rough and I thought that must be why it is called Rafina. I remember my friend, Andrew. His father came back from a business trip by plane and promptly went to bed with the flu, and I assumed that the flu was the consequence of flying. I remember my brother misbehaving at school, and the nuns but him in a cupboard with frosted glass. He wailed and waved his arms behind the frosted glass, and I wanted to rescue him, but I couldn't! That chapter ended in 1960.

The next time I was in Greeece was in 1981. I hitch-hiked from England to Brindisi, and got on a ferry from Brindisi to Patras. After sleeping on the deck for the night, I awoke to find the boat had stopped in the bay at Ithaca. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful in my life. I just had to get off, and I spent a few days there. Then, on to Athens! Athens seemed hot, dusty, unfriendly, and after a couple of days, I went to Lesbos, where I spent two glorious weeks in Molivos or Mithymna as it is more formally known. I was impoversished at the time, but Greece seemed to be such good value, and I was determined to return.
In July of 2007, I went to Greece with the family, and it was the best holiday we have ever had. But Greece had changed. Athens was a modern city with a wonderful metro system. The only disappointment was that the country did seem to be a little spoiled by the millions of tourists (like us!) who have discovered Greece. On my trip in 1981, I often found a bottle of Retsina placed on my table in the bars -- by a friendly local, who wanted to welcome a scruffy tourist. This time it really did seem as if the hospitality industry was determined to make you part with just a few more Euros! The prices seemed to be extraordinarily high, but, if you go to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, what do you expect?

We decided to visit Athens and only two islands. First, we went to Santorini, where we spent about a week. Then we went to Paros. The views in Santorini are absolutely extraordinary, but if I were to do it all over again, I think I would not spend as much as a week there. Santorini is just too overrun with tourists for my taste. Paros was perfect -- developed enough to provide a wide choice of restaurants, but not quite as crowded as Santorini!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

No more amenity kits -- Singapore Airlines -- Business Class

One of the nice little comforts of business class travel is the amenity kit. Waiting on your seat in a sealed bag, this little gift provides you with toothpaste, eyeshades, lip balm, and other little in-flight necessities.

I use these bags to carry around my electronic toys. I suppose that if I were a true road-warrior on long-distance flights every week, I would quickly tire of these novelties, but I fly rarely enough that I still get a kick out of them. (Actually my dirty little secret is that I have a sad habit of collecting them, and I have even been known to buy these things on e-bay.)

Funnily enough, Singapore Airlines, the airline that seems to lead the way in making customers happy, seems to have abandoned the practice of handing out these little bags. Although, according to their website, they provide a "range of branded toiletries such as eau de cologne, aftershave, and moisturising lotion" in the lavatories, the individual bag handed to you at your seat seems to be a thing of the past.

I would have thought these days, with liquids being a cause for suspicion, these little goodie bags would be even more important to the traveler seeking comfort in the air!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Cafe de Paris, Columbia, MD

Cafe de Paris
8088 Center Park Drive
Columbia, MD

410 997 3904

This restaurant used to be in a rather dreary shopping mall in Laurel, and I have always liked it. Last night I went mostly because I had heard that the chef, Marc Dixon, at one of my favorite restaurants, The Iron Bridge, had moved here.

Three of us had dinner. Two of us started with the excellent foie gras that was accompanied by a superb salad. Tony declared that his starter, the smoked salmon, was good but not excellent.

For our main courses, Clayton and I had the lamb chops, which I like very much although they were a little over done for my taste, and we were never asked how we would like them. Tony had a "special" of grouper, which he liked very much.

The desserts were outstanding, particularly the tarte tatin and the profiteroles.

As for wine, we had the Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux. This wine is an interesting blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Saugignon, and Merlot.

The bill was about $71 each, including tax, two bottles of the Menage a Trois ($26), and coffee, but not the tip.

An excellent meal that was well served!

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Charles Bove — Vin Mousseux de Qualite

This post was posted on my other site: on December 31, 2006.

Charles Bove — Vin Mousseux de Qualite

This is a Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wine from the Loire Valley. Although described as Brut, it is just a little bit sweeter than you would expect. It is refreshing, fruity, and delicious. Best of all, it is only about $10.00 a bottle — about a third of what you would pay for Champagne.

