Tag Archives: Travel

Corfu

Corfu is an island well known by ferry travelers enroute to Athens. In the summer, ferries push straight on from Brindisi in Italy to Athens but off peak, Corfu is a stopover. It has one off the most charming towns in all of Greece. Corfu Town. The influence of Venetians is everywhere. Four centuries of influence. A castle and beautiful pastel-colored buildings with medieval cobbled marbled streets that house the usual souvenir stuff that I confess I’m attracted to! There is a cool bar and restaurant scene, lots of nighttime activity and several narrow passageways that offer mystery tours through the old town. It is probably the most beautiful town of the Greek Islands. Small enough to boast and show off its history and lively enough not to dampen the vacation spirits. And if course, in every plaza there is ample time to catch up on Greek salad, grilled octopus and moussaka. Whatever your fancy.

I had not been back for a long time. It was nice to get back into the travel groove again. Especially if you have been watching the gorgeously told TV series on the Durrell’s who lived on the island during the 1930’s before the start of the Second World War.

How to get there….I traveled from Rome to Corfu on Ryan Air. BA flies daily from London. There are several flights from Athens each day. Hotel Cavaliers Hotel is right in center of town and convenient to everything.

Check out the Hotel Cavaliers here:  https://cavalierihotel.gr/

 

 

 

 

Ryan Air

I confess I have never taken Ryan Air before. It’s something I have avoided up till now. But with the collapse of Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier, the shorter flights in and around Italy that were once covered by the National carrier have disappeared. And so, in came Ryan Air. We were flying into Corfu, Greece from Rome. There was no other option but Ryan Air. And off we went out to Rome’s other airport, Ciampino, for my Ryan Air flight to Corfu. It was strange to be in Ciampino. The ride out along the Via Aurelia is stacked with Columns and ancient discards. There are the catacombs and scattered treasures. In the distance are the Alban hills and there was Rome’s other airport, Ciampino. About 8 miles from the city center. And there was Ryan Air. A hub airport for this carrier. I heard the stories of jammed seats, toilets you must pay to use, rude staff and nonexistent service onboard. Bags you must pay for, etc. What a pleasant surprise! We paid for extra leg room and the flight was pleasant. Staff were nice. Bags checked and arrived intact and on time. Maybe it was the luck of the Irish but honestly, it seems better than Alitalia. Which is not saying much but…

An Evening Stroll Through Rome – Part 2

I have a walk I always used to take in Rome in the evening. My first evening back for a year and a half prompts me to walk that route once more as an introduction to Rome. Start at the Pantheon. At the Piazza della Rotonda. Take an aperitive and say hi to the waiters who I have known for 30 years. The Pantheon is always a fabulous start to any walk in Rome. It begins at the start of it all. A perfectly preserved dome. Built in 125 AD and never replicated until Brunelleschi built the Duomo in Florence in 1296! Amidst this huge structure in the middle of old cobbled streets is Bernini’s elephant in the Piazza Minerva. And the gentle color on the sandstone buildings starts the evening walk. Ahead Bernini fountains and Borromini churches. The superstars of Baroque. Ronaldo and Messi of their day! Piazza Navona and the Campo di Fiori and Piazza Farnese. History jammed into three squares. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Ancient. And in between ice cream, espresso and an aperitivo. Not necessarily in that order.

An Evening Stroll Through Rome- Part 1

It’s the sunset that so attracted me to Rome all those years ago. I usually start at the Temple of Cats and make my way to the Campidoglio via the Piazza Venezia. The colors of a Roman evening are quite extraordinary. There is the Vittorio Manuel monument. Awkward and towering with its white marble uncomfortable in between the Baroque Domes and Medieval Church of the Aracoeli but it’s a vital landmark for those unfamiliar with Rome. The Cordonata provides a gracious entrance to the Piazza Campidoglio with Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue, a copy, marking the center of Michelangelo’s square. The Capitoline Museum, a treasure trove of Ancient Rome on the right but beyond and around the corner lies the real treasure. And I had forgotten how impactful that first sight of ancient times is. Breathtaking. The Palatine on the right. Oleander, Cyprus and umbrella pine all around and there is the Forum. The columns and arches, the Senate, and the path to the Coliseum. I first brought my parents here 30 years ago. I think of them and the memories of Rome and everything in between. At sunset.

