If you love France and have never made it south, here’s your chance. Marseille is in the south of France and lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Join Kat and some of her KATTRAX VIP’s for this very unique tour away from the hustle and bustle of Paris. You will enjoy some of the most freshest seafood around –straight from the port. Experience Ricki Stevenson’s Black Marseille Tour. You had no idea about the African influence in that port city, right? If the beach is your thing; with June temperatures in the 70’s you will have your pick of several. We have space for a few more so let me hear from you. Room with a view: All rooms will face the port. As night falls you will be treated to the sight of the fishing boats lit up with their beautiful blue lights —a direct view from your room. Day trips available to Aix-en-Provence, Avignon or a mere 2.5 hrs by train to Nice, Monte Carlo or Cannes.
It’s 3am in Vietnam and as I prepare to fly home I thought I’d send this out to you. So many have asked, “Are you going back to this place or that place? I would sure like to go”. But then those flame out and Im left with an unfulfilled contract. That’s not good for KATTRAX. So what needs to happen now is if you are down with any of the following, please inbox me and say you are seriously interested. If not enough interest, it will be off the KATTRAX drawing board. Cost? My tours pretty much stay in the same ballpark as the previous year’s tour but as you know rates sometimes increase as a lot of things do. Of course, You can go to any of these places for less than an intimate, well-planned, escorted luxury KATTRAX TOUR but I guarantee you they can’t touch mine. I live to offer you the best possible experience without breaking the bank. My motto: If Kat won’t lay her head there, you won’t either. So remember: You only go around once in this old crazy world, so treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself.
Marseille – June 4 – 11, 2018 South Africa – 9 nights Sept 2018 Dubai & Abu Dhabi 6 nights mid November 2018
Until next time,
To say that leaving Bangkok airport and getting to Ho Chi Minh City was a bit of a challenge would be an understatement. From check in, to boarding, to the Landing Visa process, it took its toll on us but we thugged it out anyway and without any travel casualties and for this I for one am truly grateful for God’s divine guidance and protection. I take the Lord along with me EVERYWHERE I go. So when our flight got cancelled due to mechanical problems, I had the presence of mind to stay put even though we were told to come back some 4 hrs later. Before 4 hrs later, amidst chaos and confusion, tempers flaring, and at least 55 weary travelers from all walks of life and foreign countries needing seats, I learned there would only be 27 seats available on the 730p flight. Well there were 12 of us and I could only produce passports and boarding passes for the 3 who remained with me —Sue, Gary, and Darryl. Who knew where the others had gone? Gary and Darryl sprung into action, located and retrieved the needed documentation from 6 others while I used my East Oakland demeanor and Oakland Fire Dept supervisory skills to demand order so the timid Vietnamese Airlines supervisor could explain what our options were to these out of control passengers who were demanding compensation and what their rights were. I even had to tell some rude azz passenger talking loud on her cellphone to shut up, be courteous and listen. Oh, Goldie was in rare form and was truly Golden with the supervisor from that point on. She loved me. I knew at that point the KATTRAX group had favor and that we would have 12 of the 27 available seats and would not be spending the night in the airport. I had to bully my way on the lack of 3 passports. I just knew those 3 seats would be given away to the next in line but God worked it on out for us. As PK Gary says, “Favor ain’t fair”.
I wont even begin to tell you the saga that awaited us upon arrival with picture taking, payment, another form to complete, and yet another payment —- oh they wanted US Dollars, thankfully it was only $30. No Vietnamese Dong please. Smdh. Then finally the Immigration line. At least we were prepared with our “Letter of Invitation”, without which we would have been denied boarding in Bangkok. The next issue on my mind was since we were almost 9 hrs delayed, how would we get to the hotel because surely our guide was long gone. It may have appeared to some of the group that I had deserted them but I knew what needed to be done. I was on a mission. If in fact he was gone, I would have to arrange back up transportation. Well, more favor…there in the sea of what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of Vietnamese people waiting for their families and friends, I saw the KATTRAX TOURS sign held by one of the nicest guides ever, Tre’ (tree). He had been there in the hot humid weather for 10 hrs waiting for us. All he knew was our flight was delayed, he never knew it was cancelled. What an ordeal.
