I love the comments I get when I make posts like this. The comments commonly/mostly come from Parisians or ex-pats living elsewhere, telling me that the blog’s name is kosher WINE musings, not kosher travel musings!
So, with that disclaimer aside, yes, I was in Paris earlier this month and I thought I would lay down my thoughts here.
Travel from the USA
Memorial Day is around the corner and as such many of you will be traveling. I have been traveling strong this year for business and personal interests and so I thought I would add in some of my thoughts on domestic and international travel.
To start, I am a person who is the pure antithesis of Elk, well most of us are in so many ways, but in regards to travel, I am adamant to be at the airport at least 1+ hours before takeoff. If you remember June 2021’s post you can see why I am of that mindset.
The good news is that most countries now allow travel for the U.S./European/Canadian vaccinated, and even some without, as well, without prior testing. Still, I like to use this site – it is hosted by TravelDoc and is one of the best overall sites to help you understand your COVID requirements before traveling to a country. Ignore the Air France part, it does not matter what airline you use.
The airports I use, San Jose and San Francisco, for the most part, are calm. You can use Clear or TSA Pre to get around some lines. In Newark and Chicago, the lines were not great but again, Clear and TSA pre help.
Flights are packed, status almost means nothing, and unless you pay your way, I have yet to get any good upgrades. Of course, upgrades are always a YMMV concept, even during the slowest of times.
Finally, overall, flights are hit and miss, so please plan for failure! I mean it! Plan for flights getting canceled and leave room on your itinerary for the sad truth about today’s travel reality, AKA disaster. The hope is you will be fine and then you have more time to spend with friends and family.
Paris May 2022
If you remember my trials and tribulations during my trip to Paris more than a year ago, a few days after they opened their border to many of us from around the world. The rules before, during, and on my return to Paris were as fluid as an oil slick and just as messy. So, I was wondering what things would be like a year later. The flight to Paris required a mask even though it was a US carrier. The flight back did not. Either way, I wore mine most of the time as I got my bout of COVID from my return trip from Kilimanjaro, so I was all in on not repeating that feat.
When I arrived masks were not a requirement, even in my hotel, which was nice, though almost everyone wore one. The traffic on the roads is still a complete disaster, much like in June 2021 and November 2021. The metro was a true joy, they were rarely packed, except for one day and while Paris was full of tourists it felt quiet. The foot traffic was amble but open and if there is any one thing you should do while in Paris, it is walking! The city was built to walk, throw in the architectural beauty, and the ample kosher food options, and one has to wonder why it is not a location overrun with Jewish tourists?? I am not complaining. Of course, I do not like to visit Paris during its peak days, June or July. Anyone visiting Paris in August is a screaming idiot for so many reasons! The shoulders are when you visit Paris and I also would never visit during the off-time as it is bitterly cold and not my cup of tea.
During my time there, half the time was mask-on in the Metro and half the time was mask-off. I wore mine almost always but during the rather hotter days, it was nice to be able to take a break here and there, especially with all the windows open on the 6 line, which is old and not air-conditioned.
My wine tastings
OK, now to the wine, I hear you O! As always, my trips to Paris can never happen without the immense help I get from Ari Cohen, who now is in the “wine business”. More on that later!
My first tasting was with Le Vins IDS and Ben Sitruk from Wine Symphony. We tasted many wines and we did them blind which was quite fun. I will stop there and hope you read it when it posts. Ari’s wines were there along with some other Domaine Roses Camille wines!
Next, I once again tasted the latest from Taieb Wines with the gracious Yoni Taieb sending me the wines to my hotel room! Yoni and his family may not produce Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, like Les Vin IDS, or Chateau Pontet Canet like Royal Wines, but what I keep repeating over and over again is that they create one of the largest numbers of QPR WINNER wines for Europe and even the USA, some of the times. More on that in the post, but overall, the wines keep on hitting and that is what matters!
I had a tasting with Menachem Israelievitch from Royal Wines Europe where we tasted his new 2020 Burgundies and some of the 2021 roses. Sadly, with all the supply chain issues, labels, bottles, and corks, everything is delayed. So, the bottling of many wines did not happen yet. Also, some wines are still in the barrels, like the higher-end Chateau Roubine roses, Lion and Dragon. So, we will have to wait for those to come to the USA before I get a chance to taste them, unlike last year.
Finally, I tasted some 25 other wines and once again the majority of them were painful but I did find some QPR WINNER diamonds in the rough.
I did a get a few days to visit with my family and get a chance to see a bit of Paris as well! Now on to the wines!!!
Most who know me would say I am not like the classic common man, I move to the beat of my drum, and it was drumbeat that said I needed to be in France as soon as it opens. It cost me loads of aggravation, more on that below, and it was not at the perfect time either, but it was 100% worth it!
