Friday, July 8, 2011

ANA Tokyo Fam 6-10 June, 2011

Continental Non-stop from Newark to Tokyo Narita

I flew over to Tokyo Narita on a Continental’s Boeing 777 in “BusinessFirst”. That class features comfortable “lay-flat” seats. I had my own little “pod” and felt very comfortable during the entire flight.  The “on board” service was excellent and began with beverage service while the other passengers were still boarding.  The entertainment system was also available for use during boarding.  I’m about 5’6” tall and felt very comfortable in the “lay flat” seat position. I usually sleep on my side and I was able to stretch out and get into all of my usual comfortable sleeping positions with ease.  I’m not certain if a much taller person would be equally as comfortable, but it seemed that I had approximately 6 extra inches at my head to spare.  I was so comfortable on this flight that I didn’t even notice when we were descending for a landing at Narita. Before I knew it, we were comfortably on the ground.  The flight attendant didn’t even bother to check whether or not my seat was in the “upright position” for landing.

If your client likes to be “checked-on” frequently by the flight attendants and feel pampered and well cared for, this is a great option for them.  They will be very comfortable and very well fed as well.

One major drawback on this aircraft was the configuration of the seating.  If you have a window seat and the person next to you is lying flat, you will have to climb over them if you have a need to leave your seat for any reason, including using the restroom.  Considering the cost of the flight, this could be a very awkward experience. It would be best to book seats in the center of the aircraft so that your clients won’t have to climb over anyone during the long flight for any reason whatsoever. Also, I happened to be wearing white pants on the flight to Narita.  The comforter that was provided to me by Continental shed fibers and rubbed off all over my white pants. It temporarily turned them navy blue.  Although a nuisance, the navy blue fibers came out in the wash, but it was a little embarrassing deplaning.

To see more details about the features of the entertainment center and in-flight amenities, visit Continental

Haneda Excel Hotel Tokyu

On the first night in Tokyo, we stayed at the Haneda Excel Hotel Tokyu.  This hotel can be directly accessed from Terminal 2, the domestic terminal, at Haneda airport.  When I looked out of my window and saw all of the parked aircraft, it almost seemed as though I would be sleeping in the terminal building.  I was very concerned about noise from the airplanes but fortunately, I didn’t hear a thing!  The room was exceptionally serene and quiet. I couldn’t even hear the water running in the room next to mine, nor the sound of the jet engines, nor people’s voices in the hallway – absolutely nothing.  The décor was simple and clean and consisted mostly of muted neutral tones.  The restaurant was lovely and offered both Eastern and Western style cuisine.  The breakfast buffet presented an extensive variety of foods and was particularly impressive.

My Room

There is a small meeting room available for guests.  If you have need additional space to accommodate a larger group, the hotel has two banquet rooms which can accommodate many more people.  These facilities can be booked directly with the hotel and do not require a room reservation.

View from my room

The Capitol Hotel Tokyu

My first impression of the Capitol Hotel Tokyu was that it had a very authentic overall Japanese “feel”.  It was decorated in neutral tones and I would describe the decor as very simple but also very elegant.

the lobby

When first entered my room, I found myself in a tastefully decorated entry foyer which was separated from the rest of the room. This really set a lovely tone to the experience of entering the space. I had the distinct impression that once I opened the second door, I would find a beautiful room, and my impression was correct.  There was a large window which ran the entire length of the room and provided a panoramic view of Tokyo and a beautiful shrine which was just below.  I was especially impressed with the shower area and loved the fact that I could open the blinds and enjoy a beautiful view of Tokyo from the comfort of the bathtub.

Entering my room
Views of my room
My room was on the 26th floor.  The club level rooms were on floors 27-29.  There is an exceptionally elegant and special suite on the 5th floor of the hotel. There is no other suite like it in all of Tokyo.  This suite cannot be found in the GDS, but can be booked by contacting the hotel directly.  It’s called the “Temple Suite” because it offers a magnificent view of the temple through the “wall to wall” windows in the suite.  The view also allows you to experience the feeling of being in a tranquil park setting.

