Saturday, September 25, 2010

Right Size Wallet for British Bank Notes

British Sterling bank notes are a couple of centimeters wider than U.S. bank notes. For this reason, UK money will likely stick out of most wallets used by the average American male. The wallet I have been using for visits to the UK had served its duty and was ready to be replaced.

The Fossil brand had the exact wallet I was looking for and it was perfect for this London visit. The 'International Combi - Evans' imported leather wallet (Style# ML9628 US$45) measures 4"x5" with lots of slots for cards and even coins. I found the wallet at the Fossil store on 34th Street in New York City. It is available online and at select Fossil retail locations. More info at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There it Went and Here it Ends - Back to Reality

So all good things must end. This 2010 visit to London has to be one of the best among my travels. Sure it may have been helped that the airfare and hotel was taken care of by using a lot of points and miles. But it was worth it all.

So there it went and here it ends with final shots from this vacation taken from my airline seat: the entertainment system showing the near arrival to LAX and the view from my window of the California coast and downtown Los Angeles. I'll leave it there as everything after this point is norm for my travels to/from the US mainland. After landing, it's another journey through immigration and customs, a two-hour layover and then a five-hour flight on one of American's aging 757s to Honolulu.

All I can think of at this moment is I want go back.

Food x 8: Course After Course of Food

Menu cover
One can say there is far too much food served on this American Airlines Flagship flight from Heathrow to LAX. But I won't complain. I was soaking it all in and planned to enjoy as much of it as I could. I may never be able to do this again. But even I had my limits and refused the mid-flight snack of gourmet cheeses, dried fruit and crackers. Sure it's not quite dining in a four-star restaurant but the quality and service is better than expected from what I am used to in coach.

Here's what was offered during the flight. Take notice of the silverware, china and glass with the Airline's standard navy tray-table cloth. Also offered were warm nuts, gourmet bread and butter, assorted candies (I went for the Toblerone & Walker's shortbread), freshly baked cookies and chilled sparkling water. The remaining entree choices were: tomato almond beef fillet; grilled citrus halibut; and penne pasta with basil and tomatoes.

To start: Champagne (Nicolas Feuillate Brut Reserve Particulaire) and marinated cheese antipasto.
Appetizer: Smoked salmon and citrus marinated shrimp accompanied by capers, red onion and sour cream
The Salad Cart: Seasonal greens with artichokes, red bell peppers, kalamata olives and cucumbers with Sapori d'Arte olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Main Course: Tarragon chicken (seared breast of chicken enhanced by tarragon reduction) served with fava bean and sundried tomato medley with truffle mashed potatoes.
Dessert: Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream sundae with hot fudge and whipped cream.
Pre-Arrival Meal: Uno's deep dish pizza seasoned with garlic offered with a fresh green salad topped with broccoli, tomatoes and Italian herb vinaigrette.
Coffee & Dessert: Fresh fruit.

Flagship Suite Premium Amenity Kit

Everything one would need to help make a long overseas flight comfortable is included in this premium amenity kit on American Airlines. Such kits are offered to passengers seated in both first and business classes on their overseas flights. Naturally after years of flying economy, I already had packed most similar items going to London. I was wiser on the return trip. Included in the kit:

Colgate Tooth Paste
Smint Mints
Ball Point Ben
Tissue Pack
Hand & Face Towelette
Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
Burt's Bees Milk & Honey Body Lotion
Case with Zipper

The only items I think missing are dental floss and mouth rinse. 

AA Flight 137 - Flagship Suite from Heathrow

View from two of the three windows by seat 4J.
Taxi, train and finally airplane. It would be 10 hours and 30 minutes from Heathrow in London to Los Angeles International Airport. Among all the distances I have ever flown this is probably the most torturous. It is such a long distance of over 5,000 miles and the duration of the flight is entirely in daylight. Sure on international flights, American does offer meal service in coach but the hours move by extremely slowly.  

This time things were a thousand times different as I settled into a Flagship Suite. The flight was delayed but waiting at the gate for the plane to depart was never so relaxing. Shortly after finding my seat, the flight attendants offered a drink, menu, newspaper and a Bose headphone set. My head was already buzzing from the third glass of champagne before we departed.

Even though there are seats for 16 passengers in this section, one seat remained empty on the flight and on the one I flew to London. I noticed that during the flight the pilots or flight attendants would use this empty seat.

Click here for an animated view of the Flagship Suite or here for an overview of American Airlines First Class.
Rainy day view as the plane moves on the runway to takeoff.
Before takeoff menus were distributed and champagne served.
Above and below two views of cabin from my seat.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Leave London

Exiting the taxi, I encounter a line of people waiting for taxis to maybe begin their vacation.
The hardest part of the final day of a great vacation is ending it all. I stalled at the hotel until the very last couple of hours to leave. It's hard to savor the last moments especially in a fast paced city like London. The itinerary from the Chancery Court Hotel was now in reverse. First a taxi to Paddington Station and then the Heathrow Express to the airport. This time the bags are heavier than when I left and it will be almost twenty four hours until I reach my final destination at Honolulu International Airport.

