Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notre Dame Paris: Mixed Feelings

I really don't watch the news anymore because I feel it tends to focus on a lot of dramatic life pieces (STUDIES FOUND THAT BREATHING WILL NOW GIVE YOU CANCER!  STAY TUNED!!!). With this ban on media centered on indifference, I tend to be a bit late to the story when something big happens.  Case in point, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris catching fire.
I was at lunch at work and coworkers starting talking about it, and I honestly thought it was the college in the US and not the church in Paris.  Strike one for my mental empathy sensors. I checked Facebook and saw my friend that was in Paris on her vacation and listed Notre Dame as one of her top sights to see had in fact seen it that morning.  She posted a sad picture of the smoke plume from a distance and it felt bittersweet that she was able to see it but then watched it be destroyed.
Scrolling further through my Facebook feed, nearly everyone posted a link to an article, a live feed or their own personal pictures of Notre Dame.  At that point, my sadness dulled and I felt confused.  Did I not care about a building burning?  Had I become so numb to tragedies that this was relatively nothing?  Or more worrisome, was I now a person who judges the masses on what they chose to take interest in?  Oh, you care about a building but not the humanitarian crisis in Libya, Yemen, Syria, etc etc etc?
Even though you really can't control how you feel, this bland feeling bothered me. And then it hit me. While tragic, it wasn't a death sentence for the cathedral. The support and popularity of the site meant that there would be support worldwide to repair and rebuild.  There is solace in the fact that due to renovations, some of the statuary and other pieces from the inside were removed and therefore not damaged. I thought about a story of the National Museum of Brazil where thousands of irreplaceable artifacts were lost in a massive fire and I started to get upset.  My empathy was not dead.  In the case of Brazil, there wasn't that rallying support to get it rebuild or even any knowledge of
Happy news - the oldest human found in the Americas was not a total loss.  You can see some of the details on the recovery efforts as well as links to other articles on what happened here.
With that, I will join the masses and share some pictures from my first visit to Notre Dame almost 10 years ago.

Edit: This was originally to be posted Saturday April 20 but it failed to upload

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Caribbean Travel: Aruba Riu Antillas Palace

I will admit that I am not someone who knows how to enjoy "Sun and Fun" types of vacations.  That being said, once a year we go somewhere that specializes in that with a fun group of friends and have a blast.  This year we went to Aruba and stayed at the Riu Antillas Palace hotel.  It was all inclusive and adults only which was a selling point for us.
Anyone who had been to Aruba before thought we were crazy for staying at an all inclusive on the island.  The food on the island is great quality and there are lots of choices.  However, the value of this resort to keep the trip affordable because the one night we went out was expensive.  Plus, with 6+ people, coordinating 3 meals a day plus drinks, snacks etc is too much hassle on a short trip.  When we wanted lunch, we spent exactly 10 mins gathering together, brushing the sand off and getting seated at a restaurant.  We all could do our own thing and not have to worry about
This was my first time at an adults only resort and I had mixed feelings.  I thought it would be quieter without kids running around all the time, but instead it was some sort of midlife spring break.  The resort actual has policies against spring breakers if I remember correctly from their website.  It was LOUD - lots of music and lots of drunk adults.  Granted, there wasn't anyone running through the hallways or making a ruckus in the middle of the night.
The hotel itself has older "bones".  The building opened in the 70s as the Aruba Concorde Hotel.  Riu took over maybe 10 years ago and I saw the last renovation listed as 2014. That would be the biggest downfall of the property, the age shows.  It the lobby, the air conditioning system drips onto the floor and if you look at the ceiling, the wear and tear from this is evident.  There doesn't seem to be a proper luggage room.  Before check in time, the bags are all stacked in the middle of the lobby.  It makes the lobby feel really closed in as well as the issue of not having a ton of security with only the staff watching the bags instead of an actual locked room.  The front desk staff is friendly but inconsistent considering 3 couples got 3 different versions of information.
The lobby bar is small, but they make the best drinks on the resort.  The food is actually great with lots of choices.  For lunch and breakfast, it is buffet restaurants with some cook to order stations set up.  We could also go over to the sister property next door to the buffet restaurants which was nice to mix it up.  Dinner there is also a buffet, but there are 3 specialty restaurants for served dinners: Italian, Fine Dining/Fusion, and a steakhouse. They don't accept reservations, it's first come first served which had some people lining up. The great part about not taking reservations is that on a busy Saturday night, we could put our name on the waitlist and they gave us a buzzer for when our table was ready.  This gave us the flexibility to go have a drink while waiting and the only caveat is that you had to be there within 15 minutes of the buzzer going off.
The rooms are a good size, but old.  There was a popcorn ceiling.  The bathroom felt dated.  The beds were super saggy and the linens scratchy.  The balcony with the ocean view was a huge plus, especially considering you could not see your neighbors from it.  The hallways had musty carpet that was pulling in some areas.  This being said, all of these areas were exceptionally clean.  Especially considering the one day I dumped a gallon of sand out of my bathing suit onto the tile floor, the cleaning staff is fighting a constant battle.  There are also little touches like the towel animal with chocolate in the room at check in and the nightly turndown service. I had an extra blanket on the bed that they made into it for the duration of our stay.  We had one bottle of water in the fridge and one bottle out and as they refilled nightly, they followed this pattern.
The outdoor spaces were also clean.  The pool was a little less so, but impressively, the beach was very clean.  One thing I couldn't stand was the drinks in flimsy, non-reusable plastic cups.  There were some stands to "recycle" the cups, but no one was really using them and I am skeptical as to where the cups went.  The only other thing about the outdoor spaces was the inconsistency in the bartenders. Some made drinks really strong (too strong for me!) so made excellent drinks and some made margaritas with lemons and vodka (seriously).
Verdict: I think Aruba is new to the All Inclusive game as there are limited options.  The Divi Phoenix next door did NOT look remotely as nice for a similar price.  The Riu has great food and service next to beautiful beaches for a good price.  I wouldn't hesitate to go back to this property.

