The RFID-Blocking Luxe Neck Stash in Olive from Lewis N. Clark
On a trip to Europe this spring our contributors took a $22.49 RFID-Blocking Luxe Neck Stash in Olive from Lewis N. Clark (owned by LCI Brands, 2781 Katherine Way, Elk Grove Village, Illinois 60007, +1 312.455.0500, www.lewisnclark.com, firstname.lastname@example.org). The slim made in China nylon neck bag, 8 inches by 5.5 inches, performed well and only weighed 5.5 ounces. It hung from a thin adjustable neck cord and could be tucked beneath clothes to conceal it.
While they did not require Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking for credit cards and passports it was good to know the Neck Stash had it should the need arise. Pluses included the discreet olive color and size as well as its single see-through window and dual zippered pockets. A central Velcro flap pocket that opened at the top was ideal for passports. The neck bag was convenient to carry important documents and cash around cities, and for easy document access at airports and while traveling. The durable, ribbed TravelDry fabric was designed to resist shrinking, odors, and mildew. It showed no signs of wear after six weeks.
Article by Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The Petrossian shop window on Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg
Ever hear of Daurenki Impérial, Baika Impérial, Ossetra Impérial, Alverta Impérial, and Beluga Impérial? If you are a foodie you may already have an idea of what the names are, the types of farmed caviar some of which we tasted at the popular Petrossian Latour boutique in Paris, France owned by Armen Petrossian (18 boulevard de la tour Maubourg 75007 Paris, + 33 14 411 32 22, www.petrossian.fr, email@example.com).
Philippe Vanlacker described the types of caviar before we tasted them
On a cloudy spring morning we made our way, braving streets filled with protesters and police, to the Petrossian shop in the city's Latin Quarter, where we sampled various products. Philippe Vanlacker, a friendly English speaking staff person, welcomed us and facilitated the caviar, Royal Salmon, and Kamtchatka Crab tasting. We liked that the only added ingredient was sea salt. There were no preservatives or additives, according to a spokesperson.
A kilogram of fine caviar
The caviar we tried, made from fish eggs and sea salt only, came from China, France, Israel, United States, and Bulgaria. The farmed salmon was from Scotland and the crab, previously frozen, was from Russia. The shop, about 600 square feet in size and staffed by eight people, appeared to be mostly for takeout purchases although it also had a few tables and a limited menu for customers wishing to have a light dish onsite. Our entire tasting was conducted while we stood facing the waist high counters without beverages of any kind.
The interior of the shop
When we asked about the advantages of a store tasting a spokesperson explained by email, “When somedy (somebody) bring caviar home, it means that the man or the woman wants to seduce his/her partner or guest. But most of the time, he/she doesn’t know if they will like it. When they taste in the boutique, the can choose the caviar they have prefered (preferred) because they can taste differents (different) caviars. This is the big difference between internet, the others caviar houses and Petrossian: it’s the only place where you can taste the caviar before buying it.”
There were gift packages to accompany the caviar
Established in 1920 the shop draws local and international visitors the staff explained, saying that many people visit the boutique like a museum and stop to take photos. Some of the staff, including Joseph, Lorna and the owners, have been there for more than 30 years. Everything in the boutique is homemade and fresh, a spokesperson explained by email, adding, “Tourist come from all around the world because they know Petrossian. They want to bring back home a little souvenir, a little gift, and most of the time, they choose caviar because we offer them a cool bag with dry ice inside and they can travel with it.”
The staff person selected a single bite for our tasting from four caviar varieties sold in the metal containers pictured above
We liked the opportunity to sample the delicate products with the guidance of experts so that the caviar we tasted was at just the right temperature and optimum conditions. Too warm and the flavor is spoiled, too cold and it fades, the shop employee explained. The ideal temperature to taste caviar is between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius, he said. Being able to compare and contrast the nuances from one type of caviar to the other was an added advantage as it allowed us to form an opinion from the single tasting serving without having to purchase and prepare a tasting at home.
