Le dernier virage

Departing From CDG Terminal 1

‘Le dernier virage’. There was a time, that this short announcement from the cockpit would be the signal that told me I was home. Sure, I would, at the moment that I heard it, be still in a seat on a plane, but those three words would mean the journey had come to an end. The plane would have arrived at its parking stand, only one last turn (dernier virage is French for ‘last turn’), and we would come to a stop. Only a bit of waiting for the doors to open, an almost-run through the terminal and a short taxi ride would separate me from actually being home. But this, the parking stand at Charles de Gaulle airport, was always a good proxy, a good moment for that ‘I-have-come-home’ feeling to kick in.

Those three words, I still repeat them to myself, every time a plane I’m on has landed, and found its way to the parking stand. Le dernier virage, and I have arrived. But there’s much more to arriving at airports. That is exactly what I am going to discuss this weekend with some wonderful people in the Quality Hunters Workshop in Finland. I’m very excited about that. The fun thing is, even if you’re not in Finland this weekend, you can participate. Simply follow the Quality Hunters blog, Facebook page and Twitter account or hashtag #qhworkshop for updates. And don’t hold back: join the conversation!

What’s your New Year’s tradition?

At the stroke of midnight, when 31 December becomes 1 January, the skies in The Netherlands light up like the proverbial Christmas tree. Fireworks are everywhere, and people are out on the streets either to ignite them or to watch the displays of others. With an oliebol in one hand, and a glass of Champagne in the other, we wish our neighbours, friends, family all the best for the new year. For those courageous enough, the next day at noon the North Sea awaits us to dive in for a fresh start. Basically, this is the Dutch tradition of celebrating New Year.

The question “what’s your country’s New Year’s tradition” on Twitter yesterday, by the fabulous Françoise Lin, triggered some very interesting responses. Did you know that in Sweden they eat fish, especially dried cod and lobster? Or that in Spain and Portugal they eat a grape for every stroke of the clock at midnight, accompanying each with a wish for the New Year? You can see an example of that in the video above. In Paris they go to the Champs Élysées to celebrate, while in Melbourne they go to the river, in Sidney to the Harbour bridge and in Singapore it’s the beach. Champagne, or other sparkling wine, is also quite common around the globe.

So, what is your tradition for New Year?

With contributions via Twitter from: Francoise, Ruben, Aleksanders, Charles, Kenny, Katharine, Ana, Henrik and Nikos. Thanks!

How do you keep up your training routine when traveling?

Are you one of those people that run, or do some other activity, to keep fit? I am. Especially now, because I’m training to run a half marathon. However, when I travel, my training routine is always impacted. Mostly in a negative way; meaning that I either do not train, or train less. Change of environment, the travel itself, time-zone differences, there are many reasons – or excuses – that make me work out less. Another thing is that I’m not always familiar with the running routes at my destination. The location, length, surface, all factors that I want to know.

Tel Aviv beach, a perfect scene for a run

Tel Aviv beach, a perfect scene for a run

Fortunately, there are several hotels offering gym facilities. But I’m a peculiar one: I love to run outside, preferably in parks. Two recent hotel stays made me happy in this respect. In both cases I found a booklet in my room about… fitness. One was divided in three sections, with advise on healthy food, exercise and mental fitness. This is how the Clarion hotels take care of their guests. Although the information was good, it was very general. Fortunately, it also explained that every Clarion hotel can inform you about running routes at the reception. In all honesty, I didn’t test it, because this particular trip was perfectly squeezed between two routine training sessions at home. But still, I kept it in mind for next time.

The other booklet was offered by the Best Western. It contained a running route description from each of the Best Western hotels in Germany. All starting from the hotel front door. On top of that, they have mapped the routes on a German, what I assume to be a popular, jogging route website. By simply searching for the hotel, you can see the route displayed on a map.

A run through the Stuttgarter Schlossgarten

A run through the Stuttgarter Schloßgarten

On another occasion, it was not so much the hotel service, as the location: right next to the Tel Aviv beach and boulevard. This is not only a place to relax in the sun, but also a busy exercise spot. I did a run to Jaffa, with the Mediterranean Sea constantly in sight. It was an amazing experience, and I almost considered moving there. If you have this as your daily exercise track, you will keep running.

For me, these services are great. I don’t think I’m obsessed, but keeping up with a training routine is hard enough, and especially when you’re traveling. If your hotel supports you in keeping fit, it can be of great value. How do you keep fit when you’re traveling? And where do you like to run?

Two weeks of wonderful madness

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride for me. It started with a call, while I was in Tallinn, on November 16th. Whether I wanted to be the 8th Quality Hunter. The next Tuesday, 22 November, I was on my way to Helsinki for a briefing and a roundtrip on the 3B/3T tram. On Wednesday I flew to Stuttgart, where I spent 2 nights. A run in the Schlossgarten (see video), a visit to the Porsche museum, and of course walking around in the city and examining the airport. All in the name of quality hunting.

