Category: Airlines


I hadn’t been to London, England since May, 1996, so my trip last week was a real treat. I’d spent a week there with my husband, Reg, on our first wedding anniversary and loved the city. But somehow, my travels only took me through Heathrow Airport in London over the past 15 years and hadn’t allowed me time to reacquaint myself with this marvellous city.

A spur-of-the-moment research trip with writer-friend, Suzanne Boles, of London, Ontario, enabled me to spend 6 days in one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world with one of my dearest friends. Eating chocolate for the next installment of Chocolatour. What could be better than that?

we really enjoyed staying at Dillons

For this journey, we chose to fly Air Transat and were pleased with the service we received. If you can afford the small fee for the upgrade, do opt for Club Class, as it offers you additional space, enhanced service and comfort. For an overseas flight, it’s definitely worth it!

We were fortunate to find affordable and comfortable accommodations at Dillons Hotel (B&B) via the Journeywoman website. If you don’t already subscribe to Evelyn Hannon’s fantastic travel resource for women (and all travellers), I strongly suggest that you do. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find there.

We really enjoyed staying at Dillons. We were offered a complimentary breakfast daily, free in-room wifi, friendly helpful staff, and a convenient location near two Tube stations and the quaint neighbourhood of Belsize Park.

The only deterrent to staying at Dillons are the stairs! We were on the top floor (called the second floor, but it’s 2 levels up from the ground level.) We had a nice view and good air circulation with a large window, but there is no elevator, and so if you have difficulties with stairs or lots of heavy luggage, ask for a room on the lower level or choose another location for your stay.

Belsize Village is a great place to chill out

Belsize Park is a really cool neighbourhood in the London Borough of Hampstead. Lots of ethnic shops and restaurants without the hustle and bustle of staying in one of the more central, trendier locales. Reg and I had stayed in a similar neighbourhood in New York City several years ago and also loved it for its realism, safety factor and more reasonable prices.

Suzanne had been to London a few years ago with her daughter, so she recommended a visit to Covent Garden. I loved it! Lots of shops and restaurants, buskers, and pretty much anything for anyone. Reasonable prices in the flea market kiosks, more unique and fashionable items in the storefronts. And a Thorntons shop for chocolate lovers.

We also enjoyed a walk through Hyde Park. I was surprised at how much it reminded me of Central Park and many other green spaces in some of the world’s most memorable cities. Lots of people walking their dogs, cyclists, families feeding the birds, flowers and greenery for nature lovers.

However, my primary reason for visiting London was to eat British chocolate. I was not disappointed. Tune into the blog during the week of June 21st for more on that.

But for now, let’s talk London highlights. What have been yours?

First of all, let me say thanks to British Airways (BA) for bumping us up to Business Class for our chocolate adventure. Having that extra bit of comfort really made a difference for us being able to hit the ground running — or should I say … tasting! Much appreciated, and I can say with all sincerity that BA really knows what customer service is all about. They remain my first choice for overseas travel to the UK and northern Europe.

Now, for what you’ve been waiting for. A report on Chocolatour II. I must say it was wonderful in every way. Hats off to my friend, travelling companion, researcher and navigator extraordinaire, Virginia Heffernan, for getting us on the right trains at the right time to the right place. For having the most refreshing and encouraging smile on the planet, and for being able to stuff more chocolate (and other edible items) in her cheeks to make even the most enterprising squirrel envious with wonder. I would not be able to attempt a project of this magnitude where it not for the assistance of dedicated colleagues. (Thanks again to Kathe Lieber for being my tasting sidekick on the maiden voyage of Chocolatour.)

Doreen & Virginia enjoying an amazing meal at Sucre

We were also blessed with wonderful weather. Blue skies and above average temperatures were prevalent throughout the two-week, three-country chocolate extravaganza.

