06 Aug 2008

St. Tropez and its environs

I’ve probably visited St. Tropez fifteen of the last thirty years and still enjoy it. But make no mistake about it, it has outlived its reputation in many respects.

Bridget Bardot made it famous 50 years ago and it became famous for the rich and beautiful. It is quite secluded because it is at the end of a long peninsula with no train access and poor auto access.

Nowadays it is so crowded that the super rich are nowhere to be seen, it is overpriced and overcrowded, especially in August. So here I am.

The trick is to not spend too much time in the center of town. The port is worth a peak and a couple hours. Senequier is world famous and worth a coffee and gelato.

The famous beaches are actually around the bend in a city called Ramatuelle. It is well worth an afternoon, the women are still world class, and it still has a hedonistic feel to it. Like other parts of Europe, especially France, what they call beaches are really portions of beaches that are private with accommodations rented by the day. Most have lounges, umbrellas, dining, bar, water sports and massages available. Many also have a hedonistic feel to them in proportion to the young single patrons. Moorea Plage is one of my favorites.

Tip - Be sure to bring your own beach towel. What do you want for 50 Euros?

The other night I mentioned dinner at Port Grimaud. Tonight we went up to the Gassin which overlooks St. Tropez and is considered by many to be the most beautiful village in France. You may notice that often I do not mention restaurant names. That would typically be in areas such as where we have visited where there are countless ones that are close by and may strike your fancy.

Heard at the port today – The Democrats are the party of no ideas and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas.


05 Aug 2008

Fresh Croissants; Dinner with Henri

Fresh Croissants

Allyn and I are committed to no weight gain on this trip. We got up and did a good brisk walk and returned for several sets of tough aerobic activities. Getting ready for breakfast we discussed how well we have been eating and another healthy meal was imminent.

The captain tricked us. He had snuck out and returned with a few goodies including fresh croissants. You know you are in France when your croissants are so fresh that they are still warm from the bakery. We had no choice but to sample them, if for no other reason to compare them to those obtained in the next port.

Then we set sail for Bandol, four hours west by yacht, for a business meeting. We didn’t literally set sail because we are on a motor yacht, but it sounds very chic to me. 

Dinner with Henri

Besides travel, I am also in the poker business ( and Our magazine, Card Player, is published around the world in over ten languages. We are fortunate that our French licensee is Imprimerie Rockson, one of the largest printers in France. The owner, Henri Papazian, has expanded his empire to include publishing, marketing, advertising, Internet construction and design, and virtually everything else media oriented.

I was honored that Mr. Papazian insisted my family spend the day with him on his yacht, not far away. It sounded fun, even though I don’t speak French and his English is worse than my French.

My people spoke to his people and we were all looking forward to playing “Let’s see who has the biggest yacht.”  Of course ours is just a loaner and he owns his, but what the hey?

Sadly, that just wasn’t in the cards (pun intended). Since the seas were too rough we ducked in to Cavalaire-sur-Mer where we moored for the evening at the charming seaside resort. Henri and his entourage came down by car to join us for a dinner by the sea.

The food, service and ambiance were all superb, but the company made the meal. My son, Michael, saved that day with his interpretive skills. Finally that summer that I financed when he was supposed to be in school (but was actually on the beach and in the discos) in Nice, France some 18 years ago, was giving me a return on my investment.

Henri was quite impressed when the waiter somehow knew who I was and asked for my autograph. (Frankly, I was baffled.)  We even accomplished some business, and a good time was had by all.


04 Aug 2008

My friend’s yacht; home for a week

How lucky am I. A friend not only is lending me her 76 foot crewed yacht for a week, but had a limousine pick us up for the three hour drive from Avignon this morning to St. Tropez where the yacht is moored.

The size is perfect for up to six passengers in the three staterooms down below. On the main deck is the galley and an indoor living room/dining room area and an additional outdoor table. The third deck has another table and comfortable lounging areas both mid deck and on the bow.

We headed down the road by taxi to the village of Port Grimaud for dinner. Most French restaurants have a choice of a menu which is three or five courses or a la carte. The menu will have selections for each course and is a relatively inexpensive way to go if you want an entire meal. All over Europe the house wines are reasonable and quite good. The prices of the house wines tend to be in line with the prices of the menu. That is - fancy meal equals fancy wine.

Please do not confuse reasonably priced with inexpensive. With the dollar as weak as it is and given that we are at the height of the tourist season, prices are crazy high. Depending on your outlook, no matter how wealthy you are, prices may bother you to the point of ruining some of your travel enjoyment.

Tip – This may sound silly but when you see pricing quoted in Euros or pounds just pretend they are dollars.

Tip 2 – Check exchange rates. Hotels are the worst.

Tip 3 – Charge as much as possible. The rates are very good although the credit card companies are now charging a fee. It does allow you to carry less cash though.

Tip 4 – If you want to save a few bucks then do not eat right on the water, go to less trendy spots which may be right next door. Really the trick then would be to stay away from places like St. Tropez during summer, but that is not the JETSETWAY.

03 Aug 2008

Bonjour from Avignon, France!

Avignon is just as quaint and romantic as you may have heard. With its towering trees and cobblestone streets, it is great just for leisurely strolls. This was a perfect choice for starting our trip after the long journey.

Our definition of first night sightseeing was to have a dinner at a lovely outdoor restaurant right in front of the Palace of the Popes (see below) while sipping on local wine. Then we returned to the hotel to crater for the evening.

