Author Archives: Peter Jones

Vaccines, Vacations and How We’ll Have to Travel Differently

So here we are…it’s February 1. Nearly a year and we’re still moving through the pandemic. The great news is that the vaccine is being rolled out, more or less, across the world. Yes, it’s not equal dibs and it’s not necessarily fair but the main fight to get the vaccine out inevitably means that the more advanced economic countries will see it first. There’s also a lot of distribution and supply problems. England seems to be holding up vaccine that was guaranteed to the European community and the Europeans are noticeably not happy. Who can blame them?

However, the Brits have done something right. Of the three main vaccines, the Oxford one can be stored at fridge temperatures and uses a tried and tested means of getting the virus to fight the virus in and out of your body. AstraZeneca/Oxford is simply more tested and more storable. Moderna and Pfizer are part of the top three, but the clear leader is AstraZeneca/Oxford. After the Brexit debacle and an early Covid nightmare the Brits are now showing some leadership. Furthermore, the Brits are ahead of the game compared to most of the world except Israel. God bless the National Health Service. A National strategy in a global crisis makes sense!

There’s more and more of a mask mandate. In Europe it’s full on and now in the US, masks are also being required across the board. At last. In addition, of course, the groovy masks we’ve all been wearing (the cloth and designer ones) are apparently not so effective. Airlines are refusing to accept them and we’re all queuing up looking for our Covid masks.

The news this week is that there is mandatory testing to reenter the USA which is a good thing. Although that pretty much takes care of the Caribbean vacation dreams of many. Some resorts are trying to scramble to figure out ways to test on site.

Canada has just effectively shut down all traffic heading to warmer climates. Let’s face it, there should be an exception for Canadians. Its cold up there! The USA has this week insisted that anybody traveling on an airplane anywhere must have a negative Covid test before they can board the plane. Once the vaccine is rolled out, no doubt there will be vaccine hierarchy. The real question is what will change as we move through the vaccination rollout. The answer is lots.

Some things simply will not go back to the way they were. In the same way that after 9/11 we were suddenly confronted with TSA and security screening before we went airside to board our flights. Something we could never have imagined prior to 9/11. So, what will change for all of us as we move through this pandemic and the vaccine is rolled out?

Safety and cleanliness will be more important than ever before. Things will take a little longer at check-in. We’ll all have to carry evidence of vaccination so that we can move around freely. It will probably be something eventually put into our passport. Testing is here to stay. Random, yes, but here to stay. Let’s get the right people vaccinated first. No cheating lines. Vaccines will enable us to skip quarantines. Get the right one. Masks will not disappear.

If you travel to Asia, you probably have noticed that a lot of people were wearing masks prior to this pandemic. That is going to hang around. In the end, the safety and security of everyone is paramount. That’s what will enable us to travel again. A vaccine and sensible precautions. I don’t want to sit next to someone that is not masked up and want to be sure that everyone on the plane is vaccinated.

Post pandemic, we need to be kinder and more respectful of other people. Be good citizens. When we take our students on trips across the world it’s one of the things that we hope will emerge from the experience. Being more tolerant, being a global ambassador for our country and being socially aware. So, there are good things that will emerge from this.

When this day is done, and this pandemic moves on out of here we will have almost certainly lived through one of the most extraordinary times and one of the most extraordinary tragedies in the history of our world. Travel will be one of the last things that will fully open. But the vaccine is the key and travel will return.

I’m a traveler and have been traveling all my life. We’re just going to have to travel a little differently and with the vaccine in hand we will still be able to take on the world and enjoy the incredible things that are out there. We have a couple of months to go almost certainly, but slowly and surely the curtain will come up and I for one can’t wait to get back on the road again.

Let the show begin!

 

MLK 2021

I love Washington DC. Our son, Rory, lives downtown in Adams Morgan. It is such a beautiful city with its sweeping malls and the Potomac River providing a break between DC and the Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a city of iconic architectural wonder. There are so many points of reference. Powerful monuments to Lincoln, Jefferson, and to our first president, George Washington. Memorials that solemnly capture the tragedy and sacrifice of war. And of course, the towering memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. that adds another vital piece to the jigsaw puzzle we call America.

