Author Archives: caroline rossi

Museo Sorolla

Tucked in the center of Madrid’s busy and bustling metropolis is the Sorolla Museum. When you think of Madrid, you tend to think of the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, or Reina Sofia. These are the three iconic museums all clustered along a museum avenue that stretches from the post office square down to Atocha Train Station. But if you have a moment of space in Madrid, I cannot recommend enough the tranquility of the beautiful Sorolla Museum.


Joaquín Sorolla is Spain’s great impressionist painter. His colors of terracotta, white, and light blue are seductive. His paintings leave you with a sense of optimism and goodness. His house, which is now the museum, was donated to the state when his widow died. The house remains as it was when Sorolla was alive from his studio, to the dining room, and even the kitchen. Recently, the gardens and water fountain outside were restored as well. They offer a delightful respite from the busy city beyond the wall.


Madrid is the kind of place that needs a museum like this. It is one of those delightful museums that are a little off the beaten path where you can spend a few hours and collect your thoughts away from the cacophony of the Plaza Mayor and Plaza Sant Ana, and the craziness of the Grand Via and the Puerta del Sol. This place offers a breather for tourists and locals alike; a chance to reflect and look back at an age long since gone. I have been several times and each time it feels like I am about to start a yoga session because it is so peaceful and relaxing.


It is easy to get to the museum as well. You can take the Metro to Iglesia (line 1), or if you are adventurous, take the bus. If you are super fit, you can combine it with a walk from the Paseo de la Castellana. For me, I have to admit, I grabbed a cab.

Albania Adventures

I don’t know anybody that has been to Albania except for my crazy Italian friend. I mean, nobody.

Enver Hoxha took care of all of our dreams of traveling to Albania in the early days. By the time Albania became open to tourism in the 1990’s, the Hoxha regime, a pseudo-Stalinist dictatorship, had decimated the entire country. For 50 years after World War II, this place had been closed off to all tourism. Nobody could leave, nobody could enter, there was no free press, state TV, lots of “disappearing factions” and it was pretty much the most frightening place inside of Europe that you can imagine. It made Franco’s Spain look like Club Med!

Imagine this, from the Albanian coast to the beautiful island of Corfu took only 30 minutes on a ferry. Except the ferries did not go. What this guy left was no infrastructure for tourism or anything – no roads, no nothing – and a completely beautiful coast line was so underdeveloped that it makes you want to cry. Imagine what the journey from Montenegro along the coast to Albania could have been. You have to take the inland road to get to the border crossing because there simply was no other way, then hang out for an hour and a half to two hours to exit out of Montenegro and enter into Albania. Both Montenegro and Albania are in the queue for application to the EU. Shame on you England for opting out.

In that moment, when you cross into Albania, you are in another world. We drove to a fairly large town called Shkoder. It was a mix of rundown buildings with satellite dishes hanging off of the edge of balconies. Not the sort of place you would want to hang out in and that is precisely why we carried on.

We followed the main highway heading towards Tirana with a view to test out the coastal road to see if there were any resorts worth reporting back on. The highway was nothing but gas station after gas station interspersed with tacky, palatial casinos and nothing else. We stopped at a highway restaurant and everybody was smoking inside and outside in spite of the ‘No Smoking’ signs. It had this feeling of mafia pasted all over it. The gas station scene was ridiculous. It had to be a front for something else. We headed to the “coastal resort” of Durres. No surprises here. There are several shoddy resorts and the sea did not look safe to dive into. This place needed a serious overhaul and probably some of the money that had gone into the gas stations should have gone into the development of the coastal community here. Alas, the thought of buying a villa on the Albanian coastline quickly subsided in my mind. This place needed time which was a great pity because it has the same beautiful climate as Greece and southern Italy.

