Regal romantic retreat: Langry Manor, Bournemouth

Kings-room---no-lamp

Hidden in the back streets of Bournemouth in Dorset is a discreet red-brick and Tudor-style royal love nest. When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) fell head over heels for model-turned-actress Lillie Langtry in 1877, he built her the 12-bedroom Langtry Manor so they could conduct their passionate affair away from London gossips – and their respective spouses.

To sweep your sweetheart off his or her feet, book the extraordinary Kings Room for its Jacobean wooden bed, covered in swathes of black velvet, and inglenook fireplace with carved oak images and gold-plated tiles, hand-painted with scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. If it’s booked, try the Le Breton for its glamorous black-and-white décor.

Doubles from £95, B&B. Kings Room from £225, B&B.

Langtry Manor +44 (0)1202 553 887, www.langtrymanor.co.uk

Quirky Berlin facts

  1. Berliners like to throw fireworks at each other on New Year’s Eve and other firework-worthy occasions. To avoid injury, book a top-floor room at The Ritz-Carlton http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Berlin/Default.htm or a neighbouring hotel near Brandenburg Gate or Potsdamer Platz, and watch the events from on high.
  2. ‘Berliner’ is a perfectly acceptable term for people from Berlin. If you think otherwise, see here http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/jfk_berliner.htm, and also ask any local you meet, as I did (thanks, Barbara, from www.germanyiswunderbar.com)
  3. The Wall, as we called it in the West, was actually called the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall)in East Berlin. It was put up, at least the temporary barbed-wire version, overnight, with almost nobody being aware it was about to happen. The East German government said it was to protect their citizens from the Facists in the West. Most people probably already knew this. I didn’t. (Thanks, Julian, my wonderful tour guide at Context Travel http://www.contexttravel.com/city/Berlin)
  4. The Hoff (David Hasselhoff) is no longer as revered in Germany as he once was. If you’re still a fan, though, he will be making a comeback tour this year through Germany, Austria and Switzerland (http://www.davidhasselhoff.com/events)
  5. There are 450 modern art galleries in Berlin http://www.visitberlin.de/index.en.php. For a city of just three million people, that’s really rather a lot. If you don’t care for modern art, try to hold back as it’s everywhere.

    Berlin New National Gallery

10 most memorable travel moments – in detail

A question posed by Grantourismo got me thinking about my travels. Usually, I’m planning the next trip (Cape Town long-haul, perhaps Norway short-haul), but I thought I’d take five minutes to ponder my past travel adventures.
Samurai action
1. Learning to samurai sword-fight in Tokyo
An afternoon of theatrics with Tetsuro Shimaguchi, who trained Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu for their Japanese-style fight scenes in Kill Bill. While my cheerleading training meant I was better at learning the steps, my husband excelled in the all-important death scene, with stomach-clutching, face-contorting action worthy of the hammiest of West End actors.

2. Spending a very expensive hour with geisha and maiko in Kyoto
No, this wasn’t that show they put on for tourists in Gion. Nor was it some cheap back-street fake. This was the real deal, in a Kyoto geisha bar (getting into a genuine geisha teahouse would have taken years, but you can hire geisha to join you at a bar or restaurant – if you know who to ask), with me, my husband, the geisha, her maiko (trainee geisha) and the very tipsy bar manager. A surreal, and bank-busting (around £200 for one hour) experience that consisted of the 23-year-old geisha making entertaining conversation, much of it about Kyoto, but also world travels; the 16-year-old maiko giggling, performing a traditional dance and looking very pretty, but lacking the geisha’s conversational skills; and the drunk bar manager popping in every so often to try to get us drunk on expensive sake.
Fes - Blue Gate
3. Exploring the medieval souk of Fes, Morocco
The souk in this ancient city puts the ones in Marrakech and Cairo to shame, transporting you to the Middle Ages. Permanently lost, in many places, you can stretch your arms out to reach both walls of the alleyways, and the only possible transportation for the souk’s goods are donkey or man-handled wheelbarrow. It’s intimidating at first, but with so few tourists here, locals treat you like an honoured guest. Retreating to your accommodation in one of the souk’s elaborately decoarted riads or dars (traditional homes built around central courtards)  feels like stepping into a palace. Most are still lived in by locals, but some have been converted to boutique hotels or holiday rentals, and you can sleep in one for the price of a grubby two-star in London.

