Not far away from the nativity street is the entrance to the National Archaeological Museum right on the edge of the Centro Storico. Here there are lots of statues and art that easily rival or outperform anything to be found in the British Museum, the Louvre, or the Vatican. These are the great marble collections of ancient Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. However, the main draw for me was that this is the only place in the world where you can actually see the artwork paintings of Pompeii. They are still as beautiful as if they had been painted on a wall only a few years ago. This is where you get to see the people, the backdrop, the landscape, and how people dressed in Pompeii. The most iconic fresco in the room is the “Woman with Wax Tablets and Stylus” also called “Sappho.” I wanted to stare at her forever. If you have never been to this museum, jump on a train and enlighten yourself. It’s a mindblower.
Strolling through the Centro Storico in Naples is a trip within itself. I was on the way to the Naples National Archaeological Museum but had to stop along the Via San Gregorio Armeno to check out the pedestrian street laden with a combination of kitsch nativity scenes and the real stuff. They’re called presepe which essentially means “a crib.”
This is where every single Neapolitan family comes to at Christmas time. In fact, my Italian friend told me that pretty much everyone in Italy has some kind of glass enclosed nativity scene that has been handed down or is part of the family treasure. These things are wild. Some of them have intricate waterfalls and the possibilities to extend across the room like train sets. The price ranges from the basic model for 50 Euros to over 10,000 Euros for elaborate ones. But for Italy, it is not just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in these scenes, there is a whole hobbit village created around the manger with trees, vegetation, waterfalls, windmills, you name it. They can be made of terracotta, wood, and cardboard. Even my communist friends have a presepe! But to note, Jesus is always the last to enter the scene and is only placed in the manger on Christmas Eve.
Some of these nativity scenes are simply breathtaking works of art, and some of them have odd characters like Maradonna, Naples’ most famous soccer player, hanging out close by. Neapolitans love football more than anything so why shouldn’t they incorporate their most famous (albeit an Argentinian) into their presepe tradition?! Onwards and upwards to the National Archaeological Museum I went.
The most chaotic thing about Naples, Italy was trying to get there from the Stazione Termini railway station in Rome. The traffic setup was crazy. They are renovating the station and there is no great place to drop-off or pick-up passengers. Then suddenly, we walked through the utterly dysfunctional part of the Stazione Termini and were presented with a sign reading “Lavori in Corso”. Essentially meaning “Men at work.”
I had this feeling that the sign indicated that behind this fenced area (it wasn’t a fence, but a plastic sheet) there were men at work, diligently improving the station for human kind. Not just for me but for my children and my children’s children. Building a better future so that others I could not even imagine would be able to sail through the station in a way that seemed entirely impossible now. Of course, I had to peek behind the plastic. Couldn’t resist. But sure enough, the utter stillness of the other side provided every evidence that indeed there were no men at work, nor women, nor anybody. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. The station would wait, not just f or me but for my children and my children’s children. Roma, non basta una vita….Rome, a lifetime is not enough.
I had recently switched my iPhone case from the beloved Tech21 to Apple. Boy, I loved those Tech21 cases. You could throw your iPhone in the air and watch it slam down on a piece of concrete and nothing would shatter. In fact, when I first went to the Apple Store to invest in one, the guy gave me the sales pitch on the Tech21 and told me it was shatter-proof. So, I took the case, put it on my iPhone, threw it up in the air, and watched his face in horror as the phone landed on the Apple ground. Guess what? He was right.
But now Tech21 has broken their promise in providing the case that is perfect in every way. The new case, for some ungodly reason, has the silent button opening designed for a five-year-old or people with micro fingers. Seriously, guys, I use that switch all the time! It’s a shame. I’m not saying that you should take the designer who designed the new case and march him/her out the door, but maybe you should check the fingers out on this person. They sure cannot be ordinary fingers. Or else this person just prefers the “Do Not Disturb” crescent moon symbol. Living dangerously if you ask me when you are at the theater.
