10.11.2018

British Airways | you've got to be kidding...




You've got to be very careful when airlines send an email informing you of a flight irregularity for an upcoming flight.

We were scheduled to fly home from London to Oakland today on BA's Gatwick-to-OAK non-stop. Unfortunately, British Airways decided to abandon that route a week early.

What's wrong with the new flight details? Notice the word "Traveller" to the right of the new flight number? This refers to BA's economy class. We were booked on Avios award tickets in business class. There being no business seats left, or even premium economy, their computer rebooking system assumed we'd be happy with two economy seats instead. Not! Imagine how I would have felt to have arrived at Heathrow this morning only to learn that we had been double-downgraded from lie-flat business class comfort to the torture of too-narrow, too-tight seats in coach.

When I phoned British Airways to make alternate arrangements, I was quite impressed at how unhelpful I found the telephone agent to be. There were no available business class seats on LHW-SFO nonstops that day. He first offered me connecting flights through Phoenix, with a 5 hour layover before a flight back to the Bay Area. Declined.

He offered a non-stop to San Jose, California, arriving 5:40 pm. No thank you; not exactly interested in taking an Uber to Berkeley during the height of rush hour.

I proposed that BA put us on the BA code-share through Dublin. He couldn't (or wouldn't) rebook us on Aer Lingus metal.

Would he rebook us on a Virgin non-stop to SFO? No.

Would he rebook us in Norwegian Premium Class to OAK? No.

The ultimate solution — I chose to delay my return by a day, flying the SFO non-stop in Club World on Friday instead of Thursday.


P.S. — We are traveling with a friend who received the same re-booking notice. Did BA put her on an SFO non-stop (economy seats were available)? NO! Their nifty computer system decided her best options would be to fly to Dallas ... with a connecting flight to San Jose (not to San Francisco or Oakland).

BA, you can do better!


ADDENDUM — Although we had paid the fee for early seat selection, the BA agent with whom I spoke yesterday was unable to select seats for us on the upper deck. When I checked in online just now, they were all gone — only possibility were two very center seats in the 2-4-2 seating scheme, the very seats we would have avoided. Poor, poor service, BA.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.

10.09.2018

Victoria & Albert Museum

V&A Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

What to do in Kensington? While I've usually stayed in Mayfair when visiting London, we are spending two nights this visit at The Milestone. Our hotel is right across the street from Kensington Park, and some rooms have a direct view of Kensington Palace, official home of Prince William and Kate Middleton and their brood of young royals. Many visitors enjoy touring the public areas of Kensington Palace and stroll its Gardens. I recommend that you book a priority-access ticket to avoid wasting time standing in queue.

The neighborhood is home to world-class museums. Yesterday we visited the Victoria & Albert Museum, the largest museum in the world devoted to decorative arts and design. With a permanent collection of over two million objects, it's impossible to see everything in one visit. Study the museum's website prior to your visit to determine the exhibits in which you're most interested ... or just wander and follow your eyes. I especially enjoyed the sculpture gallery in the Medieval & Renaissance area of the V&A, as the stunning natural light shows off the marble sculptures to their best advantage. My daughter especially enjoyed V&A's special exhibition of Frida Kahlo's art currently on display.

Pro Tip when visiting the V&A: stay at Egerton House, a Virtuoso hotel literally around the corner from the museum. Among the exclusive Virtuoso amenities we can provide — a pair of member tickets to all current exhibitions. Even though tickets to the Frida Kahlo exhibit were sold out for the day, my daughter was able gain complimentary access thanks to Egerton House's corporate membership.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.

10.07.2018

what to do on Sunday morning in London




While not for everybody (nor apparently for most people, judging by the attendance), here's my advice for anyone seeking the most fabulous experience possible in London on Sunday morning: attend Matins, the service of morning prayer offered daily at 10 a.m. at Westminster Abbey.

My previous visit to Westminster Abbey had been a purely tourist experience. I bought a ticket, queued up to enter the church, and walked through the imposing sanctuary. I was amongst throngs of tourists, observing the soaring gothic arches, the stained glass windows, and memorials to the notables buried there.

Today's experience transcended "my tourist visit" by several orders of magnitude. Claire and I arrived a bit more than 30 minutes early for Matins, the traditional service of morning prayer. We stood with a small number of other worshipers in front of the main gates. The gates were opened at 9:30, and we were welcomed to Westminster Abbey. No admission charged (normally 22£), no tickets needed, we were greeted as worshipers.

Tip: do come 30 minutes early as the early arrivals will be seated in the Choir, adjacent to the Abbey Choir.

The service included a Prelude and a Postlude, both masterfully performed on the Abbey's pipe organ, and a quite moving, contemporary musical setting of Morning Prayer. Several psalms were chanted. We heard an Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 49 and a New Testament Lesson from Luke 12. No homily, but the lessons were read so meaningfully that the Scriptures were allowed to speak for themselves. And, yes, an Offering was received, one to which I gratefully contributed. And only worshipers are in the Abbey on Sunday mornings; there's no hubbub of tourists.

