Sunday, March 31, 2013

High Class- High Tea at The Savoy Hotel- London, England

In order to fully appreciate the stiffness for which the Brits are hailed worldwide, one must look no further than the experience of High Tea at the newly remodelled, opulent, Savoy Hotel in London, where, as fate would have it, my new highly-placed friend, Sir James Phillips, using his plethora of connections, managed to make us a reservation, in effort for me to gain a glimpse into British “high society,” which coincidentally, is the name of the magazine my hotel clerk is thumbing through as I exit.

Now, I don’t want the Brits to believe they have a monopoly on class, so I imitate the classiest American icon I know- Mr. Peanut. 
Mr. Peanut- he might not have  European class, but  he's the best America has to offer
I walk out of my hotel with my top-hat, cane, and monocle and hurriedly stroll down the foggy, cold British street, until I’m confronted by soccer hooligans who promptly mug me for my accessories (not classy at all!!) ... Maybe they want to look in top-form for their next drunken brawl.

The Tea Room
I’ve anticipated the day like a bride does her wedding, and arrive at the Savoy early. Of course, I’m outdone by Sir James and his wife Abigail, who are already seated, patiently waiting for me, “Delighted to have you,” they greet me as I sit down, politely nodding my head back at them.
I survey the room, which is simply exquisite- from the chandeliers, to the fresh flowers, to the grand piano in the center, it reeks of class. The only curious choices I note is the artwork featuring iconic American film stars from yesteryear; Carry Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart ... Using my Einstein like mind, I interpret this as a nod of respect, an acknowledgement from the Brits that we kicked their butts in a couple of wars, an added touch of class, that would make even Mr. Peanut proud.
check out the surroundings of the tea room @ Savoy Hotel, London
Of course, class does come with a price- to experience High Tea at the Savoy costs $75 per person. So what does one get for this dip into the wallet? Lo and behold- tea; from oolong (the Queen’s personal favorite) to jasmine, to red currant (which is what I ordered for those of you keeping score at home)

Sir James Phillips explains tea drinking etiquette in this video

Tea is accompanied by a round of scones and finger sandwiches.

scone etiquette video

Now, don’t let the term “finger sandwiches” fool you. As you will discover from the video below, that’s just a name. In proper society, these sandwiches are to be cut into small squares, not more than one inch per side, and eaten with your silevrware.

Watch as I become an embarrassment for Americans around the world. Finger sandwiches, this one is pretty funny

Now, British tea traditionally is accompanied by sweets, and the Savoy is no exception; truly delectable pastries followed by a variety of cakes, positively scrumptious morsels, and the only immediate limitation on consumption is sudden onset diabetes. A bevy of choices, ranging from "Fake Wedding Cake" (the Savoy tried to replicate the cake from William and Kate's wedding) to small cream filled ├ęclairs. 
Perhaps we should take the influence of France in the Savoy, from the pastries offered to our French waiter (highly unexpected,) as a sign of the world becoming more harmonious ... personally however, I see it as a sign of just how much the British Empire has declined.

The Russian Mob Infiltrates
Now, it should be noted, the Savoy has a strict dress code as to what must be worn to High Tea. As I am without a doubt one of the biggest stickler for rules and propriety on the planet, I wasn't about to let a tattooed, skin headed, T-shirt, sneaker wearing man, one I clearly identified as Russian mob, so brazenly flout English conventions!
Immediately, at risk of personal harm to myself, I called a waiter over and urgently urged him to deal with the  scoff-law. 
Getting the Russian mob booted from High Tea @ The Savoy

As he was escorted out, I received a standing ovation from the other patrons. Talk about something to put on my soon to be written headstone. 

Who's Superior
All in all I had a wonderful time in the several hours I spent at the Savoy conversing with Sir James and Abigail, the jokes just kept being fired back and forth, but after lobbing several unprovoked cultural grenades in James's direction, I finally had atone for my boorish behavior by admitting, once and for all, when it comes to manners, the British are vastly superior to their American cousins, even if we did save their ass in World War II. 