Cécile Petrossian supervised the tasting
We began the gourmet experience, under the supervision of Cécile Petrossian, Armen Petrossian's gracious and elegantly attired wife, with caviar. While we watched our host pulled out tins from the glass counter before us, explaining the basics about the caviar, which was between eight and twelve months old. He used a special key to open the large cans such as a two kilo Ossetra Reserve container filled with plump sturgeon eggs he showed us before retrieving our sample from a small tin. Philippe handed each of us one serving of several types of fish eggs on disposable wood sticks, explaining wood and mother of pearl are commonly used to avoid distorting the delicate flavor with metal spoons. We were surprised at the slight variations in color, texture and taste of the caviar samples, light and smooth yet each with a distinct characteristic. One was dark, almost black with a hint of fish and salt. The Ossetra Reserve was dark gold and more defined. The Ossetra Impérial eggs were firmer than the Ossetra Reserve with a more pronounced flavor. And the final sample, also with a gold hue, reminded me of the sea yet had a fattier yet subtle taste.
Phillipe displayed a smoked salmon chunk before slicing a sliver for our tasting
At the conclusion of the caviar sampling, we crossed to the opposite end of the shop to the salmon counter, where we sampled several flavors such as Caucasienne, Nature, and Bettrave. All were buttery in texture and seemed to melt in the mouth. Philippe explained their salmon was smoked and aged hanging so the excess fat could drip naturally and allow the remaining flavor enhancing fat to cling to the fish, lending it a rich yet understated taste and texture. We sampled the salmon "tenderloin" in three flavors. The Nature salmon was just that natural. The Caucasienne was prepared with a rub of 12 spices. And the Bettrave was colored with beetroot juice, which made it look like raw tuna. To crown the experience Philippe handed us a bite of Kamtchatka Crab followed by a dollop of the house tarama (fish egg spread).
Several varieties of salmon, some with special marinades like beet root
There were prepared specialty foods
We liked the shop's caviar and salmon selection and expertise and will recommend it to friends wishing to taste the specialty foods in a gourmet environment. The staff's warm service in English enhanced the experience and would draw us back easily.
Article and photos by Scott S. Smith
The Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch, built as a courthouse and police station in 1903, was recently restored and opened as a hotel.
In September 2016, just four months after its soft opening and while it was still adding features and functions, my wife, Sandra, and I spent two nights at the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch (337 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LL, United Kingdom, +44 203 3105555, www.shoreditch.courthouse-hotel.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) on the cusp of northeast London, United Kingdom. The hotel, the sister property of the five-star Courthouse Hotel in Soho, was established in the former Old Street Magistrates' Court and Police Station (1903-96), a few blocks from the Old Street Station of the Northern Line of the Tube (subway).
The lobby with the statue of a British guard at the top of the stairs
The restoration of the Baroque-style courthouse and station cost £40 million (about $64 million). The lobby provided an impressive welcome with its marble floor, grand stairway guarded by a golden statue of a soldier, and a clean and sparkling redesign. Although top hotels usually have employees eager to help, the ones we encountered at Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch were exceptional in their friendliness and helpfulness. Although we arrived early in the morning expecting to leave our luggage with the concierge while we headed to the Tower of London, our room was ready and our first requests received immediate response.
We liked that the multi-lingual staff provided an overview tour of the facilities, and after we returned there was a more in-depth one. Not everything was fully functioning: the main restaurant was due to open soon, spa services were limited, and Internet access was available only at the front desk until the business center opens. We like to experience the emerging hot properties before everyone else discovers them, so the stay was to our taste.
From our sixth floor we looked out over the rooftop dining area and the historic Shoreditch Town Hall across the street, housing restaurants and a theater at the time of our visit.
Our sixth floor room looked out over the outdoor dining area on the fifth floor roof, directly across from the Shoreditch Town Hall, built in 1866 as a vestry, a building attached to a church used to store vestments and liturgical objects, with halls in which church and public meetings can be held. In 1888, it was the site of the inquest into the murder of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim. The following year, the suburb was incorporated into the county of London, and in 1899 it became a metropolitan borough of London, with the town hall in operation until 1965, when the area was incorporated into the Hackney Borough. Shoreditch had been popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as a place for theaters, gambling dens, taverns, and brothels. When we were in London it had an edgy hipster reputation with abundant street art, galleries, nightclubs, and restaurants (the former town hall had some activities on offer, as well as a theater and event space. For more, check out the Top 10 Things To Do in Shoreditch (theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/top-10-things-to-do-see-in-shoreditch/). Past area residents have included the playwright Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare’s lead actor Richard Burbage, who is buried in the church. More recent ones have been artist Damien Hirst and actor Richard Brand.
