Tag Archives: People

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

Brexit: The Days After

Brexit: The Days After

As a Brit living in the USA and holding a UK passport and a USA passport, I felt that I had this unique opportunity to work and travel in 29 countries.

That changed. The United Kingdom has just experienced a political nightmare.  What most thought would be a very passable referendum to remain inside of the European Union sparked such fierce political divisions that the vote went into the night and became a cataclysmic defeat for those that wished to remain in the EU.

The political fallout from this is still happening.  The Labor Party, Britain’s main opposition party, has been splintered and almost certainly sidelined for many years to come.  The Conservative Party has lost its leader and the Prime Minister.  As two populist conservatives, Boris Johnson, the disheveled and outspoken ex-Mayor of London, and Nigel Farange, a leader of the generously named but highly racist Independent Party, became the outspoken leaders for the “leave” camp.  Neither of these two villains will see power but they did enough damage to offset the gains made by being a member of the European Union for the last 45 years.

It was a campaign fueled by fears of immigration laced with racist terms.  Bringing “England back to England” banded around with frightening repetition.  At the end of the day, England is out.  The ramifications of this will be most obvious in the years to come.  In a global society, in a global economy, England has chosen to be isolationists fueling the immigrant polemic and walking confidently backwards into a “we once were great” illusion.  If that is not enough, English hooligans were on display everywhere during the European Championships of soccer.  To let you know what you really will be getting if you cut off the supply of bright, young Europeans who come to England to study our language, our culture, and more importantly, to work.

What does all of this mean for the traveler?

On a positive note, it means that your dollar will go further because the pound is tumbling and the euro has taken a hit as well.  It will probably mean more border checks and as England is not in the EU, the lines will be a little longer on the Eurostar and at the airports.  The fact that the United Kingdom is not in the Schengen Agreement which entitles free mobility between 19 countries will make it less of a problem.  For the United Kingdom passport holder traveling to Europe, it will mean longer lines and no freedom of movement.  It will mean that people will not be able to work freely with a British passport in any of the 27 member states and of course vice versa.  It means that in five to six years’ time, London will probably seem a little bit more English and that is not a good thing!  I love hearing the sound of foreign languages on the streets of London.  It makes me feel that I am in a cosmopolitan city, it encourages languages to be studied, and cultures to be learned.

Europe just lost one of its stars.  The United Kingdom is also the second largest economic country in the 28 countries with Germany still as number one.  But critically, Europe will still be a trading block of over 450 million people and therefore the second largest trading block in the world behind China and ahead of the USA.  The United Kingdom, in addition, may also become somewhat disunited within itself.  Scotland, who fiercely voted to remain in Europe, will probably elect to have a referendum and leave the UK.  Northern Ireland may do the same.  That would leave a very strange United Kingdom.  But for us tourists it would mean that we would have to go through border control to get to Edinburgh and the drive from Dublin to Belfast would also have a new border constructed.  Maybe we will have a united Ireland!

Of course none of this will take place right away.  Article 50 of the EU is the thing that has to be invoked.  That will set a two-year timetable for the unprecedented departure of one of the member states.  Thank goodness my grandmother is Irish!  I am applying for my Irish passport now!

 

guided sightseeing tours peter jones pietro place

Guided Sightseeing Tours

I live in Boston, I am from London, and I am in the travel business.

I watch the endless flotilla of sightseeing buses in their various forms trundle through the streets and main thoroughfares of all of the major cities.  I actually love the double decker buses in London and the hop on/hop offs that have taken over most of the cities of the world.  They truly serve a vital and useful function.  When people arrive in a city, they need an overview just to get their bearings.  While it is not my cup of tea to get stuck in a traffic jam, I sort of like the views and it’s a lazy way of a getting a history lesson.

Most of the time, guided sightseeing tours are brilliant.

The guides are local and with their peculiar accents and personalities they shine.  They are great communicators, energizers, and perspective givers.  They have their arsenal of anecdotes, their funny stories, and they are often our first impression when we arrive in a major city.  God forbid the poor tour group who gets the unbrilliant guide reciting date after date, detail after detail in the most hopeless way.  These are “the Memorizers” – fear them because they are out there and they will take the wind right out of your enthusiastic sails!

