Chapter Eighteen – 1987-1988
Letters from Abroad©, Visits to Morocco and Portugal,
A New Home, and Taking Off with British Airways
(Equivalent to 102 pages in hard-copy)
James Myhre, Robert Carrier, Rory Cameron,
Khlai, Mohammed, Aunt Marnie,
Glenn Christian, Fletcher Christian,
Richard Shepherd, James Williams,
Mick Jagger, Robert Mondavi, Sue Hunter,
Sue Lambourne, Jack Parker, Gretchen Bellinger,
Bobby Short, John Galliher, Audré Nethercott,
Tom and Alix Dame, The Garretts, Charlie Keough,
Geri Werner and Roger, Dade,
Mrs. Margaret L. Carter,
Rick and Cindy vanVliet, John and Karen vanVliet,
Graham Sturt, George and Elizabeth Lane,
Bedford Pace, Roger King, Bruce Bolton,
Carrie de Vendeuve, Marianna Hoppin,
Eddie Carroll, Sally Packard, Gardner Leonard,
Lord Norwich, Mike Levin, Richard Mound,
Tony Hail, Chuck Posey, and Jeremiah Tower.
Moments from Chapter Eighteen:
"If there is one thing the world doesn’t need,
it is another travel newsletter."
Richard had been a classmate of Mick Jagger
James would crouch on the floor, so his fellow students wouldn’t see him
arriving by chauffeured Rolls-Royce.
“We want you to create custom,
British Airways editions of Letters from Abroad©, and
write a unique hotel guide –
the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection by Edward Carter
that will be seat-pocketed on all flights, and
placed in our First Class lounges around the world.”
“As the creator of The Point,
one of the most extraordinary small hotels in the world,
former International Delegate of Relais et Châteaux, and
author of his famous travel monthly,
Dr. Carter is respected internationally as an arbiter of style and taste.
His readers, like you, are sophisticated internationals travelers who
appreciate his forthright assessments and advice because,
independently paying his own way, he ‘tells it as it is.’ BRITISH AIRWAYS
We spent the night in an extraordinary, Indo-Portuguese, four-poster bed with red velvet hangings and turned-mahogany-and-brass filigrees!
"Oh, you can't get there from here!"
Update – It is January 1987. As of the end of Chapter 17, James and I are living at The Wharf in London’s Docklands.
I ceased being the Delegate for Relais et Châteaux with the consummation of the sale of The Point in October but have become “Management Consultant” to Roger King’s International Group of advertising, travel, and hospitality companies specifically including Alexander House, his country house hotel near London’s Gatwick airport in Surrey.
Replacing The Point’s “Auntie Mame,” 1929 HackerCraft, we have “Miss Piggy,” an equally buxom, Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine, and, replacing James’ “Blanch du Bois” Chris Craft, a drophead, 400i Ferrari. Both are housed in our garage - an enclosed arch under a railway line not far from the house.
We also have a lovely home office with a Macintosh and matching laser printer.
On top of it all, I have just been given a clean bill of health, and we are celebrating our new freedom with lots of travel.
Then I start getting letters from people who had been guests at The Point seeking my opinion on places they wanted to go. The letters became so frequent, James suggested I photocopy our previous month's itinerary and comments. Maybe the idea of being an arbiter isn’t so far fetched… thus the concept of a newsletter was born.
Robert Carrier had just invited us to stay with him in his home in Marrakesh, so we were off on the road to Morocco in four days! James had never been and was excited (although he was never very wild about Bob).
I first went to Marrakech in April 1979; see Chapter Fourteen. So, this was my second visit to Morocco - the first time, renting Jean Paul Getty’s villa; this time staying in Bob’s home in the medina.
Going down from London on the plane, Bob was telling us that he had had the dining room walls tadillaqued. This is a process of covering the walls with layers of the finest plaster, tinted the color of cinnabar, and smoothed to a patina that shone. Then every centimeter of the walls is covered in Arabic lettering, hand-written so small that one can hardly distinguish the individual letters. Finally, the walls are shellacked and buffed. The result is astounding.
We walked into the room—magnificent, but Bob was surprised that someone had already started to re-hang his collection of paintings. He adjusted one that was crooked… gasp!! One after another, he flung them to the floor—the workmen hadn’t removed them before starting the 6-month project and the gaps in the fresco were ridiculous!
The house was fabulous. Behind a 6-meter-high door studded with silver, was a garden of lemon trees. As at Rory Cameron’s villa in Cap Ferrat—La Fiorentina, the trunks of the trees had been white-washed. Originally a method to discourage tree parasites in the south of France, the practice was unnecessary in Morocco; but Bob loved the look.
Our room in Bob’s home
Bougainvillea hung from the apricot-tinted walls, and the parterres were a jungle of bright blossoms and shiny green leaves.
We lunched on the many terraces; the great Atlas Mountains shimmered in the distance. James and I remember our visit with Bob and his other guests very well; highlights:
Moroccan bread that the cook made daily from the fermented starter left over from the previous day's dough, and the two English husbands fighting to take the bread to the local hammam where it was baked (presumably so they could enjoy a healthy "steam bath" upstairs),
Going to Place Jemma el Fna to have a delicious artichoke yogurt at a café, and fire-grilled lamb and fish brochettes at an open-air patio. And the monkeys…
A great dinner a La Mamounia near the ramparts…
Khlai, Bob’s houseboy, getting admonished by Bob because he bought a local, extra-tough capon which the cook served for dinner (James commented that “Carrier seemed to enjoy everyone else's embarrassment but his own.”).
The sad revelation that the house, a former hareem, was eventually snatched by Bob's Moroccan lover, Mohammed, and his wife. James said, “After a week at his cookery school a few years ago, I’ve never been much of fan of Carrier's to be honest, but no one would wish that sort of unhappiness on anyone.”
During our visit, just as he had suggested I take “Paying Guests” at The Point many years before, Bob seconded James’ suggestion that I reproduce my travel diary as a newsletter.
Thus, Bob changed my life… twice, and, when my diary eventually morphed into a newsletter, I published his wonderful story in my blog on Moroccan Street Food and I’ve been following his Moroccan recipes ever since.
Bob died in the south of France in June 2006. This is the obituary from the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper:
Robert Carrier (MacMahon), chef, restaurateur, and broadcaster, born November 10, 1923; died June 27, 2006
Celebrity chef who showed the British how cooking could be easy and smart
Robert Carrier, who has died aged 82, was a cookery writer, restaurateur and television presenter whose programmes attracted audiences of millions in Britain. He also opened a chain of cooking utensils shop and was a leading figure in restaurant trade politics. He made making food seem a joyful art.
Born in New York, Carrier was influential in his adopted Britain for more than 30 years, spreading the message that good cooking was simple but took time (he despised shortcuts such as grills and microwaves). His father was a distant and wealthy property lawyer of Irish descent; his mother, whom he adored was the German-American daughter of a millionaire. He inherited his father's calculation and his mother's gregariousness and style.
Carrier's parents went broke in the depression and, with steely determination, maintained their lifestyle, though now without servants, as best they could. This entailed preparing their own elaborate meals. Young Robert laid the table. Wanting to become an actor, he filled in time by taking art courses, and eventually found himself in the Broadway revue New Faces, later filmed with Eartha Kitt.
When the US entered the second world war, Carrier decided that if he was going to be killed, it might as well be in style, and volunteered for the Office of Strategic Services, wartime forerunner of the CIA. In fact, his war was mostly desk-bound: he helped mastermind European operations from Paris. After the war, he worked there for French overseas radio and a Gaullist newspaper.
Carrier had always had a passion for food - and often an expanding waistline to prove it, despite visits to health farms. When a British friend invited him to London for the 1953 coronation, Carrier fell in love with the place, entertained guests to an elaborate meal and was rewarded when one of them, Eileen Dickson, offered him a job as food editor and writer for Harper's Bazaar. He also wrote for Vogue and had a column in the Sunday Times magazine.
A natural entrepreneur, Carrier later aired his flair for public relations by building up a PR company that pushed a vegetarian diet for dogs and various other food. He devised boxes of separate recipe cards, instead of ordinary cookery books, and published more than 20 titles, including Great Dishes of the World (1967), which was to sell more than 10m copies, and The Robert Carrier Cookery Book (1970).
He wanted a restaurant of his own and, in 1959, opened one in Camden Passage, in the heart of Islington, north London. The Greek couple who were to run it for him backed out, so Carrier took over himself. It became a meeting place for British and American celebrities and was called simply Carrier's.
In 1972, he launched a more ambitious plan by buying Hintlesham Hall, a decrepit grade-11 listed building in Suffolk, converting it into a home and three restaurants and taking over the Hintlesham festival held there. He later made what he considered a mistake by adding a cookery school, which attracted ladies who lunch and took up too much of his time. He was for a while a very visible chairman of the Restaurateurs' Association of Great Britain, fighting for liberalisation of the licensing laws.
Though he loved acting the host, as he loved all forms of acting, and though his adventurousness with saffron, butter, and Calvados was undimmed, Carrier had to sell Hintlesham Hall in 1982. He also bowed out of Carrier's in Camden Passage in 1984, retreating to Marrakesh and his ornately restored mansion there. But he continued to produce books, including A Taste of Morocco (1987) and Feasts of Provence (1993), and to present television programmes on food. These had started with Carrier's Kitchen in the 1970s, and were followed over the next 20 years by Food, Wine and Friends, The Gourmet Vegetarian and Carrier's Caribbean.
By 1994 Carrier had returned to London, realising that most of his Christmas cards were from Britain, and started proclaiming the virtues of economical and vegetarian eating on breakfast television. He died, however, in the south of France, where he had been living.
Getting back to London, the new chapter of our life begins in earnest.
Having carefully considered several options, James enrolls in the London International Film School and starts classes on January 12th.
I sit down in my “Alice in Wonderland” office and begin surveying what might be seen through the looking glass. I was addicted to Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report; did another travel newsletter really make sense?
Of course, it did. The Point had proved that my point of view and style created a place that naturally attracted appreciative people; so too should my journal – my perspicacious perspective could save travelers time, travail, and money, and my sense of fun and adventure should be irresistibly appealing.
Aunt Marnie always said travel is broadening; most university students spend much of their third year abroad, and letters from far horizons are always eagerly anticipated. So, it seems only natural to call my literary adventure, “Letters from Abroad” and I start working on the concept… from my readers’ point of view.
Many years ago, Rene Lecler wrote The 300 Best Hotels in the World. Before that, Arthur Frommer wrote Europe on $5 a Day. A generation or more before that - before passports - Aunt Ruth used to travel with a personal letter of introduction from the United States Secretary of State.
When that generation traveled, there were just a handful of suitable places to stay. In the 50's, there were just a handful of guidebooks to study. Today, travel is the fastest growing industry in the world, millions of people are on the move, the choice of destinations is positively dazzling, and most of the dozens of competing travel newsletters, magazines, and guides, seem to be designed for someone other than us.
We want to travel for fun, adventure, and romance. We like to share new discoveries with our friends and family and see the things our parents described. Let everyone else follow the paved path, we're independent decision-makers out for a marvelous time… but we don't want to make costly mistakes and waste our vacation.
We know travel is often work. It can be a lot of work researching the alternatives and deciding on an itinerary. Then, getting to the airport is hassle enough, but when we finally reach our destination, we often feel deluded, disappointed and depressed — it was obvious the guide's editor had never spent the night; or the magazine's prose was too purple (perhaps encouraged by someone else picking up the tab); or the brochure was misleading, the other guests just weren't our crowd, or we'd brought completely wrong clothes.
On the other hand, I love to travel. Believe me, great places do exist, they're just harder to find. I've been collecting favorites all my life and they personify the adventure, fun and romance of travel. I relish revisiting old favorites and searching for new.
On a trip, I spend more than half of my time enroute. Of course, I've been fooled, but the disappointments can be almost as much fun as the delights and, by sharing them, perhaps even more valuable to others.
The best discovery I've made is that many other travelers share my point of view. You'd never guess it from what's available in print or on video, but rest assured, you're not an exception, most of us really do care about quiet comfort, caring hospitality, and genuine friendliness. For us, life's just too short for mediocrity, at any level.
Maybe we're the highest, uncommon denominator. While not snobbish, we do know the difference between costly and expensive, ritz and glitz, and style and fashion, and we are no less adventurous. We can be just as happy in a B&B as at a five-star palace because we appreciate the people there who work as hard at their responsibilities as we do at home.
But I guess there's one more question to be posed — why me?
