Tag Archives: Tour

River Tour of London’s History

A River Tour of London’s History

A remarkable aspect of London is the way they have adapted their new skyline to an old river.

When I was growing up, the Thames and the embankment areas were barely used.  There was one boat that would take you from Westminster to Kew Gardens and Henry VIII’s palace of Hampton Court and another boat that would travel as far as the tower and Tower Bridge.  It was as if the river ought to be ignored and certainly to all intents and purposes stopped at the Tower.  The French have long made fabulous use of the Seine.  It was inevitable that the Brits would someday catch up and would start to develop a world-class waterfront to showcase London.

And so it goes that pretty much everything starts around Westminster and heads east towards the new developments down at Canary Wharf.  The east of London, once a wasteland full of warehouses and disused wharfs, is now a principal point of traffic with its own airport, super high-speed trains, and new buildings that pop up it seems every six months or so.

For me, one of the greatest joys in London is to take a river tour of London’s history.

These are essentially boat rides that encompasse the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye, Shakespeare’s recreated Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern at the old Bankside Power Station, and the fabulous new London City Hall, the Shard, the Walkie Talkie, the Gherkin, and the Millennium Bridge, otherwise known as the wonky bridge.  Not to mention the fabulous Tower Bridge and its neighbor, the ancient Tower of London.

So a bunch of us decided to do this journey using the Thames RIB Experience boats.  Essentially, it’s a high-speed boat ride eastward down the river with different possibilities for location – Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, or the Thames Barrier.  It is a great ride.  You embark at Embankment Pier and the journey can take anywhere from 30 to 75 minutes depending upon how far you want to go.

The boat twists and turns in spectacular fashion as you get into open water after Tower Bridge. It’s powered by 740 horse power, in other words it moves very fast.  It rained a bit but nobody got wet because the boat was moving at jet speed!  It was one of the fun ways to see the river and count the changes that have graced this skyline.

One shout out to London in the midst of the Brexit catastrophe – Congratulations!  You have a Muslim mayor, the son of a Pakistani postal worker, in this most cosmopolitan city.  So proud to be a Londoner!
River Tour of London’s History

River Tour of London's History

Cultural Bridge Building

Teachers: Pioneers of Cultural Bridge Building

Recently at the ACTFL conference in San Diego we listened to Rick Steves talk about the power of travel. It was a compelling conversation that got me thinking a lot about language and the pioneers of cultural bridge building that we call teachers. I am not sure we focus enough on the power of teaching languages in schools, the impact of immersing the student in a culture and giving them a set of tools so that they can communicate in that culture. How encouraging it is to see how students’ lives and career decisions can change as a result of a teachers guidance, enthusiasm, and care.

I remember my French teacher to this day and I wasn’t a great student. He taught me the power to take chances, to take risks in communicating, and he told me never to feel foolish. Mistakes are part of the fun in coming to grips with the language. I have made many mistakes – some funny and some with dire shopping consequences! But it never stopped me from going for it!

We had a reception that evening in San Diego and I said that for me it all started with a verb conjugation. It was sort of like getting your passport. It opened up the world and then I got to connect all of those things that I had memorized (and I had to memorize a lot) into real life situations – being there, practicing, making mistakes, and understanding that it was fun. Here’s the thing, language cannot be taught effectively in a vacuum. Yes you may get a 10/10 on the test, but if you have not experienced the interactions, smelled the scents of a marketplace, taken the risk of talking to a vendor, or asked directions, then what purpose is the language for. In this day and age especially.

So I say, imagine a world where we all get a 10/10 for our Spanish, French, German, and Italian, but we never actually speak to a Spanish, French, German, or Italian person. We had never connected nor ever experienced the culture. It all started and basically ended with a verb. Not good. Travel is essential to connect the dots and connect the culture.  Sometimes to go bravely where “no man” has been before a la Captain Kirk.  What fun it is to hack at a language, make a complete fool of oneself, and yet somehow, the miracle of miracles, through a combination of sign language and mimicry, we get there.  1/10 on the language test but 10/10 for the connection that you make. 

 

Update on Cuba

We have a lot of surge in Cuba for business for 2016 and 2017.  Everyone got hot on Cuba at the same time.  Now, Cuba is turning into a high-demand, little supply destination.  Hotel rooms are sold out months in advance.  With talk of more restrictions being phased out, the 36% increase in American tourists will grow and grow.

But where to?

Here’s a brief update on Cuba:

Over 2 million people traveled to Cuba in the first part of this year alone.  There are about 61,000 hotel rooms in Cuba and many are booked 18 months in advance.  Americans still have to travel under a People-to-People status so it is difficult to sneak in and sneak out for a quick weekend in Havana.  Bottom line is that tour operators are starting to turn people to other destinations which is a drag but understandable given the lack of infrastructure and available bednights.  With places like the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica waiting in the wings, Cuba has better get its act together or there will be plenty of hotel beds and not much demand.
Update on Cuba Pietro Place Peter Jones Update on Cuba Pietro Place Peter Jones

Update on Cuba Pietro Place Peter Jones

What Cuba Needs

What Cuba Needs

My Israel and Jordan post is coming soon (check Facebook for live updates!) but right now Cuba is everywhere.  2015 is set to be a record breaker in terms of visitors welcomed to the island.  There will be 2,000,000 arrivals between January and July alone; this is a 16% increase year-on-year.  3,000,000 visitors came in 2014.  For the first time in its history, and with the relaxation of rules for Americans, this trend is going through the roof.  Between January and May, over 50,000 Americans legally visited Cuba.