4. Exploring Bordeaux’s Entre-deux-Mers region in a convertible
Beyond Bordeaux’s famous vineyards and estates (St Emilion, Margaux, Pomerol), the little-known Entre-deux-Mers region has some of the quaintest historical villages this side of the Cotswolds. You could easily spend a week pootling around the sunflower-filled back roads – and doing it in a convertible E-Type Jaguar made it an unforgettable experience.
Lisbon Twitrip Oct 2009
5. Meeting Lisbon’s hippest B-Boyz after blagging into its most exclusive nightclub
The concierge at the Ritz can’t even get your name on the list at Lisbon’s Lux nightclub, but thanks to tips from local Tweeters, we tracked down one of the club’s owners (John Malkovich being the other one), where he was presiding over his buzzy restaurant, and somehow sweet-talked our way onto the guestlist. After arriving far too early (don’t bother clubbing in Lisbon until at least 2am), we hung around until it got busy – and the crowd parted ways for the city’s hottest B-Boy crew. After watching them breakdancing for a while, I finally convinced them to teach me some moves, which we then performed – to much hilarity (I’m sure they were laughing WITH me) – together on the dancefloor.
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6. Operating a private monorail to an island hilltop bar in Japan
Near Osaka, there’s an island called Naoshima where you can sleep in a modern-art museum (we did), and where the museum-hotel’s handful of guests are given private keys to operate the six-seat monorail that takes you up to the hilltop bar (not too pricey, either). The monosnail, as we were soon calling it, went slower than if you’d actually walked the five minutes up the hill, but really, how many times will you have your own private monorail? Oh, and exploring the world-class modern-art gallery after it had closed to the public was pretty amazing, too. Not to mention the island’s extraordinary fishing-village-turned-installation-art-project, the cat that always sleeps on the main bus bench, the bizarre Charlie Chaplin signage and the world’s most astonishing (for its awfulness) James Bond Museum.
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7. Staying in a Fred-Flinstone-style villa in Thailand
My favourite eco-luxe hotel by far is been the Eco Villa at Six Senses Soneva Kiri in Thailand. Built from local soil and trees and almost entirely with handtools, with electricity (even internet) powered by Solar PV panels, pool water purified by a natural waterfall and with rainwater pouring through the showers, it’s definitely eco, but with the high-quality organic sheets, furniture handmade by local artisans and food created by amazing local Thai chefs, it’s also luxurious. In fact, while I was there, the Swedish royal family were staying in a nearby villa. (And I had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the princess and her boyfriend split up a few weeks later. Honest.)

8. Accidentally being a guest at a blinging Istanbul wedding
Fireworks, an orchestra, a Bosphorus-view gazebo and hundreds of ball-gowned guests suddenly exploded onto the terrace at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski as we ate one of the city’s most delectable gourmet meals a balcony above. As the priest performed the ceremony, the few diners lucky enough to be on the balcony chewed as quietly as possible. Then it was dancing, singing and celebrations until the wee hours.
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9. Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge – and around San Francisco – on a tandem
It was our first experience of sharing a bike, and after five minutes of bickering about the mechanics of it, we fell in love with the tandem. So much so, we now own one. Seeing San Francisco (or really, almost any city) by bicycle means you can get beyond the tourist centre to the areas where people actually live. But doing the classic Golden Gate Bridge cycle ride still provided the best views over the city.
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10. Visiting the Deep South’s oldest roadhouse
Even though I’ve lived in London for 20 years, I grew up in the American South, and my British husband had long wanted to go to a locally famous redneck bar on the Florida-Alabama border, called, obviously, the Flora-Bama. Built from scraps of wood, old plastic sheeting and plumber’s plastic piping, the Flora-Bama gets knocked down at every hurricane, but rebuilt in days. When we finally visited, my cousin took us in his limousine (he runs a chauffer company), so we stepped out among the rednecks looking like big-city showoffs. That didn’t stop one of them offering to buy my mom a drink when she picked up a bra that had fallen and hurled it up to the bra-wire strung across the main room inside. (It wasn’t her bra, but he didn’t care.) Although it’s got redneck written all over it, the Flora-Bama is, in fact, on one of the Gulf Coast’s most beautiful beaches, and everyone from trailer trash to millionaires go there for down-home good times.