So, Tech21, I abandoned you. I went looking for an Apple case and invested in their silicon line. I like it because when you leave your phone on the arm of an airplane seat during landing, it does not slip off. It stays put easily. I also like it because I can access the silent switch with ease. But when I started to use it, I noticed that the silicon began to wear on the corners. What a drag. I have an Apple Store near me and I walked in expecting some kind of interrogation on receipt verification, the usual sales obstruction stuff, etc. But instead, the guy told me to go pick out a new case and we would just do a straight switch. Or if I wanted the money back, he would just transfer it back to my card. The whole transaction time was five minutes. Brilliant service. Hey Tech21, change your design. I will still leave the door open for you. Hey Apple, you’re the best.
So after the recent debacles with United and American, the government is getting heavy. Finally, we are seeing the government recognizing that consolidation is creating an arrogance in service and in amenities. After deregulation in 1978, industry charges like baggage fees and bumping passengers have been pretty much left to the airlines. And 80% of USA domestic business is now in the frightening hands of four airlines. Power to the few and less power to the consumer.
Airlines claim that overbooking helps keep fares low and provides less risk so more choice for consumers. Understood, but you have to be nice too! Honestly, whoever comes off a plane and says that they had a fab and fun experience? Now United are going to have to put their money where their mouth is. Dragging a guy down the aisle sounds like a bad wedding arrangement. It nearly cost them their business. CEO Munoz stated that he is committed to making things better and now overbooking as a policy is going to be phased out. Southwest, the darling of consumers, actually has the highest overbooking of any airline. They were just smarter and nicer about it.
We all get that overbooking creates more flexibility for airlines and lots take advantage of the compensation. It doesn’t take much but being nice and being smart makes the difference. Having a positive attitude and being customer friendly is key. That’s all we ask for. We are not cattle.
I have never not had access to my Uber account. It goes with me everywhere and is sort of like a travel companion. However, it doesn’t get to go to Italy with me and I hate that. The cab company lobby there is just too powerful. So apart from not being able to see the sights of Ancient Rome and renaissance Florence, Uber does pretty well with me.
Then the horror of all unthinkable horrors happened – my Uber account was hacked!
I didn’t spot it at first. I kept getting messages from an unknown source in Russian but I kept on deleting them. I figured that it was a Russian wedding inquiry. Then one day, my Uber driver asked me if my name was “Dinrat.” No, that’s not me. And then I realized I had been hacked! Ok, no issues. I check my credit cards and reboot Uber but for three days I couldn’t log back on. I used the help button that Uber indicated I should use, restarted it, resubmitted it, but for three miserable days, I was Uber-less. Nobody to talk to help you, just dependent on their technology to resurface. It was not easy, believe me. Friends would have to pay for my transportation and I started to do the unthinkable…take taxis! It was a pretty grim experience.
It was tough and I felt lost. I didn’t know who to turn to. That’s what I realized that I was an Uber addict. Take Lyft, friends told me, but I couldn’t give up on Uber. So after 20 back and forth messages, we were able to make amends and I got back into a relationship again. Life without Uber. Honestly, I feel really bad for the Italians!
What do all of these cities have in common apart from being really cool places to visit? Yes, you’ve got it – they are all connected by high-speed train.
Well, sort of.
Here’s the problem. The Eurostar, which connects London and Paris, takes precisely two hours and twenty minutes to cover the 306 miles journey. From Naples to Rome, it takes a quick 67 minutes to travel 116 miles. But the Acela train from Boston to New York on good old Amtrak takes three hours and 40 minutes to travel 215 miles. That equates to nearly traveling at only 60 mph! The Europeans are going to continue to surpass us in train travel as the distance between cities in Italy is about to get considerably smaller in time terms as they get their super fast fleet of new trains. These trains will travel around 400 km/h (or around 250 mph) which means that it will take about two hours to go from Rome to Milan.