Quite distinct from the instinct of many tourists to "do" London (or many other wonderful destinations), we enjoyed a transcendent experience of worship at Westminster Abbey, fulfilling the purpose for which the church was built and continues to serve — as a living congregation of the Anglican Church, a place of worship, reflection, and meditation.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.

10.05.2018

an incredible rare book library

a first edition of Isaac Newton's famous treatise (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

The Bodleian Library at Christ Church College has a collection of some rare and priceless volumes. On our tour today, we were shown this first edition of Sir Isaac Newton's history-changing volume. In it, Newton posits his laws of motion and of the universal gravitational force.

Sitting right next to Newton's work on physics was a first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, a volume that documented his observations of how species adapt to their environments. And on the same table was a personal Bible owned by Queen Elizabeth I, a handwritten copy of the Book of Psalms written nearly 1,000 years ago, and an illuminated manuscript.

During our short visit in Oxford, we also saw
  • the Dining Room where students and faculty at Christ Church College take three meals a day, a room instantly recognizable by fans of the Harry Potter movies
  • a plaque at Christ Church Cathedral commemorating the ordinations of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Movement, both of whom were ordained in that cathedral

And then we finished the day with a tour of Blenheim Palace, a fabulous English Baroque palace patterned after Versailles. Blenheim Palace was a place important in the life of Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He was born in the palace, and it was there that he proposed to his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. A most incredible conclusion to our visit to the Cotswolds.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.

10.04.2018

Father Brown's church (in Blockley)

St Peter & St Paul Church in Blockley (c) 2018 by David Ourisman all rights reserved 

I will always remember yesterday's tour. Our guide drove us all through the Cotswolds, visiting so many cute towns and villages and seeing so many picturesque landscapes. It didn't hurt that the weather was perfect. In the afternoon, the sun even poked through the clouds, illuminating the golden stone buildings everywhere we went.

We are fans of Father Brown, the BBC series based in the fictitious village of Kembleford. Though scenes were shot throughout the Cotswolds, the village of Blockley contains the actual church where Father Brown was filmed. Based on the short stories of G.K. Chesterton about crime-solving Catholic priest Father Brown, the actual church featured in the television series is St Peter and St Paul Church, the Anglican church in Blockley.

It was fun being inside the church recognizing the sanctuary and the pews where some of the TV show's scenes were shot, as well as viewing the church's familiar cemetery. We entered through the same door where Father Brown greeted worshipers before worship.

Father Brown can be streamed on Netflix. A thoroughly fun show, each episode features Father Brown solving yet another murder, despite the interference of the bungling local police.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.

10.01.2018

a working sheepdog

Ken and Matt (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

The biggest advantage of having a great guide is the flexibility it affords you. You have the opportunity to change plans on the spot. Alex has been our superb private guide over the past several days whilst visiting Devon. Whilst in the midst of our tour of Dartmoor National Park on Saturday, Alex suggested a change of plans for Sunday. 

Would we be interested in visiting a working sheep farm? One phone call to Ken (pictured above) set things up. Ken is a sheep farmer who is a tenant of the Dartmoor Estate, part of the Duchy of Cornwall. His landlord? The Duke of Cornwall, otherwise known as Charles, Prince of Wales. After checking out of Lympstone Manor on Sunday morning, Alex drove us through the twisting lanes of Dartmoor to Ken's farmstead where we met Ken and his 10 year old border collie Matt. 

Matt was the star of the show. He reminded us so much of our late beloved Australian Shepherd/Border Collie, Lacey. Matt shared Lacey's boundless energy and her outgoing affectionate nature; she made friends with us right away... and herded a field full of sheep almost effortlessly.

Another advantage of a great guide? He knew the best places to have lunch. I can highly recommend both the Rugglestone Inn and the Nobody Inn where we had lunch in traditional inns with lots of locals. Thank you to Alex of Unique Devon Tours and Celebrated Experiences for making all of this possible.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or

9.28.2018

reflections in the baptistery at Salisbury

Salisbury cathedral reflections (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all right reserved

Salisbury Cathedral has long been on my bucket list. One of the world's outstanding examples of Gothic architecture, the cathedral has the tallest church spire in the UK (404 feet), the largest cloister, and one of four existing copies of the Magna Carta.

On entering the cathedral, one's eyes are drawn skyward by the strong vertical lines of the columns and arches. Unlike Westminster Abbey which stations priests throughout the sanctuary who sternly warn tourists not to take photograph, the priest with whom I briefly spoke had a quite friendly demeanor. Photography is permitted, and I was able to capture the composition above — a reflection of the church's arches in the large dove-shaped baptistery inside the entrance.

Along with Winchester Cathedral, yesterday was a day to visit Gothic churches as well as the stone circle at Avebury.

copyright  (c)  2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit our website.