We traveled for nearly 6 weeks this summer and silly me thought it would be good to start the trip with all new shoes for me and the kids. All the shoes got messed up after a week and I actually need the new ones now that I’m back.
I’d like to know if airports are being delayed due to more thunderstorms over the past decade. I’m afraid that with global warming, at some point people are going to stop certain air trips because it’s too likely every week that your airport will be chaotic and that flights will back up to the point that you can’t get home for several days. The risk of going anywhere is becoming too much to bear considering how tight the system is. I of all people just postponed a weekend trip because everyone is tired of being burned on weekend flights. Nobody is really doing anything in the US to fix a system that is to some degree 50 years obsolete with people running around with strips of paper, and profit-conscious airlines have cut capacity so tight that there is no margin for error. It is a national disgrace that will get attention when things start shutting down or planes start crashing, but it will still take years to fix since this mess didn’t pile up in a day.
There is a severe shortage of air traffic controllers around NYC which they knew this was coming for years and still did nothing to avoid this summer of total chaos. You also have to deal with political instability; the past year there were strikes, riots and disruptions across Europe and it is a pain to go places nowadays. Washington DC is still a ghost town and the majority of the federal government is still working from home. There is no excuse for tax correspondence sitting around for several years not being dealt with and millions of passengers being inconvenienced weekly due to this malfeasance. It goes beyond incompetence.
Elizabeth flew to St. Louis when thunderstorms delayed her flight 5 hours before it was finally cancelled. 3 of those hours she sat on the tarmac without air conditioning in 90 degree weather. On her return flight, there were thunderstorms and she got diverted to Pennsylvania. 5 hours later, she arrived in NY. That 9am flight finished at 6pm and we happened to speak to the air traffic controller in PA who said she barely got out of there before another thunderstorm hit the airport. I’ve started pre-emptively buying two sets of tickets for flights; I buy a second set of refundable tickets for the morning after the flight is supposed to happen in case of a bad weather day for flying. Imagine if everyone else starts doing this. Some other kid who got stuck in St. Louis drove 5 hours to Chicago only to find out that it would be at least 24 hours till she could get out of there and then by that evening there were more thunderstorms to shut everything down. How is that girl supposed to get back to school after 3 days of this?
Speaking of stupid governments, the NYC subway system pays people to stand around fare gates looking for people who want to jump over them. Not just one person at a gate but several. Imagine hundreds of police officers grousing that this is why they became police officers. As I travel through other systems such as Sydney, Australia and Paris, I see turnstile gates with heavy plastic guards that turn with the person and that make it virtually impossible to jump the gate. Even with 650 stations in the NY system, it must cost a fraction of the human cost to just install these gates.
I’d like to hear a phone message that says “Your call is NOT important to us. That’s why we are putting you on hold. But if you insist on speaking to us, please hold on and we’ll take your call as soon as we feel like it.”
A lot of people’s days involve being put on hold to speak with customer service agents on the phone. I find that if I make these kinds of phone calls at 8am, I get everything done quickly and can put it behind me for the rest of the day. It’s a good way to put less stress into your day and get a better start. Everything such as the IRS, airlines, utilities and travel insurance takes 10x longer as the day goes on.
I see all this crap going on with Taylor Swift’s tour. They should just do what they do with Hamilton tickets in London. You buy the ticket online but you have to put down your name and show ID at the door. It destroys the resale market and keeps the prices to a reasonable level.
China now controls a lot of Iran’s economy which probably explains why Iran had to sign that agreement with Saudi Arabia and got nothing in return for it. China wants more stability in that region and doesn’t want Iran running around attacking shipments of oil. Iran signed an agreement with China that is similar to the submissive agreements that Persian countries had to sign with European powers centuries ago. But if Iran gets the bomb, China might find that Iran is no longer so responsive to its needs.
I’m back in NYC and I see people walking around with masks. I saw that also in San Francisco but for 6 weeks abroad, other than Asians who always wear masks, I didn’t see much of that. Has America’s cities become total pussy-shit towns where people don’t go to the office and worry all day about catching what at this point is basically a cold. The office vacancy rates in Manhattan are still around 50%. I’m frankly embarrassed for this country at this point.
I used to have a 9th grade teacher who said to complaining students that her heart bleeds borscht for you. I’d love to see what she’d say today to Sam Bankman, the billionaire-wacko crypto guy now in jail after breaking his bail tampering with witnesses, who is complaining about the lack of vegan food, internet service and Adderall medicine in his high security prison. I’m just not feeling a whole lot of empathy for this guy. Are you?
You know that feeling when you get $4.99 change in coins and bills from a cashier who did this because you didn’t have a penny. When this happens, I just pull out a credit card because I don’t want the change. The shopkeeper winds up having to pay out 3% to visa. The cashier couldn’t care less about the 3% and prefers the credit card transaction because it’s easier. But wouldn’t it make more sense for everyone to just round up or down to the nearest 5 cents which is much better for the merchant than having to pay the credit card merchant? I’m surprised nobody has thought about this. In European cities such as Paris and Stockholm, you hardly see ATM’s anymore; everything has gone cashless.
I bought an opera ticket in NYC for a friend and was surprised that you could get a really good orchestra seat for less than the price of a comparable Broadway show ticket.
Does it make sense that the biggest loser to AI is the category of people known as “knowledge workers?” Wasn’t the point of getting a college education that you wouldn’t be so disposable as a worker as the world changes? The people with brains and not just brawn are the most vulnerable now to technological progress?
In Australia, I wanted to see a dermatologist for a skin bacterial infection I got while traveling. I was told there were no appointments for several months. This happens as well in the US when you call up places such as NYU and Columbia with large practices that are covered by insurance. So I asked how do I get in this coming Friday afternoon? The person suggested that maybe there would be a cancellation. I said sure go and look. She said, actually there are a lot of cancellations this Friday. What time would you like to come in? Now tell me that AI wouldn’t do a better job than a human who can’t get past or is too lazy to go beyond the Next Available Screen. I ask for cancellations in the US as well, and another way to get in the door is to book an appointment with a Nurse Practitioner who can then call a doctor into the room on short notice. Also doctors who don’t take insurance are a good bet for a quick appointment. If you see a neurologist for an hour and they charge $700, people get all iffy about it, but nobody who could afford it would deny paying $700 an hour to see a tax lawyer who probably has less years of training than a neurologist. You can get much of that $700 back from insurance if you have a good plan, but you’ll never collect from insurance for seeing a lawyer.