Across the Divide

My Roman friend has a system for crossing the road. I thought of this while trying to cross along the busy road opposite the Campidoglio. There is no zebra crossing. No traffic lights. Just a steady stream of unrelenting traffic both ways. There is no gap. No opportunity to cross. So, I did what he had suggested. I just walked out into the road slowly but confidently and amazingly the traffic simply parted. He always told me never to hesitate. Keep a straight line and keep walking. I must confess it took some adjustments. And of course, I always wave to the cars and scooters as a thanks as they slow down or maneuver to avoid me. They think I’m mad. Not to cross under their noses but to thank them! Very, very unItalian. It’s been a while. Feels good to be back.

 

The Pizzardone

There is a name in Roman for the guy who stands in the middle of the traffic intersection at the Piazza Venezia. I had not seen him for a while but this time, as if to greet us all back, there he was. The Pizzardone. It’s an art. He is a conductor. His white gloves holding the craziness of motorists, busses, and cars. It is dramatic. He has this immense power. A rotary like the Piazza Venezia and four streams of congested moving anxious Romans on bikes, scooters and in cars would seem no match for the Pizzardone. But Romans become extraordinarily compliant. Obedient. Nobody moves without his assent. The hands are all drama. His whistle ready to pounce on anyone who breaks the rules. And fantastically nobody does. It is a play. A performance. There is a special school that trains Pizzardones. It requires incredible organizational skills, judgement and flexibility. It is knowing how to work on the fly. In the moment. Moving traffic along and avoiding bottlenecks. His orchestra is the sea of traffic. His baton is his hands. It is quintessentially Italian and more importantly its timeless. Traditions are held sacred in this ancient crazy city. Green lights. Red lights. Sophisticated computer algorithms. Not in the main piazza. Not in the center of Rome. The show must go on!

Rome….I’m back!

Travel life between countries is a series of Covid tests and passenger locator forms. The rapid types. Antigen. Results in 15 minutes. The journey from Mallorca to Rome was fairly smooth. Two flights, masked up, and the usual endless wait at Fiumicino for the bags to land on the carousel. I have a theory about Rome airport waiting. The baggage handlers clearly wait and then give the carousel a whirl to get everyone’s hopes up. And then the great “nothing.” More waiting and an occasional sporadic whirl again. This goes on for half an hour. At some point the bags did arrive. And then we were out and into the night air of Fiumicino, Italy. A year and a half. And then it came back.

The drive into the city. There is no skyline to illuminate the skies. Simply an expectation and a longing for the familiar that has been part of my life for 40 years. The Aventine with its views across its neighbor hill the Palatine. The breathtaking ancient villas that sit above the Circus Maximus. The crazy traffic as we wind around by Teatro Marcello that sits on the outskirts of the ghetto. And then the Campidoglio with castor and Pollux atop the beautiful and graceful staircase of the Cordonata Capitolina and we are in the city. And I disappear into Rome.

Roman Ways

Seeing Rome on a Vespa

Riding around on a red Vespa in the center of Rome is a way to see the city. Not necessarily the safest, but a way. So, I had the pleasure of riding on the back of my friends scooter so I could take in the sights and film the chaos while he focused on the road.  Rome makes its claim on being built on seven hills but ironically the two hills that afford the most spectacular views of the city are not on the coveted list of the magnificent seven!  So, off we went!

The Pincio is the hill that sits high above the Spanish steps. It backs onto the Borghese Gardens and always in my mind belongs to Sundays.  Sunday walks, Sunday picnics and strolls from the Piazza del Popolo through the chic and glitzy streets that lead to Keats house and the Babington’s Tea Rooms. One of my favorite cafes is on the via Condotti, the Main Street that showcases the Spanish Steps.  Antico Caffe Greco. The oldest bar in Rome and second oldest in Italy.  Cafe Florian in Venice has that title. The tiny sandwiches at cafe Greco are simply like no other!