Tirana, the capital, came at us very fast. It had been built up quickly after the collapse of the old regime. Our hotel was super glitzy, Las Vegas-style, and it overlooked this very Soviet-style square called Skanderbeg Square named after Albania’s national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti, who was later renamed by the Ottomans, Skanderbeg. He unified the country, defeated the Ottomans, and died in the 15th century, but still they love him! Around these parts, believe me, you cling onto anything after what these guys have been through. In the square there is a beautiful mosque, an orthodox church, and a huge mural dedicated to the Soviet-style revolution. The square reminded me of Red Square or Tiananmen; vast, open, and stark.

I thought that maybe I should come back here in 20 years but for now I just needed a great fish restaurant in the center of town. I found one on TripAdvisor called Il Gusto. It had fabulous food, brilliant service, and frankly it was just about the greatest thing I discovered in Albania. See you in 20 years.

The Great Cruise Ship Dilemma

First confession: I have never taken a cruise. I sort of always have wanted to, but every time I get close, I run out of enthusiasm. Maybe it’s just the thought of all of that food in seven days or the toilets jamming up or being stuck with 5,000 people day after day and night after night. But something always does me in. Recently, on the Montenegro coast, I was in a beautiful town tucked into the fjords called Kotar. It took an eternity to drive into the center and park the car. It wasn’t clear to me why until we got close to the center and I realized that a cruise ship was there, disgorging its travelers on excursions in this tiny town. Then it struck me…that’s why I don’t like cruises!

There must have been 50 sightseeing tours taking place at one time…maybe more. Here’s the church, here’s the piazza, here’s the shops, and on and on and on. This place was not that big and I could feel myself drowning in the guided talk and the crowds following the guides with their paddle boards.

As I sat there eating a rather desperate and dodgy slice of cold pizza, I thought how invasive these cruise ships can be. The bottom line was that the town could not cope with that number of visitors all arriving at the same moment. The cruise ship was almost as big as the town itself. It essentially chokes up the town. In Dubrovnik the night before, they had even installed a traffic signal to control the flow of cruise tourists coming into the beautiful center. A traffic light for people?! The cruise tourists rarely give back to bars and restaurants since all of the meals are free on the ship. Souvenir shops are the only ones that win. It seems a shame that cruise tourism, which is in the ascendant, is like tourism pollution.

For example, in Venice, it’s suffocating the city. While the glass factories may be rubbing their hands, the innocence of regular tourism and mingling with locals, is flying out the window. What is good for the gondolieri is not always good for the city. I spoke to somebody in Kotar who was staying there for a week. They said that they spent most of the daylight hours outside of Kotar and only came back in the evening when the cruise ships had packed up to leave. It’s a strange thing and a strange sight to see a gorgeous coast line with two cruise ships the size of Texas docked. The question really is, should I try a cruise? I’m not feeling terribly inclined at the moment.

Surprises in Split

The last time I was in Croatia was 1987. We had taken a two-week vacation at a hotel north of Dubrovnik which was then bombed out of existence during the Yugoslav Wars. This time I had decided to drive from Sarajevo over a very pretty mountain road, onto a prairie-like plain that stretched for miles, and then down into the city of Split and along the coast.

Split was a fabulous surprise. It was Diocletian’s hometown and as any good Roman emperor would have it, he had a remarkable looking palace built. Situated along what is now a very cool and groovy promenade, it hosts restaurants and bars and at any point in time during a busy evening, musicians gather to perform in the open square.

Split is a lively town with a nightlife that seems to go on forever. The restaurants are very decent and in Croatia, the big dish is the risotto with blank ink squid. In my opinion, it is not quite as good as its Venetian heritage, but given the fact that this entire Dalmatian Coast was once part of the great Venetian empire, it was not that bad either. The white stone streets and the palace are constructed with Dalmatian stone and all hail from the same quarries that gave us St. Mark’s Square.

Croatia was the second country to successfully apply for EU citizenship after Slovenia – and it shows. There are EU dollars in these hills for sure. Split is a port, a beach resort, a party resort, and a historical heritage site.