My parents are both in their 80’s and came to visit. It gets painful to see how we age. My Dad doesn’t understand why he needs to know his password to get into his email account or remember that he saw my wife’s film 6 months ago, and my mom keeps falling and bleeding and doesn’t even get bothered by it anymore. At night, his hearing aid makes so much noise that you figure we’re sending out signals looking for space aliens or became a Chinese listening post. I know why all these embassy workers had head pains – someone had a hearing aid like my dad’s around.
Our son Jeremy was at summer camp and no news is generally good news. He doesn’t come looking for us unless he wants something. Or so we thought. He commandeered two girls to seek out a counselor he knew on the girls’ campus and sent over a shopping list and his wallet, requesting a bunch of items from the local grocery that she should procure for him on her day off. If you think that was bold, consider that he and a friend went to the camp kennel to play with the therapy dog and accidentally let loose a goat which then ran all over campus and which they managed to intercept before the staff knew of it. My take on all this is that if Jeremy were ever in prison, he’d definitely be the ringleader of a prison racket. I’m really not worried about him. Now that he is home he is commissioner of his fantasy football league and realizing what a pain it is to deal with a committee of people who each have their own preferences. I have studiously avoided any committee or board work during my adult life.
Wouldn’t it be great if some billionaires could buy up some property and form a country that would be well managed where qualified people could live and not have to deal with all the crappy governments we all have to deal with that take more than 50% of our money and give us nothing for it? Wouldn’t you want to move there?
What’s going on with all these coups in Africa? The French seem to be getting their butts kicked off the continent in one country after another. It seems their foreign policy toward Africa hasn’t gone down well. The problem for Africa with all these military governments relying on China and Russia to prop them up is that their economies will not do well, and the continent’s long term progress will be at risk. Stop talking about the future of Africa if this is where it’s going.
A good article in Foreign Affairs this month discusses containment theory with regard to China. Basically, the idea is to “contain” the country by keeping it in a box. Problem is that the West tried containment with Russia during the last century and it didn’t really work. But why try? Russia and China are basically shooting themselves. I’ve said several times that just letting Xi keep doing what he’s doing is great for the West. The article says we should stop throwing sanctions at these countries which don’t work and hurt us just as much as them if not more (ie: Huawei just came out with a great new chip that competes with Apple after several years of trying to deny them such a chip). Foreign direct investment in China during the second quarter of 2023 is down 87% from Q2 2022. Economic growth is up at a very slow pace, and it’s pathetic when you consider that the prior year the country was at zero for covid.
Ukraine might well have stayed within the USSR and we might not be having this war today, except that if you recall, the communist old guard tried a coup against Gorbachev and, after that, Ukraine said they wanted out of the union. And that was the end of the Soviet Union. They shot themselves in the foot; it wasn’t that the West did anything to them to break up the union.
A disturbing story making the rounds of the major publications is that Biden’s China policy of decoupling is phony and failing. Stuff that was made in China being sourced to other countries just means that now those countries buy their stuff in China and then resell it to America. So those countries rely on China even more than they used to which means that they are more likely to consider Chinese interests than American ones. I’ve been contending for several years now that the tariffs and various sanctions we have on China are probably hurting us more than hurting them, and this basically confirms it.
I notice when reading the Wall Street Journal that even though they have an editorial position that is not exactly friendly toward Democratic voters, they appeal to Black readers. You can see pictures of Black people on front covers of their various sections and articles that clearly are meant to appeal to these readers. They are certainly not doing this to appeal to White readers. Interestingly, Biden is not doing nearly as well as he should among Black voters. A lot of the progressive agenda does not appeal to them.
According to public records published by the NY Times, between 2004 and 2014 Justice Scalia of the US Supreme Court took 258 subsidized trips to various locations around the world. Do the math, and that means that someone was paying his travel bills on an average of every 2 weeks for 10 years. Does this pass the smell test to you? Your correspondent travels a lot, but I am not employed as a justice of the US supreme court and if I was, you’d have to wonder if I was doing my job if I were on a plane with someone else paying the bills going places every 2 weeks.
One good reason to still carry cash in NYC: You must carry $5 in your wallet in case you run into a mango lady on the street selling really nice mangoes. A year or two ago, these people came on the scene and they were few in number with great mangoes. Now there are many of them and the quality has gone down. The $3 mango is now $6.
Donald Trump’s conviction for fraud is potentially going to hurt him in a major way because could now lose control of major properties, and companies of his could be shut down. The fraud conviction extends to several billion dollars and to members of his family, and it might start to convince ordinary people that the man is not all that he claims to be.
The Economist had a survey about the future of war. What we’ve learned so far from the Ukraine war is that logistics count. Technology and mass of force also count. You need all 3 in order to win a war. The West is realizing that its logistics are not good enough to win a real war and the Ukraine laboratory is testing out the limits of mass and technology. Cyber will not get troops across a river and masses of troops can be sitting ducks without good technology. But an army without food or ammunition can’t fight, so there you go on logistics. This war is good for the West because it is finding out what it needs to do in order to update battle tactics for the next generation of warfare. A lot of what the Western countries thought would be useful for Ukraine is turning out not to be so useful and it is frustrating that cheap shit knocks out really blingy systems and expensive armor. This also affects how groups of soldiers maneuver and fight; it has become so much easier to be discovered and hit. The Russians are also learning, as are the Chinese, but in the meanwhile, at least the West is learning to up its game. Because they can experiment via the Ukrainians, generals in countries such as the UK can try things that they can’t try with their own armies due to various reasons such as bureaucracy and local laws. So as I see it, this war is a win win for the West.