The other hill is the Gianicolo. This is the hill that winds its way out of St. Peters and descends back again past the Spanish Embassy into Trastevere.  Most notable for Punch and Judy shows on Sundays and the classic view of Rome stretching from the wedding cake building far beyond to St. John’s in Lateran.  It’s Garibaldi’s hill.  His statue dominates the top of the hill.  The revolutionary who became the catalyst that united Italy and ended Vatican and French dominance. The Gianicolo was a battleground, and now is probably the most peaceful place on earth to take in this magnificent city.

A tale of two hills.  Neither on the list of seven, but both significant and meaningful to the tourist for the classic view of Rome.

Oh, and I survived the Vespa experience too!

Watch the video tour here:  RomeVespaTour2021

London’s Open Air Theatres

 

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When I think of London, I think Pubs, the Royal family, and theatre. And I think of rain and summers that fly by without a summer day in sight. But, ironically I think of open-air theatre. London houses two of the most famous open-air theatres in the world.

Let’s start with my favorite. The Regents Park open-air theatre. Founded in 1932, its located on the inner circle by Queen Mary’s Garden. By the rose garden. Its season is the summer.

See the source imageI have seen Midsummer Night’s Dream there so many times and it never tires. The clouds come in, the rain starts, the planes boom overhead, and the birds fly from tree to tree. It’s part of the set. Puck delivers his closing line and then the mad dash across the park, in total darkness and often pouring rain as the audience run for the last tube, a late restaurant in Soho or a taxi home. When I lived in London, I was always at the park. Sometimes at the Zoo, sometimes at the open-air pool but never got to the theater.

Shakespeare is a tale of two cities. Stratford and London. In London, if you ever have the chance, go book a seat (better a seat) at the Globe Theatre. A rebuild of an original theatre built in 1599, burned and rebuilt in the 1600’s only to be shut down by Puritans in the mid 1600’s. Damn Puritans! Spoiling all the fun! Eventually torn down to make way for housing and then rebuilt again in 1997! It is a beautiful reconstruction of Tudor architecture. Situated close to its original site in Southwark by London Bridge and famous Borough Market along the ancient Thames. This is where Shakespeare wrote and performed his works. Julius Caesar was probably the first play performed at the original Globe. The new theatre serves winter as well with the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Using only candles as lighting it recreates a theatre experience like no other. Art isn’t easy but you get to travel to a time when it was more difficult than you could ever imagine!! Go travel and visit the Globe Theatre on a high school trip. You won’t be disappointed!

Image result for globe theatre pictureImage result for globe theatre picture

Coming Up for Air

I knew the pandemic was nearly over because my local bakery in Boston, in Seaport called Flour, finally opened its doors fully after a year and several months of operating at 10 per cent.  I can recall the early pandemic days when none of us were quite used to the world that was about to hit us.  Numbers were pitching badly, the pandemic was crippling everything from restaurants, bars, schools, flights, trains…everything closed…..and somehow Flour had limped through.  As had we.

I used to go there pretty much every week at least twice.  Orders had to be made online, sandwiches and stuff left in between the glass doors, no contact, just a wave to familiar faces that worked there.  And then slowly it became easier.  Not perfect, but accessible.  Still nothing inside but a few more people and some lovely conversations with the always lovely staff there. And then it happened.  There was a crowd.  A queue and it was busy, and I had to wait a little longer and there were people hanging inside and eating outside and then I realized, that the weathervane had changed.

The pandemic was moving on.  People in the streets, at ball games, less masks and smiles you could see again.  And then I knew we would be back traveling soon.  So, maybe not the French café in my favorite neighborhood by the office on the Rue Cherche Midi, maybe not my hangout in London in Soho or the Piazza Della Rotunda by the Pantheon in Rome.  Not yet, but getting there.

Imagining a world less remote, less tied to zoom.  The sounds of flights overhead filling the sky a little more each day.  I can feel the pull of travel as countries start to open shop . Travel is what we do.  What we all need to do.  Out of the backyard and into the neighbor’s yard.  A jump once more into another place.

And there was Flour.  Busy and bustling and looking half normal.
I loved my sandwich today!  Always have, but today felt super good.

Pete

Vaccinated…Get Ready to Travel?!

So, pandemic month 13 is about to end as we watch the vaccines rapidly roll out in many countries across the world.  We are close to 30 percent fully vaccinated.  We will be ready to travel soon as we see countries beginning to prepare to open and more or less return to some kind of new normal.

