Category Archives: City of the Month

Tombs and Robbers

You must go to Egypt. It’s amazing. Since travel opened, I have been thinking pf this place for a while. Luxor, the Nile, the Pyramids, the museum, and the marketplace. All the memories of a long time ago came flooding back…Nile humor…I remember I bought a mummy and a pyramid when I went to the market, Crossed the Nile several times, didn’t see a crocodile or a Hippo and honestly was in awe at the history of the place. Its insane. The Romans were in love with the Egyptians. Adopted burial practices from them and leave is with clear art from the period of occupation that we have no access to anywhere else in the world. The Romans were so influenced and enamored by Egyptian history and ways that Caius Cestus even had a pyramid specifically made for him that suits developed by the Roman walls. Completed in 12 BC it took just two months to complete. Modest compared to the huge Pyramids of Giza, but no less impressive in this lesser-known spot near the Protestant cemetery.

Egyptian stone pyramids are the oldest. But Mexico and indeed Brazil has its share of ancient sites. The stairways to heaven.

Cairo Airport

It’s a bit like Cairo. When you get to arrive in the main arrival terminal and need to transfer across to the domestic terminal, it’s a little chaotic. Not entirely clear and yet somehow it all works. I found myself standing in the queue with other passengers and a wedding couple. She was resplendent in her beautiful dress and the heavy train she needed to pick up as she was heading onto the plane. I even had an assist as she absolutely needed help handling the bags. And there we were, in a coach with a newly married bride and groom and I was the only one that looked surprised. Welcome to Egypt!

An Old Geezer in Giza

Pyramids are strange things. Incredible testaments to a civilization that was hell bent on avoiding hell and pretty much had a philosophy that carefully encapsulated the afterlife. The golf clubs, the bikes, the workout equipment, and a few pets. All going into the pyramid. Unlike the later tombs found in and around Luxor, pyramids were huge, unbridled displays of ego and power. And of course, vulnerable to Tomb raiders! The great Pyramid of Giza began in 2560 BC. You can go inside and march all the way to the top. It’s a pretty claustrophobic tunnel and I would recommend only to those that feel fit enough, but…it’s amazing. Really, what is amazing is that its 4700 years old! There are the usual shops around the pyramid and the Sphinx, and camel rides and horseback rides are everywhere. I recommend. Try them all. These extraordinary monuments, nearly 5000 years old, in a dessert under the scorching sun are what the Egypt trip is all about. Just have fun and imagine.

Cairo

Crazy traffic, crazy, markets winding through narrow old lanes, and buildings getting pulled down to clear out the slums and move half of the city to a new Capital. The NAC. New Cairo. Th project in Cairo has started. A city of 25 million people. Half of them to be moved to this new place not far from Giza. The Egyptian Museum is moving out there too in what will be the most ambitious project in Museum history. It will be the largest museum of antiquities in the world. With views across the dessert to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. But the Cairo I recalled is still there. Still with the Kan al Khaleli bazaar and the mosque outside the narrow streets. The beautiful old building of the Egyptian museum feeling more like a house that is being packed up. Mummies and boxes side by side and difficult to see what is what. There is of course the main attraction. King Tut. No photos in there but the incredible golden display is still as breathtaking as ever. And it has been around the world a few times. Poor guy! The museum sits close by to Tahrir square. Lots of shops and restaurants and if you look one way you might think you were in a modern European city but look the other way and you see it differently. Bikes and carts and people walking through the middle of the street. They say that not even 10 per cent of cars are insured in Egypt. They all look like they have had some issues. Crossing the road is a sheer act of wonder and maybe madness. My Italian training could not even prepare for the crossing. Cars simply drive around you and somehow you feel that it’s a miracle when you arrive on solid ground once more. That is Cairo. The markets, the sounds the traffic and the chaos. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Egypt

The last time I was in Egypt was with the kids. It’s a bucket list thing. Pyramids, Mummies, and the Sphinx. I recall vividly those moments and the photos still are up on our wall. Incredible Luxor, the sound and light show in Carnac and the tomb visits. Plus, the Camel ride and the Nile cruise.

So, here we were, heading to Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. Our long-awaited Overseas conference (2 Covid years) and two weeks before COP27, the biggest and most serious Climate change conference in the world. More than 35,000 delegates will attend and more than 100 heads of state including Joe Biden. And we were there.