The experiences people enjoyed at The Point established my credentials of knowing what people appreciated…
In time, The Point appeared in nearly every major glossy in the world. People came having read that it would be one of the most marvelous experiences in their lives and, working to make that come true, my partner, James Myhre, and I were up with our guests at breakfast, out on the lake with them before lunch, taking them skiing in the afternoons, and hosting them every night.
In our second year, The New York Times heralded The Point as "Simply the most attractive private home in America whose owners welcome paying guests in the European tradition." The Point became the fourth establishment in the United States to be accepted into Relais et Châteaux and I became its International Delegate for most of the western hemisphere.
Dinners were the most fun. The one thing everyone had in common was that they were experienced (usually rather jaded) world travelers. All I had to do was ask the lady on my right where she'd been recently, and the travel symposium began. We all learned what was happening where: the new places that were up and coming and the old that had slipped from favor. This was the inner circle of world travel.
However, after seven years, I tired of constant entertaining and, believing that much of the magic would be lost if I hired a manager, sold The Point to a consortium of investors.
I re-established home in London and traveled for the fun of it. But those dinner parties in the Adirondacks had started something. Soon letters from ex-"Pointers" bound for Europe, asked my opinion of this hotel or that restaurant. They became so frequent, I decided to mimeograph my previous month's itinerary and comments. Et voilà, my outspoken, often funny, sometimes bitchy, always fair and always truthful, personal journal was born.
Now, every month, I chronicle my journeys. Travelling incognito and paying my own way, I tell it as it is… from my point of view. Not the point of view of a travel writer, but the perspective of an experienced traveler who writes.
Face it, life is too short for mistakes, especially when it comes to travel.
Most of us can't afford much more than two to three weeks of vacation a year and if we pick the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd, it'll nightmare us for the next twelve months.
Whom can you trust?
• Fielding told the blue-stockinged, socially-registered where to go, now he's gone… up.
• Fodor's name is on more than 130 guides, but he sold out and his reporters don't get paid enough to stay in the places they review.
• Frommer opened the world, at $5 a day . . . time's have changed.
Whom can you trust? Life is too short for myopsy, especially when it comes to travel.
• Travel writers are writers who get paid to travel. The rest of us travel for fun, adventure, and education. Both our loyalties and our viewpoints are different.
• Travel agents get better treatment than we do, and their main perk is discounted destinations.
• Most pamphlets' prose is more purple than pure, and have you ever seen a photograph that shows how crowded the beach really is, or the two-hour waiting line for the "nearby" attraction?
Whom can you trust? Life is too short for mediocrity, especially when it comes to travel.
• Like many things in life today, the common denominator is usually too low or… too common.
• The advances that have made life easier for the masses, have made life tougher for us.
• But great places do exist, they're just harder to find.
Whom can you trust? … Edward Carter.
By his background and experience, Carter is the one person who is trusted to find great new places to go, people to meet, things to do and places to eat. He is bringing adventure, fun, and excitement back into travel and is always trusted to "tell it as it is."
So here is Edward Carter, an independent, discerning man who, as a way of life, travels the world for fun and adventure. Paying his own way and traveling incognito, Ted enjoys the world as an international bon vivant — not as a subsidized travel-writer. He is respected internationally, and his finds and frustrations, delights and disappointments, are recounted each month in his own independently-printed, private journal -
Letters from Abroad© - A Connoisseur’s Monthly Chronicle of
Underrated Treasures and Overrated Pleasures.
Here's what other people say about Carter, his life, his style and his journal:
From the first issue of Carter's journal, an introduction by the internationally renowned restaurateur, TV host, and cookbook author, ROBERT CARRIER:
"As an old friend of Edward Carter, I happily answer the obvious question - Who is Edward Carter? Known as 'Ted', American and forty-ish, he's an international socialite and businessman who paused for a moment in his busy career and 'retired' to The Point, his wilderness estate on Upper Saranac Lake, New York in the spring of '79.
Later that year, he invited me to a houseparty he had put together for Thanksgiving. That evening at dinner we were discussing the coming Winter Olympics to be held in a few month's time at nearby Lake Placid and I lightheartedly said, "Why don't you take paying guests? There will never be enough hotel rooms in the area and it might be great fun."
That was the beginning. Carter picked up on the idea and for the next seven years, he ran one continuous brilliantly choreographed houseparty 365 days a year, personally hosting every lunch and dinner.
So from my off-hand suggestion, The Point became one of the most famous special hotels in the world and Ted was featured in nearly every major magazine including a Forbes cover story. Ted was elected as International Delegate for the United States, Bermuda, Mexico, and the Caribbean for Relais at Chateaux. His responsibility? … to seek out and vet those establishments aspiring to belong to this august association of the world's finest hotels and restaurants.
Ted made his point with The Point, sold it (it is now under the guidance of Albert Roux), and now his life is once again filled with Vuitton and tissue paper and his days are filled with new discoveries around the world. But now, instead of making moments magic for just his traveling companions, he has created this magic-carpet monthly chronicle, so we can go along as his guests too (while he picks up the tab)! We're going to have a great time and learn a lot. He's spent most of his life traveling and, as one of the most particular people I know, sees just what makes a hotel extra special or a restaurant simply wonderful. But it's his sense of humor and sense of perspective that will set this journal apart bringing pleasure to those of us lucky enough to receive it.
And if you ever had the luck to be his guest at The Point, you know how much fun he has in doing just that.
Robert Carrier, O.B.E.
THE 300 BEST HOTELS IN THE WORLD:
(The Point, picked as one of the 10 best of the 300 best) ". . . is not a hotel, heaven forbid, and not even a guest house since the only guests there are people whom the owner, Ted Carter, actually likes. It's really like being invited to a houseparty by a man who insists on keeping Armagnac in his boathouse and Vuitton suitcases in the closets. The Point is absolutely, but absolutely, lovely, a place in which everything you see is total perfection of taste with priceless pieces scattered about in glorious extravagance. . . and the whole place sparkles with wit and charm."
"Carter's a suave, Europeanised American."
THE HIDEAWAY REPORT:
"Bon vivant Carter, exuberant host. . . whose own pedigree encompasses everything from the Rosetta Stone to Plymouth Rock."
One of the three people in the world featured in the cover story about "chucking it all at the very top of your game and doing only what you want to", Carter was highlighted as being "wildly successful" with "guts, imagination, and ability."
So, with my concept and market position determined, I deal with the mechanical details. I decide I will use PageMaker to typeset the newsletter on my new Mac, print it on my new laser printer, and messenger it to Jack Parker of Amplion Printers in Watford who would do a run of 1000.
I choose Palatino as the typeface, in an eye-soothing gray. To help readers concentrate on the content, I will use hand-made illustrations instead of photographs. I found the artist, Sue Hunter, who lived in Sheffield, through Sue Lambourne who ran Young Artists, an agency.
Although Letters from Abroad© had considerably more content, I priced the subscription the same as the Hideaway Report - $96 per year.
I’d hand-address the envelopes and use regular English postage stamps… it was a connoisseur’s letter from abroad after all!
Every day, when James came home from school, we’d discuss my concepts; he was invaluable in honing my ideas. We also sought opinions from friends. One day, in the Spring, old friend and highly-respected, cookbook writer, Glenn Christian (descended from Fletcher Christian who led the mutiny on HMS Bounty) invited us to a party. I definitely wanted his ideas so James and I go. Glenn thinks the newsletter sounds like work, but fun!
There we bump into another old friend, Richard Shepherd – MP, and owner of London’s equivalent to New York’s Zabar’s – who introduces us to his long-term partner, James Williams.
[Sidebar – I emailed James Williams a while back trying to recall exactly when we met. His answer:
Well now let me see. The first time I met you was at the anniversary dinner of Glenn Christian's years living in the UK. It was held in a restaurant in Notting Hill Gate who's name I forget but the restaurant is now called Kensington Place. Richard and I were there because Glenn is an old friend of Richard's. I'm not sure if I actually met you in the restaurant or not, but certainly remember meeting you outside. You were with Jim then, and you both were so achingly smart, dressed in wonderfully tailored black suits, white shirts, and dark ties. Both in cuff links, and Richard introduced me to you, as you waited for your chauffeured Rolls Royce to arrive. When it did arrive, I noticed that you had a badge/emblem on the door. I thought WOW!]
James and Richard were an elegant and very amusing pair. Richard had been a classmate of Mick Jagger (!) at the London School of Economics (!), was Scottish, bright, and rich. They shared Richard’s large, set-back, detached house in Holland Park that had a sizeable garden and a long, front entrance path (usually with a pair of policemen on guard in a car at the curb – he was an important MP after all).
The last time we all dined together in the house was a large dinner party of old friends. James had decanted the wine and wrapped the decanter – I was challenged to blind taste and name the wine. I recognized it as my house wine on Union Street in San Francisco in 1973 – Robert Mondavi’s 1968 big red! Both Jameses were proud of me.
James Williams, Richard, and James Myhre
Richard and James, having encouraged me to write the newsletter, said they’d love to join us on one of our adventures; we all thought Portugal would be fun sometime later in the year.
James and I took our first fact-finding trip in February – a relatively short drive from home to the Cotswolds.
February - I fly to New York to see Audré, Bruce, and Gretchen, have dinner with Bobby Short and Johnny Galliher, drive Sally to see our friends at The Inn at Little Washington, and spend a few days with Mother in Naples.
April brings Spring Vacation to the London International Film School and James and I take off for the Continent in the Ferrari.
We visit Bordeaux, the Camargue, Venice, Geneva, and Paris.
Lavender Fields Forever
For his birthday on May 20, James took me to visit Bob Carrier’s ex-country house hotel – Hintlesham Hall, where James had taken a cooking course.
He wrote Audré of the visit…
24th May, 1987
Dear Audré, Should the address of this note take you by surprise, imagine my surprise upon returning to Hintlesham and finding only the last 4 letters - "sham" - relevant.
EGLC, who never had the pleasure of seeing Hintlesham Hall in the Carrier days, thought it a nice birthday trip for me and I did so want him to see what both you and I, among others, raved about.
Upon our turn through the entrance, however, it was near impossible to keep our jaws off our chests. The main theme of the front lawns must now be "Animal Farm" - chicken-wired pens for sheep, goats, chickens, cows and overgrown lawns that must be tended by grazing yews. Gone are the lovely, well-tended herb gardens and manicured pathways; both now look like an Appalachian potato plot. The pond is overgrown, bushes left dying, flower beds pulled up and weedy. Yet in comparison to the house, the exterior is the doubtless star.
Quite honestly, the hotel rooms are lovely and comfy, but one should refrain from venturing beyond them. Tatty "Conrans-gone-bad" wallpapers clash with freshly laid linoleum upstairs. All other rooms cause me such anguish in their almost deliberate bad taste. Sparsely laid-out, mismatched furniture (1/3 high-Victorian, 1/3 wicker, 1/3 Woolworth) and Scandinavian coffee tables are offset with bargain basement, brass chandeliers.
We have yet to try the food in Stuckey's downstairs but are not enthusiastic as the chef is trained by Gavroche in London - a restaurant we both detest.
The tone of my letter, in rereading, is almost that of an avenging Michelin inspector. And frankly, though not exaggerated, the listed mistakes above could almost be forgotten if not for the boob and bimbo who run the joint. Never have I seen two people who go out of their way, not to improve their hotel, but to spout the "success they've had in reviving Bob's disaster. Printed leaflets throughout the hotel called Bob's home "pretty tatty" and "of a style that drew mixed acclaim," and go so far as to intimate that the "previous owner" was cheap and tasteless. His wallpapers are "screaming," his lighting "murky," the heating system "ridiculous" - needless to say, their wallpapers, lighting, furniture, and heating are respectively, "restful and undemanding," "warm," "excellent," and "perfection." Such bullshit!
Needless to say, the crowd fits the host and hostess. And although I feel anger, I mostly feel regret when the high point of Hintlesham is now the installation of "two Tamworth pigs in a couple of weeks." Where is the logic?
I somehow feel a bit of guilt at fulfilling my curiosity as to the status of the "new" Hintlesham and have been duly repaid. I doubt that I will write Bob as to our visit - he deserves, in the least, being spared such venom. I'm not sure about the new owners…
We are back to London tomorrow, surely a bit richer for our visit, surely a bit prouder of our own home in the Adirondacks, with whatever problems it ever had. Magic is rare, eh, Audré? You betcha!
We miss you, look forward to seeing you (to NYC in perhaps July, August), and send, as always
By June, James and I had been talking about buying a house. Valuations were soaring, maybe the time was right. I don’t recall how we stumbled upon Eland Road in Clapham of all places – the wrong side of the river, but it caught our fancy, and I start the process of buying it.
