Global Thoughts 30 September 2018 — including travel TN, Quebec, Pacific NW, Norway, Key West

 

Yeah, that’s me in Tennessee. Summer scenes follow.

I haven’t published for a few months and you might have been wondering what we did with our summer vacation. Following the discussion portion of this posting, there are travel notes on trips to Tennessee, Oregon/Washington, Norway, Quebec Canada, Key West and Ivan’s Tips for Reducing Jet Lag, sure to be a popular read. This is a long posting due to all those travel notes, but feel free to enjoy it over several bathroom sessions.

Elizabeth now reads articles from the New York Times. I attribute that wholly to the fact that I subscribe to several newspapers in print and she sees the stuff in the house every day. That’s how kids learn to read newspapers. I should also add that we totally enjoy reading the NY Times for Kids that they send over monthly now. It’s a beautiful product.

I visited Key West and called up the local rabbi to ask what time was pre-Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) selichot services. He told me it was the following week. But everyone else was having those services that week. I guess that Rosh Hashana starts a week later in Key West. You know about that town….

Uber vs. Taxi: Uber has really shaken up the taxi industry. In New York City, taxis can’t use GPS so they are clueless when they go somewhere and can get stuck in traffic jams. It’s not what you want when you are on the way to the airport. With Uber, you know before you go how much it will cost, when you will get there, and you can thus decide if it makes sense to start your trip. If something goes wrong along the way, you have real time advice from GPS to figure out another way to go. It’s just no contest anymore. Not to mention that Uber seems to be available often when taxis aren’t. They’re also usually cheaper and often the cars are in better condition.

Here’s are two great tips for anyone visiting NYC or for anyone who wants to go to Broadway or Off-Broadway theater and who uses TKTS. If you take away nothing else from Global Thoughts for the rest of the decade, you’ll want to know this.

As background, TKTS sells discounted (30-50%) tickets to selected Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the day of the performance – usually any show that has extra unsold seats. They have a booth at Times Square at 47th Street. They have other locations as well but this tip refers to the Times Square location. If you want to see a play instead of a musical, there is a shorter line for those shows. If you save your receipt from a TKTS transaction, you can return within 7 days and use it as a “fast pass” to go straight to a dedicated ticket window to buy a ticket to any show you want to see that is listed, musical or play. I found out about it by a TKTS staff member who talked to me while I was standing on line. The guy at the window told me that he sees people showing up 6 days in a row doing this or you could keep coming back once a week and see a show this way. When I was in college, I’d go to TKTS regularly on a Sunday but they didn’t have this Fast Pass in place 30 years ago (but it would be a great benefit if I were in college today). A great strategy is to see a play to get you into the system, then come back for a musical. The line for a play last Sunday at 10am was 30 minutes; the line for musicals was 90 minutes. I got a ticket for a play and came back during the week and got a ticket for the musical School of Rock 7th row center for $85 with less than 2 minutes wait using the Fast Pass. Even better – you can use somebody else’s receipt for yourself – nobody is checking the name on the ticket receipt to see if it is you because then they’d have to ask for ID and they are not interested in doing that; they are looking at the date to see if you’re within 7 days. Once you get sent into the line, the guy at the window doesn’t look at it. So off you go — Wow!

Check out this new website called untappedcities.com next time you are visiting New York City. It has a wide range of walking tours around hidden parts of the city. Another thing to put on a to-do list is NY Trapeze School. Our kids took a course there and our daughter managed a transfer across the trapeze at her first class. Go to trapezeschool.com and register a few weeks in advance as courses fill up. The cost is very reasonable for the 2 hour course, and from the place on the west side near Chelsea Piers you get great views of lower manhattan and the statue of liberty.

I’ve had to write letters to my kids every day while they are at camp. It’s like having to put out a daily column. What am I supposed to tell them? That we went to work and that each day is pretty much like every other day except that you sweat more in the subway during the summer? It’s this time of the year that you go to the post office and see people wrapping packages with things like pastries sending them off to camp.

I was walking down the street and saw a women in hijab (muslim head scarf) walking by with a New York Police Department uniform on. Just another level of integration here in the Big City. Can’t say I’ve seen a whole lot of cops wearing yarmulkas. We saw the play “The Band’s Visit” about an Egyptian band that winds up lost in a remote part of Israel. The play won a lot of Tony awards and it is a hot ticket. The audience loved the show. I wonder if the show will play well in Egypt and Israel and what people in that region will think of it. It has its moments and features an eclectic ensemble that reminded me a bit of the TV show Northern Exposure.

Some years ago there was a matter involving corruption and an FBI investigation of it in the NYC area that I was observing. It took about 2 years from the time the corruption was discovered until the first arrests were made, and then another few years till someone went to jail. The FBI did not want to make its move until it was absolutely certain it had dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s.  The point I’m making is to remind one of the old adage that the wheels of justice turn slowly but surely. I don’t know how long it will take before Mueller shows his cards on Trump and before we find out if indeed Trump is a compromised president with regard to Russia or something else. I also don’t know what would be worse – finding out he was compromised or finding out that he is simply an idiot.

This whole thing with kids being separated from their parents at the US borders involves about 2,000 kids. Assuming 4 adults with them, you’re talking about 10,000 people amongst a country of well over 300 million people. For this amount of people the Trump Administration wants all this bad press and revulsion around the world including from many in the GOP? This is a perfect example of not seeing the forest betwixt the trees.

It’s clear that the North Koreans are playing Trump although so far I’m not sure what they are getting out of the deal themselves other than the idea that the Chinese and Russians will loosen up on them. The intelligence is that they are continuing with their nuclear program even after the summit with him. I assume at some point he will be made to look like a fool and you will see tons of this come up at the next campaign cycle.

China: Trump has some real issues with China based on the fact that American companies feel they are not getting a good shake in that country. The Chinese military is doing things in Asia that are ticking off other countries and although they say nice things at summits their actions speak louder and are threatening. On careful analysis, it appears that the economic rhetoric against China is exaggerated and that American companies are not doing so poorly in that country compared to their performance in the rest of the world and what might be expected in a market of similar characteristics. The military issue is probably more difficult because the Chinese have created facts on the ground and to accept them at this point would raise the stakes in a future conflict. It makes more sense to have clear heads deal with these problems now rather than later. I don’t know if Trump is the right one to do it, but there are kernels of truth behind the noise. In Europe, NATO is also an issue of concern to Trump although in fairness there has been reaction to US demands in recent years to up its spending and for the right things. Some of NATO’s spending has been too much toward pensions and not enough toward actual working weapons and ready troops. On the other hand, there are numerous working parts at play here and it is not fair to look at things in a vacuum as if everything only means that a certain ratio of spending to GDP is the metric by which you measure a NATO member’s commitment.  These are both issues where a Democrat would be well to acknowledge the concerns that Trump has espoused and commit to do a better job of pressing America’s concerns.