We will be using our Charles Bove to ring in the New Year. A Happy New Year to all!

I bought it at the Iron Bridge Wine Company. For their address, click

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Paris or London; Orbitz or Hilton or YTB?

Paris or London; Orbitz or Hilton or YTB?

I put this posting on my new site:

I am always shocked by how much it costs to be in London these days. With the dollar worth just a little more than fifty cents, everything seems to be so expensive. Even beer does not seem to be the bargain it was just a few years ago.

I was recently planning a trip, and wanted to stay the last night near an airport so I went to Orbitz ( to check out the price of the airport Hilton in Paris and the price of the airport Hilton in London. The result was not exactly surprising — London was much more expensive than Paris. The Hilton at Heathrow was $363 a night, and the one at the airport in Paris was $202. (I was booking for the night of 3rd March, 2007)

But the surprising thing about this exercise was when I decided to compare the rates offered by Orbitz with the rates at the Hilton site ( The Paris airport Hilton was only $130, and the London Hilton was $372.

While Orbitz seemed much higher than using the Hilton site, I did find the same rate at YTB. For the sake of full disclosure, the person who runs this business is a good friend of mine, a person that I have known for a number of years and would recommend very highly.
It really pays to shop around!

One other tip — look carefully at the rates. Hilton quotes the prices in pounds and euros. Getting that wrong could turn out to be an expensive mistake!

Finally, if you are staying at a Hilton, make sure you get points and miles. You don’t get many miles if you are staying just a night, but it can be a clever way of breathing new life into miles on an airline you don’t use anymore. (Miles expire after a certain period if there is no activity in the account.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Singapore Airlines -- SQ 25 from New York to Frankfurt

Also posted on my new blog site --

Singapore Airlines runs several flights from the New York area to Singapore. There is a non-stop, SQ 21, which goes out of Newark on an Airbus (340-500), and also service from JFK on a Boeing 747-400, with a stop in Frankfurt. (Interestingly, both SQ21 and SQ22 run eastbound so the traveler on this route will go round the world without really stopping!)

All airline adventurers should at some stage of their lives experience the joys of flying one of the better Asian airlines (Cathay, Thai, Singapore, etc.). SQ 25 provides an opportunity for you to experience Singapore Airlines even if you are planning to spend your miles on a European trip.
Here is an example. I once wanted to travel from Washington to London using miles in my Mileage Plus account. The obvious way to travel would have been on any of United’s three non-stop flights from Dulles to Heathrow. As someone whose goal is to travel on as many airlines as possible, I decided to use United’s service from Dulles (IAD) to New York (JFK). I took SQ25 from JFK to Frankfurt (FRA), and then used Lufthansa to get from FRA to London (LHR). The price of this route in miles was the same as if I had taken the non-stop routing.

Next summer, I am going to use SQ25 again for a family trip to Athens. Using United miles my route will be Washington - New York - Frankfurt - Athens - Frankfurt - London - Washington. The last leg will be on United, but I could not avoid that if I wanted to spend a few nights in London on the return trip.

Mileage Plus seats are limited on SQ25 so the traveler really needs to make plans in advance. With careful planning, this is a good way of experiencing what is arguably the best airline in the world.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Using Delta Miles

The days of free travel are numbered. It is becoming more and more dificult to get miles; airlines want more miles for flights; and some airlines (USAirways and Delta, in particular) are changing the rules about how long miles can lie dormant before they expire.

With this in mind, I decided to use up my Delta miles on a trip to London. Booking using Delta airlines, it seemed as if I would have to take a very circuitous route to get to London. (From Washington, one route involved going from BWI to Atlanta to Cincinnati to London’s Gatwick airport, which is inconvenient for me.)

But there is an alternative. In the end I got a much better route — Washington to Paris to London for exactly the same number of miles on Air France. Plus that puts me into Heathrow. And, Air France still serves free drinks in Economy.

When you are using your miles, consider using an alternative carrier. Delta belongs to Skyteam, and you can use the Skyteam site ( to figure out what your options are. Delta alternatives include Alitalia and Korean. With United miles, you can fly on Swiss, Lufthansa, Singapore, Thai, and SAS!