The insanity started when Gabriel Geller showed me the webpage, in May, that said that France was going to open to American tourism without quarantine, in June, as long as they had been vaccinated. Since I was vaccinated that interested me and I called United. There were flights and they did not look booked up as this was too early for most Americans to jump on the train. I asked for the week of June 14th and it looked good. I booked it but I kept it low-key as it would not be until June 1st that France would say more about it. For the next month, the French site which would define the very protocols for entry into the country would NOT change until 1 day before entry was legal! Still, they had a small link that would go on to describe the stoplight approach and the protocol for each of the three colors, green, orange, red. Now, I do not know about you, but France and the United States do not have orange-colored stoplights! Either way, the protocol stated that if you were vaccinated from a Green country (which the United States was not part of AT THAT time, more on the below) you could show the vaccine card and enter. Even at that time, I wondered why the United States was not a green country given our rates of infection, our vaccination rates, and so on, still countries like Israel, and others were on it. Then there were the Orange countries, among which the United States was one, which stated, that if you were vaccinated you could enter as long as you had a negative test result from a PCR test taken 72 hours in advance of your flight to France.
So, once France woke up and updated their entry protocols, and made it official, I had only one week to book my tastings, orders, and so on to taste through all the wines I had not yet had the chance to taste. It was a dizzying week of effort, worked around my actual job, which is being a consulting Software Architect for my clients. Thankfully, it was all planned out, though those very plans would change again, nothing new for such a last-minute approach to France.
Truly, none of this could have happened if it were not for Ari Cohen and his buddies in France that helped me in my planning, logistics, and all the winemakers and distributors who helped me set up the wine tastings.
So, as the time approached, I used United’s partner TrustAssure to book my appointment for my PCR test – WARNING NEVER EVER use these IDIOTS! Sorry for spoiling the story! I booked a convenient time and I drove over to it. It was crazy because the address showed one street while the actual location was on another one. Once I finally found it, I was in and out within a matter of minutes. Now, the way TrustAssure works is that they interact and help you find an appointment with a reputable lab or testing center. They show you possible appointment times and locations for these labs in one convenient app. Then they pass along the time for your appointment to the location and charge you the fee. All of this sounds good enough. It is up to the lab to send you the results, not TrustAssure, as TrustAssure is just a middleman to help you find a said appointment.
Well, let me explain that my flight was Sunday morning and I took my test Thursday night. All good and legal, as that is 72 hours before my flight. Sadly, by Friday afternoon late, I had not yet received my results. By Saturday night, after Shabbat, which is late this time of year, we still had no results! NONE! This now caused me massive aggravation, and sadly my wife as well, as I was freaking out. After a couple of hours of sheer insanity and running around looking for testing that was open at 11 PM, I was ready to give in and call it a massive failure. This is the current issue with COVID-19, testing should available all the time, whether for a job need, athletes, teachers, travelers, etc. If we have drive-in burger joints open all night there should be testing facilities as well. Yes, the comparison to a burger joint is cute at best, but truly the aggravation was massive. I tried calling TrustAssure and I tried calling and going to the test facility, they were all closed, with no way to get hold of anyone my test entered the COVID-19 lab blackhole. To be fair, all of the test facilities are the same, except for a very sparing few, they administer the test, and then they send them out to a much larger testing facility. The results for PCR tests are normally 24 hours or less, nowadays, sadly mine fell into the COVID-19 test black hole of death!
Finally, my friend told me there was a test facility, 10 minutes away from SFO (San Francisco airport) that could test me last minute and get me results in less than an hour. The facility opened at 6 AM and my flight check-in time was 7:40 AM. So, I barely slept that night, I packed, got everything ready, and headed over to the testing site (CovidClinic) which is a trailer parked in the middle of nowhere, I mean that literally. It is three orange trailers parked in the middle of three acres of an empty and deserted parking lot that used to be part of a park-and-fly lot for those that parked their cars before a flight at SFO. Those companies were affected by the COVID-19 impact on the aviation/airline companies.
So, I arrived at the CovidClinic, while still trying to call TrustAssure and the test site I took my test at on Thursday and there was finally someone at TrustAssure – they said there was nothing they could do, so I said I want my money back and if this last-ditch effort of a last-minute tests fails, I will sue them for failing to abide by their promises. Thankfully, that would never be needed, I took the test, and then I took another Uber to SFO and I stood by the check-in counter waiting for my results. Within 40 minutes, the negative results arrived and I went to the counter. If I ever need a test again, I would use CovidClinic without hesitation!
