Olympic Airways is 9 hours to Athens. It is OK in business class; Delta is probably a bit better. It is an airline that could use a real upgrade. Sorta like Israel’s El Al 15 years ago. Another 25 minutes to Santorini on Aegean Airlines; a good carrier that seems to be upstaging Olympic but they pack you in for that short hop to Santorini. 20 minute taxi to hotel; my hotel includes the transfer. There are no signs at this hotel; you’d miss it. Santorini has many quiet parts to the island but it is undergoing lots of development. Can drive across the island in 45 minutes. My room has a piano in it and is decorated to local tastes with tons of art in the room. Only 5 rooms, all cottages, in this Tsitouras Collection boutique hotel. Seems like lots of stairs around but a good deal less than all the other properties. Half the island faces a volcano; you wouldn’t want to be here unless you had a room with such a view. The better view is in the morning but the sunsets are the big attraction and I saw some beautiful ones. Walked 15 minutes to the town of Firas; you can go on the main road but the path overlooking the volcano is nice. There is a cable car to sea level. Within 3 minutes walk of the hotel are several restaurants. Had dinner at Vanilla and an Italian one next door. No big deal either one. “1800″ in Oia (prounced EE-AAH) looks fantastic but it is a 15 minute drive (15 euro) away. None of the restaurants in Fira seem to have fresh fish. Took a 5 hour tour of the island; was rather expensive at 450 Euro for a guide with a car. Saw Faros lighthouse, a monastery at the high point of the island, an old city, Oia, red and black beaches, a winery, and other items. It is a nice tour with cliffs, mountain tops, the sea and greenery. Temperature varies with altitude but it is not a place with microclimates like Madeira. Be ready for anything from a sweater to heatstroke in May. By later in the summer it gets really hot. Toured other 5 star properties: Astra Apartments were gorgeous with unique views, seclusion but lots of stairs to the point that by the time you exit the property you’re ready for a nap. Zenna is a Relais Chateaux property inside an old city; no views of the volcano and you either ride a mule to the entrance or walk lots inside the old city. Perivolas seemed overrated on the minimalist rooms; it is a nice view but it has lots of steps and is in the middle of nowhere. Amex Platinum has a Fine Resorts on the island but it is in the middle of nowhere with no view. Katikies has snob appeal and attitude and an excellent location right by the pedestrian entrance of Oia but it is not that great a hotel, has lots of steps and very hush-hush. I was glad with my choice of Tsitouras, with its great views, near the town of Fira which is good for nightlife if not as pretty as Oia. I was bored here at night and wound up in my room by 9 watching the limited number of TV channels available in my room though they have a huge library of DVD’s if you want them as well as Internet access in the hotel office and WIFI in the rooms. The rooms are unique and the service is excellent and personal. The best hideaway though is Astra with its rooms with private infinity pools overlooking the volcano. I didn’t have a chance to see The Sea Captain’s House which is in Oia (didn’t know it at the time); also supposed to be a good small hotel. I came on Monday and left Wednesday and saw many of the same people on both flights. Started Wednesday having hot chocolate in my PJ’s on my terrace overlooking the volcano. Santorini is a horrible place to be alone but a great place to get away from everyone else. Transferred to Athens and then to Rome. Athens airport is very efficient; I reached the airport at 1:20, got my bags from the luggage carousel and checked in for my Rome flight by 1:30. It is nearly a 2 hour flight to Rome. Had someone meet me this time at the airport because I had too much of a scary experience last time with a taxi.
My hotel is Residenza Napoleone and it is on the corner of via Corso and Condotti. It is a rooftop suite in the historic Raspoli Palace. Fresh OJ and cherries on arrival and the Fiat Noir chocolate truffle at turndown is delicious. A bit creepy at night but a real adventure and unique way to experience Rome as you let yourself into this compound that has a huge wooden door, and long marble staircases hundreds of years old. My rooftop suite had a huge terrace, a nice living room and a little bedroom downstairs. Lots of steps — good for a bachelor or young couple. I visited old haunts; the wood store, the Rinascente, Restaurant Sabatini (waited half an hour for my fish); found a baby store (Quadrifoglio at via D. Colonnele 10, phone 066.784.917 or 678.4917 near the wood store, tried Giolotto gelateria behind the parliament building and had 6 flavors and came back the next evening for a festival of pastries. The guy behind the gelato counter had great aim with his gelato scoopers. Piazza Venezia is under scaffold. Spanish steps at night is just a bunch of kids and beer. Was watching Al-Jazeera’s English TV network on the Sky Satellite TV system. Rather good productions; no real advertising other than Qatar and Dubai. They seem to enjoy investigating the Saudi princes and telling you that America’s Iraq war is a failure and that the Israelis abuse Palestinians. On the day that Blair resigned, the top story was still some Palestinian woman in a hospital fighting to save her baby’s life. Every day is some kind of documentary about Israel’s tank weapons or something of that sort. It’s a bit too much propaganda to get much play on American cable systems unless it becomes a bit more subtle.