July 24th is JWM’s last day at school; he flies home to San Antonio – we’ll meet in Miami on August 3.
Two days later, I fly to Montreal and Tom and Alix drive me to WaAwA. I do the usual things: climb the tower, visit the Adirondack-Florida School property, cruise the lakes – my J3 on floats is now bright yellow – and have dinner in Plattsburgh with the Garretts. Next day, I visit Charlie Keough in Saranac Lake, cruise to Lake Kushaqua, paddle to Little John’s Dam, row around Square Pond, and watch the loons. Neighbors Geri Werner and Roger come over after a great, pork chop dinner and we sing songs to the moon.
On the 31st, Tom & Alix are off at 9:15 AM for their winter home and Walt takes me to the Adirondack Airport. I fly to Albany and La Guardia, then on to Minneapolis via Chicago. My sister, Dade, meets me and we were at Mom’s at 6:00 PM. Mom went to bed at 8 and I stayed in a guest room provided by the condominium - Mom writes, “it’s called the “multi-purpose room” and is nearest my elevator and my parking place.”
We’re in and out of my sister’s for three days visiting with my nephews, Rick and his charming wife, Cindy, and John and his pretty wife, Karen.
On August 3rd, James flew from San Antonio, and I flew fr Minneapolis; we meet at Miami International and fly to St Maarten. The next day, we are in St. Barts; the 6th, in Nevis; the 9th to Antigua and Grenada; the 11th to Trinidad and Tobago; the 14th to Caracas; the 16th to Santo Domingo, Venezuela to visit Los Frailes; the 18th, back to Caracas; and the 19th, to London.
Isn’t travel fun?! All will be revealed in future issues of Letters from Abroad©. As a teaser, here is the business card we got at a “restaurant” in Grenada…
Aug 29th, we start readying the house on Eland Road - JWM painting, me hanging pictures, and, on September 2nd, we move in.
A teeny, 1600 square-foot, two-story, working-class dwelling, the house is part of a string of attached, nearly identical houses, running up a hill in Clapham. We plumingly called the area “Claam.” Just because it’s on the wrong side of the Thames, doesn’t mean it can’t be chic!
A wooden fence and hedge separated it from the street, and behind was a tennis-court-size garden.
On entering, the staircase was directly ahead with a loo underneath. On the left was a door to the living room. Double doors opened from that into the dining room with a door to the garden. Beyond the stairs was the kitchen with double doors to the garden.
Upstairs was the master bedroom on the front, master bath, and two guestrooms. We had already planned a total renovation that would move the living room to the rear overlooking the garden; turn the old living room into the dining room, and convert the old dining room into a new kitchen. Upstairs, we would create a second bathroom out of one of the guest rooms, and turn the rear guestroom into our office overlooking the garden.
Graham Sturt, George Lane’s handyman, had great plans for the garden to include a waterfall and fish pond.
James absolutely detested being driven to school in Miss Piggy and would crouch on the floor so his fellow students wouldn’t see him arriving by chauffeur. Now, the end of September, he buys a cute, blue, Volkswagen “Beetle” and names it “Cleo.” Now he can commute on his own.
Letters from Abroad© - Volume 1, No 1, was published in October 1987.
Here it is…
Number 2 and Number 3 followed on time in November and December.
In the meantime, with renovations starting on the house, James and I tour the Cotswolds in October. Mid-November, Graham starts on the garden.
Mid-December, this arrives…
Isn’t that nice!
We halt the renovations as Mother arrives for Christmas. We are joined by George and Elizabeth, and have a great time celebrating our new life. Mother loves the house.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without James’ Red Ribbons!
As last year, on Boxing Day, we went down to lunch at Chilworth, Elizabeth’s mother’s 13th-century home.
On the corporate side of things, Roger King’s head was spinning with all the activity. He had convinced me to sell him Letters from Abroad© so he could finance my trips as a tax deduction. He was sure the publicity generated was really going to pay off. George Lane, my champion, who had brought King and me together, was a great comfort in my regular meetings with Roger. This arrived just before New Year’s…
The year starts with much to do about nothing at Alexander House. Stupefying meetings with Roger and conferences with George produce some marketing policies that culminate in plans for a fam-trip of USA, TWA travel agents.
Later in January, wanting more material for Letters from Abroad©, we take a quick trip to Germany.
By now, the production of the newsletter is very smooth, and while subscriptions are growing, I feel some real marketing is needed - then something fantastic falls out of the sky…
March 21 - I’m having lunch at Champneys in Buckinghamshire - an ex-Rothschild mansion that is the flagship of the Champneys’ health-spa operation. By chance, I’m introduced to Nick Georgiades, a member of the tight, almost secret, inner-sanctum group responsible for the amazing turnaround of British Airways.
(The last five years have seen the re-emergence of BA to the top of the world’s airlines through a tough program of prioritizing positive attitude and personal service to the extent that BA really is today’s favorite airline.)
Nick says he works for “the hatchet man” who almost single-handedly has brought about the sweeping changes that enabled the turnaround.
I said, “I thought Lord King was the boss.”
“Not really, it was Mike Levin who just fired some 200 executives to try to get the company straightened out; you probably read about it.”
I said my newsletter might just fit in with their new image… light in weight but heavy in content. Who should I talk to about it?
Thrusting his card into my hand he says, “Me!”
It took three weeks before we could agree on a date. We had lunch near Speedbird House, Heathrow – British Airways’ Headquarters - and Nick said he thought the idea was great and would discuss it with his boss. If we meet again, it’s on; if not, too bad.
Again, the weeks go by but, finally, after more than another month, I am invited to lunch again, and “the hatchet man” is expected.
A great, grinning man, who somehow reminds me of a bunny rabbit, bounds up and sits down. I keep looking over my shoulder for the man who had fired over two hundred executives to lean the BA ship and set the new course to the top.
My host laughs and says, “Settle down, this is the man. Meet Mike Levin; he’s read the newsletter and it’s all going to happen.”
Thinking it was all too easy, I start to “sell” the newsletter. His beguiling smile slows me down.
He says, “I’ve been one of your subscribers since January and love the thing! One of my first jobs is to revitalize First Class. Your friend, Gretchen Bellinger, is doing the fabrics. I want you to do special BA editions of Letters from Abroad© that will be seat-pocketed on all flights and placed in our First Class lounges around the world.”
I relax, and we spend the lunch talking about jazz, mutual friends in New York – he commutes by Concorde several times a week, and how “First Class” had lost it’s meaning. He says Letters from Abroad© could add just the touch they want. Available only by subscription, its sophistication is just what BA’s First Class passengers are looking for.
To protect the exclusivity of the private subscription, I agree to create specially-edited anthology editions consisting of material that had already appeared in previous issues.
Mike says, “This is all great, but a lot of other people will have to get in on the act. We’ll need to meet in a couple of months to formalize this and set up a schedule.”
I’m going to need help. I find a great secretary, Victoria Buchanan, who comes to Eland Road every day and helps in myriad ways.
Things are moving fast; too bad we can’t say the same thing for the house.
Coughing with plaster dust, we finally give in and leave for New York on April 8th. We’d be back when it was finished. We hope Victoria can cope.
We dine with Bruce Bolton, see Gretchen, lunch with Carrie, and Bedford Pace with Marianna, and Johnny, and Eddie Carroll, and Audré.
We go to Baltimore on the 13th to follow up with many of the TWA agents that were going to visit Alexander House in the middle of May, and dine with Sally.
We go to Washington on the 16th, Dallas on the 17th, and to James’ home in San Antonio on the 19th.
It is time for Mother’s bi-annual move to or from Naples to Minneapolis, so we fly to Naples on the 21st to pick up Mom and her car.
We drive to Daytona, then to Savannah for a photo in front of Uncle General Sherman’s headquarters, and on to Atlanta on the 25th to stay in the Eplan’s B&B. Then on the 27th to Shakerstown, Kentucky and then, on the 28th, to a high-rise B&B in Chicago. On the 30th, we drive to Union Pier, Michigan…
At Union Pier
And finally, on May 2nd, we make home in Minneapolis.
We return to London on the fifth of May to a glorious new home!...
The Garden with Sanka, Diana’s head, and the French gargoyles; the entrance hall
The Dining room (with my namesake’s portrait – Uncle Gardner Leonard)
Livingroom with Alice in Wonderlands, and my collection of bespoke luggage from Paris
Front hall with garden beyond, Upstairs guestroom bath
James in the office upstairs
May 13th, the TWA group arrives at Alexander House...
In June, I graduate from Stafford University earning a Ph.D. (summa cum laude) in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Mid-June, James and I go to Denmark.
On Wednesday, June 22, I meet with Mr. Levin at Speedbird House along with the head of First Class brands, Richard Mound, who is the first to see this as only the beginning.
He said, “It was the concept of creating a “brand” for each class of the “product” that has contributed more to the world’s perception of what BA is all about.”
Sure, he loves the idea of BA introducing my Letters from Abroad© to their passengers as an exclusive and very special “goodie,” but he wants BA to give them something else unique, which could demonstrate just how far their caring goes.
We all feel the First Class journey should extend to much more than just those few hours the passenger is onboard. Ideally, we should be there to help wherever they may go…
They say, can’t I create a “little black book” recommending those few really special places I stay in around the world? Not necessarily the “obvious choices” of the globe-trotter who needs all the state-of-the-art business facilities provided by BA Partnership hotels, but those smaller, more personal hostelries that I choose for myself? A really special guidebook; they could call it the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection by Edward Carter.
I agree and warn that I am rather old-fashioned, liking quiet, dignified places that eschew all the mod-cons. There aren’t a lot of people that agree with me – maybe only half of one percent of world travelers. In fact, some think I’m too particular and wish that the little pill I take each morning for hypertension would make me a little more forgiving of high pretension.
We decide on those locations that should be covered – the major BA routes – and after eliminating some, where I just couldn’t recommend anything, like Lagos, Nigeria, we come up with a tentative itinerary for a trip they will finance for me to determine and confirm my selections
I detail my criteria for an establishment’s inclusion in the Guide:
• To be a candidate, a hotel must represent itself honestly, provide a warm welcome, look after you with care, have a sense of style, be of reasonable value, and send you off with a fond farewell. In other words, it must have Character, Quality, and Value.
• First, I really only consider places which provide the highest level of quality in their class; pretentiousness is a waste of everyone’s time.
• So, when I am in a good hotel, I expect modern plumbing, a supply of soft towels, enough wastebaskets, proper (steal-able) hangers, good reading lights, and facilities to enable me to keep in touch with the rest of the world—just like home.
• When I’m in a top hotel, I expect even more: I’d prefer the towels white, and there should be two linen ones as well. I’d hope for a magnifying shaving mirror, but I wouldn’t expect the floor (Brenner’s Park Hotel, Baden Baden) or the toilet seat (Tawaraya, Kyoto) or the mirrored bathroom walls (Seiyo, Tokyo) to be heated, but there are places where you find that and more!
• On the other hand, I can be just as comfortable on a tatami mat in Hakone or under canvas in the Masai Mara… if I know there are caring professionals near at hand who take pride in helping me to be comfortable.
• For it’s really the people who matter and, to me, their attitude is even more important than their aptitude.
• We all have a healthy respect for money and expect sensible value. Consequently, on behalf of all of us, I am sensitive to the difference between something that is costly (not a consideration) and something that is expensive (unjustifiably too much). While some of my choices are much more costly than others, I deem all to be of reasonable value.
The interesting thing about this whole project is that BA has no interest in editorial matters. What I write is my business. Of course, they are responsible for their own editorial contributions and, for example, wrote this for the introduction to the anthology editions of Letters from Abroad©:
“Much of today’s travel has become tedious and trepidatious, forcing both the businessman and vacationer to abandon what used to be the fun of adventure and exploration. To help eliminate the tedium and tension, and make worldwide travel fun again, we are proud to introduce Dr. Edward Carter and his letters from abroad.
“As the creator of The Point, one of the most extraordinary small hotels in the world, former International Delegate of Relais et Châteaux, and author of his famous travel monthly, Dr. Carter is respected internationally as an arbiter of style and taste. His readers, like you, are sophisticated international travelers who appreciate is forthright assessments and advice because, independently paying his own way, he ‘tells it as it is.’
“As your roving ‘rich uncle,’ Dr. Carter travels the world introducing you to extraordinary people and fascinating things to do. He not only scrutinizes hotels, resorts, and restaurants, but also explores rare shops, private collections, and secret hideaways. He assesses the newcomers, re-evaluates the old stand-bys, and recommends both intrepid and indulgent itineraries.
“We know you will appreciate having this opportunity to get to know Dr. Carter. Enjoy it in style.”
