Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Holiday shop in London this year – Harrods and Fortnum and Mason await

Oxford Street, London during the holidays. (J Jacobs photos)

Oxford Street, London during the holidays. (J Jacobs photos)

Make London your December holiday trip. The city is always bustling but during the holiday season stores go all out with spectacular windows, sparkling lights that line buildings and crisscross streets and music everywhere.

Pack comfortable shoes, warm scarf, hat and fly off to Heathrow (great shopping airport for last minute gifts before flying back). Take the Heathrow –London Express for the fastest way in (reserve ahead) or the Underground (Tube) or taxi to your hotel after checking options at Heathrow transport.

You are likely to find a place near where you want to be within your budget at Visit London. I like Marriott Hotel Marble Arch because it feels like a boutique hotel but is on a main tube stop and within easy walking distance to gaily decorated Oxford Street’s shops.

Once unpacked and ready to go, forget taxis. Traffic is so bad above ground that the meter runs while you wait through three lights to proceed through one intersection. Pick up a map of the Underground stations but wear those walking shoes.

London loves its Harrods for luxury items and Fortnum & Mason for gourmet foods but also likes the trendy stuff in the Sloan and Chelsea areas and the fun of shopping its famous markets

OK, have at it.

Holiday windows in the Knightsbridge Sloan shopping area often tell stories such as Cinderella a few years ago.

Holiday windows in the Knightsbridge Sloan shopping area often tell stories such as Cinderella a few years ago.

Knightsbridge: Take the Tube, get off to shop the Knightsbridgbe-Brompton Road-Sloane Street District where you can wander Harrods. I like the Food Hall. Then, go into Harvey Nichols and Sloan’s other high-end designers, even if just to look.

Snap photos of the Harvey Nichols Christmas windows (like Macy’s windows). They often tell a story like Cinderella. Tip: At Harrods and other London department stores you’ll see fun “crackers” which are good stocking-stuffers but airports started disallowing them after 9-11 so get one just for yourself to pop in your hotel room.

King’s Road: Another Underground stop would be Sloan Square for King’s Road and the Chelsea neighborhood filled with designer and trendy shops and Duke of York Square. Browse fun boutiques, cafés and the Chelsea Antiques Market.

Oxford Street: You’ll love the lights overhead if shopping at night and the windows any time of day. They all definitely set the holiday mood for stopping at Selfridges and Marks & Spencer.

If you didn’t get chocolates at Harrods, look for a Thorton’s across from the department stores. It’s a chain with really good candy. You can also find the Debenhams Department Store (founded in London in the 18th century) and several good clothing shops on the street. Which Tube stop that accesses Oxford Street depends on what stores you want to visit. The Bond Street station is closest to Selfridges.

Regent Street: Famous for its holiday lights and shops the street maintains a retreat area where you can relax during the holiday season. If you don’t mind walking, you can use the Piccadilly Circus Tube stop to pop into Fortnum & Mason and go over to Hamleys, an amazing toy store to visit even if you don’t have to buy a kid’s present. Dating to 1760, Hamleys is among the world’s largest toy stores. There is also Liberty, a high-end store in an elegant Tudor building that offers cutting-edge and clever accessories.

Oxford Street during the holidays (photo take a few years ago).

Oxford Street during the holidays (photo take a few years ago).

Or use the Oxford Circus station to hit Liberty and Hamley on Regent and then Fortnum & Mason at Piccadilly.

Opened in 1707 Fortnum & Mason has served the Royals since Queen Charlotte. You have to go here for the old atmosphere and to pick up something to take home.

While in the area of Piccadilly Circus or Bond Street walk down Savile Row if interested in a hand-tailored suit. Among shops to visit there are Abercrombie & Fitch’s flagship store, Henry Poole & company and Gieves & Hawkes. Also, go to the boutique filled Carnaby Street.

Covent Garden: You’ll find three unique markets here. Look for arts and crafts in the North Hall’s Apple Market. The East Colonnade Market has jewelry and handmade soap. Products in the Jubilee Market in the South Piazza vary by day from antiques on Monday to general items other weekdays and crafts on the weekend.