I’m not a war expert but I do know a few things. Sometimes victory comes suddenly when the other army just one day falls apart like a deck of cards. My gut is that at some point the Russian army will do this in Ukraine. Whether Putin panics at that point is an open question; it may be that the West doesn’t want this to happen. Maybe that’s why the NATO summit this past summer promised enough aid to keep the war going for another year but not enough for Ukraine to rout Russia from its territory. Maybe the West doesn’t want the war to end because of the previous paragraph where I state that the war itself is a win-win for the West as it is a great laboratory using Ukrainians as the guinea pigs.
One byproduct of a Saudi deal with Israel might be that the current Israeli government falls but is replaced with more centrists who will agree to sit with Netanyahu in return for making a deal with the Saudis that would probably be good for the country. At least that’s what some people in Israel are hoping will happen. The reason the government would change is that the Saudi deal would include agreements regarding the Palestinians that it is clear the present right-wing coalition would never agree to. Under present circumstances, they refuse to sit with Netanyahu but perhaps a deal with Saudi Arabia could change the calculus. I have this bad feeling that someday we will wake up to see that fundamentalists have taken over Saudi Arabia just like Iran fell over 50 years ago, and they will have all this nuclear stuff. Or that MBS will some day simply throw out the Americans and make big problems for everyone. I hear he’s competent but I don’t think he’s trustworthy, and it’s not a good thing that the whole country hinges on this one man who rules only by fear and has no friends anywhere.
The NY Times Magazine had an article about Netanyahu and one of its points is that all these normalization deals with Israel involve the trading of Israeli spyware used to monitor people by Arab dictators. Meaning that these heads of state find Israeli spyware technology so seductive that the Palestinians and public opinion in the Arab street be damned. Interesting what actually makes things change after 75 years.
I’ve been watching Israel over the past summer with total disgust as this judicial reform thing goes forward. Prime Minister Netanyahu gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal saying the reform bill was dead and then only a few weeks later tried to ram it through the parliament. You can imagine how much credibility he has at this point. Most American Jews don’t support this government and don’t feel supportive of people who broke their word to the world Jewish community about allowing religious ceremonies at the Western Wall due to deals they made with ultra-orthodox parties in Israel for political purposes. This has happened both with a national unity government and a right-wing government, telling Jews outside of Israel that no matter who is in power, the rest of them don’t mean anything to them. This is a lesson not lost on world Jewry and it is clear to me that if Israel gets in trouble with Iran or anyone else, American Jews are not going to drop what they’re doing and put Israel first like they might have in 1967 or 1973. The feeling is therefore mutual.
I expect to see Americans get more hostile toward Israel as it increasingly does not reflect Western values, and for 90% of American Jews to be increasingly disinterested. Republicans will become less supportive about foreign aid and Democrats will simply become hostile toward the country. I’ve warned about this for over a decade but I can see it on the horizon. Surveys show that only 6% of American Jews think Israel is important to how they vote and that Jews under age 50 are much less emotionally attached to the country, so I don’t expect as much of a lobby to exist in the next generation. The 10% that are Orthodox will scream bloody murder but count for less because the truth is their money didn’t build the country and is directed toward narrow religious and political purposes that are not strategically important. That community barks loudly but is counting for less. Incidentally, look at funding for Israel by Jewish Federation umbrella organizations. That has gone way down. When I was in Australia, I saw several Israelis who moved or are moving away and said that they felt their army service and that of their kids was wasted creating a country that is now being given over to the Ultra-Orthoox sector. I’m sure there are many people in Middle Israel that feel this way and that will want to leave the country. There are plenty of articles out there about Israelis looking for foreign passports and those are the ones with the most education and wealth. I recently was at a conference where everything about Israel was discussed except for the relationship between Israel and its Diaspora, and people just ignored the subject or wished it away. It’s a real issue and it’s not going to be dealt with by a few nice speeches and advertising campaigns on social media.
Why is there a story about transgender people virtually every day in the newspaper? Sometimes there are several stories in one day’s paper. Are we talking about more than 1% of the general population? Are there more stories about transgenders than Jews (about 2% of the population)? Something is wrong when stories about such a small percentage of the general population become so prevalent. It gives ammunition to those who feel the media is elitist and doesn’t represent the concerns of average people. You’d think unions were all over the place from what you read in the papers. In fact, only 6% of private sector workers are covered by unions. (In 1970, that figure was 29%.)
I know that some people may not agree, but I actually think that Joe Biden has been probably in the top third of US presidents in the last century. This is an impossible job at an impossible time between a pandemic and two major enemies stirring up trouble. He’s done a good job delivering results through a dysfunctional Congress and managing world affairs. He deserves a lot more credit than he is getting.
All that said, Biden is in more trouble than he realizes. Unless you’re in a labor union, prices have gone way up for things normal people buy and income has not kept up. If you asked people if it would be worth $20,000 a year in extra expenses to have gotten the $2,000 worth of stimulus money one time, they would probably be thrilled to unwind the whole thing. I had lunch at a Pret a Manger and it cost me $27 for a salmon plate and a mango sunshine bowl. A few years ago that was $15. The cheapest haircuts for men have gone from $20 to $35 in Manhattan. Besides, I am not forgiving the Democrats for welching on giving back the state and local tax deduction that they promised they would restore if elected that the Republicans, who tried to punish people in blue states, took away. The Democrats will pay for this because many people feel that even if Trump sucks, the Republican party was better for them. The Republicans will win the following 2 arguments: Voting for Biden means voting for Kamala Harris, whom nobody except a bunch of progressives wants, and that Biden’s incompetence in Afghanistan brought about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and whetted the Chinese appetite for Taiwan. Trump is a bumbler but did not do things that would have caused the Russians to invade. Under Trump, the Russians could have just destabilized Ukraine into submission and nobody would have noticed or cared. Give Putin some credit – the way he knocked off Prigozhin (the guy who started the mutiny from Wagner) was creative. At least the guy didn’t fall out of some window. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
All that remains is for any normal Republican to run against Biden. But if it is Trump, I will vote for Biden even if it means a vote for Kamala Harris. She probably won’t be any worse than George Bush who was widely viewed as an idiot at the time; she will have advisors and seems genuine and honest; at least she is not a vindictive charlatan moron who is backed by people who don’t give a damn about the Constitution and want to subvert it from Day One. She will hopefully rise to the occasion if she has to serve. Hopefully she will appoint an excellent vice president that will reassure the country.