The delight of the Croatian coast is that it never really faces the open sea but nestles itself in between beautiful islands that are never too far away. We drove to Trogir to take a boat ride to the Blue Lagoon. Trogir has a beautiful main square, lots of shops, and a great clock tower that reminded me of a mini San Marco. The influences of Venice are everywhere here. Another fun excursion from Split is to take a double ferry ride to Korcula. Both ferries are car ferries and it’s a fun way to experience the Adriatic coastline.

Interestingly, Korcula was the apparent starting out point for Marco Polo as he began his journeys to the East. It is a delightful town and on a beautiful day it’s well worth the visit. It’s Marco’s town after all! Every traveler should tred in the footsteps of the greatest traveler of all. The drive down towards Dubrovnik reminded me of some of the great drives in the world: Big Sur, the Corniche in the South of France, and the drive down to the tip of Cape Horn from Cape Town. It is simply breathtaking. There are lots of impressive places to stop off – the village of Ston being one place that comes to mind. Lots of signs for wild boar along the road although there is not much evidence of boar in the restaurants!

What we did in one day we could have spent a week doing. Eventually we lost the sun and ended up on a high cliff looking down into the Dubrovnik harbor as a huge cruise ship was getting ready to head out. It looked magical in the evening light and was as a tall as the mountains behind it. But cruise ships take their toll and that is another story.

A Day Trip to Mostar

If you are planning on doing a day trip from Sarajevo or Split in Croatia, there is really only one place you should think about, Mostar. We were based in Sarajevo for a few days so this was a natural break for our team. We also wanted to visit Tito’s Secret Bunker. Sarajevo to Mostar is around 2.5 hours – from Split it’s a little longer.

Tito’s Bunker

Who would ever guess that hidden in the forest around an hour away from Sarajevo near a town called Konjic, Tito, the former president of former Yugoslavia, was so convinced that the nukes would be flying that he decided to have a nuke-proof bunker made for him. The project started in the early 1950’s and was completed in 1979, one year before Tito’s death. It was built during the height of the Cold War and was designed to essentially withstand a bomb the size of Hiroshima. It ended up not being much good because by the time the bunker had been completed, the technology for nukes had far superseded the impact of the first iteration of nuclear bombs. Still, he was determined and so convinced there was going to be a war that he built a series of tunnels that could not be detected from the air. They were completely off the grid and this was a state secret that only became public knowledge after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. It is still guarded by the Bosnian military although today it is used as an art exhibition center and a fascinating look into a world that no longer exists. It literally is a time capsule. The people that built it almost certainly “disappeared.” In today’s dollars, it would cost around $26 billion. That’s an awful lot of money for an art installation! There was room for 350 people (family, friends, and military advisors) to live and work and enough food storage for six months.

Entering down the 900 feet through the labyrinth is a bizarre experience. Everything is exactly as it was with the old phones and the Telex machine (it looked a little like our office in 1979!), there were pictures of Tito on the wall, and giant refrigeration and heating generators. Even today, you need to have a pass to get in. There is a security officer that controls the flow of tourist traffic (incidentally there is hardly any) and you need a guide to walk you through the tunnels lest you get stuck in there and everybody goes home for the night. This was a trip, literally. Room after room reminded me of a grandiose version of Churchill’s War Rooms. I loved it but I could not wait to leave. I was getting claustrophobic and we still had to get to Mostar. It’s a must see.

The City of Mostar

The journey to Mostar through wine country was beautiful but nothing could quite prepare us for the walk down to the Neretva River. There was the famous bridge, the Stari Most. According to popular legend, the name Mostar actually means ‘bridge keeper.’ The bridge was built under the auspices of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 and replaced an older wooden suspension bridge that was, allegedly, pasted together with egg whites and pins. Anybody that dared to walk over it risked their life. During the Croat-Bosniak War, the bridge sadly became a victim of warfare. As it was such an iconic site in the city, it was reconstructed using the same local stone that the original bridge was based upon. The entire area of the town on both sides of the bridge including the old bazaar was also reconstructed.

