Firstly, I love British Airways. I love the familiarity and the staff. From check in to on board service, it’s always excellent. Fact that I fly mostly out of Boston makes it even more intimate. Station managers, Nick and Carol, are simply awesome. In any service industry, staff and friendly recognition are key reasons for customer loyalty. That’s what you get from the Boston team.
They have a new fancy lounge at BA in Logan. It’s nice and offers easier access to the plane but unless you’re desperate to save money, I prefer to stay outside the lounge and grab a bite at Legal Seafoods. A nice addition to Terminal E departures.
The only gripe I have on BA is with the night flight. It’s too damn short. Tonight it logged in at 5 hours and 40 minutes. Let’s forget about food. It means after takeoff and prep for landing you can’t grab more than two hours sleep if you’re lucky. And I use all the tricks. Bose noise cancelling heads sets, eye shades and a sleeping pill. Two months ago I flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. 11 hours. Time for dinner, a movie, and six hours of sleep. Maybe that is the way to go to get to London. A little overshooting of the metaphorical runway and a late arrival in London…but sleep! I’ll take the day flight on BA next time.
The drive from Venice along the highway to Milan is fairly dull. After Milan is where the sights get interesting.
We took the highway above Lake Maggiore which was super fast and delightful. Mountains beyond the lake and the Borromean islands in the background provided for a great backdrop to our car ride. Pushing through, we started our ascent to Simplon. What a lovely day it was with blue sky and more snow than I have seen for years.
The Simplon Pass is very unique. An ancient hospice still maintained by a religious order offers basic accommodation to the devoted and dedicated skiers and kite boarders who ply their tricks on this unique snow playground. There is a great place for lunch at the top as well. Views of the boarders and surroundings provide entertainment. The descent is hair raising though!
Journeys end along the valley following the Glacier Express. We end up in a giant car park where we dump the car and hop on the train. Täsch in Switzerland is our last stop with our car. The cog train takes us the rest of the way into a dead end in the mighty valley. It’s snowing hard.
The London to Venice flight on BA is always a treat. Once you clear the cloud cover of England, you have the beautiful Alps to greet you. No matter how many times I cross the snow capped peaks, it never ceases to amaze. This year has seen tons of snow. Still, the beauty was way up high. Below it was cloud and rain and down into another gray day. But it was Venice!
I love the slow descent into the airport here. The shape of the island, the clock tower, the canals clearly visible…It’s such a strange place. Such a trip. It’s the only place where everyone on the plane looks out of the window. It’s a wow. You want it to last forever.
Venice Upon Arrival
And then the bubble burst. Immigration was a mess. There were two people for hundreds of arrivals so it took a while. It was pure Italian theater. Nobody had a clue. The immigration officers looked in no rush at all. People were getting frustrated. It was one hour before we got to our bags!
Then there was the slightly complicated journey to the motor boats. The Venice Marco Polo Airport has recently had renovations so getting to the motor boats that bring you to the center of Venice is a new experience. It’s quite complex and not obvious to the newly arrived passengers. You have to go up the escalator to departures. Ugh. What?! And then you lose the sign. It just disappears. So, use your instincts, look for a sign, do anything. But then it pops back into view! There is a long walk along a moving escalator and down into the speedboat taxi area.
There is the usual confusion here (something’s never change!) but it is worth the wait because now it’s the greatest ride in the world. Across the lagoon and through a narrow canal and then it hits you. The grand canal. The Santa Maria della Salute, the Doges Palace, and the Piazza San Marco.
Venice in Winter
There is plenty of rain in the winter and the boards are stacked high for the Acqua Alta. In the distance the Alps beckon with snow painted across the horizon. San Marco is busy with tourists and umbrellas which always reminds me of a Prendergast painting.
I wandered back to the hotel across a couple of delightful bridges. Watched the gondola guys organizing their business and took a moment to study their technique. I tried being a gondolier once. It’s impossible! The oar, the movement, the control. It amazes and mesmerizes. Dinner later would add the final touch. Black ink squid with spaghetti.