The highest compliment to make about this London visit is the inspiration. I've been using my iPhone and iPad to write about my experience. It would be a task to transfer all this information to update my blog which I have been ignoring for almost two years but I feel I'm up to it. There's always a purpose to every trip and it was accomplished in spades with unexpected and welcomed events along the way.

Passengers heading to a waiting Heathrow Express train.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Last Night Shot and a Goodbye to London

Although there would be more opportunites to document the where, what and how of traveling to London, after tonight most of it will be posts about the journey to go home. It is the last true night of this visit to London and like in New York where I document a last night with a photo of Times Square, this visit ends with a parting shot of Piccadilly Circus.

'Priscilla' Dressed at the Palace - The Review

WTF?…this musical surprised me from every aspect. I think this show and ‘Sister Act’ are the two where I almost begrudgingly bought a ticket. These are hits in the West End and I wanted to know why but wondered how much improvement can there be from film to stage musical. Where ‘Sister Act’ delivered mixed results, ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ was fabulous from start to finish. Note to all, I completely avoided the stage adaptation of ‘Dirty Dancing’.

The show concerns drag queen Mitzi and friends Felicia and Bernadette who each make their own personal journeys of discovery as they go across Australia from Sydney to the outback, in a battered old bus named Priscilla, to perform their show singing their way through disco songs.

This is a cross-country adventure filled with colorful lighting, lots and lots of dazzling costumes and lively musical numbers. Songs are carefully chosen from the film and new ones added to project the feeling of the moment in the story.

I was surprised how much I like this show. An awesome moment involved the bus named Priscilla when it first appears on stage and later when it is painted pink...the house goes wild at this stage/lighting effect. The director even finds humor in the fact that a bus cannot travel on a confined stage and uses everything from street signs to road kill to mark their progress.

The cast has to be chosen well and their characters carefully modulated. These characters can become unlikable rather quickly but a balance of pathos, humor and drama in the lead roles will leave the crowds rooting for happy endings for all. Don Gallagher (Bernadette), Ben Richards (Tick/Mitzi) and Oliver Thornton (Adam/Felicia) work their characters to the edge of flamboyance but yet never exceeds it to overkill. Using the strength of the screenplay, the growth they gain by show’s end is honest and makes for purposeful storytelling. Hopefully these nuances are not lost in the transfer to Broadway. Spectacle is one thing but storytelling with meaningful characters makes it special.

It would have been too easily for things to go way over the top to the point of distraction. Yet in such a flashy musical it apparently does not cross the line. Somehow everything works. When human songbirds appear from the heavens it's okay. Unlike most jukebox musicals, the well known songs do not substitute for a poorly told story.

Note of caution: if you have an aversion to confetti, ping pong balls or country dancing, then best you be warned. For this audience member, my claim to fame is I can now say I danced on a London stage...nuff said.


All production photos used for illustration purposes only.

'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' Clip

Never heard of 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' the musical.  Watch this clip of the show that features the cast from Summer 2010.

Palace Theatre Dressed for 'Priscilla' - The Venue

For some history of the Palace Theatre, click here for a previously published post when 'Spamalot ' played the venue.

Below are shots of the 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' marquee at the Palace Theatre. Neon and a massive glittering pump. Definitely an awesome marquee.

Underground Advertising

The trains in the London underground run on one of the most efficient schedules. But when there is a wait a myriad of advertising is plastered on the tunnel walls opposite the platform to entertain the idle masses.

During an especially crowded time while seated on one of the platform benches, my view of the ads were severely obscured. All I could see were the words 'Scotch Beef' and the gentleman in the photo. So was this an ad to entice visitors to Scotland to meet strapping young males? Click the "read more" below for what was rally being advertised. These photos were taken later in the evening once the platforms had cleared of the after-work throngs.

Convenience Stores in London Just in Case

Sometimes you forget something after you arrive, need something at the last minute or searching for a snack or a quick bite to eat. If such a need arises when in London, look for either a Boots, Pret-a-Manger, Tesco or Sainsbury's. One of these retailers should have what you need.

Like a Walgreens or CVS in the states, Boots pharmacy should have the same merchandise and more. Besides the normal collection of drugstore goods, Boots also carriers some prepared food such as sandwiches. Boots locations are all over London so look for their signature blue sign. Back in 2007, my checked bag was delayed in which I packed many basics. Boots was an oasis to find replacement toiletries.