The bridge is one of the great sites of the world. Bizarrely, it’s also famous for its diving competitions and the Red Bull diving competition has taken place on this bridge. It’s scary. We had set up an arrangement with the local dive school in Mostar. There is an annual local diving competition held yearly in mid summer where it’s traditional for expert divers to leap off the bridge. It is 60 feet high and the divers dive into a relatively small, deep patch of freezing water where it’s only 12 feet deep. The complication for divers is that it’s cold, it’s high, and you have to shallow dive otherwise it’s bad news. We had organized with one of the divers to show off his expertise and it was quite a breathtaking moment to see this guy in a wetsuit making the jump.

More than 2,000 people lost their lives in the conflict in Mostar. The constant bombardment was one of the most intense outside of Sarajevo during the Yugoslav Wars. Walking through the reconstructed bazaar today is a delightful shopping expedition. There are restaurants that cling to the cliffs with incredible views back across the bridge. One of the most spectacular views of the bridge is from the top of the mosque. But because the stairway is tiny, it can be super claustrophobic. The best thing to do is to have a small person go up and have them take a picture for you if you happen to be A) Claustrophobic or B) taller than 5’10”.

This is a great town to hang out in, shop, take lunch, but if you can overnight here, it’s super cool because literally the daytime tourists spill out. And there are lots of daytime cruise tourists coming in from Split.

Sarajevo’s History and Haunting Beauty

I am not sure why Sarajevo sounds so haunting but it simply has a beautiful lilt to the name. Nestled in a valley, it is one of the most extraordinary places you can imagine. The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the last dominoes to fall in the once powerful Ottoman Empire. Its strong Muslim culture is very much alive and vibrant today. The mix of history in this city is extraordinary, almost overwhelming. Imagine this – the first world war started here on the tiny crossroads in the center of town by the Miljacka River at the end of the Latin Bridge. That was in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated. That was one bad turn! You could say that the first world war begot the second world war and the second world war begot the expansion of the Soviet Union but more importantly, the emergence of Yugoslavia as a country. As the disintegration of the Soviet Union took place, so did the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Then all hell broke loose during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990’s.

Sarajevo, the Olympic city of 1984, became a city under siege from 1992 until 1996. It was the longest siege of any capital city in the history of modern warfare. The siege lasted 1,425 days and about 14,000 people were killed, including over 5,000 civilians. It took the tragedy of the Markale marketplace massacre in 1994 for NATO to become involved and ultimately for the siege of Sarajevo to be ended. This was in 1996 – only 21 years ago. Now Sarajevo is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and is ranked as one of the most popular destinations for tourists in 2017.

We walked by the town hall and library that was destroyed in 1992 by Serbian forces. Most of the important manuscripts and books were burned beyond recognition. Today it has become a monument to regeneration and reconstruction. To walk through the streets of Sarajevo, you are always reminded of the siege. We visited a tunnel by the airport where supplies were secretly shipped into town outside of the Serbian perimeter. It was the only way that the city could maintain its food and ammunition supply. The entire city was literally cut off except for this extraordinary tunnel link that the Serbian forces never found.

We stayed at Hotel Europe, delightfully central and reasonably priced, did an incredible walking tour with a local guide, and visited the old bazaar, Bascarsija. Sarajevo is unique in that in the same neighborhood, you can visit a Catholic cathedral, a mosque, an Orthodox church, and a synagogue. You can hear the call to prayer while walking through the city and listening to the church bells. Essentially, it is the story of the great Ottoman Empire. When you walk through the streets of Sarajevo, you can almost feel the pulse of tragedy, rebirth and the imprint of the centuries that have been left behind.

The Journey to Sarajevo

Sarajevo is a tricky place to fly into from Boston. I arrived at the airport in Boston early for a Lufthansa flight that would take me out across the Atlantic and connect in Munich for a flight to Sarajevo. There aren’t too many other flight options for getting there.

In Boston, Terminal E is jazzing its act up. There is now a Legal Seafoods and a taco place in addition to the awful Durgin Park, which for some reason still occupies a space somewhere in Boston. It’s dreadful! I was sitting at Legal’s quite happily having my clam chowder and tuna sashimi when I started to see my flight falling apart on me. First it was a one hour delay, then a two hour delay.