The beginning of July, James and I go exploring New York, Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Along the way, I spend nearly a week working with corporate travel companies in Minneapolis on behalf of Alexander House. The high point of the trip was San Francisco - seeing Tony Hail and his partner, Charles (Chuck) Posey, staying at Sherman House, and dining at Stars.
Anthony Hail is one of my very best friends. My God, the world's a teeny place when you think about the ladies and gents who really know how to live well… naturally. Well, maybe the knowing wasn't totally natural at first but there were a number of hosts and hostesses who would give one a hand up and soon your eye and wit either sharpened or the invitations stopped.
Of course, like everything else today, the group is getting smaller, the experiences rarer, the value more appreciated, and my heart aches at the diminishment of this endangered style of living that probably won't survive the whales… and we know they're doomed.
In my view, the one and only truly elegant environmentalist who is doing everything to propagate the species and at the same time creating tomorrow's blithe memories is Tony Hail. For while I spend my time seeking out those kinds of places that will appeal to all my readers who do understand comfort and service and things that taste good and are fun to do, Tony is busy creating them.
While most of the time he makes his magic for his clients - the likes of the Gordon Gettys, the Brownlee Curreys, Whitney Warren, Eleanor de Guigné, the Howard Johnsons, and a Crocker or two, the results of which most of us can only gape at in the pages of Architectural Digest, Interior Design, or Town and Country, we can enjoy the genius of his eye, the subtlety of his stylishness, and the perfection of his taste in a few places, a bit more public - the White House and the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco, for example.
While Town and Country may call him the decorator's decorator, to me that smacks of the English definition of decorator which is little more than a wallpaperer/painter.
In contrast, high-born in Tennessee, Tony was brought up in the châteaux country of Denmark. An enclave of Neoclassicism, this region is filled with some of the most stunning Louis XVI houses in Denmark and imprinted on Tony a clarity of perception which he brings to everything he does in life.
He returned to the United States, studied architecture at Harvard, and later returned to savor his 20's and refine his purpose in Copenhagen, London, Paris, Capri, and Rome. These were the days of Arturo Lopez, Mona Bismarck, Chips Channon, and, of course, the likes of Les Deux Cecils - no tray and outré; days when young alchemists could change a little gold into a coronet, or a cherubic blond into a prince. Protégéed by some, captivated by others, and infused with joie de vivre almost unknown in America, Tony wisely settled in San Francisco - a community more sensitive to, and perhaps more needy for, the kind of sophistication only Tony could provide.
It is even truer today; not only because of his classical training and experiences in and around the courts of Europe, and the fact that he simply knows more than anyone else in the world about good furniture and better manners, but because his southern lilt and wicked wit positively hypnotize absolutely everyone lucky enough to meet him.
Footloose in 1973, (see Chapter Eight) I moved to San Francisco for a few months simply because I met him at a dinner party and we couldn't stop laughing the whole evening. He had an apartment at 1055 California and every star of ¬¬fashion, politics, Society, business, whatever, "checked in" with Tony… it was his town and he held court. He still does, and it still is, but so are many other places.
When he comes to London, we link up like Siamese twins and I end up seeing more old friends and new faces than I ever see on my own.
And now, ninety percent of his work is in New York. It reminds me of something Noël Coward said to me just before he went up: "Wait for it, they'll come to you." (Of course, he didn't have to say you better be the most talented and attractive and hardest working in whatever your field; he didn't often talk to those who weren't.)
But now, even with work all over the world, Tony's home is still San Francisco which pleases me a lot for once having enjoyed it from his point of view, it could never be the same for me again.
As I was dying to see his new home at 1055 Green, I called to let him know we were coming and booked a room at Sherman House.
Tony's house is terrific (natch). One of the few survivors of the earthquake and remodeled by Julia Morgan (the architect responsible for Hearst's San Simeon), 1055 Green has been brilliantly modified to meet Tony and Chuck's needs.
While Tony claims most of the territory, of the marble foyer, much of the ground floor is, in fact, a separate apartment for Chuck.
Conventional Wisdom almost dictates that classically-educated, artist-geniuses have less of a head for business affairs than those of the heart, and I dare say that without Chuck's caring management (originally IBM trained), the Anthony Hail Studio might never have reached its present preeminent position. Introducing management systems unique in the industry, Chuck has minimized staff requirements (when you hire Tony, you get Tony) and created financial controls in an industry notorious for cash that doesn't flow and deposits that are swallowed up by left-over add-ons from previous jobs.
Chuck's living room doubles as the dining room and beyond are bedrooms and dressing rooms fit for royalty. Upstairs, each beautiful room opens into another even more stunning, and all are filled with antique chandeliers from Russia or Sweden, rare Danish pieces, and upholstered walls covered with magnificent mirrors and rare architectural drawings. Glove-leather covers Louis XVI chairs, Chinese lacquer tables support myriad bronzes, and wonderfully-worn, 17th-century carpets warm the polished wood floors.
I thought his apartment at 1055 California was the epitome of classic comfort but this house on Green Street is even better. People think I'm fanatical about details, but Tony goes several steps further.
For example, American manufacturers have reduced the lead content of paint (because consumer groups are convinced that today's undisciplined brats will eat the baseboards) to such an extent that no paint will cover or last for any length of time. Consequently, Tony imported a team of painters from the Netherlands who brought their own paint (I always used Dutch paint on the bottoms of my boats in the Adirondacks) and had the perimeter of each paneled door painted in gloss, the moldings in semi-gloss, and the inner panel in matt.
And, all of the slots of the brass screw heads are perfectly vertical. To my mind, it is the combination of this attention to detail and his flawless classical taste that produces the extraordinary serenity that permeates his every project. I know no other person that even comes close.
Anyway, it was great to see them both, and, our first evening, they took us to Stars.
San Francisco offers a wide and wonderful variety of restaurants. My old standbys are the Big Four in the Huntington Hotel for which Tony did the decor, Trader Vic's (never the Polynesian Room but the Captain's Cabin where the rank of each member of San Francisco Society is apparent by his placement around the banquettes), the fantasy-tented Fleur de Lys, and Madam Chiang's deliciously reliable Mandarin.
Tony said he knew I'd love Stars which had been born since my last visit.
I don't know a guide that doesn't say Stars is tops but with Tony, it takes on another dimension. The joint was jumpin' and up on a dais at the end of the room was a long table filled with some of San Francisco's most scintillating stellar socialites:
Denise and Prentice Hale (Before Prentice, Denise was married to Liza Minnelli's father and was Mrs. Hollywood for 20 years. Prentice heads a chain of America's best-known luxury department stores - big bucks!) were at opposite ends and, among their many guests, were Herb Caen, top society columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Michael Feinstein (who's been known to play around with Liza himself).
Above theirs, on the dais, I could see a round table that upstaged all the rest and, as we were reverentially escorted through "the stalls," it was obvious that in spite of others Hale and hearty, it is Tony that is hailed as the main event – the table was for us.
And, later, I observed one of the most carefully-finessed, public accolades when Jeremiah Tower, the celebrated California culinary star, and owner of Stars, made his way over to meet each of us and managed to slip discreetly back behind the stoves before the winkin', blinkin' and noddin' table next door even realised they'd been eclipsed.
Jeremiah is a star in his own right. Protégé of kitchen doyenne, Alice Waters, and owner of the famed Santa Fe Bar and Grill and the newer Arizona 206 in Manhattan, Mr. Tower is one of the major forces behind what is now known as "California cuisine." Epitomized by freshness of ingredients and clean-ness of taste, his food has an utter simplicity of flavor and texture that can't be faked. (Audré once said to me that a bad evening gown can be easily disguised by glitter, feathers, and lace; the hardest thing, the mark of a true master, is his ability to design the simple, perfect, black gown.) With that definition (of sorts), Mr. Tower, to me, can certainly be called a master.
Starters were unpretentious: grilled fresh garlic bread with peppers and goat cheese, tile-baked pizzas, a slightly acidic bagna cauda with delicious baby vegetables (not the supermarket variety - these are real, tasting of sweet and earth all at once).
Main courses were equally super: a succulent grilled chicken breast was perked up with a spicy lobster risotto; quail, marinated in balsamic vinegar, was grilled and served with rosemary aioli. Tony chose a plain, perfectly-grilled tournedo for his dinner - Tower's black gown to Joe Baum's beef Wellington (in 1988!).
Delicious, well-priced and vivacious, Stars is one, and Towers above the rest – it’s going be one of my award winners next year.
So, what of Sherman House?
A protégé of Tony's, Billy Gaylord, was trying when he was struck down by cancer while still in his 30's. His last commission was the renovation of Sherman House.
Standing above the Bay on Green Street, Sherman House looks out over the Golden Gate. It was built in 1876 and is typically Victorian. Mr. Manouchehr Mobedshahi bought it in 1980 and he and Billy spent four years preparing it for its new role as a 15-room luxury hotel. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Mobedshahi wrote me asking that Sherman House be considered for membership in Relais et Châteaux.
I asked some of my fellow members to make incognito inspections and all the reports were most favorable. However, it was not until this year that Paris deigned to accept their application. You can imagine how pleased I was to be able to finally visit in person.
To Billy's credit, the black granite bathrooms are a triumph and the bedrooms perfectly illustrate how well he absorbed Tony's valued tutoring. The room we had was upholstered in a rich dark brown and black fabric down to wainscoting in burled yew faux bois. The four-poster bed was hung with lined and interlined curtains of such a weight as to exclude the slightest noise or glimmer of light. The low-voltage lighting system could produce the subtlest of moods, and the marble fireplace was flanked with leather-edged bookshelves filled with leather-bound volumes that you actually want to read. Billy has produced what really could be an extraordinarily comfortable hotel.
Unfortunately, the hotel doesn't work. We to-ed and fro-ed in front of the entrance trying to park but still had to carry our bags in the front door. The Relais insists, quite rightly, that the "welcome" is one of the most important things a hotel has to offer. There was none here.
We put our shoes outside the door - the brochure emphasizes the caring service; they weren't returned until 10:45 the next morning, and had been painted with some sort of easily-chipped, synthetic gloss that took over two hours for the valet at the Stanford in New York to remove.
Liz Thorburn, our secretary, Victoria’s, sister, and Elizabeth Taylor's P.A., called me twice from E.T.'s home in L.A. The hotel telephone operator kept telling her I was off duty that day and no matter how much she insisted I was a guest and not a member of the staff, I never got one message.
Fax machines have become indispensable in my life. Sherman House uses a service around the corner which didn't send my messages until the next day and never returned my originals. The staff at Sherman House were inexperienced in such matters.
There is no bellhop and the instructions that went out with our laundry were ignored. And while the staff at the front desk tried to be helpful, there was no evidence of professional management nor did I ever see or meet anyone who might have been the actual manager.
I liked Billy Gaylord. When I first met him in 1973, I frankly never thought he would amount to anything more than another Hail sycophantic copycat. As the years went by, however, he gained confidence and, with it, a charm and freshness that was most appealing. And even when his gaucheness occasionally slipped through the ever-thickening veneer of success, he was never heavy-handed and retained a boyish impness that made it all fun. What he brought to Sherman House deserves much more than they are currently delivering – no award here.
We flew back to New York on the 28th, tried out Morgan’s Hotel, went to Baltimore for dinner with Sally, back to Manhattan for dinner at Café des Artistes, brunch with Audré, returned to London on the 9th, and I lunched with Roger at Cliveden for a trip debriefing.
Suddenly, it’s August 16!
Ninfa, our Filipino housekeeper, and James threw a fabulous party for thirty of our closest friends in a tent he had had erected in the garden – a typical Myhre surprise birthday, as good as any at The Point!
I should tell you something about Ninfa. She took the pictures off the wall every week to dust behind them, changed the candles when they burned down and made sure there was always a spare roll of toilet paper on the top of each dispenser. I don’t know who trained her, but she was a godsend!
At the party, James Williams, Richard Shepherd, and we discussed going to Portugal next month. Like all members of Parliament, Richard maintains an amazingly busy schedule. Unlike representatives in the United States, British M.P.s have weekly "clinics" in their constituencies so that they are available to listen to problems and suggestions on a regular basis. On top of that, as I said before, Richard owns London's equivalent of Balducci's or Zabar's — Partridge's on Sloane Street and a chain of supermarkets aimed further down market. It is rare when he can get away.
He said he could be free from September 14 and we agreed to meet in Lisbon on the sixteenth. Richard, who has an historical bent, would be our guide.
So, on the seventh of September, James and I left for Paradors in Spain - Malaga, Granada, Córdoba, and Carmona, and, on the fourteenth, drove into Portugal at Evora.