The hotel staff at FUSION SUITES SAIGON was waiting for us, checked us in and we all retired for a peaceful night’s sleep. With this package I included 3 spa treatments per person. Y’all that know me know that I do not like strangers rubbing on my body but dammit I was definitely down for full body massages and foot reflexology after all that craziness and stress I had just endured.
The Vietnamese people are some of the nicest in the world and I was happy to be back in their beautiful country. The city tour took the group to Notre Dame, the iconic post Office which still looks like a railway station, they saw the old CIA BLDG where US helicopters airlifted desperate US employees from the roof, the Independence Palace aka Reunification Bldg which in April 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed into the gates and like the toppling of the Berlin Wall, this marked the end of the Vietnamese War. Even though it is now called Ho Chi Minh City, the locals still love to say “SAIGON” and so do I.
All were now enjoying the wonderful Vietnamese cuisine at the included restaurants chosen for them and the spa treatments were a definite hit and a great added feature. Will I return??? You betcha!!!!
On another note; Dubai Nov 2018 may be in effect. So continue to check the website for 2018 destination updates: Feb/Mar: Antarctica, April: Paris, June: Marseille, Sept: South Africa, Oct: Egypt, Nov: Dubai, Dec: The Maldives.
Thank you all for riding with me on this Asian Adventure. I hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned — In 2 weeks we head to Lima, Peru and Machu Picchu
I have offered my groups cooking classes in Paris, Tuscany, Saigon, Jamaica and even Bangkok in 2013 but this by far has been the best. I was probably more excited than this group because I knew what they were in for…. Yes, an unbelievable culinary experience.
Our 2 private vans and guide whisked us away to The BLUE ELEPHANT COOKING SCHOOL. We had a brief orientation then Chef Chay escorted us on the Skytrain to the market where he explained some of the various fresh ingredients we would be using to prepare our 4 course lunch menu. Once back at the school, we were given our beautifully monogrammed Blue Elephant aprons, our recipe booklet and then our instructor demonstrated the preparation step by step, we tasted and after each tasting we went into the kitchen to mirror what she had shown us as Chef Chay and his sous chefs supervised our preparations. They ensured with a special numbering system that each of us would eat exactly what we had prepared——good or bad, right or wrong. Lol. Seriously though, everybody enjoyed what they themselves prepared. Afterwards we were led to a beautiful dining room, with a private KATTRAX TOURS table perfectly set for our group. What an experience!!!!
After lunch, several had last minute fittings for clothes and jewelry so they were off and running. The rest of the group went to JIM THOMPSON’S HOUSE for a tour. He was an American billionaire architect who fell in love with Thailand and Thai silk. He amassed an extraordinary art collection and at the age of 61 on a trip to Malaysia in 1967 mysteriously disappeared in the jungle. A Monk once told him he must be careful when reaching age 61. At any rate, his nephew was kind enough to donate his collections to his foundation
In the morning, we fly to HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly known as SAIGON). I so look forward to returning to this exciting city. My fellow foodie and road dawg, Ms Robbie Bell, will be missed. Rob, I’m going to hit that spot again Nha Hang Ngon where we had that crab cooked tableside with the fresh lime, sea salt and crushed black pepper. Robbie and I will walk a mile in the dead of night for a good meal. Coincidentally the group will also have lunch one day at the same restaurant she and I went to cooking school to learn how to prepare Pho Bo. It was a former opium factory, Interesting!!!! Stay tuned!
It was time to say arigatou and sayonara to Tokyo — thank you and goodbye. Thank you for a most wonderful introduction to your country. The hospitality shown to us and your humility gave us all a very different perspective. I was truly humbled and yes I would love to return some day. They hooked me with being greeted at every turn with the bowing down of the head and clasped hand gesture.