Eat Pray Love filming locations

I’m not a spiritual person, so the whole Eat Pray Love book phenomenon of 2007 totally passed me by. But I was given a sneak preview of the film last week, and while the ‘searching for myself’ theme made me feel a bit queasy, I’m glad I saw the movie at the cinema.

The reason? Travel porn – cinematography so beautiful, you could eat it.

Eat Pray Love film still
Eating gelato in Rome

That’s especially true of Rome, the Eat part of the film. Here, Julia Robert’s character (the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert, whose year-in-the-life memoirs the film is based on) sticks two fingers up to the stupid Atkins diet and goes into carb overload – all in glorious technicolour. She dawdles by the Trevi Fountain, eating bite after bite of Italian gelato.

Stuffs herself with pizza and pasta by the Piazza Navona. And learns to love proper Italian coffee. (I don’t know why we call it that. It’s not grown in Italy, but they do have a way of making it that is so much better than the American method.)

Rome plays the backdrop to her glorious gluttony, and it brings the city to life like few films since Roman Holiday. For more on Rome, see http://www.tripideas.co.uk/posts/view/5850/Rome-Italy-Novel-trip-of-discovery

Eat Pray Love bicycling in Bali

Loving Bali

Bali, where she learns about love again (I’m mentally gagging as I write that), sparkles and titillates with its come-hither blue-green waters and the swooshy sounds of leaves rustling in the tropical forest breezes. The temples and cafes entice, and you can almost smell the serenity in the air as you watch. Bali, of course, is a bit of a party hot-spot for Aussies in particular, and this side is shown, ever so briefly, but if you stay somewhere like Como Shambala, you need never cross paths with drunken tourists. For more on Bali, see this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1305177/Eat-Pray-Love-Julia-Roberts-Bali-island.html

India is, of course, pray. She goes to an ashram. It’s grim. She watches an arranged marriage and fails to do anything to help the girl escape it, despite the obvious hints from the girl. You see little of the real India except this too-bright, too-garish wedding, whose outlandish colours and music remind one of the person who laughs too loudly to hide the tears running down their face.

This isn’t India. Well, it is and it isn’t. That could be said of any depiction of India, of course (and heck, most places – nowhere is the same all over). But it’s unfortunate in Eat Pray Love that you don’t see much of India outside the ashram (most of these are now populated almost entirely by rich Americans and Europeans trying to ‘find themselves’) – which is a shame, because there’s the briefest glimpse of the insanity of Delhi on her way to the ashram, but only enough to tease rather than satisfy. Still, the film is based on the book, and if that’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience, then that’s how it had to be. For some more interesting Indian retreat ideas, see my article here: http://www.tripideas.co.uk/posts/view/5851/Find-your-inner-peace-in-mystical-India

New York also gets a look in – not a particularly pleasant one, as her time here was sad, so it’s shown as perenially gloomy, yet its strikingly atmospheric, too. The darkness of the New York cinematography only adds to its allure.

The book has spawned a massive amount of interest in Eat Pray Love tourism (there are plenty of Eat Pray Love tours out there, especially in America). And after seeing the film, I’d say Rome and Bali had best prepare themselves for more women in search of pizza, pasta and passion.

See Eat Pray Love at cinemas in the UK from 24 September 2010.

Hotel concierges: buck up your ideas

The concierge at Trump International, One Central Park, New York, is my new best friend

Chatting to a friend yesterday about an upcoming trip to China, she said Trailfinders had suggested she ask the concierges at her hotels for local tips and to book her guides, etc.

In my experience, getting info from the hotel concierge is the worst possible idea. There was a time, perhaps a decade or two ago, when concierges were the go-to guys (and they were still mostly men then) for whatever you needed for your trip. You could turn up at your four-star or five-star hotel and expect that they’d book you into the best restaurants, get you tickets to the finest shows and point you in the direction of the local bars and shops where you could pick up that must-have souvenir.

Now, however, travellers have become much savvier. We no longer want to go where the  masses go. If we desperately need that Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt, we can find the address online before we go. And getting us on the guestlist of an overpriced club or bar filled with other tourists is rarely desirable.