Let’s talk about France. Although the natives have been restless during the summer with strikes and demonstrations, the country has a lot to crow about. Just look at these stats: Lowest unemployment rate in 15 years at 6.9%. Life expectancy is 6 years higher than US and obesity rate far lower. Poverty rate is half the US and well below rest of Europe’s average. School is compulsory from age 3. They take in more taxes than any OECD country except for Denmark but spend more on social services. There are twice as many patents filed as UK and more than the average of Europe’s. They have the EU’s most profitable bank and its 3 luxury brand companies are more profitable than America’s top tech firms. My interest is piqued, and I visited Paris this month for a few days to see some new cool hotel properties and museums. Macron has his quirks but at least strikes me as a still youthful (in a vigorous way) but serious player. Why can’t the Democrats or Republicans put someone up for president that is his equal?
And now for your reading pleasure are travel notes on our summer trip to Hawaii, Australia, Singapore and San Francisco, as well as my recent visit to Paris and Versailles.
Travel Notes Grand Summer Tour 2023
We went on a 5½ week trip to Hawaii, Australia, Singapore and San Francisco. My kids have Australian passports and we wanted them to learn about their Ozzie heritage and meet their family where a grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins live. We spent about 2 weeks in Sydney as our base and toured Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef and the Blue Mountains. It is wintertime in Australia and this made touring more comfortable throughout than it would be if we came at year-end. We didn’t see all the flies or mosquitoes that people complain about and about the only thing we lacked were heated pools because people don’t heat them during the winter since it gets so hot during their summer. We were lucky that our trip went off without a hitch – we were warned that Australia was not yet ready for prime time after its pandemic, but by the time we got there, things were functioning smoothly. We had 3-day stopovers in Hawaii, Singapore and San Francisco to break up the trip. This is not written as a journal; I’ve summarized each part of the trip to make it a faster and more concise read.
We visited before the big fire in Maui and, although we originally planned to go to Maui, we went to Honolulu instead because Maui is overpriced, over-developed in contrast to its rugged bohemian image, and you have to take a connecting flight, which scared us since we had to connect to a flight to Sydney and there were reports of big delays and missed connections due to airport construction. This was our third visit to Honolulu and there is plenty here to enjoy and the Kahala resort works well as it is 15 minutes from Waikiki but serene with its own beautiful beach (the other primo hotel, the Halekulani hotel in Waikiki, does not have a beach). We flew Hawaiian airlines which goes nonstop (now Delta does too). We prayed for no delays because the airline is hit or miss. It’s a budget airline but you can fly with Amex points. There are no lie-flat seats or internet or vegetarian meals on request and what they give is fair. Bring food on board. The telephone agents are consistently among the dumbest in the industry; get a supervisor on the line to get anything done.
Tourist alert for Honolulu: If you want to hike on Diamond Head, you need to purchase a pass online to get in. Do this prior to arrival to avoid disappointment. Consider hiking late afternoon just before the park closes; it’s actually more pleasant than going at 9 in the morning in the sunshine. It’s a full 30 minute walk with lots of stairs and uphill. Coming down is much faster. There is a truck by the entrance selling Dole pineapple whip so you don’t have to go to the Dole plantation to get it.
The Kahala Hotel has decent food but it’s basically Hilton quality. The best food is at the Halekulani hotel. They have a good gym, and the pool is larger than it looks. Hertz has a rental car location at the hotel. The spa closes early but you can pay more to get a later treatment. It is an independent hotel with local charm and there are few of these left.
We visited a Buddhist temple on the way to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s a bit hokey at this point with teenage kids and they have shows only on the hour so you have to budget a few hours there if you want to see the place. Blue Hawaii operates helicopter flights near the airport; an hour gives you a great tour of the island. We went to a farmers market near the hotel and took a bicycle tour that goes through a rainforest near downtown Honolulu. Canoe surfing and regular surfing were cancelled due to lack of waves. One day we went on a tour with Alex (oahuphototours.com) to visit some grottoes, beaches and lookouts and get some cool treats such as Portuguese donuts, acai bowls and shaved ice cream. It’s not that what we saw was so fascinating but it was a nice day out with a local who took us to see some behind the scenes stuff in Hawaii. We had a kosher dinner at the local Chabad house and coincidentally met someone who had just been at my niece’s wedding in Israel that I had attended a few months ago.
Honolulu airport is lousy for lounges and food on departure. Try to bring stuff from your hotel for the flight, although the food for the flight to Sydney was better than it was for the flight to Honolulu. Couldn’t buy a magazine there and newspapers were a day old. Couldn’t check in online for an international flight on Hawaiian airlines and the check-in counters were not interested in checking us in. This is an airport you have to show up to at least 90 minutes prior. If I were to return to Honolulu, I’d want to spend more time at the North Shore. You can skip the Dole Plantation and save the Polynesian Village for the grandkids.
It’s a 10 hour flight to Sydney. They fumigate the plane on arrival; you sit on board and someone starts spraying stuff all over the plane and you wait 10 minutes till you get off. Like we’re a bunch of space aliens. It seems they are afraid there will be insects aboard the American-flag plane that will infect their animals and crops. Arrival at Sydney airport is not so orderly; signage is poor but when you figure it out, there are electronic gates for you to pass through without having to stand in line at a counter.
We stayed in the Meriton Suites, a serviced apartment hotel in the Bondi Junction area of Sydney. It is like being above a regional bus and train station. It is about a 15-20 minute drive to downtown and many of the eastern suburbs are close to Bondi as well as Bondi Beach where I saw people surfing without wetsuits in 57 degree (F) water. There is a large shopping mall (Westfield) next block and plenty of conveniences including many medical offices, gyms (one good one is in the Westfield mall) and food places. It’s a good place to set as a base because these apartments cost much less than hotel rooms (although you get less cleanup service in return). But the Meriton also has a fairly decent gym which they have promised to upgrade, indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. At the time of our visit major renovations and repairs were going on but I assume that in the future things will get a lot better there. It’s a good idea to ask for a fan for your bedroom and to learn how to use the bathroom sink without banging your head against the cabinets above it. They have some beautiful penthouse suites with wraparound terraces with great city and harbor views and cathedral ceilings with skylights, and these suites get better cleaning service and better appliances and toiletries. But you can get stuck with weekend parties next door with large noisy groups and you have to ride the elevators all the way to the top floors. Even these suites are cheaper than low-level hotel rooms in top city hotels.