So, what is Sharm really like?  It’s a resort. Primarily. First developed by the Israelis after they occupied it from 1967 to 1982, until an accord was reached and Sharm was returned to the Egyptians. An amazing destination and has the most beautiful climate and the most beautiful coral reefs imaginable. We got to spend just a few days there.

The town is super safe and even though it boasts no ancient buildings, it has a stunning mosque in the center of the town square. A few camels scattered here and there for tourist rides, some great fish restaurants (no alcohol) and the typical bazaar shops found all over Egypt. Time to bargain and search for something not made in China! And every merchant promises the real deal!

Sharm, above all is famous for its snorkeling and scuba. With over 1,000 species of fish and 150 species of coral, the Red Sea is gleaming with a kaleidoscope of color. No sharks, guaranteed….. and plenty of other things to do. The place is still in the throes of building development. They have highways that are built for Los Angeles and resorts popping up alongside Museums and Casinos and yet…..they still have not figured out the long and arduous visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery (10 commandments) and they should as it’s one of the most important places to see. They are talking of flights to Luxor and flights to the monastery. All in time this will make Sharm, a complete destination. From a conference point of view, it has everything. Now these guys who are meeting should start talking seriously about climate change and solar and battery storage. They almost certainly could power the entire country with the solar resources from the Sahara and Sinai desert.

Funny, it used to be all about oil. When the sun was staring in their face!

METEORA

I have been to many places in Greece. The Peloponnesus , many of the beautiful islands and of course Athens. We had stayed on Corfu for a few days. As is the case in so many Greek islands, the influence of the Venetians is everywhere.  But we had a ferry to catch and I had never been to Meteora. We drove from Igounamitza. To the hill town of Metzgo. We arrived in Meteora at sunset. It was a beautiful crisp September evening. I couldn’t believe the apparition in the distance. Huge mountains arising from the plains below. Lights on the top. Monasteries. We stayed at a great hotel, ate at a fabulous restaurant with a train whizzing by everything 15 minutes about 10 yards from the table. We woke up to a great day and drove to the principal mountain and climbed for an hour. Reveled in the history, in awe of how they built these monasteries up here, how they maintained this tradition for so long. We continued to Thessaloniki at the end of the day. Tomorrow sightseeing of this second largest city in Greece.  Another day in magical Greece. 

INVALIDES

I have never been to the museum at the Invalides. I missed it on my travels. Never took the time. A mistake. It was hot yesterday in Paris and I headed off to Napoleon’s tomb but was meeting up with someone at the museum. And then a travel moment. In the heat of the day, in the main courtyard, it became clear that there were dignitaries arriving. A band had assembled. The inner courtyard had been closed. And we raced up to the next level to catch the parade. And what a parade. A presentation of medals. The band played the Marseillaise. And then it was done. I walked back to Napoleons tomb. It was air conditioned so i stayed a while longer. What an indulgent guy. Big place for after life. Pyramid stuff. Beautiful tourist place. Another incredible Paris sight. So many of them. Never tires. Travel Changes lives! 

Acropolis

Last person in….  Arrived late into Athens. There was a transportation strike so traffic was unbearable. I got to the hotel late, but it was still light and I strolled through the Plaka and decided that as I was here for one night only, I would fast walk to the Acropolis. It was a good climb through the streets of the Plaka and I could see the imposing hill outside of the Acropolis on my left as I kept walking. I eventually arrived by the entrance and then the guy broke the news, We are closed! I pleaded. I just wanted to see the top. I wouldn’t take long. Eventually he caved. If you can buy a ticket, I will let you in. OK. So, I went down to the ticket office just behind the entrance. The ticket office woman was unhelpful. We are closed. Its 6:30. Sorry!

Then I had the brainwave. I NEED A TICKET FOR TOMORROW I SAID. Tomorrow. Oh, fine. She gave me the ticket and I popped back to my guy at the gate. Handed him the tomorrows entrance ticket, he looked at me, smiled and waved me through. The last person in! The Acropolis looked stunning that night. I was lucky to have had a “travel moment.” I watched the soldiers take the flag down during the nightly ritual and climbed back down. Last in. Last out. What a trip!

Crete

So here is the thing about Greek Islands. They are fabulous. Turquoise waters, fun in the evenings, dining around a horseshoe harbor, dancing to the beat of traditional music, grilled  fish and octopus and Greek salad, Wow, But when you are traveling, there needs often to be something else. Something beyond the hedonism and sun worshipping. That is why Crete is such an interesting place.