The Temple Suite

One of the finest dining experiences that I have ever enjoyed was when we were treated to a magnificent 10 course traditional Japanese meal at Suiren, the formal dining restaurant at The Capitol Hotel Tokyu.  It was simply one of the most sumptuous epicurean culinary experiences I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.  Every dish was succulent and beautifully plated and presented.  It was a feast for the eyes as well as a treat to the palate. The flavors were delicate and subtle and very delicious and the service was impeccable.

Our breakfast was served at Origami, which had a more relaxed and casual feel.  There were ala carte selections as well as a full Eastern or Western style breakfast available.  Again, everything I ate was well prepared, well served, and delicious.

Our host, Michael, mentioned that the theme of the hotel was appropriately “Japan” and I think that the reflecting pools which seemed to surround the hotel at ground level tied in beautifully with that theme.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at The Capitol Hotel Tokyu.

We had one free day of sightseeing and four of us spent the day exploring a bit of Tokyo.  We were able to navigate the subway system fairly well. The people of Tokyo seemed very gracious and were more than pleased to help us and show us the way to get anywhere and everywhere in the city. They were kind and extremely courteous and that was very refreshing.  After a long day of sightseeing, another agent and I spent a few hours at Tokyo Disneyland.  That was also very enjoyable and lots of fun!

Tokyo seemed virtually unaffected by the recent natural disaster that occurred there.  One could sense that the people were somewhat affected although they went about their business as usual.  Our host at The Capitol Hotel Tokyu remarked that, during the earthquake, he thought it might be the “end of the world” for him.  He also shared a bit of the feeling of fear that gripped the people of Tokyo during the event.  He was in New York on September 11th and he felt that the earthquake experience in Japan was very similar and equally as traumatic for the people of Japan as the attack on the World Trade Center was for the people of our country.  I felt very safe while I was in Tokyo and I hope to return someday with my husband and children.

ANA non-stop from Tokyo Narita to JFK

My return fight was in business class on an ANA 777 which also featured “lay-flat” seats.  I had my own little “pod” and felt very comfortable.  The flight attendants were very attentive and the service was excellent.  If you have a client who doesn’t want to be bothered too much by the flight attendants and wants to be left in peace to sleep or to work, this is a great option.  I was able to sleep for 6 straight hours on the flight home and still had time to watch 3 movies and eat two complete meals.  The seats on this flight are wider than the Continental flight and I was able to stretch out and get into all of my usual comfortable sleeping positions with ease.  I’m not sure about how comfortable it would be for a person much taller than me, but I had about 6 inches at my head to spare and probably about 5 additional inches of space at my feet.  I was very comfortable on this flight and the noise canceling headphones which ANA provided, as well as their lavender scented aromatherapy card, really helped me relax and sleep comfortably.  I didn’t notice the descent at all. (I am almost always sensitive to altitude changes in flight, so that’s why I feel it’s worth mentioning.).

The in-flight entertainment system was geared more for the airline’s Japanese clientele, but I was still able to find plenty of movies to watch; most of which I had never seen before.  There was also an abundance of video games available and even in-flight text messaging.  For example, if someone you know is traveling on the same flight and is sitting a few rows behind you, you can actually send a text message to them while you are in flight.

The Japanese passenger will feel especially at ease on board this flight. It is worth mentioning that much like every bathroom that I saw in Japan; there is a bidet as well as a commode on board the aircraft.

Unlike the Continental aircraft, if you book a window seat, the seat configuration aboard is “1-2-1” which enables you to exit the seat for any reason without disturbing any other passenger.

To see more details about the features of the entertainment center and in-flight amenities, visit ANA

-By Christiana Holms

Monday, May 23, 2011

Istanbul Turkey

Fascinating Turkey bridges two continents, figuratively and literally, and is an exotic confluence of cultures that make it unique among countries. When all is said and done, Istanbul is the vibrant essence of the Turkey. This capital city of the Eastern Orthodox faith presents a lineup of museums, religious monuments and palaces that reveal many centuries worth of history. The Blue Mosque is one of the great masterpieces of Islamic architecture, and the Topkapi Palace was the royal center of the Ottoman Empire.