I got yummy things from the food court in the mall to bring to grandma’s apartment for daily breakfast where the kids would show up. The quality of the bakery and other items was better than what I can find on the upper west side of Manhattan. Sydney has beautiful public transportation services with pretty buses, light rail and subway trains that are double deckers. You can use a credit card to punch in and out without having to buy any cards. Jeremy “represented” New York City by trying to jump over the turnstiles. Some of them are quite high.
Our first full day we took a 4 hour orientation tour around the city visiting almost all districts and stopped to see various highlights. No need to just list them here. Dinner at the only kosher meat restaurant in town Pita Mix and the only thing you want to order there is anything with chicken that would be cooked fresh. We went to a stadium to see a women’s soccer game between Panama and France as part of the FIFA World Cup. Tickets were cheap if you bought them online early on at about $30 each, and those were for very good seats. They had cute merchandise and the food at the stadiums is much healthier than America. We sat next to a bunch of Frenchies; the game was not close but it was fun because the crowed kept cheering on the hapless Panamanians who actually had a few moments of glory.
One thing I like about Australia is NO TIPPING! Not at the barber, taxi, cashier or anyplace. At a restaurant you can leave something but nothing like America.
We visited the Sydney Museum hoping to learn some nuggets about the city’s history. They don’t tell you hardly anything about the city’s history. There is no museum here to tell you about Australia either unless you go to the capital city Canberra which is a few hundred miles away and which tourists don’t visit. It’s a missed chance for the nation to tell tourists something about itself. We noticed also at the Jewish Museum that history stops pretty much after World War II; in Singapore, the local Jewish museum is much smaller but more informative about the community. The Gallery of New South Wales added a new building and it is worth seeing the inside as well as the outside both for its art and architecture. We walked through the Botanical Gardens which are free and right in the city center and the path lets out at the opera house. We went on a harbor cruise with Captain Cook for afternoon tea; they put out lovely vegetarian-friendly items for us and everyone really liked the 90 minute tour. On Shabbat, we visited some of the local synagogues and went to an unusual Friday evening prayer service that our cousin was playing the drums for; what was noteworthy there was the rather large group of enthusiastic secular Jews that showed up because they wanted to be there. We had Friday night dinner with takeout from “Millies” that was certainly better than the takeout we get here in NYC.
We made 3 different visits to Sydney and I will come back to Sydney later.
AYERS ROCK / ULURU (The OUTBACK – and I don’t mean the restaurant chain)
We left Sydney via Quantas Airlines on a 3 hour flight to Ayers Rock. Qantas has a very nice domestic terminal with a good lounge and nice concourse. You can arrive here 45 minutes before a flight. Security here is easier; you don’t need to show ID at all at the airport or to get on a domestic flight. And you can take water and shoes. But no nail scissors. They took those. Go figure. Ayes Rock has an airport with no gates and one baggage claim carousel. It gets only a few flights a day. Shuttle buses take you to the nearby hotels about a 10 minute ride away. There are no taxis and the road to and from the airport is empty because there are few private cars; this is federal land known as the Outback in the Northern Territories. Our morning flight was mostly empty. Tourism here has not yet fully recovered. There are still very few flights here from other parts of the country.
The first night we stayed at Sails at the Desert, a hotel that used to be a Sheraton and it has received mixed reviews. It is designed for bus tours. It was better than we expected; the interior courtyard felt like a kibbutz guest house in Israel. The rooms we had were a suite and a connecting room (under the theory that the better rooms were likely to be decent) (rooms 263 and 267), and buffets for dinner and breakfast were very good and the rooms were recently renovated. A few minutes walk brings you to a town square with some shops and galleries, a supermarket and pharmacy, a travel services office and some eateries. There is a theater with hourly programs such as a documentary and presentation about astronomy. Some of these eateries close for the day at 2 which is weird since people are out on day trips and come home around 5. There is a nice overlook for sunset views of Ayers Rock. The hotel lacks a gym and the pool was freezing. Here in the winter months (August is winter) it’s not very cold outside (except at night) but they don’t heat the pools because the other 9 months of the year it is very hot outside day and night. The good part of being here in winter is that you can enjoy the outside without sweating a lot and you don’t have a bunch of flies all over the place like you do in summer. A lot of the staff in these hotels are foreigners on work visas; you hardly see any Australians working here. Aboriginals sit on the grass and draw pictures and sell them. These people are not terribly impressive to look at; think of that Peanuts character Pig Pen with all the dirt swirling around that person. In the evening, we saw a drone show that probably made sense if you were high on drugs. They gave out wine and popcorn but that was probably the wrong thing to give out. It was some longwinded story about a dog with bad spirits that nobody understood. We were told that a committee of locals spent years trying to decide what story to tell. This is exactly what happens when a large committee decides. Some of us did a dot-painting workshop that was about understanding and creating aboriginal art; that was actually a very good activity.
Something all the rage in Australia these days is to acknowledge the ancestral owners of the land. Be it on an airplane, a business meeting, a wacky prayer service, just about anything. It’s become so commonplace that people have become immune to hearing it. It’s just empty virtue signaling – “We acknowledge that we stole your land, we are not doing anything about it, but we want you to know we care enough to give lip service to it.” I hope this doesn’t catch on too much in America. There is going to be a referendum in October in Australia to create a parliamentary committee to deal with aboriginal concerns. People are concerned this will lead to even more money and property being given to aboriginals; so far these efforts have little to show for a lot of money being thrown at them (often with little regard to how it would be spent or actually help them). So in places like Ayers Rock where there are only about 500 of them around and yet 25% of all the taxes raised from the tourists goes to them, they are still living in squalor. I’m told that even if you put them into decent housing they just go and smash the windows and don’t care because they probably prefer to live out in the bushlands. The most probable truth is that the tribal chieftains are hoarding the money for themselves and the White Ozzies don’t care because it’s not their concern what happens with the money after they give it to them. Anyway, other than with liberals in the blue states of New South Wales and Victoria, the other rural parts of Australia hate all this and the referendum is likely to fail miserably.