Breakfast on the rooftop is quite special; a group of pigeons stand guard over their young. Downstairs is the other suite in this palace; it is a real palace to stay at. Paintings swing away to reveal TV’s and doorways to kitchens, bathrooms and dressing areas. A baby’s crib was lovingly displayed in a stairwell. The Rinascente in piazza Fiume is just so much better than the one in piazza colonne. Is very good for baby clothes at a good price. Regal on via Nazionale was good for ladies but Rinascente is even better. I was looking for a green handbag for Karen but green is just not in this year, either for men or women. Frette was more reasonable than I expected for linens. Commandi on Via Frattina just off via Corso was a good place for men’s clothes and carries Carnival de Venice ties at 45 Euro which is not bad if you’re in Rome. Just past Efrati (161 v. corso) is a luggage shop; for 45 Euro you can get a big bag. Marco Polo on via Nazionale was very good for suits and should be viewed before the Rinascente; for 200 Euro here you can do rather well. More bargaining is possible given the high Euro. Some will now give you 10% off instead of the tax free business. Sunset on the roof and dinner at Il Bacaro; no big deal to me but it was reasonable and it is known as a good restaurant. The early morning is nice time to drop by the Spanish steps; it is a 40 minute ride to the airport and 2:30 to London and then another 1:45 drive to Chewton Glen (although from Terminal 4 it is 10 minutes less). BA’s lounge in Rome is pretty nice but no internet stations.
Chewton Glen, England.
Consistently rated as a top resort for its Relais Chateux position, great food and nice spa. Lovely places to walk and sit and ponder; you can walk in the forest, along the sea and among the green fields. The master suite is very nice with a big terrace overlooking the croquet lawn, and none of the rooms are particularly small. To save a considerable amount from Heathrow to the hotel, call Galleon Taxi at 01425.622222; it is 80 pounds a transfer rather than 143 pounds with a Mercedes or 186 pounds if the hotel books it. From the hotel, it is a 20 minute drive to the town of Lymington; you could skip it or just go here if you want to walk around and shop in a little town. Chewton Glen is better as a base to discover regional treasures such as Bath and Stonehenge. This hotel’s rooms are roughly equivalent to Ashdown Park where we stayed over Christmas at half the price. Ashdown was a perfectly decent resort halfway closer to London with a bit of a spa. The main attraction here is the beautiful grounds and spa, and the regional base location. The food is also just that extra bit more special and the hotel service is excellent. I had nothing to complain about at this hotel. Lots of French working here; very nice tea service (I had them save it and then ate it for dinner.) Watched the Eurovision Song Festival; real mediocre stuff (some real bad) and everyone just votes for their neighboring country so it totally doesn’t matter. The BBC announcer dubbing the simulcast just sat around for 3 hours making fun of the Europeans for their stupid broadcast and lousy humor. Returned via BA’s business class with its new Z-line seating. What’s good is that the interior 2 seats both face the same way (although they face the rear of the plane) but it’s good for a couple traveling together and a little kid can play in the middle without disturbing anyone or going into the aisles. This was better than Virgin which didn’t have contiguous seats. BA runs a nice classy airline but it is a ton more money and they really don’t deliver value at the airport; luggage came late and there is no airport club to speak of. Couldn’t find a seat to sit in, there was a queue at the toilets and there was no Internet facilities though right by the gate there were 10 empty terminals if you were willing to pay just a pound. I think the new airport at Stansted and these cut-rate airlines that are showing a good reputation for service such as Eos and Silverjet are stealing away lots of BA’s business.