The dreaded overnight flight dropped me into the gray skies of London too early. It was freezing. I grabbed the Heathrow Express and rushed across town from Paddington to Soho for a lunch with a business associate. We arranged to meet at the Duck and Rice on Berwick Street. Great Chinese in Soho. The dim sum are out of this world. I followed that with a quick pub visit to see a dear friend around the corner at the Lamb and Flag pub on Perry Street. I had to keep moving despite the jet lag kicking in. Then I had a fab evening with a whole bunch of university friends over in Fitzrovia.
Got to say, London is the greatest. Stick to the areas of Fitzrovia, Soho, or Covent Garden and you can’t go wrong. They are stocked with restaurants and pubs and people. It is just such an easy place to sort out a venue for getting together.
I left Soho House, the brand new one on Greek Street, super cool and beautifully redesigned, far too late for an early morning flight to Venice. Sleep could wait.
I will be crossing on the QM2. Jan 3-10. leaving from Red Hook, Brooklyn to London. I am excited and ready! I’ll be making daily posts so check in to see what I am up to.
I’ve followed up my insiders’ guide to Ashland, Massachusetts, with a tour of my second adopted home-town: Boston!
A lot has changed in Boston over the past few years, (hello, artisan coffee and cheese) but one thing remains the same: this city dominates in athletics. Whether your an superjock or a sensualist, Boston is ready for you!
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All of the talk, wherever I go, seems to be whether Uber is ethical.
Let’s rewind and remember that Uber started essentially as a high-end, low-cost limo service with smart drivers and GPS. Imagine, these were the first guys in the taxi service that discovered GPS! Like any brand, it started to take off. There was no cash, no tip, no conversation needed, and less than the price of a taxi, all on an app that was highly reliable and told you exactly when and who was going to show up. They then diversified into Uber X which was a lot less than a taxi but the cars were not as nice. Yet it still had GPS relied on credit cards and no tip.
Then the protests began. The basic premise of the protest was unfair competition, no liability, and safety.
If taxis want to compete with Uber, then they should do so on Uber’s terms. Take my city, Boston. Taxi service here is terrible; they are owned by two or three large companies that simply don’t seem to care. The drivers earn a pittance, the taxis are dirty, there is no way of knowing if your taxi is going to show up and, if you don’t tip, they look at you as if there is no tomorrow. So, who is kidding who here? Uber found a gap in the market place – simple as that.
The other night, I took a water taxi from one end of Boston to the other. I had this vague fantasy of an Uber vaparetto – imagine that!
So now its Toronto saying thanks but no thanks to hosting the Olympics. Boston first paved the way with a resounding thumbs down and it sure looks like cities are wising up to the false promises of Olympic delirium. Costs and tourist magnets are simply not adding up to an equation that is palatable for anyone except greedy developers who will grab permits and subsidies and take the benefits to their own house.
Lets face it. It’s not a draw. Tourists avoid these things like the plague and Boston was never short of tourists to begin with. In addition, these cities are actually cities that people live in!
There is good news out there for international travel. The RyanAir, Southwest airline, Easy Jet model has moved into long haul. You get food of course, but instead of departing from a major hub like Boston, you fly from Providence and the price difference on a transatlantic flight to Germany can be over $1000.
No way! Yes!
And here’s the deal. If you think airlines you’ve never heard of, like Condor, are going to force British Airways or Lufthansa to change their fare structure, think again. The big guys are figuring that you don’t want to fly from an airport that’s 30 miles from where you originally wanted to fly to, even for bargain travel. And the chances are that you didn’t check the routing thoroughly enough on Expedia. If you want to fly from Boston to Frankfurt, that’s what you’re going to get, prices from Boston to Frankfurt. So you’ve got to be smart and outsmart the technology, which is going to auto-populate and drive you to the bigger hubs.
