Tag Archives: Europe

Albania Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Cruise Ship Dilemma

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

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

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

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

Surprises in Split

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarajevo’s History and Haunting Beauty

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

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

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

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

My First Jaunt in Cardiff

It’s a strange place to go for a football game.  When I think of Wales, I always think of rugby, but this was the Champion’s League Final; the most important soccer game of the year. For some ungodly reason, the match was held in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. Presumably because someone paid a lot of money to someone else for the privilege.

Confession #1 is that I had never been to Cardiff before and was ready and waiting to discover a part of the British Isles that I was unfamiliar with. Confession #2, Wales had never really been on my wish list. Still, only a two-hour intercity train from London’s Paddington Station and voila…you’re in Wales or Cymru. What I know about Wales is that its famous for its castles, its rugged interior, and the mountain range known as Snowdonia. Add to that a strong Celtic tradition, a bizarre language, and a history of coal and it’s all a bit of a hodgepodge!

The Sandringham Hotel, our base for the weekend, which was a bit of a scramble because of the Champion’s League Final, was a perfectly centrally located hotel, albeit a little basic. It was a short walk from the station to the hotel and delight upon delight we found that the hotel had another side to its personality. This was no ordinary bog standard hotel. It had a ground floor jazz club that stayed open until 3 o’clock in the morning. Things were looking up.

We were right on St. Mary’s Street, the main drag of Cardiff, where I imagine there are more pubs in the one quarter mile than most cities in the world. For a Champion’s League soccer match or a rugby match, you could say that this was pretty optimal. In addition to that, places seemed to stay open late. Still, we had a lot more to see than just pubs. We had to visit the famed castle and the Central Market which was just off St. Mary’s Street – in fact everything seemed just off St. Mary’s Street!

As it turns out, Heineken had taken over the Cardiff Castle so all we got was the view of the outside. The Dutch had invaded Wales! As for the marketplace, it had a glass atrium, an upper level, and a very Victorian feel to it, but most of the shops had decided to close, presumably because there was a spare 60,000 people in town who wanted to buy something. These guys really knew how to make money! No problem, we wandered around, found a tea shop, and had some Welsh rarebit or Welsh rabbit depending on who you asked (it’s basically just cheese on toast with a lot of brown sauce on top of it).

We went to the game which was truly fabulous and the stadium was remarkable. I believe it was almost twice the size of the town! In the end, Real Madrid won the game and we got to eat at the Charleston’s Steakhouse which is the only place in the world I had ever been, apart from McDonalds, where you must pay for your meal before they serve you. Their secret recipe? They stay open until 4 o’clock in the morning and they were doing a lot of business.

So, Cardiff – a lively city? Yes. A great stadium for soccer and rugby games? Absolutely one of the best in the world. A lot of things to do there? Absolutely not. The pubs stayed open late and no wonder since there isn’t much to do here besides drink, eat Welsh rarebit or rabbit, and have a steak at 4:00 AM. It’s a place I can wait to return to.

Keep Rolling On

As a traveler, I’m finding more and more people want to know about the safety of visiting places in Europe. What’s it like traveling on the Metro or the Tube? Did you feel insecure about being in a crowded square? Were you suspicious of people who look different to you?

I am quickly becoming an authority on answering these questions. I was in London many years ago at the time of the horrific bombing of the Tube and buses (the 7/7 tragedy), I was in Paris the same day that there was an incident at the Louvre, and I was in London the day after the recent attack at London Bridge. As statistics will bear out, the truth is that it’s safer to travel in all of these cities than it is to step in your car or ride your bike through New York City. Life goes on. Imagine the alternatives – we lock ourselves away, we stop traveling, we stop interacting, and we prepare for the worst by surrounding ourselves with a moat. How crazy is that?

I walked across London Bridge on the Monday after the incident. Commuters were going to work, the bridge had temporarily become a pedestrian zone, and I looked across the river to Tower Bridge on one side and St. Paul’s on the other. The Shard towering above the ancient river as if it had been there forever. Everything seemed normal. Just then, a young girl on a skateboard rolled past me and I smiled to myself. That’s what we have to do – forget the moat, keep rolling along.

Sligo

Arriving in Dublin on a Saturday night can be a fun experience under any circumstance.

But renting a car and driving into town after the final of the All-Ireland Gaelic Football game that Dublin won is a whole different world.  The GPS could navigate me into the center but what it did not tell me was that I had to avoid the remnants of celebration walking randomly in front of me as I drove to the Conrad Dublin Hotel by St. Stephen’s Green.  We made it eventually and the hotel was absolutely great.  It was party night in Dublin.  Not a better place in all of the world.

