The Art of Living … British Airways First Class – Seat 1A

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Many people from around the world often write to me or visit my site wondering about the services that British Airways and other first class airlines offer. I have put together a few critiques and comments regarding the experiences I have had. I am not an expert on airlines by any stretch of the imagination, however I have been fortunate to sit at the very front of the aircraft ahead of business class and enjoy life’s finer pleasures. My thoughts below form part of my travel experiences and provide perspective on the glorious age of 21st century travel.

The experience while seated in the nose of a 747 on board British Airways FIRST.

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Seat 1A is considered the prestige seat and is often only available for Executive Gold cardholders or A-list celebrities travelling in First Class, however if they are not reserved in advance, these seats can become available a few days before your departure date. You will be seated in the nose section of the 747-400 and the angle of the windows make takeoff interesting, as you can see IMG_0317clearly out of the adjacent windows in seat 1K across from you. I prefer this seat to the others on the 747 as you have the closet beside you and it becomes a great place to put your carryon IMG_0311luggage. No one else on board the flight used the closet except for myself and the person in 1K. Being in the nose of the aircraft and not having anyone in front of you also makes this seat feel very secluded and private. With the window blinds closed, you would be excused for thinking you were on your own private jet.

The service onboard British Airways First Class is outstanding as always. On my flight today I flew Heathrow to Toronto and enjoyed the Concorde Room in Terminal 5 before departure. After boarding a pair of pajamas is provided along with slippers, should you IMG_0314need to change into something more comfortable. A glass of champagne is also offered while you are settling into your seat. Once again BA is providing Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle as the champagne of choice for this cabin. This is a fantastic champagne with subtle notes of biscuit, cream and almonds with a dash of baked brioche on your palate.

The dinner service is “on demand” at any point through the flight, so I chose to dine a little later, after all the other passengers were taken care of. It’s sometimes nice to be the center of attention for a 5-course meal. I ordered a martini after take off and what arrived was an excellent preparation complete with olives, however the glass was huge. I would say they had given me the equivalent of two martinis in one pour. I managed a few sips before taking a break with water, as it is always advisable to be able to walk off the aircraft on the other side. A small dish of warm mixed nuts was also provided after take off, which was a replication of the service on American Airlines First Class. A note on water: I strongly recommend that the finer wines and champagnes are sampled (even in small servings) as they are quite individual and unique. The importance of drinking plenty of water in between your wine sampling cannot be underestimated as cabin pressure and alcohol do not mix well. As this is First Class a little indulgence is of course acceptable, however all good things in life should be approached with moderation.

Dinner

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The amuse bouche was a burst of fresh flavor and the tangy goats cheese put my appetite in full swing.

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The soup was a light cream soup of cauliflower infused with Indian spices and coriander. It was served at the perfect temperature and the velvety texture of the cream, followed with the occasional light crunch of a small bit of cauliflower, made this a great dish. The infused Indian spices lingered after each bite and made this soup a wonderful symphony of flavour. I have always found that the soups on board British Airways First Class to be outstanding and recommend that they are tried at least once.

IMG_0327The salad was cool and very crisp as if it had been prepared fresh, in a country kitchen. Several different dressings are offered and this time I elected a French vinaigrette, which was light and simple yet full of flavour. The salad is presented in a small bowl, so it makes having a full five course meal easier to manage.

The main course of steamed sea trout with orange and tarragon butter sauce – mashed potatoes – glazed carrots and asparagus, was a knockout blow of perfection.

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I wonder if it is actually steamed fresh onboard, as I could not believe the texture of this dish. Each bite was light and fluffy and I would swear that this little fish was swimming only an hour before it reached my plate. It is that good! The Scottish producer Loch Fyne IMG_0330provides the seafood course on British Airways and I believe they fly the fish into Heathrow every day for preparation. Loch Fyne seafood is only available for flights departing from Heathrow airport to maintain freshness and quality. BA will not serve this product from any other destination. The orange and tarragon butter sauce accompanying the trout was extraordinary in nuance and flavour. The vegetables were crisp and cooked to perfection. I will say that this was the best dish I have ever consumed at 35000 feet and take my hat off to British Airways for their preparation and execution of this item. Seafood at this altitude is not an easy achievement for any airline and BA get 10 out of 10.