Furthermore, business class is cheap on these airlines; baggage fees are waived and the booze is still free. So drink up, enjoy the Euro and look for Condor expanding beyond Seattle, Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale and Baltimore. And in case you’re looking for nonstop from New York, Chicago or LA on second-tier airlines – good luck, you’re not going to find them. Happy Travels! Oh, and guess what, the secret’s out Condor is actually owned by Lufthansa.
There are hubs, and spokes, and then there are places that used to be hubs, but now are back waters. It’s not that where you live is not a desirable place but, from an airlines point of view, it’s a not a desirable place. Take Key West, for example; that seems pretty desirable. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Catch the sunsets, drink the tequila, and sit on the white sand while, in the distance, Cuba beckons. But 43% of Key West flights have been removed – disappeared, gone forever, along with Cleveland, Milwaukee, and La Crosse, Wisconsin.
The other day I was trying to fly from Boston to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Practically impossible. Not just difficult to get to, involving multiple stops, but over $600 round trip, compared to $300 round trip to Philadelphia. What’s happening?! Are airline executives angry about your bucolic country style living and just want to punish you? It’s all about shrinking flight schedules, boosting prices, consolidation. And none of it is good for us.
The truth is, it’s good for the airlines and the rental car companies. Smaller hubs have taken big hits and the smaller aircraft have been removed from the fleet. If you want to fly from Harrisburg to Boston, be prepared to pay top dollar and be inconvenienced with terrible connections. It can even be cheaper to take an Uber! It even encouraged me to drive the 6 hours, because by the time I rented the car from Philadelphia, it really provided me with no great benefit. This is the world of giant airlines; 8 have merged into 4. And smaller hubs have been removed or reduced down to practically nothing. The good news is that if you live in Seattle there are 25% more flights than there used to be. Westward ho!
The new world could mean a move back to cars (and trains if you’re lucky). Or just simply uprooting your entire hippy family from Key West, Florida and moving to midland Odessa, Texas, where there is a 20% increase in flights. That’s gonna be a great fit for you!
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. Practically every hub in Hawaii has increased service, which brings me back to Key West, Florida. It’s just simply too close to Miami for anybody but the rich and famous. And Orlando, as a megahub, shows increases across the board. Disney just beat out the sunsets.
Image credited to: http://www.barnabu.co.uk/
Arrival in Reykjavik is a bit of an eye-opener. A major international airport hub, the airport facility is in a constant state of expansion. The old days of a shed, a passport control, and a place for weary travelers to rest their legs before continuing on is long gone. You could practically live in this airport. It’s a short distance to the center of town and if you rent a car, which is recommendable but ridiculously expensive, you’ll find driving around safe and easy. Let’s face it, once you’ve gotten past the per day price tag, anything is going to seem within reach.
There is of course the very touristy but essential Blue Lagoon – it’s 15 minutes from the airport and it seems like half the traffic going there is simply on an airport stopover en route to somewhere else. It wasn’t as tacky as I imagined. It’s highly organized and I slightly hate to say it…but I sort of liked it. Not to mention an inside visit to a dormant volcano – essential that the volcano is dormant! Erupting ones can be problematic (pro-tip). With a geyser (that’s where we get the name from), the most powerful waterfall in all the world, and throw in the only visible above-sea meeting of the tectonic plates between the continents of North America and Europe and you have a fairly spectacular sightseeing tour. All of this while peering out into the distance at ice-capped volcanoes situated in fields of volcanic black rock. And that’s the day trip from Reyjkavik!
Reykjavik is a fun town, a party town: lots of hub and spoke activities, lots of colorful houses all encased in corrugated iron to withstand potential fallout from erupting volcanos – seriously. The great thing about the sun never setting is that you can start your day at 9am and never have to worry about getting back before dark. It never gets dark here in the summer! If winter is your thing it barely gets light, but there’s always the Aurora Borealis to keep you occupied in between visits to the bars. I stayed at the Hotel Borg http://en.hotelborg.is/ – the room was basic and the hotel looked pretty run down. The breakfasts were average and I got the feeling this hotel was resting on a once glorious past that had sadly expired. Location is just about the best you can find, but beyond that it was a highly forgettable experience. If I return to Iceland I would certainly experiment with another hotel – perhaps venturing out to the Ice hotel (http://www.icehotel.com/) to take a look. Though I personally wouldn’t stay there – igloos are not my thing!