We began our adventure in Amsterdam. Although the Dutch are known for making fine chocolate, I must admit I was not overly excited about visiting Amsterdam. Why? I don’t know.  What I do know is that the city blew me away! It is strikingly beautiful. I was awe-struck by the extensive canal system. And by the number of bicycles! I’ve never seen so many bikes in my life, and was amazed at how the Dutch have been able to embrace the bicycle as a mode of transportation. Not just a recreational vehicle as we seem to think of it here in North America. We can definitely learn from them. But watch out! They’re not just out for a Sunday drive. Those 600,000 bikes are burning rubber, and if you don’t keep a keen eye in every direction, you’re likely to get in the way of one! (Some sources say there are more than 1,000,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, so whether it’s 600,000 or 1 million, let’s just say the presence of bicycles is everywhere, and a signature characteristic of this fine city.)

there is no shortage of bicycles in Amsterdam

I was also impressed by the culinary talent of Amsterdam. We met several interesting chocolatiers (whom you will read about in the book), and also some amazing chefs. I was particularly impressed by the worldclass creative talent of chef, Peter Scholte, owner of Sucre, a restaurant specializing in — you guessed it — sweet things.

the amazing chocolate & eucalyptus platter at Sucre

But chef Scholte does not limit his talent to producing remarkable desserts. He wowed us with a six-course meal, each course matched with a superb wine specially selected by his sommelier-partner, Aline.

Aline & Peter of Sucre

If you plan to visit Sucre, do make a reservation. The restaurant is extremely popular with locals and is full most evenings. More at www.sucrerestaurant.nl.

We were hosted by the Kings Villa Hotel, a small revitalized property located on Vondelpark, a beautiful greenspace fully utilized and appreciated by local residents and their pooches. The dining room at the Kings Villa was particularly picturesque and served a lovely breakfast.

the beautiful dining room at the King's Villa Hotel

That’s it for this entry. Much more to come! More travel info on Holland is available from the Netherlands Board of Tourism.

If you’ve been to Amsterdam, let me know your thoughts. What impressed you most about the city?

Have you ever been kissed by a camel? Well, I have. And let me tell you … those lips are big!

We were enroute from the busyness of Dubai to Al Ain, an Oasis city of green in the otherwise camel-coloured desert of the United Arab Emirates (UAE,) a Middle Eastern country just east of Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. I was fortunate to have flown Pearl (business class) to the UAE from Toronto on Etihad Airlines, based out of the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. Etihad provided impeccable service and was an absolutely wonderful introduction to my first experience in the Middle East.

The UAE was the farthest from my home in North America that I’d ever been – physically, and culturally. Here, you’re quite likely to see camels off in the distance, just as we see deer and antelope scattered about the countryside in Canada. And we did!

But then … all of a sudden … we saw a few camels close enough to get excited about! They were no longer just dots in my camera’s viewfinder. For a moment, the otherwise conservative natured, John, became a completely four-wheeling free spirit – despite the fact that we were in a Honda Civic – and left the safety of the pavement, making a short cross-country (or should I say “cross-desert”?) trek over the sand and onto a smaller road, where we could get close to the camels. (snip)

Welcome to Travel Diversion with Doreen, my new travel blog. Many of you will have already visited my other blog, http://doreenisthewizardofwords.blogspot.com

which I started in February, 2009 and for which I have now completed 100 posts. It’s time to celebrate, and to separate the milk from the curds (or in this case, take the travel posts and put them in a stand-alone blog.) The Blogger blog will continue to exist and be the resting place for my musings on the writing life and other lifestyle-related posts. I will post there during the first full week of every month and the third week of every month.

I will post travel news, thoughts, pictures and articles here during the second and fourth weeks of every month. It may take me awhile to master the art of WordPress, as I’ve spent the last 18 months learning Blogger — and I’m no techie. But I’ll try, and hopefully make this an attractive and interesting place for you to be amused or enlightened with my travel diversions.

Please visit my website at the link below to read how my date with the camel turned out …

http://www.wizardofwords.net/Camel.html

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