Loch Lomond in fog and rain

Loch Lomond in fog and rain (c) 2023 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

It was the morning of the last full day of our Backroads walking tour of Scotland. Instead of waking up to blue skies and puffy white clouds, the morning was grey and dreary. Fog shrouded the views, and a light rain was falling. But that's not necessarily a bad thing for a photographer. We dread clear blue skies, while fog offers the potential of amazing photographic opportunities.

We boarded the boat that been arranged for a morning cruise on the Loch. Standard photographic techniques — compose, focus, shoot — did not yield interesting images, so I experimented. Long exposures of 1/8 or 1/4 second smoothed out the water in the foreground while the background remained sharp ... better! And then I thought of the lowly iPhone 10S in my pocket and using "time exposure" to blur the photographs. I gave it a try and what that resulted.

I'm calling it "Loch Lomond in fog and rain," and this abstract image perfectly captures the story of our cruise this morning. Hiking three miles in a light drizzle is not the most comfortable walk, but thanks to this image, I'll always treasure the memory of this morning's walk on the West Highland Way.

copyright (c) 2023 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.


live from Montreal, it's Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen mural on Crescent Street (c) 2023 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

The coolest thing about my room at the Four Seasons Montreal is the view from the window. It looks straight out across Crescent Street onto the Leonard Cohen mural. Cohen was the composer of "Hallelujah," a song made all the more genuine because it finds a way to praise to God in the light of life's darkness. King David, the subject of the hymn/song, falls into human temptation, yet finds the grace to sing a Hallelujah in a minor key.

You should, by all means, watch Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen — a Journey, a Song on Apple TV+. A biographical tribute to his life, the film portrays his genius, his struggles, and his music. I found it quite moving.

We arrived this afternoon in Montreal, and we are looking forward to a walking tour of the old city tomorrow morning. The streets around our hotel are lined with all sorts of interesting restaurants — so many places to eat, so little time! The photo above should give you a sense of the character of the neighborhood. Stay tuned for more from Montreal.

copyright (c) 2023 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.


downtown New York sights

the Oculus and Liberty Tower (c) 2023 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Downtown Manhattan is distinctly different from uptown or midtown. During my previous stays in NYC, I've (mostly) stayed at hotels in midtown — the vicinity of 59th Street (Central Park South) — and the Upper East Side. These parts of New York feature world class museums (the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the American Museum of Natural History), high end shopping on Madison and Fifth Avenue, and of course Central Park, one of the world's greatest urban parks.

East River bridges (c) 2023 by David Ourisman
Downtown has a different character. It's a mixture of old buildings, new skyscrapers, and ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Greenwich Village. We are staying at Four Seasons New York Downtown, a hotel so close to the Oculus that I am looking at it through my desk window as I write this article. And just a half mile to the east is the historic South Street Seaport where I walked at lunchtime, grabbed a slice of pizza, and snapped this photo of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Where to stay downtown? We are enjoying our Oculus Suite at the Four Seasons (to which we were graciously upgraded) and are going to do a site inspection tomorrow afternoon at the new Ritz Carlton NoMad. And there are plenty of other choices including The Greenwich Hotel, an intimate downtown boutique property owned by famed actor (and new papa) Robert De Niro, another favorite of my clients.

Next trip to New York, consider staying downtown!

copyright (c) 2023 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.



Fine Hotels & Resorts | worth $695 a year?

if you want more than a FHR continental breakfast...

There may be good reasons to spend $695 a year for an American Express Platinum Card. In fact, I have one myself. It gets me into Centurion and Delta airport lounges, provides a monthly Uber credit (that I use for Uber Eats), and pays my Sirius XM and CLEAR membership fees.

But what about booking hotels through FHR? You definitely have better choices than American Express when you want to book a luxury hotel. Here's why...

Looking for hotel advice? Don't look to the American Express call center for expertise. They're not set up to know you personally, understand your preferences, or steer you to the perfect hotel for you. Say you're going to Paris. Do you want to stay on the Left Bank, the Right Bank, or don't know the difference? Do you want a traditional Parisian palace hotel or an elegant contemporary hotel? Do you prefer a large hotel with dining choices? Or a cute boutique hotel? I've been to Paris dozens of times. I've visited the hotels, seen their locations, experienced their lobbies and viewed their rooms. I've shared that knowledge with my Team. We can listen to your Parisian dreams and make recommendations for your perfect stay in Paris. The random AMEX agent isn't set up to do any of that!

