SOUTH AFRICA, THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT!

Hello my friends, it’s been a rough 11 months as we faced and dealt with this horrific pandemic, COVID-19. We’ve been locked down, shut down repeatedly and forced to change even the most basic things in our daily life. I know a lot of you are just like me; so ready to travel somewhere, anywhere.   Before I repost a couple of older posts allow me to share mes deux centimes (2 cents)    In no way am I pushing for anyone to get the vaccine.  I had my first dose of Pfizer with no adverse effects. I’d rather deal with side effects of the vaccine than be ravaged by the disease.   While it is a matter of personal preference; masking, social distancing and constant hand washing is something we all should be doing along with religiously taking the 3 important supplements: Zinc, vitamins C and D.  The difference between D2 and D3 is that 2 is plant  based and 3 is animal based. I remember as a kid we couldn’t go to school without immunizations for Diphtheria, mumps, rubella and standing in line at school to get the sugar cube for the polio vaccine.  In order to enter Ghana I had to pay $325 for the Yellow Fever Vaccine, good for 10 years and further, need to travel with it for any other country that requires to see it to gain entry.

Those that have a desire to travel once it’s safe…let’s do it.  CDC announced yesterday: “Fully vaccinated persons who meet the criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19”. Next up: Those who have been vaccinated will not have to be tested to travel. There is already talk on the international level of some sort of vaccine passport (similar to our current Yellow Fever cards).
In South Africa most camps have reopened already.  Regional and international flights are currently operating  even though albeit on a modified level.

There is nothin’ like experiencing a tour the KATTRAX way: First Class and definitely top of the line.  That has always been my focus. That is my purpose. That my friends, will never change.

As my good friend, International Wine Broker, Jess Peters says: “Kat, folks like places and things where the lines are out the door, wrapping around the corner, like great restaurants.  That’s what you give your clientele”.  Some of you have met Jess.  He’s the one who connected me with the black wine estate owners in Cape Town.  I don’t know about you but I’m ready to go to: South Africa,  Rotterdam, Iceland, Jamaica, Australia, Egypt, the Maldives and Black Paris. I’m so ready

Paris, Let’s Get It Started!

Bonjour mes amis! Before I send this repost I’d like to say America has been reset. I can feel it in my heart and soul.  We applaud the BIDEN-HARRIS TEAM and our hearts are especially happy with Oakland’s own MADAME VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS.  I’ve been praying for brighter days this past 10 months and now even with a lot of work to be done, I can see a light.
Our Paris tour has been moved to APRIL 21-28: 2022 and with that we’ve had some cancellations.  That being said, there is some space available. .  By next year Paris will have opened her borders and will again toll out the red carpet for visitors.  If you want to join us, please inbox me at rivoli98@yahoo.com

Thirty-six years later and Paris is still beautiful and to top it off, no matter the weather forecast in March or April; we still manage to bring the California sunshine. The weather has been gorgeous.     It was my first inclination not to blog this trip because I have been blogging this Paris program repeatedly  but my Durham, NC friends planning to come in 2020 put in a request so here we go.  Just as I continue to threaten “This is my last tour” , it seems I just can’t stop.  2020 is already in place for May 7-14.  Even though my love affair with Paris which was a “Love Supreme” at one time has been replaced by the likes of The Maldive Islands, Fiji, Egypt, Vietnam and Colombia; in my heart there still remains a special place for the “City of Light”.

When checking in for my nonstop United flight, I was surprised with an offer to upgrade to Polaris Business Class for a small amount. It was an offer I could not refuse.  To have the ability to lay flat on long flights these days has proven to be a health requirement for me.  To arrive feeling refreshed without puffy ankles is just what the doctor ordered.  An added plus is the new Polaris dining room at SFO for Business Class Travelers where you are seated and served complimentary from a very interesting menu.  I chose 2 Crispy Shrimp Cakes, Pasta with mushrooms in a creamy Sauce, a Cobb Wedge Salad and of course my tonic water.

There are 18 in the group of which 7 are repeat travelers, some I haven’t seen in a few years and I was excited to be reunited with them again:  Willie and Gwen Tabb of Michigan, Glenda Stone of North Carolina, Tammie McClendon of Chicago;  Sekilati Kodilichi, Deborah Lewis and Steven Portlock from the Bay Area.

Words cannot express the feeling I had upon my arrival at the hotel when the bell staff greeted me with the traditional Parisian embrace with a kiss on each cheek. Reception, chamber maids, and the back office staff all make me and the KATTRAX GROUP feel right at home.  The Elysees Regencia has been a favorite for at least 8 years.