All of these pieces work better when they are interlocking. And sometimes it’s complicated to make a jigsaw puzzle fit. Sometimes there’s a piece missing, sometimes it’s just too hard and we cannot figure it out. It is both strange and beautiful to imagine that one of the first things kids learn as part of their cognitive learning is to do jigsaw puzzles. It’s a skill that they develop fast, almost without thinking. It’s something that we often forget as we get older. The Spanish say rompecabezas…breaking of heads, a brainteaser! All of the pieces that are scattered around Washington DC are part of a jigsaw puzzle – the Holocaust Museum, the memorials, the Smithsonian, the Capitol, and the White House. All of these pieces work well when they interlock. Some of them sit uncomfortably with history but they work well together. Think of Washington, think of Jefferson, think of Lincoln, think of Martin Luther King Jr. It can be a rompecabezas to imagine how they can interlock but our democracy hangs on all of the pieces fitting together.

On this day, when we all celebrate as a nation the contributions that Martin Luther King Jr. made, we should also pause and reflect.

This time of the year we would normally be getting ready for our annual MLK Global Teacher Conferences. Lots of travel to book and monitor. There are flights, hotels, receptions, sightseeing’s, and usually a special event to somewhere that we have never been to. For the staff and group leaders who travel over this weekend, it’s a way for all of us to connect and feel the partnerships and the teamwork that drives our mission of Travel Changes Lives. From our Tour Managers, to teachers, to staff, it’s a great highlight of the year. Last year, I traveled to Barcelona to meet up with a group of new teachers who were about to travel with ACIS. Then I flew to Belgium to meet with some of our other wonderful teachers and had dinner in a beautiful old church in the stunning and picturesque city of Bruges. A fairytale town of canals, winding streets, horse and buggies, ancient churches, and chocolate and beer! We also spent a day with Peter Ede, our wonderful Tour Manager extraordinaire, traveling to the World War I cemeteries and battle fields not far from Bruges. We visited Ypres, where my grandfather fought, and the Menin Gate, a memorial to the missing and a reminder of the horrors of war.

And then we encountered Covid and a tragedy unfolded. We are all reminded a little of the hustle and bustle with those MLK memories still stored from last year. Those days will return soon.

Lost sometimes inside this weekend is the fact that this is also a time to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. All he stands for, all he accomplished, and sadly, all we have yet to accomplish. His beautiful memorial in DC, towering over the Washington landscape, reminds us never to forget. His peaceful pursuit of equality for African American people reminds us of a way – the right way. In spite of the hate and vitriol and violence, he made his extraordinary “I Have a Dream” speech. His speech is timeless. His words prophetic. “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.””

So, last week, when an incited angry mob marched to the US Capitol building and broke inside the inner sanctum of our democracy, we had to wonder what time we were even living in. Was this a time warp? When people ridicule Black Lives Matter, we might ask ourselves, why would people question that statement? This fragile democracy still confronts its demons. Last week, the demons came out. Our fragile jigsaw puzzle needed to be put together again fast.

Below is a piece of one of my favorite songs by James Taylor, “Shed a Little Light”. It says it all.

Oh, let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood

We are bound together by the task
That stands before us
And the road that lies ahead

Travel Briefs 3 – Here Comes Summer

 

With the melting pot of a new administration, Trump travel paranoia, anticipated holdups in immigration entering the USA, and a strong dollar, international travel inbound to the USA has decreased.  Add to that there is an increased likelihood of the laptop ban in the Middle East countries being expanded into other countries and the USA as a destination starts to feel the pinch in terms of dollars.

The fares for international travel have also dropped as airlines are trying to lure Americans outside the country with great deals in land and air.  Domestic airfares, on the other hand, have increased as more Americans are staying at home.  It is going to be an interesting period for travel this summer.  The discounted European airlines are disrupting the regular stakeholders and consumers are benefiting across the international skies.  There are phenomenal deals on Turkish Airlines at the moment if you are willing to go that route.  Turkish is one of the largest airlines in the world with feeder flights across the European landscape.  Good news for Europeans is that in spite of the recent terrorist incidents, London reports strong traffic and Athens, perceived safe, is up by a whopping 41%.  So the Americans are on the move but the Euros are staying put.  In the Caribbean and Central America, Zika is still a massive negative for young families.  Bottom line is that there are deals to be had, places to go, and people to see.  It’s time to leave the house and go through the garden gate.