Most importantly, to be able to guide at the highest level, to recite history and communicate it effectively, and to move and change the narrative depending on the ebb and flow of traffic, requires concentration.  A guide should never be the driver of the vehicle.  That would detract from guiding and driving.  The other day there was a tragic accident in Boston with a “Duck Boat.” The “Duck Boats” in Boston are a fun tourist attraction – old amphibious military vehicles restored so that they can drive down the streets of Boston and then on into the Charles River.  It is an incredibly successful concept that has been replicated in other cities where tidal barriers permit.

But there is one problem and it’s a big problem.

The driver, situated about 15 feet above pedestrians on the street, is doing two separate things at the same time; each requiring their own expertise.  Drivers need to have good vision of everything around them, they need to solve short term problems, and they must stay alert to everything on the road and the sidewalks.  In addition, they have to read traffic signs, respond to hazards, and be aware of their spatial significance.  They are essentially driving a tank through narrow and busy streets.

In addition, they are tour guides.  They have to provide commentary, anticipate what they are going to see, and move their commentary around as the traffic changes its pattern.  So how can you do two things at the same time?  Texting and telephoning while driving in most states is forbidden.

Yet these guys drive around with blind spots everywhere, high above pedestrians, bicyclists, and scooter drivers and they are expected to be 100% alert to the changing driving conditions.

It’s impossible.  The tragic accident that happened the other day was proof of this.

What is the city going to do about this?  It looks at the moment like nothing and why….because Boston Duck Tours brings important revenue to the city of Boston.  Shame on you Boston and shame on the Boston Duck Tours.  Add a separate driver to each vehicle; a second set of eyes to help watch for pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.  It cost someone their life the other day and that is too big a price to pay for profit and gain and tourist dollars.

guided sightseeing tours

Brexit Pietro Place Peter Jones

The Brexit Debate

On June 23, the UK will hold a historic referendum that will determine whether they stay inside of the European Union or exit.

“The Brexit,” as it’s called, has divided the country.

Britain was a relative second choice to the initial family of six countries that formed the early version of the European Union in 1957.  The French, under President Charles de Gaulle at the time, had little time for the English, and the English had little time for the French.  But England joined in 1973 and became a big player in the EU which now has 28 member states.  They also enjoy a semi-unique status inside of this massive economic trading block.  The Brits retain their currency and want nothing to do with the open border policy that is known as Schengen.  With the exception of the UK and Ireland, the rest of the EU is obliged to adopt.

For most European member states point of view, the Brits are already getting a sweet deal – Trade collaboration, protection, and stimulus of a huge economic block but they still retain sovereignty over their borders and currency.  Especially in light of the recent immigration crisis that has resulted from the Middle East conflict.

So which way is this going to go?

Right now current polling suggests that the “stay-in” vote has a slight edge over the Brexit vote.

It’s too close to call but David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, has staked his reputation on the “stay-in” stance. However, the flamboyant Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is considered to be a potential heir apparent for the Prime Ministership, is on team Brexit.  The right-wing UK Independence Party and some would say openly racist party, UKIP, is solidly for Brexit.

For me, I like the European Union.  I enjoy the international flavor of London with the open flow of European workers in hotels, bars, and restaurants.  I love hearing the languages.  On any given day in any given restaurant or hotel, you can speak with a Pole, Slovenian, Italian, or Spanish citizen.  It creates a better community and in many ways it teaches us through trickle down to love thy neighbor.  Yep, even the French!  I like moving through the open borders of Schengen on my Euro passport.  I can remember when I was growing up in London traveling “abroad” on our holidays to strange foreign places with sunshine and warm seas called Spain and Portugal.  They were third world countries recovering from decades of Fascist dictatorships.  Now they are integrated into a powerful block of healthy economies that make them better.

Consolidation is the way of the future; just like airlines and hotels.  It is economically impossible to survive and prosper as a tiny island state.

Frankly, to sit on the lawn, looking out across the English channel, lamenting the days when once we ruled the waves, smoking the pipe and sipping the Pimms, talking about India and places in Africa whose names have since changed, is a daydream of colonial bygone days.

