Global Thoughts — 5 October 2020 Including Travel Notes Colorado Springs, CO and Lake Placid, NY

Rafting on the river in Colorado

I believe that I have what I would call Amazonesia – I order stuff on 2 day delivery and by the time it shows up, I don’t remember what I ordered that’s inside when I see the box arrive.

I have a proposal; we should celebrate the Sabbath on Monday, a day in which the kids are in school. On Saturdays, they are home and from the moment my son gets up till the sabbath is over at dusk he keeps badgering me and telling me how bored he is and how he wants to irritate us to get even. Oh, what a restful day it is. Some years ago I mused in this space that prayers in synagogue on Saturday morning at 2.5 to 3 hours was too long and that it needed to be edited down to an hour. I got criticized for it, but today that’s what is happening in Orthodox synagogues during this pandemic. One rabbi said he is not sure people will come back to 3-hour services when this is over. So if you think God had anything to do with this pandemic, I guess maybe the Lord agrees with me.

 

On Lake Placid, New York

On the subject of religion, some customs of Orthodox Jews emanate from dubious beginnings (I’ll bet others do too),  like someone did something hundreds of years ago, and people kept on doing it but nobody remembers why and what they do has no relationship to anything that anyone can understand but they do it anyway. Some “Litvakish” Jews don’t like to sing anything in the synagogue and it has been this way for many generations; right now during this pandemic a lot of singing has been removed from the liturgy because people are afraid that people are at greater risk of catching Covid from singing (even if congregants are safely social distanced and the actual singing doesn’t go beyond 30-45 seconds which is the case in most songs you sing in a synagogue). I’ll bet that the original Litvaks probably were going through a pandemic hundreds of years ago and forgot that was the reason they stopped singing. I know that among the non-Orthodox, the virtual synagogue has become quite popular and it will be hard to get their buns back into benches when this is over. My accountant tells me that he enjoys those services because his wife watches while he is able to work in the background. Yeah, right; I don’t think that’s exactly what God has in mind if you think he is actually paying attention to these religious services.

As to Seventh Days, on our seventh day home we ate from Ben’s Deli; our kids missed an old-style Jewish deli in Miami. You would think they would have them down there but not anymore. All the old people who used to eat there have died and the young ones want to eat healthier. Incidentally, Ben’s Deli was where we had our last dinner out in the last hour before they closed indoor dining at restaurants in New York City last March.

I will predict to you that more people will wind up messed up from the effects of all this disinfectant than actually get sick from Covid. I’m pretty sensitive to this stuff and it really gets in my throat.

Our teenage girl on the way to school.

Last month we took our first vacation since this pandemic started and we visited Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, New York. (Wondering how I could endure? Being in Miami Beach for 5 months felt like a vacation anyway.) You could reach Europe in the time it takes to get to Lake Placid, NY but you will see beautiful views just the same, surprising many who cannot imagine there is more to New York than the City or that parts of it could be that pretty. There is a tradeoff for travel during this pandemic; you get bad vibes from paranoid people around you who are at their worst during this pandemic. On the other hand, many tourist sites are not jam-packed as they would normally be. We felt perfectly safe traveling except on crowded flights where all I can say is that social distancing rules are not being followed when it comes to getting on and off planes and expecting the middle seat to be empty. Going first class is a good investment in your mental health these days. Or just purchase an extra seat in coach and leave it empty if you see the flight is filling up.

New York City actually looks better now than it did when we left in mid-March. The homeless have been somewhat removed from trains, train stations and the streets. The city is eerily quiet; rush hour on a weekday inside the city feels more like Sunday. I walked down 7th Avenue and 48th Street at 3pm on a Thursday and there were no cars coming down 7th Avenue. Less than 10% of people have gone back to their offices in Manhattan. That’s probably the tradeoff for the fact that the rate of infection here has been below 1% for over a month – everybody left! The 6 train that runs up and down Lexington Avenue was very quiet at 5:30pm on a Wednesday. The post office near Lincoln Center was also very quiet on a weekday at noon. Grand Central Terminal is very quiet and most of the commercial tenants and food vendors there have closed. The only place I’ve seen that was really busy was a kosher takeout store at dinner time. Except for the fact that lots of stores have closed, it is a pleasure to get around the city these days.