One thing that I had not fully appreciated until recently was the long-term effect from Obama’s erasure of his red line when it came to the use of chemical weapons in Syria had with his NATO allies. Heads of state and their chiefs in NATO took that as a signal that America wouldn’t be there for them in the future. At the time, I felt that the last thing Europe wanted was to deal with Syria and I felt that perhaps Obama should have kept his mouth shut but that in any event nobody wanted to send troops into Syria. Trump sent in some missiles and you can see that made no difference. You want to make a difference – you go in and break stuff, but then if you break it, you own it. But I also know through the years that the Europeans say one thing for public consumption and yet another in private. As do the Gulf Arabs. So sometimes you have to keep in mind that history will tell you what people think today even if the newspapers don’t report it. If I met Obama, my one question would be if he regretted setting forth a red line in Syria that he ultimately did not intend to defend if Assad crossed it. Maybe he set the red line and then decided it would be the worse of the two evils to enforce it. I don’t know and Obama has never really answered the question.

A thought about Brexit: Brexit is a great example of how uneducated poor people vote against their own economic interests. The people who will be hurt the most by Brexit are the ones who fell for the propaganda and voted for it. Turns out the promises of all that free health insurance were made without any regard for the facts and the people who made the promises all disappeared after the election. Trump’s voters are also being hurt by his tariffs, slashing of health care and tax law changes. Great Britain will be less of a world power for the next 50 years and perhaps for the indefinite future. Brexit is thoroughly stupid because they have to trade with Europe and they have to follow the rules of Europe in order for the Europeans to buy their goods and services. But meanwhile now they will get none of the benefits in return. London’s financial status is gone for good as professionals flee the country. The Europeans want to make an example of Britain to make sure that nobody else flies the coop. Businesses in England are shitting bricks as to their future. This is a total failure for that country but England has never been a country of terribly smart people anyway. America is heading in that direction if it continues with Trump. World leaders think he is an idiot who is not qualified for his job as president and in meetings with him, they are said to hold their breath and try to get through meetings with him and hope that eventually he will go away. I’m in the middle of reading Bob Woodward’s book and of course it is rather depressing reading about just how bad it really is inside the White House.

Yankee Stadium, New York City

A few thoughts on US politics: The Democrats are getting what they deserved and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The Democrats busted up the Senate filibuster rules a few years ago to get judicial nominees past Republican opposition, and now they paid the price with the Gorsuch supreme court nomination when the Republicans pulled the same stunt to negate the Democrats and which they will now do with Kavanaugh. 30 years ago the Republicans were aghast that the Supreme Court was filled with liberal justices and embarked on a generational plan to influence the court. Through the Federalist Society and other organizations they succeeded. That’s the way Democracy works and they are reaping the benefit of the work they did now that the Supreme Court will be in the conservative camp for the next generation. All told, I am not happy with this result because I think the Supreme Court will be seen as more legitimate if it were more unpredictable as to its results. I don’t particularly care what the court does as long as it appears to be fair and above politics. Now people just look at these justices as political hacks, which in fact they increasingly are. Eventually, Congress will have to get its act together and regain its power in the balance of things, and this will only happen if the two parties learn to get along better because right now it is just all stalemate all the time. The less Congress does, the more the Supreme Court steps in to fill the gap. The Republicans have an edge over the Democrats; the Democratic leadership is aged and needs to allow the next generation to lead. The Republicans have a lot younger people on the bench and I’d bet that Nancy Pelosi will be ousted as speaker next year, no matter which party controls the House. Her deputy, who was just hospitalized with pneumonia at 78, also needs to go. A recent article in the New York Times notes that the demographics in the US are changing even faster than expected; the country is becoming more multi-ethnic and the Republican party is going to be non-competitive within a decade if it doesn’t realize it must change and cannot rely on disaffected Whites forever. The 2016 election was very close and I assume that those who stood on the sidelines and either didn’t vote or voted for Trump will not make the same mistake. Barring a ridiculous candidate on the left, the Democrats will win big in 2020.

With the Cat Man at Key West. Seems appropriate for this paragraph.

Some thoughts on the recent Supreme Court nominee circus: We are supposed to believe that this guy had a calendar from 1983 recalling every day of his summer? I don’t have calendars from 35 years ago, do you? What I did notice from that calendar was how often he was grounded by his parents. He was obviously a rather naughty boy and should have been told at the time that his behavior would land him in trouble if he was so concerned with papering his teenage years in the hopes that he would grow up to become a supreme court justice. More seriously, I care more about whether he is telling the truth now more than about what he did as a teenager, although what he is accused of is awful but really, lots of awful things are done by teenagers to teenagers and 35 years ago nobody talked about it. I can speak with authority on this — I remember crap things done to me as a teenager as if it were yesterday. I never said anything at the time, but there is no question that I remember it and if those people were running for office today, I might have something to say about it. I am 52 years old, so that puts me in the same age bracket as the people involved in this saga.

My gut and common sense says based on what I’ve read — I didn’t watch the hearings (and an informal survey of trial lawyers who DID watch confirm) that the nominee Kavanaugh probably did these things and is lying, because he can get away with lying but not telling the truth which would require disqualification. But meanwhile the evidence is not there to show that he is lying and it is only hearsay from one person who might be being truthful but mistaken. An important aspect of the American justice system is that it exists to resolve disputes and not to determine truth. That was my thesis paper for law school. An important principle of American justice is Innocent until proven guilty. Even if this is a job interview and not a criminal trial, I don’t want to see a generation of people taken down with innuendo and partisan politics which respects no conventions at this point even though the Republicans 100% deserve the worst from the Democrats considering what they did with the last two nominees. (At this point both parties deserve the worst from each other which reminds me of being at a red light in Rio at nighttime; nobody stops because it is lawless out there. We’re reaching that point here.) If I supported this guy’s judicial philosophy and had to vote as a senator, I would probably vote in favor of him because he’s qualified for the job. Tie goes to the dealer/house and he wins on majority vote. I don’t agree with his philosophy and don’t want him on the court and of course I don’t have to vote for someone I don’t agree with but at least I’m being honest about how I feel about this person and his nomination. That said, the Republicans might win the battle with this guy and lose the war. I’m sure there will be an investigation of this man Kavanaugh and if they later find that he lied, the worst that can happen is that he will be impeached but there is almost no chance that the Senate will come up with a two-thirds majority vote to have him removed from the court. The disgrace will be 10x the amount had he just withdrawn but the ends justify the means to the conservative movement. The Democrats will control Congress next year to the point that if Trump has to then nominate someone, and if he himself is still around to nominate a replacement, it will have to be someone quite to the left of this man in order to get confirmed. All of the above aside, I am really torn about this one. Even if I were a Republican senator, I might vote against him.

Nashville and Knoxville Trip Notes

Our family went to Nashville for a weekend and had a better time than we expected. Flights from NYC to Nashville are frequent and inexpensive. The Gaylord Resort at Opryland is 15 minutes from the airport and also 15 minutes from downtown, but it is within walking distance of the Grand Ole Opry and the General Jackson showboat, both great evening activities. The hotel is reasonably priced at roughly $200-250 a night per room with lots of special deals and they are building a mammoth water park which will be a great draw and supposedly will be reserved for hotel guests. It is cheaper and faster to use Uber to get to the hotel from the airport and downtown than to use the hotel shuttles. Reserve a room with an atrium view and balcony and ask for an assignment over the Cascades area to be close to the front entrance, pool, spa and gym; the hotel is huge and runs a third of a mile from one end to the other. The Magnolia area is far away. We found two connecting rooms to be more than comfortable. The balcony is pretty and you can sit “outside” without bugs and heat. The air conditioning bill for that atrium must be huge. The kids liked the hotel with lots of eye candy everywhere and evening entertainment for kids. The food is Marriot-style and decent but not great. There is a shopping mall nearby with additional options including a Rainforest Café which kids tend to enjoy and where I’ve found the food to be pretty good. Only thing that bothered me was that you couldn’t get a newspaper at the hotel.