But although travellers have become more interested in experiencing local life or finding those little-known secret spots, most concierges have stuck to their guns, continuing to send guests to the most touristy restaurants (= expensive food, badly prepared, surrounded by other tourists), most tired nighttime entertainment (= musicals that have been around so long, the cast sleepwalks through performances, with tickets costing more than the GDP of Albania), lamest bars filled with nothing but other tourists and the most obvious sights with no insider info (i.e. I want to go to the Louvre, sure, but can’t you tell me the best time to avoid the crowds or about the secret entrance on Rue du Rivoli).

I’ve stayed at more than my fair share of five-star hotels in recent years, and almost without fail, the concierges can do little other than book me into the restaurants listed in the back of DK Eyewitness Guides. I have a mobile phone. I can do that myself, ta.

So what should concierges be doing? They should be

  • visiting new restaurants, bars and shows themselves to really suss out who they are for (and surely most places would comp them the experiences).
  • reading relevant mags with listings and reviews, such as, for London, Time Out, The Times Culture and online guides The Londonist and Run Riot.
  • get onboard with Social Media. Follow useful people and get them to follow you. Then, if a 17-year-old asks where the best t-shirt shop is, you can go onto Twitter and ask, if you don’t already know.
  • most importantly, recognise that your customers are savvier than 10 years ago. Most people want LOCAL experiences, INSIDER information and INTERESTING tips.

If we can find it in a guidebook, we don’t need you to tell us about it. We want you to go beyond the guidebook. After all, you could be the only local we’ll really be able to get info from.

Worst concierges

Without naming names, here are some of my worst concierge experiences. I’d like to point out that concierges are, almost without fail, wonderfully friendly and happy folk, willing to help as far as they can. The problem is that they just haven’t moved with the times.

  • In Istanbul, a concierge at our beautiful five-star hotel booked us into a ‘safe, clean, won’t-rip-you-off’, local’s Turkish bath’ that was not clean, did rip us off (we inevitably paid more than quoted on the phone), was incredibly painful (my husband literally came out covered in  bruises) and filled with nothing but tourists.
  • In Istanbul, a concierge sent us to the most touristy, dusty, overpriced, nasty little strip of restaurants, filled with nothing but 60-year-old Brits and Americans. We’re in our 30s.
  • In Marrakesh, we ended up at a tourist-filled overpriced restaurant, where the food and atmosphere were nowhere near the ‘local’s restaurant’ we’d asked for.
  • In London, relatives here to visit us are regularly told by concierges to visit the most godawful tourist-trap restaurants, pubs and shows. (We’re usually able to intervene before their experience to London is ruined by a trip to the Angus Steak House.)
  • In almost every city, concierges often do little more than recommend you visit their hotel restaurant or bar, or other hotel restaurants and bars. Clue: few locals visit hotel restaurants and bars in most cities.

Good experiences

  • My favourite concierge – EVER! – is the wonderful CARLOS at Trump International Hotel in New York. He bent over backwards to get us bookings into quirky bars. HOWEVER, we had to find out about these for ourselves. But he miraculously got us into Please Don’t Tell (a bar most New Yorkers are desperate to get into, but can’t) – even after we’d left the hotel and were staying at another nearby. Love him. Plus, he saved my ass when my TravelTweetup meeting place turned out to be closed (he checked, I didn’t), and booked us last-minute into another decent cocktail bar.
  • The concierge/receptionist at Hotel Gabriel in Paris sent us to a wonderful tapas bar filled with locals, not tourists.

My advice? Avoid the concierge, unless you can provide him or her with exactly what you want, and you just need them to make the call for you. And don’t fall into the trap of asking taxi drivers, either, unless you like visiting places that taxi drivers tend to go in your own town.

Instead, find a local of your approximate age and style, and ask him or her for tips. People who work in upmarket delis and trendy independent boutiques often steer us in the right direction for locals’ restaurants and nightlife.

Sunny day fun in London

With this ridiculously long (three-day) London heatwave, it’s left us all wondering what to do in this unexpectedly hot summer. Here are a few ideas:

1. Go for an open-air swim. The Thames is probably best avoided unless you’re a very strong swimmer and good at dodging boats / rusty supermarket trolleys. Instead, go here to find your nearest open-air pool.

2. Head to the beach! There’s a permanent tiny sandy beach of sorts – at low tide – in front of Gabriel’s Wharf on South Bank.

Go this weekend to the Greek Beach by the Thames (ends Sunday, 27 June)

Or head to the beach nearest London, which apparently is Southend on Sea.

