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Friday, June 26, 2009

From the Top of the Trump

From Buckingham Palace to a penthouse at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago...how's that for living the lifestyle of the rich and famous while being poor and relatively unknown?

This is an interesting hotel, quite different, in many ways, from other luxury properties I have visited. The Trump Chicago is two hotels in one. In addition to "basic" rooms and suites, the hotel features a spa floor. The 53 spa rooms come complete with healthy mini-bar items, in-room weights, yoga equipment, and Zen art and music.

A few notes of interest: Room service features a menu for kids, dogs, and cats (the menu for kids differs from the one for critters, FYI). The pet menu includes bottled water from Italy. Bella. Bottled waters from Tasmania, Wales and Argentina are available for humans (as, I am gathering, is the Italian brand for canines--the dog-worthy water was what I was provided as an in-room welcome amenity. Woof). The other H2O on offer is the Trump brand, which, as far as I can ascertain, is likely bottled in New Jersey.

The technologically-challenged (I include myself in that category) may have some initial challenges figuring out light switches, drape openers, and coffee makers. But give it a day or two and it will all make sense.

The elevators are slow as molasses. I waited 10 minutes to get an elevator from the spa floor (14) up to the penthouse floor (27). Said elevator never came. I eventually had to go down to go up.

Speaking of molasses, the food and beverage outlets in the hotel are stunning. A new outside terrace area serves up drinks and amazing views of Chicago. Sixteen, the property's restaurant, is one of the loveliest hotel dining spaces I've seen. An nineteen-foot-high chandelier, complete with 20,000 hand-carved Swarovski crystals, is the centerpiece of the main dining room, which also features 30-foot-high ceilings and curved walls paneled with Kazinga wood from West Africa.

For information on room rates and other amenities, click here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Obamas Aren't the Only Americans Who Get to Meet the Royals....

...although, admittedly, I just got to meet Prince Philip and not QEII or any of the offspring. Still, it was quite an experience to visit Buckingham Palace and give my birthday regards to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Please enjoy a narrative of the event, as written by my alter ego Jane Air. For more Jane Air columns, click here.

Jane Visits Buckingham Palace

Your faithful correspondent is reporting from London, her first time on British soil in 20 years! And what did Jane do on her first day back in jolly old England? Why, she went to Buckingham Palace, of course.

It started with a VIP guided tour of the Queen's state rooms, which contain thrones, art and other royal booty. Speaking of royal booty, after the tour, it was off to a reception room to meet a majesty. The royal du jour was Prince Philip (hereafter referred to as PP), the husband of QEII (the Queen, not the ship). Prior to the encounter, the group was given all sorts of etiquette tips. "Address him as Your Royal Highness first, then sir thereafter; bowing is not necessary" yadda, yadda, yadda. But Jane only learned of a few other etiquette rules after experiencing a royal hiccup. Now, mind you, it was only Prince Philip, not the Queen (poor PP, the Rodney Dangerfield of the royal family). And Jane certainly did not pull a Michelle Obama, that is, touching a royal inappropriately (although in Jane's HO, it is extremely difficult for MO to do anything inappropriately). Nevertheless, Jane's unknowing faux pas did provoke a response in the form of a rather bushy royal eyebrow lift (PP could use a little facial man-scaping).

Jane is still a bit flummoxed about the exact nature of her faux pas. Jane will provide a list of possibilities and you can opt for the one you believe to be royally wince-worthy.

It all started when Jane was told it was Prince Philip's 88th birthday. Jane, being the first in her group to shake his hand, immediately opened with "Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness." Veddy British, veddy proper, or so Jane thought. Her group members, many of whom were quaking in their boots at the prospect of meeting royalty, were quite awed by the rather nonchalant manner with which Jane addressed the prince (imagine "Your Royal Highness" replaced with "dude " and you can conjure the tone). But all her lovely greeting garnered from said prince was that royal eyebrow.

Now, Jane was both bemused and confused by this reaction. How could anyone, particularly a prince, not be taken with Jane and her friendly nature? But later, three possible breaches of etiquette were pointed out, any of which, Jane supposes, might have aroused the royal eyebrow.

#1: The guide asked, after the meeting with the prince, whether anyone had wished him "Happy Birthday." The group gleefully pointed to Jane. A furrow came across the guide's brow (the British brow is quite expressive). He then expounded that the prince didn't like to be reminded that it was his birthday. Upon reflection, Jane believes that perhaps PP is a bit bitter that, while the Queen's actual birthday is in April, it is officially celebrated around the time of his own special day. So, on his real June birthday, all PP gets is a 41-gun salute, while QEII, for her fake June birthday, gets a big old parade.