In Nashville there is the Hermitage Hotel which is on the 5-star level but there is nothing nearby that you really will walk to especially when it is hot in the summer aside from the entertainment areas downtown. So I’m glad we took the Gaylord instead at half the price and used a few Ubers (cheaper and better than keeping a car in the self-park) because the hotel was a better place to be with kids – for instance they had indoor and outdoor pool with a DJ on weekends and we had evening activities within walking distance.  In Nashville, a good way to see a lot in a few hours is to call Matchless Limousine Service and get a private tour with driver who is also a guide. Walter was excellent. They charge $90 per hour including the service charge and 3 hours is plenty. We drove around Bicentennial and Centennial Parks, both of which have cool things to see such as a building built to resemble the Parthenon in Greece, a wall that goes on for 2 blocks telling you the history of Tennessee, and a 3-D map of Tennessee built into the ground and a bunch of splashing fountains, Vanderbilt University with nearby residential neighborhoods, and made a stop at the Wild Horse Saloon for a free line dancing class and music and a gift shop, the Goo Goo Shop (for candy), and the pedestrian bridge where you can see the city’s skyline. We didn’t go to the Museum of Rock and Roll or the Country Music Hall of Fame or the inside of Ryman Auditorium, because we don’t know anything about it and figured it would be a waste for us. If you were going to see that stuff you wouldn’t do it with a driver because you could easily walk or get to those places. You could manage to go to the Goo Goo shop and the Wild Horse Saloon without a driver as well; they are both within a block of each other just off Broadway, which is the street lined with honky tonk bars and all sorts of young people pedaling around getting drunk and partying. We didn’t know that Nashville is the #1 city for bachelorette parties. Walk into Tootsies on Broadway during the day when it is still family hour and see what goes on for a few minutes; the kids thought it was a lot of fun. Walk into Broadway Boots and try on some hats and boots. Real high society street. Wouldn’t you know it but when we returned to NYC, we found Goo Goos at Dylan’s Candy Bar shop! Before Nashville we wouldn’t have known enough to recognize them. Another thing you could see on a walk around town is the original Woolworth’s Luncheonette where the sit-ins took place during the 1960’s. The state capitol is also nearby and you could do some fun rolly-polly’s down the steep hill behind it.

The Grand Ole Opry is a radio show that broadcasts live from the theater and so the show starts exactly on time and goes for a predetermined period of time. Our show went a bit over 2 hours. You can walk from the hotel to the theater or use the hotel’s free shuttle. I expected a bunch of twangy country music but found the genre to be more expansive than I expected; listen long enough and you’re sure to find something you enjoy. There is a good amount of comedy too and a good seat toward the center is a good idea. Don’t wait for the last few weeks to buy tickets. We all had a good time there and would absolutely go again. Another evening activity is the General Jackson showboat which is a 3 hour cruise down the river with dinner and a show. The food was decent; we had them make up a vegetarian plate for us and you can get a great hummus plate as well. The show was about the history of Nashville’s music scene and if you are there in the summer, the boat arrives at downtown Nashville about 8:15 in time to see the sunset and the skyline. It was a great evening of entertainment and fun.

Blackberry Farm in Tennessee

At the hotel you can rent a car from Hertz to go to points further. We drove about 3 hours to Knoxville and then turned in the car at the airport and took an Uber to Blackberry Farm, about 30 minutes from there. At the Farm you can enjoy some of the best food in America at a resort that consistently gets Top 10 Awards in this department, and there are lots of activities such as kayaking, canoeing, fly-fishing, horseback riding, cycling, stream ecology, farmstead tours, wake-boarding with a mastercraft boat and a lake cruise, Lexus convertible test-drive down a pretty parkway overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains, and a decent spa. Kids may not want to spend 4 hours a day dining waiting to be fed, and there is nothing for a kid age 10 and above to do there after 6pm. They need to improve in this area if they want to attract families. They used to have a more extensive kids program but switched to an a la carte program which is more personalized but much more expensive and kids like doing things with other kids anyway. They are opening a new mountain resort about 20 minutes drive away that will be more for couples. This is a hotel that is great for couples; it can be great for families but you have to know that you are all sleeping in one big room with a bunch of rollaways (although they are comfortable) and you will be paying big-time a la carte for every activity you engage in aside from walking or swimming and if your kids hate waiting for 3 meals a day it can be rough. What’s great here is the food and that the instructors are all expert and unfailingly cheerful and polite, no matter how much you suck at what you are trying to learn how to do.

OREGON-WASHINGTON TRIP NOTES

We were lucky to be in the Pacific Northwest during a really rotten heat wave that enveloped the USA from Denver all the way thru Boston. Meanwhile, I was wearing 3 layers of clothes because it was in the low 60’s one morning along the Oregon coast and then the next day in Portland.

Alaska Airlines (took over Virgin America) has good food but bring your own tablet and download the app before taking off. This seems to be the new wave on airplanes. Entertainment is so portable today; rental cars don’t have CD players anymore but you can hook up your USB device to the car. Portland Oregon’s airport pleasant; live music there and in the Seattle airport as well make it more relaxing. Lots of traffic leaving Portland. Went to Depoe Bay about 2 ½ hours away along the central coast. Didn’t go to their “Hamptons” spot which is Cannon Bay, further to the north and an hour closer to the city. Stayed at Whale Cove Inn, a highly recommended bed and breakfast about a mile from Depoe Bay, a little town famous for whale watching. At the inn there is Beck’s Restaurant. Beck’s dinner had very fresh fish but nothing else on the plate. Lettuce for a salad. Boring breakfast and no snacks or lunch available on the property and nothing for you after driving several hours to get there. It’s hospitality with a small size h. Rooms are very nice and the terrace with a cove view and jacuzzi is lovely (it was chilly outside but OK inside the jacuzzi), but we didn’t see any whales in the cove. If you go toward town or up the coast a few miles you will see plenty of them. Some stops: Devil’s Punchbowl is worth stopping by and you can drive right up to it, Depoe Bay center of town with its tiny harbor and whale watching center, the souvenir shop at Cape Foulweather has big windows and rangers who will tell you where to look. Local Ocean at nearby Newport harbor is great for lunch; the Bay House at Siletz Bay is good for dinner. Few good restaurants in this area. The Channel House, a small inn in town at Depoe Bay, a sister property to this place, is also a good place to stay. Farmers Market in Lincoln City, 10 miles to the north, is good on a Sunday morning for crafts and produce.

