Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Your Future Hotel

Citizen's Unite!

I've been interested in trying out some of the new concept hotels emerging lately. So this summer, while visiting the Milan Expo, I tried Marriott's new Moxie. And, then upon return to Paris CDG, tried the Citizen M.

The Moxie was a bit of a disappointment. It is just a cutesy Marriott double take on the Sheraton Aloft. Small rooms complete with a big graphic of a couple jumping on a bed wearing motorcycle helmets and little else. The rooms lack phones, drawers, safes and closets. All in all, without some enhancements Moxie is not a brand I'll seek out again.

The Citizen M was a different story.

Citizen M is a new little hotel that makes a very serious attempt to re-imagine a perfect overnight space for a solo traveler.

It hits the concept out of the park.

When you enter don't go looking for a reception desk. You check yourself in at a little stand-up merry-go-round of computers. It could use a big sign saying "hey check yourself in here!" I walked right past it thinking it was just a bunch of self-serve guest access computers. But a kind staff member tapped me and said they'd love to help me check-in.

The computer takes you step-by-step through check-in calling up your reservation, confirming your e-mail (for the check out paperwork), how to make your room keys (which have little straps to become luggage tags).

The place feels secure (the elevator requires your room key to activate). 

Like Moxie, the room is small. In fact, it is really small. The king sized bed hits the walls on three sides (pity the maids who have to make the beds each day).

Hallway Carpeting is an Aerial Map of Paris
(Note: The "Business Citizen" portrayed at the end of the hallway)

The Lav/Frig. Unit is on the Left
The Obscure Glass Shower / Toilet Pod is on the Right

The Bed
(Note: Two adults sleeping here = the adult by the window must climb over the other for a nocturnal visit to the loo)

Next you learn to use your room controller. Everything in the room is controlled by a smartpad: activating drapes, entertainment options, lighting, wake-up alerts and heating / cooling. It even has "Moods". For example if you select "romantic" the drapes adjust, lights dim etc. If you program a wake up, it asks for how aggressive you want the wake up to be. I put in "gentle" and a very nice voice came on in the morning gently counting from 25 all the way back to 1.

The toilet and generously sized shower (with a huge rainshower head) are in a glass pod.

There is a small alcove to hang clothes, but again no drawers. There is a phone and a nice large room safe. The room was tomb quiet, the bed was great and all the techno worked.

There are lots of movies and all are free (including the naughty ones).

The place has a sense of humor, it is immaculate, and is a short easy walk from CDG's Terminal 3 Roissypole. And it is priced right.

I wish Citizen M well and hope see many more worldwide.

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Expo 2015 - A Party in Milano!

Feeding the Planet
Energy for Life

109 years after hosting its first Fiero (Worlds Fair) in 1906, and with an expected attendance of about 20,000,000 visitors and over 140 participating countries, Milan's International Exposition Expo 2015 is something of a miracle. With the theme of providing dialogue and potential answers to how to assure sustainability, health and sufficiency in the World's food supply, this fair hit all the right chords.

It was a way to learn about food, taste foods from around the world and discover agri-food and gastronomic traditions around the world.

In this seemingly fractured world any forum that encourages the sharing of ideas seems slightly miraculous. 

Strangely when I mentioned I was going to the 2015 World's Fair almost no one I talked to in the US was even aware that an exposition (anticipating 20,000,000 people) was even going on.....

When I awakened in my hotel near Malpensa airport I could see snow capped Alps, yet enjoyed a 82° day for my visit to the fair.

Entering One of the Security Portals

As with any festival in the world getting to the fair involved a lengthy security check. No Problem-o, I like knowing that they care about our safety.

I had no clue how successful the event has been and had to carefully choose which pavilions I wanted to see. The almost 8-story Italy Pavilion at some point in the day had 4-hour waits to enter. I went later and still waited 1-1/2 hours. And, yes, it was totally worth it.

Crysanthmums - Symbol of China

 Coping With A Long Wait

 Inside the China Pavilion Were Fields of Ever Changing LED Light

A Nearly 1-1/2 Mile Promenade 
Offering Shady Access to Most Major Pavilions 
(This Photo was Taken at Approximately the Midpoint) 

 Inside the Spanish Pavilion  
Its Theme Presentation Projected on Plates

One of the best corporate pavilions was COOP's Supermarket of the Future. Inside all the products were available for purchase. Fruits and veggies were being stacked and replenished by robotic arms and above any product you reached for was an interactive display providing nutrition, recipes, handling information and pricing for the item you were touching. 

