Saturday, 18 September 2010

Travel thoughts

Travel thoughts: random thoughts for travellers - not much about food - but travelling well is a major pre-occupation of mine at present - any additions or suggestions are welcome! 

For the frequent traveller


Microsoft Arc mouse – excellent wireless mouse - good ergonomic curve for those with small to medium hands; has a tiny USB transceiver so can be used on any computer that you have to hand. To turn it off, you just fold it – comes in its own black pouch! It does come in all sorts of lovely colours but the local supermarket only had it in black – has reduced the right arm and wrist strain considerably. Excellent design, not too expensive and better than the small, conventional portable mouse.

Speaker – X-mini – a friend was given this for Christmas by her nephew and after hearing the quality, I bought my own in luscious red – a pop-up mini-speaker which can be used on its own or in relay for stereo or more! Charges from the USB port. Also with natty black pouch.

Seat-back organizer:
The jury is still out on this one – KK is testing it: seems like a good idea. A light-weight bag with many compartments which opens out and fits over the tray table, so that you have everything to hand on the back of your plane seat – headphones, iPod, magazine, book, water bottle, eye shade etc. etc. I know of 2 versions, the one I bought for KK, developed by Zen Class travel  and the other by Magellan’s Magellan’s also has other cool and covetable articles for encumbering yourself with on an aeroplane!


OK – it’s not great. Here are a few ways to improve your time there:

Hotel Ibis @ Terminal 3. Stay here before your transatlantic flight. Rooms don’t cost a fortune – from €50-120 depending on the season. Access is directly from the shuttle train. Perfectly decent, very clean, nicely re-designed rooms, small – this is France after all, but with comforters and large screen TVs.

Pâtisserie Paul (see More on Paul below) – has several kiosk locations throughout the airport. Paul delivers good breads, excellent sandwiches and pastries and good coffee from their stylishly distinctive black carts. They have tables at which you can stand but no seating. Very comforting on arrival and departure, and a good venue for breakfast before getting in the check-in line. The café at the SNCF train station also has pretty decent sandwiches and salads and you can sit down here for as long as you like. You can actually buy a salad here at 8am. Odd but worth knowing sometimes. Their ham sandwiches are OK if Paul has none.

Baggage check/left luggage – there is now a left luggage place at Terminal Deux (pretentious, moi?) above the railway station and opposite the Sheraton. Leave your stuff there and go and enjoy Paris for the day by train.

The Sheraton – you can go and sit in their lobby which is temperature controlled and quiet, while you wait for your train or aeroplane.

Terminal 1 – the only good thing I know about Terminal Un is La Terrasse de Paris, the cunningly hidden restaurant on the 11th level – take the lift as if you were going up to the business class lounges but turn right. It is open for breakfast and serves lunch food from 11 am – but as I learned in August – it is closed at weekends – aaargh! It’s very light and pleasant, with colourful décor and is entirely restful. It is a proper French restaurant at reasonable prices (for the airport). It really does provide a pleasant experience – not like being in an airport at all! I had a very decent lunch there in February.

Spas – yes! Finally, the business world has heard our pleas!! Be-Relax boutiques (terrible name) Terminal 2E – full range of spa treatments – facials, manicures, pedicures, massages. In the kiosks dotted around Terminal 2 you can also get chair & foot massages.
Also Charlotte airport has the Terminal Getaway Spa ( on the D/E connector and Xpresspa ( has a branch in Philadelphia airport as well as loads of other branches in airports throughout the US. Any others?


Good food encountered in airports:
San Francisco: Chinese food – duck soup and a selection of pot stickers at Fung Lum in Terminal 3. The duck soup was perfect.
Detroit: SoraI think, where you can get an enormous bowl of soba noodle soup, a beer and a pot of green tea – all you need before you fly international.
Charlotte:  breakfast – A Taste of Carolina – a really decent breakfast including pretty good biscuits; beer – the Carolina Beer Co. a bar in the international part of the airport – quick drink before embarking.

Vino Volo  - Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, San Antonio, Detroit, Washington Dulles, Newark, JFK, Philly and Baltimore. Quote from their website: "Praise the gods, Bacchus specifically: Someone's adding a touch of civility to the increasingly déclassé atmosphere at the nation's airports." Déclassé indeed! Going through Dullest last year I was miserable and this civilised wine bar saved my sanity. Good wine list, generous serving, pleasant music, tapas – not too outrageously expensive – a haven away from the rest of the crud. The one in Philly was not so inviting – more of a kiosk than a wine bar. - also on Facebook (is everyone except my mother on Facebook?) and they have a wine club – except that if you live in South Carolina you can’t have the wine shipped to you. Is there a good reason for this?