We first stayed at La Bobadilla, not far from Malaga, a resort that looks like an Andalusian town, where visitors can experience authentic luxury in the Sierra de Loja area, between Granada and the Costa del Sol - a unique corner which is accessible from Seville, Cordoba, and Malaga Airport. We found it one of the best hotels in Spain.
Before heading toward Grenada, we struck off cross-country for a peek at Antequera which lay about 40 miles north, north-west of La Bobadilla. There is a modern Parador in Antequera that looks down across the fertile plain at an amazing, towering outcrop of rock known as the Peña de los Enamores or Lovers' Leap.
The medieval legend recounts of a Moorish princess who eloped with a Christian shepherd boy and then they threw themselves to their deaths from the heights of this sheer peak. The silhouette of the rocks forms a perfect profile of a recumbent man's face; whether it is that of the shepherd's, as some say, or Manolete, another theory, I don't know but it is strange that nearly every rocky outline now looks like a face to me.
As everywhere today, the streets of Grenada were choked with traffic and all the emissions were out of control along with the swarms of motor scooters which seemed to be the only things moving at all.
It had only taken a bit more than 2 hours to cover the 45 miles from La Bobadilla to Grenada. These discrepancies in time, speed, and distance is typical all over Spain as there are so many trucks plying the main routes which usually have only two lanes. On the newer sections, a truck lane happily appears on long hills but judging from all the vast work in progress, someday (this is the country of mañana, you know) superhighways will connect each of Andalusia's major cities.
We drove right up to the door of the famous Parador San Francisco and shortly a smiling man opened the gate to their private parking enclosure and wheeled in our luggage.
I have always considered September as the best month to be almost anywhere; thankfully not everyone agrees with me as, amazingly, we had been able to get a reservation in what is known as one of Spain's most popular hotels with only 4 days’ notice - most guidebooks advise booking six months in advance.
The Parador is beautifully situated in the middle of the Alhambra, in the hills overlooking modern Granada. Built on the remains of a Moorish palace built by Yusif I in 1332 (whose remains were later converted by Ferdinand and Isabella into a Franciscan convent), the 35-room hotel has the magical advantage of overlooking the Generalife, the magnificent and exotic gardens of the Moorish kings, to the east and the Alcazaba, their majestic fortress, to the west.
One enters the Parador through a verdant, pebble-mosaic walkway that leads to an efficient if ordinary, lobby and front desk. Don't be immediately put off. After passing through a pair of glass doors, one enters the lovely courtyard atrium of the original convent. Spanish tiles, a trickling fountain and cool breezes wafting through the flowered cloisters suddenly relieve you of the modern bustling but a few yards away. Little Spanish girls polish the tiles that line the walkways and walls (they seem to be forever polishing), moving quickly, politely aside to let you pass before they return to their endless buffing. Interior hallways are decorated with local handicrafts -woven rugs, blue-and-green fajalauza ceramics, marquetry, Moorish copper and brass lanterns - as are the modest, attractive rooms on either of two floors. Mine was charming and simple: blue and green handwoven bedspreads, old oak furniture and shutters, mosaic tiles and best of all, a view overlooking the lush, tiered Generalife. I almost felt it unnecessary to leave our room but for to prop myself on the window sill with a pitcher of Sangria and take in the colorful carnival ahead of (and passing beneath) us.
Culture, alas, overtook our hedonistic nature and we were off immediately to spend the rest of the day touring the sites - the wondrous remains of the 9th-century fortress with its imposing watchtower, the oddly out-of-place Renaissance palace of Charles V whose circular atrium now houses the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance, the intricately-carved, polychrome Ambassadors' Hall and the Sala de los Abencerrajes where a sultan is reputed to have, in a frenzied rage, ordered 36 princes beheaded and watched as their blood flowed to the Fountain of Lions. Spanish temperament.
Finally, a walk through the Generalife with its cooling pools spurting string-thin jets of water covered walkways fragranced with the scent of roses and jasmine and monoliths of trimmed yews and boxwood.
As translated, Generalife means "white" (unlike the Alhambra which means "ochre red", the color of both the soil and the buildings). The sheer whiteness, the cool, clear waters and Cypress-shaded pathways were all conceived for intimacy and relaxation. Void of adornment, the simple, almost Italianate structure at garden's center frame the lush bouquets that cascade in vivid profusion.
Although fortunate to have the shade of the Generalife cool the hot afternoon sun, I must admit that I couldn't be more thankful for the air-conditioner back in our room. Yet, as the sun began to fall, so quickly too did the temperatures outside as we enjoyed once again opening our windows and inhaling the timeless world that surrounded us. Showering and putting on thin cotton shirts, we decided to take a walk from the walled city and enjoy "new" Granada below us.
Granada is, indeed, a modern European city - noisy and alive with cafés, tapas bars and street merchants selling everything from carved-cedar Madonnas to Madonna's latest CD. We were looking for the Campo del Principe, the flowered square that houses lively early-evening revelers, but, in the maze of poorly-marked streets and backroads, we ended up far removed in what turned out to be Calle Reyes Catolicos, Granada's answer to Montparnasse.
Getting lost in cities has always been the best way for me to learn my way around and such was the case here - through alleyways, quiet private lanes with real local mesones and tiny, secluded squares. I probably wouldn't recommend such a foray after dark but as we hailed a taxi back at Calle Reyes Catolicos, we didn't seem to mind keeping the Campo until our next visit.
Back at the Parador, we found a table on the open-air back patio and ordered a small pitcher of Sangria. The charming waitress quickly brought us a gallon-sized container that at first, seemed daunting but quickly became a much-too-easily consumed aperitif. Duly refreshed, we asked the young girl if it would be possible to have dinner under the stars instead of the less-atmospheric, over-lit, modern dining room. All heads spun around in smiling anticipation (why are people always afraid to ask the simplest questions?) until the red-faced girl, scuffing her shoes irreparably as she lowered her head and kicked the pavement, muttered something about hotel rules. (That's probably why they don't ask. How can you answer that response with less than a ten-minute dissertation on the true meaning of comfort, style, and hospitality?)
Too relaxed to make a fuss, we happily were led to our table inside and enjoyed a nice meal of Huevos Fritos al Cubano (Fried eggs with plantain, rice and curry), a misguided cannelloni gratin and a delicious ragout of lamb, Andalusian-style (with grilled peppers, tomato and onions). A good, inexpensive 1970 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja completed the meal and a truly pleasant evening.
It’s worth mentioning - or better yet, warning - you that while the entire staff couldn't have been nicer, I have found someone who I must nominate as my most unpleasant hotel staff member of the year. Be warned, if a gangly, stringy-haired man with a handlebar mustache and the posture of Quasimodo on thioridazine should cross your path, either turn and run away or throw the nearest stone in his direction. His manner could scare a baby back in during the delivery.
All in all, a nice stopover for sightseeing this historic town, though, as before, we would wholeheartedly recommend a visit outside the ridiculously hot and crowded summer season (and avoid having to make a six-month advance reservation). If, by chance, the inn is full, try the Hostal América next door. It’s much simpler but looks cute. And they have dinner in the open-air courtyard...
Carmona - Julius Caesar wrote of Carmona’s inarguable beauty, and what remains today in the town’s many mansions, convents, palaces, and churches is an ever-continuing tribute to what Caesar called “the morning star of Andalusia.” This tiny, charming village is steeped in Moorish history and is dominated by the crumbling walls of its ancient Alcazar. Built atop a strategic plateau, it is now the home of the Parador Nacional Alcazar Rey Don Pedro.
Within the ancient protective walls, the Parador captures the spirit of past and present. Through the granite and marble lobby, one enters an elegant atrium framed with unadorned Mudejar columns. Beyond is the bar and restaurant with pyramidical 20-foot ceilings and carved Moorish panels. Intricate copper and tin lamps hang from huge chains over the flower-filled tables. There's a connecting stone veranda that, like the entire Parador, overlooks a vast, sun-beaten plain and the clear, cool waters of a beautiful swimming pool below.
Our room was simple; delightfully decorated in hand-woven fabrics, heavy oak furniture, and local crafts. There was also a television, bar/refrigerator, air-conditioning, and a direct-dial telephone. The granite and marble bath were modern and attractive. Best was the private terrace overlooking the flatlands. (NB: only the rooms on the fourth floor have them.)
James was feeling under the weather and had a slight temperature. I encouraged him to nap and walked the three stories and 60-odd stairs to the pool. Half of the guests were American; the rest were European and South American. All were in the spring of middle age, very cosmopolitan and casual. I chaise-longed with a glass of wine, a grilled sandwich and a new novel that I never opened. From the pool, the sun begins to sink behind the ramparts about 8 pm, a good time to start thinking about dinner - this is Spain, you know.
I dined alone at 9:30; fresh warm bread, olives, sausages, Serrano ham, and butter arrived immediately. I started with a good Andalusia gazpacho (orangier than I'm used to but wonderfully full of garlic, onions, peppers, cilantro, and croutons) and followed with a plate of delicious, braised squid stuffed with vegetables, rice, and shellfish. The main course was a characterless ragout of veal (unless you're in a large, luxury hotel avoid the tough-as-boots beef and veal in Spain) then a nice flan for dessert--nothing spectacular, but satisfying nonetheless.
I spent the rest of the evening on my breezy terrace, hypnotized by an amazing sight. All over the plain, farmers had set fire to their harvested fields, and the earth and sky became one as the sparks rose to mingle with the stars. Julius was right.
Córdoba - We stayed at the Marisa Hotel overlooking the northern wall of the mosque (recommended by Fodor's as "a charming Andalusian house on a picturesque street"); its lack of comfort was equally ugly. No soap, no air-conditioning, sagging foam mattresses and so much street noise that I got less than an hour's sleep. If you are stuck in Córdoba overnight, the newly built, commercial Adarve Hotel just around the corner at Magutai Gonzales Fin is the best bet.
Portugal; Evora - We finally reached the Portuguese border. The steep climb out of Spain through the Sierra de Aracena had been narrow and at times tortuous but at last the road straightened out and leveled off as we approached the border control just beyond Rosal de la Frontera. We had arrived at the edge of the Alentejo, Portugal's largest province that stretches from the Atlantic to the Spanish border, south of Lisbon but north of the Algarve.
A careful check of the car's papers and we were through. Much of the Alentejo is devoted to large plantations of cork forests. As we drove along, we could see that each tree was numbered; the bark can be stripped only once every nine years. I wondered if there could ever be enough to cork just the 25,000 cases that Jean Michel Cazès produces every year at Château Lynch-Bages!
(While that might seem like a non-sequitur, Richard Shepherd M.P., who had joined us in Lisbon, came over last night to exchange photos and help debrief the trip over dinner. As I uncorked the second Lynch-Bages, I was reminded of the trees — I still can't imagine there can ever be enough.)
Portugal's quite a contrast from Spain; everything seemed so much neater. We passed women scrubbing their front door sills and sweeping the main road in front of their whitewashed houses. I'd heard that the people of this region were independent and self-sufficient, but this was almost too much. But the biggest difference was the roads. Spain's had been narrow, hardly ever more than two lanes even between major cities down on the flats. Here the "yellow" roads were twice as good and the "reds" virtual motorways, amazing when you realize that Portugal is the poorest nation in Western Europe. Planning our trip on the map, I had figured that the route from Beja to Evora would be even worse than that through the Sierra de Aracena (which had been marked in red). Driving west from the border, we turned north at Beja only to find that the road was wide and straight, and we arrived in Evora just before lunch instead of after tea.
Evora's walls encircle a town that seems to encapsulate the history of Portugal in one extraordinary package. If you're a history buff or a student of architecture, Evora is a "must". On the other hand, if you enjoy relaxing in a typical, peaceful town that reflects the habits and temperament of a people, Evora is also for you. And for me, it houses one of Portugal's outstanding pousadas which, like the Paradors of Spain, are hostelries operated under the guidance of the government and usually located in buildings of considerable architectural merit.
The Pousada dos Lóios sits in the very center of Evora. Right outside its nearly perfect, Moorish-Portuguese, 16th-century portal is the stark, Corinthian-columned Temple of Diana which dates from the second century. (I know a couple of masters at Hotchkiss who would be shocked to hear I could recognize anything of historic value. It's surprising how quickly one develops an interest in something especially when the knowledge has some practical value. Can you imagine going around the world without working up an appetite for history?)
Well, Evora is full of it.