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The cheeses have not changed since my last experience on board BA, which is something I am pleased with, as the selection is very good. Cheeses such as Reblochon, Blacksticks Blue, Quikes Farmhouse Cheddar and Melusine were presented with a full assortment of crackers as well as grapes.

IMG_0336For dessert I chose the dark chocolate fondant with cherry compote and orange custard. This unfortunately came across dry and overcooked. The interior, which should be a warm liquid chocolate, was firm and congealed. The exterior was slightly dry. Unfortunately this particular dish did not impress and could have been executed better. I will say that the sauce provided was adequately nice.

Overall the meal was extraordinary despite the slight mishap with the dessert, however I am being overly picky in my critique. I believe that BA should be commended for providing a very elegant service that is worthy of the highest classes of British aristocracy in the finest restaurants.

Afternoon Tea.

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I was not particular hungry before landing considering the large meal I had consumed earlier, however I chose to have a nice cup of tea before wheels down. What followed was a brief English tea service so that I may taste the various items available. The Dorchester hotel in London inspires the tea service on board British Airways First Class. I only sampled the various sandwiches, cakes and scones briefly.

The tea is very good and served in a cute little pot at your table. The various sandwiches are cool and very fresh. The selections of tiny sandwiches were Wiltshire ham with grain mustard, asparagus and radish with cream cheese, ploughman’s cheddar with caramelized red onions and Loch Fyne smoked salmon tartare with wasabi mayonnaise. Scones with clotted cream are provided along with an opera cake, vanilla Madeleine as well as a passion-fruit and raspberry tower.

I had the turn down service during the flight and had all the warm comfortable bedding prepared for my seat. The PJ’s are extremely comfortable and the pillow puts you into a very relaxed state at 35000 feet. Below is a publicity pic provided by British Airways and I am pleased to say that this is actually how my bed looked.

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First Class is not something I do all the time and its is used for very special occasions. The experience is one to be savoured and enjoyed moment to moment. You could almost say that the environment and service is so special that you are not flying at all, but simply luxuriating and living amongst the clouds in a state of bliss. When the captain advises you that its 20 mins to landing … you almost want to stay a bit longer and continue enjoying the moment. But like all things in life … what goes up must eventually come down.

The Art of Living … Concorde Room Experience at Heathrow

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IMG_0242I have had the pleasure of enjoying the services of many airline lounges throughout the world, yet the British Airways Concorde Room at Heathrow is still best environment hands down for any airline in my opinion. The service is outstanding and the food and beverages available are simply “first class’ all the way.

Once again I entered the lounge environment well in advance of my flight to take full advantage of the experience. You may enter this lounge if you are holding a First Class ticket with British Airways and departing from terminal 5 (including B and C gates). IMG_0248The View of the airport from the terrace section is wonderful as you will see all the various aircraft taking off from the main runways and the large BA jets will coast by your windows. I have enjoyed the other lounge areas in the pavilion as well, (which is used by gold card holders of BA’s executive club). The other lounge, located across from the Concorde room, is always busier and does not feel as exclusive as the Concorde Room.

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Terrace area – Concorde Room

The private dining area in the Concorde room is a full service restaurant with no charges as it is part of the “on-the -ground” dining options available for First Class passengers. For a formal breakfast service I enjoyed a glass of pink champagne along with grilled kippers and some bacon and sausages on the side. The service is timely IMG_0253and extremely professional. the bottle of champagne was correctly presented to me and I was offered a tasting for approval. Kippers in the Concorde room are very popular and they are flawless every time I order them. Arguably they are some of the best kippers you will find in London.

The Concorde room is also a great place to people watch and quietly comment on various fashion successes and trajedies. Nelly Furtardo was quietly sitting in a corner in the terrace area of the lounge and dressed very well. The majority of people in this lounge make a real effort to look their best, yet at the same time be comfortable. I see many men wearing jackets, and yes, some are wearing ties. ladies are usually in very nice outfits although I find that most of the time the best dressed are the passengers from India, Africa, Europe and especially Britain. I hate to say this … but most of the passengers that are underdressed are the North Americans. Not a problem … whatever makes you comfortable. It is just nice to hark back to the glorious days of travelling in style and looking fantastic when heading overseas. This is First Class so if there is anywhere that dressing nice before a flight is acceptable … this is the place. remember that you will be provided pyjamas on board so changing after take off is the norm.