In Portland, Kimpton Riverplace hotel has some condos as part of the hotel with view of the marina and the river which are decorated real nice and have great views. The Nines Hotel is the other good hotel in town but it is in center city which is pretty unpleasant to walk around with a bum on the street round the corner from the hotel entrance standing in front of the building. Lots of homeless people all over the place. The concierge at Nine is better to ask questions about upscale shopping and sightseeing. But the Kimpton River Place along the river is a nice place to walk around and you have a feeling of being in a city but away from the city, only 10 minutes walk from center of town. Downside is you are 10 minutes away from things like a convenience store, spa or a pharmacy. There is a Safeway supermarket and pharmacy in town and that’s pretty much where everyone goes. Powell’s City of Books is a must-see; it is a huge independent bookstore. Nearby is Blue Star Donuts which is what most people say is best in town (they all say that Voodoo Donuts is overrated), and I can vouch for the chocolate crunch donut with cool cream and excellent ganache and crunchies on top. An interesting store for wooden crafts is The Joinery in downtown Portland; they make beautiful jewelry boxes. Food at Kimpton for breakfast and dinner were excellent; breakfast had some exceptional entrees. We hired a car with driver for 5 hours to see Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge about 35 miles away. There is a lodge with a nice restaurant right by the falls suitable for lunch. The trail to the bridge by the waterfall is about 5 minutes walk up a paved trail. You can see the other waterfalls along the old highway but this is the main one. There is also an observatory with a nice river view. Back in Portland, the Pittock Mansion was beautifully decorated and had nice views over the city. The Rose Garden in Washington Park is huge and also really nice if it is in season. Nearby is a Holocaust Memorial tastefully done with local flavor. Nob Hill homes near the park remind one of Nob Hill in San Francisco. We were told to skip the Japanese gardens with its high prices and long lines; the rose garden is free and easily accessible.  South Park Fish was good dinner; Ringside Fish is nearby and possibly excellent but very pricey. It was closed the day we visited.  City has a streetcar system and $2.50 lets you ride anywhere you for 2 hours; or $5 all day long. A $10 taxi ride will get you anywhere in the center of town. We walked a lot. There are some nice buildings to see but they really need to make the downtown area feel safer to walk around. No sales tax but 10% income tax.  The train station area of Portland is a homeless encampment with tents all around it. The sites we saw in Portland were surprisingly world class and it’s worth a day to see the city. The one thing we missed was the Portland Saturday Market in the center of the city which is on Saturdays and Sundays till 4:30pm, and it is supposed to be one of the biggest craft markets in the country.

Key West

Amtrak is a 3 ½ hour ride to Seattle and we paid $26 per ticket. The trains on the Cascades Route were full and it is a very nice train with a pretty dining car made to feel old-fashioned even though the train itself is only about 20 years old. Food choices were healthier than usual for Amtrak. After you pass Olympia, Washington, you have pretty views of the Puget Sound waterway and Mount Rainier. It’s a really nice ride. The Seattle train station is a mile from anywhere in downtown. Like Portland, there are not a lot of convenience stores all around downtown, but there is a large Target and CVS that everyone goes to. Our hotel the Loews 1000 was a very good hotel that felt small even if it was not. The rooms were decorated smartly and had nice water views. We had a corner room facing toward the baseball stadium and came home by luck that evening to see the fireworks above the stadium. The best views and location for Best of Show go to the Four Seasons right next to Pike Place Market and with a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the waterway, but our hotel was perfectly good and much better value for money. We’ve noticed that avocado and smoked salmon on toast have become a popular breakfast item on hotel menus during the past year. Something really funny in the hotel was the room service menu for cats and dogs. For a cat you have to spend about $25 (plus the tax and room service fee and tip), and for a dog it’s about $30. The most expensive thing on the kids menu was the $11 hamburger. I asked the front desk if they’d ever seen anyone order cat food and they hadn’t, so I guess it’s for show, but if you ever wanted to know if people valued their pets more than their kids I guess this tells you that people will spend 3x as much to feed a dog as they will a human kid. Along 1st Avenue there are many nice independent shops and we found some nice gifts in the Seattle Art Museum shop and at a shop called Watson Kennedy on the same block as the hotel. Seattle is a hilly city so be prepared. Uber works better than taxis both here and in Portland.

We walked along the waterfront with its ferris wheel and an IMAX flying-ride called Washington Flyer which was especially fun with the people there being really excited in the background while you were seemingly flying over the state of Washington. We walked to Pioneer Square where, next time we visit, you’d want to take the Underground Tour beneath the streets to see the city’s historical district. Nearby is the Columbia Tower with its observatory which offers better views and less crowds than the iconic Space Needle that everyone else goes to see. The Smith Tower is also close by but much less of a tower. The Chihuly Glass Museum and Garden is a must-see attraction right next to the Space Needle. We liked the colors and the large glass structures all around. You can get to the museum via monorail that goes from center of town every 10 minutes. The ride is 2 minutes and costs $2.50 a person. This area near the Space Needle is a nice place to walk around and the Museum of Popular Culture is also fun to see from the outside, and if you are interested in funky music like grunge, you might like the inside. Another thing to put down for next time is a class in glass blowing suitable for kids offered by Seattle Glassblowing Studio (seattleglassblowing.com). The Pike Place Market has lots of beautiful fruit, veg and flowers, as well as crafts. We brought home some cherries and peaches, not having known that Washington produces such nice ones. The Seattle airport, just 20 minutes drive from downtown, is one of the nicest ones I’ve seen in the US; the Jetblue flight attendants agree and say that other nice airports include Denver and Detroit. There are some funky stores in the terminal, live music and healthy eating choices, and the whole look is very modern and upscale. From the American Express airport lounge you have a view straight toward Mount Rainier. It makes a very good impression, unlike what you see when you arrive in New York. At JFK, they say that people will forever have to walk about 8 minutes to get to the taxi stand at the JetBlue terminal while the Uber cars come right up to the front of the building. When we arrived after midnight in the sweating heat, the taxi dispatcher said there were zero taxis in the taxi lot and that everyone should go away. 2 minutes later, a whole bunch of taxis rode up. So it is in the third world country that houses New York’s airports.

Norway Trip Notes August 2018

Bergen Norway

I finished this 4 night preview trip of Norway July 30 – August 3, regretting that I had not earlier visited the country. Everything was better than expected and we are likely to take a family trip there next summer. SAS Airlines is just under 7 hours flying time NYC to Oslo (8 hours return). Oslo airport is very pleasant and there is a 20 minute express train to central station. Just one station further is the National Theater which is a short walk to several good hotels, namely the Grand Hotel and the Hotel Continental. I stayed a night at each. The Thief Hotel is the third good one but it is about 10-15 minutes walk from the center of town on the far edge of the harbor and you would want to use taxis from there. My friend really likes that hotel as it is the most modern of the 3, but I found the location to be off-center and I preferred the Continental, especially since it is 2 minutes walk from the National Theater station and the airport express. The Grand has a spa and an indoor pool and is about 3 minutes walk up the main street from the Continental. Problem with the Grand is that it has no air conditioning and that is hell in a heat wave. The last time I visited Scandinavia 15 years ago there was a heat wave so I think that everyone should realize these are not heat waves but the fact is that it gets hot in Scandinavia during the summer. The rooms are more old-fashioned; the Continental was more modern. Both had adequate gyms.