Then it was back to Helsinki to wait for a delayed flight to Hong Kong. A visit to Macau for the Top Marques exhibition, the Giant Buddha, a Design Festival, Victoria Peak, Kowloon Park, Hong Kong Park, the Star Ferry, the Intercontinental hotel. And again: the airport.

A short visit home, via Helsinki again, before I went back to Finland for the wrap-up of the project. But not before visiting the air traffic control tower at Helsinki Airport and a drive around the airport grounds. If you want to see some of the photos I took, please have a look at my QH8 collection over on PicPlz, and for the posts I wrote for the project, you can check out the 8th Quality Hunter category on the website, but please also read the other posts.

It has been a blast. An enormous amount of experiences packed in a two-week period. I flew 8 legs, visited two countries I hadn’t been before (Finland and Macau) and three cities I never visited before: Helsinki, Stuttgart and Macau again), met new friends online, met new friends in real life and learned a lot.

Now, the Quality Hunters project is over, but it will stay with me forever. I’m looking forward to the ideas being implemented by Helsinki Airport and Finnair. And now it’s time to figure out what’s next.

Israel, maybe a normal country for holidays

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

Some people might think twice about planning a holiday to a country that is at the heart of so much conflict, in a region that regularly features in global headlines. On the other hand, there are view countries that have so many historical and religious sites to visit, nice cities, great landscapes and wonderful weather. Not to mention the lowest place on earth, where you can float on water. On top of that, it is a reasonable non-stop flight away from where we live. So, we decided to have Israel as our holiday destination this year.

One thing that struck me was the fact that many of the Israelis we met were very eager to hear that we, the tourists, like the country. Helpful and generally friendly, the all welcomed us to the country, and if we had a conversation, they loved to hear that we thought it a great country for holiday, and almost without exception they asked us to tell our friends. They want the world to know that, despite the global headlines and the troubles, Israel is actually a normal country. Well, it is. And… it isn’t.

Continue reading

The world is an amazing place

So many places, so many places.
So many places to go to,
to discover, enjoy, revisit.
So many places I’ve never been
even though there are
so many places I’ve already seen.

The Eiffel tower, Empire State building,
Lady liberty big and small,
Petronas Towers, Burj al Arab,
Taj Mahal, the Great Wall.

The National Gallery, Hermitage,
Louvre, Stedelijk, Prado.
San Siro, Wembley, Camp Nou
Football temples, Greek temples,
Hindu temples and Buddhist temples,
Temple of Heavenly Peace
Watching the sun rise on Macchu Picchu.

So many places, so many places
I can go on forever listing
things I’ve seen or want to see
Yes, so many places
I want to see again.
Because places I haven’t been
with you, I haven’t really seen.

But even so many places
we’ve enjoyed together,
are worth going to again.

The world is an amazing place,
isn’t it?
With so many places to enjoy.
So grab your bag and let’s go
see so many places more.

Atmosphere and good food at Fish restaurant Le Dome

Tapas @ Zivju Restorans

On a recent event, I had the opportunity to sample the dishes of chef Alex Ziluks of the Fish restaurant at the Dome hotel in Riga. And it gave me reason to come back for a full dinner. So, on a celebratory Saturday, we made our reservations in this relatively small, but atmospheric restaurant. The furniture is of a light wood color; and combined with the large black and white photos of Baltic fishermen on the walls it gives the place a modern classic atmosphere, very consistent with the boutique hotel it is part of.

I had previewed the menu on the website, but still it was hard to choose. On paper, everything looks nice, plus there is a list of chef’s recommendations that are all also very tempting.

We decided to start with the full set of tapas. The five choices combined are a good starter for two, and consist of crunchy won-ton dumplings with goat’s cheese, plums and cedar nuts; camembert in spicy breading with cranberry-apple jam; bruschetta with mozzarella, fig jam and prosciutto chips; pumpernickel with lobster tails, avocado an trout caviar and ciabatta toast with spice humus and smoked eel fillet. It was a great choice. All five tapas are prepared and presented with care and the tastes are all perfectly combined. Five pearls to get your taste buds going.

Our mains were the fried Baltic herring and a beef fillet medallion with fried egg. In Latvia, you have to be sure to mention you want your meat rare, because it’s just not customary in the country. I like my meat rare, with a nice brown crusty outside and a pinkish red on the inside. And even though it’s not how most people here want it, it was exactly how I got it. The fried herring also looked fantastic. Both mains were well prepared, although the sauce with my medallion gave away that my main course had been waiting a little before being served. This could have been due to the fact that we stepped outside after the starters. In any case, the combination of a good steak with a fried egg on top is a bit rustic, but it just tastes fine. As for the fried herring, it was very good as well, although if you like your herring fatty and fresh (as we are used to in the Netherlands), this might not be the right choice for you.