And in our final video, I finally have to admit, when it comes to manners, the British are far superior to Americans

Should You Go?
If you are in London, and want to experience a fine piece of British culture then by all means visit the Savoy for tea, and in a place where image, manners, and your company mean everything, make sure class it up; go with Mr. Peanut. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Physical Edge, London- Rhys Chong's Physio Services

I rarely do this, but sometimes I feel like taking out a page of my travel blog to recommend a friend's services.
When I was in London, on a still sprained ankle, my buddy Rhys  helped me out by doing some physical work on my foot, both acupuncture as well as moving my ankle to release stiffness, and giving me some exercises to do.

The truth is, the man is super honest, hard working, and really cares about the welfare of his patients. For these reasons, I whole heartedly wish to recommend his services to those of you in need of physical therapy in London.
Rhys did not ask me to do this, and offered nothing in return. I have recommended (as of now) only one other business in all my travels, in 160 or so posts, so I absolutely mean what I say.
You, as a client, will definitely benefit from Rhys's work. I know I did.

I introduce Rhys here in this jokey video, but my sentiments are 100% true. 

or contact them

The Physical Edge
2 Pelham St, South Kensington, London, SW7 2NG
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7581 4222
Mobile: +44 (0) 77 2361 2514

sincerely hope this helps you, if you found this on Google or whatnot. Cheers!

The Sights of London- Museums, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.

I want to give you a flavor of the sights that London offers, which are plentiful. I rate each site on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being an absolute must-see in my subjective mind.

The British Museum
The Rosetta Stone- 
Awesome! The greatest museum I have ever seen, with apologies to the Louvre which I saw as a child. Many many artifacts of ancient civilizations' rest here, from the Egyptian Pharaohs, to the Assyrians, Turks, Persians, and Greeks, the British Museum is the current collective resting place for them all. Compare and contrast these empires of yesteryear.
One of the highlights for me was the Rosetta Stone, from which English linguists were able to decipher the Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
To top it off they have many artifacts from mid-evil Europe to present day, including a collection of time pieces, ancient money, you name it, they have it.  To top it off, entrance is FREE for everyone.

Ancient statue- (actual size)
Must See Scale- 10+

Big Ben and Parliament
Parliament House
Splendid architecture, amazing. You can’t go up Big Ben without the help of a British member of Parliament, I am told, but you can take a tour inside the parliament house.
Big Ben
However, just being able to witness these amazing buildings from the outside is worth the journey, and definitely a must see as long as you are in London.

Must See Scale- 10

Natural History Museum
Fantastic. From dinosaur skeletons to Charles Darwin to gem stones and minerals from around the world, the Natural History Museum is fascinating for all ages. I highly recommend going, and best of all, admission is FREE for all.

The British Natural History Museum- from the outside

Full dinosaur skeleton

Must See Scale: 9.5

check out the T-Rex they brought back to life using Jurassic Park technology

Science Museum
James Watt steam engine propels industry

Should be called the “British” Science Museum as there are large tracts of space devoted to British contrbutions to science, from James Watt, who developed the steam engine, to Alan Turing, who broke the German communication code during World War II and was instrumental in the British prevailing over the Nazis.
Without a doubt I enjoyed it, and it is situated right next to the Natural History Museum and again, admission is FREE.

Must See Scale: 7.5

The War Rooms and Churchill Museum
a poster depicting Churchill
During World War II, Winston Churchill planned and conducted the war against Hitler in top secret offices not far from Buckingham Palace. In them is a history and feel of what it was like to be conduct the planning of the war, including the offices exactly as they were left at the end of the war.
At the end of the tour they have a rather large museum devoted to Churchill, who, even today, is still seen as demi-God in Britain, and it describes his life, numerous triumphs and failures, as well as his policies and outlook.
Cost- 17 GBP (about $26) 

British War office as it was left (including body)

Must see scale- 7  
(I found it super interesting, especially as I was considering writing a script about a WWII spy and I had read about the war rooms, for me it was a must see, however, I understand if the rest of the public might be less inclined to go.)

Westminster Abbey
Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey
A beautiful medieval church that has become a graveyard of British notables, including kings and queens, various knights of valor, and scientists, including Isaac Newton.
To me it felt slightly macabre being inside, and although it was architecturally fascinating, it didn't match my personal tastes. It’s my opinion your money is better spent elsewhere, but if you enjoy this sort of thing, the interior is quite splendid as well.

