London, Goodwood, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice and Paris

Here’s a recap on my latest journey.

Tuesday, London

London’s becoming a regular destination for me, whether for a theater run or as a stopover on my way somewhere else. This time I’m meeting close friend Gary Conrad, who took his 11-year-old Philadelphia grandson Owen Conrad on a four-day see-everything trip to London. And by “see everything,” I mean it. Gary has recounted the amazing list of sites and experiences he shared with Owen. and it was impressive. When I arrive, Gary has deposited Owen on American Airlines for a solo flight back to Philadelphia using American’s unaccompanied minor program. Now he has to put up with me for four days.

Unlike New York, where I’ve kept count of the number of hotels I’ve stayed at (I’m up to an amazing 81), I’m not sure of the number in London…probably around 30. This time I’m staying at The Goring, where the Middletons and their family and friends and townfolk were lodged during William and Kate’s wedding. While you maybe wouldn’t describe it as luxurious, an accurate capsule description would probably include the words elegant, stylish, polished. (It’s a place Alison would like a lot.) I booked the cheapest room in the house and it was spacious and comfortable, my street exposure bright and airy, the decor traditional but fresh and colorful. The lobby is somewhat ordinary, but the bar is very nice (and popular). When Gary and I meet for a drink, all of the tables in the bar are “Reserved”. At first the host insists on sitting Gary and me outside on the far corner of the lawn, but as soon as he realizes I’m a “resident” one of the reserved tables magically became available and we have a drink. Sounds slightly snobby and unwelcoming, but I think it was just one of the facts of life at the Goring. Overall I really liked the place and recommend it.

That evening we go to a play in Southwark (pronounced “Suth-ark”), London’s trendy neighborhood across the Thames near Southbank. We saw a play called “Sunset at the Villa Thalis”, about a loud, pushy, rarher obnoxious American couple who invite themselves to a villa in Greece rented by an English couple Terrific dialogue if you enjoy Americans being mocked. Very, very good first act, the second act not as cogent or entertaining. But we agree we liked it and we’re glad we went. Dinner afterward was at The Wolesley, a place Alison and I went during our last trip to London and which continues to win raves as one of London’s hottest restaurants (GQ rates it #1). Great menu, good food, the best table in the house. Loved it.

Wednesday, Chichester

We train down ninety miles southeast of London to Chichester in the morning, then check into the Chichester Park, a 3-star property that we are forced to stay in after the Goodwood Hotel cancelled all reservations since the Qatar folks, sponsors of Glorious Goodwood, insisted on taking over the entire hotel. There apparently is quite a furor over this by the longtime Goodwood Hotel regulars who had been going there for years, and then even more furor when it turns out that not all of the rooms of the hotel are filled by the Qatar guests. The Chichester Park is a cheaply built ‘50s English quasi-country hotel– a dull, bland place (at least it’s clean) occupied by a fair number of t-shirts and tattoos.

At all of our events during Glorious Goodwood, we are picked up by taxi, all of which I prearranged due to our extreme difficulty in getting cabs on short notice last year. This year we have friendly, courteous drivers who are always on time, while others we meet are being told “no taxis until midnight”.

Out at the Goodwood Racecourse, we enjoyed the rather extravagantly priced 90-GBP three-course luncheon at the Sussex Bistro, which provides Gary with a look at the “better” English people. We spend another 40 GBP on admission to the Gordon Enclosure, the “middle class” section of the grandstand where you climb a steep flight of stairs to your seating area and fight for a seat before each race. At least you’re sitting rather than standing all day. The racing turns out to be good, with the featured turf mile $1M GBP Sussex Stakes won by The Gurkha, a horse with part-American ownership that might be brought to the U.S. for the Breeders Cup Turf Mile. Betting-wise, the day was mostly a loser for both of us until I score with a $140 winner in the last race.

Dinner was had at a deserted restaurant in the town of Chichester (for some mysterious reason the entire town was deserted…right in the town’s busiest season…no explanation) chosen by EnglishmanTipster/Journalist friend Neil Morrice, who was accompanied this year not by his omnivorous buddy Angus, but by “Jerry”, a former 15-year professional soccer player in the English Premier League, generally regarded as the world’s best. Alas for Jerry, the Premier League didn’t land a big TV contract until the year after he retired, so he never really cashed in on his sports stardom. We had a great time, and it turns out the food at the “restaurant with almost no customers” was really good.

