Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Comparing the Uber and Blacklane car service in London


So in London last week, living a #Travelife, I finally got to try Uber.

Yes, until a few days ago, I was probably one of the few people on this planet who still had not used Uber although I use the Blacklane service a lot all over the world, finding it reliable and just as good -- if not better -- than hiring a car from my hotel.


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BLACKLANE IS CHEAPER
THAN A HOTEL CAR
AND USUALLY JUST AS NICE

Blacklane is definitely cheaper than the hotel option as well, although it's pricier than getting a taxi in most places. But then again, Blacklane usually has great cars for the "business class" option, so you can't really compare it to a taxi service.

I've used Blacklane everywhere, and most of the cars have definitely had that wow factor for a car hire.

A couple of times, a Benz S class has come to pick me up somewhere in the world. Also, you never get the impression that Blacklane drivers are just moonlighting or going from job to job, unlike with some Uber drivers apparently, as they always act very professional.

http://www.travelifemagazine.com/2015/06/laperitivo-italiano-on-july-22-at-seda.html

TAKING A CHANCE ON UBER

But in Manila the weekend before I left on my long summer holiday in Europe, I had dinner at the home of an old friend, and she and her husband and I sat up talking till early morning.

She uses Uber and with great satisfaction, and she convinced me to try it for the first time in London.

FIGURING UBER OUT FOR MYSELF

My companion in London was even more hopeless about Uber than I was, never having tried it and not intending to, so I was left to download the application and to figure it out for a trip to Victoria Station from our hotel. 

Fortunately, the porters at Cafe Royal, our hotel in London, were very solicitous when I told them we were using Uber for the first time, so they even went out into the street to look for the car I'd hired.

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I'd pressed Uber X by mistake, thinking this was the luxury option, when it turned out to be the budget option.

Fortunately a decent Toyota Prius came to pick us up and the trip to Victoria Station cost something like eight pounds.


LOOKING FOR A CAR TO DOVER

Needing a longer hire to get to Dover from London a few days later, we looked at Uber again as our other option was a hotel car for something like 320 pounds.

Meanwhile, Uber was estimating charges of 300 pounds on their luxury car and 200 pounds on a regular car. The budget option was going for 130 to 150 pounds.

This was when I said: "My goodness. For those prices, I'd rather take Blacklane."

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THE BENEFITS OF BLACKLANE

Blacklane was charging something similar to the regular Uber car service, but with Blacklane, you usually get an immaculate Benz with a well-dressed, well-mannered driver.

By the time we started looking in earnest for a car to Dover, it was a little too late to book them, as we were scheduled to leave in 90 minutes.

CALLING GERMANY FROM LONDON
FOR A CAR TO DOVER

So instead we called the Blacklane head office in Germany from London to book a car -- talk about the really long route here -- but within the hour everything was sorted out.

At 1145 AM, as requested, a well-mannered driver in an immaculate Benz indeed came to pick us up, and I was right on my way to another chapter in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Verdict: Uber is alright for short distances, but I'll take Blacklane for long distances anytime.


Aman Resorts is opening Amanera in the Dominican Republic. A new destination for Aman junkies.



Amanera is scheduled to debut in the Dominican Republic this year, just in time for my never-ending #Travelife.

Located on a sublime clifftop overlooking the crescent-shaped Playa Grande beach, Amanera is surrounded by verdant jungle and framed by the island’s dramatic Cordillera Septentrional mountain range.

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VIRGIN LAND 
IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Amanera is situated on 2,000 acres of virtually untouched land comprised of verdant peaks and lush jungle with centuries-old trees and royal palms stretching across nearly seven miles of continuous Atlantic seacoast on Hispaniola’s northern shore.

The surrounding region, meanwhile, is notable for being both pristine and sparsely populated, offering a variety of scenery that includes starkly beautiful desert areas, dramatic waterfalls and sleepy towns.

CASITAS WITH A VIEW



The resort, designed by John Heah, sits atop 60-foot cliffs and is set between the beach and golf course amongst landscaped gardens. It offers extensive dining, spa and recreational facilities, and 25 casitas each demonstrating a raw, organic design that complement the natural setting.

The casitas all have flat biodiverse roofs that cultivate green gardens, cool living spaces and further blur the lines between dwellings and jungle.



Every aspect of Amanera, including the casitas, has been designed to maximise the property’s extraordinary views.

Each enjoys unobstructed ocean vistas from an expansive terrace, outdoor seating and lounging areas and through floor-to-ceiling windows from the spacious, high-ceilinged living and sleeping areas.


ANOTHER DESTINATION
FOR AMAN JUNKIES

Vladislav Doronin, chairman of Aman, said, "Following on from the successful launch of Aman Tokyo and more recently Amandayan, this is one of a number of forthcoming projects that I know will be well received by our loyal Aman junkies and I am delighted, along with our new management team, to be in a position to keep their wanderlust sated."