We had a very early flight to Bangkok but excitement was in the air as we were all ready for part 2 of our tour. Our flight on ANA (All Nippon Airways) was Sweet. They are part of Star Alliance which entitled those of us with status to enter the Lounge. Cousin Darryl and myself with Gold Status were allowed 1 guest each so Diva Sue and Alisha got real comfy with us as we charged up our devices and caught up on emails. It was early but that didn’t stop some from having a few complimentary alcoholic beverages. I stuck to my usual Tonic water and was just fine. Now the food spread was more than you would imagine at 9 o’clock in the morning, noodles, curry dishes, deep fried chicken bits with a sweet chili sauce and homemade French fries cooked to perfection. Of course there were plenty of breakfast items presented.
The smooth flight was about 5 hrs though slightly delayed which caused us to rush for our dinner cruise. I for one was happy to say “sawasdee” (hello in Thai) and be back in Bangkok as it had been a few years. I believe it was November 2013 on a 14 night cruise to Singapore, Bangkok and several cities in beautiful Vietnam (part 3 of this tour). Our 5 Star Sofitel was proof that when it comes to hotels Ms Kat does not play —- only the best. Since we missed the pick up point, the boat deviated and picked us at some random place en route, which was quick thinking on the part of our guide. The cruise gave us the best view of the city’s legendary riverside buildings lit up at night as we traveled slowly along the Chao Phraya River. The courses were traditional Thai dishes made with the freshest, top quality ingredients and the service impeccable; down to the details paying attention to those with allergies.
I hate to begin this paragraph with breakfast and I just described dinner. Oh well, hells bells… it is what it is. Breakfast started at 6am and we were there ready to do this. The spread had EVERYTHING!!! One of the chefs was at the waffle and pancake station whipping out miniatures of both, eggs cooked to order, roasted meats and I cannot begin to describe all the freshly sliced fruits on display and also stocked in this huge see thru refrigerated case.
Our tour bus was departing at 7 o’clock sharp because we had to travel 110 km to the DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET; thee most famous. We had to first stop at the Mae Khlong Station where we visited the famous Railway Market. It had to be timed just perfectly to see this wild and crazy occurrence on the tracks. It only happens a few times throughout the day. We followed our guide past street vendors selling and cooking up fragrantly seasoned Thai dishes. She made a slight left and entered down a 15ft darkened alleyway that was about 4ft wide and we ended up on a railway track. This was truly a trip back in time to the Siam of old. What we saw on this track amazed us and yes we had to be very careful as the train approached — as my 4 yr old Sakari says, “Safety First”. We had to get out of the way for real. It was mind blowing to see the vendors frantically packing away their stalls from the track as the train approaches. Once it passes— it’s business as usual. Unfreakinbelievable!
Now on to the Floating Market, but first a stop at the “Happy Room” also known in this culture as for men: “shooting the rabbit” and for women: ” picking flowers”. Our guide said when she was a little girl she often wondered why her dad left the vehicle on a road trip but never came back with a rabbit.
In addition to shopping at this very large market at the rivers edge, we were treated to a 35 minute speed boat ride. These boats are fashioned after the boat used in James Bond’s, The Man With the Golden Gun which by the way was filmed in part in Thailand. It was a most enjoyable experience. Water baby, Cousin Darryl wanted to go again but we had to be on our way.
Next stop, some needed to have clothes tailor made — suits, shirts and dresses and the serious shoppers also needed to take a look at some Jade jewelry. We dropped them off with the guide and our driver took the remaining half of us back to the comfort of our Sofitel Hotel on the lively SUKUMVIT STREET. I Overheard that tonight some would be hitting the night markets and the triple X rated joints — smdh. My advice: Be safe and behave responsibly. Tomorrow: The famous BLUE ELEPHANT COOKING SCHOOL…. Stay tuned.
Our last full day in this city. My day to chill until the Jazz club tonight. When my family heard I was going back to TWO ROOMS GRILL AND BAR; they were like, “Cousin, that’s what’s up”. So I made a reservation on Open Table for 1pm and it was on and crackalackin’. However, had no one planned to join me, I would have made the trip solo, I must tell you, the service, the cuisine is second to none and that out of 10,000 restaurants in Tokyo it is rated number 39. Yes, that would be on a scale of 1 to 10,000. If you ever get this way, you must check it out.