There’s talk everywhere of developing corridors of safe travel and in many cases, we see countries opening only to fully vaccinated travelers.   And yet… the USA just over a week ago elevated most countries in the world to travel advisory Level 4.  Essentially, “Do Not Travel.”  So, while the USA is moving faster than every country in the world except Israel to vaccinate its entire “willing” population we are being encouraged to wait and hold.  It’s not a bad move.  We are nearly there.  But there are hot spots and danger areas.  Let’s vaccinate everyone who wants to be vaccinated and then open up the borders.  And, yes, we see Greece, Croatia and Iceland opening up their borders, albeit with strong caveats, but why not wait a few more weeks.  Makes sense.

Our travel machinery is ramping up.  Plane schedules are being filled and hotels are starting to take bookings after 1 year of hibernation.  There will be a summer season of travel and from September we should see our skies full, and our favorite destinations back.  Roma…Ci manca!

And what will the return look like.  Some things will seem and feel different.  Rental cars are scarce, and prices are higher.  Uber takes longer and is less available.  People are reluctant to take public transportation in general.  Masks will be a feature, not mandatory, but as in Japan, a feature of everyday life.  Restaurants will emphasize outdoor seating and slowly but surely expand their indoor potential. Although, many restaurants we love will not be returning.  Casualties of the pandemic months.

Airlines are increasing their flights.  But airlines are also more cautious and wary of losing even more money than they have experienced so far.  Cheap flights will be available but less so than before. Transatlantic capacity will ramp up and group travel will almost certainly make fully vaccinated people the rule rather than a recommendation.  Restaurants, airlines, and entry to sporting events and theatres will almost certainly demand a Vaccine ID type passport/card.  In Europe it will be a matter of months before they introduce a card showing a vaccination.  No card….No entry, No boarding, No go!

Will everything return as if this was a blip on the landscape.  Will we be confronted by crowded museums and lines at places like Versailles and St. Peter’s as we phase back to the crazy days of a bygone era.  I don’t think it will ever quite be the same.  We will adapt and will do things differently and most importantly we will never take for granted the wonder of a crowded vaporetto in Venice or a pedestrian traffic jam along Oxford Street in London.  Maybe we will have become more tolerant and more conscious of the things that drive our economy.  Maybe we will be kinder to each other.  Do things  with a smile rather than a weary look of frustration.  Remembering all those lost months of no travel and no business.  Locked in and working remote.  Zooming to places rather than being there!  Good to hold those memories and never forget how grateful we are for busy people racing through those airline terminals, dashing for an Uber or the metro.

The pandemic days will remind us all that we have just lived through something that will change us forever.  And honestly, it hopefully will make us better travelers and better ambassadors as we explore new places and touch the tip of possibility once more.

See you out there somewhere.

Peter

 

Thoughts on Covid, Vaccinations and Resuming Travel!

What’s happening.

It has been a year without travel.  A year lost in many ways.  A year when we have stayed at home, learned new things about ourselves and spent more time with our loved ones.  Ironically, we have also spent more time reaching out over Zoom or whichever platform we use to connect frequently with friends and family we may not necessarily be in touch with as often.  We are all remote in more ways than one.  We have lived under this dark cloud for a year, and only now, do we find ourselves coming up for air.  For those of us who love to travel, it has been a year of not traveling.  For businesses it has more often been a year of heartbreak and failure as the pandemic has ruptured large parts of the economy.  In Travel, in entertainment, restaurants and bars it has been as close to a disaster as one can imagine.  And yet we endured.  Reinvented ourselves, changed our models and our perspective and moved sideways or backwards or jumped through barriers that we previously were too fearful to jump through.

And here we are. March 2021. Ironically as spring surges ahead and the first buds appear around the shrubs in Western Mass, the metaphor reminds me that we are slowly lightly moving along.

Vaccines are rapidly being deployed, Covid testing is fast and efficient and rates of Covid are dropping.  Yep, there are surges and still it’s chaotic in places but overall, the signs are good. The world has changed and won’t be quite the same, but we will get back to a near normal routine.  The economy will recover and travel…beloved travel will start up again.