Day 1: Arrival Welcome to Istanbul

After you arrive at Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul an English-speaking driver will meet you just outside the customs hall will to take you to the Hyatt Regency, and have a sign with your name. You will be staying at the Hyatt Regency for 5 nights in deluxe accommodations. Hyatt Regency Istanbul Hotel reflects the spirit and culture of the magical city of Istanbul. The hotel enjoys a spectacular setting overlooking the Bosphorus. This fabled channel links the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.

In the 2,500 year history of Istanbul, the Bosphorus, its extension the Golden Horn and the historical peninsula have always been coveted places.

After freshening up and eating lunch, our guests will have free time to explore the historic landmarks of the Old City or just take in the spectacular setting overlooking the Bosphorus Strait.

Day 2: Explore Istanbul’s Old Town

Enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast at the Hyatt and meet your English speaking guide in the lobby for an all day tour. Your tour begins by exploring the Old City of Istanbul and The Blue Mosque with a visit to the famed Topkapi Palace.

Lunch at a local restaurant where you can sample some of the wonderful Turkish cuisine.

Following lunch, visit Hagia Sofia, one of the most important Christian monuments of all time. Built by Constantine the Great in the 6th century reconstructed by Justinian in 536.

Topkapi Palace is the most beautiful example of Ottoman civil architecture. Topkapi is the biggest museum in Turkey and has the richest collection. The first courtyard is a magnificent wooded garden Visit the Harem, with some three hundred different chambers and halls and view the magnificent jewel collection.

Hagia Sofia or “Holy Wisdom” Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, your day concludes at the Grand Bazaar a covered marketplace with nearly 4,000 vendors selling Turkish products, spices, leather goods, brass and of course Turkish carpets.

Return to your hotel around 6PM.

Day 3: Exploring Istanbul’s Art Collections

Enjoy complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel, then meet your guide to start this exciting day exploring the ancient and modern art of Turkey. Your day starts with Istanbul Modern Museum of Art, along the shore of the Bosphorus.

Your driver guide will then drive along the scenic Bosphorus Avenue to the Family Villa of the Sabanci’s, followed by a visit to the Private Museum of Lady Sadberk.
A lunch stop along the banks of the Bosphorus.
After lunch a visit to the Museum of Turkish Arts.

 Istanbul Modern has exhibitions on two floors. The museum's permanent exhibition, along with the shop and the restaurant, is located on the top floor. Temporary exhibitions are located on the lower floor, along with the cinema and the library.
Sakip Sabanaci, one of Turkey’s leading industrialists, created a place on a hilltop overlooking the Bosphorus to showcase the cultural masterpieces of Turkey and stem the tide of these masterpieces departure from Turkey.

Private Museum of Lady Sadberk is the first privately owned museum in Turkey, created by the late wife of Vehbi Koc, The museum exhibits a rich array of porcelains, enamels, fabrics, and jewelry.

Day 4: The Jewels of Byzantine Art

Start the day with a complimentary continental breakfast at hotel. This morning you have a 4 hour guided tour starting at the Byzantine City Walls that were constructed between 413 and 447 by Emperor Theodosius II, just in time to defeat Attila, the Hun.

Lunch at a traditional Turkish restaurant where you can enjoy the wonderful Turkish cuisine typically starting off with a wide selection of tapas-type small plates called mezes followed by grilled fish. or kebabs Tour continues to the 6th century Underground Cistern, an unusual structure in Istanbul, exhibiting the engineering marvels that solved water supply problems.

Last site of the day is to the Hippodrome which was a colossal stadium that housed horse races.

Hippodrome of Constantinople was a horse-racing place and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today the area is officially called Sultanahmet Square. Hippodrome was spreading over 480x117 meters and said that it holds 100,000 spectators.

Underground Cistern is thought to have been built after the Nika revolt in 532 AD. It was known as the Basilica Cistern during the Roman period, as there was a Stoa Basilica above the pre-existing one at the time. After the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks, it was forgotten and nobody knew that it existed. Re-discovered in 1545, it was used to water the gardens of Topkapi Palace.