It is the most southern island in the Greek islands and runs parallel to Cyprus and its Italian neighbor Sicily. So, the weather stays warm deep into October. It’s a big Island with vast differences in terrain and full of mountains and gorges and spectacular scenery as you drive around the edges. The interior is high and dramatic and quite green. Mt. Ida is 8,000 feet and full of snow in the winter. You can ski it, but there is no ski infrastructure. For purists only.  

The Samaria Gorge is the largest gorge in Europe, 18 kilometers long and more gorges less imposing close by. There are Venetian harbors and Chania and Rethymnon are sensational seaports. The most beautiful beaches in all of Greece are found on the island. And then there is this ancient city of Knossos near Heraklion that sort of blows you away. 4,000 years old. A Minoan civilization operating around the same time as the Pharaohs in Egypt. This is the bronze age. And a reliably restored and ancient collection of temples and stairways and vases juxtaposed alongside the dreadful new town. But here it is. We arrived late. One hour before closing. No crowds. A few guides hanging around looking for tourists to take them around. And we almost had the place to ourselves. The most ancient city in our western civilization. Minoans. Here we have some semblance of their story before a series of calamities befell them and the Myceneans took over, until they too, were wiped out by an earthquake. The palace is preserved and restored and we owe much to Arthur Evans the English Archaeologist whose statue stands in the grounds of the palace. If you have the time and can avoid the crowds , this is a special visit amidst the intense natural spectacle called Crete.

Stanford’s Bookstore London

Its tucked away in a modern enclave off Mercer Street in Covent Garden. It once was headquartered on Long Acre but moved just before Covid to its new quarters.  It is without a doubt, the most amazing travel bookstore in the world. Opened by Edward Stanford in 1853, it was primarily a mapmaker’s shop. It opened at the height of colonial exploration and cartography was in great demand. It has the largest collection of maps, globes and maritime charts in the world. It is an amazing place. Adapted to modern times, it survived the onslaught of internet commerce, became a truly international shopping place for all its wares and I have to say, if I had to spend 2 hours in a bookstore every day, this would be the place I would stay.

As a traveler, surrounded by globes, maps, books and guides and knowledgeable people who work there. It’s my favorite place to hang out. Nearest tube is Covent Garden. And one thing is for sure. Guidebooks remain more useful in print than online. They work perfectly. And if you only need a piece of a thick guidebook and can’t carry the whole book with you, tear out the bits you need, peacefully…and save them as a segment for someone else.

The Lounge chair 

Maybe I am in the minority. The beach thing. I love what Italians call the stabilimenti.  The organized beach structures that are scattered along the Italian coastline. Complete with chairs, changing cabins, showers and umbrellas.  Originating in Tuscany in the early 19th century, they were conceived as a health retreat that protected privacy and became a fad along the coast lines. Rimini, Lido Venezia, all would be scooped up by the summer stabilimenti. Once the bikini was invented in 1946 and Italy shook off its fascist past, they became almost iconic as part of the furniture of the Italian coast line.

Italian politics 

Spiaggia libera or stabilimento?  Nowadays the  price per month of an umbrella and two beds on a beach in Italy is around $1000. And you own them temporarily.                                              

You are allocated a spot, and no matter what, if you have paid, that spot is yours until the lease runs out! Recently a bill in parliament was debated concerning the seizure of prime spots in the stabilimento. The early towel placers seizing prime location and disappearing until later in the day. Talk of a stabilimeto policing was discussed. Now, in a world where we have a good share of complications in general, it seems absolutely wonderful to imagine that this is being discussed in Italy while the country is perilously close to a return to Mussolini politics! Although in the end, it doesn’t matter. Its Italy. Nothing will really change. Except the government. 20 different prime ministers over 75 years! Ah. Italia!

Brighton

“Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball…” The Who

I love Brighton. I went to university there. I used to go on day trips when I was young, and even walked to Brighton with a few of my mates when I guess we had nothing better to do. 50 miles. Through the night. Stopped at every pub until they closed on us. Ah. The folies of youth. So, here I was on the London Brighton train for a college reunion of sorts. The train journey from Victoria takes 1 hour. Memories of youth as we sped across the English countryside enroute to the sea. I took a cab to the Hotel du Vin. Recommended as it’s in the “Lanes” and central to everything you need. We took the train out to Falmer, wandered around the university campus, rekindled memories of what I could barely remember and then headed back to the fun of Brighton proper.