We were picked up by our private bus and taken to Babylone Bis, a French West Indian restaurant for dinner, a regular since 1994.    It was good to see Chis and the Babylone family and as usual the food and service never disappoints.  I noticed they now have 3 of my photos on their walls of fame, right along with Snoop, Marvin Gaye, Sean Paul and other celebrities.

The following morning is always a great kick off with Ricki Stevenson’s Black Paris Tour. Kattrax does it by private bus.  This year we had the pleasure of being guided by one of her very knowledgeable assistants, Miguel.  The group learned historical facts directly related to our heritage. After a delightful lunch in Neuilly-sur-Seine, they paid a visit to the Black Madonna. All in all it was a wonderful morning and afternoon.

Friday is always a full day and night.  Our music scene would be at JAZZ CLUB ETOILE located in the lovely HOTEL MERIDIEN ETOILE.  The evening performance was Rossitza Milevska, who hails from Bulgaria and is one of the best jazz harp players in the world today.  She was teamed up with KRISTEL ADAMS.  I cannot say enough good things about this sista songstress who resides in Marseille.  Her mother is Vietnamese and her father West Indian, this young lady who was one of the early contestants  on THE VOICE, performed soul, jazz and gospel  in 10 languages and knocked it out of the box.  She has an unbelievable range and believe it or not, an uncanny resemblance to Whitney.  We all loved the performance.  This classy club has been around since 1975 and it’s been my favorite since ‘83 when it was called The Lionel Hampton Jazz Club.  It’s since been totally renovated. The sound system has always been outstanding and the cocktails and food remain to be on point.  When planning a year in advance, we never know what music will be available until a month, sometimes 2 weeks before we arrive.  Robin Bates and myself always strive to be able to offer something “soulful” and this night was magical.

Saturday and Sunday are leisure days.  Some take off to experience London, Amsterdam and Versailles on their own.  Our program resumes on Monday and I just might blog again.  Whether or not I blog then, you can expect VIETNAM when we take off the first week in April.

Chillin’ At The Beach to Chilling Slavery Thoughts in Stone Town

This morning I was determined to have breakfast at the Jetty. So I  set my alarm for 8am and made my way.   It’s located at the tip end of the Jetty.   It’s quaint, very intimate and yes, it is the Kat’s Meow.  Yes, serve me.  I detest buffets.   I practically had the place to myself until Katrina and Phil joined me.  It was such a beautiful setting and there was no rush to leave.  I’m sure we were there a couple of hours; just chillin’.

This afternoon the group was set for the Stone Town tour.  Stone Town is the older part of Zanzibar City. One of the highlights but quite sobering and chilling is the site of the former slave market which where later the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church was built. Built on the location of the whipping post from the island’s largest slave market.  The Church was built by the third Bishop of Zanzibar and famous abolitionist, Edward Steere. Steere is buried behind the main altar, as he died a few weeks prior to its completion.  The grounds also hosts one of the most famous Slave Monuments in the entire world.

Zanzibar was one of the largest Slave ports in the vast Indian Ocean Slave trade, which was dominated by Arab slave traders.  Although best known today as an island paradise, there are many reminders of Zanzibar’s dark history in the slave trade around Stone Town and across the island.

The slaves were shipped here in boats from the mainland, crammed so tightly that many fell ill and died or were thrown overboard.  Dozens of slaves including women and children were imprisoned for days in crowded cellars with little air, no food or toilets.

We walked through the maze of alleyways, seeing the sights, smelling the scents of the  market; and soaking up the local color while  enjoying the education but now most were ready to make our way to JAFFERJI HOUSE ROOFTOP RESTAURANT.  Our guide cautioned us it was 4 flights of stairs.  Well I don’t know about his counting but it was more like 9 flights. Heck, he had already walked us 5 miles through the town; another extra few  flights of stairs wasn’t going to make a difference.

The Island of Zanzibar

We said goodbye to Serena and the Serengeti today.  One final game drive en route to the airstrip for our flight to Zanzibar.  It was a 2 hour flight to the tiny island 50 km off the coast of the mainland. It’s a Muslim country,  in the Indian Ocean.  We flew over the Ngorongoro Crater on our way.  What an awesome sight to behold from the air.  After arriving, once situated with our ground handlers, we had an hour drive to the MELIA ZANZIBAR.  Once Goldie got management straight and everyone settled in their rooms; it was all good.