After a night here, we transferred to the hotel we were actually coming to see: 131 Longitude. We had been warned to expect all sorts of delays and cancellations with airlines domestically so we wanted to pad a day into our trip before checking in. Turned out that everything we did in Australia went off without a hitch. Anyway, 131 Longitude is part of a group of Baillie Lodges in Australia that cater to mainly foreign tourists who tend to make the rounds of these places as they tour Australia. We saw some of the same people here as we would see at another lodge location. This is a small “camp” of tents housing about 40 people at a time with views straight over to Ayers Rock (Uluru in the native aboriginal language) and to Kata Tjuta (the other rock formation known as the Olgas in English). They are about an hour’s drive apart and both are to be seen. Kata Tjuta is really about 30 rocks that all look like just a few from far away. Uluru is one big rock and it is the one you usually see when you see images of Australia. Both of these sites are really cool at sunset and at sunrise when they appear to be different shades of red. They are in a national park. Some areas have restrictions on photography although enforcement depends on the sanctimoniousness of your guide. We stayed here two nights in the only setup available for a family with 2 kids that was not a tent because there are no connecting tents. That is the Dune Pavillion. It costs about the same as two tents but it is a much better setup and it is a stunning piece of architecture with a proper roof and poster windows facing the landscape and Uluru up fairly close and Kata Tjuta in the distance, but because it is all semi-desert landscape you can see far away. You can still sleep on the back porch in sleeping bags under the stars and here you see lots of stars – the milky way actually shows up in the sky. This place also offers sophisticated food and menus with your name printed on them, a nice spa, activities and great guides. We didn’t want to be stuck on group tours leaving at 6am so we paid extra and hired private guides to go where we wanted to go when we wanted to go there. That was money very well spent because the group tours don’t always go to the best places since they are for groups. For instance, the 4 hour hike in the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta is not a group tour (it’s a medium hike and they don’t encourage it prearrival because a good number of people cannot do it), but it was a highlight of our visit. And we could leave at 8 or 9 instead of at 6, although in the summer you’d want to leave at 4 because it gets so hot that they close off places after 11. And instead of killing an hour at the local cultural center, we could leave after 15 minutes. Another reason to go private is that the hotel did not make clear prearrival what all our options were in a way that we could fully understand them, so it’s good to be able to make some changes on the fly after you arrive which you can do if you are with your own guide. For what it costs to be here, the extra expense, which is not all that significant after you add up 4 people on Viator tours, is smart money.
The hotel provides sunset excursions to viewing points of Uluru with canapes, a night-time visit to the Field of Lights which is really cool (think of a big field with tons of little colored lights in all kinds of formations as far as the eye can see), dinner under the stars with poetry and star-gazing, riding around the semi-arid desert on an e-bike, a sunset walk around Uluru and a similar walk in the morning. There is no gym and the pool again is cold during the winter. Funny but even after 4 hours of hiking I still want my exercise in a gym that feels like my normal routine, especially if I am eating large meals. There is a helipad by the resort and we took a chopper to view the two rock formations and then head over to the airport for our departure. We brought snacks from the hotel to the plane but the café in the airport was not bad at all. Qantas leases out a charter from Alliance Air for the 2 hour flight to Cairns. Our shoes were filthy after 2 days here; good idea to clean them up on departure.
PORT DOUGLAS / CAIRNS
Port Douglas is an hour’s drive from Cairns airport. The roads have been greatly improved over the past 20 years. Our hotel is the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas (not to be confused with another Sheraton Mirage on the Gold Coast hundreds of miles away). This resort has rooms built around a giant lagoon and is near an iconic beach which is not really open for swimming due to the presence of crocodiles. The hotel has a gym 10 minutes walk (or a few minutes bike ride) away and two swimming pools, but again during the winter months they are cold. The hotel is a Sheraton and it’s billed as a 5-star hotel but it’s really 4 star with meh food, a spa that closes at 5 and a gym that closes at 6, and every dining outlet is closed by 9. It’s not a place being run for the convenience of guests who go out on day trips. There are only 3 taxis in the whole city and no courtesy shuttle the mile or so into town. You have to pay $7 per person each way to get into a paid shuttle that has a monopoly on taking people around the city. For a family of 4, that means it costs $56 just to go into town. You need to go to town to buy cream cheese because it’s not on the breakfast buffet. I don’t know what else you put on your bagel with smoked salmon. You can get laundry done by the pound at BagWash up the street, but they don’t deliver or pick up from the hotel because the hotel doesn’t work with them. There is a Chabad about 50 miles away in some town, but they don’t deliver kosher food unless you want to pay for the taxi to bring it in.
The reason to be here is that there are several day trips that are fun to do from this area. It’s also a resort area with a pretty little town and some other resorts nearby, although none of them are full service resorts like the Sheraton claims to be. Cairns is a larger city which we will go to later which is closer to certain activities, but it is a down-market area and Port Douglas is more upscale with some good restaurants and infinitely more charm. QuickSilver runs a catamaran service from Port Douglas marina that is a 90 minute trip to a pontoon in the middle of the sea where there are reefs that you can easily snorkel to or view via tourist submersibles. They also have good lunch and they take photos. Those that took the sea-sickness pills had a better time. It’s an entertaining day, albeit an expensive one. You can take a helicopter ride back from the pontoon which is a lot faster than sailing back and go over the rainforests and reefs and land right by the hotel. The kids loved snorkeling; Karen and I did this thing called the Ocean Walk where you put on helmets that let you breathe underwater without having to put on scuba gear or deal with snorkels. They arrange to have big fish swim right up to your face. You have these helmets and various wetsuits on so you won’t get hurt, but I thought the whole thing was gross. I’m just not into animals swimming around me And I don’t like snorkeling because I don’t like the sea water going into my mouth and nose and I see fuzzy things in a mask because I am very near-sighted. After a few minutes of looking at fuzzy-looking fish and coral reefs, I’ve had enough. I guess I’m not cut out to be a navy diver.
