Category Archives: Blog

Thoughts on Covid, Vaccinations and Resuming Travel!

What’s happening.

It has been a year without travel.  A year lost in many ways.  A year when we have stayed at home, learned new things about ourselves and spent more time with our loved ones.  Ironically, we have also spent more time reaching out over Zoom or whichever platform we use to connect frequently with friends and family we may not necessarily be in touch with as often.  We are all remote in more ways than one.  We have lived under this dark cloud for a year, and only now, do we find ourselves coming up for air.  For those of us who love to travel, it has been a year of not traveling.  For businesses it has more often been a year of heartbreak and failure as the pandemic has ruptured large parts of the economy.  In Travel, in entertainment, restaurants and bars it has been as close to a disaster as one can imagine.  And yet we endured.  Reinvented ourselves, changed our models and our perspective and moved sideways or backwards or jumped through barriers that we previously were too fearful to jump through.

And here we are. March 2021. Ironically as spring surges ahead and the first buds appear around the shrubs in Western Mass, the metaphor reminds me that we are slowly lightly moving along.

Vaccines are rapidly being deployed, Covid testing is fast and efficient and rates of Covid are dropping.  Yep, there are surges and still it’s chaotic in places but overall, the signs are good. The world has changed and won’t be quite the same, but we will get back to a near normal routine.  The economy will recover and travel…beloved travel will start up again.

We already have groups departing for Costa Rica, the DR and Ecuador.  Slowly Europe will reopen and even though masks will remain in place, even though there will be strict rules on Covid testing and vaccines, travel will return. Global airline travel fell by 66% in 2020.  The largest decline in history.  Tourism accounts for 1 – 10 jobs around the world. In some parts of the world, tourism is the economy. International arrivals in those countries fell as dramatically as 97%.  It will take some time to recover. On a positive note, we have had a 50% decrease in carbon emissions and our oceans and canals are cleaner than ever.  And we read more than any other year we have ever read! Books….and Netflix!

As we move to our second Easter under the pandemic, this one brings hope and optimism.  The sky is still empty over my house as I look out into the western horizon, but a few more planes have passed by this month. The snow is gone.  Let’s hope that the pandemic continues to melt away with it.

Destination Updates

Iceland is open to vaccinated travelers and people who are prepared to have a Covid test on arrival.  Even if you show a recent Covid test. If you test positive, then you are quarantined at your expense in a quarantine hotel.

Ecuador is open as is Galapagos with proof of vaccine or negative Covid test.  No test on arrival.

Costa Rica/Dominican Republic… Vaccine or negative Covid test.

100-Years of History

The other day I was reminded of what a century can mean. My uncle passed away at the amazing age of 103 last week. I got to interview him about three years ago in his apartment near Regents Park. I was curious about his travels and war time experiences. We chatted about his life in London as a child, my Dad, his family and travels. We talked about the London fog and smog and his lovely wife and partner, Rhoda, while drinking cups of tea with biscuits to keep us going on our journey through time.

As it turns out, he had traveled extensively during the war. He just hadn’t mentioned it to anyone! He told me about his journey on a merchant ship across the Atlantic, his fear of submarines (but not sea sickness!) and his stay in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was funny because I had traveled across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary a couple of years before and the ship departed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I recall that the journey across the Atlantic was stormy and there was lots of sea sickness on board. I remember the grey emptiness from horizon to horizon. I tried to imagine how a 20-year-old kid sleeping on a hammock would have dealt with that journey and the paranoia of a submarines here or there. His first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island where all those weary travelers had arrived and sought a new life. His first glimpse of Times Square. I thought of Anchors Away and Gene Kelly, the towering Empire State building. He loved the USA.

And then the train trip across the USA. To Chicago and then onwards to San Francisco. A week on a train across the USA. A bunch of kids in the middle of a war that would change the face of Europe for 50 years. His first glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge, the West Coast. Chinatown. Imagine. He was part of a group of twenty-year-old’s traveling across the USA in 1941 to pick up a French Reconditioned Cruise ship (converted to an aircraft carrier) and then heading down to San Diego tracing the shoreline of California. They spent some time in San Diego, to allow finishing touches to the hastily assembled carrier before heading south and passing through the Panama Canal. Pacific to Atlantic! Then the treacherous journey back to England protected by the comfort of a convoy and several destroyers. Several boats were lost across the Atlantic. Many men lost their lives. And then, back to Portsmouth. And home. He had been away nearly a year. He had helped deliver an aircraft carrier to the British Navy and went onto minesweeping off the east coast of Scotland.