Some rules of the road in this pandemic are ridiculous. People walk the streets wearing masks and some go nuts if you don’t; I don’t think that a single person on the planet has been infected while walking down the street breathing fresh air. Unless you happen to get close to a sneezing person, you’re not going to get infected this way. Another really stupid thing: in a gym, they close off certain machines saying that the machine is closed to observe social distancing. The machines are not going to infect each other; what the sign really means is that people using the machines should stay 2 machines apart. You would figure that could be the rule and that would be common sense. The problem is that most people are ignorant and not too smart; so the rules of public health have to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. That is not my say-so but a friend who is a public health expert. For instance, taking people’s temperature as they arrive at work really doesn’t do anything. But it will deter people from coming to work if they think they might have a fever and will be checked for it and sent home. That’s why I think they should still take temperatures at airports; they have recently stopped doing it.

Here’s a story: I walk into an office suite made for 50 people. One guy is sitting all alone wearing a mask. I ask why; he answers that someone on the other end of the suite is fixing some carpet so he thought he better put on a mask to protect himself. Now you can understand why it is so hard to get people to go back to the office.

You think you’re under a rock? Gatden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Germany is thinking of limiting the 14-day quarantine to 5 days hoping to increase compliance. In Israel, people are turning off cellphones to avoid contact tracers and 50% say they lie on the health declarations. (Remember, Israel is country where if you get a traffic ticket you put it on someone else’s car.)  In the US, people are not very confident about covid tests if you could die before the results come in and if the results are not consistent. It would probably help to make the rules more sensible to increase compliance. For instance, why make quarantines strictly based on what state you came from recently? While we were in Florida, it was a hotspot but there was hardly any covid going on in Miami Beach where we were staying and the local private hospital was quiet. People there live in multi-million-dollar mansions and hardly go out and very few people get sick driving themselves to a supermarket. The problem is in the poorer neighborhoods. Again, the lowest common denominator drives policy but it is overkill and it also drives down compliance. Sort of like the myth of taxing the rich; at a certain point, compliance with heavy taxation goes down and governments collect even less money. Progressives in the US would do well to look at tax history from France through the US earlier last century.

A disturbing thought about news we are getting about Covid: I saw a doctor who said he has had 95% success treating Covid patients with non-prescription items. He has noted that people with vitamin-C deficiencies have been susceptible to the disease. He told me that the New York Times prepared and killed 5 different articles about this subject, under pressure from pharmaceutical companies who only want people to think about prescription drugs. One article included mention of testimony before Congress, and that was killed by the editors at Yahoo too. Pretty scary that what the press is willing to write about the subject is so much under the thumb of the pharmaceutical industry.

 

Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid in background

Reading the Economist you can see that instead of every story being about the virus, things have resumed happening in the world. The Middle East has become a heckuva lot more interesting than it was a few years ago, which is a good thing because I find that region interesting and it was getting hard to find things to write about. It would be interesting if Lebanon makes peace with Israel, given their dire economic situation and people’s frustration with everything going on in that country. As far as the Palestinians go, I think that Bibi and his strategy may well be correct, and that Gulf countries are coming around to it: As normalization occurs with the rest of the Arab world, the Palestinians will follow. The conventional wisdom was that the Palestinians would lead, but their leadership is not dynamic and is ossified and split. The world wants to move on and is tired of waiting for Abbas to get off his high horse. When Egypt signed with Israel, the Arab League threw the country out for a decade but back then there was no compelling reason for anything to happen for a generation or two. Now, barely a beep from them. The region has changed; Iran and Turkey are viewed as threats, and regional actors are not sure the US will cover their butts as the US withdraws from the region. They want regional partners, and Israel, which is a substantial armed and economic power in the region with shared interests, cannot be ignored. There are serious joint interests between the UAE and Israel that are not obvious including free trade zones and an oil pipeline that was built with Iran but has not been used. My community rabbi is in Dubai this weekend as a guest speaker of the local community. Things are moving quite quickly. The UAE is a no-nonsense country that many in the region would like to emulate. I can tell you that their ambassador to the US is very impressive and “with-it” which is impressive for a guy who has already been in the job for 12 years and looks pretty young; I can understand why the US has good relations with the UAE, and less so with the Saudis. An hour with each of them will show you that both can BS but the UAE guy pulls it off with much more suavivity. Both the UAE and Saudi have young leaders trying to move their countries into the 21st century; maybe the Saudi crown prince is constrained by the fact that he is not yet the king and that he has done things to make himself a really bad impression on the world stage. But clearly these countries see each other as kindred spirits and they want to get out from under the baggage they inherited and move forward and not just move forward but make their mark both as rulers and as countries on the planet. I’m happy to see this kind of activity.