The center of Oslo is very pleasant with lots of gardens and fountains. Private cars have been banned from city center. There are unseen tunnels and garages that shunt cars out of sight. A 3 hour walking tour of Oslo center covered City Hall and the function rooms where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded; the Peace Museum honoring Nobel prize laureates and the concept of world peace; the waterfront district which is very festive and kid friendly with lots of ice cream stands (there is a little beach with kids swimming); an old fort; the oldest restaurant in town “Engebret” (the building is on a slant so you get real dizzy there if you drink too much); the opera house which is fun to walk all over the building; the royal palace and parliament. Pascal Kaffebar is supposed to be a good bakery, and Kaffistova is a cafeteria two blocks behind the Grand Hotel that looks like a good place for a reasonable and fast dinner. The local department store didn’t have anything that I wanted to buy for myself or the kids. It is annoying that shops all close around 6 most weekdays when there is so much daylight and tourists around but they are open late on Thursdays I think. Dinner in the lobby at the Grand Hotel was good; the Continental also has good food venues such as the Theater Café which is famous. A recommended bake shop is Talor & Jorgen for doughnuts (Youngs Gate 9) which I didn’t go to but would want to try next visit. A 10 minute taxi ride or a ferry from the harbor goes to an island with several maritime museums featuring restored old ships all alongside each other in one big plaza. I saw the Maritime Museum and the Flam museum with polar expedition ships; the Kon Tiki museum is also there but I ran out of time. If you are short of time, you can do the museums in roughly an hour with a taxi from town center at a cost of $60 including waiting time. Otherwise, go with the ferry at a fraction of the cost. 40 minutes from town is a ski jump with zip line. The population of Oslo is 650,000 including 1,500 Jews. Norway’s population is 5.5 million. The princess doesn’t want to be queen and the 46 year old prince is not sure if he wants to be king, so the monarchy might soon come to an end. It costs money to keep the monarchy but it would cost more to hire ambassadors to be the face of the country.  There is lots of construction going on in Oslo and only 2% of their oil wealth in their rainy day fund has been spent; they are still a high tax country and petrol costs $8 a gallon. Norway has an army and you don’t have to serve if you don’t want to; motivation is high to serve and they have no problem filling their ranks. Police got guns only 3 years ago. There is a good amount of immigration in the country but so far the crime rates have not gone up much. They think they are doing a good job of integrating immigrants into the country. Interestingly, I just read that in Germany crime is at a 30 year low and that 26% of immigrants since 2015 have become employed. Germany is not as bad as people think. You definitely see Moslems in Norway wearing full facial coverings. Road rules are very strict; speed 10 km per hour over the limit and the fine is $600. The fine increases to over $1,000 if you speed more. Needless to say, there are not lots of accidents there and I wish they would do the same in the US where people are not deterred from driving like lunatics on the highways to shave off a few seconds and then cause accident backups that cost others an hour’s delay.

I had breakfast with a friend of mine visiting from a Gulf country for a charity event involving Palestinian children in refugee camps that organizes such things as football teams that also go to international tournaments. The charity is called PACES. When I visited, there were 19,000 youth footballers from around the world playing in a tournament in Norway. My friend was pretty downbeat about the current state of affairs in the Gulf. Expatriates are heading toward the exits as the real estate market cools, drums of war beat with Iran, and rulers become more paranoid and increasingly turn the Gulf countries into police states listening in on people’s conversations and locking them up when they do something on social media that is considered subversive.

Flam Express Railroad attraction

I spent about 24 hours in Oslo followed by a 40 minute plane ride to Bergen, a city half the population of Oslo. The Norwegian Air Shuttle is bare bones; I asked for a glass of water and they finally gave me one after telling me that they don’t give out water nor do they have it for sale. I had the same thing the next day on Wideroe Airlines back to Oslo from Sogndol. When you exit Bergen airport there is a big “Hollywood” type sign that reads “Bergen?” A bit of local humor. I spent a few hours in Bergen, Norway’s second city, with a guide. We went up a funicular and then at the top of the mountain, besides getting a beautiful city view, you can walk about ¼ mile to a pretty lake. There are lots of cruise ships in Bergen, sometimes 7 a day, leading to a new rule limiting to 4 a day. These can cause big lines at the funicular and crowds in the city center. We walked thru center city and the UNESCO “Beggyn” area which is restored homes and shops from the Hanseatic League several centuries back. I saw a door labeled  “bossrum” which I thought meant Boss Room which actually means Garbage room. We walked thru a fish market; dried cod can last up to 15 years which is why it was popular on old ships sent to discover the new world. We saw some huge king crabs and whale meat in the market. There is a district of old homes several centuries old, and a tower made entirely of wood which is one of the tallest such buildings in Norway. A restaurant recommended along the waterfront is Bryggeloftet & Stuene.  I didn’t see any particularly nice hotels in Bergen although we came across the Hotel Opus XVI in a good location near the waterfront which is part of Small Luxury Hotels collection. Instead I went about 40 minutes drive out of town to the Solstrand Hotel in the town of Os. This hotel is on a beautiful piece of waterfront facing the fjord and features a very nice spa with infinity pool overlooking the fjord and an excellent dining room featuring good plated food as well as dessert buffet and an excellent buffet breakfast. My corner room faced the water with wraparound terrace (room 111) and it was a nice size room that was adequate and had local charm. Two nights here would be plenty and you could use it as a base for doing a day trip to Bergen.  This place compares to Vitznau in Switzerland, just that the water ways are a bit more grand. Like Switzerland, trains and planes run on time and it is very quiet in the public places. Everything is neat and works. Norwegians consider themselves practical, thrifty, dress-down and self-service types. People at work generally use first names and are less hierarchical than say the Germans.

The next morning I was off on a train from Bergen central station to Myrdal, about 2 hours away which was a very nice ride. Train tickets are very reasonable and all in the same class of service. Then lunch at the station (no café car on the train) and transfer to the Flam Express, a 50 minute train ride thru some very scenic areas that is the country’s #1 tourist attraction. A highlight is a short stop at a big noisy waterfall with a maiden doing a dance at the side of the waterfall. This is a ticket that you need to book far in advance of your visit, meaning at least several months out (some say 6 months). Hotel concierges will not be willing to try and get you a ticket if you figure out 3 weeks in advance that you want a seat. In my case, I called up the ticketing manager of the railroad who released a seat into inventory so that I could buy it online. That was after 3 hotel concierges said they couldn’t do anything for me, as well as Amex Platinum’s Norway expert and Andrew Harper Travel’s Norway expert also said they couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Truth be known, the railroad releases some last minute seats for people who show up without tickets but you wouldn’t want to take that kind of chance standing around in the middle of nowhere hoping for a seat on a train with a family of 4. The train runs several times a day between Myrdal and Flam. When you get on the train in Myrdal, move your butt and get a seat near the window on the far side of the train because in 15 seconds all the seats will be gone (the Scandinavians move pretty quickly and it’s amazing how fast they board airplanes compared to Americans). Meaning you will be sitting on the left side of the train as the train goes out of the station (the same way it came in). At Flam, there is a whole tourist area with shops and a ferry terminal.