Monday, June 29, 2015

Real Italian food great Italian wines at L'Aperitivo Italiano on July 22 at Seda Hotel BGC. And about the Italian way of life.



On July 22nd, the Embassy of Italy, the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ICCP) and the Dante Alighieri Society, in partnership with #Travelife Magazine, Seda Hotel and My Wine is organising the first social event of the ICCP at the Seda Hotel.




L'Aperitivo Italiano, a cocktail party from 6 PM to 10 PM, is modelled after the much-loved Italian tradition of getting together with friends at a bar after work and before dinner to talk and relax over wine and nibbles.



JOY AND HAPPINESS
OVER GOOD FOOD AND WINE

The food is often so good that this pre-dinner get-together lasts all night and dinner is overlooked all together.

Having spent much time in Italy, I'm all too familiar with this wonderful ritual that people really look forward to, especially in big cities like Rome or Milan.

THE BEST ITALIAN FOOD
FOR A COCKTAIL PARTY

In keeping with the tradition of good living in Italy, the food and wine for this event will be unlike any other.

We had a tasting evening the other week for this, and the food was simply wonderful and so very authentic Italian, as the general manager of Seda Hotel is from Italy.

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GREAT ITALIAN WINES
FOR L'APERITIVO ITALIANO

Meanwhile, the wines, which are sponsored by My Wine, were personally picked by Italian expatriates in Manila as representing some of the best quality in Italy.

Join us on July 22nd for an unforgettable event -- the first of five "L'Aperitivo Italiano" events planned for 2015. Qatar Airways is even throwing in two business class tickets to Italy to a lucky participant in one of these five events.

This will certainly be one of the best after-work social events in the city, and among the most stylish as well. It will be an opportunity to meet new friends and connect with old ones in a very relaxed atmosphere, amidst cool lounge music and some of the best Italian wines and food in Manila.

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L'Aperitivo Italiano
6 to 10 PM
Straight Up Bar, Seda Hotel
Bonifacio Global City

Advance reservations required.
Limited tickets.
To purchase tickets:

italianchamberofcommerce.ph@gmail.com
travelife@travelife.biz
+63-917-563-8633
(02) 978-0279


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cafe Royal: A new luxury hotel with the best location in London

Walking along Regent Street last week,
living a #Travelife

In London for one week, living a #Travelife, I decided to skip my usual favourites and try a new hotel that had been receiving great reviews.

It's called the Cafe Royal, a member hotel of the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW), located along Regent Street, literally 10 seconds from Piccadilly Circus.

In fact, I could see Piccadilly Circus from my suite, although happily I could hear not any sound from it as the double windows make the rooms practically soundproof.



A REAL LUXURY HOTEL
NEAR THE WEST END

If you know London, you'll know there hasn't been a real luxury hotel in this part of town for a long time -- meaning right at the outskirts of the West End, which is London's theater district.

The nearest luxury hotels were the Ritz, which is also a great favourite of mine, and Brown's.

However, these hotels are quite old-fashioned and classic in style, so if you like the 21st century conveniences of a chic hotel, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Spending part of the summer in England,
living a #Travelife...

THIS HOTEL GETS LOTS OF THINGS RIGHT

Wow, Cafe Royal hits all the right spots. 

I chose it because of the rave reviews, as I've already written, and because it's relatively reasonable compared to other hotels in this same general five-star deluxe category.

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Nothing in London is cheap and hotel room rates are simply prohibitive, so Cafe Royale isn't inexpensive.

But you might say it's a good deal, comparing it to other similar class hotels in London. And I know this because I looked online everywhere before we decided on this hotel.

Great cupcakes at Cafe Royale...
BETTER THAN EXPECTED

Well, our one-week stay at the Cafe Royal was certainly better than expected. 

It's not a big hotel nor an especially glamorous ones, but it's chic and luxurious in an understated way, and the suites are big, especially considering the perpetual space issue in London.

THE BEST LOCATION


The location was perfect for a theater buff like me, and it wasn't at all bad for shopping as well.

It's sale season in London and, apart from Regent Street, the famous shopping streets like Bond Street, New Bond Street and Oxford Street are all walking distance.

So I think we only took a car around the city once, and this was to get to Victoria Station to catch the British Pullman. The rest of the time, we just walked to everywhere we wanted to go to.



ONE WEEK OF GREAT BREAKFASTS

After one week of staying here, too, I can say that the breakfasts are wonderful and the staff is among the best I've encountered in London.

No kidding.



I'm quite exacting about hotel services, and everyone from check-in to concierge (especially Cafe Royal's head concierge) to housekeeping, the doormen and the breakfast staff were just great.