The next morning, we began our journey to the scenic western coast of Ireland.

The drive to Sligo uses a fairly modern highway.  We drove out passing the St. James’s Gate and the Guinness Factory, and followed the River Liffey for several miles.  We traced peat bogs and at one point intersected with the River Shannon at Roosky before arriving in Sligo about 2.5 hours after departure.

The west of Ireland is truly a magnificent part of this tiny country.  Sligo sits in the northwestern part quite close to the Northern Ireland border.  The wealth that came to Sligo because of the port trade gave it the Cathedral of John the Baptist whose original foundation was built in the 13th century although it was completed in the 18th century.  About 30,000 people emigrated from Sligo during the Great Famine in the 19th century.  In the early part of the 20th century, Sligo became a hotbed for Republicanism.  Today, Sligo has the feel of an old colonial Garrison town with beautiful stone houses and on the outskirts there are some massive estates.  The Sligo area was popular with the British aristocracy even after Partition in 1921.

To me, walking through Sligo was a reminder of England in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s; shops were closed on Sunday, family stores, traditional clothing stores, butcher shops, pubs with the patron’s name on it, and tiny terraced houses with barely room to move between the door and the road.  Sligo has its beautiful River Garavogue that has created some activity and a bustle of shops and cafes that 15 years ago did not exist.

This is William Butler Yeats country and the inspiration for his poetry lies in the fields all around this tiny town.

It is easy to get here from Dublin by rental car, by bus, or a three-hour train service.  We stayed at the Glasshouse Hotel which was modest but ample and right on the Hyde Bridge – not fancy but the location was superb and the staff and amenities were brilliant. Sligo is absolutely worthwhile adding to your list.

Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones

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Eataly in Italy

We drove out of Rome past the Protestant Cemetery and stopped to take a look at Eataly.

This is the biggest location worldwide of the chain and it is in a very cool building.

The building itself was constructed with public funds and opened in 1989 as the air terminal to handle the traffic from the 1990 World Cup.  It was designed by the Spanish architect, Julio Lafuente, and is a very retro building that easily could have been designed in 1960’s.  From the beginning, nobody could find taxis (in those days it was in the middle of nowhere) and it was not easy to cart luggage from the nearby Ostiense train station across to the air terminal.  Ultimately it was abandoned and remained empty for years until it was purchased for not a lot by the financiers of Eataly.  What luck that Eataly picked up on this slightly dilapidated post-modern structure!

I had been to the Eataly in Turin before but this one is huge and feels more like making a trip to an American mall than being in Rome.

For me, I would rather do my shopping in the Campo di Fiore but I shouldn’t knock it – Eataly is coming to Boston and opening in the next few weeks.  Just imagine, wheels of parmesan, hocks of prosciutto, pasta from every region, restaurants and shops galore, and all within walking distance of my house!  I’ll take that any day.

Eataly Pietro Place Peter Jones

Italian Coast

The drive down the Italian coast from Rome is a mixed bag.

After a scattering of fairly dull seaside places, we eventually got to Anzio where the allies landed in 1944.  It is a fairly unmemorable town but there is the haunting Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial there which we visited.

It is also the jumping off point if you want to go to the glitz and glamor of Rome’s chic island, Ponza.

This is the Martha’s Vineyard of the Roman World.  Ponza is one of six islands in an archipelago that sits a short distance from the Italian mainland.  We carried on our journey and the landscape brightened up quite a bit.

We eventually ran into a lovely town called Sperlonga only about one hour outside of Rome.  Sperlonga is probably the nicest, closest resort to Rome.  There are lots of stabilimenti, beachside restaurants and cafes, and the climb up to the top of the town is lovely.  It may not be a Greek village like Symi but after all, you are only an hour away from Rome.

We were halfway to Naples and after a delightful spaghetti alle vongole everything went downhill fast.  Trash started to pop up everywhere.  The trash collection services in most of these southern coastal towns gave up long ago.  We were in Mafia country now.  There are 4,000 deaths every year around this part of the world.

It’s like the Wild West – row upon row of crumbling tenement buildings and Vesuvius sticking out with its ominous cone top rumbling.