3. Sadly, the London bike scheme won’t start until end of July, but you can still hire from various bikes shops

But if there are two of you, how could you resist hiring from these cuties?

San Francisco Top 5 for first-timers

1. Ride a bike over Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito, then take the ferry back across.

Riding up to the bridge is a bit of a hill, but then you ride on the pavement across it, so it’s totally safe and separated from cars. Then it’s downhill all the way into cute Sausalito (a great spot to grab lunch).

You can hire bikes from Fisherman’s Wharf and all around that area. (It’s definitely worth hiring a tandem if there are two of you. You’ll bicker for a few minutes, but then it’s blissful, and no chance of one zooming ahead, leaving the other behind.

Taking the ferry back gives you wonderful views of San Francisco from the water.

At the ferry terminal, check out the covered market building next door. Full of nice little shops and restaurants now.

2. See Teatro Zinzani. Includes dinner. Totally touristy, a bit pricey, and absolutely hilarious. I almost never recommend touristy things like this, but the cast here is brilliant, and it’s a jolly night out for anyone with a funny bone. Suitable for everyone, but probably best for young teens and above rather than small children.

3. Drive at least part of Big Sur on a sunny day (preferaby in a convertible).

There’s no official Big Sur starting and stopping point, but the gorgeous scenery begins just south of Carmel and goes all the way to Hearst Castle.

It would take at least five hours to drive all the way from San Francisco to Hearst Castle, so that is not possible in a day unless you stay overnight on the Big Sur. (If you can afford it, stay for a night or two at the super expensive but really cool Post Ranch Inn, halfway down Big Sur http://www.postranchinn.com/)

But if you’re sleeping in San Francisco, I’d set off just after rush hour in the morning, check out Carmel, then drive for at least an hour south of Carmel to see some of the dramatic Big Sur coastline. Then turn around and backtrack to San Francisco, possibly popping over to Monterey if you have time.

4. Go for a stroll in Golden Gate Park on a sunny day. Lots of different sights here, but it’s also lovely simply to bike or walk through the green spaces. Great for picnics. The Japanese garden is a highlight.

5. Book a table at Greens on the bay for sunset.
Great food, but even better views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Make sure you’re there for sunset. Lovely.
For reservations call (415) 771-6222

And my top DON’T BOTHER? Fisherman’s Wharf. Go to hire a bike and look at the sea lions flopping about in the bay in front, but skip the megatouristy shops and attractions inside.

How to tip when you travel – when, where and how much

Emyr Thomas, founder of Bon Vivant, a concierge and lifestyle management company in London, shares his thoughts on navigating the minefield of tipping in some of the world’s hottest cities.

Tipping can be socially awkward, cause endless embarrassment and be highly inconsistent and irrational, especially since it is based on the amount of a transaction instead of the quality of service.

It is imperative to remember that tipping is a gesture of appreciation for services rendered – if the service is impressive, then it deserves to be acknowledged and rewarded. More important, perhaps, is to remember to tip generously if you are a regular, as this will go a long way to ensure consistently good service and additional perks.

Deciding whether or not to tip is the easy part; the real problem lies in deciding how much to tip. Tipping is inherently linked to social custom and, as such, can vary between different cultures and countries. An inadequate tip could be considered an infringement on etiquette or an insult to a lifetime’s work.

In a country where a tip is considered a supplement to an income and not a constituent part of a wage, do not be afraid to not leave a tip if the service was not up to scratch – an important lesson for obliging Brits, perhaps.

UK

In restaurants, particularly the high-end establishments, 12.5% is usually already included on the bill, with anything between 10% and 15% being customary. In bars, it is normally at your discretion, although no tip is expected in a pub, but cocktail bars will normally add 12.5% for table service.

For hairstylists, anything between 5% and 10%, given in cash, is acceptable. In London taxis, political and economical musings come at a price, with rounding up to the nearest whole pound or up to 10% of the fare being standard. For hotel staff, a couple of pound is acceptable for maid service and for assistance with luggage.

USA

In the United States, many service sector employers pay their workers on the assumption that tips will contribute to an acceptable wage, therefore the custom of tipping is of paramount importance. Tipping is a big issue in the US in general, especially during the holiday season, with almost everyone receiving a monetary tip, including personal trainers, dry cleaners and teachers!