When I look back on that conversation, I wished I had more time. I had thought up more questions. He had been born at the very end of the first World War, the start of the Russian revolution and in the middle of Spanish flu pandemic that claimed 50 million lives worldwide. He had witnessed a century of changes.

He lived a long enough life to enjoy his grandchildren and his great grandchildren. He grew up over the trendiest shoe shop in all of London by Camden Town Tube. Now called the British Boot Company specializing in Doc Martins and having as its most famous customers, punk groups The Sex Pistols and The Clash. The shop owners knew him well as he popped in from time to time on his way to the local supermarket.

Even when he was 102, his electric scooter provided him with a means to get out and ride along familiar streets. He was a Londoner. And in the end, he got to see a ravaging pandemic that would take nearly 11 million lives. He was one of them.

This illustration of Bill with his lovely wife Rhoda was done by Gayle Kabaker in celebration of his century.   To see more of Gayle’s work please visit:  linktr.ee/gaylekabaker

London Calling….

 

A week of interesting possibilities. Travel is starting to turn its wheels and airlines and tour operators are ramping up for a return of summer business. This past week the UK announced they have coincided with a rapid decline in COVID-19 cases and vaccination rollouts. Come June, the UK is hoping to be at or near normalcy. What does that mean? Johnson and Johnson now have a single shot vaccine that will be available for 18 and under.

For travelers, there is no date set to jump on a plane and travel to “anywhere.” However, airlines, tour operators and cruise companies are starting to figure out the next stage. Vaccine passports and rapid Covid testing. Delta is continuing with keeping the middle seat free in coach even though it is costing them millions of dollars. Their hunch is that it provides confidence to the consumer when booking a flight. Southwest airlines stayed with the middle seat free option until they re-evaluated because of financial pressures and reverted to full occupancy where they can. Airlines are still touting the fact that the air inside the cabin is cleaner than most environments. But, with one less person or two per row, it’s a tough sell to say it’s safer. Ironically, bargain still plays out stronger than safety and people are prepared to fly on fuller planes for a cheaper fare.

Life at the next stage after the pandemic and slowly the world is moving. Restricted capacities will still be a way of life through the end of 2021. In general, it will affect theatres, stadiums and performance venues. Until the numbers recede to optimum levels and the vaccine reaches a higher percentage of penetration.

Corridors for travel are being actively discussed. Greece and UK. Spain and Italy. Everyone is looking for a way to fill their hotels and restaurants. In addition, the Europeans and the UK are dealing with the Brexit nightmare. Brexit is largely remaining undercover because of the pandemic but as we move further out of this, the Brexit issues will start to emerge effecting tourism.

Most travel companies are starting to ramp up. Getting ready. USA to anywhere is still fragile. USA to USA will probably go first. Then the Caribbean. Then the world. And it will start to move fast depending on vaccines and rates of infections. It will probably start to form a more normal rhythm at the end of the summer with established corridors enabling travelers to move safely with restrictions from one zone to another. By December the world should be open. Again, with a combination of vaccine travel documents, rapid Covid tests at airports and hotels and reasonable capacity limits in entertainment venues. Nearly normal or new normal!

The good news is that the Tokyo Olympics is officially on in late July. The Euro soccer championships is a go in early June across the entire European continent. Theaters will start opening in the UK and pubs and museums will begin their awakening. Now we can start to imagine walking through Covent Garden on the way to St. Martin’s Lane for a night at the theatre. Now we imagine a walk-through Baroque Rome and a nightcap in the Piazza Navona. What seemed like a lifetime away is within reach. We may have to show up at the airport even earlier, tolerate longer lines at immigration entry as not everything will return to normal. But, hey, it’s better than I could ever have imagined a few months ago and feels like were heading somewhere soon.

Clocks are moving forward. Things are happening. New regulations are being put in place so we can start traveling again.

Carnival and Pancake Day

I’ve experienced the beauty and craziness of the Carnival in Venice.  A fabulous and amazing costume drama like no other.  People travel from afar to parade around the squares, canals and alleyways of this truly unique city.  Hotels would be overbooked; the city would even have a limit on the number of tourists allowed.  This year, alas, we have no Carnival.  Only memories of the beautiful colors, costumes and posing amidst a spectacular backdrop of waterways, gondolas, palaces and piazzas.  Tourists would flock from all over the world to be part of this crazy scene.  Pure theatre.  Surreal and worth at least a peak once in your lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m from London and grew up in a country that celebrated Mardi Gras in a whole different way.  We ate pancakes!  We called the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday…..Pancake day!  Shrove Tuesday.  The English version of Mardi Gras.  No costumes, fireworks or song.  Just…..pancakes. To denote the clearing out of the larder and beginning of lent.