Thursday, Chichester

Day Two at Goodwood starts out with a gorgeous blue sky and slowly degenerates into a weather disaster. The largest crowd of the year has come ready for the party of the year, gaily spread out on the back lawn and the paddock enclosure seating areas.

Suddenly, dark clouds creep ominously toward the racecourse, eventually producing a steady drizzle followed by rain followed by an all-encompassing fog that made it impossible to see the horses circling the course, leaving the huge crowd with nothing more than the announcer’s call. Even the track announcer demurred at times. making it clear to the audience that he often had no idea which horses were where. Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of smartly dressed patrons who had assembled this Ladies Day, the dressiest day of the meet, were packed together inside the humid grandstand interiors , milling around and bumping into one another and spilling beers and drinks on each other. All the while, Gary and I, who had purchased seats in the Richmond Enclosure, the upper class potion of the venue, sat high and dry with a finish line view (at least we could see the closing seconds of each race) and having a very successful betting day, cashing four winners in the first five races.

That evening we travelled out to a classic countryside pub called The Fox Goes Free, which has become a go-to après race destination in West Sussex, where we had drinks out in the backyard and a delicious dinner.

Friday, London

We have to hustle this morning, taking an early train back up to Victoria Station, then heading over to the Chesterfield Mayfair to check in, then rushing over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for the matinee performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which in all actuality turned out to be A Midsummer Day’s Nighmare. I’ve been to London maybe thirty times, go to all kinds of sites and events and theater productions and this ranks as the absolute worst thing I’ve ever done in that city. The Globe, which was reconstructed by wealthy American donors, the Philadelphia Wanamakers, an attempt at a replication of the original, with a large open space for “groundlings” (who have to stand for the entire ordeal) and ringed by three tiers of cramped wooden benches (one of their most lucrative concessions is the rental of seat cushions and seatbacks). The performers are the most amateurish of amateurs, pratfalling and mugging their way through scene after scene, their diction unintelligible, their dancing (yes, there are repeated choreographic episodes inserted into the Shakespeare classic) was dreadful, their acting awful, their humor humorless (although some patrons inexplicably laughed from time to time). Luckily I had brought along a sweater and a jacket, which I converted into a makeshift cushion, but even that double layer of padding couldn’t alleviate the numbness of my rear end as the first act dragged on and on and on. There is no second act, at least not for us, as we instead opt to walk along the banks of the Thames (where Gary runs into one of his Pasadena cardiology patients) for the next hour.

The evening’s scheduled event is to be a performance by a classical (or so we thought) guitarist from Denmark at the Italian restaurant inside the Royal Albert Hall. Turns out he is a jazz guitarist accompanied by a heavy-handed piano player who drowns out much of the guitar music with his frenetic, over-eager imitation of Dizzy Gillespie. As mentioned, the performance was given inside a section of Verdi, the hall’s restaurant, and a crowd of about 40 jazz enthusiasts were gathered in the room. The guitarist struggled to be heard over the soundings of the piano player and the clatter of glasses and plates as the audience ate their dinners. Gary and I end up seated next to a Jazz vocalist and the violinist partner who bob their hears and wiggle their shoulders to the jazz beat. We eventually engage them in conversation during the breaks and enjoy their company (although not so much that we stay for the entire performance. It was starting to get late and cutting into our pub time.)

Saturday, Nice, France

Saturday was to be a day of surprises. Gary departs early that morning to catch his flight to Philadelphia on his way to L.A., so I take the opportunity to sleep in the first time on the trip. In the afternoon, I fly from Gatwick to Nice, where I am planning to attend the races at a small track called Gagne Sur Mer. I’d been dreaming of visiting this track for years, and planning it for months. Cagne Sur Mer…the name conjures up images of men in seersucker suits and white hats, in the company of beautiful young blond women in flowing dresses and wearing elaborate hats or fascinators, all just off their yachts or away from their villas on the Riviera. Names can be deceiving.

Surprise No. 1 on this Saturday appears when I arrive at my hotel, the 5-star Boscolo Exedra, only to discover that it sits in front of two blocks of construction fencing. Inside I can see monstrous digging equipment and construction supplies. Turns out that the City of Nice is building a new subway from the Port to the airport, and the current jobsite is right in front of my hotel. Fortunately my stay will be for Saturday and Sunday nights, so there will be no construction activity over the weekend. But still, what an eyesore.

The Boscolo Exedra is a gorgeous hotel, all brilliant white inside, minimalist except for the enormous nude on the main wall in the lobby. The theme is carried over to the rooms, which are impressively large, with a low-slung white king bed floating in a sea of white carpet, white desk, white bath…you get the idea. They have me on the Fourth Floor in the front, directly over the construction site. Normally the scene outside would have immediately disqualified the room, but somehow the room’s ambiance is so soft and lovely that it cancels out the distraction outside, so I settled in.