The UAE makes peace with Israel and in the region it is pretty la-dee-dah. It used to be that Israel was the country that must not be named, and now it is pretty much accepted. I wonder how things will go once Israeli tourists show up in Dubai and try to steal towels from their hotel rooms. But next Passover you might see Jewish tourists showing up for Passover programs at UAE resorts. The kosher food inspectors are already hard at work.

Here is some confusion: Interior of the Vessel at Hudson Yards, New York City.

Recent events in Belarus and Russia prove the long-term point that for dictators such as Putin and Lukashenko (it’s impressive that Microsoft Word is updated enough in the cloud to know how to spell this guy’s name), people get tired of all the BS and at a certain point want their freedoms and revolt against leaders who don’t at least deliver the economic goods in return for their power. China and Iran also beware. You can put out all the propaganda you want but the proof is in the pudding. This past year you see people all over the Middle East rising up against Iran’s desire to essentially try to colonize them. People in China are not thrilled with their government; poor people in China have much less of a social safety net than people elsewhere. This is a big problem because if China wants to stir up its economy from something other than manufacturing, it will need to get its people to spend money, and that means that more people have to have both money and confidence to spend it. Right now, if you get sick in China you are in big trouble with a terrible health system that average people can’t afford. This kind of thing does not create confidence upon which to build an economy of spenders rather than savers. Consider that when you think about public health spending’s overall effect on the economy.

Sorry to say that the EU requires all 27 nations to agree to any sanctions so since Cyprus is holding out for its own reasons which have to do with Turkey, the rest of the EU can’t apply any sanctions to Belarus. That just shows that even on the easy stuff, the EU is a paper tiger. It may have the GDP and the population but it has no way to act as a unitary power.

In the US, we are finally within 30 days of US Elections and it is Biden’s race to lose. I personally hope the result is convincing enough so that the country doesn’t go into spasm trying to determine who won. The markets don’t like uncertainty. I spent an hour on a background conference call with Anthony Blinken, the man likely to be Biden’s national security advisor. The hour gave me good assurance that the nation will be in a much safer pair of hands come January. Blinken appears to me a clone of Dennis Ross in appearance and inflection which means he is professional and competent. Hopefully, he will be more effective. What I wanted to see was a demonstration of what he learned from his years in the Obama administration; he admitted to several failures and said he learned from them. One interesting point was that he did not regret Obama’s failure to back up his own red-line in Syria; he explained in detail that there were no good options at that time.