Yep, I know the Brits struggle with the French and the French struggle with the Brits but this is the future and that is the past.  They gave us garlic, baguettes, fabulous cheeses, champagne, and wine.  The Brits have the beer, the aristocracy, theatre, and tradition that still lives.  Not to mention the culinary delights and natural wonders of the other 26 European countries.  This is not just a powerful economic trading block, it’s a new way of life and I am grateful to be a European.  I don’t want to lose the touch of Europe that we would lose if we took the narrow view and leave.  We would have to rename the song “Rule Britannia” into “Fool Britannia.”  The UK would be marginalized.  It would become a niche business!  That would be a drag for all of us.

New York

I love New York.

I love the buzz of the city, I love the subway, the crazy yellow cabs, the skyscrapers, the tiny neighborhoods, and of course the theater.

The other evening I saw two plays back-to-back: Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Father.  This was two days after I had gone with my daughter to see The Sound of Music. Nuns, nannies and Nazis, all intertwined around a delightful and timeless score. The Nazi bit was a little grim but it’s pretty light with the sing along stuff! So here I was in NYC taking in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, an intense play, three and a half hours long, by playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Father is a French tale by French playwright Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton who was the one who single handedly transformed a 1782 Choderlos de Laclos novel to make the incredible play Les Liasons Dangereuses.  It’s pretty intense. It’s a study of the tragedy and gradual deterioration associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Brought tears to my eyes as I thought about my father too.  And what to do after all of that? Head to a great restaurant of course and that would be Esca, my favorite restaurant in New York on 43rd between 9th and 10th Avenue.

The next day, I grabbed the metro and went down to the Empire State Building and took a stroll from 33rd to 14th street on the High Line, a fantastic community effort along the discarded elevated train tracks. It dropped me off right in the meatpacking area and I got to pop into Soho House for a quick bite and a view from the rooftop pool across the Manhattan skyline. I then took a walk through Central Park, saw the seals in the children’s zoo and thought how amazing to have such green space in between all of this bigness and towering glass structures.  Of course I ran out of time and jumped a yellow cab to La Guardia. I should have taken the Acela, but honestly, at three hours and 50 minutes, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense when you have an urgent appointment back in Boston.

Plea number 100: Open up this Eastern seaboard corridor Mr. President and run fast trains down the line.

The Acela is anything but accelerated! It’s slow and the service on board is dreadful. Why is Amtrak so bad?

High Line Park

High Line Park

Central Park

Central Park

Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Roman Graffiti

I am in two minds about graffiti.

Sometimes it is just senseless destruction of beautiful facades but more and more it gives voice to a neighborhood in change and transforms organically into art from Banksy and beyond.  Graffiti stretches back through the ages.  It comes from the Italian word “graffiato” which simply means scratched. It really starts like a primitive text message that hasn’t been deleted or expunged from the memory of the ages and it pops up on everything, especially Roman (usually with a clear statement and cause).  It is found in Egypt, in Pompeii, in the ruins of Greece and Turkey, and in the tiny odd corners of Rome.

Recently in Rome, I took a little excursion based on an article I read in one of my favorite magazines, The World of Interiors. I headed to Testaccio which is close to the Protestant cemetery where Keats is buried and the Pyramid of Cestius by the Porta San Paolo.  The pyramid is actually the only surviving Egyptian pyramid in Europe.  It was built around 18 BC by some mad egomaniac who thought he was a pharaoh.  Ego was in high supply during that period.

Testaccio, the Roman neighborhood that sits just behind the pyramid, is going through a bit of a Renaissance.  New restaurants are popping up around what used to be the ancient Roman rubbish heap on the Eastern banks of the Tiber, now known as the Monte Testaccio.  It developed some notoriety in the 1950’s when the filmmaker Paolo Pasolini sat at the top of this rubbish heap of remnants of old roman vessels that carried olive oil for a photograph.  Now this area is a mix of trendy, bohemian, and authentic Roman.

My friend and fabulous Roman guide, Carlotta Boldrini, lives around the corner from here.  Her hood now boasts a new painter on the block.  The article was about these huge murals by Agostino Iacurci. While former markets and factories in Ostiense and Testaccio are transforming into trendy, gentrified eateries, cafes, bars, and apartments, this wonderful artist has pulled together the scruffiness and the neglect of a rundown neighborhood in the process of change and intertwined it with his sensational murals.

As an artist, working outside deprives me of that air of sacredness that you associate with works in a museum,” he says.