Near Glacier Museum

I boarded the ferry to Balestrand which leaves once or twice a day. This roughly one hour ride gives you as much fjord cruise as I think anyone really needs. If you stand up front, you get the wind and sea in your face. You can see the view from the passenger seating area without all that. When you arrive at Balestrand, you are 100 meters from the entrance of the Kviknes Hotel, a 4-star property full of history and a good base from which to explore the central fjord region of Norway. My room 125 was one flight above the lobby in the old building with a corner room facing the fjords; the room was adequate but charming. The town of Balestrand has maybe 500 residents and its town center is a block long with 2 groceries, a tourist information office, a café, gallery, souvenir shop, bank and post office. There is a gym about 15 minutes walk away and a small gym in the hotel basement. Next to the hotel is a Museum of Tourism which is worth seeing and has a nice café. Downstairs in the museum are videos of the German Kaiser who used to visit in the early 1900’s. The video footage is good and it is an unusual look at the high life at the hotel at that time in history before World War I. Near the hotel is St. Olaf’s church which is one of the old stave churches and was the inspiration for the church in the Disney movie Frozen. At this hotel you should get a room in the historical part of the hotel, not the newer wing. I got a corner room with a great view over the water. As at the Solstrand the night before, I booked dinner as part of the room rate and the buffet was probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of so much fish. They had salmon prepared about 10 different ways as well as other fish. There was a pianist in the bar performing at night who had been at Carnegie Hall. You could have tea and cookies on the veranda. Have someone show you the chair in one of the sitting rooms and lift up the seat cushion to see the inscription describing how the German Kaiser was sitting in that chair and got the news about Sarajevo leading to World War I, where upon the Kaiser left the hotel and went back to Germany. Otherwise, this hotel has virtually no other facilities – no spa, no pool. The management likes it that way, and basically you get up in the morning, eat a nice big buffet breakfast and go out and enjoy the outdoors for the rest of the day. You could spend 1 or 2 nights at this hotel. Train and ferry tickets can be booked on the internet pre-arrival. I would strongly suggest that you buy railroad tickets in advance of your trip for trains you want to be on. Seats can sell out because tourists like to ride the rails around the country. You can always get a refund and you’ll pay less if you reserve in advance. I was going to cancel my entire trip because when I couldn’t get train tickets and the alternative was riding a bicycle for 3 days to get from Point A to Point B or hiring a car at an exorbitant rate, I realized I was basically trapped between cities without a train ticket.

My fourth and final full day in Norway had me meet a car and driver for a roughly 7 hour tour of the region. The hotel concierge had no idea what kinds of things I could do in the area and I didn’t think the hotel did a good job of helping me prepare for my visit. Most of their visitors come on group tours and stay one night, so they don’t really think about this. I found one guy on staff who hooked me up with the local taxi service (2 drivers for the whole region). For our tour we started by going to a lookout point about half an hour from the hotel where you had a nice view of a big valley, mountains and waterfalls. Then to a waterfall with hiking trails that were well paved. Then to a glacier, and the nearby National Glacier Museum. Then half hour drive to local Sogndal to see a stave church with a pretty view over the fjords. Another 600 meters from the church is the National Fjord Museum which I didn’t see.  We drove along the water ways. Things you could do here include a rib boat ride near Balestrand (basically a small speedboat), a glacier walk and something called body rafting which means putting on a wet suit and jumping off cliffs and sliding off waterfalls into the fjords. Something my daredevil son would like…

Finally we ended up at the local Sogndal airport for a 40 minute flight back to Oslo. The local airline Wideroe is a real hoot. You can book seats over the internet. It has open seating so you have to run on board no matter what you paid for your ticket and choose your seat. There are maybe 10 people on the flight and the airplane comes in and the people get off, 5 minutes later they call boarding, you run on, and the doors close and off you go. I wish the Shuttles between New York and Washington/Boston would run so well. Surprisingly, the small airport looks very corporate and has TSA-like security. The flight was great; it was a turbo-prop and the airport is on top of a mountain at the end of a very long and winding road that never seems to end. The pilots for that airline are some of the best because they really have to fly that plane. Right after the plane takes off, you get a magnificent view of the fjords and mountains – sit on the right hand side for departures. The front row is a 4-seater (two seats facing front and two facing back) and that’s a great place to sit. This fast plane ride at 6:30pm made more sense than the return ferry ride to Flam, plus 3 hours on the train back to Myrdal and then a 5 hour train ride back to Oslo. And if I recall correctly, trains from Myrdal to Oslo were sold out weeks in advance anyway.

Other Norway destinations you might consider are Lofoton and Trondheim. Both of them are more for outdoorsy stuff and you stay in cabins. Norwegians like camping.

The flight landed around 7:30 and I went swiftly into town to the Hotel Continental. After dinner, you can still walk around the harbor in sunlight till about 10pm.

My last morning in Oslo I finally found avocado, banana and cream cheese at breakfast. Brown butter and brown cheese (caramelized) is popular here. I saw Israelis speaking Hebrew for the first time during my visit. (They are usually to be found everywhere except in Arab countries when they keep Hebrew to themselves.) I went to the gardens of the royal castle for a little jog and then headed out to the airport for my flight back to NY. Airport security is very strict. There are no newspapers in the business class lounge here. I think the travel world is moving away from print to digital newspapers but I prefer the print version. A window seat is good during the day so that you can control the light coming in from the outside. I don’t like it dark all day long because I like to read and write. I’m not into in-flight movies as the pressure from the headphones builds up in my ears.

Some other facts: Not all Norwegians ski. But they probably know how even if they don’t. They are afraid of Russia. They think Trump is an idiot. Indoor gyms are more popular during winter. During the dark winters, the white snow and night skiing perks people up. Working hours end around 3-4pm so people value family time and going out. People don’t really say hello much to strangers but if they see someone while hiking they are expected to say hello. The country worries about a graying population and a pay-as-you-go pension system which means that they have to increasingly borrow to fund pensions when there are not enough young people working and putting money into the system. Young people tend to want to stay in Norway; they are not rushing to other European countries.

I was pretty lucky with the weather; I was expecting the worst and it hardly rained on me although there were clouds and I didn’t wear my sunglasses much at all. The colors are very vivid here though and I got lots of nice photos. Once you are in the central fjord region things are closer than they appear on a map. You have a national glacier park and nice activities. Before you go, you can get some nice tourist materials and look at the website Sognefjord.no. I wouldn’t worry about trying to see every fjord; after an hour or two I think they look pretty much the same and my kids would no doubt be bored. But if a cruise of several days down the rivers is your thing, you’ll have a good time because it’s smooth. Both Oslo and Bergen are cities where you can walk virtually anywhere you’ll want to go. Global warming is real here; the glaciers are disappearing. You can see the difference between what is here now and photographs from 5-10 years ago. There are too many heat waves here and you will suffer without air conditioning at night in a hotel during the summer. So get over here before the glaciers disappear and avoid coming here in July or the first half of August if you want to sweat in bed at night in your undies.

Some guides:

Oslo – Marianne Larsen mariannenl52@gmail.com (the L before 52 is lower case) or larsen@norgesguideforbund.no 47.9088.7995

Bergen – Romain Gillet 47.967.39.667 info@fjordexcursions.no (he’s actually French but living there). He was an excellent guide who really likes his work.

Balestrand – Sondre Gronsberg 47.96.23.57.80 sondre.gronsberg@gmail.com

Canada Travel Notes

Montreal

Unlike most of our trips, this time we came without a plan and instead had the idea that we would mostly get up in the morning and decide each day what we wanted to do or decide things the night before instead of way in advance. We figured that we would find enough things to keep us busy but nothing so important that we would be upset if we missed it. We were mainly correct although we did miss a few things that we really wanted. The kids generally had more fun than they initially expected and the 25% favorable exchange on the US/Canadian dollar helps you enjoy spending money here. We found lots of nice knick-knacks with design and attitude to buy. However, it is good to book a day or two in advance over the internet to avoid disappointment upon arrival at an attraction or at a hotel for a spa or dinner that you want. You definitely do not want to go to a good restaurant here without a reservation.  We also found that using GPS is very helpful here; there are lots of little streets and turnoffs and we would have missed several places and gotten stuck in several traffic jams (and maybe missed our flight home) but for the GPS.