Inside the Supermercato!

I bought sandwiches, fruit, a tall beer, nuts and some fruit snacks (along with a COOP shopping bag). Grand total? 9 E.

Israel's Field's For Life 
Vertical Farming

Many thanks to the James Beard Foundation, Walgreens, Pepsi and all the other participants for footing the entire bill for an American Pavilion: American Food 2.0. Since the 1980's the US has boycotted national participation in International Expositions. 

The 3 story building offered insight into agricultural research being undertaken in the US, was staffed by college students in sharp blue blazers. 

On the rooftop there was a cafe and winebar all covered by the world's largest array of Hitachi color changing solar panels. Exiting the pavilion you entered a courtyard filled with an array of food trucks allowing one to sample the diversity of American cuisine.

If you are wondering why there hasn't been a worlds Fair in the US for more than 3 decades, it is because the US Congress hasn't paid its dues to the Bureau of International Expositions. Hence, the US is ineligible to host a World's Fair. Just another reason to love congress.
American Food 2.0


The entry to the Russian pavilion was a tour de force of mirrors. Inside there were interactive displays explaining Russia's vast array of crops by region, a variety of cooking demonstrations, descriptors of its reserves of fresh water (the largest reserves remaining on our planet) and a tribute to Russian food researchers and botanists.
 The Qatar Pavilion had Touchscreen Menu's Describing  Regional Cuisines

Chile's Pavilion 
An Architectural Masterwork

Architect Cristian Underraga created an exceptional National pavilion for Chile. Sadly my photo's do NOT do it justice. The wood lattice bridgelike structure simply floats over 4 immense steel supports. The space below contains a cafe and large commercial space offering Chilean wines and (mainly) food related products.

Below Chile's Pavilion

Somewhere just past its midpoint the main promenade is bisected with another pedestrian street which provides access to the Italian National pavilion and the fair's iconic "Tree of Life" structure.  At the other end of the cross street is the fair's huge open air amphitheater.

The Tree of Life

I was hell bent not to leave Expo without seeing its signature pavilion (Italy) so as the sun set I waited in (the now 1 - 1/2 hour) line to get it. The birds nest designed building is 8-stories of superb Venetian plasterwork. All smooth as a baby's butt.

The "Birds Nest" Italy Pavillion 
(On the Left)

Inside the Italy Pavilion

The Italy Pavilion was a celebration of Italian food giants in agriculture, cooking and culture. I particularly liked all its immersive mirror rooms, visually showcasing Italian scenery and its architecture. The  "A World Without Italy" section was fascinating as well.

Immersive Italy 
(Inside the Italian Pavilion)

Pinksie the Whale at Night
(The Waterstone Pavilion)

Time ran out before the fair did. In reality seeing the entire fair would have taken many days. So I missed some spectacular pavilions (like the UAE's etc.)

For anyone keeping track, the next international Expo will be in 2017 in Azana Kazakhstan followed by the United Arab Emirates in 2020!

Roadboys Travels © 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mont. St. Michel

An Apparition in the Salt Marsh

Day 8 - Mont St. Michel, A Return to Paris and a Flight to Milano 
We left St. Malo early after bidding adieu to Sigrid and Adelle our two wonderful bicycle guides. We then boarded a coach for our drive back to Paris including a visit Mont St. Michel. We went to Mont St. Michel early in the am as it tends to become overrun by tourists as the day progresses.

Mont. St. Michel is a special place. And, aside from the Eiffel Tower, the palace and gardens of Versailles and the cathedral of Notre Dame, this is perhaps the next most photographed site in France  Straddling the border between Brittany and Normandy (officially in Normandy), it is a little village and Abbey built to cling to what was a pointy little island rock outcropping in the middle of some tidal marshes.

It is a pilgrimage site for many Catholics and a mess of tourists. So many tourists in fact that the 40 monks left at the Abbey lead a fairly reclusive life observing vows of silence and poverty.

What housing there was on the island has now mostly been converted to B&B's and little Inns. My big caution to potential visitors is that there has been no upgrades for barrier-free accommodations. There are no elevators or ramps.