In restaurants, between 15% and 20% is expected, which is higher than most places, but this is more likely to go directly to the staff. Continuing with this trend, around 15% is considered standard in bars and pubs, with at least $1 per transaction. If using a taxi in New York, be prepared to add between 10% and 15% to the final bill, but don’t be afraid to dispute ill-judged journeys, as you shouldn’t have to pay for a driver’s error.

If you have a haircut, you might have to forgo the blow dry, as you’ll need an extra 15% or 20% to pay for the tip. For hotel staff, a couple of dollars is acceptable for maid service and bellboys.

France

Parisians will tell you that there is no standard for tipping in Paris, and that the French will only tip if they deem a service to be worthy. Service is normally ‘compris’, or already included, in restaurants, but excellent service can be rewarded with a further 5% left in cash.

Tips are not normally given to taxi drivers, but generally used to make giving change easier. With hairstylists, a 5 Euro tip is standard, whether the haircut costs 20 or 80 Euros.

For hotel staff, it is completely at your discretion, with a few Euros being more than sufficient. When it comes to bars, it is not customary to tip in Paris, unless, as one friend put it, you are feeling particularly guilty.

Spain

Tipping is not generally mandatory in Spain, but tends to vary with the type of venue – an upscale establishment, for example, will be more likely to expect a tip. In restaurants, service is sometimes included in the prices, but this may not make its way to the waiters, so it is acceptable to leave a further 5% to 10% in cash. When looking at a menu, be careful to note whether tax at 7% is included in the prices, or this will also be added to your bill, by law. In a casual tapas bar, tipping is not normally expected, but leave a few Euros if the service was worth it.

Tipping taxi drivers is by no means obligatory, although between 5% and 10% is considered good etiquette. The same can be applied for hair stylists, especially if you visit the same one regularly. In hotels, a few Euros for staff is more than acceptable.

Hong Kong

Tipping is not generally a large part of Hong Kong’s culture, except in hotels, where tipping is considered mandatory. HK$10 to HK$20 should be given to bellboys and maids, and remember to tip your concierge if you make use of the service.

In restaurants and bars, 10% is usually automatically added to the bill, but you should still leave a further 5% to 10% in cash for the waiters. Hairstylists will usually expect between 5% and 10%, and although taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, it is widely accepted that you should round up to the nearest dollar, or leave an additional dollar, at least.

Italy

Unlike many European countries, tipping is not generally expected in Italy, but it is, of course, always appreciated. In restaurants, a cover charge is normally already included and they tend to charge extra for bread, both of which are considered to replace the usual ‘tip’ or service charge. However, if you think that the service was worthy of reward, a tip of between 5% and 10% is gratefully received.

It’s not obligatory to tip a taxi driver, but rounding up to the nearest Euro is considered good etiquette. For hotel staff, a couple of Euros is acceptable for maid service and for assistance with luggage.

Turkey

Tipping is not generally a large part of Turkey’s culture, with modest tips being perfectly acceptable.

In restaurants and bars, you should leave 5% to 10% in cash for the waiters, and although taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, it is widely accepted that you should round up to the nearest Lira. For services that are used on a regular basis, such as hair stylists, a tip of 10% is advisable as this usually helps to ensure consistently good service.

Portugal

In Portugal, tipping is usually considered as a supplement to an income at a restaurant, therefore a tip of 10% would be greatly appreciated, although a fine dining restaurant may include up to 15% on the bill.

Taxi drivers normally expect a 10% tip on top of the fare, in hotels a few Euros should be given to bellboys and maids, and remember to tip your concierge if you make use of the service.

For further information on Bon Vivant, visit their website at http://www.bonvivant.co.uk or their blog at http://bonvivantliving.wordpress.com/. You can also follow them on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BonVivantLiving

Why BA flight attendants are on strike – by a former BA flight attendant

GUEST POST: written by a former British Airways flight attendant

As the strike at BA takes effect, what are cabin crew really fighting for?

Having recently hung up my teapot and retired from my role as British airways cabin crew after five years, my heart goes out to my former colleagues battling the British Airways big chiefs and trying to retain just a few of the conditions they originally signed up for. Don’t be goaded into believing the strike is a stand over a few pennies here and there. It’s not. It’s a stand against imposition, loss of earnings and an embarrassingly sub-standard product that still costs the same inflated price. Let me fill you in on what the press hasn’t.