 

Travel Briefs 3 – The Secret of 261/2004

Does anybody really know that there is a flight compensation regulation called 261/2004 which establishes, under EU law, common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long delays of flights?  Well, there is money in them there hills folks! 

Compensation can be between 250 Euros and600 Euros depending on the flight distance and length of the delay.  Short delays of two hours get you 250 Euros but a four-hour delay through an overnight will clear a cool 600 Euros, not to mention compensation you can independently retrieve for hotels.  This only applies to flights that originate in the EU but it also means that any American carrier is fair game.  However, it has to be a non-weather related delay.

For an overnight delay, a mate of mine just pocketed 1,800 Euros plus the cost for the added hotel night.  This rule is out there but most people do not know about it or take advantage of it.  So, next time you are delayed in Europe, you might want to pray that the delay goes over two hours!  The mechanism for retrieval of the money is pretty easy and it’s protected by the solid ruling of the EU.  Who said delays were really lousy?

 

Roaming Naples: Part 3 – The Naples Metro

I’m not a big fan of the Rome Metro but I was persuaded by my Italian friend that the Naples one is just about the best in Italy.  So I decided to take a chance.  To start, there is the usual Italian problem of any Metro entrance – where do you buy a ticket?!  It’s a struggle.  The ticket machine does not work, the guy that has the booth by the entrance does not sell them, and the woman at the top where the newsstand is wasn’t there.  After five minutes of inquiry, we discovered a shop where you could buy these train tickets.  I guess Neapolitans have season tickets or something but it sure was a bit of a struggle to figure out how to get on the train.  Once down in the dungeon of the Metro though, it all looked pretty cool.  The trains were clean, it was highly logical, and unlike the chaos of the streets above, the metro had a quiet sense to it.  We were able to travel clear across town with ease.  Sure, the Metro map was a little graffitied up and maybe some of the posters were a bit too raunchy for some tourists, but the trains were perfect.  I quite liked the idea that Helmut Newton photographs were being advertised here and exhibited at a palazzo nearby.

 

Roaming Naples: Part 2 – The Naples National Archaeological Museum

Not far away from the nativity street is the entrance to the National Archaeological Museum right on the edge of the Centro Storico.  Here there are lots of statues and art that easily rival or outperform anything to be found in the British Museum, the Louvre, or the Vatican.  These are the great marble collections of ancient Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum.  However, the main draw for me was that this is the only place in the world where you can actually see the artwork paintings of Pompeii.  They are still as beautiful as if they had been painted on a wall only a few years ago.  This is where you get to see the people, the backdrop, the landscape, and how people dressed in Pompeii.  The most iconic fresco in the room is the “Woman with Wax Tablets and Stylus” also called “Sappho.”  I wanted to stare at her forever.  If you have never been to this museum, jump on a train and enlighten yourself.  It’s a mindblower.

Roaming Naples: Part 1 – Presepe

Strolling through the Centro Storico in Naples is a trip within itself.  I was on the way to the Naples National Archaeological Museum but had to stop along the Via San Gregorio Armeno to check out the pedestrian street laden with a combination of kitsch nativity scenes and the real stuff.  They’re called presepe which essentially means “a crib.”

This is where every single Neapolitan family comes to at Christmas time.  In fact, my Italian friend told me that pretty much everyone in Italy has some kind of glass enclosed nativity scene that has been handed down or is part of the family treasure.  These things are wild.  Some of them have intricate waterfalls and the possibilities to extend across the room like train sets.  The price ranges from the basic model for 50 Euros to over 10,000 Euros for elaborate ones.  But for Italy, it is not just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in these scenes, there is a whole hobbit village created around the manger with trees, vegetation, waterfalls, windmills, you name it.  They can be made of terracotta, wood, and cardboard.  Even my communist friends have a presepe!  But to note, Jesus is always the last to enter the scene and is only placed in the manger on Christmas Eve.