Many say that this town, from an historical point of view, is one of the most important in the world. Obviously, it was an important Roman city, then Moorish but to the Burgundian kings, it was too isolated and was forgotten. In the 14th-century, however, the king moved court to Evora from Lisbon and everyone rushed to build palaces and important convents. The Convent of the Lóios friars is perfectly preserved and is bounded by the palace of the Counts of Baston, on one side, and by the house of the Dukes of Cadaval, on the other. And here is where we spent the night in an extraordinary Indo-Portuguese, four-poster bed with red velvet hangings and turned mahogany and brass filigrees!
Our accommodations, the only suite, had magnificent, eighteenth-century, hand-painted walls and ceiling but the bathroom was as modern as one could ask with gray onyx everywhere. The bedroom looked out on a small private square which protected a vine from which grapes might very well have been plucked for hundreds of years.
The cloisters have been sensitively glassed-in to make the restaurant and even though it was 2:30, I thought I'd see if we could have some lunch. I was surprised to see so many people still eating and when still more arrived after we had been most graciously seated, I felt no qualms about having arrived late. We were served a delicious traditional lunch of Alentejo garlic soup, a charred brochette of squid and chicken in a Muscadet de Fonseca-based sauce accompanied by a heavy red Daó. We went upstairs and slept heavily until woken by the bells of the famous cathedral, The Sé, built in 1186.
There are 18 important sights well marked on the walking guide that we picked up at the front desk. We wandered the town for several hours before dinner enjoying the atmosphere of a town full of animated people chatting in ancient squares and tending their shops as if unaware of the fantastic beauty around them.
Dinner was well served and delicious; the Pousada charming and comfortable. As I paste our photos in the album, I know I will remember this spot more clearly than many.
We arrived in Lisbon on the fifteenth.
Driving from Evora to Lisbon, one might think one was in Georgia: lots of scrub pines, trucks carrying logs to pulp mills, sandy verges, even a Ford assembly plant; happily, we were still in Portugal. After only 2-1/2 hours, we were on the Portuguese equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge - the bridge that had been built by the Americans in 1966 over the River Tagus. The Hertz map got us to the door of The Ritz without a wrong turn and we entered one of the best-known hotels in Europe. Granted the corridors were wider than most but, frankly, there didn't seem to be anything extraordinary about it; just another, efficient-looking, late '50's hotel.
When shown in to the center suite on the fourth floor, we realized what all the fuss was about. Paneled like the QE I in matched-grain, bleached mahogany, the enormous rooms were delightful. A large foyer opened into a pale sky-blue living room with a long balcony overlooking the Edward VII Park, the statue of Pombal (who rebuilt the city after the devastating earthquake of 1755) and the Champs-Elysees-like Avenida da Liberdade. The bedroom was filled with art nouveau furniture and the bath was all black granite and heavy chrome with a tub large enough to float any one of Vasco da Gama's ships (which, sponsored by Henry the Navigator, returned to Lisbon in 1498 having discovered the route to India and the route to Lisbon's fortunes). The profits from these epic voyages built the fabulous palaces and churches that can be seen all over Lisbon.
Our itinerary for Portugal was still a bit up in the air but as we had decided that morning to spend our last night in Lisbon before heading back to London, I needed to make reservations. It turned out that darn near every hotel in Lisbon was booked because of the Portuguese Grand Prix. After two hours of telephoning, I finally secured rooms in the Avenida Palace (it wasn't even listed in the Michelin) with a back up at York House; we'd have a look at both before deciding which to cancel.
Eager for the sights and sounds, we walked down the Avenida da Liberdade, poking in galleries and small shops until we found ourselves in the district known as Restauradores near the Rossio railroad station above which was the Avenida Palace. I asked to see the rooms I had booked and was shown a two-bedroomed suite that felt like it hadn't seen the light of day since 1930. This was Lisbon's first hotel and still maintains all its original gilded public rooms, velvet over-stuffed furniture, and crystal chandeliers. Oh well, it was better than nothing; we'd check out York House after lunch.
Walking across the street, we found ourselves in a rabbit warren of streets jammed with the lunch crowd - Restauradores: every corner a café, skewered chickens turning in every window and a queue at nearly every doorway (some led to peep shows - it's that part of town). We climbed the stairs in Bonjardim and sat at a paper-covered rickety table and devoured papas fritas (French fries) and a delicious chicken that had been spit-roasted over glowing oak embers. We lingered over a rough red wine, amused at being the only foreigners in the place. The bill came to $3.00!
After lunch, we walked through the Rossio, the shopping section of old Lisbon, made note of several places we would return to after our trip up north and took a taxi to York House. We loved its garden courtyard and confirmed our reservations. (I'll tell you all about it later.)
Back at The Ritz, I canceled the rooms at the Avenida Palace and called the Casa da Comida and booked a table for 9:00 pm. It was near the hotel and highly recommended.
A guidebook had warned that the entrance was hard to find but it turned out that all we had to do was keep an eye out for Michelin-toting, well-dressed folk for, as we turned a corner, a snappy-looking couple were consulting the Guide right outside the door. I guess they decided to go somewhere else for a drink; we went in. The place was empty. We sat on the only ugly piece of furniture in the place - a Victorian settee with bolstered arms, and went over the menu. The anteroom/bar was darkly paneled and opened into a room with a glassed-in atrium filled with Phoenix palms and tropical plants. It rather reminded me of the cloister at Evora except that the walls were hung with a series of wonderfully frivolous paintings of scenes of camp kitchen staff, half dressed as Pierrot, half hardly dressed at all.
We really didn't want to be the only people dining, so we made our drinks last nearly an hour. Finally, a rather chic-looking crowd had gathered: a few tourists including the Michelin-clutching couple, but mainly Lisbon society. We had an excellent dinner - Caldo Verde (a creamy herb soup), a gratinée of salt cod and a tender lamb stew that was imaginative and elegantly served by knowledgeable, polite waiters. But while Portugal is known for its low cost of living, the prices here are what you would expect to pay in New York!
The next morning, I called British Airways just before 9:30 to check on the arrival time of Richard Shepherd's and James William’s flight. Now while I realize that Lisbon shuts up very late at night and it is often hard to find anything open much before 10:00 am, I did not expect the British Airways office to have an answering machine saying that the office wasn't yet open… at 10:30. Annoyed, I called the head administrative office; a gent politely explained that the reservation and information office didn't open until 9:30. I said: "That's what I figured but it's now nearly 10:30!" He calmly explained that Portugal was not on the same time as Spain but the same as London, an hour earlier!
Here we were, world travelers, and we'd been an hour off since arriving at the border yesterday! I was laughing at us so hard that the chambermaid thought I was nuts as I let her in with our breakfasts which I had thought were running nearly an hour late – they were right on time: 9:30 on the dot. No wonder we had been so pleasantly received at lunch in Evora yesterday - it was 1:30, not 2:30. And, of course, the restaurant was empty when we arrived last night - who goes out to dinner at 8:00 pm on the Iberian Peninsula?
It turned out we needed that extra hour for, while Lisbon's airport is closer to the center of town than any other airport I can think of in Europe, the traffic is horrific.
BA 432 arrived on time, as most British Airways flights do, and opening his Michelin Green Guide, Richard urged us on to Queluz without delay. Asking no questions, I joined the traffic and headed toward Sintra. He said he'd tell me when to turn.
The Palácio National de Queluz was less than a half-hour from the airport and I wouldn't have thought to stop if Richard hadn't been reading about it out loud as I tried to follow the signs. The king’s younger sons have always enjoyed the royal residence at Queluz. Started in 1758, this miniature Versailles wasn't finished until 1794 and consists primarily of a one-story, U-shaped pavilion enclosing meticulously groomed gardens of box and yew. There is a series of restored, elegantly gilded rooms which, at second glance, are really rather simply constructed. I notice things like that and was surprised that the ornate ceilings consisted of nothing more than embellished, canvas-covered wooden planking. This country-casualness belied the terrifically grand cathedrals we were to visit in the days ahead, many of which had been decorated at the same time. We concluded that it was deliberate. Of course, none of the guidebooks admit to this rusticity and you will be amused by it.
The palace is still in use; HRH Queen Elizabeth II has stayed here as have many other heads of state and the chapel is used for society weddings. Happily for us, Cozinha Velha, once the old palace kitchen and now a delightful restaurant, was open and we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch surrounded by antiques in the tall, elegantly mansard-ceilinged room.
As the car was full of luggage, we asked a policeman where might be the safest place to park during lunch. In what we came to learn was typical of the friendliness of the northern Portuguese, he offered to keep an eye on it for us. As we came out, he nodded and walked away solving for us the question of whether or not to tip a member of the constabulary.
We were in Sintra in no time. Sintra has always been the bastion of the grandest country houses of Portugal. Here one can see the ruins of the 7th-century Castelo dos Mouros perched high above the valley kept verdant by the moist sea breezes. Here too is the Paço da Vila dating from the 12th-century with its huge chimneys each looking for all the world like a full-size, English oast house. One should also visit the Palácio da Pena which started out in life as a monastery built by Manuel I in the early 1500's but which was transformed by a relative of Ludwig of Bavaria into a faux medieval palace — I guess it runs in the family.
With great anticipation, we crunched in the graveled drive of the Palácio dos Seteais, one of the most famous hotels in Portugal and our home from home for tonight.
Built at the end of the 18th century, the palace consists of twin buildings attached by a triumphal arch. The public rooms are grand but not imposing. There is a reading room on the left as you enter with a long refectory table covered with newspapers and magazines in at least four languages and a long corridor leads to the double drawing-room which looks out over the beautiful boxwood garden and the valley to the sea, its opposite walls hand-painted with trees whose branches intertwine on the ceiling.
Richard and James had a bright, but dormered, double two floors up on the front while James and I were in Suite 2 (the only one) on the piano nobilé which had 14-foot ceilings and looked out on the new swimming pool and tennis courts, and the sea beyond.
Both of our accommodations were elegantly furnished with a mixture of Portuguese antiques and superior marquetry reproductions; we especially appreciated the hand-embroidered sheets, pillowcases and mattress covers.
I went to the front desk to see if a chauffeur could be hired for the evening as we wanted to go to the casino at Estoril (doesn't everyone?) and perhaps a place to hear Fado. It turned out that Augustus, the charming man behind the desk (who had been there for 22 years), "would be honored to show us around". We learned later that the chef had been there even longer — fifty-seven years! That says a lot for an hotel.
We met a very nice English woman, for whom I had mistakenly opened the lift door thinking she was the valet arriving and asked her and her husband to join us for cocktails before dinner. Our room was ideal - we opened the door from our foyer onto the main hall and the music from the grand piano downstairs outside the dining room was the perfect accompaniment to our candle-lit cocktail party. A grand but small hotel encourages grand but small gestures.
After a perfectly respectable but uninspiring Franco-Portuguese dinner in a dining room too empty of patrons and too full of light, we found Augustus in front with our car. What followed was in retrospect the funniest evening of sightseeing one could imagine. As we drove along, Augustus, growing rapidly into his new role of Guide, kept up a non-stop narrative of all the fascinating, beautiful, horrific, famous and infamous places we passed… except in the pitch-dark, moonless night, we couldn't see a thing.
Arriving at Estoril, he deposited us at the door of the Casino and for an hour I used my favorite "martingale" (a system involving bets which, ignoring the double zero, offer approximately 50/50 odds i.e.: rouge et noir, pair et impair) to keep up the appearance of a serious international roué. I won enough to cover the entrance fee and a couple of drinks, but we never saw Humphrey Bogart let alone George Raft. And actually, the casino was rather too new and at the same time too shabby to be remembered with anything other than a shrug of the shoulders.
Augustus then took us through Cascais to the smartest place to hear fado in the region. Fado is native, plaintive, narrative singing to the accompaniment of guitars. Unforgettable and slightly spooky, it is unique to Portugal and something to be experienced, at least once. We arrived at what looked like (what could we see anyway?) a farmhouse. We knocked, the little, grill-covered hatch opened, and we were ushered in. This was Forte Dom Rodrigo and the joint was jammed. Rodrigo has produced over 30 albums and people flock from Lisbon and around the world to hear him. I don't know how good the food is but for an atmospheric after-dinner drink, it's a fascinating experience, at least once.
While we wanted to get back to the hotel, Augustus had something else in mind and we bounced and shuddered and lurched through the blackness until finally, we could see a lighthouse far ahead. Rounding a bend, we slithered to a stop alongside a car that obviously wasn't empty, sorry fella, and got out. Blinded by the great light and with the wind whipping our jackets round our heads, we stood dumbstruck not knowing what we were supposed to be seeing. Augustus was yelling something, but the words were snatched from his mouth by the gale and all we could do was to cling to a low wall to keep from wading into the sea.
Back in the car, Augustus explained that we had just been to the western-most point of the European continent — Cabo da Roca. And, by the way, the sea had been 350 feet below us over that little wall!