We already have groups departing for Costa Rica, the DR and Ecuador.  Slowly Europe will reopen and even though masks will remain in place, even though there will be strict rules on Covid testing and vaccines, travel will return. Global airline travel fell by 66% in 2020.  The largest decline in history.  Tourism accounts for 1 – 10 jobs around the world. In some parts of the world, tourism is the economy. International arrivals in those countries fell as dramatically as 97%.  It will take some time to recover. On a positive note, we have had a 50% decrease in carbon emissions and our oceans and canals are cleaner than ever.  And we read more than any other year we have ever read! Books….and Netflix!

As we move to our second Easter under the pandemic, this one brings hope and optimism.  The sky is still empty over my house as I look out into the western horizon, but a few more planes have passed by this month. The snow is gone.  Let’s hope that the pandemic continues to melt away with it.

Destination Updates

Iceland is open to vaccinated travelers and people who are prepared to have a Covid test on arrival.  Even if you show a recent Covid test. If you test positive, then you are quarantined at your expense in a quarantine hotel.

Ecuador is open as is Galapagos with proof of vaccine or negative Covid test.  No test on arrival.

Costa Rica/Dominican Republic… Vaccine or negative Covid test.

London Calling….

 

A week of interesting possibilities. Travel is starting to turn its wheels and airlines and tour operators are ramping up for a return of summer business. This past week the UK announced they have coincided with a rapid decline in COVID-19 cases and vaccination rollouts. Come June, the UK is hoping to be at or near normalcy. What does that mean? Johnson and Johnson now have a single shot vaccine that will be available for 18 and under.

For travelers, there is no date set to jump on a plane and travel to “anywhere.” However, airlines, tour operators and cruise companies are starting to figure out the next stage. Vaccine passports and rapid Covid testing. Delta is continuing with keeping the middle seat free in coach even though it is costing them millions of dollars. Their hunch is that it provides confidence to the consumer when booking a flight. Southwest airlines stayed with the middle seat free option until they re-evaluated because of financial pressures and reverted to full occupancy where they can. Airlines are still touting the fact that the air inside the cabin is cleaner than most environments. But, with one less person or two per row, it’s a tough sell to say it’s safer. Ironically, bargain still plays out stronger than safety and people are prepared to fly on fuller planes for a cheaper fare.

Life at the next stage after the pandemic and slowly the world is moving. Restricted capacities will still be a way of life through the end of 2021. In general, it will affect theatres, stadiums and performance venues. Until the numbers recede to optimum levels and the vaccine reaches a higher percentage of penetration.

Corridors for travel are being actively discussed. Greece and UK. Spain and Italy. Everyone is looking for a way to fill their hotels and restaurants. In addition, the Europeans and the UK are dealing with the Brexit nightmare. Brexit is largely remaining undercover because of the pandemic but as we move further out of this, the Brexit issues will start to emerge effecting tourism.

Most travel companies are starting to ramp up. Getting ready. USA to anywhere is still fragile. USA to USA will probably go first. Then the Caribbean. Then the world. And it will start to move fast depending on vaccines and rates of infections. It will probably start to form a more normal rhythm at the end of the summer with established corridors enabling travelers to move safely with restrictions from one zone to another. By December the world should be open. Again, with a combination of vaccine travel documents, rapid Covid tests at airports and hotels and reasonable capacity limits in entertainment venues. Nearly normal or new normal!

The good news is that the Tokyo Olympics is officially on in late July. The Euro soccer championships is a go in early June across the entire European continent. Theaters will start opening in the UK and pubs and museums will begin their awakening. Now we can start to imagine walking through Covent Garden on the way to St. Martin’s Lane for a night at the theatre. Now we imagine a walk-through Baroque Rome and a nightcap in the Piazza Navona. What seemed like a lifetime away is within reach. We may have to show up at the airport even earlier, tolerate longer lines at immigration entry as not everything will return to normal. But, hey, it’s better than I could ever have imagined a few months ago and feels like were heading somewhere soon.

Clocks are moving forward. Things are happening. New regulations are being put in place so we can start traveling again.

