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IC Shake Hands Tour 2000 Round I: 11-17 August 2000 London, Brighton, Berlin, Frankfurt, Moscow, Helsinki, CDG and MIA airport transfers For Berlin Photos, click here. For New in Moscow photo updates, click here. For Helsinki photos, click her

This one week fling includes London, an English beach town known as Brighton, Berlin, Frankfurt, Moscow and Helsinki. London has seen several previous visits and features a special visit to the Millennium Dome; Berlin is a big small city; Moscow hasn’t changed in 3 years, and Helsinki is a nice find. Photos will be posted around September 5.

LONDON: Friday morning to Sunday evening

A bit of luck; United has a pilot strike going on. The connecting flight didn’t make it so my plane was half empty. United flew a 767 with personal entertainment system. 6 hours to London. At Heathrow’s terminal 3, long lines at the ATM’s were best avoided by going upstairs to departure level to use ATM’s there. Many arrivals at 7am but passport control was about 15 minutes. Long walk from Terminal 3 to the Heathrow Express; terminal 1 is closer. August is warm and no air conditioning in public places; airports and metros are hot. Heathrow Express is 15 minutes to Paddington Station in central London; trains run every 15 minutes. Can buy tickets over Internet for a few bucks discount; buy at least 10 days before leaving. Cost is about $18 each way but worth it. My hotel is the Kingsway (723.5569), just 2 minutes walk from the station in the middle of Norfolk Square, a square with lots of little hotels all around the square and a garden in the middle. Rooms are small but a twin room is $85 a night with tax and breakfast. I understand that Internet searches bring up substantial discounts at luxury properties in London for about the same price but it was very convenient being 2 minutes walk away from Paddington if Heathrow is your airport. You can check in for flights at Paddington for several airlines and could call the hotel and have someone walk your bags over. 

Arrived at hotel by 8 on a flight that touched down at 7; slept till 1:30 and then lunched with Basil at Galileo, an Italian bistro on Haymarket Street, a good standby in the heart of the theater district between Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. A bit of shopping on Oxford Street; new fall color is purple ties against dark blue shirts against navy or charcoal gray jackets. Marks & Spencers now takes credit cards and I thought they had quite a few nice designs. Internet cafes now all over the place. Didn’t see this in the other cities I visited on this trip. Met with Lorenzo to discuss state of technology; Microsoft is in long term trouble as people resent their strong-arm tactics and design technology as if they don’t exist. 

Get a full day metro pass for $3.50 after 9:30am. A half hour subway ride to a station created for the Millennium Dome; a big dome housing a sort of worlds fair for the Year 2000. A bit pricey at $30 per ticket but go half price after 4pm; requires 4 hours. See the movie (Badacre — some English comedy ensemble that is popular there; special film commissioned for the event); floor show with trapeze-flying acrobats and lots of costumes and technical effects and only music for background. Sit on floor around the stage for the best view. There are about 15 exhibitions; “Body” is the most popular and the best thing to do is go straight from the floor show to that.  One stop away on the metro is Canary Wharf and it is nice to walk around a bit and see all that Reichman built; it is becoming quite successful and there is a little airport just a few minutes away that is becoming popular with business people.  Fish and chips for dinner; first of a few such meals. Hard to find Israeli papers here; much more available in New York than London. 

Services Saturday morning at West Marble Arch synagogue, a 15 minute walk from hotel. Always charming to walk around London. Chief Rabbi of UK talked about selection of Lieberman to run for VP of the US; said Jews need to go out and be part of the world and do great things for the rest of the world to appreciate (as Jews certainly won’t appreciate each other). 

Theater that night to see “A Busy Day” which I walked out on after Act One; I didn’t understand through all the provincial British humor and late nineteenth-century dialogue and thought it was just stupid. Meandered along the Strand to sneak into the second act of Chicago, which as on Broadway is a concert edition of what used to be a full stage show with sets and costumes. Now it’s just pretty boys and girls in dark tights singing and dancing several songs with a really jumpy band leader on stage. Theater offerings this season are skimpy and rather disappointing. My theory is that a new generation of people with money that didn’t grow up on theater are going to see very expensive shows they are told are cool but that have no substance (sorta like watching Seinfeld episodes live); anyone who grew up watching good theater would think this stuff is of low quality and there is a lot of stuff being said and done on stage that is not suitable for family viewing. Pizza at little cafes along Piccadilly Circus are ridiculously priced; $10 a slice with some greens and a soda and not good at all. Better value for the $10 pistachio-chocoholic desert in the Garden Room at the Waldorf Hotel (now a Meridian Hotel) on Aldwych post-theater. The London equivalent of the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel in New York. 