Guardians of the Statue of Liberty

I’m going to predict at this point that Biden wins in November and that the vote will be more lopsided than you expect. Trump knows it: If he thought he was going to win, would he be so dead-set trying to delegitimize the election in advance? It comes down to this gut level check: First of all, when the chips are down, Americans tend to do the right thing and it’s pretty clear that Trump is a real jerk who does not represent bedrock American values in many ways and needs to be shown the door from a position that we are supposed to look up to. Even his supporters mostly agree that he’s not a good person. But if you want a more analytical view: People really disliked Hillary and wouldn’t vote for her. Some people voted for Trump as a protest not actually thinking he’d win. A good number of them won’t do it again. They don’t hate Biden like they hated Clinton and they will show up to vote this time, more than enough to make up for those who didn’t vote last time. Clinton pissed off her donors and Biden is not doing the same. (For instance, Clinton campaigned at an extremely wealthy synagogue in the Hamptons on Long Island, NY and wouldn’t take questions. People came away from that very unimpressed.) Trump has supporters but he has not expanded his base and he has alienated some of this base, such as the military after calling them suckers and losers. I’m told that the chit chat is that generals are voting for Biden. Trump tried to rally support in 2018 with race-baiting and creating a phony immigration crisis and the Democrats picked up 40 seats. There are racists in America and they may be silent voters who don’t answer to pollsters, but there are not as many of them as you think (which is counter-intuitive because people think there are more of them than they think). In 28 states now, Whites are dying faster than they are being born and younger Whites are becoming more accepting of differences. As I’ve said, America is changing and this year you are going to see some Southern states that have haven’t voted Democratic in 40 years vote for Democrats. Suburbs are much more diverse than they used to be. Watch South Carolina for example. Texas is changing too. Colorado has changed. The GOP will have to change to be relevant; the face of America is changing from white to multi-racial. Also, tons of Americans are below the age of 20 (and half of those that are under age 20 are not white), and they do not carry the same baggage as older people do. They are becoming voting age and, even though they historically don’t vote, they will matter much once they do.

For some perspective, we were ziplining in Colorado and someone said they were from Iran. A millennial who was from the Great State of Texas asked: Where is Iran? So at least Iran has something going for them – a generation of Americans who don’t know anything positive or negative about them. Just as well, since the UN recently found that the Iranians were 10x in excess of their agreed amount of nuclear stuff under the treaty which ain’t much of a treaty anymore. But who remembers?

I think that if Biden’s slogan was “Build Back Better Than Ever” rather than just Build Back Better, it might be more energizing. Steve Jobs was in 1997 just 90 days from insolvency at Apple; he recalled that he would go to the precipice and come back better than ever each time. It is a thought for America at this time in its history.

I’ve been told that Qatar’s economy is really suffering under the boycott of the rest of the GCC. For instance, a major medical center is on hold because they were counting on visitors from neighboring countries.  A ton of money was put into rebuilding the capital city and it’s filled with empty buildings. The problem here is that I’m not sure that Qatar can do much without committing national suicide to get its neighbors to lay off it. They have a gas pipeline with Iran which is their major economic interest; the other countries are oil producers. They have Al-Jazeera which the other countries rulers can’t stand and they support the Moslem Brotherhood; maybe they can act on those two items but their neutrality also gives them the ability to mediate in places that others cannot. I think that this conflict is also personal among leaders who don’t get along, just as much as it is about their policies.

China – From what I have read, I think Biden’s view of China is best. He feels the best way to engage China is to urge the US to work harder, rather than to try to contain China. I think that Trump has encouraged a Crybaby Nation and it is easy to demonize China, raise tariffs and appeal to your base (and silently beg China to buy stuff from your voters’ states). But that doesn’t really do justice to the fact that even if China fights dirty, they are still working very hard to get where they are. They have lots of internal problems but the government is doing what Germany did a generation ago; they are directing industry and working hand in hand with them to push ahead. The US would do best to spend the bulk of its energy competing rather than complaining. The pushback on China, whether it comes from the US or nature, really is the fact that the way they are behaving, they are losing trust all over the world. They will need that trust to be #1 or to maintain the position they have achieved, and sooner or later they will realize it.  You can’t bully your way around the world to be #1; you need alliances. The US has alliances which Trump is squandering, but Biden will repair those. China has none really, and it is doing all it can NOT to make friends and influence people and it’s pretty clear that their strategy is not working. China can try to be self-sufficient to avoid the effect of sanctions, but in the end it is the equivalent of Trump building walls around the US and slapping tariffs and sanctions around to get what it wants – the rest of the world will avoid it. For instance, the Economist reports that British students have stopped taking Mandarin classes because graduates no longer think that a career in China or Hong Kong has value. Why go there if you might be picked up and jailed for no reason other than a diplomatic tit for tat or held to be in violation of some national security law for sending an odd tweet. Or you spend ten years there building things up and then one night in secret they pass a law to change everything in the country and mess up what you built. Right now, expats don’t see a future there when they could go elsewhere. The UAE is a dictatorship but expats think they can live a decent life there. On the other side, China is on its way to becoming the #1 economy in the world and nations want to engage with its economy. In the Middle East in the next decade, the Israel-Palestinian issue for each country will be replaced with how much do we try to have our cake and eat it too in terms of our relationship with the US and with China. This is important when considering the F-35 sale to the UAE; people are focused on whether the UAE will someday fall into hostile hands like Turkey and Iran did. Others are nervous that the Chinese will be in a good position to spy within the UAE and steal the plane’s secrets. The better overall question is what does the US think the UAE will do with these weapons if the US wants to withdraw its troops from the region? The answer is probably not much of anything. Instead of sending toys to allies for cash, the real question is what are these weapons for?