Agostino takes on the role of integrating his art into the neighborhoods in spectacular fashion.  His art is big and sits above everyday Rome with warts and all.  His murals are as offbeat as a swimmer with cap and goggles above a fish shop. His equipment is simple: A sponge roller, a cherry picker and simple masonry paint. One day maybe some 2,000 years on, we will find some faded fresco by a huge skyscraper near a tiny pyramid and lament that Rome was once a city that you could walk around and get a decent coffee in a neighborhood bar.
Roman Graffiti Pietro Place Peter Jones Roman Graffiti Pietro Place Peter Jones

 

 

 

FIFA

FIFA is the organization responsible for the governance of soccer worldwide.

It sponsors tournaments directly, like the World Cup, and is responsible for the adjudication of the game. The rules, the referees, and the technology that helps make decisions better. Under FIFA’s umbrella are the various worldwide regional bodies like UEFA that control the soccer programs and tournaments of the continents around the world. In other words, it is a pretty big deal!

So of course the scandal of FIFA over the past couple of years has created great focus on how much money moves in and out of the pockets of the various people who run this organization.

They make money on scams for tickets, bribes for tournament venues like the World Cup, not to mention, the extraordinary wages they get paid and the perks of being part of this secret society of FIFA. Thank goodness for the Americans. They came along, busted a whole bunch of guys, and currently have extradition notices on a number of the top FIFA officials that pocketed more money for one deal than most of us see in a lifetime. The chief executive of FIFA, his assistant, and the chief executive of UEFA have been suspended from anything to do with soccer for six years or more. These disreputable folks who have assaulted the beautiful sport of soccer and turned it into a mafia-driven money laundering vehicle, will probably get away with most of the charges and sit gracefully by their Swiss lakeside chalet houses counting their grubbily earned Swiss Francs. It is a pity because soccer is the fastest growing sport, it is a beautiful game to watch, and in America especially we are getting hip to the intricacies and fun of playing and watching this worldwide phenomena. So as I was driving from Tasch, Switzerland, to connect to the car train through the mountains, I could not help but stop the car and look out into the distance where I saw the Sepp Blatter Primary School in the town of Visp. Wow, I thought, this is where they teach the kids all of that stuff!! Seriously though, Sepp Blatter who was the head of FIFA until he was unceremoniously disposed is from the town of Visp. It is not a very special town but it is a main hub for the various trains that comprise the cog railway system and the high speed intercity trains that connect ski paradises to Geneva and Lausanne. I guess he also put a lot of his “hard earned money” into education. Amidst the mountains and the lakes, this guy even got into the primary school. At least some of the dodgy money went to a good cause! Let us pray for better days at the top of our beloved sport.

FIFA Pietro Place Peter Jones FIFA Pietro Place Peter Jones

Switzerland Peter Jones Pietro Place

The Strange Country of Switzerland

Let’s face it – it’s a strange place.  Encircled by beautiful mountains, Switzerland is famous for its scenery, cheese, watches, chocolate, skiing, drugs, and corruption…oops, I mean banking.  A small bottle of water costs $5, a sandwich is $15-$20, and they think that they are doing you a favor!

It has a slightly dubious history.  In World War II they pretended to be neutral but it was really a friendly outpost of Nazi Germany.  Up until two years ago, most people kept a private bank account in Switzerland that was not traceable in any other country.  It was thus a tax haven for the rich.  It is the home and headquarters of football (soccer), the Olympics, and the Red Cross.  It is also where Charlie Chaplin chose to live the remainder of his life after being kicked out of the USA for being a communist sympathizer. The Great Dictator! One of the most brilliant anti-fascist movies of all time.

So, why do I keep coming back to Switzerland?  It is because I like the efficiency of the place.  There are trains that climb up mountains on cogs, trains that you can put your car on to that hurtle you through insurmountable mountains and save you hours of driving, and toilets that are very clean compared to most of their neighbors.  But most of all it is such a damn beautiful place with famous mountains jutting up above the clouds like the Matterhorn and the Eiger.  It is just so stunning.  Driving through the tunnels that have been beautifully carved in the mountains, I am aware that Swiss tunnels are the cleanest tunnels in all of the world, like they have a team of cleaners coming in at night to spick and span the walls.  Not a wink of graffiti and the streets are clean.