Sunday morning a failed attempt at riding the London Eye, the new ferris wheel near the Parliament buildings along the river. Must buy tickets several days in advance if you want this. This attraction is likely to be around for at least the next 5 years.  It’s a 15 minute walk from Parliament along Victoria Street to Victoria Station. The Gatwick Express train leaves every 15 minutes or so for the 30 minute ride to Gatwick. Met Greg there; good thing we were carrying cellphones as we almost missed each other and then, with the phone, realized we were 20 feet away from each other. These cellphones sure come in handy. I rented mine from TravelCell.com and all incoming calls within the UK were free. Check out their website before leaving the US.; it was much more reasonable to rent a phone and pay for the calls I made than to try and buy a GSM phone and pay for a plan which would have cost the same per minute. 

Greg and I took a half hour train ride to Brighton via some very green pretty countryside; nice to see some of England besides London. Brighton is a seaside town with lots of shopping and faux beaches (gravel, no sand) that looks like Coney Island. The hotels along the beach are across the street and not really on the beach; same for the restaurants. We ate at the Regency, “plaice” fish is a white fish and the local item. Stumbled onto a coffeehouse in town where you can sit halfway outside but still inside on a quiet street. I had a minted hot chocolate.  Sorry I didn’t take its name or address. I am noticing that these little scooters that you step onto and ride around on are a fad all over the world catching on faster than any other fad I’ve seen in a while. England is comparatively reasonable at $1.50 per British pound; certain items such as paper goods in a supermarket are still rather comparatively expensive. Returned to London and to grab my bag from the hotel and check in for my flight and grab the Express back to Heathrow; I took the 7:10 express to the airport; arrived at the gate in Terminal 1 at 7:35 for my 7:50 flight to Berlin on British Airways which flies 1:15 on that route.  Previous notes from London visits are already posted to this site (1998 and1997 visits).

BERLIN: Sunday night to Tuesday morning

Population only increased by 100,000 during past 8 years; tons of construction going on and not enough people to fill the space. Memorials to the past all over the place. Visited Brandenberg Gate, drove past tons of museums in East Berlin (could spend a week in them), visited Hackescher Market (yuppie hangout area inside courtyards between several buildings joined together), 1936 Olympic stadium (go up elevator for good city view); government buildings; Checkpoint Charlie; new Jewish Museum and the Berlin Synagogue. The new museum doesn’t open for a year but 1,000 people a day are coming just to see the building and walk in its basement. The architecture is weird and provocative. The US wants a bunch of prime land next to the Brandenberg gate for its new embassy; it is pissing off the Germans and the soon to be outgoing ambassador has been stubborn about it. The Americans are no longer an occupying power and should stop trying to put an embassy on what will obviously be very public space. 

I had hired a car and driver for 2 hours; it took us close to 5 hours just to drive around and at $75 an hour it was damn expensive. This I booked via the hotel’s concierge; the direct number is Prestige Limousine Tours, 49.30.262.82.59 and the guide was Manfred Otto. You could imagine what the hotel charged me for my laundry especially since there doesn’t appear to be any same-day laundry service in Berlin outside the hotel; labor in Germany is high but food is very reasonably priced (the Deutchmark was 2.1 to the US Dollar which is comparatively good). East Berlin has a curious mix of decades of architecture; on one street you can see side by side buildings from the 60’s that have been renovated next to ones that have not; on the same avenue you can see stuff from several different decades. There are laws to preserve certain things so that people will remember the history. It hits you over the head a bit; walk outside the metro station right near the KDV department store (the city’s biggest) and there is a sign telling you that people went from that station to 15 different concentration camps (and it lists them). Makes you not want to go shopping and probably bugs the hell out of many Germans to see all these reminders (or else they must be immune to them). Metro is confusing at first glance (no maps that make sense posted in the stations) but they don’t check for tickets so I just took a free ride or two. The Sony Center is a new modern building built near Potsdam Platz, a huge construction zone of planned mixed use development along the East/West border. A 3 story red building built on stilts called the Information Box is a temporary exhibit of the development. I took a balloon up 500 feet over the construction area. The Germans have been planning meticulously 5 years for the redevelopment of this area and it will take another 5 years to finish. Imagine a whole city being divided into two with 100 meters on either side becoming a no-man’s land. Otherwise, Berlin has lots of greenery and a good number of private houses in the city limits, a very cosmopolitan mix of people (not a bunch of blond haired blue eyed Germans), lots of undeveloped areas surrounding the city, and a pretty efficient air about it, although people there don’t seem to know where things are if they are more than a mile from where they live. But that’s how Germans are. Same thing in Britain. Amazing either side ever finished a war. Not as many cafes and cabarets as I expected; that was a distant time ago. 