The Dalston King room was 26 square meters in size and had a comfortable bed.
We stayed in a Dalston King room, the first of three types of 86 guestrooms (the others were Magistrate King and Xscape). At 26 square meters (280 square feet), our room provided enough of space for the two of us. The bed was comfortable enough; though we prefer a slightly softer mattress and pillow, we slept soundly, which was all that mattered to us. Despite the nightlife in the area, our room was free of street level noise (finding a hotel in a quiet area has proven difficult in central London in the past). The insulation was also enough to keep us from being bothered by neighbors.
The best in-room feature was the Samsung 46 inch flatscreen hi-definition LED TV. It was larger than those at the other three hotels where we stayed and the only one that offered CNN. The television remote wasn’t responding, but that was a good test of the service: we called twice and had immediate responses. The first time the front desk sent someone who moved some wires in the back, which worked for a while. The second time, two technicians spent half an hour to provide a permanent fix. We also heard good things about responsiveness from other guests.
Our room had a desk and a table with chairs, plus bottles of sparkling and still water (other hotels provided two carbonated ones, so it was nice to have a choice). The small refrigerator was not yet being stocked as a mini-bar. We appreciated the fresh cream and good grade of instant coffee. The room had the usual upscale amenities, such as an iron and board, robe and slippers, and safe. Something we had never seen before was hangers with built-in lights so that at night or early in the morning we could see our clothes. We appreciated having a window that opened for fresh air (something top urban hotels sometimes lack), and we also liked the easy-to-use temperature controls. There was turn down service at night, but we declined.
The bathroom had a bidet, the first we have seen in a luxury hotel.
We’ve reviewed many leading hotels and don’t ever recall one that had a bidet, evidence of management’s interest in attracting the international audience that shares French culture. We wanted to know how it worked. Although the drain was stuck it was fixed right away. The phone by the toilet was well-positioned. The counter space for makeup was larger than many hotels where we have stayed, but the lighting on the makeup mirror and overhead wasn’t as bright as it ideally should be (a weak area for even the best hotels). The shower had two nozzles that were easy to use: the standard showerhead and one for the overhead rain effect, which was pleasant.
The bar had semi-private rooms that formerly were jail cells.
The hotel retained some of the architectural features of the original building. In the breakfast dining room we saw signs of its use as a law library. The bar had several semi-private 5 by 15-foot rooms with reinforced metal doors. Those were originally holding cells which hosted the likes of East London gangster twins Ronnie and Reginald Kray.
The hotel had a large, heated indoor pool.
There was a small gym with equipment for cross-training, cycling, and weightlifting and a four-lane heated indoor pool with current. Like the original Courthouse, the hotel had two rare features, a private movie theater with capacity for 196, including armrests and foldout tables for a planned film club, as well as a two-lane bowling alley. Bowling was one of those sports the city people came out to Shoreditch to engage in hundreds of years ago, so it was fitting for the location.
The movie theater
The bowling alley fit in with Shoreditch's history.
We liked the unusual features of the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch and the responsiveness of the staff. When it is fully functioning I would consider it among my top five choices for a different hotel experience on a return trip to London.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Fontainebleau Castle from the gate
During a spring trip to Paris, France we visited the nearby town of Fontainebleau, in the Seine-et-Marne Department (www.turisme77.co.uk and www.paris-whatelse.com), known for its former royal residence and forest. There was too much to see in one day so we spent the night at La Demeure du Parc, a boutique hotel established in late 2015 that was conveniently located within easy walking distance from Fontainebleau Castle.