Lufthansa assured us that all onward connections would be taken care of “when we arrived.” Yeah, right. I quickly checked my phone and could easily see that firstly I was going to misconnect and secondly the nightmare would only just begin and it would take me all day to get to Sarajevo if I was lucky.

What to do?! I had my boarding card and was through security already. Then as an oasis appears in a desert, I saw the magical light of Turkish Airlines in the distance. Turkish Airlines departed for Istanbul at 11:30 pm and then had a straight onward connection to Sarajevo. I called my agent (it’s handy to have someone to guide you through this) and made the shift while inside security in the terminal.

While the Lufthansa flight was finally boarding, I went up to their counter and explained that I was going to be a no-show on their flight. I had my bags with me, they removed me from the manifest, and wished me good luck on my 11 hour transatlantic flight to Istanbul.

I sat down, had another beer, and waited for the Turkish Airlines flight. And what a great flight that was! You can do a lot with 11 hours – two movies, a bite to eat, and five hours of sleep. My kind of transatlantic flight. I’m thinking of flying to London via Istanbul next time!

Istanbul Atatürk Airport

When you come off of a transatlantic flight and have three hours to kill, there are certain airports that make you want to stick around. If you are flying in business and you happen to be transiting through Istanbul Atatürk Airport, head straight to their business class lounge. It is enormous and has every single convenience that you need to while away the time before your onward connection. I even discovered the cinema – yes there is a cinema with comfortable lounge chairs inside of the Turkish Airlines lounge.

I sat down, watched a movie, relaxed, dozed off, set my iPhone for an alarm in case I got into a heavy sleep, grabbed a Turkish coffee (why not?!), and made my way over to my onward connection to Sarajevo. It was just about as smooth as I could imagine. Turkish Airlines is a great airline but more importantly, the lounge knocks the socks off of most air lounges out there. It’s even voted as one of the top 10 airline lounges in the world.

Faroe Islands Part 2: The Adventure

The Faroes have been compared to a grain of sand on a dance floor; impossible to find but a complete world onto itself once it is seen through a looking glass.

I was fortunate enough to travel for a few days in the Faroe Islands and stayed at the Hotel Føroyar in the capital, Tórshavn. It is like no other place I have been to.

This is a land of 50,000 people and 70,000 sheep. There are two sub-sea tunnels, one Michelin Star restaurant in Tórshavn (Koks Restaurant), 62 churches, and one bridge crossing the Atlantic sea. It’s a land of temperate gulf current Atlantic waters, tons of puffin birds, and fabulous cuisine. It has only 840 sunny hours per year and rains most of the time. Stark but beautifully colored houses with grass growing on the rooftops are scattered across the landscape. The grass is used to keep the houses warm in both the winter and the summer!

The Faroe Islands are known for its sheep and its fish. It’s very famous for its knitwear and wool was once the gold of the Faroe Islands. This archipelago also has one of the largest salmon fish farming industries in the world. In fact, much of the farm raised salmon we get in super markets and restaurants come from the Faroes.

The Faroes has its own language although everybody speaks Danish and English. Nothing is open on a Sunday – absolutely nothing including gas stations! The greatest discovery in the whole world on a Sunday in the Faroe Islands is the small but great café, Fríða Kaffihús. Service is a bit challenging but very friendly. But hey, it’s open.

To get around the Faroe Islands, you need to rent a car, which is easy to do. Then each day you can set out to discover one of the 18 islands, most of which are connected to one another by tunnel or bridge. As I drove across the various islands, I started to notice trampolines everywhere. Unofficially, this must be the country with the most trampolines per capita in the world. Not saying that there is not a lot to do there…either that or some sales guy really had away with trampolines. In addition, the Faroese love to play soccer. They have a national team and they have had some big results in the past. Every tiny town dotted around the 18 islands has a decent size stadium. They like to drink beer and the craft beer industry is growing like crazy. As they are part of the EU, the young Faroese have access to the entire world of 26 EU countries to work.