One of my (many) quirks is that I like…read need…to have a small electric fan in my room, not for coolness, but for “white noise”. The pleasant hum eliminates the stark stillness of a completely silent room and sings me to sleep. Virtually every hotel I stay in is able to accommodate this request, so I asked the front desk attendants, twice, to arrange for Housekeeping to put a fan in my room.

On my way back from the front desk, I stop by the Concierge Desk to check on my arrangements for the next day at Cagne Sur Mer… transportation, my reservation at the posh Le Paddock restaurant, etc.

Time for Surprise No. 2. “Tomorrow’s racing has been cancelled,” says the Concierge. What!!!? I’ve travelled halfway around the word to go to this track and now there’s not going to be racing there? I asked the Concierge to call the track to double-check. “No racing tomorrow. He continues: “They are racing tonight at 8:30.” Tonight? It’s 7:00 P.M., but I’ve got time to run upstairs and change, catch a train over to the bucolic town of Cagne Sur Mer, take a taxi to the track and be there in time for the first. So off I go.

I get to the train station at 7:45, catch a train that will get me to Cagne in 18 minutes, and everything will work out. I have negative vibes as the train pulled out of Nice Ville. Along the way are the suburbs of Nice, containing those dreadful projects that in France produce the terrorists who feel they have no place in French society. Out the window I see endless graffiti and laundry hanging from grubby apartment back porches, a scene reminiscent of the old South Bronx. As we get within five minutes out of Cagne, I begin to wonder: how much is this scene going to change in five minutes? Answer: it doesn’t. I disembark at Cagne to find a worn-out town with quite unattractive residents. Worse, a town with no taxis. So, map in hand, I hoof it over to the track, a mile to the track’s outer entrance, then another kilometer from the outer entrance to the ticket booth. A half hour wasted. Oh, well, at least I make it in time for the second race. I enter through the gate and go through the clubhouse and out onto the track, where I see…well, I see Surprise No. 3…


Trotters!!!!!!!!! Trotters!!!!!!!! I hate trotters!!!!!!!!! It’s against my racing religion to watch, much less bet on, the trotters. I abandon my principles. I’ve come all this way and endured the rush over here, so I might as well stay and get as much out of the experience as I can.

The Cagne Sur Mer racetrack, more formally known as the Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur is not much to look at, although maybe in the daytime it looks a little better. It is, in fact, right on the sea, which one can see from the upstairs seats and restaurants, but the grandstand and racecourse themselves are very homely, reminiscent of a fairgrounds track in California. In the end I stay for three of the remaining six races, lose thirty Euros, have dinner not in Le Paddock restaurant but at a food stand specializing in Merguez sausages, drink a couple of Carling beers, and wave goodbye.

Back at the hotel , Surprise No. 4 arrives. When I check my email, I am advised by Air France that various of their crews are commencing a five-day strike and that my flight from Nice to Paris has been cancelled. There is, however, an alternative. There’s one flight later in the afternoon that will be going, but the fare is 475 Euros. Or, if I decide to take a train or bus, they’ll reimburse me up to 120 Euros. The train it will be.

Still another surprise. No fan in my room. I walk downstairs and talk to Lorenzo, the night manager, who to his enormous credit, arranges to get a fan for me. At midnight! Borrowing it from one of the hotel’s housekeepers! Exceptional service from the kind of employee every hotel should cherish. I plan to write the hotel’s CEO.

Sunday, Nice

In the morning I walk back over to the train station to buy my ticket. Obviously a lot of Air France flyers have received the same message, because the waiting time in line will be about an hour. A kind woman helps me use the machine, which knows only French. I can get a 1st Class ticket ton the TGV to Paris for 167 Euros if I’m willing to leave at 7:03 a.m. I book it.

So, with no racing on the schedule, what am I going to do for a day in Nice? It’s a gorgeous blue-sky day, albeit very hot and somewhat humid, so the logical thing to do is to go down to the waterfront, along the beautiful Prominade des Anglais (where the terrorist mowed down the crowd on Bastille Day). Now lining the road are short, thick metal poles that have been installed to safeguard the sidewalk pedestrians against similar catastrophes.