The traffic was starting to build up as we moved into Naples proper and we had some time to get off and head into the center.  Many people get nervous about Naples but I actually love it.  It has great restaurants, beautiful architecture, and with its location facing the island of Ischia and only 45 minutes’ drive from Sorrento, it becomes a tempting place to stay.  However, you have to be careful and mindful of all of the usual city stuff in the evening.  We were moving on pretty quickly and picked up the small road that takes you literally through the Bay of Naples and into the town of Sorrento.  We were nearly there.

 

Luxembourg Gardens Pietro Place Peter Jones

The Luxembourg Gardens

I like to stay in Paris somewhere close to Montparnasse.

Lately I have been staying at the Belle Juliette on the Rue du Cherche-Midi which interestingly enough is a fabulous French phrase that my Parisian friend, Claire, explained to me.  To “chercher midi à quatorze heures” means to complicate things.

From this delightful 4-star boutique hotel with a lovely garden, it’s a short walk past antique stores and tiny cafes to the Luxembourg Gardens.

The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, apart from the obvious reasons of sightseeing, the splendid palace, and the history attached to it, is simply one of the great outdoor gymnasiums.

A run around the perimeter inside of the gardens is just under two miles.  The surface is pleasant, the people watching is amazing, the flora and the fauna is over the top and you can barely believe you are smack in the center of the Latin Quarter.

The gardens are jammed between the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Sorbonne area, the Odéon and the Saint-Sulpice, and the longest road in Paris, the Rue du Vaugirard.  In the center of the gardens, there are beautiful clay tennis courts that are not terribly busy, donkey rides, petanque games, and a scattering of benches that are used for exercise.  In between all of this there is a beautiful pond where children can rent miniature sail boats.  There is a kids swimming pool that is sometimes taken over by adults that should know better.  There is a plethora of olive green chairs scattered everywhere for people to sit, read, and enjoy what has been there for centuries.  There are apple trees, oleander trees, and a miniature model of the Statue of Liberty.  Ironically in the Luxembourg Gardens there is not a lot of grass and most grass is protected by signs telling you to stay off of it.

This is one of the greatest parks in all of the world for a jog, walk, or quiet moment relaxing in one of the chairs.

Paris takes your breath away again.

Corsica Pietro Place Peter Jones

Getting Lost in Corsica

It’s tough to find a place in the Mediterranean that is not overrun by tourists, especially the hordes from the north who populate and destroy the character of places in Spain and Portugal.

But there are times to visit the Mediterranean and there are places during those times that remain relatively untouched by the scourge of modern tourism.

Corsica is one of them.

One hour from Paris by plane or a slow boat from Marseilles will get you to this magical island that sits just off of the coast of southern France, west of the Italian peninsula, and north of the island of Sardinia.  I made the most delightful wrong turn upon arrival in the airport and what should have been a 35-minute drive to the picturesque town of Saint-Florent, turned out with my GPS to be a two-and-a-half-hour journey through the hinterland, climbing mountain tops, and going through several weather changes, on my way back to, as it turns out, the airport!

As I discovered, Google Maps has bouts of unreliability nevermore than when you need it most.

But we covered mountain passes, pig farms, delightful stone villages, and oodles of bougainvillea that acted as hedge rose.

Driving was a little dicey but with my stick shift knowledge I was able to navigate some treacherous climbs and take a few stops to grab some time to take in the scenery.  The scenery in this mountainous island was spectacular.  Even in June there were 8,500 foot peaks of snowcapped mountains peering down across the turquoise Mediterranean Sea.

I had been to Sardinia some 30 years ago but this landscape was altogether different.

Eventually we picked up the road that we had ought to have picked up on the drive from the airport and started all over again.  As it turns out, the confusion was because the sign for Saint-Florent had been crossed out by some angry Corsican separatists which left only the sign in Corsican that looked completely different.

A combination of Corsican separatists and Google Maps had conspired to give me an incredible introduction to this magical island!

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Renting a Car in Europe

Things to Beware of When Renting a Car in Europe

Renting a car in Europe can be not quite as easy as you think.

First of all – the insurance.  Call your credit card company and make sure what you think is insured is insured.  The cost of a rental car can literally double per day if you take the rental car’s suggested insurance options.  Your credit card should cover you for all of the insurance that you need.  But there is a catch – the credit card company is simply going to back up your own insurance if there is a problem.  Thus, if you have an accident overseas, the credit card company will first go to your USA auto insurance policy and look for the coverage there.  If they cannot find it, then they will back you up.  But it’s not certain, it’s complicated, it’s time consuming, and as always, it is simply designed as a way for insurance companies to avoid the risk of something happening.  It’s sort of like the ad, they cover for zombie invasion but an accident in a car may not be covered by your insurance!  So when travelling overseas, just make sure that that is sealed tight.