When you consider the Chinese unfair trading practices, you can consider the million people they put into slave labor that are not being paid. It’s making up for the fact that a good amount of what used to be cheap manufacturing has moved to Vietnam and other countries.

Governor’s Island, NYC

I would have two pieces of advice for the next president in dealing with China: 1. We have to push our weight around in order to get them to move. They see the US as unassertive where it counts. Woodward’s book alleges implicitly that national security officials believe that the Chinese did nothing to stop the virus from going to Europe and the Americas even as it was locking down the country because it decided that if it was going to suffer, it did not want to be at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world. China clearly stonewalled the rest of the world in giving out information they could have used to mitigate the damage and prepare for the virus. It’s an act of war. The US should state that if it happens again, we’ll put an air and sea embargo against China and shoot down anything coming out of that country. A few planes and ships will go down and they’ll realize the world is serious. It’s worth it to prevent what has happened now to the entire world. Also, America needs to do this in order to get Iran, North Korea and Russia back in line. What stopped Obama with Russian interference with 2016 elections and others, including even Senator Graham when he tried to talk Trump out of killing Iran’s Suleiman, was the thought that confronting aggression would lead to more aggression against the US. Nope – Iran took a turn for the better after the US hit Suleiman. America has to show it is willing to meet fire with fire and this will get the baddies to put themselves in check. 2. Rather than go with progressive or conservative firebrands who want revolution, the president needs to line up a coalition of moderates in both major parties and go for long term plans with Congress that will outlast one person’s presidency. China and Russia do not have to keep changing gears every 4 years and this makes them more stable partners and more dangerous because they can both think and act strategically. The US cannot match that when it has to keep flip-flopping with a president and legislators always focused on getting reelected (and increasingly a judicial system that looks like it consists of ideologues and political hacks that can block legislation or executive orders), and it makes the US weak negotiators abroad because nobody can make a deal with them that will stick. When is the last time any treaty was ratified by the Senate?

Interesting factoid I picked up reading Woodward’s latest book “RAGE”: Most Chinese generals have yet to actually fight in a war. The last time Chinese troops actually fought anyone was 1979 briefly with Vietnam. Think about that when you consider all the stuff about China’s military. They will need to get their hands dirty if they want to get better at putting oomph behind their military and gaining credibility. They have more toys to play with when you look at the figures on the game board, but lack game experience.

Royal Gorge Railroad,, Colorado

Another really interesting insight in Woodward’s book are pages 256-259 where he mentions that Jared Kushner has 4 texts that he feels gives you an insight into what makes Donald Trump tick. I can’t do it justice through a summary, but basically he likes a 2018 column by Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, headlined “Trump…He’s crazy…and it’s kind of working.” He talks about the Cheshire Cat in Alice and Wonderland – “If you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there.” He mentions a book called The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple. He says that Trump is an outlier meaning that no chief of staff can get Trump to be anything other than Trump, and a book by Scott Adams called Win Bigly: Persuasion in a world where facts don’t matter. He writes that Trump invents any reality, doesn’t apologize and overall, Trump is crazy, aimless, stubborn and manipulative. What I found missing in this book was a discussion about Mike Pence; he doesn’t seem to be anywhere except in the background telling people working for the prez to “stay the course” when they think that they can’t take any more of Trump. We need to know more about Pence, a guy who someday is likely to run for president. All we seem to know about him is that he is not as dumb as he comes across but that he is basically acting as an altar boy for Donald Trump.