Don't have time to eat at a restaurant and want to avoid any American fast-food chain but still eat something simple, good and to go. Head to a Pret-A-Manger. Sandwiches, salads, wraps, sushi, soups, pastries, cookies and cakes are usually on the menu. All food is already prepared and wrapped to go. Make your choices from the fridge shelves or baskets and head to the register. However if you decide to eat your meal in the restaurant, the cost for each item is more. Pret-a-Manger locations are also in Washington DC, Chicago and all over New York City.

Sainsbury's and Tesco fill the need for anything you may want from a supermarket. Their smaller locations, more common in central London, are called Sainsbury's Local and Tesco Metro.

Best of all, each of these places will have the one basic need that Americans must have wherever they go, that holy grail called bottled water.

Photos in this post used only for illustration purposes.
As you can tell from past series of London posts that I did not eat three square meals a day in London and likely filled gaps or when I had a light appetite with something from these places. A Boots and Sainsbury's was less than five minutes away from my hotel, the Renaissance Chancery Court. On recent trips I've been checking where these or similar retailers are located in relation to my hotel just in case.

More info and store locator at:

The Sugar Sculpture, No Expiration Date

In the lounge at the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, I passed by this sugar sculpture on more than one occasion and finally had the opportunity to admire it. Call me a sucker for art made from food I couldn't help to notice that it was 2010 and the sculpture is now three years old.

Renaissance Chancery Court: Public Areas

The grand staircase.
Lounge detail
In the end, the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel is a grand place with splendid public areas. Decorated in marble and rich dark woods, one of the striking features of the interior is the grand staircase ascending seven floors. With 356 rooms, this hotel is a historic haven of quiet splendor. Would I stay here again? Yes. Could I afford it? No (not until I have enough points for another stay).

These photos were taken over the past couple of days during different times in between my adventures in the city. Walking through the ornate, luxurious and spacious hotel is an experience in itself.

The service here was splendid. The room was serviced in the morning and refreshed early in the evening. The staff was very inviting always addressing guests with a greeting.

Related Review Posts of Renaissance London Chancery Court Hotel:

The Lounge (afternoon tea served here)
Hallway leading to my room
Above and below, seating along the 5th floor hallways.

Lobby in the evening. Doorway to gift shop at left.
Above and below, additional views of grand staircase.

'Sister Act' Prays at the London Palladium - The Review

‘Sister Act’ is a very funny movie and did not appear to warrant a stage musical. I had my doubts about this musical succeeding. But it built an advance ticket sale of over five million pounds before opening night so maybe I was missing something. Even the poster advertising the show (pictured left) made me want to see it. It didn't hurt the name of producer Whoopi Goldberg was obviously placed.

The story remains the same. Disco diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder and is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be found: a convent. Disguised as a nun she quickly finds fans amongst her fellow convent sisters and Mother Superior. When she turns her attention to the convent’s off-key choir, helping the nuns to find their true voices and breathing new life into the rundown neighborhood, her cover could be blown for good.

The 'god' guys
The result this evening was very uneven. It’s amazing that Alan Menken, composer of memorable songs for blockbuster Disney films (“The Little Mermaid”, “Alladin”, “Beauty & The Beast”), is responsible for many of the average songs.

To their credit, the musical team did not recycle the pop standards featured in the movie. The best numbers Menken composed are for scenes where the choir finally has their mojo. The title tune is rather touching. But the story seems to stop dead in its tracks when other songs are performed. This is obvious in the first act when it feels like it takes quite a while before Deloris is sent to the convent. At that point the story starts to move at a quicker but still uneven pace.

I may be in the minority as the crowd was quite enthusiastic during the entire performance. They were clapping their hands during the upbeat numbers and breaking out in riotous laughter. I did laugh too but just not as much.
The bad guys
Uneven extends to the set design and maybe the problem is the venue. The London Palladium boasts one of the largest stages on the West End. A production here can get lost in trying to fill the massive stage space, such as in the recent revival of ‘The Sound of Music’ (I still can’t get over that planetary piece of meadow that looked like a flying saucer). In ‘Sister Act’, a chase scene where the entire stage is filled with a massive black and white multi-level set with actors entering and exiting through multiple doors feels like it belongs in another musical.

There is one very original joke and surprise in the show and it has to with the appearance of the Pope which I absolutely love. Patina Miller is quite the trouper as Deloris displaying the energy to carry such a large show but she deserves better or rather better lines.

All production photos used for illustration purposes only.
A rewrite, some better tunes and a cohesive production design is in order for this show to move beyond its present venue. Until then this ‘Sister’ will remain in custody in London.

10/12/10 Note:  Press reports reveal that the book of ‘Sister Act’ will be rewritten by Douglas Carter Beane (‘Xanadu’, ‘Little Dog Laughed’) and new direction by Jerry Zaks. The remainder of the creative team remains intact. Cast is to be determined.


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