Some of these nativity scenes are simply breathtaking works of art, and some of them have odd characters like Maradonna, Naples’ most famous soccer player, hanging out close by.  Neapolitans love football more than anything so why shouldn’t they incorporate their most famous (albeit an Argentinian) into their presepe tradition?!  Onwards and upwards to the National Archaeological Museum I went.

Making My Way Around Naples

Let me start out by saying that I visited Naples on my own a few years’ back.  It was just a quick
stroll from the station and around the city for about two hours before heading back to Rome.  It was interesting but I really didn’t get a sense of the city.  Now we have a client that I know that would like to go to Naples but the rap on the city is that it has a lot of petty crime.  So off I went with my man bag in hand for a virgin overnight in Naples.

First of all, it’s only a 63-minute journey on the high-speed Frecciarossa from Rome to Naples.  The train is super fast. The Italians love their high-speed train links.  They’re really good at this stuff!  After a particularly dreadful on-train coffee served by a particularly disinterested on-train steward (the Italians are really good at this stuff too), we had arrived in Naples.  My mate had organized a taxi (booked) from the station and so far, so good.  We safely got to our hotel on a nice stretch of the promenade that sits opposite the island of Capri.  In between, there were the usual underground excavations for a project that would never be finished, but no matter, we were here.  The trip had been entirely uneventful, no muggings, no hassles and now with the light of the early evening, we decided to go for a walking tour.

Here’s the thing about Naples – it’s handy to know your way around, there are lots of hills, it’s a chaotic, and there are lots of different areas with very different characteristics.  The first stop was the Palazzo Mannajuolo which holds an incredible staircase; probably the most breathtaking internal staircase in all the world, la scala ellittica.   We strolled around the hilly Chiaia and stopped at an old-world candy store in San Ferdinando.  We came across a beautiful piazza with the pantheon-like structure of the church of San Ferdinando.  The piazza here is open and full of light with Vesuvius in the background.  The opera house, Teatro di San Carlo, was showing La Traviata.  There is a spectacular galleria, the Galleria Umberto I, close by as well.  It houses thousands of panes of glass sitting in a cross formation with a whole series of panels of Jewish stars that form part of the glass decoration.  The history of Naples is more or less the entire history of the our ancient civilization.  One thing’s for sure, it makes Rome look like a young lad.

The light was dropping so we wandered back to the harbor to prepare for dinner near the Castle Nuovo (not very nuovo actually).  That is where I had the most incredible spaghetti alle vongole I had ever eaten.  So, this was Naples and we had only been there a few hours.  More to come.  Wow.

Travel Briefs 2 – Rome to Naples

The most chaotic thing about Naples, Italy was trying to get there from the Stazione Termini railway station in Rome.  The traffic setup was crazy.  They are renovating the station and there is no great place to drop-off or pick-up passengers.  Then suddenly, we walked through the utterly dysfunctional part of the Stazione Termini and were presented with a sign reading “Lavori in Corso”.  Essentially meaning “Men at work.”

I had this feeling that the sign indicated that behind this fenced area (it wasn’t a fence, but a plastic sheet) there were men at work, diligently improving the station for human kind.  Not just for me but for my children and my children’s children.  Building a better future so that others I could not even imagine would be able to sail through the station in a way that seemed entirely impossible now.  Of course, I had to peek behind the plastic.  Couldn’t resist.  But sure enough, the utter stillness of the other side provided every evidence that indeed there were no men at work, nor women, nor anybody.  Maybe tomorrow or the next day.  The station would wait, not just f or me but for my children and my children’s children.  Roma, non basta una vita….Rome, a lifetime is not enough.

Apple and Tech21 – My Love (and Hate) Affair with Apple Accessories

I had recently switched my iPhone case from the beloved Tech21 to Apple.  Boy, I loved those Tech21 cases.  You could throw your iPhone in the air and watch it slam down on a piece of concrete and nothing would shatter.  In fact, when I first went to the Apple Store to invest in one, the guy gave me the sales pitch on the Tech21 and told me it was shatter-proof.  So, I took the case, put it on my iPhone, threw it up in the air, and watched his face in horror as the phone landed on the Apple ground.  Guess what?  He was right.