If you plan to visit the Faroe Islands, one suggestion I would make is to break up the different islands. It would be best to travel from Iceland to there and then finish with a few days in Copenhagen. It should also be noted that you can take a ferry from Scotland. But frankly, with the stormy Atlantic seas out there, I would rather fly if only to avoid sea sickness alone!

Faroe Islands Part 1: Getting There is Half the Fun

When I was a kid in the UK, I used to listen to the shipping forecast on the radio late at night. It felt cozy and reassuring when I was tucked in my bed and thinking of all these ships bobbing around in the harsh waters around the northern parts of the UK and beyond. It has become quite a famous institution in fact. At the London Olympics it was played along with Elgar’s Nimrod to denote Britain’s maritime heritage. There were updates of mysterious places like Tyne, Dogger, German Bight, Fair Isle and the Faroe Islands. I had no idea where most of these places were but like most youngsters in the UK, it became part of every Brits upbringing and it still beams out across the air waves today. This summer I decided to go visit one of these places; The Faroes. I had never been and had not much of a clue exactly where it was.

Getting there is not easy. Perched between the Outer Hebrides and the southeast tip of Iceland in the inhospitable waters of the Atlantic ocean, there is no direct service from London or many other European gateways. You can fly quite conveniently from Copenhagen or Reykjavik on SAS or Air Atlantic (the Faroe national carrier). We chose SAS and that was probably our first mistake in trying to get there.

It’s a two hour and 30-minute journey from Copenhagen. The runway at Vágar Airport in the Faroe Islands is small. It was a cloudy day and when we finally arrived, after some delay, the pilot felt encouraged to make his descent. But the cloud cover ultimately was too much for him. As we descended, I felt the surge of the engines as he pulled out of the landing. After circling above for 10 minutes, he informed us he would have to go back to Copenhagen.

Yes, that really did happen.

According to the locals, only travel on Air Atlantic as the Faroe pilots know how to land in cloud cover on a short runway. That was advice I wish I had earlier!

The next day we tried again. The weather was much better and the views were spectacular. As we descended, the archipelago of 18 islands suddenly appeared as we dropped onto what seemed to be a 50 yard runway that is cut into the edge of a steep cliff. We had made it and so the adventure began.

Another Reason to Travel to Canada

I have been thinking a lot about Canada recently. We just opened our trips to Canada for school groups and it has already grown in extraordinary fashion. It seems as though Canada is on everybody’s “Places I’d like to Live” list. The healthcare is good, college is great and practically free, and there’s lots of open space. In addition, it has mountains for skiing on both the east and west coasts and a train service that connects the savvy traveler across the country with arguably one of the best rides in train travel that there is.

So, there’s more good news about Canada. The USA dollar is strong – about 25% more than a Canadian dollar – which also means that Air Canada has started to become an interesting player for international travelers. Air Canada has strengthened its Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver hubs, and have made it easier for USA passengers to transit through. As everybody knows, when you pass through Canada on the way to the USA, then you clear customs in Canada. Given the state of the lines at immigration here in the USA, that is a massive boost so as a connect destination it’s a player.

What else does Air Canada have to offer? In addition to the good service and cheaper prices, since every single air trip that travels between the USA and Europe or Asia has to pass over Canada anyway, the transoceanic part of the journey is cut down. The fleet that Air Canada uses has been refreshed with new Boeing 787s and 777s and it has lie-flat business class seats on every long-haul flight. Consumers are giving them the thumbs up by flying them. Increased passengers gives Air Canada the leverage to open up more flights and more access points into the USA.

So, I guess it’s not just the healthcare, the fabulous education, and the quality of life. In addition, it’s about a transoceanic experience that just got better.

When Your Bag Never Arrives

Word on the street is that airline technology is moving in so that you can track your bag through messaging on your phone. That means that you don’t have to wait for half an hour at a baggage carousel when the airline already knows that your bag is not going to show. A simple alert, and you can head straight to baggage information.