Even though we weren't to bed until 2:30, we got off by 9:30 and headed north beginning one of the most fascinating days of the trip. We had planned some serious sightseeing and, this evening, we were to be paying guests in the private home of one of Portugal's best-known families.
A friend of ours in London has a company which specializes in arranging, with the help of the Portuguese government, visits, as a houseguest, to a handful of Portugal's most important manor houses. Having pioneered the concept in the United States at The Point, I knew it could be great fun and I asked her to pick the best; we could modify our itinerary accordingly. She called back to say that we were to be welcomed at the home of the family that founded and still owns Portugal's historic porcelain works, Vista Alegre. I received the brochure the next day which raved about the house, Quinto do Paça da Ermida, and its charming staff (including one of the country's best cooks)! Quite frankly, this arrangement was critical to the whole trip — I wanted to have something really special about which to write you.
We kept the coast in sight for about two hours, driving past wide beaches on one side and rolling green hills spotted with whitewashed hamlets on the other. Richard knew what we ought to see and I was just enjoying the view when up ahead we spied a medieval village surrounded by castellated walls. It almost looked like a contrived tourist attraction but, quickly consulting our maps, we figured it had to be Obidos. Richard flipped back a few pages and read: "Dom Dinis, passing through with his young bride, made her a present of the town because she had admired the ramparts twining like a ribbon around a bouquet of shining white houses. From then on, Obidos was the wedding present given to Portugal's queens."
We parked outside the walls and walked along the narrow streets. We peeked into a cute hotel, Albergaria Rainha Santa Isabel, and several small galleries and craft shops along what is really the only commercial street in the village. Climbing the stone steps at the end of the street, we came upon the Pousada do Castelo. If we hadn't been heading for the highlight of the trip later that day, I would have loved to have stayed here. It was the ancient castle of the governor of Obidos and has been carefully and casually restored. The village itself was charming and a perfect place to pause for a day of tranquil strolls and pauses in a spot time has yet to touch.
But the Green Guide called and, far beyond, our hostess was waiting. We drove through Caldas da Rainha which at one time was the most popular hot springs resort in Portugal. The waters had been given royal promotion by Queen Leonor in 1485 when she built a hospital there and personally administered its healing waters.
A few miles further on, we came to the first objective of the day, Alcobaça, the site of the royal abbey of Santa Maria. Founded in 1153, the Cistercian monks moved in 25 years later and started to build what became Portugal's largest church. The abbey became one of the most powerful in the country and at one time as many as 4000 monks lived here. While the church is festooned and filigreed, its façade contains a beautifully simple Gothic portal above which a magnificent rose window rainbows the honey-colored columns within. In stark contrast, the dormitory's vastness — twenty pillars support the great Gothic vaulted arches — hushes conversation; in an instant, you are transported back through 800 years of history and start imagining how it all really must have been. The perfectly-restored abbey tells it all. In the kitchen, whose ceiling must soar at least 30 feet to accommodate the chimney of the central stove, a stream slips through a marble gutter to the dishwashing area.
Through a doorway is the larder. It must be 100 yards by 50 and its tiers were arranged to store meat, vegetables, fruit (the orchards planted by the original monks continue to supply the country's finest today) and firewood — the forests of 13 surrounding towns were ravaged to keep up the supply of hundreds of cords per month. While we were there for only about two hours, one could easily spend twice as long without taking it all in. Go, it's breathtaking.
Three miles beyond we found a roadside restaurant and had a nice lunch of pasta and grilled pork which was good and cost nothing. It seems to me that in Portugal one can find the most dependable food at such roadside stops — the uglier, the better.
A half an hour later, we entered Batalha and the site of another monastery, equally spectacular and almost identical in layout to the abbey of Santa Maria but very different in style — Santa Maria da Vitoria. In 1385, João I, twenty years old, defeated the invasion by the King of Castile and to celebrate this miracle, vowed to build the most beautiful church imaginable. The plans were modeled after Alcobaça but as the king had just married Phillipe of Lancaster who wanted her husband to use the English architect Huguette, the style was changed to Gothic Perpendicular. What resulted is a serenity of design in which the soaring church melds perfectly with the two adjacent cloisters. The only bizarrity is now its most famous attraction — the Unfinished Chapels.
Never, anywhere have we seen such truly extraordinary stone carving. An enormous doorway, an amazing example of ornate Manueline architecture of lace-like intricacy, leads into the chapels which stand open to the elements; while one king after another dreamed of finishing them, the money ran out before the roofs went on. Inside the church there are several equally heavily-reliefed sarcophagi of interest. One holds the remains of Henry the Navigator. Although he was responsible for the era of exploration, it's remarkable that he never navigated one himself.
Exploring these two magnificent edifices on the same day is rewarding but exhausting and it was at this point that I realized that our itinerary was over-stretched. Hot, tired and out of film, we headed northeast to pick up the motorway realizing that our goal was still hours away. What we should have done, (oh boy, should we have!) was to have gone straight to Buçaco and stayed at The Palace Hotel. This 17th-century monastery, surrounded by a botanical forest, was turned into a royal residence by King-consort Ferdinand who built the Palácio da Pena at Sintra and later, after much extraordinary architectural tweaking, became what is considered by some to be one of Europe's great, idiosyncratic hotels. But you can't do everything, and we were looking forward anyway to a wonderful dinner party and scintillating conversation at Quinta do Paça da Ermida.
"Oh, you can't get there from here!" he mumbled — the third person we had asked in the last five miles. Our friend in London had instructed us to go to Ilhavo and ask. I guess it wasn't her fault that the road was being torn up and the traffic sent 'round Robin Hood's barn in directions we couldn't judge to towns that weren't on the map. We kept driving and asking. Every time we saw a grand house in the distance or a large stand of trees, Richard said, "That must be it." It never was. Finally, we came upon some women washing their laundry by the side of the road in concrete basins obviously designed for the job. Once again, Portuguese being an impossibility, I got out with my maps and most forlorn look to ask the way. (I mean this had to be the largest and most important estate within miles, why was this getting so difficult?) Nodding their heads and pointing first at their feet, then across the way, they told us we had arrived. At last!
We drove the 50 yards around the bend… that couldn't be it. A rusted gate was open to a small dirt yard surrounded by a U-shaped house of plain proportions. Weeds edged everything and there wasn't a soul in sight. We climbed the steps to the front door and rang the bell… nothing. Richard was half-way back to the car muttering under his breath and shaking his head, I rang again. I heard a door open and close, footsteps approached, and the door was opened… a crack. A maid-like person meekly peered out and asked what we wanted. At least I guess that's what she said. Richard bounded the stairs and empirically demanded to be let in; we were expected, invited in fact, and this performance was nonsense. The maid slammed the door in our faces.
Richard rang the bell again. This time the maid returned with a piece of paper in her hand — the confirmation from London that Mr. Edward Carter, Mr. James Myhre, Mr. James Williams, and Mr. Richard Shepherd M.P. were indeed expected and arriving today. I gave the door a shove, grabbed our bags and we were in. The front hall was dim and dingy. There was a guestbook on the table; the last entry had been a year ago. All the doors from the hall were shut; I put down my bags and sat on them. I wanted to know the form: where were our rooms, when was dinner, were we to wear black tie and when was breakfast?
How Richard learned Portuguese in the next three minutes, I'll never know but somehow he gleaned that the lady of the house would be home in 30 minutes and that our rooms were just through that door and down the hall. Things were looking up; the rooms were quite nice. Ours had two four-poster singles and theirs had the same but the posters were nicely framed on the walls. As he headed for a look around the garden, I loaded my camera to join him. Seconds later he rushed in saying, "Shut the windows and don't dare go out, I've already been bitten three times." What we had failed to realize was that this area of Portugal is one huge marshland; ever heard of "Mosquito Coast"? He also said that he had seen a woman through the basement windows talking with the maid, we wondered if the lady of the house had been there all along? (It turned out she had.)
Just then Madame appeared and appeared...rather put out. Speaking better French than English, she explained that she did not "do" dinner; didn't care what we wore; perhaps we could find something to eat in a nearby village (if we could find it) — she didn't have any recommendations; that she locked the front door at midnight and no, we couldn't have a key in case we got lost returning (let alone going). Not even offering us a welcoming drink, this hard-as-porcelain, dynastic dame told us breakfast would be served in the dining room at 8:30 am, turned on her heel, went through into the pantry and shut the door in our faces.
I turned to Richard, "Are you sure that gal in London is our friend? Don't you think she would have checked before printing that expensive color brochure? And I gave her the choice of which place to send us. In any case, how could anyone willing to let P.G.'s into her house have manners like our hostess — which is hardly the word I'd pick to describe her?"
Things only got worse. We drove off in search of dinner. We must have crossed the same bridge ten times as we looked for the main road. We weren't much better off when we did. Finally, in what looked like a backwater of Blackpool or Jones Beach, we staggered into a masqueteria (seafood restaurant) only to find at the next table a cowboy-booted, turquoise-encrusted couple from Texas! No wonder our two portions of grilled langoustine came to nearly $60 and we didn't dare drink — we felt we needed all our wits about us to find our way back!
I won't bore you with the details of that wild goose chase. Suffice it to say that after to-ing and fro-ing up and down what was probably the same lane all the time, we found that we had stopped in frustration right in front of the gate.
Breakfast came all too soon and we were too angry to even notice what we'd been left. Madame came out to collect her money — it would have cost us exactly the same at The Palace Hotel in Buçaco!
My mother has a funny saying, "She was OK as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went." So did we.
We'd been cultured-out the day before, so we drove straight on through Porto and up the Costa Verde to Viana do Castelo. We'd decided that it was just too much trouble packing and unpacking every day and that we'd base ourselves at the Hotel Santa Luzia for two days and nights.
This is the Minho; Portugal's greenest province and I had heard so many wonderful things about this region of Portugal that I wished we had two more weeks instead of two more days. Viana do Castelo is on the River Lima. Its current is so slow that it used to be called "the river of forgetfulness"; it still seems to have a great influence — the Santa Luzia was a disappointment. They'd forgotten our reservations. Someone else had forgotten to put out chaise-longues and towels at the pool; the telephone operator had forgotten the dialing code for Lisbon, and whoever suggested that we could eat on the terrace had forgotten that the hotel's rules forbid it. We learned later that the manager was on vacation and perhaps had forgotten to appoint anyone to be in charge while he was away.
However, we did have two very nice rooms with huge balconies that looked over the town and the miles of deserted beaches that stretched to the horizon.
We had lunch in the hotel one day and dinner the next. The food and the service were perfectly adequate but nothing to write home about. We went into the town for dinner one evening but as the locals take in the sidewalks after 9:00 pm, there was little choice in restaurants. We finally found something kitsched as a Swiss tavern and had a fun evening downing steak and chips that with two bottles of red came to only $15
The next morning, we were off at dawn to follow the Lima to Ponte de Lima. The town was celebrating its annual New Fair (which has been held on the 2nd and 3rd weekends of September since the 12th-century) and we wandered through the cobbled streets to the bandstand in the main square where a uniformed group, ranging from 11 to 77, were having as much fun playing as we were listening. Stretching from this square, spans the multi-arched, Roman bridge after which the town was named, and which is still in use today. There are many attractive sidewalk cafés, but we had planned to lunch in Guimarães.
As soon as we saw Guimarães (pronounced ge•mar•esh), we knew we should have checked out this morning and based ourselves here. The town is a jewel. Its museums are filled with treasures of stone carvings and silver and its streets and flowered squares are pure throwbacks to the middle ages. We lunched at the Pousada de Santa Maria da Oliveira. The dining room is a study of sophisticated subtlety and we enjoyed a delicious lunch elegantly served by a very professional staff. The upstairs rooms are equally attractive and comfortable; I'd stay in suite 24 that overlooks the church and square and costs just $68. Then we drove 2 miles up the hill to have a quick peek at the other Pousada. The Pousada de Santa Marinha occupies an ancient convent founded in 1154 by Alfonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal. As the hotel was full, we couldn't see what the bedrooms looked like, but the public spaces are remarkable. Everywhere you turn there is some architectural detail to delight the eye; it's certainly a spot to keep in mind for another trip.
We drove back to Viana by route 103 through beautiful pine and eucalyptus forests. This was the Portugal I was looking for and I look forward even more to coming back.
The second highlight — low and heavy is the only way I can describe the first: "Paying", certainly; "Guest", never — of our trip was to be the train ride from Porto to Lisbon in overstuffed comfort aboard one of the last truly luxurious trains in Europe. Richard had friends who had done the trip a couple of years ago, so I had arranged to turn in our rental car in Porto (only foreigners call it Oporto).