During our tour we walked past one of the water fountains named for Diana
Since our time was short and it was our first visit to the area we took advantage of the opportunity of a guided tour in English. We met Véronique Villalba (email@example.com), our licensed guide, at 10 a.m. in front of the castle for Les Grands Appartements Tour, a private two-hour visit of Fontainebleau. A graduate of the University of Nanterre specializing in art history she had 10 years of experience as a guide. It was her friendly demeanor and passion for history that brought the former castle stories to life and made our morning activity memorable.
The interior design varied according to the time period of construction.
When I asked her why the historic attraction was special she explained that it was the sole castle that housed French kings for more than eight centuries (taking into account an interruption due to the Hundred Years' War). In contrast, she explained, Versailles only served that purpose for four centuries and the Louvre had only become a royal home 650 years earlier.
One of the characteristics worth noting was that the castle retained period furniture
Fontainebleau Castle, established circa 1137, was large. The fortified complex occupied 46,500 square meters of space in 13 floors, which included 1,536 rooms. Of those, 6,000 square meters were open to the public. It had 130 hectares of parks and gardens with 42,500 plants, and employed 135 staff. Despite the chilly and rainy weather we encountered it was by no means devoid of visitors. On the plus side, with only 470,000 visitors in 2015 it was a much more serene attraction than the Louvre or Versailles, both of which had millions of visitors a year each.
The Grand Salon de l'Imperatrice
The attraction itself was made up of a hodgepodge of buildings, improved and modified on the whims and budget strings of its powerful owners over the years. Despite our brief visit we toured interior and exterior areas. That the interior rooms were frequently furnished with original pieces, she explained, lent the castle a notable ambiance absent in other castles and palaces where the furniture and art had been sold years earlier.
The Chapelle de la Trinité
We visited the Royal apartments, Renaissance Rooms, one of Marie Antoinette's Boudoirs, Francis I Gallery, Galerie de Diane, Chapel of the Trinity, Chapelle basse Saint-Saturnin (only the upper level). We saw many of the masterpieces: The Duke of Orléans Commemorative Wedding Cabinet, Charlemagne in the Guise of Henry IV (in the Chapelle de la Trinité), The Royal Elephant (in the Galerie François Ier), Alexander Taming Bucephalus (in the Galerie François Ier), Odyssey Cabinet (in the Ancienne Chambre de la Reine), Beneman Commode (in la Nouvelle Chambre de la Reine), Marie Antoinette’s Bed, Napoleon’s Throne. Outside we walked through or caught a glimpse of its gardens and courtyards (sometimes from a distance): Cour Ovale, Cour de la Fontaine Cour d’Honneur, Cour des Offices, Grand Parterre (created by André Le Nôtre and Louis Le Vau and said to be Louis XIV’s greatest architectural achievement at Fontainebleau), Jardin Anglais, Jardin de Diane, Grotte des Pins, Pavillion de l’Étang, and Park. Should I return to Fontainebleau I would enjoy another visit to the castle, especially in the company of Véronique Villalba, for further discovery and leisurely exploration, including time in its gardens if the weather is clear.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The front of Atelier Maitre Albert Restaurant avec Guy Savoy
Despite its reputation as a culinary capital Paris, France is one of those cities where picking a restaurant at random may result in a memorable find or a disaster, and the price difference might be negligible. The more touristy the area the greater the chances of disappointment, so as a general rule I make a point of not going to unfamiliar restaurants in zones popular among visitors, especially in the vicinity of tourist magnets such as the Latin Quarter, Le Marais, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and Eiffel Tower, for example.
Our light bites as amouse bouche
One way to reduce the chances of a less than stellar expensive meal is to sample restaurants owned by or part of the portfolio of a well known chef. This has been particularly true when I have sampled the cuisine at one of the restaurants already. Such was the case of the Atelier Maître Albert (1, rue Maître Albert, 75005 Paris, France, + 33 1 56 81 30 01, fax +33 1 53 10 83 23, www.ateliermaitrealbert.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), part of the Guy Savoy food constellation. Prior to going there I had dined at Guy Savoy's eponymous gourmet restaurant as well as Les Bouquinistes (see Latin Quarter restaurant nice neighborhood option) and Le Chiberta (see Le Chiberta, a restaurant find near the Champs Elysees), and had sampled the products of his new bakery outlet specializing in brioche. Most of those experiences had been rewarding so I was confident my meal at the Atelier Maitre Albert would also be worthwhile.