The Melia is an all inclusive luxury resort on an amazing beach of white sands. Its 5 restaurants serve local and international specialties.  Our first night, some dined at the pool bar while others dined at the Spice Market Restaurant. In a word, the dining experience was amazing as was the Entertainment that followed with the Masai warriors doing their thing.  I anxiously anticipate what’s in store for us tomorrow on our STONE TOWN TOUR. Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main city of Zanzibar in Tanzania.  Stay tuned!

The Serengeti…

Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life  –  Michael Palin –    My friends, we cannot safely travel now but just think of all the lovely  memories we have.

The SERENGETI;  Yet another name from my childhood that I thought was fictional only to grow up and discover it was a real destination.  Words mainly garnered from my beloved Amos “N” Andy episodes, like The Zambezi River and Lake Titicaca.  At any rate, here I am on the Serengeti  and enjoying my pleasant surroundings.

We had an 8am  flight from the Arusha airstrip which was a mere 5 mins from our Lodge.  Now we were faced with the moment of truth.  Would we all weigh in with our luggage being less than 33 lbs?  Yaay!  We made it and these guys were serious about weighing each bag.  They split us up into 2 groups with 13 on one charter and 6 on the other. This flight would only be 60 minutes and I was fast asleep shortly after take off.

After arriving at the Seronera Airstrip,  our 3 vehicles and Rangers were waiting for us.  The Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge was 27 km away and the plan was to do a game drive en route.  Nice!  By the time we reached the Lodge, they had already  seen 3 of the BIG FIVE – Elephant, Lion, and the very elusive Leopard.  Upon arrival at the Lodge we were greeted by drummers, dancers and flutes of champagne and glasses of orange juice and refreshing cold towels.

There would be another drive before dinner.  I passed on the game drive and made my way to the massage tent and enjoyed the African Footprint Ceremony.  This is just what Dr. Kat ordered for her tired legs and feet.  What a special treatment to soften, cool and hydrate.  The masseuse did her thing so well I scheduled the same treatment for the next 2 days.

It’s dinner time now.  I can hear the drummers beating  and the dancers making their calls.  Until next time…

The Black Madonna and a Visit to Josephine Baker’s Mansion

The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna

One of the nuns

One of the nuns

Going to La Chapelle

Going to La Chapelle

Religious Order

Religious Order

Kat at the Mansion

Kat at the Mansion

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Sprawling Grounds

The Sprawling Grounds

Outdoor Bandstand

Outdoor Bandstand

Chicquita's Cage

Chicquita’s Cage

The Aviary

The Aviary

The Restored Foyer

The Restored Foyer

Restored Staircase -- 4 Floors

Restored Staircase — 4 Floors

Indoor Fountain

Indoor Fountain

Part of Living Room

Part of Living Room

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Face Basin/Counter

Face Basin/Counter

BLACK PARIS –  UPCOMING NEXT YEAR APRIL 21-28, 2022.  Covid-19 has dealt the travel industry blow after blow causing us to postpone various tours where we could.  The song that comes to mind is: THAT’S LIFE –  That’s what people say, you’re riding high in April, shot down in May…I’ve been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing, each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race….
We have limited space for next year so inbox me at rivoli98@yahoo.com if you are interested.  In the meantime, take a stroll with me through Black Paris.  The following blog goes back a few years.

Today was my off day but some members in our week 3 tour spent the morning and afternoon with Ricki Stevenson of Black Paris Tours so of course,  after Robin and I have spent 7 years taking guests 5 hrs by train from Paris to  the Chateau in Sarlat, where Ms Baker raised  her Rainbow Tribe, I was anxious and excited to see what her mansion was like –a mere 20 minutes from Paris.

We were picked up at the hotel at 10 am  where we were joined by 6 of Ricki’s guests including the infamous Randy Garrett of the famed “Randy and Jays Barbeque ” which became “Randy’s Rib Joint” and both were  tres popular Paris eating spots back  in the day. Lord knows I spent many a night hanging out eating and drinking good at his place in the early 80’s.  We had Hotlanta, Harlem, Miami, and  of course our west coast aggregation in the house.  A very cool group that was formed impromptu.

We had to hurry  to  the first stop because we needed to arrive before Mass began.  We visited the black Madonna. It was an awesome experience to be there on this  Palm Sunday.  The chapel had already begun to fill up when we arrived. We were all solemn and respectful as some sat, some stood, some prayed and others snapped photos.  Afterwards some got candles, palm leaves and received a blessing from the Priest.