In Israel, you have to look at Naftali Bennett, a guy who seems to be gaining in the polls. Benny Gantz has lost traction in the polls and Yair Lapid also is doing pretty well these days at his expense.

Another new good book I read this summer was The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties that Created Modern China, by Jonathan Kaufman. Interesting story about the histories of the Sasson and Kadouri families. The Kadouris doubled down on Hong Kong after 1997 with an investment of about a billion dollars in that territory and it will be interesting to see if their bets on the promises of China viz a viz Hong Kong are proven right or wrong in the 2020’s, at least in terms of their financial prosperity.

Two books I am in the middle of: The Life and Times of James Baker and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harari. James Baker is someone we haven’t had for a time — a middle of the road Washington operator cutting deals and bringing the sides together. He held respect even among those who did not agree with him. Harari’s book has some interesting insights as to the way human society behaves and political scientists must take note of them. He says that people vote on their feelings rather than on the basis of facts, and that people look to others to form opinions and that showing people a bunch of facts is not going to really sway them. Leadership of human groups relies on creating fictional stories, less so than presenting facts. It’s a harsh lesson in a world of misinformation and elites thinking that the truth will set their societies free. Next edition I’ll update you on these items.

Just before we left on our summer vacation, we celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of my son Jeremy. When you have lemons, make lemonade, I like to say, so during this pandemic which found us in Florida instead of Australia for the month of August, I arranged to have the chapel of the Hebrew Academy school opened for us (it had been closed for the past 6 months) and the third generation of a Ciment was Bar Mitzvahed there (as I and my father were).  Here are some nice pictures.

 

 

 

 

Here are some travel notes from our summer holidays to Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, NY:

We flew to Colorado Springs on American Airlines. Gate agents hate customers and go on power trips with the carry-ons. We were on a half empty plane to Dallas (to change planes) and they were harassing first class passengers who are paying not to be harassed. Anyway, Dallas is a good transfer point with an Air Train between concourses. A few notes about flying under current pandemic conditions with AA: The flight into Colorado was fully booked with middle seats filled; there is no social distancing boarding and deplaning; people asked to wait till the people in front of them have deplaned simply ignored the pilot’s request. Food service is severely curtailed even in first class; bring your own. When flying to Colorado Springs, it pays to change planes and arrive there than to go nonstop to Denver; the airport has only 12 gates and it is easy in and out with the rental car (you really need one here to go anywhere off property), and the airport is close to the city and the Broadmoor resort (15 minutes drive). American does not officially give free internet aboard and uses GoGo for internet service and you might want to buy a monthly pass in advance online if you are going to fly round trip with connecting flights. Turns out I thought I had used their service to go online during the flight but when I returned GoGo did not see that I had used their service so I got a refund. Amex Platinum no longer gives a GoGo benefit. AA has all the panache of military transport. But they are hurting so there is no use complaining. (We flew JetBlue from Florida to New York and that was much better although they also have cut down on the snacks on board.)

The Broadmoor is the place to stay in Colorado Springs and is one of the state’s leading resorts. Rather than take 2 connecting rooms in the main building, we took a cottage which is a 5 minute walk away. The valets will bring the car to that area when you want to leave the property (there is no self-parking). You have your own entry and exit and air conditioning and it is more spacious with a living room. Deer and bears come around (and leave their poop just outside your door). There are two rows; the row along the golf course has the real mountain views. We stayed 5 nights, which for us is unusual because we tend to move from place to place. We could have spent 7 nights there; within 20 minutes of the resort there are lots of things to see and do, and if you drive an hour you get to even more. Because of the pandemic, spa and gym hours are curtailed, so if you want a massage after 4pm on the day of arrival, you need to go offsite. The gym is fine as long as you don’t have some staff person telling you to adjust your mask when the nearest person is more than 50 feet away. We ate at all the hotel’s outlets and we liked them all; we enjoyed some more than others. The lobby café has great gelato (try the dark chocolate sorbetto) and you can reserve and purchase print newspapers there.  Especially now, it is important to reserve mealtimes and activities such as bowling pre-arrival to avoid disappointment and the hotel’s concierge was really good at email correspondence helping us set up a schedule among many choices. During the week the hotel is quiet but weekends even at 60% it is at capacity for things such as breakfast. We found the outdoor pool not heated and pretty cool; the indoor pool was fine.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