But airlines are moving beyond this and want to eliminate that mess. You know, selecting what your bag looks like on an identity kit picture and filling out a silly form that is filed away (FYI: never lose your bag at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport!). So, this is an improvement. However, airlines get a whopping $4 billion per year in baggage fees. This is another way for them to give you false statistics. If you do not fill out the form and they inform you your bag is missing, you can alert them on where you would like to receive your bag. That means that your bag is not lost or missing but is simply “arriving for your convenience at your home address.” So they look a little more efficient than they are. They still charge you for the baggage fee. All they have done is change the goal post, make our lives a little better, and make themselves look fabulous.

I for one am all for avoiding the dreaded line at baggage services. That’s at least a two-hour killer right there. Frankly, the only reason that you should ever check your bag is if you’re skiing or emigrating.

Get Me to the Front of the Plane

Here’s a confession, I like to travel at the front of the plane.  But guess what, who doesn’t?

We work on getting our points up, we stay on airline routings that are not necessarily optimal, and we do this all so that we can boost our points with one airline.  This way we collect millions of points!  But then usually we squander them on a $200 Amazon gift card.

JetBlue Mint Service

As everyone in the points business knows, you never use your points for small dollar items.  You use your points to get to the front of the plane on long-haul flights and the airlines know this.  The business of flying in business is changing though.  A continental business class roundtrip ticket used to cost $2,600.  With JetBlue and its Mint service, that price drops by $1,000.  Frankly, from a service point of view, JetBlue can easily take on the United’s and American’s of this world.  In fact, they have done so successfully that United and American have been dragged screaming into the lower cost option.  The problem for these guys is that they have high cost infrastructure and nothing to sell except for creaky old planes and cranky staff.  Good luck with that.

Extra Checks at TSA

Given the recent state of events, it’s not surprising that TSA is tightening its grip on the security checks at airports.  There’s not just the possibility that we all may soon have to travel without our computers, but at the screening stage it looks as though we are headed to a process that has us separate the contents of our bags into different bins.  The days of simply removing your liquids and creams into a separate bag may soon be over.  Now there are going to be bins for jackets, belts, shoes, creams, liquids, plus paper and electronics.  If you’re traveling, it probably makes sense to unclutter your bag.  The more stuff that you have floating in that thing, the more likely it is that they will want to look inside it.  That is what will cost you time and hold up the lines.

In addition, TSA is becoming super diligent on the two bag carry-on rule.  I ran into a problem the other day at Logan Airport and had to quickly unzip my main bag and put my man bag inside of the main bag because I had a backpack as well.  Of course, all of this is good as it is all planned to make us safe and secure when we fly.  This always bring me to the question – why don’t more people apply for TSA Precheck or Global Entry?  None of the rules that apply or are shortly to be launched will affect TSA Precheck.

That brings me to the last thing, airlines do a phenomenal job of screening passengers.  Soon they will be able to determine through government issued ID whether you have a reason for them to be suspicious.  Where is Amtrak in all of this?  Take the Acela from Boston to New York or New York to Washington; a well-trafficked route and you wonder why they do not institute an x-ray machine and an ID check before you get onto the train.  It’s not perfect but it seems in this ever security-concerned world that it would make smart dollar sense to invest in something here.

Incidentally, TSA has assured us that the extra security checks they are putting in place will be tested not just for security but also for speed for consumers.  You almost wonder why people that fly on planes are not forced to get global clearance.

A Petition for Better Swimming Pools

When I travel, I like to swim.  It’s easier to carry a pair of goggles and light-weight Speedo than it is to cart a whole bunch of keep-fit stuff in your bag.

So, I have a fairly honed in radar for decent pools.  I even have an app to detect swimming pools in Paris and I know all the great pools in London.  I swim in the sea if the beach is protected and the water is calm but I constantly run into hotels with lots of land and inadequate pool facilities.  I wonder if these guys ever had a pool advisor.  If you would like to work out in a pool, it has to be a minimum of 20 meters; 25 is preferable and anything beyond that is gravy.  It always amazes me that on cruise ships with 4,000 to 5,000 passengers and luxury accommodations, the pool is nothing more than a tiny splashing pool a little bigger than a big over-chlorinated Jacuzzi with God knows what in it.