Double bed room


Pool Area

OK, so the only shot I got of the bathroom is me drunk...dancing...?  I had been awake since 2:30AM the night before and drank a bunch after not drinking for 2 months.  No clue.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Diet Coke - Diet NOPE

I love to read the"behind the scenes" lists about airline travel and one particular fact from such a list sticks with me.  Flight attendants say their least favorite drink to serve in flight is diet coke.  Diet Coke takes up to 3 times longer to pour than other drinks due to its fizzy nature.

And there is a real reason behind it!  Regular coke is made with sugar which increases the surface tension and viscosity in the drink - and in real terms that means bigger bubbles are forming.  If you ever played with bubbles as a kid, think about how the larger bubbles floating in the air would burst first and the tiny little bubbles would be the last to burst.
This tiny air travel science lesson was all to say that I was surprised that on my United flight this week napkins were advertising Diet Coke specifically.  Not Coke, or Coke products, but Diet Coke, the bane of airline drink service.  What's up with that United?  It's not as if soda is a purchase item for passengers and choosing any other Coke product would be stealing profits.  Very strange.

Friday, April 5, 2019

East meets West: Afternoon Tea in Hong Kong

I'm an anglophile.  I blame my mother for raising me on PBS shows in the 80s which were almost completely British programming.  Considering that this was a time before cable, it makes sense given the lack of options coming through on the antenna.
One of the things I was looking forward to in Hong Kong was some of this British imprint on Chinese culture. Even though the British officially departed 20 years ago, this tradition of afternoon tea has taken hold in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong definitely has a strong tea culture in general (I love milk tea! More on that at a later time) so it is no wonder that this remained.
Afternoon tea is credited to the Duchess of Bedford for beginning this trend. Dinner used to be late and large so getting there from breakfast was a challenge.  The Duchess of course was having her dinner fashionably late as was the style of the 1800s, but we girls all know that you're going to get hangry waiting that long. Thus, afternoon tea was born! Though there seems to be other theories that it began before that time and even that it may have begun in FRANCE.  I don't believe the English enjoy that last bit.
In Hong Kong, it has remained true to the British roots of it and is a refined experience.  Refined unless you turn up to the Peninsula Hotel and see a queue through the back of the hotel.
My husband and I had been walking around all morning, it was a Saturday and the Peninsula does not take reservations unless you are a guest at the hotel so I did not have high hopes.  It was however worse than I expected.
Walking into the lobby, you are greeted by the famous string quartet.  Once you gawk around, you see about 30 people standing in front of the musicians taking pictures. Then you notice the noise of people talking.  The lobby has incredibly high ceilings and the noise level was akin to being in New York Penn Station.  No exaggeration.  There are hundreds of people already seated in tables close to each other and servers are clearing and setting tables with lightning precision. Hmm, maybe we can try to get in here based on the sheer volume of tables available and the efficiency of the staff, but it's not exactly the classy experience that I was hoping for.
We then get into the line that we saw queuing on the one side of the lobby.  It didn't look too bad but then we were located at the doorway with more people filling in behind us.  Hotel staff then came to direct people in line in order to keep doorways clear.  It was at this point that we heard something that sounded like "half hour" for the wait.  Well, that's not bad at all, but we weren't sure if it was truly a half hour or one and a half hours.
Then the staff told someone again it would be a two hour wait.
For TEA?
Okay, and some snacks, but I'd be paying 350 HKD for the privilege after waiting in line for TWO HOURS. It's not Disneyland! I wouldn't wait 2 hours for a ride at Disney either to be perfectly honest, but that's a whole other ball game.
I quickly did a google map search of where afternoon tea could be had in Kowloon with the resignation that we could always go back to our own hotel and get pastries.  Ritz Carlton was a bit too far with all the walking we had done in the morning and of course there were no guarantees that we would be able to get in there.  I then saw the Langham come up on my map less than a half mile away though not as a tea venue.  I've visited the Langham in London - actually, it's one of my favorite hotels in London - and I knew they absolutely had to have a tea service.  The hotel's website informed me that they did indeed serve afternoon tea identical to what they serve in London in the Hong Kong property's Palm Court.

He apologized for the poor location of the table as it was against the wall and the harpist was directly behind my seat.  I actually found the harpist's location to be a bonus and we were a little bedraggled from walking around all morning.  Probably best that we were hidden from sight.


The menu was holiday themed, but it's based on the traditional Langham English tea that has been served at the London location for 150 years. It's served with Wedgwood and in fact, there is a special "Langham Rose" pattern of the tea ware.

I am an Earl Grey fanatic so I opted for the very normal Earl Grey.  The Hubs did a fruity rosy blend.  I said it was The tea came out followed later by a contraption that held all of the snacks (petit fours?) to enjoy with the tea.

THEN a basket of scones came out, which we instructed to eat warm. Perfect.

At the end of our meal (and it was truly a MEAL), we could have gotten more water for our tea and stayed longer.  I would have planned much better if I knew the Hubs was going to also enjoy it.  Must do in Hong Kong!!