Let me start by now explaining that outside of my lab result blackhole issue, the rest of the international COVID-19 protocols are still not well ironed out. Yes, I understand that it was day 4 of these new protocols, what I mean overall, is that testing and COVID-19 protocols are not new to the airline industry, they have been active for a good year already! The main issue here is that every country does it differently, and so even though Hawaii, which has its stand and protocols on their own, require the same needs to enter their island as many other locals, the protocols for checking this at the counter in SFO was mayhem. Still, after lots of calls, and lots of checks, they allowed me through. Understand that this has been dumped on the shoulders of the airlines, much like all the other validating they do for passports, visas, entry cards, and so on. Who does all this? The airlines and are not compensated. So, when ticket prices go up, remember that the more idiocy and the more one-off rules they drop on entry protocols, the more airlines have to spend money to validate. Now, my flight was not direct, as France is not open directly to California unless you are talking Air France, which I have sworn to never fly again, a different set of stories for a different time. So, my connecting flight was through Newark, United also has Chicago, but at a far less convenient time. Anyway, if United had accepted me and then the Newark-based gate would have denied me who is at fault??? What if United at the Newark would have accepted my papers and then France would have denied me who is at fault? In all the above cases, the answer is United, and the fines are steep! It is for this reason that prices to places like this are higher and they will stay high as long as there are complicated and absurd one-off rules to enter these countries or locales.
So, after all of that madness, I get on the plane to Newark. At Newark, I go directly to the gate and the line is already 2/3 of the way down the concourse! Why? You guessed it, more protocol checks, people crying, screaming, complaining, and of course, people cutting lines, getting aggravated, and almost no one following the rules of wearing a mask! Classic mayhem all over again. Still, this is understandable on day 4 of these protocols. The behavior of the passengers, while horrible, I guess is also to be expected, but still depressing to see. Here too, the gate personnel were on the phone more than they were checking papers, again, new protocols equal confused gate agents. I am sure that this will all get streamlined soon, once the tests and the COVID-19 vaccination cards are digitized so that many of these headaches can be avoided.
Finally, we were on our way to Paris, once we landed it was an hour’s wait to get through border entry. The lady at border entry looked at me and asked why are you coming to France? I was not sure what to say, I came to see Paris, she only got louder and angrier. Now, until this point, no one in front of me was getting screamed at! Well, I said I was there to see my family, which all live in or around Paris, The vast majority of my family live in France. She asked me specific names and locations and then let me on through. Now, if you open a country to Americans, with your rules and protocols, and people follow those to the T, what does one gain by the subsequent questions about why you are here? I have lived in fear for the past year-plus of the COVID-19 madness. I have taken it as seriously as anyone around me. Most of my friends are either lax about it or wonder if it ever existed. So, no, I do not take what has happened lightly. But, if you allow US citizens into the country then let us in! If you want us to wear masks and to follow distance rules and so on, great, we will do that, but the added anger gains no one anything. That is my 2 cents. I asked people what was the reason for this strange attitude and the response was that France was still in its crises and that the United States had not reciprocated with opening its borders, so I felt a bit for the border agents’ frustrations with an American who wanted to come to Paris to enjoy life. Maybe, either way, I will expand on many of these points below.Read the rest of this entry
Travel dates for weddings and weather are some of those things that you cannot control. When bad weather occurs on such a trip it is the worst of both worlds and leads to much disappointment, but thankfully this trip included lots of family so to me it was a win, albeit a wet one!
In this case I am talking about a trip I did for a wedding of my nephew that took place three days before the shabbat that preceded the shavuot holiday! My brother thought it would be a great idea to visit our family in France, and a great visit it was indeed, except for the freaking pouring rain that did not let up!
Blessedly, we left just before it got really out of hand, and the Louvre shut down to move its art out of the basement. That said, side note, we did go to the louvre for one hour and 20 minutes. I have been there many times in the past and each time I hate it because the art is well – old! I am a huge art fan, but of the more recent variation! I like my art with a drink by date of 1880 or so, the impressionist period and on. Anything before that (AKA the FREAKING louvre for example) is well – not drinkable and or outdated! But we went because my nephew had never been there, so sure – let’s see some really old art that is either about religious undertones, religious overtones, or horses! My goodness, how many horses can a person look at before they get it – that is a horse! Thanks for being so obtuse about it! I was worried I may have missed something in their efforts!
Anyway, enough of my hatred for all things really old, my nephew wanted to see the mona lisa and I was happy to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace – it is old but really cool! The insane aspect was that people were waiting in a line for three hours to go into the louvre! The line was for folks who were buying tickets for that day. I saw that line and I said this is insane, it is raining, wet, annoying, and this is no pirates of the caribbean ride! Why would I wait three hours! So, in classic American style we walked up to the front and there in plain sight for all was another line, a line through which you could walk straight into the museum, all u needed were electronic tickets! Nephew on phone – three minutes later we have tickets and in we go! Sadly, that was the best part of the story! You see the place was PACKED! Crazy packed! The louvre is closed on Tuesdays, the BEST museum in Paris, the Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays, there is the mona lisa, oh and did I mention it was POURING! – so the combo made for a not so comfortable experience even inside the dry museum (which was not dry for long)!