My hotel is the Kempinski Bristol which is one of the best in town; I had a travel agent’s rate of $100 a night. Room had lit up sculptures in glass cases built into the wall and lit up wall paintings. Electric shutters and all sorts of phone gadgets such as cordless phone you could carry around the hotel. I couldn’t figure out how to work all this. Pretty swimming pool and a business center with Internet. Avoid smoking floors; the place reeked of tobacco in the mornings. It’s a 15-20 minute drive to Tegel Airport; a real pleasure here. Each gate is designed to handle departure and arrival of a flight and has its own entrance and exit to the street so you go straight from the taxi to the plane. The airport is small because few flights go in and out of Berlin; Frankfurt is still the main airport. Also, from capitals such as London, British Airways has all the flights due to old aviation agreements that have kept these berries for the allied powers. It is a capital city but not yet the center of business or attention. My 10am flight to Frankfurt takes 50 minutes and is half empty; I have an exit row all to myself.

FRANKFURT AIRPORT and CITY COMMUTE: Tuesday afternoon

Buses to and from planes helps to cut down the walking; a skytrain runs between concourses A, B and C.  Look for the signs and go up the escalators after passport control. There are places in the airport terminal to stow bags (ie: $2 for up to 6 hours). One possibility is at the terminal entrance of concourse B just inside the terminal building at the departure level or downstairs as well. 20 minute taxi ride to center city for $25. Lunch visits with Kai and Ilan & Vered. Frankfurt has a few new buildings since my last visit and continues to have a pleasant pedestrian center city feel with good number of gardens off the main plazas. No real rush hour problems getting back to airport or on the runway. 2:40 flying time to Moscow on Lufthansa; pretty busy flight but some empty seats and a nice dinner. I have learned to switch from windows to aisles for the leg room and easy access to rest rooms.

MOSCOW: Tuesday night to Wednesday afternoon

Not a dime has been invested in this airport which is still dark and dreary. Passport control was 20 minutes and I beat everyone off the plane by having the stewardess seat me at the front for the landing. There is a new highway to the airport if you go on one route, otherwise you hit drab roads quickly and you see it is still a third world country. My cellphone is not working here though it is supposed to. Several pay phones didn’t work. I was met at airport by a driver from an embassy. Stayed overnight at the Marriott; there are several in center city. Mine was the Tverskaya, a few miles from the Kremlin on Tverskaya Street for $140 a night which is a discounted rate. Quite decent facility. I resent the 24% VAT and sales tax on top of rooms and meals after paying the $80 for the visa. They are taxing tourists and businesses to death. Even with new lowered taxes, it is still confiscatory. I touched down at 10:30 pm and an hour later arrived at Dan’s apartment. It’s 4 bedrooms with tall ceilings and a good amount of space; $4,000 a month to rent. New apartments seem to favor huge jacuzees. Labor is cheap; you can hire a gymnast from a top academy as a personal gymnastics trainer at about $6 an hour. One friend works for an embassy, another for a large corporation. Both feel their employers spend big money for certain items and then chisel with their employees on nickels and dimes. I guess the grass is greener on the other side but it ain’t. The attaché is succeeding but bureaucrats and higherups are jealous and seek to put him in his place; the wife finds Russian mentalities hard to get used to; my feeling is that both these guys I will next see in some other country. Alex and I met up in the late morning and took a walk around Manezh Square, Red Square, GUM and other central locales. After a big development spurt from1992-97, it looks pretty much the same over the past 3 years except for a few new cathedrals and statues. See the statue of Peter the Great on the river near the big cathedral. Lunched on the patio of the Sheraton near GUM. It’s a half hour drive to the airport and Alex and I go together because he is flying off to Vienna to meet up with his wife who now resides permanently outside Russia. Nobody looks at the customs forms; a zealous bureaucrat wrote these new forms that ask all sorts of questions and most Russians don’t even bother to fill them out. That seems to be the idea; the government makes stupid rules and people ignore them. What the customs people are interested in are large numbers of dollars going in and out of the country. You can now take rubles out; nobody cares as you can’t spend them anyway. The ruble at least is now pretty stable. 