Pancakes…. It was the culinary highlight of the cooking year in our household.  I never knew why we couldn’t have pancakes more often, but rules were strict.  Pancakes on pancake day. Pancakes, according to some, denote the 4 pillars of the Christian faith.  Sustenance (flour), creation(eggs), purity (milk) and wholesomeness (salt).  Not that I had a clue.  And not that anyone who was English really had a clue.  No, we were just so happy that on this day we were able to enjoy something quite tasty.  Pancakes with delicious Golden Treacle or lemon and sugar.

Mardi Gras is exactly 47 days prior to Easter Sunday so the date is a bit of a moving target and that always confused me when I was a kid.  Pancake day should be like Christmas.  A fixed date!! Rumor has it that pancake racing, yep…racing, started in 1445 in a town called Olney when a woman was interrupted with her pancake making by the calling of the church bells.  Off she ran, pan and pancakes in hand, to attend the Shrove Tuesday service!  Hence, pancake racing began its humble start.  Later, tossing the pancakes was added to the race.

Image result for uk pancake day clipart

So, while cool cities like Rio, Venice, Sydney, New Orleans, Goa and Nice may boast extravaganzas with flowers and music and dance and costumes, the Brits have …Pancake day. And Pancake races.  A little ironic for a nation not traditionally known for its cuisine culture.  No wonder the Europeans were okay with Brexit!!

The Super Bowl, Vaccines, Covid and Travel

February’s under way with lots of snow in the northeast and Tom Brady wins his 7th Super Bowl. He used to be our guy. But he left us and opted for warmer weather. So now we’re all Buccaneer fans!

Valentine’s day coming up, and the vaccine is slowly and painfully being distributed. Some states moving faster than others but the wheels are turning.

Some questions arising this week. International questions. Is there any place open right now? In brief, from a traveler’s point of view…. not really. Europe is still closed, but they are vaccinating at a decent clip.  Airlines are insisting on a Covid test requirement for all International flights. Domestic, while threatening to do the same, has not instituted a Covid test requirement yet. That may change and masks are still mandatory on all flights.

Until we reach levels of herd immunity (75-80%) it’s unlikely we will see any relaxation.  In addition, Vaccine Passports are now being used and phased in on some cruises.  Expect that to gain popularity as the vaccine program rolls out more extensively.  For 2022, it will almost certainly be a standard factor in travel.  It may mean adult only passengers will need to have a vaccine passport.  Not sure quite how this will pan out, but more clarity will develop over the next month or so.

Some resort hotels are now offering Covid testing as a way to offset the fall in demand for warm climate vacations.  Airlines have seen a massive drop off because of the new ruling that prevents travelers returning to the USA without a prior test.

The world is moving at different speeds when it comes to vaccines.  As would be expected. Follow the money.  Two countries do not publish Covid data.  Tanzania and North Korea. Tanzania is full speed ahead on opening, but it hasn’t reported a Covid case since last April. Only 509 cases total have been reported and that number has not budged, while its neighbors are off the charts. According to the President of Tanzania, it’s all down to divine intervention. Good luck with that during safari vacation season!

Some great news on the transatlantic front.  JetBlue has announced it will open up a Boston and New York London corridor in May.  Blue sky is coming!!  Great Business class (Mint) at a fraction of the price of the regular carriers and twice as nice!  In addition, the economy fares are great with more amenities than their competitors.  JetBlue is in the transatlantic business….hooray.

Peter

Trains-Part 2

I have so many memories of night train travel from my early traveling days. The Paris -Venice overnight train. Heading out through dreary suburbs in grey weather as night fell and arriving into Stazione Santa Lucia early morning. I remember because it was my first time in Venice. I think everyone remembers their first time in Venice. The Stazione with its newspaper stand and its chaotic rumblings of morning commuters. Jumping onto Vaporetti to go to work. Canals, gondolas, a fantasy land of an unimaginable feast to a kid who had never seen a place like this before. Hand delivered by the night train. I’ve taken the night train from Aswan to Cairo. From Nairobi to Mombasa. These were fabulous journeys.