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Cakes for my Birthday

I was wearing a loosely fitted tie and felt as though the staff were making a little extra effort with me and giving a more formal and personal touch. I looked the part of a First Class traveller. I was given so many nods of approval and smiles when walking through the lounge environments. I don’t think it was my imagination, but if I so much as glanced at a server they would rush to me and I did not see that happen with my underdressed fellow travellers. British Airways spent millions of pounds creating these special lounge environments with the goal of rekindling the old prestigious age travel. I personally feel that it is nice to meet the example set by the airline in First Class by dressing appropriately and especially wearing a decent pair of shoes.

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The wines on offer displayed to the left of the bar

IMG_0303As usual the wines in the Concorde Room are outstanding. The great hit today was the Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2001. It had so many levels on the palate and you could taste the glorious age of the wine.

Laurent Perrier Grande Siècle champagne is offered in the Concorde Room as well as on board your First Class flight. It is a stunning champagne and very special. I noticed that the champagne offered in the gold card lounge across from the Concorde Room was Taittinger, which is adequate but not a premier champagne.

IMG_0276I booked the private Cabana area within the lounge by calling BA a few weeks before my flight. I was also given the option to advance book my massage treatment in the Elemis Spa. The Cabana is simply awesome as you are IMG_0275given a private retreat and full bathroom along with a desk, flat screen TV and a large lounger-bed for sleeping. A little button on the desk will bring a server to your door in seconds, should you need any food.

Before entering the lounge pavilion at Terminal 5 there is a wonderful display that shows some historic images and items from the history of British Airways. The below slideshow gives an example of what was featured today. My favourite item was the letter and accompanying envelope below:

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IMG_0269Quite the piece of history and remarkable both the letter and the envelope have been preserved.

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The Art of Living … The Ritz Hotel London

My tea service moments after arrival

My tea service moments after arrival

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The Ritz Hotel in London was completed in 1905 and was the dream of visionary Cesar Ritz as well as architects Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis. It had a multimillion pound restoration and can be considered one of the greatest hotels in the world without question. I stayed for one night before heading to the South of France and can confirm it is a walk through time to the glorious days of service in the early 20th century.

The DSC04024uniforms of the staff were pressed and tailored to perfection. The staff made every effort to ensure that you felt as though you were a member of the royal family.

A highlight for the stay was the breakfast service which I really recommend should you be staying at this prestigious hotel. The dress code is relaxed for breakfast so a t-shirt and jeans are acceptable, however sport shoes or running shoes are not acceptable. For dinner it should be noted that a jacket and tie will be required due to a strict dress code in the main dining room. Having a waiter dressed in a full tuxedo with tails and addressing you as though he was your butler … makes this a breakfast to remember.

Breakfast table setting

Breakfast table setting

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Raef, my favourite valet

Another special moment is the whoosh of the double doors opening for you as you walk through the main gallery towards the restaurant. Two little bell boys perfectly dressed and smiling with a nod as you walk by will make you feel like complete royalty.

The greatest achievement of the Ritz Hotel in London is the impeccible service you will receive. The standards are so incredibly high that you will find it difficult to compare with other hotels throughout the world. It’s worth every penny in my opinion … especially if you are celebrating something  important … like a Birthday!

Prepared in my room

Prepared in my room

Fine Art can be seen everywhere in the hotel and occasionally you will stumble upon something that takes your breath away or makes you think you were somewhere in Buckingham Palace.

The Duke and Queen

The Duke and Queen in a quite sitting area

Nice, Cote D’Azure France

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Nice is definitely a place unique in the world as is all of the South of France. You are definitely not in a sandy version of Florida or the Caribbean. There is a style and fashionable quality here that is inclusive to all that bathes in the Mediterranean sun. My DSC04229highlight of this place is a simple one … smiles. IMG_0161Yes with all the glorious hotels and the wonderful restaurants an additional highlight … there is still an unmistakable smile that comes from the people of Nice that says “welcome”. It is noticeable on the streets at night and especially as you walk along the Promenade des Anglais. The French citizen can throw around a bit of bravado and occasionally a bit of attitude as well, however if you take that in good stride and not too seriously, there is always a smile underneath. The Nicoise know how good it is here and are happy to be sharing it.