So the question begs, why does Amtrak have horrible, unreliable, and slow service? We are held to ransom by the exclusivity of the airlines. This is a pretty sad reflection, but the Europeans understood the power of train travel, along with the Chinese and the Japanese, and have invested billions of dollars in constructing an artery of high-speed travel that is more energy efficient than jet fuel airplanes, more passenger-centric (city center to city center) than airplane travel, and frankly, more comfortable and fun than airplane travel. Let’s face it, when was the last time someone said, “Well that was fun!” while flying from one city to another in coach while experiencing massive delays and terrible service.
So why oh why doesn’t the government invest in Amtrak? Why is the fleet so appalling? What is a more attractive option there than a high-speed train from DC to New York or Boston or Los Angeles to San Francisco? Imagine what fun it would be to take a high-speed train from New York to Miami. 1,280 miles away, using a 200 mph train it would take just over six hours.
I only wonder about all of this because it makes no sense. A guy in front of me as we walked out of the terminal in London off the Eurostar said to his wife, wow, imagine this journey on Amtrak. Indeed! A horror show. European travelers can commute between Rome and Naples or Rome and Florence or Paris and Marseilles or Paris and Cologne so effortlessly. If you get the chance and you are traveling out there, get on a fast train and try to dream or imagine that one day Amtrak can be like this. The Dream on! The President has just cut funding. Oh well. See you out there somewhere. They even wrote a song about it!
Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby, just-a wrote me a letter
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.
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.
So if you had to choose a place in all of Italy to hang out for a few days in super-luxury, relatively car-free, and using a boat to access restaurants and islands nearby, where would you choose?
I would choose Positano in late September.
Positano is one of those rare places that you find that has just about everything with some gorgeous hotels (Le Sirenuse and Hotel Covo dei Saraceni) and some very cool restaurants that you either have to walk along the cliffs to or rent a private boat to access. Positano has a constant flow of ferry traffic as it serves all the way through the end of September as a main jumping off point for tourists from Sorrento and a jumping on point for tourists to get to the island of Capri. The beach is typical of this area – stony with plenty of stabilimenti. The water is clear although it is good to stay inside of the swimming lanes because of the boat traffic.
I had not been to Capri for more than 30 years so we rented a boat and sailed clear around the island. We landed at the Marina Grande and went to the Marina Piccola for a swim.
Capri is good for a day; no more, and maybe a bit less.
It was good to go but it was crowded and the wait on the funicular was not worth it. The cab drivers all seemed to be satiated for business. To make it worse, the water was choppy so the famous Blue Grotto was not available. One thing’s for sure, Capri is beautiful but no Greek island.
Positano is spectacular and has almost the enchantment of a Greek island.
The colorful houses as they sit along the horseshoe cliff face are like no other in the world. The smell of lemons in the lemon groves pervade this place. The fact that you can buy fresh mozzarella di bufala makes this one of the great wonderlands of Italian cuisine. It’s expensive, it’s trendy, it’s glitzy, and it’s a bit of a hassle to get to, but honestly, for three or four days at least once in your life, you should give yourself up to Positano. Tom Brady did while he was sitting out his four games for Deflategate. My only regret was that I didn’t bump into Gisele while taking my morning cappuccino. We were there at the same time!
With all of this populist talk in the air and Trump grabbing most of the headlines through his really bad behavior, some people may have forgotten that the Prime Minister of England, Theresa May, is firmly committed to pushing the Brexit button next March.
The good news for travelers is that the British pound continues to sink, products that we buy in the UK are as cheap as chips, and sadly for my mum, the average cost of a glass of sangria in Spain just went up by around 20%. But that is not the end of it and lines have to be drawn.
Marmite has been brought into this whole ugly and distasteful mess about Brexit and the pound.
Apparently the makers of Marmite, the mega monopoly, Unilever, have decided to pull back some of the lost profitability of the falling pound and increase the price of our beloved product.