Iceland Ironically not Icy
Iceland’s northwestern tip sits just on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Its summer days are endless and much of its coastline on the western shore reminded me of Norway. So the story goes that Iceland is called Iceland because Icelanders don’t want too many people to know that it’s not icy at all, but actually quite green and should be called Greenland. And Greenland is called Greenland because Greenlanders are rather desperate for people to visit their very icy land, which should be called Iceland. At least that’s what my Danish friend told me.
First piece of advice, you don’t need an all-wheel drive car. The roads are better than Boston, unless you’re planning on driving into the mouth of a Volcano (not recommended). Secondly, spend three days in Reykjavik and then head out. It’s a big island. You need a plan and the scenery is spectacular. I headed northwest to the fjords and that took up three days. Mouthwatering scenery, wild horses and a sea of wild blue lupines engulfed by snow-capped peaks reminded me of film sets: Interstellar, Star Wars, Batman – basically if they need a place that’s barren and otherworldly – they head here. And there are more wild horses than I have ever seen before, puffins galore and whales visible from the shoreline. And incidentally, if you feel peckish, you have to also be prepared to see those three items on the menu. I passed and stuck with the arctic char!
2 Hotel Reviews: Beauty and the Beast
Hotel Belle Juliette
One of my favorite streets in Paris is the Rue Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement. The street name is actually used in a famous French expression – chercher midi à quatorze heures – to make something more complicated than it really is. The street was actually one of the main exits from Paris for the aristocracy on their hunting jaunts. And they always left no sooner than midi for a spot of light animal killing. So on this lovely street, full of cafes and interesting stores, a wonderful old working hardware store and a newspaper stand (yes, a real one), there is a delightful hotel called La Belle Juliette (http://www.hotel-belle-juliette-paris.com/en/).
I would recommend booking the superior room. Every room is different and funky with beautiful wood floors and, even though the corridors are a little dark and difficult to navigate, the rooms are wonderfully bright and the fixtures are cool and functional. Apple TVs and sophisticated lighting – suffice to say I love this place. It has a beautiful garden area with a nice lounge area. The staff was super friendly, with service living up to a location right on one of the nicest streets of all of Paris. Even the infamous Gerard Depardieu has a house opposite, but more importantly you are a 10-minute walk to the river, 5-minute walk to Montparnasse and along the street there are so many nice little restaurants. My 5-star recommendation is a 4-star hotel with 4-star prices.
Hotel Montalmbert – Don’t Judge a Hotel by its Star Rating
I have been lost since the Hotel Lutetia closed its doors over a year ago to begin a huge renovation project. It was my go-to pad in Paris. An old-style Belle Epoque hotel in the seventh arrondisement, five minutes from my office in Paris and reasonably priced. I’ve been struggling ever since – jumping from one average hotel room to another average hotel room. So this Paris stay I split myself between two hotels, to try to find a new home for my small work stays in Paris.
First stop was the Hotel Montalembert (http://www.hotelmontalembert-paris.com/). It promised to be a fabulous boutique hotel just off the Boulevard St. Germain. I was never more disappointed in a hotel in my life. The staff looked bored. The room was smaller than a 3-star room near the Gare du Nord. The bathroom was even smaller than I could imagine in a room like that. Picture Alice from Wonderland looking for a wafer to shrink to fit into the shower. And the television had so few channels it reminded me of England in the 60s. Not to mention that the bed was the most uncomfortable small bed I have slept on for some time. If you’re in the hotel business, you must get that right.
It was dark and dreary with dreadful décor – the set of an indie film that I didn’t want to be in. The funny thing about that particular part of town is that all the fun and vibrancy of the Rue du Bac disappears immediately after you cross Boulevard St. Germain heading toward the river. How I longed for the Lutetia. But first I had to escape and red card it!