Tuesday, October 2, 2007


A couple of months ago, I received an invitation to attend a spa conference in Paris called Beyond Beauty. The agenda was intriguing; especially considering some of the changes we are anticipating in the year ahead, but I thought that the practicality of attending such a show was out of reach. Before long, I received a call from an agency promoting the show. They told me that we were VIP guests, meaning there would be no charge to attend. This news, coupled with an accumulation of Aeroplan points threatening to expire if not used gave me a reason to casually ask Chef Christopher and Spa Manager Natalie if they would be interested in accompanying David and I to the show. I had also been talking to my friends Dan and Rebecca about a fall trip. That's the short story of how we ended up in front of the Eiffel Tower on Sunday night. I really believe in involving my key staff in decision making. Giving them the tools to participate is one of the joys of my job. For those who are interested in the minutia of our travels, I have kept a dairy of some of the highlights. I am a couple of days behind, uploading this entry from an internet cafe just beyond the gates of the Chateau Versailles, (with a French keyboard - so please excuse my typing mistakes). I will try to catch up in a couple of days: For those who are not interested, feel free to close this window now.

Tuesday Sept 25 - leaving Ste. Anne's; Hitched a ride with a couple of regular spa guests (and good friends) Neil and Belinda. As soon as we're on the 401, all of us, including the driver are absorbed in our PDAs as they start beeping, clicking and ringing. Stress levels start to rise. Approaching downtown Toronto, there are shades of road rage on the DVP as time becomes our unseen combatant. This trip gave me some insight into the stressful lives our clients live when they leave the spa and return to their real lives; Neil seemed so blissfully calm at the spa enjoying his lunch while gazing out over the gardens towards the rolling Northumberland without the interference of technology and time. Once we arrived in the city I took the TTC to the Old Mill where I met up with Dave, Natalie, and Chef. After attending a media event for Ontario's Finest Inns we made our way to the Valhalla Inn where we would stay the night prior to our departure the following day. The Vallhalla is a bit of a throwback to the 60s. I think my parents used to take us there for special occasions when I was a kid. It hasn't changed much, which was comforting in a strange sort of way.

Wednesday September 26 - We got up early only to find ourselves fighting through a traffic jam on the 427 caused by yet another tractor trailer accident. A smooth flight on Air Canada's newly made over 767, complete with a very advanced entertainment system, something that immediately brought back memories of a doomed Swiss Air flight. Our crossing was more fortunate. Thanks to strong tailwinds we arrive ahead of schedule at Heathrow despite leaving half an hour late. The captain brags that we'll reach a cruising speed of 1,000 km per hour! We took the hotel hoppa (£4 per person, about $8.50CDN for a short, 1 km. ride) to the Thistle hotel. Why is it that tourists are given such a rough ride? The Thistle, (who would name a hotel after a prickly weed?) is a typical airport hotel. We arrived to a lobby full of crabby old English people lined up to check in. I followed the lead of the Brits in the line ahead of me and made a fuss so that we could have the room we asked for with two beds. We then then tried to get something to eat, but were told the hotel restaurant was closed. We were referred to a nearby McDonald's, which was also closed except for the drive through. We took our Happy Meals back to the hotel where the manager promptly told us we couldn't eat at a table because he wanted to turn the lights off and go home. Another fuss ensued, after which we were allowed to eat our meals in peace. We returned to our micro sized rooms, which were nice enough except for the hair and black mold in the bathtub. Lights off at midnight so we could get a little shut eye before our 6:40 a.m. connecting flight to Belfast (an Aeroplan rule forces you to take the first flight out, even if it is at an ungodly hour). Aeroplan can be quite annoying in the travel rewards department, always acting as though points have not been paid for, something that I, as a merchant knows simply isn't true. Good night!

Thursday September 27 - It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be getting up at 5 a.m. to make our early morning flight with 2 wake up calls from our friendly night auditor, an automatic alarm on the TV and my cell phone alarm, all working in unison with my full bladder alert. I left David and Natalie in the room at 10 after 5 thinking they would be right behind me. By 5:30, as we were about to miss a second shuttle bus, I started to get a little annoyed. I boarded the bus and paid the fare. Luckily an American tourist tried to buy his tickets with a US $20. The driver made a big fuss about refusing the foreign money, probably aware of the mighty dollar's recent fall from grace. I jumped in, partly as the good Samaritan offering to make change and partly hoping to create enough of a delay for the rest of the party to make it onto the bus. Just as the American and I settled up the stragglers emerged from the hotel looking defiant. It took me while to cool down: I was determined not to be a grump or a control freak on this trip. Getting through Heathrow was a breeze and in no time we were on board our efficient and short British Midland flight to Belfast city airport. This small airport is located in central Belfast. It didn't take long to get our rental car and be on our way to the M1 and Enniskillen. Adjusting to the right hand drive and the round-a-bouts, especially with a standard transmission is always a bit difficult, but once you get the hang of it not a bad way to drive. Before long my passengers were sound asleep - something that always puzzles me. When I first travelled abroad I found myself in awe of everything around me that was so different; the signs, the cars, the architecture and the landscapes. I suppose I was younger and more easily impressed back then. It wasn't difficult finding Enniskillen and the hotel where we had arranged to meet my dad. It was also pretty easy finding his new (old) boat parked along the hotels dock. It was so sweet the way he and his boating chum (Michael) had outfitted the 38 ft. river cruiser with bed linens, towels, even tooth brushes and food. However, I quickly realized that my travelling companions weren't looking forward to spending 3 nights on a boat, no matter how lovingly it had been outfitted, especially with such a lovely hotel, complete with health club and spa just steps away. Still not sure where Carl was, we wondered up to the hotel to get a coffee where we found him anxiously looking for us at the front entrance. After a few hugs and handshakes we sat down in the hotel lounge where we were treated to a spectacular and traditionally Irish view of the Erne waterway, lush green fields and distant mountains. Carl was anxious to share his favourite carvery with us, so we sat down and had an very filling lunch of roast beef, roast ham, potatoes and vegetables. By this point we had discovered that the hotel offered a choice of 2 bedroom chalets along the river as an alternative to rooms in the hotel, most of which were sold out to weekend wedding parties, as we would later discover. I booked a chalet while Natalie and David checked out the spa. We had a short visit at Carl's place - a typical but practical bachelor pad just across the road from the hotel. Carl thought we might want to have a nap, given our early morning start and the time change, not to mention bellies full of protein and carbs, but we thought we'd be better to keep going, and we were anxious to experience more of beautiful Ireland. Our first stop was at Castle Cool where the National Trust offered a well kept property dotted with sheep and a lovely manor house overlooking the grounds. We took a walk around, but weren't able to go through the house as the visiting hours had been shortened for the fall. From there we went to downtown Enniskillen for a walk and some window shopping. Its a fairly typical Irish city with lots of pubs and interesting stores. The people were very friendly and eager to please. More to follow in a couple of days . . .

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