Camden Markets: Save time to explore the markets in Camden Town at the Camden Town or Chalk Farm Tube Stations. There’s the Camden Lock Market at the canal which was the original craft-stall place in the mid 1970s. The Camden Stables Market has fashions.  Other markets including Inverness Street and Buck Street spread out across the area with clothes and other items. It’s a fun place to browse. https://www.camdenmarket.com/

You don’t have to load up the suitcase because the stores are happy to ship. But a good idea if you want to take presents back is to bring an extra bag. Remember airports don’t like wrapped boxes so plan to gift wrap at home.

Have fun shopping, browsing and seeing London during the holidays.

Prague: A true Bohemian city

Prague. Think music because no matter where you walk around the capital of the Czech Republic, you will see a concert notice or hear classical chamber or orchestral music.

The astronomical clock in Prague. (Jacobs photos)

The astronomical clock in Prague. (Jacobs photos)

Or think Central European history because it was the capital of Bohemia and home to Charles IV.

Whatever your interest, however, you won’t have enough time to see and do everything. So, first, sign up for a tour of the city and secondly, plan to come back.

Here are just a few places to put on the itinerary. BTW, the city has an excellent public transportation system of subways and buses. Cabs can be expensive so if taking one ask how much before you get in.

Your best place to stay is in the historic area because it’s colorful, fun to stroll and easy to find an outdoor café for a needed break. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is where you’ll see a crowd gather in the Old Town Square (Stare Mesto) by the Prague Orloj, an astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall’s south wall.

If there near the hour, pull out the camera because the 12 apostles can be seen strolling past the clock’s windows.  Alert: the clock is undergoing repair so is not expected to be back in place until sometime August, 2018.

The cave in the White Horse Restaurant

The cave in the White Horse Restaurant

A great place to do dinner in the Square is at the White Horse, a protected UNESCO structure with a 12th century cave.

Although located near the astronomical clock, it is not a well-known touristy restaurant.

The dishes lean toward traditional local cuisine but also include an excellent salmon.  Yes, you eat in the cave if not outside on the Square.

Before dinner get your exercise walking the Charles Bridge which is near the Square.

Spanning the Vltava River, it is a way to go from Old Town to Prague Castle. Charles IV started construction on the bridge (replaced an earlier one) in the mid 14th century but it wasn’t completed until early 15th century.

See its Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower  and photograph the statues even though they are replicas of the original ones from about 1700.

Definitely visit the castle during your stay. It really is a huge complex of nearly 750,000 square feet that includes palaces, garden a cathedral, basilica, monastery, museums and the President of the Czech Republic’s official office.

While in the castle district area visit the Strahov Monastery with its gorgeous ceilings. The monastery has a noted brewery.

If looking for a restaurant that is noted for its beer and its local cuisine, check out Budvarka where Budweiser is rumored to have started. Its in the Devjice area and has a great duck confit and is a place where locals go.

Strahov Monastery Library

Strahov Monastery Library

Before leaving Prague, go see the Jewish synagogues. They are spectacular.

Surrounded by Old Town, the Jewish Quarter known as Josefov, contains a famous cemetery, the Jewish Museum, a Franz Kafka monument and five synagogues worth visiting.

They are the Old-New Synagogue considered Europe’s oldest active one (1270), the Spanish Synagogue (1868), the Pinkas Synagogue (1535, the Klausen Synagogue (largest one, 1694) and the Maise Synagogue (1592).

Oops, we haven’t even talked about the other museums, the city’s many galleries or its festivals.

Looking forward to next visit.

Jodie Jacobs

Travel to London to see the sights or Charlotte Elizabeth Diana

Excitement is definitely in the air in London. It’s time to go to see royalty and possibly catch a glimpse of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s  baby daughter.

If you haven’t been there before, pick up a London Pass to cut the cost of such attractions as the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey and avoid the ticket lines.

See Westminster Abbey, snap a red phone box and do The Eye (back) Ferris type wheel

See Westminster Abbey, snap a red phone box and do The Eye (back) Ferris type wheel

Just go.

Visit Buckingham Palace. Pop into Harrod’s Food Hall and gape at the statuary along the store’s stairs.