This really felt like a home away from home, on a long-overdue trip to London, living a never-ending #Travelife. We're definitely going to be back here sometime sooner than later...



Friday, June 26, 2015

Great Argentine rib-eye steaks at Gaucho in London


Last night in London, living a #Travelife, we all went out for an excellent steak dinner.

I really wanted to have steak from Argentina, you see, as this is hard to get outside of South America in general, but it is available in select Argentine restaurants in London.

THE REAL THING



There are lots of Argentine restaurants all over the world, but not very many actually serve beef straight from the pampas of Argentina.

Most restaurants serve beef in the Argentine-style instead.

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GAUCHO IN LONDON

Gaucho in London is one of the few restaurants that serve real Argentine beef, and it's a great favourite of some friends of mine.

I really like it too as the decor is chic black-and-white, the beef is excellent, and prices aren't that bad by London standards.



STRAIGHT FROM ARGENTINA

The beef steaks served at Gaucho are flown in from Argentina, and they're dry aged for 28 days.

I ordered a 300 gram rib-eye steak, although I was sorely tempted to order another kind of cut for 500 grams that was reportedly the top end of the rib-eye.



THE PERFECT COMBINATION

The beef was shown to us on a large wooden board, and this top cut of the rib-eye looked so appetizing.

I never order a 500 gram steak, but I was prepared to eat all of this one.


I could already tell that I would love it as this is the perfect combination for me: very tasty beef, but also slightly fatty beef, and it's properly dry aged for 28 days.

Oh my goodness. Seventh heaven.

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LISTENING TO SOMEONE ELSE

But our server said to me: "I recommend the rib-eye. That other cut is just too fatty and too strong in flavour for me."

Maybe I'd had a glass of wine already by then, because I easily gave up on my first choice and just ordered the regular rib-eye. 

This is quite surprising as my friends all know that I very rarely listen to other people's suggestions.

AN EXCELLENT RIB-EYE
FROM ARGENTINA


The rib-eye was excellent, but I just couldn't get that top cut of a rib-eye out of my mind.

In fact I tried to find another available slot to eat at Gaucho again, just to have this top cut of a rib eye.

Unfortunately, my schedule is completely booked until I sail out of England, on just another wonderful trip in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Kristin Scott Thomas as Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience, the best new play in London's West End.



My favourite thing to do when visiting London, apart from catching up with friends, is going to the theater in the West End.

I've seen all the sights over countless visits here, but I do like to see some places again every so often.

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For instance, I love going to Westminster Abbey and the National Portrait Gallery because European history -- Russian, British, French and Austrian history, in particular -- is one of my biggest passions, and so many figures from the past come alive (pardon the pun) when I visit these places.

I also always find the Victoria & Albert Museum interesting. They often have very well-curated temporary exhibitions.

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LONDON'S FOOD SCENE
BEFORE IT BECAME A GASTRONOMIC CAPITAL

These days, London is Europe's gastronomic capital, although this wasn't always the case.

There was a time when I used to visit London very often, and good food was quite limited. This always meant eating in J. Sheekey's, which is a fish restaurant in the West End, The Ivy or Petrus.

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There was also a nice brasserie called L'Orangerie near an apartment we used to take for visits to London, in St. James. 

There were also a couple of local places in Kensington High Street and Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge.

I also liked going to the Food Hall of Harrod's to sit at their oyster bar and their jamon counter.

We stopped at this pub in the West End
for some fish and chips, downed with ale,
before going on to the theater...

WHAT I'D RATHER DO IN LONDON

Nevertheless, London is one city where I'll happily pass up a good meal for a good play.

In most other places, I'll take the dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant anytime. But in London, I'll skip the meal for tickets to a very good show.

When in London, you must have pub food...

The other night we watched The Audience, which is a very new and limited performance in the West End.

It stars the actress Kristin Scott Thomas in an excellent play about Queen Elizabeth II and her weekly audiences with her prime ministers, from Sir Winston Churchill to David Cameron.

The segments with David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher were most amusing, if not hilarious. Meanwhile, her encounters with Winston Churchill were most significant as he was her first prime minister; while her relationship with the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was the most touching.



It's a serious play with a very good script and lots of cutting British humour, and both the acting and the staging are faultless.

Kristin Scott Thomas and all the other actors were outstanding.

MOVIE AND TV ACTORS
ON STAGE



Again, many movie stars and television stars from Britain and Hollywood like to occasionally appear in serious plays, perhaps to gain more credibility in their profession.

In London, over the years, I've seen many such plays with famous stars headlining. I have to say that very few of the Hollywood actors and actresses have impressed me.

In fact, many downright disappointed me, including Minnie Driver who may act well onscreen but who was as wooden as cardboard on stage.



THE BEST OF BRITISH ACTING

In contrast, the British actors and actresses are usually excellent, perhaps because they are more used to the stage.