 

There’s a fantastic poem by WH Auden called The Night Mail. It traces the journey of an old steam train traveling from London to Glasgow with the post. It was written in 1936 and it’s still one of my favorite times. We had to memorize it at school.

Here’s the link.   Night Mail by W H Auden – Famous poems, famous poets. – All Poetry

It emulates the journey of a steam engine pulling its carriages up, up until it reaches the top of its climb and then picks up speed on its way down to Glasgow. The meter is the magic of this poem. I read it the other day to my 3-year-old granddaughter. I still remembered it from all those years ago. Teachers are amazing. And my next blog I’m going to talk about trains and places I’d like to go when this pandemic finally breaks.

See the source image

 

eurostar-train

Trains-Part 1

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about overnight trains…. They’re coming back!

I remember when they were so fashionable and …. expensive and then one day they disappeared. I also remember the unfashionable but super functional aspect of a night train. Tour companies would use couchettes all the time to travel from Paris to Venice, from Paris to Avignon, Paris to Madrid and Paris to Rome. An afternoon sightseeing and dinner somewhere in the Latin quarter before heading to the Gare du Lyon for a night journey across the European cities and towns that sparkled in the distance. Night trains were a way for tour operators to save the overnight in a hotel and provide a fun experience. Six to a cabin in times gone by.

Baguettes in hand and the trundle of tracks to put 700 to sleep before you awoke to the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean!  Then budget airline companies like EasyJet and Ryanair introduced the cheap and fast option to replace the train lines with airport lines and delays! Nothing was ever the same!

Before you knew it we were jumping on planes for weekends to Prague for less than €10 and suddenly night trains were relics from a distant era.  Just like that.  Consigned to the dustbin of history….. In addition, super high-speed trains started to populate the European landscape.  The TGV, the AVE, the Eurostar and the Thalis.  Faster than ferries and less hassle and infinitely more comfortable than a cheap flight.  The fact that you can now take a train from Rome to Milan in less time than it will take you on a plane changed everything yet again.  London to Paris; one hour and 20 minutes!  No seat belts, no hassle and rarely delays.  But there’s been a rekindling of activity on night trains.  Maybe not to replace the super-fast high-speed trains, but rather to provide that element, that adventure that we all remember in days past.  And 6 to a room wasn’t that bad!

Brexit…Its Complicated!

And if the world hadn’t changed and turned upside down enough, Tourism must deal with Brexit. Its complicated. Brexit for the Brits brings forth its own problems with tourism.

Imagine a British tour guide who would meet you in Italy because he or she happens to speak fluent Italian and is an expert on Italy but has a British passport.  Well, they can’t work in Italy any longer! Even worse, let’s say I’m a tour guide who picks a group up in London and wants to take them on the Eurostar (which is practically bankrupt now by the way) to Paris.  I’m an English passport holder and with the current law, cannot move with the group to Paris.  In other words, now until there is an urgent review, you simply cannot work outside of the UK if you have a British passport.  Period.

Travel organizations often use a lot of tour guides who currently work outside of the UK who are British passport holders.  Their English is….not bad… and quite often what they lack in historical and local knowledge, they more than make up with their unique British humor and acting abilities.  All this is now gone! For symphony orchestras, traveling theatre groups, people who are in the entertainment business and need to work inside the European zone, they no longer will be able to.  Gone!  Yes, a business traveler can still pop across to France for two or three days but the rest will not be legal.

Tourism depends upon tour guides who can handle different countries and speak multiple languages.  Incredibly, the British Government has overlooked this, and probably we’re all rather ironically fortunate that Brexit took place during the pandemic.  With zero business and zero travelers on organized tours, the urgency to fix this anomaly hasn’t screamed out just yet.
The Brexit decision ultimately will probably cost the Brits a valuable place at the International table.  As the financial business inevitably devolves to Germany or the Netherlands and the center of power that London once was gradually shifts, things are going to shake up.  London truly was an international city but in the past year 700,000 Europeans have moved out of the UK.  We’re keeping close tabs on this because our business depends upon a fluid border and Brexit cannot provide that.

Right now, the UK government has yet to consider any of this.  The European Union has already moved on.  Yeah, people love to travel to the UK because of the royal family, the fabulous theater, the double decker busses and the sheer weight of tradition that envelops it.  But London will miss that injection of European talent and youth that once was there.  People came to London to learn English, to take in the sights and to take part in the UK economy and some of them stayed and became resident Brits.  They started businesses and integrated into British society.  They brought fresh ideas and loved Britain maybe more than many Brits.  They became Brits.  Gone!