Huge resort complexes have fancy pools with kidney shapes that you cannot swim in and more often than not are unheated.  Hotel pools are, in general, absolutely hopeless.  I just want to advocate for a few more meters and some common sense.  After all, people do use swimming pools for exercise and when you sit on a 1,000-acre complex, what difference does it make to add 10 extra meters to a pool?!  Trying to find out whether the pool in a hotel or complex is adequate for swimming is also tricky.  Go look at the photographs of the pool online.  Those images can be mighty deceptive.  It’s like the pool at the villa in Tuscany or Spain that you rented that turns out to be a little bigger than a bathtub.

For those of us who like to swim, preferably in a heated 25 meter pool, let’s just get some common parameters for discovery and let’s ask hotels and complexes to give a little more thought, a little more honesty, and a little more land for the non-Olympian swimmer who likes to keep fit.

Flight Delays: A Lesson in Patience

While stuck at LaGuardia for 7 hours due to a delay,  I was reminded about the issues facing our teachers who are travelling with their large groups and encounter a situation similar to the one that I encountered.  Let’s face it – in travel, stuff happens, and weather, equipment problems, and any host of other issues can cause delays to occurs.  It’s one thing for a single traveler to have to deal with a delay, and that in itself can be a bit of a nightmare.  Tempers get frayed and the best plans get ruined under the best of circumstances, when flights are delayed for only a couple of hours.  But now add 30 people and group travel to the mix and you have a whole different ball game going on.

First, most of us who travel regularly, tend not to check our bags.  That is a huge advantage when you are faced with a delay because you can move around easier and abandon ship quickly without having to wait for your bags to be retrieved.  But mostly everyone travelling with a group has checked their bag so there’s no flexibility.  Furthermore, everyone travelling with a group is super time-sensitive about their scheduled itinerary.  There are excursions, dinners, a tour guide, you name it, everything is synchronized around an arrival and a departure date.  If you change one day, you cause a ripple effect that sometimes is tough to recover.  Three days in Paris is not easily tradeable. There are trains and timed entrances that hang on these itineraries. One day off can throw a whole year of planning out the window.  All of the meetings that have taken place to prep the groups, prepare the parents, and then all of a sudden, a weather delay can throw off the entire itinerary.

It’s so important to have a service-oriented organization that is ready to make adjustments quickly and do everything to make this better.  At ACIS, that’s what we try to do.  Make it better, accommodate requests, shift itineraries around, stay in constant touch with teachers at airports, and try to intervene and assist in guiding airline representatives as they attempt to sort out the mess.  The amount of emails flying around here during a delayed flight is astonishing.  Bottom line, everyone is trying to help and trying to get our clients to their end destination as efficiently as possible without skipping a beat.

It is not always easy and not always seen as such.  That’s the tough thing about delays and cancellations.  From our point of view, we try to think for the airline, look at options, and beat the crowds that have already formed at the gate as delays and inevitable cancellations start to cause havoc.  Just being able to see things that the rest of the delayed passengers can’t see, gives our ACIS passengers a key advantage.  Our air team is always looking to resolve this stuff ahead of the airlines.  If we can think for the airlines and come up with solid suggestions, we can beat the crowds.  That’s what we want to do.  Tour managers at the other end are busy accommodating these changes as well. They are trying to figure out how to synch the late arriving group with an itinerary that doesn’t quite look like it did.  We also ask airlines to accommodate groups, if they have the flexibility, by extending a day wherever possible.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t if there just isn’t the space on the return journey to accommodate.  Plus sometimes groups do not have the flexibility to add an extra day.  We add stuff to itineraries and redress the things that have been missed.  We want to get this trip of a lifetime back on track.  Usually, we succeed.  The most important part in all of this is the group leader.  They set the tone.  They are the leader.  More often than not, that is the difference between winning and losing.