Brighton became famous in the late 18 century as a vacation spot for the Prince regent, later George IV. Architect John Nash built the famous Brighton Pavilion in in the early 19th century just for him…decadent to say the least. Towards the end of the 19th century, the two famous Victorian piers were erected. Although the west Pier was “wiped out” in a storm. It has a metal skeletal frame and is preserved out in the sea for a potential future project. The Palace Pier, with its iconic fun, fair, roller coaster and slide still remains. I think the Santa Monica pier is modeled on it.

Brighton is famous for its labyrinthian lanes with shops and restaurants inside the tiny world of narrow alleyways that spill onto the seafront. Brighton is often called London by the sea. It has the buzz of a cool neighborhood in London, but with the super advantage of a sea front and a mix of traditional and modern scattered by the boat houses along the lower front. Sushi and jellied eels! Beyond Brighton, much to see. Lewes and Rottingdean stand out. I love the buzz of the place. If I lived in England, I think I would consider living in Brighton. But that’s another story. Another day!

Hotel du Vin Brighton

Summer in Rome

I have been coming to Rome for nearly half a century. Following the same route into town. Turn left onto the Aventine, drive along the perimeter of the Palatine, Circus Maximus below, right past the Bocca de Verita, past the Teatro Marcello on the left, slow down by the stairs of the Cordonata and the majestic entrance to the Campidoglio where Castor and Pollux stand guard, around to the Grand whiteness of the Vittorio Emanuel building and the Piazza Venezia and you have covered 2000 years of history.  And I always smile at the thought on my mind.  It never gets old. The days are too hot, for sure. Blistering sun attacking the faithful tourists who struggle over those ancient cobbled stones. Trailing behind their guides and translators. Armed with headsets and hats to ward of the suns venomous rays. Desperate for that water fountain, the grateful residual remains of roman ingenuity and baroque decoration or the shade of a statue that has been providing cover for 5 hundred years. And it all seems so hot and impossible and then the sun breaks and evening time settles in, and the colors start their magical transformation. And then you realize that the show has just begun.

Summer Paris

It’s the light. The summer sun hanging above the incredible array of places and monuments that are iconic. Paris is a masterpiece. Standing at the Carousel and looking down through the arches to la Defense, you capture the beauty of this place. The Tuileries in their dusty measured landscape detail, the surprises at the Luxembourg gardens as every day Paris gets on with its leisure life of tennis and running and Petanque.   In between sitting in the chairs that are scattered around for people with less sporty aspirations. And in the summer when the light remains until after11 pm it is simply magical. I have been coming here for many years. Every time it remains intoxicating. A perfectly laid out city. Not jumbled but precision layout thanks to monsieur Haussmann. And then the sights. One on top of the other. The Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Invalids, the Louvre the Musee d’Orsay and of course the Eiffel Tower. Glittering like a sparkler every hour. From the top of Montmartre, the city is a show unto itself. It’s good for the soul. 

Margate

I haven’t been back to Margate since I was a kid.  Mum and dad would diligently save all their money so that we could have a 2-week holiday every year. Nothing fancy.  A train journey of about 4 hours to the Thanet Coast and a small room in Margate at a guesthouse.  We had to clear out for the day no matter the weather. Rain and cool weather. It didn’t matter. We would take our pack of macs to the beach and boil the water for some tea.

So. Here I am. Nearly a half century later. It was a sunny day. Very hot. and I decided to take a day trip from St. Pancras to the seaside and revisit Margate. My childhood holiday town. The journey was now about an hour and a half and from the station I was able to walk to the town. From a distance it looked vaguely familiar. A sweep of sandy beach. Tide was up. An ugly building that was my focal point called Dreamland, an amusement park that occupied our evenings and the pier in the distance. I walked the town. It was crowded and not quite what I remembered. The beach was full of windbreakers and deck chairs and people. Lots of people and  it was high tide.  Not much room to move. I walked to the old pier. Had some jellied eels and cockles with vinegar and wandered through  the old town and visited the Turner Museum. A change from  the rapture of heaving bodies on the beach. The tide needed to go out!! I thought of memories of holidays and was grateful that I came down.. Margate. Did it. I think it’s a memory better left undone.