Soon we were on our way to the Marche’ in Neuilly where shoppers had a great time browsing and buying. There were fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables on one side and on the other everything from beautiful cashmere sweaters to tiny leather skirts to shoes, beautiful, soft leather handbags and other lovely accessories.

Lunch would be 2 blocks away at a quaint Swiss-themed restaurant, Le Chalet. My choice was swordfish with steamed veggies while others had steak, fries and sipped red wine. Lunch conversations were animated amongst the newly formed acquaintances; mainly travel related including hearing Randy talk about his travels across the Sahara Desert and more recently Madagascar. Randy has been living in Paris since ’72. He has seen folks come and go in the Black Paris community and he’s always down for the talk. He is quite a colorful character.

After lunch we boarded our bus to Le Vesinet to visit Le Beau Chene, Josephine Baker’s Mansion. She was 19 when she arrived in Paris and by the time she was 23 she had purchased this magnificent mansion where she would entertain heads of state, President Charles de Gaulle and numerous celebrities and entertainers.

The current owner, Phillipe Beaudry, an engaging, soft spoken gentleman, met us inside the gates, gave us a tour of the grounds, passing what was once the stables, fountains and ponds, the open bandstand where bands and orchestras would perform for her guests, the aviary for her exotic birds, her greenhouse and the huge cage where she kept her pet Cheetah, Chiquita. Imagine this beautiful, rich, black woman strolling the boulevard with her pet cheetah.

Finally we entered the mansion which was built in 1891, and listened to Phillipe tell us what prompted him to purchase the mansion and commit to the very costly undertaking of renovating; first beginning with the electrical and water system, then replacing floors, bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, etc. we actually thought we would only see the library and a salon, however, we were treated to the viewing of at least 8 rooms including her bedroom and a bathroom with a 2.5 ft deep stainless steel bathtub —–incredible.

This was a most interesting and very full day; my day off, however, I was looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Le Speakeasy along with some Chicago blues. It was quite an enjoyable evening but I can’t stay anywhere very long so by 1130pm Kat St Thomas called it a night.

Amazing Amalfi Coast

image

Our drivers Sergio and Ivo met 60 of us at the ship with 4 vehicles and we were soon on our way.  DeeDee and Nikki had been jokingly inquiring about Guido once we hit Italy so they were surprised when I asked Ivo where Guido and Carmine were.  Lol  yes real life mafia names.  Wait til they meet  Mauritzio in Rome, a true Godfather.  I’ve been blessed with the best connections wherever I go in the world and I tell you my Italian family really takes excellent care of me and my groups.  As we passed Mt Vesuvius and made our way to Positano, it became evident to all that the views of one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world were more than breathtaking   When I stepped into La Tagliata Restaurant, I was blown away with the setup of the dining room.  Pepe, who runs the restaurant is the son of Dora the master chef.  He greeted me with nothing but love.  I have been bringing groups here for the last 7 years and he assured me, this group was in for a treat.  We were served so many courses I lost count— from the anti pasta to the platters of desserts.  I might add that  red wine, white wine and bottled water were free flowing.  After our bountiful meal, the hired  vocalist treated us to her repertoire of Italian standards and got our participation in Volare and Tbats Amore’. Oh and she passed out plenty of tambourines and things. It appeared everyone was having a great time.  Befiore it was over, Chef Dora (Mama Mia is what I call her) came out waving her linen napkin and to say Grazie!  To all.  Shortly thereafter, 54 were on their way to Pompeii while me and my 5 were headed  back to the ship.

We had 8p dinner reservations at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and man was it a feast.   I highly recommend this Specialty Restaurant.  The 6 of us chose to share: 4 appetizers, 5 mains, 4 sides and a few desserts for a mere $15pp.  Unfreakinbelievable !   Yvonne and I had to rush to our rooms to change and get a blanket then down 1 level to the IMAX theater b/c we had a date with Denzel Washington.  OMG! Our brotha played his part. My friends, MAGNIFICENT 7  is off the richter.

 

 

 

It’s All About The Cruisin’

My friends, it’s been a rough 10 months for all of us; trying to avoid COVID-19, dealing with the shortcomings of our government, the unbelievable turn of events at our capitol January 6th  and then on top of that there’s always someone to test you  and what you stand for in the midst of this horrible pandemic.  For all these things, all we can do is pray for guidance and protection. I’m thankful for so many things especially the ability to reach back and revisit the precious memories we’ve all shared together.   Water relaxes me and soothes my inner self.  Take a trip with me to when we sailed the Western Med in 2016,  sailing out of the beautiful city of BARCELONA.