Tonight we had reservations at the Blue Note Jazz Club – dinner and concert. When planning so far ahead one never knows what artist would be performing so we had a Spanish vocalist and her trio (contrabass, keyboard and drummer). We were escorted down two flights of stairs below street level. What a venue! Very spacious and with an awesome sound system. Of course, our group had the best seats in the house. Again, SERVICE, SERVICE, SERVICE! It just could not be beat. I thoroughly enjoyed my appetizer and main course. It was an early dinner show so we had plenty of time to be chauffeured back to the hotel, pack up and be ready for an early departure after breakfast Saturday morning.
As I write this blog, I’m in the Lounge awaiting our flight to Bangkok and I eagerly look forward to my return to the wild and crazy, fast paced city of Bangkok. The group will get an opportunity to see the definite contrast between these 2 Asian cities.
There are 12 of us and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to join me on this adventure. Everybody except for 1 has traveled internationally with me on several jaunts. There were 9 that were with me on our United Airline’s New Dreamliner nonstop from SFO. They all flew in to SFO from Atlanta, DC, Florida, Chicago, L.A., Houston. The Bruce sisters from Chicago met us later at the hotel. It was great seeing them again since The North Sea Jazz Fest July 2015. The group was met in the Arrivals Hall in Haneda by our guide, Massajee. Our luxury coach awaited us and soon we were on our way to our 5 Star hotel; CAPITOL TOKYU.
As most know, Tokyo is totally High-Tech and our hotel definitely showcases this fact. Tonight’s private welcome dinner was at the hotel’s top restaurant, SUIFREN. The service and the presentation was impeccable. There is no way they could be faulted but unfortunately, we were not ready for our this 7 course traditional Japanese cuisine. We politely and graciously received each course, smiled, looked, admired the presentation and then waited for the courses to be removed by our lovely servers. Some indulged in the warm Sake as we enjoyed dinner conversation and laughed at the humor of Cousin Gary.
The next day, after our bountiful buffet breakfast that included everything, we had a full day of touring beginning at the MEIJI SHRINE, dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Meiji. It happens to be a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Prior to entry our guide demonstrated the purification process some choose to participate in.
The next stops included: Harajuku and the famous “Cat Street”; Takeshita Dori. We stopped for lunch at the upscale TWO ROOMS GRILL AND BAR in the elegant neighborhood of Aoyama. This more than made up for last night’s dinner. We dined inside but the views for those dining Al Fresco were breathtaking . Those that selected the filet mignon all agreed their most tender steaks were cooked to delightful perfection and not once was anyone asked how they wanted their steak. Amazing!!! OMG, the Caesar salad was unbelievable. I have never had one this good in my life. You couldn’t even see the dressing but it was strategically placed within the large, fresh crispy romaine lettuce leaves….. It was truly devine!! What followed was the topper; a beautifully decorated dessert plate with raspberry sorbet, a miniature creme brûlée and tidbits of sweetness doted the plate.
After lunch the group went across town to ASAKUSA, Tokyo’s old town where they soaked up the atmosphere of the Tokyo of old, visited Tokyo’s oldest temple, SENSOJI and wandered down Nakamise, a very interesting shopping street with tons of tourist souvenirs.
Once back at our hotel, most opted for a power nap to prepare for dinner. Yes, it was truly a perfect ending to a perfect day. I chose DANTE’S for Teppanyaki. It was a 10 min walk from our hotel, rated #613 out of 7,000 restaurants in this popular city. They have been in business for 38 years and none other than the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, dined here in ’98. He’s pictured on the wall with some of same current employees. The shrimp, calamari, scallops, whole fish, chicken, spinach, sliced squash, eggplant, were all grilled hibachi style by our two outstanding chefs. Afterwards, we had a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. Wow! What a day, what a night!