Good news all around?  Well, sort of.  Here is the problem. It begs the question of what Cuba needs. One word – infrastructure.  It is cute to drive in a ‘55 Chevy but there are only so many ‘55 Chevy’s to taxi us around.  Unfortunately, hotels cannot support the boom and they cannot build efficiently and fast enough to absorb this increase.  So what happens? Logjam.  As everything has to go through those old, commie agencies, it’s triple logjam.  This is all before they figure out the non-stop air services from USA cities.  Right now, the island of Cuba could not support a 4,000 passenger luxury cruise line docking in Havana Bay.  There are not enough buses to do the sightseeing, not enough guides to take you around, and not enough restaurants to feed you.

So dear Cuba…please.  You have a great island and probably the most fascinating and beautiful in the Caribbean.  Let’s get organized.  Tourism is great.  But right now, you are too pricy and you have no space.

What Cuba Needs Pietro Place Peter Jones What Cuba Needs Pietro Place Peter Jones What Cuba Needs Pietro Place Peter Jones What Cuba Needs Pietro Place Peter Jones

Roman Ways

Roman Ways

I confess – I love Rome.  Not so much the Colosseum and St. Peter’s (and I ADORE those places) but rather just walking around through the piazzas and the tiny streets that connect them all together like an ancient necklace. This is my take on the many ways to enjoy Roman Ways.

There is that famous adage: “Roma non basta una vita” which means “A lifetime is not enough,” but I will assume that most people have about three hours for a brief walk through time. Usually I and my companions start my walk in the piazza in Santa Maria in Trastevere and end up at the Piazza del Popolo. It is a walk that spans every conceivable period of Roman history with stops on the way for shopping, cappuccino, and gelato. It is a walk crammed with fountains, a Roman arena here and there, and ancient pillars. It is the story of Rome – it is the story of a city we have come to adore.

The main piazza in Trastevere is where we find one of the oldest churches in Rome, Santa Maria, which has walls dating back to around 300 A.D. It is not a bad place to start. Across the Ponte Sisto bridge, which connects Trastevere with the beautiful Via Giulia, we see Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s in the nearby distance. We are heading to the Piazza Farnese to see the Farnese Palace, designed by Michelangelo, and now home to the French Embassy.  On an evening stroll you can often see the magnificent frescos inside, designed by the famous painters, Annibale and Agostino Carracci.

This square is dripping with history. The two bathtubs in the fountains were pulled from the baths of Caracalla. Caravaggio, the painter who had a terrible temper, had a bad argument there with somebody after a tennis game, and argument that resulted in a death. As a result, he fled Rome. I guess you would!

Right next door is the Campo de Fiori. The best slab pizza in town is at the Forno. The fountain–one of many we will see today–is stuck at the end of the square, because what looks like Darth Vader is taking up the center space. His name is Giordano Bruno and he was unceremoniously burned alive here in 1600 for outrageously suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe.  Shame on you Giordi!

Campo de Fiori is abuzz with a local market most days and cafés and restaurants surround the outside of the square. It is a real hangout at night. At the bottom of the square is where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Yeah, it is a wild square the Campo de Fiori.

Across the busy street, passing the biggest mortadella (real healthy) in the world, we pass a Renaissance palace, the Cancelleria, and we wind ourselves into the fabulous Piazza Navona.  Here we have a formal introduction to Bernini, the cool and iconic Baroque master of the Pope, and Borromini, the brilliant and very depressed foil to the master himself. This place is loaded.  Inside of this square, there is: a medieval church, a beautiful Renaissance church, a Roman statue (the Pasquino – the original Talking Head), the ancient Domitian stadium 20 feet below ground (and still visible in some places), an Egyptian obelisk, a Baroque fountain (The Fountain of the Four Rivers), and the beautiful St. Agnes in Agone by Borromini. In between all of these landmarks, it is not a bad idea to grab a gelato at Tre Scalini. The tartufo is crazy good!

Gelato done, there is no time to lose. Out of the square and passing the senate building we wander into the spectacular Piazza della Rotunda. It is a breathtaking moment. The Pantheon is staring us down. This is the most perfectly preserved Roman building in the world. It is an extraordinary site as you spill out from the narrow street. There is a steady flow of tourists and Romans walking back and forth and around this magical building with a hole in the top. It is the basis for the great Brunelleschi dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s. The building, now a church, is also home to Rafael and the kings of Italy…and it is free to get in.

It is a short walk from here through the back streets of Rome, past the Palazzo Chigi, before you spill out onto the craziness of the Via del Corso and up to the Spanish Steps along the Via dei Condotti. There are more designer shops on this tiny street than there are in all of Manhattan, it seems! Here I enjoy heading to the Café Greco to grab an espresso and a tiny sandwich. At the base of the Spanish Steps, there is another fountain, this time by Bernini’s father.

We are getting close to the end of the walk. What better way than a stroll down the very chic Via Babuino to the Piazza del Popolo. To the right are the Villa Borghese gardens, and at the Piazza del Popolo, you can see clearly down the Via del Corso to the Piazza Venezia and the slightly awkward looking “wedding cake building”, Altare della Patria, designed to symbolize the unification of Italy in the 19th century. Beyond the wedding cake is the Forum, Michelangelo’s Capitoline Hill, the Jewish ghetto, and in the distance, the Palatine and the Colosseum.But that is another day.

 

Roman Ways ≈ Rome_Peter_Spanish_Steps 100815 Roman Ways Peter Jones Pietro Place

I’ve followed up my insiders’ guide to Ashland, Massachusetts, with a tour of my second adopted home-town: Boston!

A lot has changed in Boston over the past few years, (hello, artisan coffee and cheese) but one thing remains the same: this city dominates in athletics. Whether your an superjock or a sensualist, Boston is ready for you!

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