Putin is making order at the expense of some freedoms but there is little opposition since people want order. Taxes are high but people avoid them. Foreign business is still sidelined, waiting for more rule of law. Putin appears stagecrafted and a figurehead for people around him; some of whom expect to benefit while others who benefited under Yeltsin are sidelined. Putin has a wide-ranging agenda, some of which may succeed at the expense of other gains over the last decade. Today the big story is the rescue attempt on the Russian submarine and the likely deaths of all aboard; there is recognition that Russia should have asked for outside help faster and not been so proud and secretive; also that Russia simply can’t afford to pretend to have all these nuclear forces it can’t afford. Alex keeps one foot outside the country and looks for safe places for assets. I don’t expect I will visit again for a good long time. My 4:30 flight to Helsinki on Finnair leaves on time and is 1:30; we pick up an hour going west. Nice thing about Moscow and Helsinki airports is that they are both small and it is a small walk to and from planes and on runways. They are both not busy airports; things run on time and there is no need to spend lots of time in the airport. By the way, I have been assured that the domestic airline running flights between Moscow and St. Petersburg is safe to fly.

HELSINKI, FINLAND — Wednesday afternoon to Thursday noon

Scandinavian feel here; all wooden floors in the airport. Easy out; a car, driver and guide await me as I exit customs. 25 minute drive to city center to begin a 90 minute tour which is costing me $100 an hour but because of my 5:30 arrival and 12 noon departure, I would have no time to take the organized tour (which only goes thru downtown areas anyway). This I booked via the tourist center (telephone 358.9.22.88.1222 s) First we view the city from the top of the Olympic Stadium; city is small and, like Berlin, surrounded by trees. Visited Rock Church to see interesting modern church architecture built into a rock formation. In center city, the Esplanade is a pleasant shopping street with pedestrian areas in the center with lots of gardens and ending at the seafront. Various piazzas around churches and government buildings; drove around embassies; shipyards to see new cruise ships being built; sculpture of organ pipes with sounds from speakers in a garden is an unusual item. Took some nice pictures at a spot it turns out people make their wedding pictures at. I am at the Strand Intercontinental, a nice hotel about 15 minutes walk from center city on the sea front. Hotels sport saunas and nice swimming pools. My room had a TV that had a display welcoming Ivan Ciment on it. I hadn’t seen that one before. There was supposed to be in-room Internet access but it didn’t work. My rate is $110 per night, travel agent’s rate, and I took the seaside-facing room which was an extra $10 included in the above rate. 

As I exit the hotel, I am struck at the freshness of the air even though I am in a city. The water is also good here.  Good amount of modern architecture amid the historical buildings. Walked to Stockman’s department store at 8pm for some previewing before it closed at 9. Then a walk along the Esplanade to Kapelli, a historic tavern housing a restaurant. Smoked salmon (cooked) and a salad came to under $20.  The 5 star hotel Kampel is also on that street, part of the Sheraton luxury hotels group. Helsinki is very tourist friendly and lots of English signage; no one outside Finland speaks Finnish. Swedish is a second official language and there are close ties; the country was originally part of Sweden; then became a dutchy of Russia and obtained independence just before the 1917 revolution. Alex noted and others agreed that the people of Finland are essentially Russians who showed what Russians could achieve given private property rights and freedom for the past 100 years. Helsinki looks like what St. Petersburg would look like if it was fixed up although St. Petersburg has more natural beauty with all its canals and grand buildings than does Helsinki but still with all the piazzas, gardens it is a very pleasant place, much more so than St. Petersburg which is not tourist-friendly at all (you go from hotel to hotel to go to the bathroom or eat). In many US cities there still are no real public places in center city to sit and eat or just sit. You can take a 90 minute ferry or 20 minute helicopter ride to Tallin, Estonia for a day trip but a visa is required. Lots of cruise ships visit the city and there is quite a bunch of English language tourist literature. Unemployment and taxes are down but still high. Petrol is $5 a gallon. After dinner, I am walking around the streets and the metro stations which are all pretty dead but safe and spotless and it’s about 10:30 pm and just now dusk.  Metro here is also on the honor system and as in London and Berlin the station signs tell you when the next train is coming; I really wish we could implement this in the US. Desert in the hotel lobby; my aunt will get a postcard from Finland as she requested. 