I greatly recommend The Audience to visitors to London, although you should be knowledgeable about British history to appreciate it fully as it is full of references to English events and personalities, and based on imagined conversations between the Queen and her prime ministers over the decades amidst real world events.

But if you do know your history, you will thoroughly enjoy this play. It's probably the best one I have seen in a very long time, in London, living a never-ending #Travelife.




Monday, June 22, 2015

Riding the A380 to London. And all about the bar in the back of the plane for Business Class passengers.


Smoked salmon and salad to start off breakfast
on the A380 to London yesterday,
living a #Travelife...

A very early good morning from London, still with a bit of jet lag, but always living a #Travelife.

Yesterday, we flew into London on a slightly cloudy day. It was a just under seven hours of flying time from the Middle East on a A380 plane, and as usual I was so lucky.

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I got the window seat and we literally flew right past London, swooping low enough as we were approaching Heathrow so that I had the most amazing view from the air of central London with all its famous landmarks.

What a wonderful way to arrive, living a #Travelife.

LONDON FROM THE SKY



I had a complete view of the Thames River and all the famous landmarks around it, including the London Eye and Westminster Abbey nearby.

The City, which has been the financial district of London since time immemorial, was also very visible with St. Paul's Cathedral and its iconic buildings.

WHAT A GREAT HOTEL

Yesterday, we walked from Mayfair to Regent Street,
on a beautiful afternoon in London,
living a #Travelife...

More on this later and about this lovely hotel I'm staying in, which hit all the right notes.

It's the first time I'm staying at this hotel, and it's luxurious, historical and yet ultra-modern, but not one of these skyscraper hotels.

Think state-of-the-art lighting, the latest Bang & Olufsen giant flatscreen TV, and a Japanese-style rock bathtub in my suite, and yet it's in one of the most historical buildings in London.

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It's also in the most perfect location for someone like me who wants to just walk all over London on a nice day. 

I think I might make this my base on my trips to London from now on, as when I stay over in Knightsbridge or Kensington, I often find it really tedious to get to the Covent Garden area so I end up just staying in that other side of Hyde Park.

The other side of Hyde Park...

THE A380 FLIGHT TO LONDON

But first, about the A380 flight to London.

This is perhaps the biggest airplane in regular service now and First and Business Class occupy practically the entire second floor, with their own boarding gate and walkways. So if you're riding in these classes, you don't have to deal with the crowds or the lines.

It's a dedicated walkway straight to the entrance on the second floor of the plane.

Pasta for lunch onboard the A380 to London,
living a #Travelife...

A GOOD DEAL FOR PREMIUM ECONOMY

Premium Economy also has a small section at the back of the second floor of the A380, but they use the first floor economy class entrances and then climb the stairs to reach the second floor.

I had a peek at Premium Economy and I think it's great value on the A380 because it's way cheaper than Business or First Class, and yet you have lots of privacy and your own dedicated team and section for a very small number of seats.

No flat beds, though, of course, as that's what cost an arm and a leg in First and Business Class.


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RIDING FIRST AND 
BUSINESS CLASS ON AN A380.
AND BETTER BATHROOMS ON THE DREAMLINER

The A380 I rode yesterday didn't have these high-profile suites in First Class -- just bigger seats than business, of course -- so for me, the best option is Business Class.

Business Class occupies the main bulk of the second floor, with four bathrooms for this section. The bathrooms on the A380 are nicely outfitted, but frankly, I prefer the bathrooms on the Dreamliner as these are way more spacious.

Watching the new Ridley Scott movie
while enjoying Laduree desserts
onboard the A380 to London yesterday,
living a #Travelife...

BASICALLY THE SAME SEATS FOR
THE A380 AND THE DREAMLINER

The A380 business class seats are almost like the business class seats on the Dreamliner. No significant difference to me in terms of the monitor and the seat.

And just like with the Dreamliner, when you're ready to sleep, the staff actually make you up a proper bed with a thin mattress and a duvet.

THE BEST PART ABOUT 
THE BUSINESS CLASS SECTION OF THE A380

That's the bar for First and Business class passengers
on the A380 to London

The best part about the business class section of the A380 is its bar at the end of the section, just before Premium Economy.

It's a really respectable size for a lounge with lots of seating area and a massive bar that will serve any kind of drink. If you're claustrophobic on a plane, this is certainly the one you should be taking.

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JUST LIKE MANILA
ON A SATURDAY NIGHT

Interestingly, when we went over just to try the bar out, there were a couple of other Filipinos in the bar -- part of an entire family traveling on the same plane on their way to Scotland for a university graduation. 

So you might say that the A380 to London yesterday was pretty much like being at a bar in Makati on a Saturday night, living a never-endingly eventful #Travelife.