The hotel offers some really cool adventures such as rock climbing (both beginners and advanced courses), ziplining, rappelling and suspension bridge crossing. We did all of the above and the course is awesome (and a bit scary). The Firns course is better than the combined course for the ziplining tour. In our group was a professional soccer player who wanted to take videos of him toggling a ball with his feet in weird places. Another optional activity in the hotel is Elemental Art where you can make or decorate some crafts such as a pool bag, jewelry pendant and a scarf. As you go off property, there is Manitou Springs about 15 minutes drive away with a Trading Post at the Garden of the Gods (some nice crafts there) and some real good custard at a stand on the main street (906 Avenue Manitou), down the street a bit from there the Vault has nice gifts. At the hotel, Strata also has nice home crafts. We visited the Glen Eyre house; you could really skip it. They have a daily tour but if you can manage to just see the video and walk through the house yourself, you’ll do fine. The actual property has pretty rock views as it is next to the Garden of the Gods. We went to the Garden of the Gods 3 times and there are lots of trails and pretty looking things to see; best time to go is about 2 hours before sunset while the sun is still out and while the shadows are cool. Closer to sunset you get a rush of sunset worshippers and you lose the sunlight and shadows for pictures. Parking can be tough in the main lots. You can drive further than the main lot and see if you can get a spot and walk in through one of the side entrances. Some of the interesting formations beyond the signature ones are Balanced Rock and Siamese Twins. Near Manitou Springs is Cave of the Winds and the 45 minute Discovery Tour is enough; there are various attractions there, mostly for kids. There is one wacky attraction (the Terra Dactyl) that heaves you over the valley but there is often a 2 hour wait for a 20 second thrill, and you might not know of that till after you’ve bought the ticket. Go and look first (you don’t need to pay to look) to avoid disappointment. In the Old Colorado Springs district, we went to a really good Greek restaurant called Jake and Tellys. Definitely in the top 25% with interesting items.  Other nights we ate in the hotel’s outlets and were very happy.

Suspension Bridge near the Broadmoor

An hour or so away from the city is the Royal Gorge area with several good attractions. We did all 3 in a day. Echo Rafting is a very good outfit with white water rafting along the Arkansas River. You can go on Class I through V rapids, depending on your skill and risk appetite. We went on a private raft with a guide doing the driving although the rest of us had to help paddle. The two hour trip was plenty and it was also fun and generated some good pictures and videos that we purchased. The kids swam in the 65 degree water. I had remembered freezing in the Colorado water as a teenager (and that was just being in the raft), but it didn’t seem that bad now, at least not for our kids. Twenty minutes away is the Royal Gorge Bridge which is fun to walk across. They also have a crazy catapult ride but thankfully we didn’t have to do the 2 hour line for our kids because the ride was closed for maintenance. Another 20 minutes away is the Royal Gorge Railroad. This is a lovely 2 hour tour on beautiful trains (we went in the Observation Dome car and they have nice food for sale). You can also go outside on a platform carried by the train to see things from outside. So you see the gorge from 3 perspectives; on a train down in the gorge itself, along the river rapids and above it from the bridge. Our rafting trip was near the gorge but not along it; those rapids are for the more experienced riders. It was a great day of sightseeing and adventure. It’s best to book your adventures in the morning and early afternoon; thunderstorms tend to pop up after 3 or 4pm.

Everyone enjoyed Colorado; people here are friendly and there is ton of open space. Sometimes you have to walk or drive far to get to something simply because they have more space than they know what to do with so rather than send you in a direct route you go in a big circle. I have a feeling we’ll be back. The rate of viral infection here is lower than the national average; people here take it seriously and take precautions, and there is lots of space here. There was a lot of air pollution from fires but depending on the wind it comes and goes. The tradeoff this year for us was fewer crowds but more restrictions and bad vibes from the pandemic such as having to put on your mask and having tour guides tell you that if you don’t wear your mask correctly such as all the way over your nose (so your glasses fog up and you can’t even see the cave) they’ll throw you off the tour and call the police. It’s a trade. (Now the governor of New York has put Colorado on his shit list so it’s a good thing we managed to get our trip in.)