Day 5: Explore The Bosphorus

After breakfast at the hotel, guests will board the charming public ferry for a ride on the Bosphorus. Along the way you will see the old Ottoman wooden mansions, marble places and small fishing villages. The ferry cruise will end at the fishing village of Sariyer, where the Black Sea merges with Marmara Sea.

Enjoy a seafood lunch along the Bosphorus and your guide will drive along the European shore of the Bosphorus and take you to the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace served as the main administrative center of Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1922, apart from a twenty-year interval (1889-1909) in which the Yildiz Palace was used.

Return to the hotel late afternoon to enjoy your last evening in Istanbul.

Day 6: Depart for home.

Your driver will meet you in the lobby of the hotel to transfer you back to the airport for your flight home. We hope you will return with fond memories of your visit to Istanbul the city that bridges the cultures of East & West.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Private estates, castles and chateaus in Italy and France

Villa Spalletti Trivelli - Rome, Italy -
Andrea Spalletti - Owner, Sales Representative
Maria Merra - General Manager

Described as a century-old opulent city retreat, this beautiful restored estate provides all the comfort of a 5-star hotel in a luxury residence. All the 12 rooms and suites, as well as the public areas, are large and airy showcasing antiques and family collections. Each room is unique with handmade pure linen sheets replicating the family's coat of arms, antique furniture, portraits and drawings with very large marble bathrooms.

The impressive Library is recognized by the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture.  Their beautiful private garden as well as their Health Center provide respite from Rome's hustle and bustle.

We were privileged to enjoy a delightful dinner with Andrea Spalletti Trivelli, a most charming young man sharing with us his family history and residence ghosts.  A great selection of breakfast items are set up in the family dining room daily.  Lunch and dinner can be arranged by request only.  This unique property is not for everyone, but will appeal to clients who return to Rome searching for privacy and elegance in an old estate.

Borgo de Castelvecchio - near Siena, Tuscany, Italy -
Count and Countess Alessandro and Simona Gaetani d'Aragona - Owners

This most charming medieval hamlet is part of the family's 2000 acre estate  overlooking the breathtaking Val D'Orcia in Tuscany. The castle is dating back to the 11th century composed of old stone farmhouses faithfully restored maintaining the original architecture. In the heart of the fortress you will find the original school house, church/chapel and the old barn which has been converted into an amazing dining hall used for weddings and other functions. Its beautiful terrace, surrounded by wrought iron gazebo covered with thick wisteria, overlooks a limitless and unforgettable Tuscan landscape.

Our host and hostess, Alessander and Simona, welcomed us into their unique home with such warm and genuine hospitality that we felt like their close friends. A family feast was prepared consisting of fresh organic products from the farm, including antelope, their own wine, olive oil, and produce, all delicious.

Among other activates, the estate has two swimming pools, a riding school specializing in obstacle jumps, dressage and country horse riding. The grounds are ideal for hiking and exploring, they offer cooking classes as well as photography and painting lessons.  The rooms are large and comfortable all offering incredible views.  In addition to the main building they also have restored old farmhouses, which are ideal for families.  Total rooms/farmhouses:  31

Villa Mangiacane, Chianti Classico -  Florence, Italy -
Juan Miguel - Hotel Manager

Our next stop brought us to the winemaking region of Chianti and the 15th century Villa Mangiacane located 7 miles south of Florence.

Mangiacane is a private estate set within 600 acres of flourishing vineyards and olive groves which produces four award winning wines and a distinctive olive oil which you can taste and enjoy during your stay.  The classic beauty of Mangiacane combined with its history, art and idyllic countryside setting create the perfect backdrop for a Tuscan wedding, unforgettable holiday or exclusive rental.  Luxurious facilities complement the private villa, including the newly opened Nadushka Spa, three swimming pools, unique sculpture gardens and breathtaking Tuscan views of the Duomo in Florence.  The villa was built for the Machiavelli family with whispers that Michelangelo himself participated in the design.  In fact, because of the significance of the owners and architects, the original building plan for improvements are housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Perhaps the most admirable details at the villa are found in the beautifully restored Renaissance frescos, which were uncovered in the revival process.