Mont St. Michel at Daybreak

A Staircase Up the Mont.
(This Island is An Accessibility Nightmare)

Surprisingly the Island Hosts a Small Cemetery

Casting its Famous Shadow As the Tides Return

The Tallest Spire is Crowned With St. Michel
(A Major Magnet for Lightening Strikes)

A Replica of the St. Michel Statue

The Walkers Wheel

Toward the end of the tour we came upon the Walker's Wheel. Here up to 6 men would climb inside the big wheel (like a squirrel wheel). Here they'd walk to furnish the power to hoist supplies up an inclined train running up the side of the hill.

Also from here we had a brilliant view of the new approach road that replaced the ancient causeway serving the island for centuries. The new road is elevated with open structure below allowing the tidal action to flow by. This has helped clean the salt marsh by preventing excess silt build up on one side of the road.

The New Elevated Approach Road

The Abbey in Bright Afternoon Light

We concluded our tour with a quick lunch and then rejoined our coach for the trip to Paris CDG  airport where most of the cyclists would fly from in the morning.

As for me I flew on to Milan for a quick visit to Milano's Expo 2015!
More about that in my next post!

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

On to St. Malo!

Biking in Normandy - Days 5-7

Day 5 - Rural Normandy
After our rides to the beaches we had a day to take a simple ride and along the way enjoy a public market in Le Haye du Puis.

It was chilling to realize this quiet little village was one where after D-Day Germans retrenched and waited for the Americans. So 71 years ago these streets became a fierce battle site with the oncoming American troops resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.

In the public market there were things I have never seen before like some little black crabs.

Local Street Markets Offered Lots of Regional Fish and Shellfish
Dazzling Array of Local Apples Were In Season

After scoping out the public market we pedaled off to visit Alain Dauget's award winning apple farm / cider mill where we received a petite lesson in cider making (lets call it cider making 101). We were told how how the farms wonderful apples are washed pulverized and pressed into juice. Then how they go on to take some of the aples to make cider and a variety of "calvados like" liquor. In France cider always sparkles and packs an alcohol content. Also, French laws regarding calvados are similar to the laws associated with champagne. True champagne may truly only be produced in the Champagne region of Frnace (all other "champagne" produced elsewhere must be titled something else). So Mr. Dauget's "calvados" liquor, being produced outside the precise Calvados region, must legally also be titled something else.

No matter what it is called we came to realize (after a tasting) that his cider and liquor packs a real punch.
Oranges and Coffee Beans Infusing "Calvados"
Creating A Local Specialty "44"

Juice, Cider and Calvodos Tasting

Mr. Dauget only sells to local restaurants / hotels and at his farm, so we were pleased to taste the goods, buy some to take home (a small bottle of 44 is in my suitcase) and then go on to enjoy a wonderful picnic lunch.

It rained a bit while we were eating in the barn. So when we left we enjoyed that "just rained" smell and some nearly nearly perfect bicycling down narrow, lush, canopied country roads through the the Norman countryside.

 Cycling Does Not Get Better Than This

 The Village Church Near the Hotel
(We Could Hear its Bells From our Rooms)

Just before turning back into our Inn I stopped at the little village church whose bells we could hear from our rooms.

Some riders rode on a short loop down to the close by salt marshes. This region is famous for its lamb. They graze the salt marshes and go on to produce a much admired salty meat.  

Day 6 - Dinan, Saint-Suliac and on to St. Malo
Today was what the our bike tour referred to as a transfer day. That means we got up, had breakfast and climbed onto a bus headed for the Medieval city of Dinan. 

With this leg complete we officially left Normandy and entered Brittany. We learned that there are a long list of "Viva la Difference"'s between Normans and Bretons. Right down to a flag that is based somewhat on the US flag and !!quelle horreur!! Breton's salt their butter! Much to the fascinations and dismay of the the rest of the French.

Dinan has an exceptional location at the top of a hill directly above the Rance river. As a walled city there were roads from the Rance up the hill to Dinan. The main city itself dates back about 800 years and although captured throughout history, still has sections with heavy English looking timbered buildings. This French city also has many old buildings that could be in a set for a Harry Potter movie.

Our guide toured us through the city, walking along sections of its high ramparts then delivered us to its market for their local specialty sausage wrapped in a big buckwheat crepe.