Some good restaurants in Port Douglas were Zincs and Wrasse & Roe. This town closes early; the ice cream place is closed by 9 even on weekends and the pizza delivery place closes at 10. There is a convenience store open till 1am. The taxi service has been unable to increase his license from 3 to 4 cars for years; the town officials take kickbacks to give the hotel shuttle service a monopoly. The taxis are of course cheaper, friendlier and point to point as opposed to shared shuttles with 10 passengers aboard. Local officials also take kickbacks to give Chinese tour operator busses exemptions from regulations affecting other tour operators and local attractions take kickbacks to give certain groups priority over other groups (such as patting the koalas at Kiranda village). It’s all very corrupt here behind the scenes and unfortunately tourists have to pay for all this.
Now to some day tours: We went on two day tours, each with guides from Tours By Locals. One guide took us to a river with crocodiles alongside. You go on a boatride for about an hour and the captain points out crocodiles and tells you about the local wetlands in the Daintree Rainforest. I thought it was boring after 20 minutes but people like it. The guide kept telling us that crocodiles were wonderful creatures with a bad rap and that everything else including 98% of all incidents are the fault of stupid humans. Lunch at a tea house in the forest with exotic fruits and an interesting gay couple who founded and run it. The river runs about 50 feet below it but because of the exact point at which the river turns, flooding trashed the restaurant and it had to be rebuilt. This restaurant is only open to tour groups but we got in because we were with a tour guide on a tour. Drove through the village of Daintree to Mosman Gorge and did some trail promenade walks in the forest with swing bridges, and the kids swam in a rather cold swimming hole that is OK to swim in during the summer months otherwise it has too much current. Saw a beach town, a lookout point over Port Douglas’s 4-mile beach, and this 7 hour tour was much enjoyed.
The next day we went to Kuranda Park and rode the skyride which is a big gondola going over the rainforest. Get a diamond view pass or else divide your group into groups of 2 at the Barron Falls stop because the lines at that stop to get on the gondola get very long. At Kuranda Village, there are lots of tourist traps as well as places to have lunch. We did that but continued to the Jacques family coffee plantation nearby which had an excellent restaurant and where Jeremy took a gyrocopter ride over the farm fields. This plantation is run by a South African family that has tried several times in Australia to get something going. Saw birds and wallabies at Granite Creek Gorge in Chewko and the kids loved walking along the rocks and feeding them little pellets. It was a trip highlight and it’s off the beaten path. We saw kangaroos at a local golf course in a town called Mareeba. Visited a mango farm which sold mango wines and liquors. Almost ran over a very poisonous snake crossing the road in front of us. HISSSSS! That was a full day. That evening we watched Australia win the FIFA quarterfinal game in a long shootout. The nation erupted into a frenzy, only to be disappointed a week later at the semi-final.
We transferred to Cairns to the Shangri-La hotel at the marina, a few blocks away from the riff-raff at town center. It’s a decent hotel but I hope there are better ones. Chances are, we’d have no reason to return to find out. There were two activities here that were more convenient to access: One was Barron River Water Rafting. It’s a 90 minute ride down roughly class-2-3 rapids. They are very safety conscious here. It’s a good ride for families with some thrill; some lady fell overboard. Not my favorite expedition since all the rafts go down the river at the same time and this slows things down. At night we went to the Night Market in Cairns which is pretty crappy with lots of laborers there, but a great place for them to go for a foot massage or a haircut. Our second great adventure in Cairns is the Skypark Cairns by AJ Hackett. You can actually go bungee jumping here. And more. You can ride a bike off the roof or run off the roof. Jeremy did the run-off jump from the roof. It looked like Jesus was falling from the sky and touching the top of the water. Good thing my wife wasn’t there to look. He had a great time! For us mortals there was the Swing, which is a big swing that pulls up and back and then lets go for about a dozen big heavy swings. That’s a plenty good thrill for Elizabeth and I. Uber works here in Cairns and we had no trouble getting to and from this spot from our hotel. There is a college next door so it keeps Uber busy.
About this halfway point in our trip we are getting sick of the menus in Australia – every restaurant offers barramundi fish and the pasta is gnocchi with pumpkin filling. It’s like being in a communist country. One thing we are happy about is that all the flies and mosquitoes that you get during the hot summer months are not happening for us because it is pretty pleasant at this time of year. At this point I tried to book a dermatologist appointment back in Sydney and you couldn’t get an appointment for months according to the receptionists. But if you asked them to look for cancellations, it seems that on Fridays there are tons of them and then they ask what time you would like to come in. These jobs are among the first that will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence which wouldn’t be so lazy to just look in the calendar to find an open appointment instead of jumping to “Next Available” on the computer program.
We headed to the general aviation section of Cairns airport to a little terminal building with good snacks and got ready to get on a small Cessna plane of about 12 passengers for the one hour flight to Lizard Island. You get a real mix of people going to Lizard Island; some Ozzies and a good number of international tourists from North America and Europe. It’s a pretty ride over the reefs and sea to a small island about 20 miles off the coast, but just far away from any city along the coast. A lot of Australian coastline is deserted. Remember Fantasy Island “De Plane, De Plane?” Well, that’s what basically greeted us at the airstrip which had a seating area and some staff members standing around with golf carts and waving to greet us. Lizard Island Resort is actually owned by an American company. It is a small resort mostly with bungalows and two nice structures: one is the Pavillion, a striking glass-filled structure for 2 people facing the beach. Then there is the villa for 4, which we took. Finally, the House with 4 bedrooms which is in a secluded spot about a half mile away that is for celebrities and VIP’s who want to be completely away from everyone else. This resort is meant for people to get up close to the Reef. You don’t come here just to sit on the beach; you’re here for snorkeling and/or diving. There are other things you can do here but that’s the reason you come. Your cellphone shouldn’t work, although some phone calls came through the WiFi network which does work here.