Carnival and Pancake Day

I’ve experienced the beauty and craziness of the Carnival in Venice.  A fabulous and amazing costume drama like no other.  People travel from afar to parade around the squares, canals and alleyways of this truly unique city.  Hotels would be overbooked; the city would even have a limit on the number of tourists allowed.  This year, alas, we have no Carnival.  Only memories of the beautiful colors, costumes and posing amidst a spectacular backdrop of waterways, gondolas, palaces and piazzas.  Tourists would flock from all over the world to be part of this crazy scene.  Pure theatre.  Surreal and worth at least a peak once in your lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m from London and grew up in a country that celebrated Mardi Gras in a whole different way.  We ate pancakes!  We called the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday…..Pancake day!  Shrove Tuesday.  The English version of Mardi Gras.  No costumes, fireworks or song.  Just…..pancakes. To denote the clearing out of the larder and beginning of lent.

Pancakes…. It was the culinary highlight of the cooking year in our household.  I never knew why we couldn’t have pancakes more often, but rules were strict.  Pancakes on pancake day. Pancakes, according to some, denote the 4 pillars of the Christian faith.  Sustenance (flour), creation(eggs), purity (milk) and wholesomeness (salt).  Not that I had a clue.  And not that anyone who was English really had a clue.  No, we were just so happy that on this day we were able to enjoy something quite tasty.  Pancakes with delicious Golden Treacle or lemon and sugar.

Mardi Gras is exactly 47 days prior to Easter Sunday so the date is a bit of a moving target and that always confused me when I was a kid.  Pancake day should be like Christmas.  A fixed date!! Rumor has it that pancake racing, yep…racing, started in 1445 in a town called Olney when a woman was interrupted with her pancake making by the calling of the church bells.  Off she ran, pan and pancakes in hand, to attend the Shrove Tuesday service!  Hence, pancake racing began its humble start.  Later, tossing the pancakes was added to the race.

Image result for uk pancake day clipart

So, while cool cities like Rio, Venice, Sydney, New Orleans, Goa and Nice may boast extravaganzas with flowers and music and dance and costumes, the Brits have …Pancake day. And Pancake races.  A little ironic for a nation not traditionally known for its cuisine culture.  No wonder the Europeans were okay with Brexit!!

The Super Bowl, Vaccines, Covid and Travel

February’s under way with lots of snow in the northeast and Tom Brady wins his 7th Super Bowl. He used to be our guy. But he left us and opted for warmer weather. So now we’re all Buccaneer fans!

Valentine’s day coming up, and the vaccine is slowly and painfully being distributed. Some states moving faster than others but the wheels are turning.

Some questions arising this week. International questions. Is there any place open right now? In brief, from a traveler’s point of view…. not really. Europe is still closed, but they are vaccinating at a decent clip.  Airlines are insisting on a Covid test requirement for all International flights. Domestic, while threatening to do the same, has not instituted a Covid test requirement yet. That may change and masks are still mandatory on all flights.

Until we reach levels of herd immunity (75-80%) it’s unlikely we will see any relaxation.  In addition, Vaccine Passports are now being used and phased in on some cruises.  Expect that to gain popularity as the vaccine program rolls out more extensively.  For 2022, it will almost certainly be a standard factor in travel.  It may mean adult only passengers will need to have a vaccine passport.  Not sure quite how this will pan out, but more clarity will develop over the next month or so.

Some resort hotels are now offering Covid testing as a way to offset the fall in demand for warm climate vacations.  Airlines have seen a massive drop off because of the new ruling that prevents travelers returning to the USA without a prior test.

The world is moving at different speeds when it comes to vaccines.  As would be expected. Follow the money.  Two countries do not publish Covid data.  Tanzania and North Korea. Tanzania is full speed ahead on opening, but it hasn’t reported a Covid case since last April. Only 509 cases total have been reported and that number has not budged, while its neighbors are off the charts. According to the President of Tanzania, it’s all down to divine intervention. Good luck with that during safari vacation season!

Some great news on the transatlantic front.  JetBlue has announced it will open up a Boston and New York London corridor in May.  Blue sky is coming!!  Great Business class (Mint) at a fraction of the price of the regular carriers and twice as nice!  In addition, the economy fares are great with more amenities than their competitors.  JetBlue is in the transatlantic business….hooray.

Peter