With Brexit or should we say more the European exit, Britain and specifically London will not be the powerhouse it was.  I hate to say it, but I think a lot of the people that voted for Brexit would probably reevaluate their decision if they had a chance to right now.  According to current polls Brexit would never go through.  But Brexit is done.

In the USA, we had a chance to dump Trump.  We get that opportunity, every 4 years.  With Brexit, it’s done and dusted.  It would be extraordinarily challenging to reverse the curse of separation from the European Union.  We must imagine that Britain will become less of an International powerhouse.  Less of a cultural heartthrob for Europeans. T he strong possibility that Scotland will call for another referendum to join the European Union as an independent nation.  We must imagine that Ireland essentially has already left. And where does that leave us?  That leaves us with Little Britain.  A short sighted and awful decision that leaves Brits minnows amongst the Giants of Europe.  Pity.

 

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

Roma, non basta una vita!

There is one question that I keep asking myself…when the world opens up once more, where should we go first?!

Will it be Rome? Will it be London? Will it be Paris?

For me, the answer would absolutely be to go to Rome.  But what would that first day look like?

Well, arrival day in Rome is always filled with both confusion and amazement.  During the cab ride into the city, you pass flat fields on either side and through a modern suburb that houses a replica of the Pantheon of the ancient city that I am heading to.  And then suddenly you take a left turn and up the Aventine Hill.  Now I am on one of the most beautiful of the seven hills.  Time to visit the orange orchard and look through the key hole from which you can see the dome of St Peter’s.  Fairly dramatically across the road sits the villas of Ancient Rome along the Palatine embankment.  And just below, there are the remnants of the great circus Maximus.  Dogs walk where great chariots once raced.

The ride becomes breathtaking now – there’s the Mouth of Truth, two ancient temples along the river, the theatre of Marcello, and then the great Cordonata Capitalina leading to the Campidoglio.  Next to that are the medieval stairs of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli and underneath are some Roman houses that provided a foundation for the 19th century Vittorio Emmanuel II “wedding cake” monument.  It’s a sightseeing and tourist landmark but not much else!  But now we are in the Piazza Venezia.  Down one end through the myriad of streets is the Pantheon and down the other end, the Colosseum.  And then we have disappeared into Rome.

Rome is truly an open-air museum in itself. My favorite Roman walk begins in the medieval square in Trastevere, heads across the ancient Roman bridge, and continues through the piazzas that tumble like centuries before arriving in Bernini’s Piazza Navona.  To get there, you first pass through the Piazza Farnese with its beautiful Palazzo, now the French Embassy, and the two bathtubs from Caracalla that anchor the square.  The Campo di Fiori is next with its exciting bars and marketplace.  Here the statue of Giordano Bruno marks the square.  The best pizza and the best pasta carbonara are available here!  Also this is not far from what once was Teatro di Pompeo, precisely where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Across the busy road, you make your way into the Piazza Navona.  This is probably the most famous square outside of St. Peter’s. Bernini went to town here with three fountains, the most famous being the fountain of the four rivers.

You continue the long walk via the Pantheon along the Corso to the Spanish Steps and ultimately to the Piazza del Popolo. In between, I love to grab a coffee at a bar, have a Campari, and maybe do some shopping on one of the tiny streets that surround the Senate Building. If I could sneak to Rome in January with the winter sun and empty streets, it would be the start of my reconnection to travel that I have sorely missed. Roma, non basta una vita!

As the World Turns

So, the world just turned upside down.

An election in the USA will bring change and hopefully a more international orientation. Vaccines are being moved through final phases to help us see the end of this desperately bleak pandemic. At the same time, the world has gone into lockdown once more and cases of Covid-19 in the USA are spiraling out of control.

But somehow, this week felt better than prior weeks. It may be because there is more Covid-19 testing, better treatment facilities, and above all, there is now a clear pathway out of this difficult period. Our travel world, which has relied upon a vicarious remote world wandering through cities, museums, and off-the-wall places, now at least starts to see a crack in the door. Airlines are still running restricted capacity and most places are closed…but there is a crack in the door. It’s not much but some light is shining through.

I don’t quite know how it will feel the first time that I go to an airport, check-in for the flight, sit on an airplane, and wait to be whisked to a foreign place. It has been a part of every month of my life for so long. Looking for that day to come.