The menu was posted outside
Located at the beginning of a narrow street in the Left Bank across the Seine River from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral the restaurant was a pleasant surprise because while I had walked the neighborhood countless times I had no idea the restaurant was on that street, a 10 minute walk from my central accommodations. Except for the famed chef's name on the exterior wall, the modern facade revealed little of the restaurant's ambiance or its high quality comfort food.
Our seats were next to a large fireplace
As soon as we entered a young man with hip bleached blond hair welcomed us warmly. Moments later, after handing over our rain gear, we were seated in armless chairs next to the unlit fireplace in the restaurant's ground floor dining room. From our seats we had a generous view of the entire dining area and across to the open kitchen and its grills. There was also window side dining near the entrance with views of the street.
Paintings from the old Guy Savoy restaurant hung at Atelier Marie Albert
It took a few moments for our eyes to adjust from the bright midday exterior sunlight to the low ambient light indoors. The first decorative features we noticed were the familiar colorful clown themed paintings hanging on the back wall. Previous to that day we had last seen them at the Guy Savoy main restaurant. Since the restaurant had moved nearby and been redecorated the paintings had been transferred to their new home. Other salient decorative features were sleet gray marble tile, exposed beams, stone walls and track lights. It was pleasantly serene without being too quiet.
Artichoke soup and brioche from the Guy Savoy bakery
With our friendly English speaking waiter's help we made our selections from the menu including a glass of wine to match our choices. We both had the Velouté de l'Atelier "en verseurse," a light artichoke soup brought to the table in a pitcher and served with brioche. It reminded me of a similar soup I had tasted at the chef's gourmet restaurant. For mains, my lunch partner had the Volaille fermiére du Maine (a quarter chicken portion) for one, a free range spit-roasted fowl dish with a side of mashed potatoes. He ordered a light white from the Pays d'Oc on our server's advice.
Special ribs still on the bone
At my request the chef served the pork ribs deboned and sliced
I had Travers de porc "marinés," marinated pork ribs and a side of Gratin d'épinards champignons (mushroom and spinach gratin). The gratin was a favorite. Both mains were moist and tender with a broth like flavorful sauce. At my request, the kitchen staff had removed the bone from my ribs so they were ready to eat when they were served, although the server was kind enough to show us the ribs before they were deboned. I had a red from Bordeaux. For dessert, I had the Choco pralin-feuilleté, anglais-chicoré, two slabs of dark chocolate and crispy praline with a small dark chocolate ice cream ball.
The chicken was served with a broth like sauce
The chocolate dessertOverall, our comfort food style lunch experience was outstanding. Kudos to Guy Savoy and his collaborators Emmanuel Monsailler, chef, and Laurent Jacquet, manager and their staff. From the soup and salami amouse bouche to the dessert we enjoyed all our courses. The dishes were perfectly prepared and worth repeating. The service was attentive, helpful and friendly. As a bonus, the restaurant was in a central location and convenient to visitors and residents within and near the Latin Quarter. What more could we ask from a neighborhood restaurant?
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel
While visiting the Black Forest Highlands of southwest Germany we spent two spring weekend nights at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel, part of the Romantic Hotel Group since 2002. The hotel was on the shores of Lake Titisee in the tourist village of Titisee-Neustad 850 meters above sea level. The main highlight of our lakefront Four Star Superior accommodations, 38 kilometers from Freiburg, was the lake view. We could catch a glimpse of the natural lake from the restaurant dining room, our 27 square meter Classic Double rooms and Titinova, the pool and sauna areas on the opposite side of the hotel.
The weather was cloudy and rainy during most of our stay
A view of the hotel from Lake Titisee
We experienced rainy and chilly weather for virtually our entire stay. From the sunny blue sky we saw briefly one afternoon to the thunderstorm that serenaded us at dinner and the gray fog enveloping the lake the morning of our departure the lake drew my eyes whenever I was near a window. I loved the lake greenery. Lake Titisee, our tour guide explained, was free from over development, and thanks to a ban on motorboats (only rowboats and electric boats were permitted), especially clean. One of my favorite moments was Saturday night, when from the comfort of my balcony, I watched a short fireworks display from a boat in front of the hotel, part of a wedding celebration taking place onsite.