Dinan is Home to Some Amazingly Well Preserved 
Medieval Heavy Timber Structures

Walking Along Dinan's Stone Ramparts

A Dinan Busker 
Plays A Hurdy Gurdy

The Dinan Aquaduct

Departing Dinan we rode down the hills past an amazingly lovely aquaduct to the Rance River. Here there is Dinan's river port. Since the river is navigable from the sea to Dinan this allowed development of the commerce that provided Dinan a reason to be.

A view Along a Section of the Rance

Along the way we stopped at St. Sulliac along the Rance. This little village was just a joy. THe little homes were ll made of granite stones and clad with fishing nets. I took an hour or so to go down to the river and sit in a cafe along the waters edge. It was a wonderful break to sip a glass of local cider whilst watching the kayaks plying the glistened river.

Today's ride was rewarded with lovely rooftop rooms in a regal beachfront spa hotel. The seawalk in front of the hotel offered wonderful views of both the parasurfers on the channel and the walls of the old city of St. Malo itself. For dinner we enjoyed a local restaurant where I enjoyed some fresh and tender pan seared scallops for dinner.

St. Malo 
(From in Front of Our Hotel)

Day 7 - The Emerald Coast and Concale
After just completing two wonderful days of biking we set out for what turned out to be the most wonderful stretch of cycling of the entire trip along Brittany's emerald coast. This is a busy and, at times, extremely rough section of the Atlantic. The shoreline is in turns sandy, rocky then marshy filled with every conceivable hazard to navigation. It also features some of the world's most extreme tidal activity.

For our last cycling day the sun was out most of the way and the seas were relatively calm. We began with a visit to the summer home of Jacques Cartier the famous / infamous French explorer.  It has been lovingly restored to its 1500 era state.

The Underside of the Rough Hewn Staircase at the Cartier Home

Then as we proceeded along the coast we encountered scenic views including islands with residences to admire from the coast.

An Island Chateau

Same Spot Posing For a Group Photo 
On Our Last Day of Riding

Pointe du Grouin Viewing Ile des Landes
Panorama of the Emerald Coast Line

Motoring into Port Off of Pointe du Grouin
(Note the Fisherman on the Point)

A Shadowy Glimpse of Mont St. Michel

Our next stop was a picnic in Concale where we sampled the oyster's so prized by the French monarchs. Many of us went shopped (I found a "Real" chocolate shop and that offered a lot of  tasting of the amazing chocolate, dried fruit and fruit gels that they make themselves.

A Vintage Citroen
Out for a Spin in Concale

After lunch we took returned to the hotel and then explored the very pretty and historic center of St. Malo. 

The biking portion of the trip now officially over it was time to crash. Tomorrow we have an early visit to Mont St. Michel and then a long coach trip back to Paris.

My heart will remember biking and (at least for awhile) so will my tush.

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Bloody Beaches

Biking in Normandy - Days 3 & 4

Most of us know someone who had a loved one that served in World War II. In my case my father and my uncle John (his brother) both served. They entered war service as light hearted, basketball playing farm boys from Colorado. My father went Navy and was posted in California. Dad emerged WWII with his spirit and humor intact.

My uncle John went Army and served almost the entire war in Europe. From what we can glean John saw almost continuous battle serving under Patton. We also believe he served in the December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945 Battle of the Ardennes Forest (known as the Battle of the Bulge).

Despite a Bletchley Park enigma code cracker's advisory of an imminent attack, Allied leader''s ignored the communique convinced the area was low risk.

They left it defended by young unproven soldiers along with the battle-hardened, yet battle weary, 28th infantry sent there to "recuperate".  

Conversely, Hitler attacked with skilled SS soldiers he reallocated from duty on the Russian front.

The Battle of the Bulge turned out to be the US's biggest battle and delivered our highest number of casualties. Yet our young and green coupled with the battle tired American soldiers went on to prevail.

When uncle John returned home he was forever changed. He never married and lived a withdrawn life. As a kid my single inquiry to him about "what you did in the war" was met with stone.

Today our last WWII veterans are rapidly passing away. That leaves us with little true knowledge of their sacrifices. So experiencing a battle site such as Omaha Beach offers insight into the stories uncle John could not bring himself to tell.

Day 3: Arromanches
Monday's first major ride was to Arromanches, the British landing site code named "Gold" Beach.

The ride began on some narrow farm access roads that meandered through lovely Normandy farmland. Corn stalks (which is grown only for animals here) was still high and the smell of freshly cut hay accompanied us for much of our journey.