So I guess that I have a bizarre love affair with the place.  When I ski between Italy and Switzerland, I confess to loving the rösti, the raclette, and the fondue (really good for the cholesterol) a little more than the pasta.  Yikes – what I am I saying?!

Every year I ski in Switzerland.  I love the comfort of the place, the width of the slopes, the guaranteed snow, and I guess the Swiss are not that bad after all!

Oyster Card London Pietro Place

Oyster Card

Oysters are amazing and I love them.

I even know how to shuck them pretty fast – something that I picked up from a mate of mine that works at Legal Seafood in Boston.  When I travel to London, I love the rock oysters.  They are not farmed, they are briny, super delicious, and quite deep.

Oysters are most famous in towns like Colchester and Whitstable so it is no surprise given the English obsession with oysters that they chose to name their metro card the “Oyster Card.”  Believe me, when you are travelling in London, your life depends upon this card.  It is your ticket to ride on the underground and the double decker buses.  Think of it like this – London is a huge city with over 8 million people and geographically it covers an area of 1,580 square kilometers.  The subway system in England is the oldest one in the world and reaches out way beyond the center of London and into the rural hinterland.  Nowadays, every bus accepts the Oyster Card which means that you can jump between the superfast subway network and a super cool Routemaster bus.  If the traffic is getting crazy, abandon ship and head down to the subway.  If the subway stop is too far or inconvenient, grab one of the many buses that fly by you on the street.  The stops are well marked and very civilized.  As for getting in from the airport, the subway system delivers you right into the center of town from Heathrow.

With the Oyster Card, the discounted fare will cost less than £6.

Essentially, the city becomes yours!

But here is the deal with the Oyster Card – you must put a deposit down of £5, but when you leave, you return the card and receive that money back.  Whatever you have left on your card is shown clearly whenever you put your card down on the yellow entry/exit pad.  They are easy to top off using cash or credit.  Given the high cost of the subway in London, if you are there for one day I would probably invest £25 in an Oyster Card and use it up the kazoo.  It is not cheap but it beats the alternative.  Happy travelling!

James Smith and Sons Umbrella Shop Pietro Place Peter Jones

Raining Cats and Dogs in London: Umbrellas, Then and Now

London weather is a strange phenomenon.

As blue as the sky is at any moment in time, there always is at least a 50% chance that the weather will turn for the worse.  Furthermore, it will almost certainly end up as rain! Then it stops and starts and rains some more.

In England it rains – so much so that English people have a national obsession about the weather. “How’s the weather love? Bit hot today. It hasn’t stopped raining. We will need an arc if it carries on like this.” They even have words for varying degrees of rain. Spitting (yes, spitting!), drizzle and rainy spells (as if it’s some magic trick)! Cloudy with a chance of…some rain. Not rain but some rain!

I was thinking of this the other day while I was walking through Covent Garden and had to stop at the store Muji, a place where I always buy great pens, to grab a reasonably dependable short umbrella.  Fact is that you simply cannot be without an umbrella in London.  The whole city is geared towards terrible weather (there even are signs inside of the Underground stations telling us to shake our umbrellas Outside of the station in order to avoid slippery surfaces) and in stores people leave their umbrellas at the umbrella parking space by the door. Truthfully, if you are armed with a short umbrella which you can stick in your pocket, you can kind of go anywhere. It is a liberating feeling!

This got me thinking about umbrellas in general.

What is the story with umbrellas?  Where did they come from and how did they evolve into what they are today?  Funny enough, the basic umbrella was invented around 4,000 years ago and even appears in ancient wall drawings.  The umbrella was made with paper and used as a shade from the sun.  Hence, the name umbrella which comes from the Latin word umbra meaning shade.  Leave it to the Chinese to figure out a way to wax the paper umbrella and lacquer them so that they can be used for both sun and rain.  Then we fast forward a few thousand years to the 19th century when James Smith and Sons Umbrella Shop opened in London in 1830 to serve middle- to upper-class people a parasol for the rain.  Working classes used their cloth caps or just got wet! The shop on 53 New Oxford Street is still there selling high end umbrellas to tourists and wealthier clients alike.  England even invented a word that is used everywhere today – brolly.