This is causing mainline supermarkets to refuse to stock the beloved brand and deny the right of all English people a taste on toast of their staple diet.
For the American tourists, there is good news of course in all of this. Americans traditionally loathe the taste of Marmite, a black, sticky, glue-like yeast extract that Brits have been brought up on since they discovered what to do with the waste from brewing beer. In Australia they call it Vegemite and it tastes the same.
For most ex-pats, Marmite is headlined with digestive biscuits, custard creams, and oxo cubes as things I dream about when I’m asleep.
It’s the stuff that we were raised on.
Now the beloved brand itself is merely a pawn in the gain of the Brexit politicians who promised a different world but in actual fact delivered a depressed currency, higher prices, more unemployment, and good news, an opportunity for Americans and Europeans to take advantage of a strong dollar and euro.
I was opposed to Brexit but I never thought that they’d touch my Marmite. Those bastards!
Image courtesy of https://twitter.com/mnchstrdesign/status/706414679686561793
The gloves are off.
What already took place in Europe with Ryan Air and easyJet, and moved subtly across to the domestic arena in the USA with Southwest and Spirit, is now happily making an impact on the transatlantic flight.
Yes, the discount airlines are moving in big time.
While they are not impacting the big boys yet, this could be the start of a new Freddie Laker revolution. And what to do to respond to a market trend of low-cost long-haul flights? How do you retool your factory and make your product more efficient, less expensive, and less dependent upon goliath overhead drain than the big three consolidators?
What we all know is that you cannot take an airline called United and shorten it to Ted and pretend that it is just the same as having a cheaper, more efficient airline carrier.
Been there, done there. That…did not work.
The emergence of the low-cost flights–long-haul flights–has come at a time when oil is cheap. Airlines are starting to make money by pairing down the size of their fleets, using more fuel efficient planes, and charging higher prices to get us from A to B. So who is trying to break up this party?
A recently purchased Norwegian Air ticket from Copenhagen to Boston costs $180 one-way. Other carriers like Canada’s WestJet Airlines and Iceland’s WOW Air are offering prices that are half of what the competitors charge. Furthermore, they are providing a business class option at a tenth of the price of the rip-off business class ticket that you are charged with the top transatlantic airlines. Norwegian operates on 26 routes and on those routes, its share is a staggering 13%. JetBlue is starting to feel that they can make a move in this market too and Southwest is also making noises.
The bottom line is that low-cost long-haul carriers will become a growing threat to transatlantic profitability.
Because the USA and EU have an open skies aviation treaty, carriers can charge what they like which used to spell bad news for the consumer. However, with the low-cost guys, it is completely consumer-driven. This is a big chunk of market to grab. Put a fuel efficient Dreamliner on a route between New York and London and charge $350 roundtrip with a $650 business class option and you are likely going to get takers and more importantly converts. We have all seen how absolutely useless a bunch of points or a loyalty club can be when you really need them. If the low-cost carriers can provide comfort, good legroom, a fun experience on the plane, and all at relatively inexpensive prices, I think that this is just a growing market.
What kind of market is this and who controls what? Delta and United control about 13% of transatlantic traffic, American and British is around 10%, Lufthansa is 7%, but there is a staggering 40% that is up for grabs. The discounters have smelled the prey. The CEO of Norwegian intends to add more flights from more USA cities to more European cities. He claims that ticket prices will be less than $100 one-way. I’m putting my money right now on Norwegian – they fly nonstop, the food is as good as any of the other carriers, they fly the Dreamliner, and they provide super value in two classes of services.
This is all good news for consumers. This should be fun to watch.
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.
Summer is over. From my point of view, it finished around the middle of August when I couldn’t get a Sam Adams Summer Ale and the guy told me that they were only selling Sam Adams Octoberfest. Are you kidding me? I thought summer was defined through the summer solstice and the beginning of the school year, not the sale cycle of summer ales and availability in bars
Boston at this time of the year transforms from a cosmopolitan, small city into a mega studentopolis.