So what’s happening? Firstly, let’s talk basics. A cabin crew’s salary is made up of two parts. A (very) low basic which is boosted by allowances. These allowances are made up of various extra payments and can only be earned when you actually fly. They are accrued based on your fleet i.e. longhaul or shorthaul  and also which flights you undertake; some being worth more than others due to length of flight, destination and nights away from base(London Heathrow).

So what’s the problem? In basic terms, the strike is twofold. It’s about BA’s plans for a new fleet that will bring in an hourly rate and massively cut crews salary and secondly, the imposition of changes to cabin crew working conditions without Union negotiation.

BA wants to implement a new mixed fleet at London Heathrow the same as they have at London Gatwick.  This will involve all crew flying a mixture of long haul routes and short haul routes.

What’s wrong with that? I hear you say. Well, anyone joining the new fleet will have to sign the new terms and conditions which will be greatly reduced on all levels from the current conditions BA crew have. This new fleet will be earning far less on an hourly rate and will most likely consist of new starters who wish to do it for just a year. This will be far cheaper for the company.

If current crew don’t sign up to the new agreement (and there is NO incentive to do so – would you lose a massive chunk of your salary forever if asked?!), they stand to end up with the lowest-earning trips (and therefore cutting their salaries) or worse still, an empty roster (also cutting their salaries). Neither good.

To give you some idea of monies, on an average month I would take home about £1,750. On the new contract, I will be lucky to take home £1,000. That is a substantial cut to anyone’s earnings and especially people who have forged a career at BA and have families reliant on their income. Least we not forget that unlike many other airlines, the majority of BA cabin crew are long termers who take the job seriously and make a long-term career out of it.

The second point I mentioned is imposition. When the recession hit, all companies were forced to make cutbacks, and BA were no exception. Thousands of cabin crew agreed to part time contracts and over 2,000 crew (including myself) signed up and took voluntary redundancy to save the company money. Cabin crew also agreed to a two-year pay freeze and reduced working conditions (as did pilots although, unlike cabin crew, they have been promised the loss of earnings back at the end of the two years).

However, BA wanted to reduce both areas to a slither and refused any negotiation. Without discussion, they took a crew member off all aircraft, impacting on the level of service crew were able to provide.

For example, reduced levels on long haul flights mean that the CSD (the in-charge crew member who previously dealt with passenger problems, the in-flight entertainment and all aircraft admin) must now work on trolley during the meal service. This is all well and good until the in-flight entertainment breaks or the CSD has to deal with a passenger query and all of a sudden you have an empty trolley!

Coupled with the massively reduced product (i.e. Business class washbags are now request only. No hot towels. Not enough newspapers to go around, etc) the CSD is often away dealing with a multitude of complaints. And that is if he/she isn’t off trying to fix the in-flight entertainment system on nearly every flight.

To summarise, British Airways cabin crew are fighting to retain reasonable working conditions and salaries for themselves, as well as a respectable level of product for the customers.

As one of my former colleagues commented, “We want to work for British Airways, not a higher-class version of Ryanair.”

And that is the essence of it really; this doesn’t just affect those who fly to serve. It affects all of us who fly British Airways .

Crew wish to work for a world-class airline and I am sure you want to fly on one.

If you read this and don’t agree with the crew going on strike, that is fine. Just remember though, next time you take your British Airways seat and receive half the product you expected or a fraction of the service, it’s what you asked for, and you are in no real position to complain.

This guest post was written by a former British Airways flight attendant who wishes to remain anonymous because he/she still has many close friends in the business and does not want to jeopardise their current situation.

Tweview: London Marriott Grosvenor Square

Hints of Art Deco, fantastic private Club Lounge and a business hotel with a bit of flair: a Twitter review of the five-star London Marriott Grosvenor Square, just off Oxford Street in Mayfair, including Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant

Will be doing Twitter review of London Marriott Grosvenor Square http://bit.ly/971Apj over 24hrs this Sunday. @londonmarriott @nylonpr #LMGS

About to check into Ldn Marriott Gros Sq. Last time in a Marriott, it was business bland. Fingers x’d this 1 is more interesting. #LMGS

I like the Art Deco London, New York, Hong Kong clocks at reception. #LMGS http://twitpic.com/175s17

A beautifully dressed Anglo-Indian wedding party are in the lobby, waiting for the ceremony to start. #LMGS http://twitpic.com/175srv