But now Tech21 has broken their promise in providing the case that is perfect in every way.  The new case, for some ungodly reason, has the silent button opening designed for a five-year-old or people with micro fingers.  Seriously, guys, I use that switch all the time!  It’s a shame.  I’m not saying that you should take the designer who designed the new case and march him/her out the door, but maybe you should check the fingers out on this person.  They sure cannot be ordinary fingers.  Or else this person just prefers the “Do Not Disturb” crescent moon symbol.  Living dangerously if you ask me when you are at the theater.

So, Tech21, I abandoned you.  I went looking for an Apple case and invested in their silicon line.  I like it because when you leave your phone on the arm of an airplane seat during landing, it does not slip off.  It stays put easily.  I also like it because I can access the silent switch with ease.  But when I started to use it, I noticed that the silicon began to wear on the corners.  What a drag.  I have an Apple Store near me and I walked in expecting some kind of interrogation on receipt verification, the usual sales obstruction stuff, etc.  But instead, the guy told me to go pick out a new case and we would just do a straight switch.  Or if I wanted the money back, he would just transfer it back to my card.  The whole transaction time was five minutes.  Brilliant service.  Hey Tech21, change your design.  I will still leave the door open for you.  Hey Apple, you’re the best.

 

Travel Briefs 2 – Baseball

I have a question.  Why are there more empty seats in more baseball stadiums than any

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – JUNE 12: Fans watch the Florida Marlins take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Sun Life Stadium on June 12, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jason Arnold/Getty Images)

other sport?  Well, I think I know.  Baseball is a slow sport and there are 162 games in a season.  That’s right.  So who cares to go in the spring when you can go in the warmer summer months?  Then who cares in late summer as my team sucks then?

But look at cricket.  They figured it out.  They invented the home run derby and called it 20-20.  It is a slug fest.  The stadiums are full, revenues are huge, and the Indian Premier League is one of the richest leagues in the world.  Cricket is an international game.  Please, I have season tickets to our beloved Red Sox (one of the few stadiums that sell out) but the season is too long, the games are too long, most stadiums are empty, and the sport needs juicing up.  I do not mean drugs – although that may be better than the 3 and half hours of dreadful stuff we have sometimes have to endure.

So for the purest, I get the intricacies of the game, but it is slow, damn slow.  In football, there are 16 games, and basketball is action-packed.  Hockey is exhausting to watch since it’s so fast and soccer is over in an hour and a half.  Please baseball, invent an alternative parallel world that is fun and exciting.  We promise we will go watch your games live even in stadiums that have never seen the light of a playoff game in their history.

How Can You Not Love New York City?

I like New York City a lot, and although it’s not my favorite city, I do appreciate its amazing museums and grand theaters.  I love the neighborhoods that stretch all the way from the Battery to the Bronx and the new Brooklyn, unrecognizable to my wife now who went to Bayridge High School and grew up a stone’s throw from the Verrazano Straights.  New York has a busyness to it with its big, broad avenues, and trying to catch the pedestrian lights as you walk so you don’t need to stop and can just zig zag your way from 30th to the park. I love Soho and the Village and always wondered where I would live (probably Soho although the park is stunning).  So my question on New York is why is it so ratty in places?  London can be patchy and the outskirts of Paris are dreadful, but we are talking downtown New York City.  It’s very uneven to me.  Fun, but dirty, and even the late-night scene is sketchy.

My favorite restaurant in the city is Esca.  I love this place – great seafood, nice wine list, but honestly, it’s stuck in the seediest part of town on 43rd Street and 9th Ave, next to porn shops and dodgy quick bites.  It’s weird, New York.  The transportation hubs just seem to be seedier than they need to be.  Grand Central is a beautiful station but it’s confusing.  The shops and kiosks around it are grim.  Penn Station is even worse and is surrounded by dodgy hotels.  Yet here in the thick of it is Madison Square Garden.  Let’s not forget to mention LaGuardia Airport, antiquated and inefficient, with no great transportation link into town.  Welcome to New York.  