Cost- 18 GBP

Must see scale- 4.5

Buckingham Palace
Royal Guard in winter grey- by Buckingham Palace gate

You can only tour the inside from July to October and it will cost you to do so, however, you can still go there and see the changing of the guard, but beware, crowds are extremely heavy to the point that I showed up and quickly left.
monument just outside Buckingham Palace

Must see scale: Incomplete
So, there are some of the main sights of London, a city definitely worth visiting once in your lifetime. However, do yourself a favor and go in the summer, when it might not be cold and foggy.

Harrods, London- The World's Most Luxurious Store

Harrods, the most luxurious store in the world with prices which more than compensate. From top name brand clothing, to hand made beds, to a diamond encrusted iPhone case costing $285,000 (no joke) anything you could possibly desire, is for sale here, but certainly not on sale.
a selection of fur coats, naturally, are available- don't tell PETA

fine crystal
The merchandise is in many cases, truly a work of art. Being in Harrod’s is like being in a museum, only if you have boatloads of money you can go home with the exhibit of your choice.
Harrods sells cool art as well
Speaking of the diamond encrusted iPhone case, I asked the salesman who showed it to me, “Oh my God, could you imagine losing it?”
He shrugs his shoulders, “Whoever bought it, probably wouldn’t care.”
The same clerk shows me an Apple iBook, a $2,000 computer, pauses, laughs and tells me a customer of his customer last week, when looking at the same piece of machinery, stated, "I like it ... I'll buy 500 of them," whips out his AMEX Black Card, and just like that, a million dollar sale takes place.
That’s right, to properly shop at Harrods you need more money than you can possibly spend in a lifetime or keep track of (whichever comes first.) Whether or not that is you, it is certainly worth a trip here, to Harrods Department Store/ Museum, in London.

video: a quick tour of housewares in Harrods

A Taste, Look, + Feel of Must See London, England

Looking to travel to London? Here's an overall feel of the city from a Southern Californian starting with--

The Weather
Spoiled by year round 75 degree Los Angeles sunshine makes the idea of living in London a non-starter. Whereas SoCal afternoon in March feel like the nicest of summer days in other parts of the world, London was hovering near, or often below, freezing during my entire stay, with fog and grey clouds shrouding the sun for good measure. A steady and stiff wind pushes you back and chills you on the dreary nights you choose to face the cold, and flurries of snow and rain are ever-present.
If I had been an Englishman in the early 1600’s I would have assuredly been aboard the Mayflower not fleeing Britain not due to religious persecution, but rather persecution by weather.
Big Ben, with his permanent wintry grey jacket on

The Underground: Rush Hour
Running hurried for my departing plane I try to hurl myself rock star like from the platform into the crowded rail car. Instead of carrying me above them like a God, I am thrown off like water trying to board a sinking ship. The next train is a six minute wait (admittedly an unusually long wait time)
Standing at the front of the line, the crowd swells behind me, growing impatient, as finally the train pulls into station- packed. If no one were to exit there would be no room to board.
Fortunately, a few people exit the rail car, allowing a precious "lucky" few to force their way on. There simply is no more room for another soul to board. The crowd grumbles as the train’s doors slide closed, leaving those of us inside having a huge clothed orgy in the cab. Literally, people are touching you from every possible angle; individual space is a fantasy.

Buckingham Palace
I go to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace on Saturday morning. I try to penetrate the crowd, but it is like trying to dig through marble with your fingernails, only more frustrating. I vacate the premises quickly, leaving the tourists to the pickpockets.