Automatic massage chairs – yes, I know they look naff and sweaty but I tried one in Bordeaux before flying to the Caribbean and I have to say that it works – 15 minutes of Shiatsu-style massage followed by eight hours of flying and no back ache. Coincidence? I think not. Price -  €2.00 – I think it’s worth a shot! I’d rather swim in the Caribbean before I get on a plane but that’s not always practical.
Headphones: no ear buds for me. Bose for Target - great quality, great price (bad politics). If you have sensitive ears or hearing, then Bose over- or on-the-ear headphones are fantastic. They reduce fatigue by cutting out sound even if they aren’t noise reducing. I don’t use noise reducing headphones because I can hear the technology and it makes me very cross. With good quality headphones it’s so much more agreeable to listen to music, the film soundtrack or just nothing, in an aeroplane. They make your ears go ‘Aaaaah’ instead of ‘Aaaargh’. Also other people are hugely envious of them – and yes, they are more bulky than ear buds but the pair I have folds up and has its own carrying case in which you can also place tiny MP3 player and etc. 

4 wheeled suitcases: wonderful - they will revolutionise your travelling - promise, a little heavier but so worth it. The new semi-rigid plastics are light too, so although not as light as the UK made-ripstop-nylon-lightest-case-in-the-known-universe, it’s not bad. I flew to the US with two 4 wheeled cases (one too big I realised too late, only because I pack very densely, as friends will know – I am the queen of packing – amongst other things!), a small wheeled carry-on case (made by Victorinox, the Swiss Army penknife people, it is, as my blacksmith brother says, but not about luggage, the dog’s bollocks) and a shoulder bag. The blacksmith put my cases onto the train which was excessively kind of him, yet at the airport I found it relatively easy to negotiate the journey between station and hotel without using a luggage cart: several level changes, a terminal change by electric shuttle train, 300 yard walk, lift to room and all in reverse the next day. My muscles were not sore because the strain is so much less than from dragging same loads behind one. This was a huge improvement over the previous journey with 2 wheeled luggage. Also, I chose every time to use the lifts instead of trying to use the escalators. Longer but much less hassle and kept me calm. How much is that worth??
Socks – take your own fluffy socks. These will also incite envy in neighbouring passengers.

Absolutely best thing to travel with: a loving companion and failing that – a sandwich made by him – incites dribbling envy in fellow travellers. 

Pâtisserie Paul

More on Paul: yes it’s a franchise. BUT…It’s delightful at St Pancras to be able to order a decent coffee and an almond croissant before getting on the train to Sheffield. It’s delightful in Bordeaux airport, Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Montparnasse station and the Gare du Nord too. It’s not bad being able to pop into a Paul in the centre of Paris when it’s too late for lunch in a restaurant and get a small but perfect lunch in calm, civilised surroundings. I once had a fine lunch at Paul near the Hôtel de Ville which was rösti with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and salad with a glass of white wine. Perfect. Their bread is good and varied. Their take-away coffee is good. Their pastries are delicious. Oh and the ham sandwiches too. The only problem with Paul at the travelling venues, is that there are no ham sandwiches until 10am – I get off the plane from the US between 6.30 and 8.30 and I want my ham sandwich then.  Paul has a lovely website ( with a musical introduction that doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out or rip off your ears. They are on Facebook! They have an email newsletter and they have recipes with lovely photos – at this moment Croustilles au Saumon, Mosaïques de Fougasse, and boiled eggs with soldiers à la provençal – so what makes it provençal I hear you ask? Well, you rub your toasted soldiers with garlic and garnish your opened boiled egg with anchovy paste and shredded basil. Might be good. Also nutritional advice, a fact sheet telling you the truth about what people say about bread – presumably bad things! The only Pauls in the US are in Florida – why? Their closest rival but with no airport presence, is:

Le Pain Quotidien (daily bread): a Belgian chain which I first encountered in New York, having a lovely weekend with a lovely companion, Le Pain Quotidien was our breakfast friend. Pleasant décor with wooden tables and chairs, wooden floors, a large table for meeting people you’ve never seen before. All the furnishings are made from recycled wood. They prefer to use organic produce and stone ground flours; the naturally fermented bread (pain au levain) is kneaded and shaped by hand and it is all delicious – the patisserie is not shabby either. You can also buy the jams they serve for breakfast. The best thing is that you can get breakfast until noon on weekdays and 5pm at weekends. I’ve been to a couple of their places in Paris and they are always good. Founded by Alain Coumont in Brussels in 1990 – there are now 114 restaurants worldwide ( Not bad. The concept is the same everywhere: bakery and communal table, breakfast, brunch and lunch. 
I just love breakfast.

1 comment:

  1. Cecile: Just happened upon your blog today. I plan to refer back to this post the next time we travel. And I agree about Vino Volo. They saved me at Dulles when our flight to Rome was delayed by 4 hours waiting on a mechanical error in Columbia. Tired and cranky, the respite of their leather chairs, wine flights, Moroccan almonds and fancy cheese plate made my night. I've heard great things about One Flew South at the Atlanta aiport. - Angi B.