At the beach it’s a dream day. Perfect azure sky. Nice breeze. Not that the beach itself is much of a dream, because it’s not a sandy beach, but one made of stone pebbles, some pretty large. Sunbathing on this beach requires a pretty thick beach towel, maybe two thick beach towels if you’re that girl sunbathing topless atop this rocky bed.

A young Russian couple at the hotel tells me about a hamburger restaurant I MUST try. The TRYBurger. So on my way to Nice’s Old Town, I “try” it .It’s one of those gourmet burger places founded by a former 2-Star Michelin chef who adorns his burger with foie gras and bacon and charges 22 Euros. Rating? Average.

The day gets hotter so I decide to go to a movie…something I love to do in Europe. The Concierge advises that there are no English-language films unless I want to take a train 30 minutes away. Sorry. I opt for the French version of the apocalyptic “Independence Day II,” which I can’t fully comprehend, although I would caution you that if you are planning a visit to Hong Kong, London or Washington, DC, forget about it. They’re all totally destroyed.

Monday, Paris

The five-and a-half hour TVG train ride from Nice to Paris traverses the French Riviera for about 70 miles until it turns north toward Paris. It’s a beautiful ride.

In Paris I’m lucky enough to have a certificate from Leading Hotels of the World for a free night at the Hotel Bristol, where, despite the fact that I’m a freebie, they treat me royally, giving me a huge room on the fourth floor overlooking their world-famous garden and comping me to a very nice bottle of Chablis. I’m going to treat this as a relaxing day, since (a) it’s August, when so many things in France are closed, and (b) it’s Monday, when so many things in Paris are closed. I take a stroll over to the newly opened Ritz, where Alison’s CEO group will be holding a get-together sometime in 2017 or 2018. The hotel’s group events manager gives me a tour of the property, including the various dining rooms and their very special backyard garden, then shows me a representative “Executive” room…very, very lovely, but a tad small for a room that costs 1,400 Euros a night. I spend the day walking around some of my favorite places in Paris, then veg out at my hotel enjoying the bottle of Chablis before going to a local brasserie for a dinner of l’entrecote and frites.

Tuesday, New York

An uneventful day. Fly from Paris to New York, where I am writing this and where I will go to a half-price TCKT play tonight, then fly home on Wednesday.


Paris, Bruges, and Brussels

Wednesday, April 16

Weather as good as it can be in the Spring in Paris. Perfect clear blue sky, crisp in the morning, light sweater weather in the afternoon.

This trip I’m staying at the Hotel Daniel, a Relais et Chateaux property on the Right Ban which falls under the category of “cozy” since the rooms are typical Paris tiny, all done in toile (I’ve been in two of them so far) and nicely furnished. The hotel’s public rooms aren’t spectacularly fancy like the other Relais hotel in Paris, the St. James, but there’s a subtle elegance to the place. Lots of English speakers here…my breakfast neighbors were from Australia, England and South Africa. The hotel is located among a tricky maze of little streets just a few blocks from the Champs Elyssee, but miles away in atmosphere.

Today’s main activity was travelling over to the 7th Arrondissement to look at the apartment building where AW and the girls will be staying in August/September. It’s located at 91 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, a seven-story brick-and-limestone with a decent-size balcony on the seventh floor (where they’ll be staying) which will have a view of some very pretty buildings across the avenue and, as far as I could tell, the top portion of the Eiffel Tower, which is about three or blocks away. This is a residential street and neighborhood with only a relatively few shops on Avenue de la Bourdonnais (including two on the bottom floor of No. 91)– a great “walking neighborhood” since it’s filled with upscale buildings and pretty side streets and lots of mature trees. Two clocks away is a large park, the Champ de Mars, that sits between the Ecole Militaire and the Eiffel Tower. In the area is one major street,–Avenue Bosquet– and a warren of perfect Paris “neighborhood” streets—Rue de Grenelle and Rue Saint-Dominique are the stand outs– with cafes,, bakeries, butcher shops, florists, small grocers restaurants (if you’re into pizza, you’ve come top the right place…there must be ten pizzerias within the immediate six-block area), with some semi-major supermarkets nearby. They’ll have a lovely time here.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I’m off to the races at Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne followed by the opera at Opera Bastille…a 6:00 p.m. (!) performance. (Oh well, I won’t fall asleep.) This evening over cocktails I’ve been studying my Paris-Turf, their version of the Daily Racing Form, and hope to win enough to pay for the damn opera tickets (Lynn Conrad, think I should bet on Superkate in the 5th?).