So where was my tiny umbrella from Muji made?  Muji is a Japanese store and my pens most certainly are made in Japan – but you guessed it, my umbrella has gone back to its roots and is made in China.  This likely is also where every single short version umbrella in any city sold by any number of people comes from.  When you dash into a store or buy an umbrella from a guy that just happens to show up because it is raining (and let’s face it, you need it), remember that he is simply following a 4,000 year old custom practiced over the years and built to perfection for an English climate. But if you fancy a high end experience, go to James Smith and treat yourself to the real deal – a brolly for the ages.

 

 

Holidays in London

Holidays in London

The funny thing about the holidays in the USA is that everything seems to begin around Veteran’s Day.  The Christmas music starts to rear its ugly head and while decorations do not go full-in until the week around Thanksgiving, there is that sense of a relentless march towards the big day.  It is the holiday season after all– Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas – it just requires a couple of months to sell its various brands.  But what it does not need is global warming which seems to have happened while we were all sleeping, driving our diesel and gas cars, ignoring calls for solar and wind power and maxing on our air conditioning use.  Now, as I sit in Boston, watching somebody skateboarding by in a t-shirt, I wonder if I will ever see snow again!

On the other hand, London seems to embrace Christmas like no other place.  It has the people (lots of them), every street in the center is full-on lit up with beautiful or funky lights, there is the huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, and big bonus, no sun and it gets dark so fabulously early that the entire city is in nighttime glow most of the time. It’s cozy!  While there is absolutely no snow ever to be seen and lots of rain, it somehow feels Christmassy.  It is probably because London has so many shops and every shop has a Christmas window and everybody walking around London seems to be holding bags that indicate they have been shopping.  There are pubs on every other corner jammed with revelers and the occasional jolly drunk and all of the restaurants have Christmas menus in addition to the usual a la carte stuff.  This place full-on celebrates!

So grab a Christmas cracker, put your paper crown on, grab a piece of Christmas pudding or mince pie, or even go to Pret-A-Mange (the popular take-out place) for a Christmas lunch sandwich – yes, Christmas lunch complete with stuffing can be contained within two pieces of sliced white bread!  While you are at it, grab a bag of Christmas crisps and then take the kids to see Father Christmas and a Pantomime. It’s the most popular entertainment over the holiday period. I grew up on them. Based in history on 17th century Commedia dell’arte characters, panto means to imitate all in Greek. Everyone has fun, kids laugh, men dress up as woman and woman as men. Shakespearean really! Although it’s mainly for kids, it’s huge!  It involves music, topical and saucy jokes, and slapstick comedy and is usually based on a fairy tale or nursery story. Plus everyone gets to go to the theatre!! Good for the soul!

Holidays in London

Image Credit: londonconnection.com

Holidays in London

Image Credit: VisitLondon.com & Featured Image: LondonTown.com

Vancouver

Vancouver – Hit or Miss?

Having spent several days on the West Coast – a little Seattle earthiness, a bit of the gorgeous climate of San Diego, and a touch of L.A. – I had this absolute desire to go to Vancouver.  I am not really a Canada freak but I do enjoy it.  I quite like Montreal partly because you get to try your French skills out.  Quebec is old world charm and the restaurants are not bad.  Frankly, it’s also not far from Boston.  But Vancouver, I had heard, was a fun, vibrant, and cool city with an incredible ski resort not far away, Whistler.  So off I went.

Canada has an incredibly efficient entry and exit customs clearance facility.  It is orderly, there are people who direct you with a smile, the machines all work and it is relatively quiet and highly civilized.  The journey in from the airport is pretty stunning.  We could make out beautiful waterfront glass skyscrapers that faced the mountains on the other side of the bay.  The mountains were huge and there was snow on the top.  It really was a breathtaking setting.  We came in through the charming Granville district and then headed through a bunch of boutique shop fronts before getting to our hotel, the Rosewood Georgia.  I was liking this place.  The Rosewood was right in the center of the city and I have stayed at Rosewood properties before and I like the chain.  The hotel was, as is always the case at Rosewood properties, excellent on service and detail and I felt sure that this was going to be a fun few days.