All the accommodations are spacious, unique and filled with the owner's extensive art collections. The staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.   Total rooms 28. (Some of the beautiful duplexes might not be suitable for older guest since the bathrooms are located upstairs.)

And off we go to France.

Cap Estel - Eze Bord de Mer, French Riviera -
Bernard Apthorp - General Director

This true legend and prestigious hideway was built in the 19th century by a Russian aristocrat and is located on a 5-acre peninsula overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The views are second to none, regardless of the location of your suite or room.  The interior offers equal parts of "period pieces and modern boutique" with vibrant colors mixed with bright minimalist white. The rooms are very comfortable with modern beds and baths alongside antique mirrors and Louis XVI armchairs and private terraces or balconies. The suites are sprawling and decadent, some in the main building and others in the Italian-style villa directly on the ocean.  Meals are served in the Pool House by the "to die for" infinity pool, or in the stylish dining room.

The villa comes with a spa and fitness center housing another beautifully tiled indoor pool, a billiard room, a piano bar and a private cinema. We were fortunate to spend two nights in this magnificent home.  I felt every day as though my eyes would just give out because they couldn't take in all the beauty. A must see if you are in the area. 14 suites - 4 rooms.


Le Chateau de la Treyne - on the Dordogne River in Midi-Pyrenees Region east of Bordeaux France -
Philippe and Stephanie Gombert - Owners

This storybook towered chateau dates back to the 14th century and is set amid three hundred acres of gardens and woodlands in France's most renowned gastronomic area. La Treyne is really a genuine home unobtrusively decorated with discreet luxury. The fourteen rooms and two apartments invite you into the real life of a chateau. You may dine in Salon Louis XIII or enjoy sunset on the lovely terrace overhanging the Dordogne River.  My princely room was located in the tower and when I opened the windows the lovely views of the river and Baroque gardens took my breath away. Blue, blue skies, fresh spring air and nothing but rolling hills invite you to an unforgettable experience in the French countryside.

The chateau's finest jewel must surely be its grand Louis XIII Salon. Regularly, candle-lit dinners with guests in period costume are organized in order to re-live La Treyne's glorious past.  The chef, Stephane Andrieux, has devoted his culinary know-how exclusively to Chateau de La Treyne for the past ten years. His creativity and talent earned him his first Michelin star in 2001.

The region offer endless activities for both sport enthusiasts as well as for those seeking architectural heritage. Close by you may explore picturesque markets, mountain citadels, abbeys, churches and vinyards.  It is also a land of caves and caverns, cliffs for rock-climbing, hiking and canoeing, just to name a few.

I must express how grateful I am that the Dordogne was part of our trip.  It offers peace and quiet for those in search of nature and authenticity. I hope to return soon.

Le Moulin de L'Abbaye -  Brantome, region of Perigord, Dordogne, France -
Stephan Chaline - Manager
Guilaume Puig - Assistant Manager

Le Moulin de l'Abbaye is an old mill converted into a romantic hotel and restaurant situated in the Village of Brantome -  "the Venice of the Perigord".

The elegant Gourmet Restaurant is a culinary delight with an amazing view of the river of la Dronne and the Village. The old Benedictine Abbey was founded in 769 by Charlemagne and is home to the relics of Saint-Sicaire and has become a much visited place of pilgrimage. Walking around Brantome with its beautiful dwellings is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Le Mouline offers a total of 19 accommodations in three historical buildings.  The ancient Mill, The Miller House and the Abbot House, dating back to the 13th century, will accommodated couples or families in well appointed rooms, suites and apartments.  The public areas are warm and inviting complemented by an extremely friendly and accommodating staff. Activities in the area include kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, vineyards and markets. Unfortunately our one night visit was too short to enjoy all this village has to offer,

In addition to these properties, I was able to include hotel inspections at:

The Hassler, Roma
Portrait Suites, Roma
Chateau Eze, Eze
Chateau de La Chevre d'Or,  Eze
Hotel La Perouse, Nice
Hotel San Regis, Paris

Feel free to contact me if you have clients interested in any of these hotels.
Photos and article by Anne Grethe Parkin -