Our Classic Double Rooms had a small balcony and a view of the lake
Marion Moninger, marketing manager, and Michael Moninger, hotel manager
The family hotel, the Hansjörg Trescher Michael Moninger families owned the property, was established in 1887. Although pets were not allowed, children of all ages were welcome. There were many families with well behaved children during our stay. There was a collection of valuable mechanical clocks in the lobby and lounge. I appreciated that some of the reception desk and restaurant staff spoke English. Many staff members were friendly and service oriented, especially our servers, such as Maike, at dinner.
The bathrooms were modern
To reach our rooms, 109 and 119, from the reception and lobby we had to pass through an open style restaurant facing the lake. It was there that we had the buffet breakfast between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. a la carte dinner between 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Lingering food odors, some of them stale, assaulted my nose as soon as we approached the restaurant entrance. The pungent food smells in the main building and restaurant hung in the air at all hours, reaching into the hallways and rooms of our building. It was unpleasant and disappointing, making it challenging to enjoy our time at the property.
The sauna's central area
The Himalayan Salt Sauna was a favorite
Hotel facilities included three restaurants (two open during our stay) that emphasized fresh seasonal products and sourced most produce locally, according to a property spokesperson. There were also: Flaschlehimmel piano lounge, fireplace bar, terrace overlooking the lake, Bellezza Beauty Spa, 72 square meter fitness room (with eight Life Fitness, Kettler and Germania machines), indoor and outdoor pools, Finnish sauna with a panoramic view of the Bärental, steam sauna, Himalayan-Salt Sauna, infra-red twin cabin, plunge pool with a waterfall Kneipp Treatment, gift shop and beer garden.
The indoor pool had two levels of seating
The pool bar
Given the foul weather a spa visit was especially in order. Although the hotel spa was fully booked, with the owner's assistance, I managed to try the San Vino Facial, one of the facility's signature wine based treatments. My visit was not without challenges as the spa menu was only available in German and the hurried woman at the spa reception spoke no English and showed no signs of wanting to try. On the plus side, my facialist was friendly and welcoming and I enjoyed the gentle treatment.
My therapist was friendly and the treatment was worthwhile
The entrance to the spa featured a display promoting the local wine facial treatment
After making sure I was comfortable, she began the treatment by rubbing a mix of shea butter and grapeseed oil on my hands. She used a cleansing milk and tepid water to prepare my face for the facial, which began with a peeling product. While the mask hardened she massaged my feet. After removing the mask with a warm liquid that smelled of vinegar she applied a day cream followed by eye cream, which for once didn't irritate my eyes.
A deli plate including black forest ham and boiled egg was one of my favorite items
Trout with vegetables
Before dinner at the waterfront restaurant, I donned the hotel branded cotton bathrobe and slippers from my room making my way across a long underground passage with automated lights beneath the restaurant to the Titinova on the other side of the hotel, where I spent a short while at the indoor pool, warmed to 31 degrees Celsius, and sauna area. Both had pretty lake views. In the sauna, for adults and children 14 and older, no clothes were worn. There was an ample supply of towels. I started at the Himalayan salt sauna (a favorite) heated to 45 degrees Celsius before moving to the infrared sauna for two heated to 55 degrees Celsius. From there I went to the Finnish sauna, heated to 95 degrees Celsius, before spending a few minutes relaxing on a lake facing lounger. Both had lake views. It was raining and chilly so I gave up my plans to swim in the outdoor pool.
The hotel employed 120 staff and had 155 beds in 82 rooms ranging from Classic to Family Apartments. In June 2016, the property received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Should we return to Lake Titisee we would consider a stopover at the Treschers Schwarzwald Romantikhotel Titisee (Seestrasse 19, D-79822 Titisee-Neustadt, Germany, +49 7651 8050 / +49 7651 8116, http://www.schwarzwaldhotel-trescher.de, email@example.com).