#2 Someone, in telling of another meeting with a crowned one, pointed out that royals must always speak first in an interaction with a commoner. Putting aside the fact that Jane is no commoner, she would have let PP speak first, if someone had informed her of the rule. But the fact is, Jane blurted out "HB, YRH" before poor Philip could even open his mouth. Jane can imagine that PP, who has played second fiddle to a woman his entire adult life, might have been a bit bothered that he didn't get in the first word in this particular male-female scenario.

#3 As previously mentioned, colleagues were quite impressed with the breezy informality Jane employed whilst saying, "HB, YRH" with a dangling "dude" implied. Thus, Jane pondered that perhaps her tone was the brow-raiser. One imagines PP is not often greeted with a chirpy American casualness, particularly by one as lovely and fashionably-dressed as Jane.

Whether Jane's faux pas was actually #1, #2, or #3 (please feel free to vote), she supposes that there is now no chance that PP will set her up on a blind date with Prince Andrew (remember him?). And that is a royal shame.

Incidentally, dear readers, while you won't meet a royal, you too can visit Buckingham Palace. However, you can only do so if you come to London between 26 July and 30 September. While the Queen and Prince Philip are frolicking at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, commoners are allowed to take self-guided tours at their London abode. Make reservations at www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

London Calling: Part I

Given a dollar-to-pound exchange rate boost of 25% over last year, many of you may be heading to England this summer. If so, here are a few words of advice about getting from the airport into central London.

For those flying into Gatwick, Gatwick Express trains take 30 minutes to Victoria Station. One way tickets start at 16.9 pounds. If you are flying into Heathrow, there are several inexpensive and traffic-free options for getting into London. The Heathrow Express train takes about 20 minutes door to door (the other door being at Paddington Station). Tickets start at 16.5 pounds one way (free with many rail passes). A round-trip economy ticket is 32 pounds. London Underground's Piccadilly Line also runs into London from Heathrow. The ride takes about an hour into central London. Prices start at four pounds. You can select any Piccadilly Line station to enter and exit the system.

Here's the rub. If you are traveling with heavy luggage, public transportation can be tricky. For example, The Heathrow Express is fine if you are starting at the airport and ending at Paddington. But if you plan to get onto the Tube at Paddington, be aware that there are steps, many steps...and no elevators (remember, the London Underground dates back to 1863). Similarly, some of the stops along the Piccadilly Line are elevator-free. When pondering what stops to use, look at the tube map and note which stations are accessible. Those stations will come equipped with escalators and elevators.

Otherwise, if like me, you end up winding your way through a steps-only station (namely Paddington), you may have to rely on the kindness of strangers for help. Fortunately, Londoners are quite polite and more than happy to help, especially if you are a woman who appears to be struggling with heavy lifting. And one other note on how sexism can sometimes be a good thing--gentlemen actually give up their seats to ladies on the Tube. Imagine that happening in New York or DC!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Once again, apologies for the paucity of recent blog entries. I've been on a whirlwind visit to England, my first time in the country since graduate school some 20 years ago. I will be writing extensively about my tea with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace (really) and other matters soon. But meantime, a few brief observations--

Much of the trip was spent in Southwest England, an area unknown to many Americans, but well worth visiting. Cornwall and Devon are filled with scenery, yummy food, and American history. After all, the pilgrims did set out from these parts. As we all know (?), Plymouth Rock named after Plymouth, England, located in Devon.

The cathedral town of Exeter was one of the highlights. But let me warn you, if you are staying at The Abode Hotel (formerly the Royal Clarence Hotel), beware of a room with a view. When I checked in, my original room, overlooking an alley, was basking in the noise of a pub below. I asked to change abodes, and to my initial delight, I received a room with a view of the cathedral. Stunning. But the thing about cathedrals--they have towers with bells that ring every hour. That's every hour, morning, noon, and NIGHT. So, while the daytime view was lovely, nighttime meant a wake-up call every hour...at least until I fell into a deep slumber between the hours of 3 AM and 6 AM. Ding dong.

More to come....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The President and I Jet Off From Dulles--I'm Delayed, He's Not

Again, these television appearances around the country are making it challenging to blog. But just so you know that even travel experts get delayed, yesterday I experienced a lovely five-hour tarmac situation (with a 40-minute break back at the airport), thanks to weather somewhere far in the distance, a need for refueling, and one Mr. Barack Obama. You see, our President decided to fly out of Dulles on his way to Egypt and as a result, all normal traffic was put in a holding pattern. I will give Barack a ba-reak, as he was jetting off in the effort to solve the Middle East crisis, terrorism, and other troubles all in one fell swoop....slightly more important than my television appearance in Jacksonville. Speaking of which, that appearance is not seen below. Instead, a segment I did earlier in the day before leaving DC is available here for your viewing pleasure.