Dear Japan

Recently, I was looking back at some of my photos, wondering about travel, and thinking of how the globe in my office catastrophically became unglued. Timing is everything! One of my to-do tasks is to get some Gorilla Glue so that my globe can start spinning again. That will be the catalyst for a return to travel. Good old super glue.

I was busy writing down all of the places I have traveled to over the last year or so. Notwithstanding the current war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I did get to see the great steppes of the Hinterland that stretches all the way to Siberia.

And in between visits to Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, I thought of Japan. A place that to me feels so calm and serene, which I visited twice last year. I thought it was so impressive how their handling of the virus has been. The very positive ways they have dealt with the pandemic so that people can travel responsibly and with confidence inside of its borders.

I was prompted to think of this because our wonderful colleague who organizes our Japan trips sent me a message. Things are looking up in Japan, she told me. It probably will be one of the first places we can re-enter for travel. So I sat, thinking about Japan a lot. Was it the food, the high-speed trains, and the ancient traditions that hang beautifully in the air over Kyoto? I thought of the evening maiko performance in Gion and the chance of being able to run into geishas during the Toka Ebisu festival in January.

I thought of how profound it was to visit Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima with its famous Itsukushima Shrine. And of course, the frisson of Tokyo. I distinctly remember going into Tokyo Station to buy bento boxes and a set of masks. I didn’t even think that the masks, which I bought primarily as a souvenir, would become part of my daily living. In the Asian world, and especially Japan, masks have been commonly worn for many, many years.

So, dear Japan, I miss you and I cannot wait for that daily flight from Boston to Tokyo Narita to come back. I can’t wait to see Godzilla in Shinjuku and taste some of finest ramen noodle dishes in the world. I can’t wait to eat sushi and miso soup for breakfast. I can’t wait to feel like the tallest guy in the elevator, because I was, and I can’t wait for that feeling of being so far away in such a foreign place, that it gave me goosebumps to even imagine that the world is round. I am totally ready to travel.

The Current News

I find myself trolling the news websites to get a better sense of the pandemic internationally. My usual go-to sites are the BBC and The Guardian. Catalan closed down, the UK has gone to a tiered system, Liverpool is higher tiered and London is lowered tiered, France is in lockdown, and the Czech Republic seems to have shut its borders. Australia is reeling from a recent spike in cases and Switzerland has eliminated specific countries from visiting! And all of this happened within the last 48 hours.

And I thought to myself, that travel is much more resilient than all of this noticias. Travel will endure. Honestly, if the explorers could get on a boat the size of my shoe and spend two years trying to find the spice kingdom by going the wrong way, then these times will be overcome.

Yes, there has been a lot of tragedy. This pandemic will be something we tell our kids and our kids’ kids about. But the world will move on and we will too. The other day, I wondered if the pause in pollution that this had permitted was some divine way to give us a few more years of sanity before the horror of climate change eventually envelops us. We have an election and Brexit and corruption and still the world spins. I may have missed a vacation or two over the past eight months, but at some point, a new normal will come into being.

I was thinking all of this as I stared at the fabulous dance poster in my office of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s a black and white contact sheet that has been blown up. My dad loved the Fred and Ginger movies and we watched them every Sunday in the wintertime in England. There is a great line from one of the songs in the movies that sort of sums it up: “There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s music and laughter and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.”

Love that song. Love travel. Who doesn’t? Let the good times roll.

Observations: How Art Transports Us

I have a lot of art and photographs in my new office. I sort of like the clutter. There is the lampshade with the heron, the soccer poster from 1930, and the deco picture of a woman playing golf.

I love how my David Hockney’s remind my of my time in Santa Monica. There’s a beautiful picture of the Pantheon by an unknown artist, and my black and white photo of Joni Mitchell, given to me by an old friend because my day always starts with “Ladies of the Canyon.”

I have a poem from my daughter and a wild picture of me when I used to act, a large contact sheet of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, and a corner palazzo in Venice along the Grand Canal. I feel like I am in Doctor Who’s tiny tardis. None of this art or photography is worth a fortune, but all of it is priceless to me.

During this pandemic period, I treasure a place that can transport me somewhere else. A place where I can travel and a place where my imagination can tap into some astroplane. Until we begin our journeys again, these places become important. Memories of walks through museums and cities, a river walk or a skyline.

Yep, my office does look a bit like Gertrude Stein’s living room now, sadly without the original Matisse and Picasso paintings! A little cluttered, but for the time being, a quick swivel of my chair and I have been to more places in 10 seconds than any person deserves. For the time being, that’s better than not.