Finland has an FM radio station, 97.5, which carries everything from NPR live to the BBC World Service. It is very useful for tourists. BBC World and of course CNN are on all the TV’s in the hotels all over the continent. This morning I got up a bit early and taxied to town to the morning market at the seaside edge of the Esplanade; bought puppets, dolls and baby shoes for the nieces. Then to Stockmans after it opened at 9 to buy sweaters and winter accessories. Prices are reasonable and quality is high. Packaging is also considered important here. Downstairs features lots of cellular phones; Nokia is the local patriotic favorite with some 50 funky designs on display and of course people are using the phone for all sorts of advanced uses which have yet to catch on in the US (though I did not see the phone-activated Coke machines I had hoped to view); there is some Ericson from Sweden but Motorola is non-existent here. Motorola did exist elsewhere in Europe though. People here are winter people who do not go underground; they like the winter and live in it. There are stands with bicycles to borrow; deposit a coin and get it back when you put the bike back, just like an airport cart. The Finns are a bit liberal; the shopping bag from the duty free magazine shop features full frontal nudity. Otherwise, Finland is a clean healthy place with healthy people. This morning it is raining (first time this trip) so I’m really glad I toured yesterday. Lucky to get a taxi and kept it from the hotel to the airport; left at 11 for my noontime flight; it only took 20 minutes and $25 to the airport and the check-in was a total of 3 minutes from the gate so I had half an hour to kill. Got a lox sandwich; they salt it lightly here since it is so fresh and therefore one can enjoy lox here more than in the US where they salt it to preserve it. Everyone was aboard 10 minutes before the departure time. It is a real pleasure here in Europe; no traffic to the airport; little walk in the airport; on-time departures and arrivals with half empty planes, good food with little bottles of numbered-limited edition wines (which I don’t drink anyway), and you can sit  in exit rows with no one on either side of you.  Contrast this with a domestic flight from Miami to New York and it is glaring. So you can see why this trip is workable; work a flight into the day (I personally avoid early morning flights); grab a newspaper and an hour break to eat and think and you’re in the next city. Pack very light and let the hotel do your laundry. To my mind, this is better than a cruise since I don’t like being on the sea. Flying time is 2:50 to Paris. 

Helsinki has 500,000 population. About 5 million populate the whole country. Lots of modern sleek looking furniture and furnishings. Unusual but interesting designs for household appliances and electronics; all TV’s being shown in the department stores here and elsewhere in Europe are the wide-screen digitals but they are expensive (but I suspect people are buying them); free universities with emphasis on high-tech training and this is attracting lots of hi-tech companies to locate here. One year army is mandatory but a joke. Tons of cellphones. I am carrying one and I can just act on the notion and order a birthday cake for my mom during my dinner as I will be in Miami for family dinner in 48 hours. In the hotel, they play Oh My Papa in the middle of my desert. So I guess that home is where the heart is, as they say. So many time zones so fast, I have not really had time to get jet-lagged. UK is New York +5, Germany and France +6, Finland +7, Russia +8. I just varied my daily schedule to stay up and get up later the further east I traveled. As I leave the country, the passport control guy is friendly; the Russian lady had a moustache and when I entered and exited, neither person in Russia acknowledged me as a person even when I greeted them.
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris — Transfer here is good since the airport is in a big circle with terminals all around the circle. There is a bus or you can just take your cart downstairs and cut across the parking lot if you have to get to the other side of the airport. Beware that customs stamp for VAT refunds is BEFORE passport control. I expected it to be after passport control; you can solve this problem in the US but it requires a visit to a consulate. The airport sorta kills duty free shopping by not allowing carts beyond passport control, so you sit with your luggage and don’t want to walk around. The good point is that you walk into the airport, past passport control and right to the gate. You can arrive 30 minutes before a flight no problem. I checked with the gate before boarding and they gave me an exit row aisle to Miami which made a 9 hour flight more tolerable, though 9 hours in the hour is horrible any way you slice it. It is a rather long day with arrival in Miami at 9pm or 4am in Helsinki.

MIAMI airport — They opened up a second customs area by Concourse B and it is upstairs, above the terminal. The older area is by Concourse E and it is below the terminal. So if you are being picked up, you need to tell your pickup where to go. Also it is a bit of a walk to the newer customs area so expect to walk a lot.

Summing up, in Berlin and Helsinki where I don’t know anyone, it was more of an educational trip than anything else since I tend to favor visiting people rather than places. Berlin is after all the capital of the new unified Germany and Germany is the leading European power. Finland is a leading laboratory and roll-out location for new telecom technologies and its people have placed Technology as Priority One for the country’s advancement. Both of these locations demanded a visit and some understanding from one who comments on world affairs. I got a chance to see where Moscow and Russia is and isn’t going; and London always manages to have a few new things in store to keep return visits worthwhile but theater is definitely in a crisis and a cause for concern.  World problems can wait. Bring in more and better musicals that avoid contemporary issues and simply let theatergoers have a good time.

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