MONTREAL: My kids’ first impression of Canada was that it was cleaner. The airports we saw in Montreal and Quebec City are spic and span and look newly renovated.  The train stations were also nice and the areas along the railroad tracks were also neat. Passport control was very efficient with lots of kiosks. Taxi to the hotel was about half an hour. The Loews Vogue hotel is in the center of town close to metro and shopping.  Last time I stayed in the Old City and it is not the best base to be and there are no full service hotels there. Breakfast was good with some interesting items (and the only place in Canada I could get a fresh avocado – it’s not a popular item in this country) and the rooms were nice (two connecting premiere rooms work well here). Gym was bare bones. Four Seasons is building across the street. The hotel is cheaper than the Ritz Carlton a few blocks away and probably about as good at a significantly better price so you get good value for money here. Hotel suffers from lack of a full-time dedicated concierge with students manning the front desk, but it was OK.  Holt Renfrew moved its kids clothes to a boutique a block or two away called Las Gamineres. Simons and La Baie d’Hudson are good stores; Stokes for cheap kitchenware.  We walked to McGill University which is a pretty campus and saw the Shalom Exhibit at the McCord Museum. Montreal’s 90,000 Jews have punched above their weight; they invented the gramophone, the Wonder Bra and made a real difference in their community even though immigration and education policies were extremely hostile to them. The Cavalia horse and acrobat show was good; the second act with its special effects makes the first act worth sitting through. The metro works well to get there and kids under 12 ride free. “Bevo” Italian restaurant has some really good pizzas and pasta. The one with goat cheese and spinach was really yum (even the kids liked it) and the kids liked the Nutella pizza. It’s in the old city a block off Jacques Cartier square.  We took a ghost tour at night in the old city; it was fun. Sign up for it online in advance. In Canada at this time of year, it makes sense to sign up for virtually everything in advance online to avoid disappointment as there are more people around than spaces for things you want to do. Taxi stand to leave the Old City is by City Hall across from the Notre Dame cathedral. We went to the Labrynthe Maze – do it in the morning before it gets hot, and the Montreal Zip Line, both by the Old Port. Also in that area is the Science Museum which we liked. Lunch at this good creperie in the Old City called Creperie Chez Suzette on Rue St. Paul, a pedestrian shopping street. We bought this cute talking alarm clock at the port that inserts your name in the wakeup message. Look at jukeboxcanada.com. There is a museum of the city’s history at Place Royale in the Old City. All this stuff is within 5 minutes of each other so you can make a nice day here. Dinner at Milos restaurant which has some of the best fish in town; there are several of these high-end Greek restaurants around the world but this one was its first. Sunset view of the city atop Mount Royale. Visited Museum of Fine Arts near the hotel before heading out on the train. Maison Christian Faure bakery around the corner from the hotel for good pastries. This bakery and other places had really nice drinking glasses; turns out they come from Ikea. Can’t find these nice glasses on the US Ikea site.

Train ride on Via Rail for 4 hours to Quebec City. Like Amtrak, the freight trains own the tracks and get right of way so passenger trains tend to run late. Good idea to bring food on the train and the Montreal station is very nice with good food options. Quebec train station is really pretty with the interior great hall mainly in wood. You can probably drive between the two cities faster but the train is a very nice ride. No advantage to first class on this train and if you book in advance you can get really cheap tickets. Once out of Montreal, there are no English newspapers in sight and unless you are on the internet or watching CNN, you get a total absence of Trump news (he’s also not a major figure in the Canadian English press either). When you do watch CNN and see 24 hours of nonstop Trump news, you see from afar how obsessed America is with this guy.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

QUEBEC CITY: Le Concorde hotel used to be immaculate. Not now. Place became a real dump and we were stuck there 3 nights because the city is completely sold out. But for what we paid it wasn’t bad and at least it wasn’t dirty. The Chateau Frontenac is the place to be at dead center of town but much pricier. The newly built Marriott at the entrance to the old city might be good. The Hilton has small rooms and a mix of new and old rooms but it does have a nice gym and pool. The Concorde has a rooftop revolving restaurant and desserts there were good. The hotel wins the prize for worst ever gym; most of whatever little is there is broken. The hotel sends it guests outside for breakfast as the buffet is gross. At least you could get a taxi or walk 20 minutes to town. There are lots of street performers nightly at town center. Chez Jules is a good dinner spot right in the center of town a few doors away from the tourist office across from the Chateau Frontenac. We wound up eating there by chance and ran into someone else who had reservations to go there who told us to eat there; we sent them to Chez Jules not knowing it was the place they told us to go to.  Avoid Café Du Paris which was a tourist trap and in the pantheon of worst-ever restaurant meals. Jeremy got a caricature drawn up which was pretty good. Good gelato at the Carrot y Glace shop next to the Museum of Civilization, the latter of which gets insanely busy when it rains (but you can book ahead online) as it is one of the few places to go when it does. We took a 2 hour walking tour of the Old City and you hear a lot of military history as it was the place of many battles. You can buy tickets at the tourist information center in the main square across from the Chateau Frontenac. We found nice shopping in the lower portion of the old town and had desserts in a family owned place on the main shopping street which won an award for prettiest street in Canada (Rue St. Paul) with all the kids working in the store. There is a store along the staircase between upper and lower old towns that sells interesting monster-looking metal pieces of art and we bought one for Jeremy. Horse and carriage ride around the old town is fun and is roughly $100 for a 30 minute ride. When we were there, only 3 carriages were working for the whole city as the other main vendor with its 15 carriages was on strike. The Museum of the Fort by the main square has a good sound and light show and Jeremy enjoyed it. Inside the Chateau Frontenac on the main and lower lobby levels are exhibits about the hotel’s history. If you want the best location, I would just advise one to book the Chateau Frontenac and look for one of the club floors so that you are avoiding the zoo which is what that place is like with tons of people passing thru the property. There is a hotel a few blocks away in the Old Town that we stayed in a decade ago; I don’t know if it is still good but the location is good. It is called Hotel Clarendon and it is 4 star and worth a look. Dinner at Bello Italian restaurant which was excellent. Same owners have Café Buche which is a theme restaurant around the idea that every dish has maple syrup in it. Lots of innovative breakfast items and we enjoyed one of the more interesting breakfasts we’ve had. August is a good time to buy a fur at a discount. A good one is behind the St. Antoine hotel in the lower part of the old city. We didn’t find any real sandwich shops around town or groceries or pharmacies but a concierge can recommend some to you. I lost the list I was given before it got into Global Thoughts.