Thursday, Paris

Thursday afternoon, I navigated s complex combination of Metros and buses to go to the races at Longchamp Racecourse The home of the Arc d’ Triomphe, maybe Europe’s most famous horse race, Longchamp is something of a sad story, as it is becoming another of horse racing’s ghost towns. I would estimate that it could accommodate about 65,000. On the day I was there, I’d guestimate the crowd at eight or nine hundred. That’s even worse than Hollypark’s pathetic numbers and they closed that dump down. Sad, because it’s a pretty place, surrounded by a suburban forest, the track periphery featuring a giant windmill and an old medieval castle. I would imagine it recaptures its magic on Arc day.

I opened up the day with a nice winner—the only U.S.-bred horse in the race, owned by King Abdullah, whoever he is—who bested the favorite, another horse owned by the king. I had him Gagnant/Place (Win/Place) at 4-1, which covered my bets in the next two races, both losers. Then I proceeded to have a couple of just-misses in the next three, before leaving after the 6th because I had an opera at 6:00.

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Question of the day: Why would they start an opera at 6:00? (Answer below.)

I always like to go to Concerts/Opera/Ballet in European cities because the opera house is almost invariably the most beautiful place in town. In Paris I had planned to go to a gilded palace that Louis XIV might have attended, but it turned out that this evening’s performance was being held at the brand spanking new Bastille Opera, a stunning architectural gem and an acoustic wonder…the ceiling in this place had to be five or six stories high, but I could heard every word of the lovers’ laments in Tristan and Isolde (a little screen above the proscenium arch shows the libretto in both French and English, which has to infuriate the locals). It’s a huge edifice that probably seats two thousand, and a spectacular venue. (Note to Kathryn Winslow: the seat you got me was Row 26, Seat 12S. The “S” stands for Supplement, which means it’s not a real seat, but a fold-out job sort of like the sidecar on a motorcycle. A lot narrower than s real seat, and hard as stone.) While I was getting used to the sidecar, one of the ushers came into our midst and started saying something in French. All of a sudden a bunch of people near me got up and hustled down the steps toward the front. I didn’t know what she had said, but I wasn’t going to miss out if it was something good so I joined in. Turns out she was allowing people to move down to a lower row, and I was able to snag the last one on the aisle. A magnificent view, but sad to day, the owner of that seat showed up later and I had to go back to 12S.

This opera, Tristan and Isolde, is about an Irish maiden and a brave young warrior, a pair of lovers who had a whole lot of troubles, the biggest one apparently being that they fell in love. Trust me, the gal who sang the role of Isolde was no maiden. She could be an NFL lineman. The opus was composed by Richard Wagner (Hitler’s favorite, by the way), whose music is ponderous and dreary. I could just imagine the director of this production saying to himself: how am I going to hold the attention of two thousand people through this endless dirge? His solution? While the “older” T&I crooned back and forth onstage, the image of two actors representing their younger selves was projected up onto a movie-theater-size screen where the two of them slowly disrobed and appeared totally nude (we’re talkin’ frontal here) for the entire remainder of the first act. That sure got everyone’s attention!

At the time, however, I didn’t know it was just the First Act. After the duo onstage sang on forever and reached a crescendo, the curtain came down and the cast made several curtain calls to thunderous applause, after which everyone headed for the exits. Hoorah, I thought. Now I can get to dinner at that little place I’d checked out over near my hotel. But wait a minute. The people weren’t LEAVING. They were just drifting to the lobby, where they sipped flutes of champagne and ate little salmon sandwiches. This was only an Intermission! It was now 7:50. Act Two began at 8:10 and the thought hit me: I hadn’t had a thing to eat since a Croque Monsieur at the track, and at this rate I was going to starve. So a few minutes into Act Two I slipped out the back door and went outside to a fancy brasserie next door which featured a gorgeous raw bar, had a relaxing meal of Belon oysters and langoustines with a couple glasses of wine before racing back into the Opera House to catch Act Three. Big mistake. The singers wailed on ad infinitum about night being better than day and their tragic love affair, repeating themselves over and over, and seemingly never, ever ending.

Now, back to the original question: why would they start an opera at 6:00? BECAUSE THE DAMN THING WAS FIVE AND A HALF HOURS LONG!!! It was 11:25 when the final note was sung and the curtain came down. The end of an evening of torture.

* * * * *

The next morning, guess who was at the next table at breakfast at the hotel? None other than Omar Sharif, Dr. Z himself. Remember the scene in Zhivago when he sledded through the bitter cold snow and his hair and mustache and face were frosted white with snow and ice? Looks pretty much the same now.

* * * * *

But before saying farewell to Paris, a few random thoughts.