We had planned to do sightseeing the following day, visit the Granville Island famous for the marketplace, take a little ferry ride around, head over to the Vancouver Convention Center, and maybe even try a seaplane ride.  So why did I find myself going to a James Bond movie at 7 o’clock the following day?  There was something about Vancouver that was not quite making sense.  It was a bit dull and there were not that many people around.  There was a phenomenal exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery highlighting the Group of Seven and Canadian painters influenced by them.  But after that, it got a bit thin out there.  We did not go for the seaplane but we did discover a great seafood restaurant called Coast.  They had dover sole!

The next day we went to Whistler and it snowed.  The drive up was absolutely spectacular but Whistler was one of those fake villages that had been put up a few years ago and it did not look like there was much of a scene beyond the usual blah blah.  The snow did look great, although I was not skiing, but it was fun to be in the thick of skier talk in the gondola.  So, the scenery is stunning, the snow levels are higher than comparable ski resorts in Colorado but it still was not convincing.

I felt a bit sheepish about it.  Everyone had said that this place was beautiful but I seemed to have missed it.  Maybe it was the seaplane I should have taken or maybe it was just a weekend when everyone was away.  The city had no edge to it.  Maybe I will go back and look for it again next time.

Vancouver Pietro Place Vancouver Pietro Place Vancouver Pietro Place

Vancouver Pietro Place

Image credits: Vancouver Sun and HelloBC.com

World Trade Market Pietro Place

World Travel Market

Held every year in London’s east metropolis full of new buildings that dot themselves around the river, the World Travel Market is like a huge bazaar, a maze-like walk across the world.  I love the fact that you get to start your day in London Town and end your day in the far reaches of Bhutan.  In between, you have every single country in the world – even Saudi Arabia that does not want you to come!  They are all here.

More than 20,000 people visit the World Travel Market.  There are seminars and exhibitions, but for me, the biggest thrill of all is to walk across the world and listen to thousands of languages being spoken from stand to stand.  There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken in the world today although 2,000 have less than 1,000 speakers.  However, at the World Travel Market everybody seemed well equipped with English.  It was absolutely brilliant to walk through Italy, then Greece, to Turkey, and then France, and onto the Arab countries.   Entrance into the World Travel Market for trade is free which means that you can travel around the world for nothing.  As it turns out, the good old London Underground was on strike and so Emirates airlines was transporting everybody across the eastern London sky in their Emirates cable cars.

World Travel Market Pietro Place World Travel Market Pietro Place World Travel Market Pietro Place

World Travel Market Pietro Place

World Travel Market Pietro Place

World Travel Market Pietro Place

World Travel Market Pietro Place

Petra Pietro Place

Petra

It was cloudy when we left Aqaba but all of the forecasts predicted that rain would cease around midday when we were set to arrive in the ancient city of Petra.  Situated in the Wadi Musa, Petra was established by the Nabateans around 400 years before Christ.  In its heyday, it was home to 30,000 people.

What happened here?

The Romans came and colonized and built their amphitheaters, baths, and shopping colonnades and then the earthquake took care of the rest. It was a well-kept secret for over 1,000 years until a Swiss explorer rode into the city disguised as a holy man.  The game was up and it was on the tourist map.  But this is no ordinary place.  Cut into the sandstone and chiseled into huge blocks of pink and red cliff, this place has everything….except decent places to grab a bite to eat and a cup of tea!

Standing by the main palace entrance, walking into the tombs, or wandering down the narrow, towering vertical walls are some of those extraordinary moments in travel when you pinch yourself. Running through the Siq is one of the great walks of travel. It is a walk of anticipation that was made into a sacred way by the Nabateans who had their eye for a dramatic moment or two clearly.

You don’t know whether to put your camera down or just keep hitting the shutter.  Then you spill out onto the masterpiece called the Treasury. It is like a movie set.  It is a movie set and the tour has not really begun.  We spent the best part of six hours there.

The houses carved into the cliffs go on and on.  You can get lost as you wander down that valley.  Imagine that this place was practically shut down for 1,500 years?  No water (the aqueducts were broken) and no civilization.  Just a few Bedouin’s holding one of the great secrets of time. Somehow most of it hung in there.  If you have never dreamed of going to Petra, go!  We came in on a horse and we left on a camel.  Incidentally, it was only an hour ride on the camel but it felt like a month.  I had so much more respect for Peter O’Toole than ever before!

Back to Aqaba for an evening dinner and an early departure.

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