We had an 11am photo shoot and it was not an easy task getting 97 together in order to capture my vision. Some did not make it on time, too much party last night.  Big up to Gail Jackson Brooks for her expertise in photography and the unknown middle school teacher sent from above that said, “What do you need”? I can get folks organized for you”.. I could not have been more proud with the group turning out with my suggested color coordination. There were several groups running around this big beautiful ship  with their tee shirts on but NONE could compare to the way The Sophisticated Ladies and Gents were shining, truly sophisticated.  Yes, they had it going on.

Briana Moore was instrumental in arranging the bid whist games in the Library.  Ray Mosely, Jo Ann Barbosa, Debra Taylor Johnson, Patricia Nicholson got the Boston Tea Party off to a great start with yours truly just filling in where needed.  You know I aint bidding unless I have a road map in my hand.

I enjoyed lunch at the SEAFOOD SHACK on the back of the ship with 3 lovelies: daughter DeeDee, Nikki Britto and my Road Dawg of 20 years, my fellow foodie,  the incomparable Robbie Bell of Miami.  DeeDee and Nikki raved so about the Lobster Roll; we just had to sample.  The crab cake sliders and the clam chowder was on hit.  And I later found out from Mama Yvonne that the oysters on the half shell were pretty darn good as well.

Some 8 hrs later we all dressed to impress for The Vista’s ELEGANT NIGHT.  Everyone looked like they stepped out of VOGUE and GQ.  The dinner menu did not disappoint with Maine Lobster Tail, huge tender cuts of Prime Rib, Fried Oysters, Caesar Salad, Cream of Mushroom soup, etc.  When the waiters did their dance, they had some of the sexiest moves I’ve ever seen coming from waiters.  They were like Chippendale dancers — real hot stuff.

Tomorrow, we dock in Palermo, port city of Sicily —-home of the Godfather.  I will stay on board… Been there, done that, don’t have to do it again.  However, the newbies are anxious.  Stay tuned!

Abu Dhabi- Great Mosque, Emirates Palace, Ferrari World

At Mosque Entrance

At Mosque Entrance

Kat, Ready For The Mosque

Kat, Ready For The Mosque

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Sakari, Getting Accustomed to the Finer Things

Sakari, Getting Accustomed to the Finer Things

Gold Flakes on Baked Delights

Gold Flakes on Baked Delights

Jewels at the Palace

Jewels at the Palace

It's a Family Affair at the Palace

It’s a Family Affair at the Palace

4 Million Dollars worth of  McLarens  at the Palace

4 Million Dollars worth of McLarens at the Palace

Last Stop - Ferrari World. Then back To Our World at the 5 Star Kempinski,  in Dubai

Last Stop – Ferrari World. Then back To Our World at the 5 Star Kempinski, in Dubai

Monday evening was our sunset dinner cruise around the Dubai Creek. It was a nice evening for enjoying the company of those in the group that we had not gotten to chat with. This was another great group that has come together from all parts of the United States. The chefs on the boat are Swiss trained and the food preparation did not disappoint. Tuesday was a leisure day so everybody just did their own thing —- shopping, spa treatments, hangin out in the cabanas poolside or enjoying high teas.

Wednesday was a very full day. We were dressed appropriately for our visit to the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which is a 2 hr ride from Dubai. The Mosque is amazing, from the architecture to the interior. This year the $110 lunch at Emirates Palace was included and we made the Desert Safari optional. That was sweet! The Emirates Palace is the most expensively built hotel in the world. The Sheik didnt like it for his place of residence when built, so hotel it became! This is one of the places one can purchase the 24K gold cappuccino. Aside from their signature drink, gold flakes and shavings are used in many of the bakery delights there.

Lunch was quite a spread! The lamb chops, potato leek soup, cannelloni, potatoes au gratin, crab, cocktail shrimp, and sashimi were my favorites. Sakari did just fine in a high chair nibbling from mom and dad’s plates and saying hello to those passing by. After lunch, we strolled leisurely through this opulent hotel, passing the Gold to Go ATM, and admiring the exquisite jewels in cases valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just outside the entrance, the expensive vehicles were lining up….What a show! Upon leaving Abu Dhabi, we made a pit stop at Ferrari World where some purchased souvenirs and others got their Starbucks fixes.