IMG_0154I was struck with the Architecture of Nice and the very old cobble streets winding around the old Quarter. The old Quarter of this city is incredibly vibrant and hours can be spent sitting in a cafe and people watching. The warm sun in the evening would also cast a supernatural glow on the old buildings around you.

 

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August is a fantastic time to visit this part of the world as so many tourists are here for the sun and culture as well as many A-List celebrities. Madonna was celebrating her Birthday in Villafranche (the neighbouring town). I was amazed at how many people were roaming the street late at night. I felt safe during the day and the evening however after 12:00 midnight I was told to keep alert and be more vigilant. That rule generally applies all over the world to be honest.

DSC04244The slideshow below represents the best of Nice day or night!

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Cannes – Baoli Beach

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DSC04403Cannes is a place where the fantasy of being a star really can come true. Well at least for a day and for a pretty heafty price. Being in the South of France … a journey to Cannes must be done. As this trip was a special occasion I chose the VIP section at Baoli Beach which is frequented by the likes of Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. DSC04399No celebs were in view today but I did get an interesting picture of a woman by the beach holding her tiny purse and looking as though she just came off a mega yaht.

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The day was perfect and I sunk into a very luxurious lounger on a private deck overlooking the beaches of Cannes. Baoli Beach is actually extraordinary in terms of service and quality. My most favourite part of the experience was the staff. Absolutely perfect. Always at the ready to come along and provide a nice champagne cocktail or fresh salad. I should mention that the large icy glass of champagne will run you 26 euros. Baoli beach is not a place for the light wallet.

DSC04377Cannes is great and I did enjoy it , however after a while a common guy like me gets a little overwhelmed with all the designer stores across from the beach. Not sure how necessary it is to see so much money on display right at the beach. after a while you just want to be back in Nice and walking along the Promenade des Anglais.

The yachts at the pier were a sight to behold. this is another universe of wealth. amazing to see the larger yachts out at sea and a little helicopter poised on the top of the deck.

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The Beach is busy as always along the promenade. of course there is no charge to be on the public beaches so the next time I am in France I will also take a day out in Cannes and enjoy the beach as a local.

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Villafranche

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Well if its good enough for Madonna then its good enough for me. Madge rented a villa here for her birthday as well. I saw fireworks emanating from Villafranche one night when I was enjoying a dinner party high up on a hill in Nice. I was then informed that they were for Madonna. Villafranche is different from nice as there are less restaurants and the village is far quieter.

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Villafranche sur la mer is stunning and had a wonderful August crowd on the beach. There was nowhere to find shade so the searing temperatures required immediate swimming in the crystal waters of the cote d’azure.

The town pictures below.

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Vila Ephrussi de Rothschild

One recommendation I always make a traveller is to just walk around, almost getting lost on purpose and see what the day will bring you. It is nice to plan a little bit of your day, however the real fun can often happen when you least expect it. I walked from Villafranche for almost an hour along the sea and then upwards to a winding road. when I started to feel the heat searing against my back I realised that it may be time to get a taxi to another location. Suddenly a big sign appeared that stated with an arrow “Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild”. I headed up … paid a few Euros to enter and was transported to a living museum of wealth and power in the glorious world of a Rothschild.

great ideas for staging regarding my Real Estate Career. That is if I was staging a palace.

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Eze Village, France

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I had been repeatedly told that this little village high on top of a hill was a must visit place in the Cote D’azure. Celebrities choose this place for its idyllic location and privacy DSC04201as well as the charm of a town that has skipped time. A short bus ride from Nice is all it took to get to this gem. Once dropped off at the bus stop in Eze village its a short walk uphill into history. I timed my visit for early afternoon and surprisingly was alone in the little cobbled streets winding through the that had been worn from decades of wind and rain.

The most important thing for any traveller to Eze is to simply take your time and enjoy the walk around. take time in the little boutiques and marvel that this is all for real and not a Hollywood set. its easy to think you are in the movies and that Clarke Gable will walk past any moment.