Approximately 250,000 students descend upon us between the end of August and the beginning of September, marking the transition from summer to fall. Back to school.
Into the twilight hours of the baseball season and the opening days of the American football season.
Did Tom really deflate his balls? I don’t think so. In fact, nobody in Boston thinks so. That is just a horrible conspiracy constructed by the rest of the world against our Tom.
So how does our city shape up and gear up for the influx of youth? Even though the drinking age in the USA is 21 years old, it does not seem to stop the invasion of students into the sports bars around the city. Let’s face it, if you are a Boston fan then there are plenty of sports to cheer about. Hockey season is not far away and basketball starts in November. For those of us who love the game of soccer, well, soccer kicks into high gear come the month of September. The English Premier League is carried live in sports bars all over America along with the Spanish league, La Liga, and Serie A. In other words, there are more sports bars and sports to watch on TV than ever before.
Where do people go in Boston?
The best sports bars in Boston have to be McGann’s Irish Pub in the downtown area near the Boston TD Garden, LIR, a great Irish bar close to the Prudential Center, Cornwall’s in Kenmore Square, one of my favorite English pubs, Jerry Remy’s in the new trendy Seaport area, and the famous Cask’n Flagon down in good old Kenmore Square right next to Fenway Park.
When I travel internationally, the first thing I do is look for an Irish bar. My favorites in Rome are the Abbey Theatre just off of the Piazza Navona on the Via del Governo Vecchio and Scholars Lounge along the Via del Plebiscito. Scholars stays open until 3:00 am and is the best place to watch American football games that start late. The funny thing is that London is not quite as hip as the other European cities. It’s either soccer or suck it in which is a drag because American sports fill the void between the end of the soccer game and 2:00 am. If the patrons are watching, they are probably drinking and someone is making money.
Here are my back to school sports predictions: Manchester United will win the Premiership, the Patriots will win the Super Bowl even without Tom for those first four games, the Red Sox will beat the Cubs in the World Series (sorry Chicago), the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Championship back from the Cavaliers by narrowly defeating the Celtics, and the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup.
Just my perspective, no bias intended! Got to love the fall.
I’m originally from London so I know the city pretty much back to front.
Nowadays though I tend to see it more as a tourist and probably enjoy a lot more of the sights than I ever would if I lived there. Usually when I fly transatlantic to London, the flight pattern follows the western parts of the city and picks up the Thames just around the airport area close to Windsor, Eton, and Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Sometimes, if you sit in a holding pattern low enough, you get a wonderful tour of the city center before making final landing.
But the other day the flight pattern coming from another European city was decidedly different.
This time, flying over London took us full along the Thames from the eastern stretches of outer London all the way through the center.
It was a sight to behold. We passed over the mouth of the Thames where Dover sole fish farms ply their trade and eels are caught for the English delicacy of…horror upon horrors, jellied eels.
Literally we seemed to trace the old docklands which had been replaced by brand new developments around Canary Wharf, past The O2, and over the Emirates gondola before we started to get into the new city development – the skyscrapers with funky names like the Gherkin, the Shard, and the Walkie Talkie. This was the new London and we were flying above it at around 20,000 feet. The pilot seemed to be enjoying the view as much as we did and he made a couple of announcements pointing to the developments on the river below.
It was strange to see old London squeezed in between the skyscrapers and the ancient river below. There was the tiny-looking Tower of London and the omnipresent Tower Bridge, London’s iconic and still used drawbridge. Everybody in the plane, whatever side you were looking at, had a treat to behold. St. Paul’s Cathedral was on the right, the Tate Modern on the left, and the London Eye straight ahead…did I miss 12th century Southwark Cathedral in the middle of it all? We passed Westminster, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Lambeth Palace, just a stone’s throw from where I grew up, and still we kept on following the Thames.
As we started to run out of sights, the plane banked slightly and we caught a glimpse of Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better or more impressive city to fly into than London. I don’t think so.