Want to get upgraded? American Express can offer upgrades upon arrival subject to availability. Because of Virtuoso and our exclusive relationships with luxury hotel partners, we can get you upgraded at booking at eight different Parisian hotels! Because we are Four Seasons Preferred Partner, your booking is at the top of the upgrade list at the George V (or any Four Seasons in the world), ahead of FHR and Virtuoso bookings.

Want more than a continental breakfast? American Express has a standard continental breakfast amenity ... but what if you want more than a croissant and a coffee? Would you like to order anything on the menu or enjoy the indulgent luxury of in-room dining? Many Virtuoso hotels offer daily complimentary Full Breakfasts. In fact, one of our hotel partners invites you to order anything you want on the menu (except alcohol and caviar), enjoy your breakfast in any venue (restaurant or in-room dining), and they even cover the tax and gratuity.

Want to be welcomed like a VIP? Once an American Express agent makes your booking, her job is done. But we've only begun to work our magic. We have invested many years getting to know hotel reps all around the world, and we personally reach out to our representatives every time we make a booking for you. We let them know you're coming, who's traveling with you, your special preferences, and your arrival time (if you've shared that information with us), and we personally ask for an upgrade.

Need a 4 p.m. late check-out? While this is FHR's contracted amenity with each of their hotels, if you really need that late check-out, we will reach out to our representative and ask if they would extend it to a Virtuoso or Preferred Partner booking. If they can not, we can still make your FHR booking for you through Amex ... and follow through to personally VIP your stay.

copyright (c) 2023 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.


Beverly Wilshire | beautiful new room product

"old" room product at the Beverly Wilshire

about-to-be unveiled renovated room product

I have just spent two nights enjoying the hospitality of The Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel. The hotel has always occupied one of the most prestigious locations possible, at the intersection of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Beverly Hills's most upscale shopping areas. We walked up and down Rodeo Drive yesterday, enjoying store windows from the world's most renowned fashion brands.

Our two nights were spent in an upgraded Beverly Suite overlooking the hotel's swimming pool, a quiet location with no street noise. Our suite is spacious and comfortable with two full bathrooms, the bedroom and living room being separated by closing doors. As the living room has a queen-sized sofa bed, this accommodation would be perfect either for a couple (as you can work without disturbing your sleeping partner) or a family (your kids will have their own bed and full bath).

This new renovated room product will be introduced (probably) in January, 2022. With this dramatically improved look, the Beverly Wilshire leaps to the front of hotels to be considered if you wish to stay in the heart of Beverly Hills. Be sure to book through a Four Seasons Preferred Partner for exclusive value added amenities (even better than Virtuoso or American Express). Sorry, I'm not allowed to list them on a public website, but email us for the full details. Preferred Partner rates are identical to what you can find on the Four Seasons website.

copyright (c) 2021 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.


traveling to the US? | easy Covid testing


I recently flew back to the US from Zurich. Before leaving for our trip, we ordered a two-test kit from e.med.com. I packed the two kits in my suitcase and downloaded the NAVICA app to our iPhones. When we were within 72 hours of our return home, we were tested from the convenience of our hotel room at Park Hyatt Zurich.

Easy and convenient, there was no need to locate an approved pharmacy that could perform the test, and the cost was significantly lower than having our hotel make the arrangements. Here's how it worked:

(1) While still in the US, we ordered a two-test kit and installed the NAVICA app on our phones. I set up our Navica accounts with usernames and passwords for Claire and me.

(2) The package made it clear: do NOT open the test kit until you're online with your certified emed guide.

(3) When we were ready to do the test, I sat in front of my MacBook. All you need is a computer, iPad, or phone with working camera and internet connection.

(4) I surfed to emed.com and logged in to begin the test.

(5) Once our certified guide came online (it was only a couple of minutes), they gave us clear step-by-step instructions. We were asked to place the unopened test kit on a flat surface in view of the video camera (to verify the integrity of the unopened kit). Then holding the QR code on the box up to the camera, the guide scanned it, then watched as we opened the box, removed the testing swab from its packaging, swirled it inside each nostril, inserted it in the test kit, put a few drops of the provided reagent onto the kit, and finally left everything in place for 15 minutes. Everything was done in view of the camera.