Forget taxis. Stoplights and traffic make a cab ride slow and expensive. Walk or take the Tube and go to St. Paul’s Cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren. You can take a break downstairs in the café.

Then, head out the back way to stroll across the Thames River on the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern.

Pull out the Smart Phone or camera because you are on a pedestrian suspension bridge where you get great views. The UK’s famed modern art museum is housed in the Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron starkly-designed conversion of the former Bankside Power Station.

It still looks like a power station inside. At the Tate, you can lunch upstairs on Level 6 with a higher view of London but it is a bit pricey. Or lunch on the main level with a view of the river and walkways.

London has so much to see and do  that you should consider spending a week there.

On Wednesday or Saturday, antique hounds should go to the Camden Passage Antique Market. Any day is good to find a food gift to bring home from Fortnum & Mason near Piccadilly Square.

Sightseeing really depends on your interest. There really is something for everyone at Trafalgar Square.

For music, visit St. Martin in the Fields Church to one side of the Square. Go early for lunch downstairs in the Café in the Crypt. Save time for art. The National Gallery faces the Square and the National Portrait Gallery is around the corner across from St. Martin in the Fields.

Then, relax and rest the feet while indulging in sweets and petite sandwiches with an upscale tea. The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court is famous for its afternoon tea but any of the hotels on Park Lane would also be a good choice.

The Marble Arch is a Hyde Park landmark at Oxford Street and Park Lane

The Marble Arch is a Hyde Park landmark at Oxford Street and Park Lane

Stay

Think about location when looking for a place to stay. The Ampersand in London’s South Kensington area is good for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and programs at the Royal Albert Hall. Just as good, South Kensington borders the Knightsbridge (think Harrods) and Chelsea shopping districts.

Or consider the Marriott Park Lane across from the Marble Arch on the Hyde Park corner of Park Lane and Oxford Street. A Tube station right outside the door will take you everywhere. It’s also a couple of blocks from Marks & Spencer for men’s clothes and from the large Selfridges which is fun to browse.

If time allows, fit in Kenwood House. A beautiful villa operated by English Heritage on Hampton Heath in the north area of London, Kenwood has a fine art collection that includes Gainsboroughs, van Dykes, a Vermeer and a Rembrandt. It is the highest point in the area with is a fine view of London.

There are many more things to do and places to visit and shows to see than mentioned here such as The British Museum, Kew Gardens and the Churchill War Rooms. So you will just have to come back. For more London sights visit London.

How smart are you about traveling with your cell phone?

You may think you have done everything right for a good vacation or business trip abroad.

Arrangements have all been made and you even have a check list. But if you haven’t worked out a cell phone usage plan you may be headed for trouble. Not only can roaming costs add up fast when traveling out of the United States, but your valuable data can be stolen.

Some travelers call their provider ahead of time for an internet usage package. It typically doesn’t cost much and can be as little as $25. But that is typically for internet use  so you may still have to try to limit talking by phone.

It also doesn’t take into account cell thieves. Because even if your phone isn’t stolen while traveling, it can be hacked by skilled cyber criminals.

Cellhire USA CEO Greg Kraynak shows the phone that can be rented for international travel. when

Cellhire USA CEO Greg Kraynak shows the phone that can be rented for international travel.

One way to leave worry behind is to rent a phone. Cellhire.com has International Prepaid phone packages used by such companies as CBS and ABC when covering international events such as the recent Olympics and FIFa World Cup.

Users rent a phone before they leave that will work in the countries visited so personal cell phones can be left at home. Check International Prepaid Data to learn more. Cellhire consultants help clients choose a device and package deal that relate well to places visited.

“Essentially we urge travelers to leave their personal SmartPhone at home.  This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your contacts and personal info, it just means that you rent or purchase a “travel phone” and only use a secure network,” said Greg Kraynak, CEO of Cellhire, USA.

“Using public WIFI is a recipe for disaster, ” Kraynak said. “When you access personal data, social media, bank accounts, photos, etc., on a public platform then you are basically offering your data to be intercepted by cyber criminals.

In addition, visit Kaspersky, an internet security and antivirus company, for  several tips on securing information when in airports, hotels, cafes and other public places.

Traveling smart is more than remembering to bring comfortable shoes and electronic chargers.

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