London is, without a doubt, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Businesses brag about being the cheapest in town while their prices would be, at best, slightly above average in Los Angeles. A tiny, cramped room in the less than posh part of town costs $200 a night, a public transport (Oyster) card lasting you three to four days costs $30, and to deal with what would be massive congestion, British authorities charge a pretty penny for bringing your car into the center, thus assuring a crowded commute on public transport instead; at least it is more fuel efficient.
I actually met a computer programmer who spends about 6,000 pounds (over $9,000 at the time of this writing) a year to commute via public transport to his job! “Well, I get things done on the train,” he explains cheerfully as we sit across each other on the Gatwick Express train, $30 for the thirty minute ride. At least we have our own private seats.
Want to live in a nice area of London like South Kensington? To own a one bedroom flat would run over a million pounds (1.5 million American dollars.) Like most big cities, space is sold at a premium price.
Not only are prices through the roof, taxes are too. VAT (Value Added Tax (sales tax) of 20% in addition to up to 50% of your income taken by the tax man, plus high transport and housing costs discussed (at least in London), it’s a wonder anyone in Britain has a pound left over to buy more than groceries.

What’s Awesome
The sights of London are spectacular. The National Museums are free to get into, and sights like Big Ben and the English Parliament are a sight to behold. There is a lot to do here, and a lot to see. You could spend days wandering through the British Museum alone, and for these reasons I would go so far as to recommend this city, despite what I have written above, as a must see on your world travels.

Not at all sorry to have visited this city, but little interest in going back, but don’t let that dissuade you from stopping there for a couple days. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In the Midst of a Canadian Blizzard

Being from Los Angeles I think of snow as some mythical substance which may or may not have existed during the ice ages. I try not to venture outside if it drops below 65 Fahrenheit, and that would make Montreal an eternal prison for me with their Arctic circle weather. A few days before I arrived the temperature was to a bone chilling -32 C.
I had never experienced a real snow storm, just a few flurries while I lived in Prague. Here it falls like a confetti on New Year’s Eve, only colder. I stick out my tongue hoping a snowflake lands on my tongue; my thirst is instantly quenched by these heavenly waters.

I comment about the blizzard outside to some locals. They laugh. “Blizzard?” they question me, “Have you never been in snow before?”
I don’t answer the question. “If this isn’t a blizzard, what is it on a 1-10 snow scale?”
“About a 4,” they all reply in their French Canadian accents.
“A four?!!” I am truly shocked. It’s as if they all non-chalantly told me that they commute via spaceship to the Nebula Galaxy for work every day and the view of Planet Earth from space is a daily occurrence. I simply have no reference point for their descriptions of what a blizzard is really like.

I might not go outside, but I am becoming more worldly.

I Could Beat Up Vanessa Rousso (@VIP Poker Room in Montreal)

Montreal, Canada

Watching poker phenom Vanessa Rousso at the VIP Poker Room in Montreal, one of the world’s most famous female poker player, playing a low limit game, everyone having an amiable time. 
“Excuse me,” comes a voice from the rails, “is anyone here interested in playing a $10,000 sit and go?”
Anyone here? Really … anyone at the low limit table, ready to pony up ten grand. He could be speaking to but one person at the table, Vanessa.
It reminds of the local tough guy trying to pick a fight with Chuck Liddell, trying to prove himself. Stupidity of the ego. He might as well have said, “Hey Vanessa, I think I can beat you up.”

poker stars and Go Daddy girl, Vanessa Rousso

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Welcome to France … I Mean-Canaduh

I get ready to board my Montreal bound plane from Philadephia when someone mentions we need a visa to get into Canada.
“As a citizen of the USA why should I need a visa?!" I ask with absolute outrage, "Canaduh is an American colony for Christ’s sake!”
Unsurprisingly, being the gospel of truth I am, this statement bears out; I swear to you, the U.S. has customs officials in our Canadian airports, and when the American immigration officer began getting a little overly inquisitive, I calmed his fears by proving my patriotism to our great land, telling him how much I enjoyed seeing our customs officials overseeing America Jr.

I walk into our colony only to discover I must have taken the wrong plane, I have landed in Europe; France to be specific. Everyone here speaks French, some people don’t understand English, or at least pretend not to, as per the French custom.

I momentarily think of boarding a plane to Canada proper, then decide to exit out into the frigid winter air, deciding to bear the 45% probability that I freeze to death upon exposure to the elements. The pre-requisite to settle these frigid lands must have been as follows, lots of heart, zero brains; that's how the country's name was derived; Canaduh.

(I guess I'm not the first person to come up with this theory)