The Ritz Carlton in Fort Lauderdale on the beach is a good overnight hotel if you have to fly in or out of Fort Lauderdale airport. Right now the rates are quite cheap and you can get some good takeout for the plane ride home. Request that they put VIP settings on your air conditioning to keep the room cool; otherwise it doesn’t matter where you set the thermostat, it goes on energy saver mode.

Next we went across New York State to Lake Placid, home of two winter Olympiads. Best way to get here from New York City (there are no flights to the regional airport except from Boston) is to take Amtrak train to Albany and then drive a bit over 2 hours. The Lake Placid Lodge has lovely cabins right on the lake and they are decorated in true local Adirondack style. On arrival we took a complimentary boat tour of the area around the lake. The resort is about 10 minutes from town which is not much of a town. Emma Ice Cream on Main Street has good soft serve maple flavor and we liked their banana cake flavor. Toursbylocals.com is not an obvious choice but Dmitry offers a really cheap local tour which we enjoyed; it was like a Hollywood backlot tour of the studios except that here we were visiting bobsled and luge areas seeing the tracks and equipment. Everyone in this 3,500 person town seems to know this teddy-bearlike Russian guy. We also visited John Brown house (a not so famous abolitionist) and took a small hike together for some views. He has two tours; take the shorter one. Later, I went with the kids to the Olympic Ski Jump area and you can take an elevator to the top of the 120 meter high ski jump. Since it was summer, the US Olympic skiing hopefuls were skiing down a slide into a 17 foot swimming pool and you could watch them train. There is a gondola ride you also get with your ticket which is not much of a ride, and there is a zip line down which is a baby thing after you’ve been across canyons in Colorado on 1,800 foot lines.  There is another outfit a bit further out of town that claims to do better at ziplines.

We sent the kids with 2 guides from High Peaks Cyclery (the hotel concierge referred us) on a 24- hour overnight adventure with canoeing, cookout, tents, hiking and mountain climbing. The weather interfered with some of it but the kids had a great time and came back exhausted. Karen and I had our first 24-hour break from our kids since the previous summer. Worth every penny, whatever it was. It also made sense; the resort we were staying at did not allow kids in till recently and there is not much for kids to do there. You can go kayaking and boating on the lake but there is a good current there and even on a boat with a small motor you are at the mercy of the current especially if there is wind. In the evenings, they have a fire pit and you can swap travel notes with other adults who feel comfortable in this fairly intimate environment; the resort has about 30 rooms and cabins. The nearby Whiteface Lodge is more full-service (ie: with a spa) but it is not on the lake, and that seems to be the point of it all here. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you’d want to eat a meal there and gaze out along the lake toward the wilderness as far as the eye can see; somebody over 100 years ago wanted privacy and donated the land to the state as long as it would remain wilderness rather than be bought out and have roads built along the lake.

 

The hotel’s food was not so great and there is no gym on property although they offer a shuttle to a gym just outside the property which I did not use the 3 days I was there because it wasn’t convenient for me to take the extra time to go off property. We ate out at Café Rustica and the Hungry Trout, both excellent. The trout place has great views so go before it gets dark. Café Rustica was 5 minutes drive; Trout was 20 minutes. The Adirondack craft shop on Saranac Road about ¼ mile from the turnoff to the hotel had nice crafts and even I bought something! 3 nights here was plenty; Lake Placid itself is not upmarket but it is a friendly place that attracts active life-stylers and is fun in the winter for things such as riding in a bobsled at 75 MPH, although its skiing is for advanced skiers. The 2-hour drive from Albany was not bad and there are rest hours along the I-87 interstate for the 100 mile stretch closest to Albany. For the ride back to Albany, order some takeout from Simply Gourmet which is easy to reach and has interesting sandwiches. Important note: Call before booking for the 2020-21 ski season; Whiteface Mountain might be closed for renovations before a big competition planned for the following year.

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