To accompany our dinner, and because we had something to celebrate other than that it was a Saturday, we chose two champagnes from the well selected wine list. A Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut to start wit, and a Pol Roger Rosé 2002 after that. The wines are reasonably priced and the selection looks attractive and balanced. However, the champagnes both were slightly past their prime. Still good and surely drinkable, but just not on their tops anymore. The Grand Brut had a bit too much of an alcohol taste, and the 2002 rosé was watering down already. Obviously, we have mentioned it to the restaurant staff, and they have promised to review their wine collection accordingly. If you want to splash out, you could consider taking one of the two 1998 millesimés, because that was a good year for champagne, or simply try a prosecco. The private label sekt is also a good choice.

All in all, we had a lovely evening, in a beautiful restaurant, with good food and very friendly and correct staff. If you’re in town, this is certainly a good place to spend an evening dining.

Fish restaurant Le Dome
Mesnieku iela 4
tel: +371 67559884

Don’t always trust your travel guide

Obviously her travel guide book told her to be careful with Parisian cabbies. Negotiate, stand her ground and most of all: don’t be overcharged. Not knowing that the taxis at the official stands at CDG operate on a meter, under strict rules, and that breaking these rules means hefty fines or loss of license. Also not knowing that a trip from the airport to the city can cost you 60 Euros, depending on where you go and the traffic on the périph, and that the taxi driver probably said the trip would cost 60 Euros to not disappoint the lady when arriving at destination. Better to say a higher price with the end result on the meter being slightly lower, than the other way around.
And so she negotiated, stood her ground and tried to tell the taxiste that 60 Euros was too much. She offended the first Parisian she encountered and started her stay in the city of lights on the wrong foot.

Baltic Postcards – Coastal B-day tour stage 2: Liepaja

Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral Karosta

Dear Friends,

Earlier, I posted about the first leg of the Coastal Birthday Tour along the Baltic Sea Coast. Now, I’ll tell you about the second part, which led us to Liepaja. After the pancake breakfast at the Sarnate Guest House, we went on the road again. We took some sideroads to see the cliffed coast, which was really great. The sea was quite wild, hitting the shore below us with a great thundering sound. We also tried to visit Uzavas lighthouse, but the track leading there was so thickly covered in snow, that we almost got stuck with the car.

We drove further south, in the direction of Liepaja. On the way, we passed the wooden bridge over the Riva river in Jurkalne, a national monument. Even in the cold winter, the Riva river was flowing wildly under it. The bridge is impressive, and if you’re in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop and have a look at it. It’s directly next to the main road from Ventspils to Liepaja. You can’t miss it.

From Jurkalne we continued on the P111 main road in the direction of Liepaja, or stop for the night. We read about Karosta in the guide book and decided to stop there as well. Karosta is just north of Liepaja, and used to be a Soviet era naval base. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the troops were retreated to Russia, and the base abandoned. It is an impressively sad sight. Most of the navy barracks are empty and abandoned, left to the elements. Some concrete flat blocks are half empty, with some people living right next to them. And in the midst of all that, there’s the orthodox cathedral of Saint Nicholas, with its golden domes (see the picture above). A surreal experience. If you want to go further than that, you can visit Karosta prison, where it’s even possible to spend some time being treated as a prisoner of the Soviet regime.

We crossed the Karosta canal into Liepaja and drove to the Promenade hotel. E had chosen places to stay that all had a surprise. In Sarnate it was the cake and sampanietis, here it was the in-room sauna. And as an extra to the spacious room, we had a nice view of the marina part of the Tirdzniecibas kanals, the trade canal. Now, in winter, there are no yachts to be seen, but there was this beautifully rusty fishing boat right opposite to our room. After settling in, we walked around the town a bit. The city center has a real walk of fame. It seemed to be for musicians, but we didn’t know the few stars whose handprints we looked at. We also visited the market, but the wind and cold made us hurry back to the hotel to enjoy the warmth of the sauna.

For dinner, E had made reservations in the hotel restaurant, Piano. When we came in, the restaurant was empty, but still they made a fuss over the fact that we brought B, the dog. We were moved to a private room, behind a door that looked from the outside as a cupboard of some sort. It was not exactly what we had in mind, but we accepted it under protest. In my view, it was a stupid decision from the manager, because there were zero other guests in the restaurant when we arrived, and only a few when we left. Service was, despite the fact we were tucked away, great. As was the food. And then we discovered the cigar menu. Our private dining room was actually the cigar room. Combining a Cohiba with a single malt was a great final for our romantic dinner. After that, we slept like babies in our comfortable beds, and rested well for stage 3 of the Baltic Sea Coast Birthday Tour.

Warmest regards,

PS: If you’re interested, I’ve put the highlights of the tour on the Baltic Sea Coast B-Day Tour Google map.