I’m beginning to think the French have gotten tired of being French. The popularity of things American and English (and Italian) is amazing.

Exhibit 1: Around the corner from my hotel is an English sports bar…The Bowler. Not only is the bar packed, there’s a crowd of a hundred standing out on the street outside the
My God, I realized…that wasn’t the end; this was just an Intermission! The patrons
place, quaffing pints and martinis. I listen to the conversations…they’re all speaking French! I had a beer there. They get $11 a beer.

Exhibit 2: I mentioned all the pizzerias over in the 7th . Well,, hordes of them around me, too. They created a new item…the Pizzetta…..a .little eight-incher that’s a lot like the ones at Blaze Pizza in Pasadena. (Only theirs are $16-$20.) Add all the pasta places and ristorantes and it’s actually not all that easy to find a French restaurant.

Exhibit 3: Language. I can’t ell you how many times I’ve sat next to a foursome of Frenchmen and heard them converse (partially, at least) in English. Case in point: at a trendy restaurant where there was a birthday celebration in progress and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” (in French), after which the honoree jumps up excitedly and exclaims (in English): “I love you guys!”

Exhibit 4: In my neighborhood there are dozens of great-looking cafes and bars…classic little places straight out of French movies. So what place is jammed to the gills day and night? You got it…Starbucks.

Exhibit 5: Art. At that same very trendy restaurant reference above, the portrait on the wall was of…the Godfather characters having dinner at a big table with the Soprano characters.

* * * * * *

The rest I’ll do in shorthand…

Friday, Bruges

Too Old To Go 2nd Class Dept.: Took the Thalys express train from Paris to Brussels 2d Class (I know how to save a buck!)… no problem…but on the leg from Brussels to Bruges, no seats due to the hordes heading there for the Easter weekend…that was me sitting on the floor out in the entranceway.

Bruges, one of the prettiest towns on earth, has unfortunately become just another tourist trap. Reminds me of my trip with Alison last fall to Quebec City, a place with great “bones” but ruined by T-shirt and souvenir shops and hustle-the-customer restaurants. My hotel was gorgeous, but Bruges is definitely a one-day place.

By the way, thinks the place is going to be dead on Good Friday? Think again. Bars and restaurants packed, music blasting. Traffic jammed. Highlight for me was a Good Friday night parade of about a thousand people carrying white crosses toward the town square; I figured why not and tagged along. My Flemish is a little weak, but I could understand the emotion behind their hymns. Realizing that this tradition probably went back around a thousand years, I was touched.

You are probably aware the Belgium is one of those “divided” countries a la Scotland v. England, Catalonia v. Spain, Quebec v. Canada, Ukraine v. Crimea, etc. where half the people don’t like speaking to the other. This is Flemish (Dutch) v. Walloon (French). Bruges is in Flanders, thus Flemish, the less prosperous of the two, although the people have to be among the nicest in the world.

* * * * *

Saturday/Sunday, Brussels

Hey, 2nd Class-Isn’t-So-Bad Dept.: Traveling on Saturday from Bruges to Brussels, no crowds. Plenty of seats. See, I know how to save a buck.

I’m staying at the Hotel Amigo, a Rocco Forte property. Rocco Forte, Sr. founded Trust House Forte, a European version of Holiday Inn. Rocco, Jr. took a different tack and set about to acquire old embassies and palaces through the Continent and turn them into always the best hotel in town. I’ve stayed at almost all of them in the collection and have loved them. This one, regrettably, falls slightly short of the mark. Rooms are small by Rocco standards and the décor is rather dull. A guy on the elevator actually stopped me to ask me how I liked my room. Good, not great, I said. He replied: I’m a Rocco Forte man, too, but this one sucks. It’s not all that bad.

Cased Brussels during the day. Dinner? The big rage here are Turkish and/or Greek kebob shops where they serve a Middle Eastern version of the burrito…a wrap with cucumbers, cabbage, vegetables, garlic sauce and some form of meat. The concierge directed me to Plaka up the block…he eats there at least once a week. Tried it…loved it. Then at night went to a jazz club down the street which came highly recommended by everyone at the concierge desk. Not usually my thing, but good quality music by very skilled musicians I liked it.

Sunday…Easter. Walked up the hill to the city’s famous antiques market, pretty much like any other flea market you’ve been to. Lovely day, as all of my days have been.

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Monday, London

Flew over this morning. Beautiful day in London. Glutton for punishment that I am, I’m going to try to go to La Traviata this evening. Want to see the Ruyal Opera House.