Our room at Ldn Marriott Gros Sq, http://ow.ly/i/EE4 a newly refurbed Standard Deluxe. Lovely bed, with green-gold and black accents. #LMGS

About 1/2 of 237 rooms at London Marriott Grosvenor Square have just been refurbed. Masculine w/hints of Art Deco. http://ow.ly/i/EEf #LMGS

Wifi charges at Ldn Marriott Grosvenor Square:£3/15mins; £5/1hr; £15/24hrs. Free in Club Lounge, which you get access 2 w/some rooms. #LMGS

Mini-bar prices at London Marriott Grosvenor Square. Weighted mini-bar so if you pick an item up, it gets charged. http://ow.ly/i/EEt #LMGS

Miracle! Reaady to scorn menu at Gordon’s Ramsay’s Maze at Ldn Gros Sq Hotel, but it has full page of Veggie mains! http://ow.ly/1feK2 #LMGS

Although not sure why the veggie menu isn’t shown on web menu at Maze: #LMGS http://ow.ly/1feMS

Glad 2 C London Marriott Grosvenor Square using energy-efficient lighting throughout our room, even ceiling lights. http://ow.ly/i/EJU #LMGS

RT @AboutLondon: @UKtraveleditor No free wifi would put me off but it looks like a nice place. #LMGS

Photo of the Club Lounge at London Marriott Grosvenor Square. More touches of Art Deco glam. Note the chandelier. http://ow.ly/i/EK3 #LMGS

Just had yummy nibbles & tea in the Club Louge. Feels like a small airport First-Class lounge. Free papers, snacks, drinks, wifi. #LMGS

The Club Lounge @londonmarriott Grosvenor Sq is surprisingly busy right now – thx 2 happy hour w/additional free booze & nibbles. #LMGS

Ramsay’s Maze has tasting menus in the evening. 6 courses=£65 or a la carte around £11 each, but tiny, so need 2-4pp. #LMGS @londonmarriott

Love cream & dark wood Art Deco decor of Ramsay’s Maze at London Marriott Gros Sq, esp urved lit bar roof. http://twitpic.com/177vig #LMGS

In-room movies at London Marriott Grosvenor Square £9.99 each, or £25 for 24 unlimited. Ouch! http://ow.ly/1feQ1 #LMGS

Best dish we tried at Maze. Beetroot with slipcote cheese, pine nuts & cab sav vinaigrette. http://twitpic.com/178q2g @londonmarriott #LMGS

http://twitpic.com/178quq Marriott’s Founder (left) & president (right). Father & son? Not sure. Defo related. @londonmarriott #LMGS

Delicious key lime pie for dessert – free in Club Lounge at Ldn Marriott Grosvenor Sq. All-day nibbles & drinks. Loving it. #LMGS

Delicious brekkie Ldn Marriott Gros Sq: alacarte eggs bennie £9, pancakes £8, etc; continental buffet £16; everything+hot buffet £22. #LMGS

Have seen mostly families with teens, and couples at Ldn Marriott Gros Sq. Suspect more business types midweek. #LMGS

@anniebennett Yeah, that would be a USP for sure! An array of different buses on display daily outside the breakfast room. #LMGS

Rooms at Ldn Marriott Gros Sq with Club Lounge access needn’t buy brekkie. There’s loads in the Club Lounge, mostly cold but some hot. #LMGS

London Marriott Grosvenor Square: ask 4 a newly refurbed room on 1st-3rd floor – simple but elegant. Marble bathroom. 4-poster bed… #LMGS

…Fab locale (Selfridges 2mins away, Oxford St 1min; Mount St 1min; Bond St 3mins). Club Lounge super decor, food, drinks… #LMGS

…Ramsay’s Maze resto good &beautiful Art Deco decor, but 2pricey at dinner (cheaper lunch). Maze Grill cheaper but no veggie mains…#LMGS

…room rates decent for this quality in London & some weekend bargain offers. Wifi, phone & movies pricey (like most Ldn 5-stars)… #LMGS

…Rooms & closets spacious. Needs general lounge (not just Club). Tasteful Art Deco decor. Wld happily recommend 2 fam&friends. #LMGS

Last Marriott tweet, I promise. Just saw this wknd 3nights4priceof2 offer at reception 4 many UK+other Marriotts. http://ow.ly/1ftLm #LMGS

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