Manoir Richelieu, Charlevoix, Canada

CHARLEVOIX REGION: This remains after 15 years one of my favorite places in the world. It’s just 2 hours away from Quebec airport which is an hour’s flight from New York. The drives are beautiful and the sea looks like the coast of France or Portugal. We stayed at the Fairmont Cardinal de Richelieu. Our rooms (101-103) were beautiful with a partial sea view. The hotel is 75% owned by the government so it doesn’t go the extra mile to be competitive but it is a relaxing place to spend a few days and parts of it are very good. The hotel doesn’t offer the greatest variety of things for kids to do on property but it is OK for a day or two and there is mini golf, swimming, gym and a games room. Its gym features equipment by a Canadian company called Keiser which had some of the best gym equipment I’ve ever used. Food ranges from poor to extraordinary (as in the gourmet room) depending on where you choose to eat. We ate one breakfast at the golf clubhouse with better food than the regular buffet and stunning views. One morning we went off property to breakfast at Café Chez Nous a few minutes away on Rue d’ Richelieu 1175. Next door to that place is Tuchon also with interesting breakfast options. Our concierge sent us to some good places, among them La Refuge for dinner at a nearby marina which was also fantastic; we ordered 3 desserts. There was nightly music in the hotel bar. We visited a lavender farm and discovered some of the best bakery in the back of the farm house. This was part of a visit to Baie St. Paul, a town about 30 minutes drive away. The kids found an old toy store along the shopping street and really enjoyed that. Lunch at Diapason at the intersection of Road 362 and the central Cathedral which was good. Some chocolate at the village shop. You can park at the main cathedral. We took a carriage ride at the hotel and the driver told us stories, some of which might be true. He said that President George Bush was evacuated to the home of a local billionaire right after 9/11 to get safely outside the US. We don’t know if that is true. There is a Charlevoix Train that goes from near the hotel all the way to Quebec City and meanders thru towns along the way. It is a 5 hour ride and you could probably skip it. Canyon St. Anne is a great stop along the way from Quebec City and offers cool suspension bridges, a motorized zip-line type ride across the canyon over the waterfalls (easy ride) and a 90 minute rock climbing experience and regular zip line that kids can participate in. Book ahead. Also along this route is the Montmercy Falls about 25 minutes from the airport and is worth 2 hours for the cable car ride and the walk down the cliffs via stairs. There is a 3 hour rock climbing tour here but that is really long. We enjoyed a week of no pennies (Canada doesn’t have them), no Trump news and beautiful roads and public spaces and seeing things that worked. When we got off the plane at Newark it was back to broken escalators and crappy airport food.

Key West Travel Notes

Key West doesn’t have a direct flight from New York outside of winter season so we overnighted in Fort Lauderdale at a nearby airport Hilton at the Fort Lauderdale Marina which was a good thing since the morning flight missed its connection by 3 hours. The hotel was adequate and Uber works well here and was cheaper than the airport shuttle. Silver Airways runs a good show and our flight was 45 minutes for about $175 a roundtrip ticket when booked in advance. It certainly beat doing the driving which can be many hours during a high traffic period. The Sunset Key Cottages are a great place to stay for couples and with small children; it’s my third time there over the past 10 years. The kids are now tweens and they prefer someplace such as the Dorado Reserve in Puerto Rico with better beaches and more activities. This place has nice cottages on an island reached by a 7 minute boat ride with great water views but it is boring and the beach is really rocky unless you get beach socks (but then it’s harder to swim). They did enjoy the local attractions: The Conch Train Tour, Southernmost Point in the US, Butterfly Museum, Shipwreck Museum and the Mel Fisher Museum (the latter two of shipwrecks but both different and the first museum has good guides). We went parasailing, saw the Cat Man perform his show at Mallory Square (same show over 10 years but the kids were rolling in laughter), and ate at Mama’s Kosher, A&B Lobster House, Nine One Five Dorval, and Blue Heaven (although the chickens were AWOL due to the hot weather that day). We bit our nails all the way home as we flew out of Key West trying to flee a tropical storm that formed that day right around us. We were lucky as we were on one of the only flights to get out that day reasonably on time. Jet Blue had cancelled our flight from Fort Lauderdale to NYC but found a spare plane. Pretty darn good for us.

Finally, something useful for just about everyone who travels a lot.

Topsy Turvy (feeling jetlagged) at Museum of Civilization in Quebec City

Ivan’s Tips for Reducing JetLag on Travel

I read a lot of articles about this but find they all say the same thing and miss a lot of good tips that I personally rely on based on my own experience.

I have in mind here the idea that someone is going from North America east toward Europe or the Middle East. The problem is that you don’t want to get up in the morning. Going westward or to Asia you have the opposite problem, meaning that you want to get up too early in the morning. Either way, the advice is generally the same. The general idea is to be active during the day, tired at night and get uninterrupted sleep and wake up at the right time to get on the new time zone schedule as quickly as possible.

I’m a fan of departures later in the evening than earlier going eastbound 5-6 time zones ahead (ie: US to Europe or Europe to Asia) except for flights from the west coast of the US to the east coast which I like to take during the day. (When flying in from California, I just stay up late and get up a bit late and I’m good to go.) The traffic and the airport are less busy for departures after the evening rush hour and you don’t want to arrive at the equivalent of midnight in the US if you can arrive closer to morning time back at home by the time you get to your hotel.  Also, the later you arrive the more likely the hotel will have a room ready for you. If you do arrive early morning at your hotel, have breakfast there and take a shower in the spa if your room is not ready. For flights 7-9 time zones ahead such as US to Middle East, I like late night departures arriving in the late afternoon or early evening. Then I stay up late and get up late the next morning and I’m usually good to go.

If you’re arriving in the morning, call the hotel on the day of departure when it is evening at the destination and ask them to reserve you a room for early arrival. Ask them to clean it the evening before if they know it is vacant so you don’t have to wait for it to be cleaned in the morning when you arrive.

When the plane takes off, set your watch to the destination time.

Don’t eat much on the plane and drink only water. You’ll sleep better if you mostly skip the desert and eat as little as possible. You can eat in the airport before the flight to lessen the cravings. For a late night departure, just skip the midnight dinner and eat more food at the second meal.  Eat something before landing. Try to stay limber and wear comfortable clothes.

Get a few hours sleep on the plane. Even 2-3 hours makes a difference.

Take a nap upon arrival for 2-3 hours. When you get up, work out, go swimming if you can, and get a massage sometime during the day of arrival if you enjoy them.

Get out in the daylight and do something that first day to keep you moving throughout the day and occupied so that you don’t think about the fact that you might be tired even though you are and you will. I like to snack the first day through the day until dinner.

Eat a good dinner but not too late. Stay up late and turn off the TV for some time before bed to really cool down.

Take a sleeping pill if necessary the first two nights to make sure you get 6-7 hours uninterrupted sleep no matter what time it is. I don’t recommend doing that on an airplane though and I know somebody who fell asleep at the gate because he took the pill before boarding and then fell asleep when the departure was delayed.

Ask for a wakeup call. And use an alarm clock. The idea is to feel secure about getting up the next day at the right time without having to look at the clock to worry about what time it is.

Get up the next morning at something close to the same hour on the clock that you’d get up at home. Don’t even look at the clock or get out of bed (unless you have to) until it is a decent hour at which you could feel good about being out of bed. That’s why I like the wakeup call and the alarm.

Get a good workout. Take a shower. Eat a good breakfast. Try to forget you’re tired. You’ll wake up by early afternoon.

The second night can be worse than the first. Make sure you are tired and get another 6-7 hours sleep.

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