Our first stop was at a horticulture school. Its grounds were filled with the apple trees that define the Calvados region of Normandy.

 Our First Stop 
A Horticulture School

 Apples at the Horticulture School

Our next stop was the Parapluies umbrella factory where two generations have made every type of custom umbrella. They even had models with a patented wind release feature offering a lifetime guarantee against inversion. visit: www.h2oparapluis.fr

The Umbrella Factory

Perhaps stopping at an umbrellas factory was a bad omen as we soon experienced an epic rain storm. It rained so hard it felt almost like hail. This was the worst stretch of riding possible. We found a garage where someone (thankfully) had left the door up and we took shelter.

We arrived at "Gold"  beach. Took in the 360° movie and the British D-Day Museum. 

Lunch was a steaming kettle of the wonderful local mussels.

Looking Across "Gold" Beach

Day 4 - Omaha Beach
Tuesday morning we pedaled through more countryside. Along the way we passed Le Chateau de la Ferriere. This spectacular chateau was originally constructed in 1735. The chateau and its grounds have been renovated and transformed continuously ever since. During WWI it was commandeered as a residence to Rommel. Rommel was convinced any invasion would take place at Calais. He was so confident that on June 6, 1944 he was in Germany at a birthday party for his wife.

 Le Chateau de la Ferriere
(Rommel's Residence in Bayeau)

Nearby Countryside

From here we pedaled through more countryside to Vierville (Code named "Omaha") beach where we met our guide Guilliame Marie. Guilliame met us at the zone called Dog Green (See Map).


The Sectors of Omaha Beach

A Panorama of Omaha Beach
(From Dog Green)

Our Remarkable Guide

Guilliame recounted the D-Day invasion. We learned how the American beach was a disaster. The relentless "softening" bombs from American Destroyers off shore either fell harmlessly in the sea or landed well beyond their intended targets. The failed bombing had terrible consequences. It left the enemy untouched and fully armed, yet, since the element of surprise had to be maintained, local civilians were not warned. So the bombs that passed over the German armaments exacted a  devastating toll on local civilians and their livestock.

We learned how a huge storm sank the American Mulberry harbor and how most of the tanks being transported to Omaha took on water and sank with their crewman inside. 

Then how the tide came in leaving our troops with nothing to do but face Hitler's huge guns mounted in highly fortified emplacements.

From here we rode on to one of two American Cemetery's in France. The cemetery is now American soil in perpetuity. Time spent here will produce a pit in the stomach.
There are 9,387 burials here. The average age of the soldiers buried here is 21.

The American Cemetery
(The Cropped Top Trees Symbolize Lives Cut Short)

There are 307 Unknowns

Donald De Lue's Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves

The inscription at the cemetery entry implores:
Look how many of them there were
Look how young they were
They died for your freedom
Hold back your tears and keep silent

As a gesture of reconciliation, and a permanent appeal for peace, France went on to offer land to create German cemeteries as well. There are 8 WWII German cemeteries in France. We decided to visit the one at La Cambe.

Here, in stark contrast to the meticulously maintained, perfectly composed, American cemetery, graves here are marked with simple flat dark headstones. Burials are stacked two or more deep.  There are 21,222 burials in this cemetery alone. Some of the dead were only 15 years old.

It made me think long and hard.

In a recent poll 43% of the respondents of one political party felt the US would be better off if it were "Taken Over" by the military.

After today, I know that history provides ample testimony why the character of those we allow to ascend to positions of leadership require perpetual vigilance.

The price exacted when societies are willing to simply "turn over" leadership or neglect such vigilance is buried in these cemeteries.

La Cambe

An emotional day that will not be forgotten.

God bless you uncle John.

On to The Cherbourg Peninsula
We now traveled to the commune of St. Germain Sur Ay in Northwest Normandy above the salt marshes of the west coast of the Cherbourg peninsula.

This region is also very agricultural, but enjoys direct ties to the sea. Our Inn was La Ferme des Mares. Which is a beautifully renovated equestrian property dating back to the 1600's. It features a restaurant listed by Michelin.

Yeah, it was (as our fantastic guide Adelle would say) "looovely".

La Ferme des Mares
Tomorrow we ride to a traditional farmer's market with a picnic at a cider mill. 

Roadboy's Travels © 2015