Prevailing sleep theory on long international trips is that to acclimate quickly, you want to set your clock to the new time, force yourself to stay up to a reasonable hour (their time), get a good night’s sleep, and wake-up, ready to roll.

That is silly and just isn’t reality for most people. If you can pull it off then you are lucky.

We could have slept all day but forced ourselves to get up at 2:30 pm or we would have no chance of sleeping tonight. Now we all feel great and rested. I strongly recommend that this is the proper method to begin a trip.

Tip - It is ok to miss a couple hours of sightseeing. This is supposed to be a vacation. It is even more important for business trips, especially as you get older. When crossing several time zones going east, it is imperative not to have business meetings first thing the next morning if you want to be at top performance.

Avignon is a quaint city on the left bank of the Rhone River in southeastern France, about an hour inland from Marseilles. By far the major attraction here is the Palace of the Popes. Several popes and antipopes lived here for about 100 years, starting in 1309 when Pope Clement V decided to move the papacy here from Rome.

For those of you who don’t know don’t know the expression antipope (I was in that group until today), that was somebody who declared himself as the rightful pope, and probably had several cardinals as supporters, but was not accepted as such by the Roman papacy.

The only hotel to stay here is the Hotel d’Europe. It is the perfect charming hotel that fits right into this city. Our Presidential Suite, 302, (believe me it is not that extravagant) is roomy, has a couple nice terraces and a view over rooftops of the top of the main cathedral. It could use a bit more air conditioning, but that is my opinion all over Europe.

FYI – for decades Europeans have been much more energy efficient than Americans. This is in part because we are a wasteful group and also because energy has always been very costly here. One thing that you will find in Europe are light switches in public areas; even in the vestibule, right off the elevator, of nice hotels like ours, where lights turn-on for just a minute or so and then turn off again.

02 Aug 2008

First Class Pajamas

Yesterday I started a twenty six day Mediterranean journey with my wife, Allyn, her two college-aged kids, Julian and Jessica, and my oldest son Michael. We plan on having lots of fun, on which I will faithfully blog; but first we had to get there. That is the toughest part of traveling these days.

We live in Las Vegas (it was 115 F, today) and August is a great time not to be here. The same is true for July, but I play poker and July is poker-time in Las Vegas, with literally hundreds of tournaments appealing to any size wallet.

Our travel route was: Las Vegas – Phoenix – London – Avignon, France. Things were supposed to be pure luxury because we flew via private jet on legs one and three, and British Airways First Class over the Atlantic. All in all, it was about as good as flying gets, with only a few irritants along the way.

There are many ways to travel via private jet and we will discuss this topic in depth later. Suffice it to say, it is incomparably superior to flying commercial. We’re talking: flying when you want, with no security lines, and thousands of additional airports from which to choose.

Unlike most airports, Las Vegas does not allow us to drive directly on the tarmac (to the plane). No biggie… We left the house at 3:45 pm and arrived at the airport at 4:00 pm. The pilot met us in the waiting room, we exchanged IDs, somebody took the bags to the plane, and we were taxiing by 4:10 pm. An hour later we arrived in Phoenix. A van met us at the plane and immediately drove us to the main terminal, where we hooked-up with British Airways.

The benefits of private jet travel aside, we fly to Europe and Asia commercially. Frankly speaking, British Airways First Class (and Business Class), is more comfortable, unless your private jet is really huge (which costs SERIOUS money).

We flew First Class, and it was a treat. The service, food, drinks, movies and amenities were all great, but long flights are all about leg-room.

Who knew you could push a button and have your seat turn into a bed? We had over six feet between us and the people in front of us. To make sleeping easier, BA actually adds a mattress and duvet, and provides pajamas. We provided our own Ambien CR.

Was it perfect? No. The plane had a luggage compartment problem in London which caused a two hour delay for us in Phoenix. Unfortunately, First Class doesn’t arrive any faster than the rear of the plane. The airport does have a nice lounge though, and quiet comfortable seats help pass the time and keep stress levels down.

On board the plane, normally British Airways has huge on-demand movie and TV availability. Unfortunately, when we boarded, we were informed that most choices were not available, and there was no time to fix the problem.

Tip 1 – Movie failure is fairly frequent. If this problem will bother you, carry your laptop and a couple of your own DVDs. Remember the JETSETWAY is often about reducing stress, as well as increasing pleasure.

Tip 2 – No sane person I know spends $20,000 for a round trip First Class ticket. That’s what frequent flier miles are for.

Tip 3 There is a huge difference between Coach and Business Class – way more than between First and Business. If you fly Business, make sure your airline has fully reclining seats.

Before we left Phoenix, we alerted NetJets (our private jet service-provider), that we would be two hours late arriving in London. The buzz on the plane from most folks was something along the lines of “I hope I can get out today and not have to stay overnight.” Not us. We travel the JETSETWAY.

Because we flew First Class, we were first off of the plane. Awaiting our arrival were two “handlers” with “Shulman” signs, who immediately whisked us out a side entrance and drove us to Immigration. The line was lengthy, but we jumped right to the front of the line.

We then darted downstairs with the handlers, and grabbed our luggage, which the handlers informed us was already pre-cleared with Customs (how is that possible?). We were zipped through a back door, and into a van for the three minute ride to our private jet, which was fueled and ready to go. Five minutes later, we were in the air ien route to Avignon, France (75 minutes away).