Second, it also goes without saying that you should fill the tank before you drop the car off.

It’s another way for rental car companies to screw the living daylights out of you.

Lastly, and through no fault of the rental agencies, Europe is a lot hipper and sneakier than the USA in terms of speeding tickets or general fines.

To begin with, do not be fooled because you never see a cop parked in a hidden driveway or somebody staring at you with the speed gun.  In Europe it is all done with cameras and as soon as the camera catches you speeding and flashes, you’re done.  What that means is that there is no 10 mph forgiveness zone that most of the time is granted in the USA.  If you are traveling at 66 km/h in a 60 km/h limit, the speed camera will go off.  You’ve been caught on camera.  Eventually that fine will make its way to the rental company and the rental company eventually will hit you with that ticket with extra surcharges because obviously it’s late in payment.  Fines can be high and rental car companies do not provide information about this.  Europeans are very aware of the cameras and in France, the UK, and Italy there are cameras everywhere.

Good news is that the speed cameras have lowered the average speed of drivers and have saved thousands of lives.  The bad news is that it is a source of revenue for the local authorities.  Same with parking tickets.  What used to be easy with a rental car is not so easy anymore.  The fine will eventually get back to you with late surcharges and you could end up with a bill on your credit card from the rental agencies up to one year later (which they are allowed to do).  Just because the Europeans have a higher speed limit than the USA, it doesn’t mean you can speed like the old days.  You will pay for it one way or another.

Image courtesy of http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/.

Day Flight

The BA Day Flight

How I love that day flight.

You can work through the day on the plane, arrive looking roughly the same as when you left, and get to enjoy a great meal in London before you begin your journey.  Or better still, grab a hotel night at the incredibly convenient Sofitel that is situated at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  This hotel is a dream especially if your onward connection the following day is on British Airways and therefore in Terminal 5.

British Airways operates day flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston.

The flight time from Boston is 5 hours and 50 minutes and while it is not recommendable for people who are trying to save a hotel night by sleeping on an airplane seat, the difference in a healthy travel experience and a somewhat acceptable looking human being emerging from the plane is well worth it.  The great news is that during the summer months you can connect all the way through to Paris (if you are a BA fan) or to more exotic places like Palma in Mallorca (I’m a big fan).

Imagine – you depart Boston at 8:10 am, do some work, watch a movie, connect through to Paris, and by midnight you can be sitting down in a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Germain, as I did in the Café Louise.

At that point it is still only 7pm in the evening on Boston time.  True confession: I am a secret addict of the day flight.

Soccer

The Barbarian Invasion – The Dark Side of Soccer

It’s the start of soccer mania.

The greatest game in the world is everywhere this summer. There is the Copa America in the USA, the European Nations Cup in France, and not to mention soccer at the Olympics in Brazil.  This is definitely a summer for los fanáticos.  Carried live on TV in the USA, there is not a day that goes by when some important game is not catching the eye of the devotees.

But there is a dark side to soccer as demonstrated recently in the beautiful port city of southern France, Marseille.

The ugly side of ultra-nationalist thugs fighting against an opposing teams’ army of thugs or tearing apart local restaurants and bars and fighting with the police.  It should not be this way but soccer quite often has a dark side.  This summer it has again reared its ugly head.

When we choose to travel, we travel to open our minds, embrace different cultures, take a chance on speaking a language that we are unfamiliar with, and get close to the sights and sounds of a place that is unfamiliar.

In brief, learn and enrich yourself with the tools of the trade – tolerance, openness, and kindness.  With this, and a guide book or willingness to get lost, one can take a chance with a phrase or two, and get to meet people from different places with different languages, different religions, and different perspectives.  When I see the dark side of soccer, I see such a misconnect between the beautiful game and what this ultra-minority of racist hooligans take from the sport.

Here’s the deal – it’s not their sport, it’s our sport.  Prejudice in any form is a terrible waste of life.

I will sit back, watch the games, marvel at the moves, enjoy the backdrop of beautiful cities, and know that there is nothing wrong with supporting your nation. But that has nothing to do with being an ultra-nationalist.  No wonder they banned alcohol in the cities where the hooligans are heading.  What right do these guys have to paint the Russian or English fan on their drunken bodies?  Shout out against all forms of racism and fanaticism.  You never know, it could be happening at a place near you!  See you out there somewhere.

Soccer