The front desk clerk at our hotel had forgotten how to make reservations so we drove back down the hill and went to the train station. The ticket window was closed so I went to the Tourist Information window. The girl said that she couldn't make a reservation for us, that we had to buy it from the other window, that the man would arrive to open the window about half an hour before the next train, that the next train wasn't due for two hours and by then it would be after closing time... we went to the Tourist Bureau in the center of town. An English girl was on-the-job-training. She didn't know about trains or training. Richard said we weren't faring very well, I added: "at least not chemin de fer-ing." It was that kind of day. We went to a travel agent on an adjacent street. He understood what we wanted and asked where we were staying. I told him the Santa Luzia. He said, "It used to be so good, but it recently lost a star and is now down to three. What did I think of it?" I told him to... swim in the river and forget it.
As he was writing up the tickets and making out the reservations for the special first-class section, he proudly said that they had finally retired all those old cars with the armchairs and replaced them with Amtrak/Inter-city replicas. Richard and I just looked at one another.
Up at the crack of dawn, we were in Porto by 10:00 and following Hertz's instructions, left the car in front of the railroad station and the keys with the girl behind the counter at the corner café! That's Portugal.
While we were sorry that the old cars had been replaced, the new ones were much more modern and cleaner than either Amtrak or British Rail. We had a good three-course lunch that was professionally served by attractive and friendly staff; we both thought that the railway companies in our respective countries would benefit from making this trip themselves.
There was a huge queue at the taxi rank, but it moved very quickly and soon we were on our way to York House. Granted it's a bit out of the way, but you must take a taxi to the center of things whether you're at The Ritz or York House. Both, by the way, are the only hotels in the Michelin marked in red (their way of saying that they are more pleasant than the others).
Up two flights of vine-covered stairs from the street, we entered a delightful, leafy courtyard set with café tables and chairs. The hotel and its annex up and across the street really were full; we had been very lucky to get rooms. Ours, number 14, was charming — an airy, eclectic collection of country antiques, glazed tiles, and hand-woven fabrics — and looked out on the courtyard; theirs’s, on the other hand, was smaller than a hatbox and looked out on nothing. So be careful when booking; make certain to request rooms 40-48, 12 & 14 or suites 303 and 307. The attractive, blue & white restaurant opens onto the courtyard where, weather permitting, breakfast and lunch are also served.
I'd promised myself to try and find some hand-embroidered linens, so off we went to Rossio. In no time I found some extraordinary sheets and pillowcases at Lavores Femininos, 179 Rua do Ouro; Louisa speaks perfect English and if she doesn't have what you're looking for, she'll know where to find it. We didn't dine at the hotel that evening but went out with a nutty couple that Richard knew. We pub crawled, ate in a restaurant in the red-light district (not our idea) and ended up in a private disco whose entrance was so hidden I'd never find it again. It probably wouldn't be there anyway.
Checking out of York House the next morning, I leafed through a folder at the front desk only to discover that British Airways runs a "Sovereign Tour" to Lisbon that includes staying at York House at a big discount. That's worth knowing about.
We all flew back to London on the 21st.
So as the sun sets… what about Portugal? Most of it is cheap, most of the folks are very friendly and helpful, the pousadas are fascinating and, if you stick to simple places, the food is good.
However, I'm not sure that I understand why everyone is raving about it these days. Except for Vila Joya (LETTERS FROM ABROAD, March '88) and perhaps La Reserve, you can have the Algarve — the south of France is much more beautiful, attracts a nicer crowd, and offers a terrific selection of places to stay, great food to eat, and things to do, and it's not that much more costly.
For me, the best of Portugal is Evora, Sintra, and the Costa Verde. When I go back, I'm going to base myself at Guimarães and spend a week or two driving north and northeast into and around the national parks near Montalegre and Brangança. Then perhaps I'll venture over the border and explore the ragged western coast of Spain and on to... well, we’ll see.
Wikipedia - Sir Richard Charles Scrimgeour Shepherd (born 6 December 1942) is a Conservative politician in the United Kingdom. He was Member of Parliament for the constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills from 1979 to 2015.
A Eurosceptic, Shepherd was one of the Maastricht Rebels that had the whip withdrawn over opposition to John Major's legislation on the European Union. Shepherd is also a libertarian, and had a three line whip imposed against him by Margaret Thatcher when he introduced an amendment loosening the Official Secrets Act 1911.
Shepherd was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and educated at Isleworth Grammar School (now Isleworth and Syon School) in Isleworth. He then went on to the London School of Economics where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. At the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, Shepherd received a Master of Science in Economics.
Shepherd was a director of the retail food businesses Partridges of Sloane Street and Shepherd Foods in London. He was then an underwriter at Lloyd's of London from 1974–94.
Shepherd was elected Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills in 1979. He was selected as 'Backbencher of the Year' in 1985 and the Spectator's 'Parliamentarian of the Year' in 1995. In 1989, he was identified by a Mori poll of his fellow MPs to be one of the ten most effective MPs currently sitting in Parliament.
One of the most significant events in Shepherd's career came in 1988 when he introduced his Protection of Official Information Bill, which was to replace parts of the Official Secrets Act 1911, with intent to provide limited protection to some whistleblowers. The government introduced a three-line whip which called on its MPs to vote against the bill, even though it was introduced by a member of their own party. This brought considerable debate at the time both in parliament and in the media. The bill was defeated. However, Shepherd successfully introduced similar provisions into law in 1998.
Shepherd was a strong advocate of Parliament's power to hold the government to account, was rated as one of the Conservatives' most rebellious MPs, was knighted in the 2013 New Year Honours for public service, and retired from Parliament at the 2015 general election.
It’s now October and time to put together Number 15 of Letters from Abroad© - the last issue of Volume 1 (which I’ve extended to run to the end of the calendar year) – The Letters from Abroad 1988 Annual Awards Issue - in which I review 226 establishments.
Awards are important. A tour to honor the winners in person could work wonders for the recipients, the sponsors, and, especially, me. Both Roger King, as publisher, and British Airways had already given me their blessings to conduct an annual series of Edward Carter Awards of Distinction events starting next Spring to generate publicity for all.
Now for the upcoming British Airways First Class Hotel Selection… I continue to hone my definitions and criteria…
THE SELECTION PROCESS
While my travels are capricious, my standards are not; but everything is relative. In the final analysis, the places I recommend represent themselves honestly, provide a warm welcome, look after you with care, have a sense of style, are of reasonable value, and send you off with a fond farewell.
Here follows the basis of my selections and my personal points of view.
I go where I please.
My trips are like vacations, chosen simply because I want to go. I am under no obligation as to schedule or route and have no commercial ties to any carrier, establishment, or journal. I plan my itineraries much as you probably do — studying as many of the guides, reference books, and magazine articles as can be found. I pick a hotel because I’ve either heard wonderful things about it, or I’ve heard nothing at all, or it’s simply convenient to my route, or, and this is much more fun, I discover it en route. And while I’ve learned to read between the lines and translate the definitions of many editors, I still make costly mistakes (but better me than you).
I travel incognito.
Granted, there aren’t many people who have heard my name, much less know what I look like, but some associations of hotels are on the look out, so it’s easier to be someone else. Credit card companies are happy to issue “additional” cards in any name you choose. Therefore, by making my reservations and paying my accounts in one of my “additional” names, no one knows that I’m anything other than a regular guest. In fact, I’m not.
I do not go out of my way to “test” an establishment.
I’m a quiet guest and rarely take advantage of all the amenities and services provided. While some travelers try to ingratiate themselves with the management, I try to avoid them at all costs — bribery (or tantrum) is not my style. More importantly, it is essential that I determine how an average new guest is treated. Also, I don’t believe one gains any greater insight into the hospitality or professionalism of an establishment by making the staff jump through unnecessary hoops. All it can prove is the opposite, and who can be comfortable in an establishment that only panders to guests who are difficult, complain, or over-tip? Besides, I usually know what to expect within minutes of walking through the front door or peeking in the housekeeper’s cupboard.
As far as hotels are concerned, I think small is better than large, rustic can be as fun as resplendent, individual ownership is usually better than chains, but getting anywhere today is hard work.
Bottom Line One — The experience must be worth leaving home.
I especially like places that are run by the people who own them. Except for a few rare city treasures, places, where the owner's personality and hospitality can be felt, are usually small and hard to find. Hopefully, the sharing of my favorites will only affect how long you’ll have to wait for an opening. In any event, it will be worth it.
As most gilt trips are guilt trips, luxe is not a consideration for inclusion. Basically, I simply want to be comfortable — the kind of comfort that allows me to really relax. However, I can only relax if there aren’t little niggling details that distract, untrained staff that interrupts or promises not kept.
For example, when I first welcomed paying guests to The Point, I used to dash out between courses and slip into my guests’ rooms to turn down the beds, change the towels, and dump the wastebaskets. Now darn near every hotel in the world does the same thing… except it’s usually done before I’ve changed for dinner, so I'm still left with wet towels the next morning, and the baskets are rarely remembered.
Of course, everything is relative — what I may expect in San Francisco, I don’t want on safari. When I’m in the bush or at a rustic retreat, I’m thrilled simply to be there, and much of the relaxation comes from getting back to basics and roughing it.
In an established inn, hotel or resort, I expect modern plumbing, clean towels, enough waste-baskets, proper (“stealable”) hangers, good reading lights, and facilities to enable me to keep in touch with the rest of the world — just like at home. I also expect it to live up to its brochure.
Places that promise international luxury, multi-star service, and amenities, and great cuisine, must deliver. I expect every promised nuance and more. For example, in the bathroom I expect white terry and linen towels, a magnifying shaving-mirror and scales, but I wouldn’t expect the floor (Brenner’s Park-Hotel, Baden Baden) or the toilet seat (Tawaraya, Kyoto) or the mirrored bathroom walls (Seiyo, Tokyo) to be heated, but there are places where you’ll find that and more!
Striped trousers, matching uniforms, silver salvers or taste-vins matter not if the staff (or owners) don’t understand that their raison d’etre is to make their guests feel welcome and at ease. I can be just as comfortable on a tatami mat in Okinawa or under canvas in the Masai Mara… as long as I know there are caring people at hand who genuinely enjoy helping me to be comfortable.
Bottom Line Two — Attitude is more important than aptitude.
While price has not been a consideration in the selection process, there is a big difference between costly and expensive, and while some of my choices are much more costly than others, all are of reasonable value.
Being an hotelier can be very rewarding. As in all things, it’s easy to be good at what you love to do. It’s easy to make others comfortable and happy. It’s easy to prepare an attractive meal that tastes good, and it's easy to sleep at night if you just don’t try to be what you’re not. But there are thousands of people in the hospitality industry around the world who just don’t know what they don’t know. One must realize that the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is just a television show, Dynasty was just a serial, and Grand Hotel only a movie. It takes more than a mini bar and hair dryer, or the inane ballet of chrome dinner domes, or phony posturing of costumed staff who insist on telling you their given names, to justify leaving the comfort of one's own home. Too much of what’s out there is simply a parody of what never was.
What it all comes down to is that I am enamored by straight-forward people making the best of what they’ve got — pretentiousness is a waste of everyone’s time and money.
Bottom Line Three — High pretension gives me hypertension.
Underlying all my travels is the hope that I can help you put stars, diamonds, rosettes, and price into proper perspective, so you can come to value the total experience and return home with marvelous memories that will last forever.
As the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection must go to press to coincide with the new launch of First Class, all materials must be ready by January 15, 1989 – three days after I return home from the selection trip!
Therefore, James and I and Victoria have only a bit more than a month to work out the procedures for researching, writing, editing, and all the other myriad details that will enable us to accomplish this unique challenge. As the time starts to run out, British Airways and I begin meeting once a week, and in the last days before the “off,” every day.
Down to the wire - it’s November 14 and I’m due to leave for my round the world trip in three days - final itinerary planning at Speedbird House.
November 15 – pick up the ticket at BA’s Grosvenor Gardens Sales Office… not ready!
November 16 – Pick up visas at the Australian and South Africa Consulates; pick up the ticket; it’s ready. Go to the bank, pick up 150 Traveller’s Cheques.
Nov 17 - Up at 7:15, off at 8:15, arrive at London Heathrow at 9:10, change money, and in the lounge at 9:50. Mike Larkin, Richard Mound’s assistant, comes to see me off, and I start my BA around the world trip - Chapter Nineteen.
End of Chapter Eighteen
If you haven't filled in the boxes below, I'd really appreciate it if you would. Then, instead of me having to email you personally, you will be notified automatically. Thanks!