So, yeah, I do like New York for two days, grab an overpriced play and go out to a nice dinner, but in the end, no prejudice, London is just a cooler place.

 

Learning English in the New Age

Learning the English language has become a huge opportunity for the bright and enterprising.  Take Lucy Earl, a Brit who recently graduated and started to think of ways to make English learning fun and frivolous.  She ended up obtaining a following of 350,000 people who wanted to know why Brits drink pimms and take tea at 4:00 pm, why they pronounce fruit as “froot” and not “fru it”, “choobe” and not “toobe”, and “choona” not “toona”.  She compiled a list of the 100 must-to words that you need to know in English, she did a Christmas swear words special, and her website launched her into the English language stratosphere.

Her YouTube teaching course, English with Lucy, provides short videos filmed at her home, on the streets, and while taking a bus to the town center.  It is a slice of England as well as some fun lessons in English.  She has 12 million views on some of her most popular videos plus an international following.  She reportedly earns about $40,000 a year in advertising revenues alone but bottom line is that it’s fun.  She is fun and everyone gets to see a slice of real life through Lucy’s eyes.

Language schools take note.  Online language is growing fast.  Teaching English as a foreign language and heading abroad, while still popular, are being outpaced by this phenomenon.  Lucy got it right and right again.  Note that there are 1.7 billion people learning English. It’s going to be 2 billion by 2020. 375 million people speak English as a second language and 750 million as one of their foreign languages.  300 million people in China have learned English. Incidentally, if you want to teach English in the UAE, they pay you $4,000 a month and in Japan about $3,500 a month.  Lucy is doing alright and with simply a 500 URL camera and little to no overhead.  She is light as a feather on the business front.  Zero overhead.  Exports for English language teaching e-books have doubled in recent years while hardcopy books have dramatically declined.  The lessons are good for all, make the classes fun, and give people a slice of the culture.  Check English with Lucy out on YouTube.  It’s free!

What’s Up with Airline Regulations??

So after the recent debacles with United and American, the government is getting heavy.  Finally, we are seeing the government recognizing that consolidation is creating an arrogance in service and in amenities.  After deregulation in 1978, industry charges like baggage fees and bumping passengers have been pretty much left to the airlines.  And 80% of USA domestic business is now in the frightening hands of four airlines. Power to the few and less power to the consumer.

Airlines claim that overbooking helps keep fares low and provides less risk so more choice for consumers.  Understood, but you have to be nice too!  Honestly, whoever comes off a plane and says that they had a fab and fun experience?  Now United are going to have to put their money where their mouth is.  Dragging a guy down the aisle sounds like a bad wedding arrangement.  It nearly cost them their business.  CEO Munoz stated that he is committed to making things better and now overbooking as a policy is going to be phased out.  Southwest, the darling of consumers, actually has the highest overbooking of any airline. They were just smarter and nicer about it.

We all get that overbooking creates more flexibility for airlines and lots take advantage of the compensation.  It doesn’t take much but being nice and being smart makes the difference.  Having a positive attitude and being customer friendly is key.  That’s all we ask for.  We are not cattle.

AirBnB Magazine…lovely…

Here’s a shocker.  High-tech, super slick Airbnb have teamed up with the Hearst Corporation to produce a travel magazine; essentially Airbnb Magazine.  The rationale is that nobody knows better where people want to go than Airbnb does.  They see it in demand and deals and have it resourced from billions of data points.  As such, they can provide stories for people and places that are hot and can write about places that are trending.  Savannah, for example, is one of Airbnb’s biggest sourced destinations, Porvoo in Finland is another.  Go figure!

The first launch will be this May.  It’s going to provide competition for mags like Afar and Conde Nast Traveler but Airbnb is different by basing stories and articles on where people want to go.  In other words, they’re putting the power into the hands of the consumer instead of the usual fantasy articles that occupy most chapters of a travel mag.  Incidentally, one of the best travel mags for me is British Airways High Life.  Of course, the only problem there is that British Airways has to fly there and it’s only available on the airplane.  I always steal a copy!

Airbnb mag is an experiment but like travel books, people still love travel in print form.  Look at the success of Rick Steves.  Regular monthly mailings will be forthcoming if this finds success.