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I wonder why it seemed so quite and private the day I visited. It may be that this little village is just not a major stop on most tourists lists. The trains and buses heading to Monte Carlo and Monaco were always full to capacity.The bus here was not full at all. I will comment later about Eze Sur la Mer which is a completely different area and effectively the beach. That required a different trip for me.

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American Airlines Flagship First

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Space is the main reason for purchasing a first class ticket on any international airline, as well as the food and service. The vast amount of room afforded to first class passengers flying long haul on American Airlines does not disappoint. For this flight from New York JFK to London Heathrow I was seated in 1J. I believe this is one of the best positions on the Boeing 777-200 as there is no one in front of you and the cabin attendants seem to pay special attention to your needs (they see you easily when in the galley area). The champagne glass never went to half empty and the crew on board ensured it stayed fresh and cool to the palate.

DSC03916AA is undertaking a renewal of its First class seats onboard the new 777-300 aircraft, however for this flight on a 777-200 I used the older first class seat. The upgraded amenities and dining options, now advertised on AA, is available throughout the whole fleet … so if you do find yourself in an older seat … everything else will be up to date and up to scratch. The older seats definitely need updating as there is a sense of wear and tear compared to first class offered on other international carriers especially Asian and European products. AA is getting its act together so lets see how they fare in the new 777, please keep in mind that the older seats are still more than adequate. Its not like anything is threadbare, rough or scratched. for the purposes of a really comfortable flight, I think AA is still the best in class for an American based airline.

DSC03942The seat has a unique “swivel” feature I have not encountered before. By pulling a small latch on the left side of the armrest you have the ability to swing the entire seat towards the windows (or your travelling companion when in the middle section). I enjoyed this immensely as now I had a flying office with a very original vantage point. I used this position for my main meal as well as writing in my personal diary.

Time to Rest

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The bed has a great deal of space and is extremely comfortable. I was offered pyjamas and slippers prior to take off in the event I needed something else to wear to get really comfy. When ready the crew will offer a “turn-down” service and prepare the seat for a lie flat bed position. The comforter and the pillows were excellent. I especially felt that the two soft pillows were a nice touch giving me a real sense of home. The amenity kit has been updated as well and will be presented to you in a nifty ipad case for reuse in the future. the creams, socks and night-mask are adequate. I have found that first class amenities on other airlines to be far superior so this is an area that American airlines may want to improve.

I will give the crew full credit for outstanding service. The outfits in particular impressed me. The jacket and ties worn by some of the male staff looked fantastic. I was greeted with smiles and warmth and all of my needs were met without hesitation. As I was celebrating a special occasion, I decided to take a few pictures soon after boarding and one of the crew actually said “lets do a small photo shoot” and then quickly took a number of shots at different angles making everything whimsical and DSC03912fun. If you are celebrating something don’t be afraid to tell the crew and definitely don’t be afraid to take a few pictures. Just be mindful of the flash as you do not want to disturb other passengers. However a few shots through the flight never hurt. Hey this is a mode of travel that does not happen everyday so really enjoy the moment and the experience and be thankful you are sitting there in the first place.

24 Jean Jaures, Nice France

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steps from the flat

I have rented a small apartment in the old quarter of Nice in the Cote D’azure. I felt that the best way to experience the south of france would be to live as a local instead of sitting in a small hotel room away from all the action. 24 Jean Jaures is a stunning little apartment with all the modern conveniences imaginable to make your stay perfect. The best part of the place is the location as moments out the door and you are in the middle of the old city surrounded by shops and restaurants hidden down ancient alleys and walkways. My stay here was flawless and in the evening after a fantastic hydotherapy shower in the bathroom … I would watch a bit of TV and pop a bottle of champagne..

The French Riviera is the best place to have a glass of champagne as you have the cool bubbles passing your lips while you gaze at an impossibly coloured neon blue sea. It is wise to find a small wine store and shop for a more local and obscure brand of champagne. Something not normally found in your home country.

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In France there are many family owned champagne houses that produce the most exquisite and distict flavours. Sometimes you will find a stunning bottle that is as good as Krug or Dom Perignon for only $50 US.

Contact Chris Edwards on christopher.edwards@fpictet.com for info on renting this apartment.

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