It’s my town. I travel there frequently. I was born close to Chalk Farm and Primrose Hill. I especially love London around the holidays. They go crazy there. It’s dark at 3.30, so lighting the city becomes a huge plus and a fantastic light show. Carnaby street, Covent Garden and of course Piccadilly, Regents street and Oxford street all are amazing. This time though it was different. I was going to be a tour guide to a 2 and half year and a 5 and half year old. I would organize the itinerary. Supervise the sightseeing. I would fill up the days with Theatre, Pantomime, a tour of the London lights. The best in the world. And a visit to the Aquarium, the London Eye and a boat ride down the Thames. Ending up with Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and using the underground to go everywhere. Kids are free and there’s so much to make of a train ride. The escalators, the elevators, the barriers, the people. It’s an excursion every day. Not to mention double decker busses, especially riding on the top. All incredibly thrilling. A week of wonder. We took a place by the center in Covent Garden. That made getting around super easy. Tube right there and walking distance to most theatres. Our first excursion was to Hackney. Way over in East London. The Hackney Empire Theatre. A beautiful historical building that has seen Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong perform there. We took an overland train plus Tube. Again, free with all kids 11 and under. The highlight….the joy on the faces of the new travelers! Welcome to London!
Honestly, Tokyo is not a city of great sights. Yes, there are palaces and significant shrines here and there, but it’s more or less a city of feeling. Of foreignness and touch. With taxi cabs where the drivers wear gloves, where the car doors open for you, and where the interiors are immaculate with sometimes lacey curtains. Where citizens might not speak English but are nonetheless polite, courteous, and bow to you. There are crazy train stations that work and are reliable.
Tokyo is a city that sprawls for miles and miles with huge skyscrapers and narrow, compartmentalized houses side-by-side. It is a city of small, ancient bars juxtaposed against giant skyscrapers. This is no more dramatically illustrated than in the Shinjuku area of the city. Here, the Golden Gai District, an architectural relic, is a cluster of six alleys connected by even smaller passageways, with over 200 tiny bars, often with room for only six people, that burst into life at sundown. This is where you can pick up a bowl of ramen, some sushi, or a beer before the unenviable prospect of a 1.5 hour minimum commute to the outskirts of this sprawling metropolis of 9.3 million. Tokyo is even where the busiest intersection in the world is. No kidding. It is a series of zebra crossings that literally buildup with people who wait diligently and patiently for the red light to turn green. By the time that the light has turned green, there are thousands of people crisscrossing across multiple different streets. Traffic waits until their light signals that they can go again. In Japan, order is everywhere. There is no jaywalking and no jumping lights.
Tokyo is a fashion show with its elegant strip of designer stores and cafes for people watching in the Roppongi District. It has more style than any other city I have been to in the world. And Tokyo is a city that hits you in the face. If you are sightseeing, you’ll go to the Imperial Palace Plaza, you’ll visit the Meiji Shrine and Atsakusa Temple, and will certainly see the second tallest building on Earth, Tokyo Skytree. And sometimes, you might just be walking through shopping malls, and yet it does not feel like any old shopping mall. You are almost certainly the only Western person walking through this mall.
I went to the Tsukiji outdoor fish market and ate ridiculous amounts of raw fish. Even though the indoor fish market has moved from this original location for wholesale purposes, it left behind a vibrant bunch of small stores and sushi places that serve fresh seafood and those delightful steamed buns that you see everywhere in Japan. There is always a line outside of the best places. It is easy to get there on the subway. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to get there at 5:00 am anymore because the wholesale market has moved to the suburbs. But the outdoor market is quite content for you to show up at 10:00 am or later.
I saw Japan in both the fall and in the winter and both times I was blown away. But Tokyo for me was about the buzz, the pace, the order from chaos and the sheer size of it all. It was an adventure and at one point I thought how much it looked like New York – but then I blinked and it simply couldn’t be NYC. There is too much order, it is too clean, and it feels too foreign in its absolute homogeneity. The colors, the skyscrapers, the tiny bars, the traffic, the fashion, the lines outside of popular lunch spots. Trust me, this is like no other place in the world. Hop on a plane, fast!
Switzerland offers a remarkable way to sightsee your day through the beautiful terrain: the Glacier Express.
No car needed. Just a slow moving, winding train that is Switzerland’s greatest ad for Narnia.
The Glacier Express is a regular scheduled year-round train service between Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn and St. Moritz in the Engadin skiing area.
No idea why it’s called an express since it is slow.
Built on a narrow gauge train, it takes over seven hours to cover just over 290 km (180 miles), at an average of around 24 mph. However, it’s very civilized inside and you can get a decent lunch on board in the restaurant cars. The views are breathtaking, blizzards and all, and it also offers the unique experience of climbing to 2033 meters up the incredible Oberalp Pass, the highest point on the line. It truly looks like Narnia along the way. At the end the train magically winds its way to the chic resort of St Moritz. All in a day’s work!
Prices are not that bad for Switzerland. Below are the rack rates.
|Zermatt – St Moritz, basic fare:|| 149 CHF (€149) 2nd class, one-way
262 CHF (€262) 1st class, one-way
|Glacier Express supplement:
(this must be paid in addition to
the basic fare or railpass)
| 33 CHF (€33) in summer.
13 CHF (€13) in winter.
|Cost of lunch (optional):|| 30 CHF (€30) for Plate of the Day.
43 CHF (€43) for 3-course lunch.
Children under 6 go free; children aged 6 to 16 pay half fare but must pay the adult supplement.
The Glacier Express is run jointly by two private Swiss railways, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) and the Rhätische Bahn (RhB), which also operate the regular hourly local trains over the same route. There is one daily Glacier Expresses in each direction in winter, but up to three daily Glacier Expresses in the summer. It is a great experience and I highly recommend it.
You can easily buy tickets online at www.glacierexpress.ch