(6) After the 15 minute wait, another guide came online to examine the test result. It was posted to the NAVICA app in about 10 minutes, and we also received an email with the certified test results. We uploaded our negative tests to the travel ready section of our United app. They were approved, and we were all set to fly home

The entire process took less than 30 minutes per passenger. It could not have been easier! 

copyright (c) 2021 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.


is river cruising for you?

cruising in Cachem (c) 2021 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

We've just returned from a river cruise on the Rhine and Moselle rivers. This being the first European river cruise we've ever taken, Claire and I have been reflecting on the experience. Here are my takeaways.

1. Why we chose Tauck, not Viking... Everyone knows about Viking river cruises as they advertise extensively. If you watched Downton Abbey, you've seen their television commercials and marveled at the shots from the air of cruise boats rounding scenic river curves beneath picturesque castles. Viking offers a fine product, but I feel Tauck's is better. Two reasons:

a) larger cabins and fewer passengers — Riverboats are all the same size (135m long), but Tauck has larger rooms and the fewest passengers onboard of any river cruise company (130 on Tauck vs. 190 on Viking). The standard double Tauck cabin is 225 square feet while Viking's standard stateroom is just 160 sq ft. The extra living space is a definite plus.

b) truly all-inclusive — Virtually everything is included in Tauck's fare: three full meals a day (and great food, btw); all your cocktails, wine, and beer any time of day; every available shore excursion; and all gratuities. The only things you'll ever pay for are laundry services, items purchased from the gift shop, and spa treatments (and the spa receipt reminded us that the gratuity had already been taken care of). Viking, by comparison, does not include gratuities. You'll pay for cocktails ... and for wine and beer not consumed at lunch or dinner. You'll also have to pay for tours other than the one included choice in each port.

sun dappled hills in Bacharach (c) 2021 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

2. What's a Tauck river cruise like? River cruises combine the best of land tours and ocean cruises. 

a) Like an ocean cruise, the best thing is packing and unpacking just once. Once settled into our amazingly well designed cabin, we put our hanging clothes in the closet, our folded clothes in drawers, our toiletries in the bathroom, and our empty suitcases under the bed, and we were all set for the next 15 days and 14 nights. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Compass Rose (the main dining room) and could get snacks day and night from the bar or the smaller lounge at the front of the boat. As previously mentioned, all beverages are complimentary — even cocktails. Wines for dinner were well curated, and every evening the maitre d' would discuss that evening's wine selections.

b) Like a land tour, you'll never have to worry about logistics. There were multiple options for land tours every day in port, and all options were included. Some guests had even requested a special tour to some World War 2 sites, and Tauck arranged those tours on a complimentary basis. Another Tauck bonus: you won't be crowded onto a bus filled to capacity. There were just 48 passengers on board, and though we all could have fit into a single bus, at least two busses were always provided to accommodate us.

3. What did I learn about river cruising? 

a) You don't have to go with the program or stick with the group. There may be days when you'll want to take Tauck's bus into town but, instead of joining the walking tour, pursue your independent interests. If there is a notable art or historical museum, go there and spend as much time as you'd like. If there's a famous cathedral or picturesque church, visit it on your own. Especially if you're in town on a Sunday, find out in advance the hours that you can visit as a tourist or attend mass. Bottom line: you can follow your own travel dreams, even on a river cruise.

b) Take advantage of opportunities for bike rides. Tauck provides e-bikes for its guests, so I signed up for a 20 mile ride along the Moselle River. It was a beautiful day, and we rode on a paved lane reserved just for bikes and pedestrians. Stopping along the way, our guide told us stories about the castles perched high above the river (see the photo above). Tauck also treated us to a coffee and pastry stop in the middle of the ride ... and some wine tasting at the end while we waited for the boat to catch up to us.

c) Choose a river cruise with an appropriate activity level to accommodate your needs. Consult with your travel advisor to find the right cruise for you. Are you fit? Do you enjoy strenuous activity? If so, you won't be satisfied with cruises that offer "low" activity excursions. Conversely, "mellow yellows" will be unhappy if the choices involve a lot of walking and changes of elevation.

d) Spend several pre-nights in your destination before boarding the cruise. This will give you a chance to adjust to the new time zone and experience more of the first city on your itinerary. It also eliminates the worry of missing your cruise departure if your flight is late.

Happy river cruising!

copyright (c) 2021 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member.