We did a lot of activities during our 3 day visit here. We started with the glass bottom kayaks which are really cool because you can see the reef just below you without having to get in the water. The water was not as cold as I expected but it is cool in the mid 70’s Fahrenheit. Sunset walk on one side of the island with a pretty footpath. Astro-photography standing in the middle of the airstrip with tons of stars and nothing going on around us. That’s a cool activity where you run around with colored lights and the photographer makes art out of it all against the backdrop of the stars. We visited a research center on the island but that was pretty lame because nobody was there doing anything. We did a snorkeling tour of the reef as a family with a dive instructor. You know he’s a dude after he’s been pulling you around in the water with a rope for an hour and then you later see him swimming way offshore just for fun as you’re out on your sunset cruise. This resort also has good food (I thought it was a bit better than Longitude 131) and it did have a gym and a pool (but the pool was also freezing). On our second full day here, Karen and Elizabeth went on a snorkeling dive to an outer reef while Jeremy and I stayed on shore. Karen actually enjoyed the snorkeling more than Jeremy did. You can learn to scuba dive here but it’s not smart to spend your time here learning how to do scuba because you spend your time in a swimming pool not seeing anything. And you don’t need to; you can see plenty just right here in the beach area with a mask. There is a spa here as well. In the afternoon, we took a small boat out to a clam garden and some of us swam around looking at it. The hotel said we could take the boat out ourselves. I didn’t want to but I had no choice. Bad move… I cut myself (took a month to heal) trying to lift the stubborn motor and getting it to start for the return trip. We had a radio but Jeremy immediately misplaced it. They sent someone out to rescue us but by then our boat was caught up in the reef. The guy said it was his first rescue in the 2 months he had been working there. My advice remains as always: Have an instructor present doing anything you really don’t know how to do. People make fun of me, but things always go wrong when you are operating above your paygrade. We took sunset photos with the resident photographer and those came out really well. It’s a good thing to have some good photos taken at least once a year on a trip. The professional stuff is usually better than whatever we can come up with and they know where the good shots are. At 131 Longitude, it was painful that the guests were all taking pictures of each other at the sunset spots because the staff left the people to themselves. We got 50 photos back that all sucked. We complained and they later took us to get some better photos but those were during the day when the colors are just not as special. For our last activity, the others swam in the water with the turtles. And then we left on that Cessna back to Cairns and waited in the airport a few hours for our connecting flight on Virgin Australian airlines back to Sydney. We arrived just before 8pm and made it to the airport food court just before it closed down. We knew that by the time we got to our hotel everything would be closed. Pizza is something that is not popular here in food courts; much more Asian food than anything else. Lots of Asians live here now. Half the people you will see in almost any restaurant are Asian.
Lizard Island is expensive but especially at current exchange rates it is about half the price of similar lodging in St. Barths in the Caribbean. And here there are more activities. If you’re not into water stuff, you’d be bored here. This time of year is good because summer gets sticky and buggy. If you’re in this country, there are not a lot of high-end resorts. This one offers good value for money and the weather during America’s summer months is pleasant with generally sunny days mainly about 80 degrees, although people kept telling us how lucky we were with the weather and sea conditions throughout our visit. Evidently before we came it wasn’t nearly as good either here or in Port Douglas.
We spent another 2 weeks in Sydney, punctuated in the middle by an overnight visit to the nearby Blue Mountains to break it up a bit. Spent a day in Sydney looking at Jewish things such as the Great Synagogue which has been kept up very nicely since it was built a full century ago, and the Sydney Jewish Museum which tells you that Jews were in the first fleet of people in the late 1700’s to come to the country from England. We went to the Central Synagogue for Shabbat services, a very impressive structure supported by some local billionaires. Jeremy was very impressed with the place. They were celebrating an anniversary of their synagogue with a visiting cantor and a full choir for the occasion. I had a question for the rabbi: In the daily prayers, there is a personal requests section and we pray for rain during the rainy season. Jews were once an agrarian people and the prayers are based on a world at that time a thousand or more years ago. The question is whose rainy season? Nobody knew about Australia yet. In America, the prayer is said from December to March/April. What about Australia? I looked on Google for the answer and saw many long dissertations that never actually came down with a final answer. The answer: Australia follows the Northern Hemisphere calendar for this purpose so as to not create confusion. So now you know.
We went to an Australian Rules Football match; the game was very lopsided with a 123 point spread, but it was fun to watch with a local Ozzie fan explaining things to us. Their stadiums are very well built and have good food and they do fun things like sing a team song at the end. That song for the Sydney Giants by the way sounds like a klezmer tune that must have been written by a Jewish composer. It was really hokey and sounded like school. After the game you can run down to the field and start throwing and kicking footballs. And we took photos with the team mascot. The stadium was in the Olympic park district, a whole section of town built for the Olympics that has been kept up with various stadiums and residential areas. They built highways to the city from here and you can get from here all across Sydney in less than half an hour with a network of tunnels and bridges that makes the city very navigable. It costs money to use the roads but you get where you want to go. This may be an important reason why Sydney consistently places within the top 5-10 cities worldwide for livability.
We walked Bondi Beach and surrounding cliffs and beaches. Had yummy food in a trendy area called Darlinghurst (which is where the Jewish museum is). The kids were thrilled to be having ramen at what turned out to be a very good place. After school, you see all the school kids in their uniforms hanging out at the mall.
BLUE MOUNTAINS: This is a tourist area about 2 hours drive from Sydney. We were supposed to go to a resort just beyond this area called the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort but it recently closed after some floods and mudslides trashed the area. This overnight trip was to visit the Janolan Caves and the Katoomba area. Spent a day going in a rental car (Avis has a location in Maroubra suburb but there are no rental car locations in Bondi Junction) to the Blue Mountains. Again, there are new roads and you can get around better. It was major stress for me to drive on the wrong side of the road for 2 days especially with winding mountain roads. It’s about 3 hours to the Jenolan Caves, which are crystal caves with all sorts of cool formations inside. There are various tours but conditions have been injured by floods they had a few years ago that have not been completely fixed. You must book ahead online and confirm that whatever you booked will actually happen. They don’t let you book too far ahead for that reason. Because of these conditions, they are not yet open to bus tours so the groups are intimate. The Hydro Majestic Hotel is on the way near Katoomba; it’s a good rest stop with a nice café and gift shop and with good views. A recent purchaser has restored the lobby areas into a beautiful art deco masterpiece and is supposed to be redoing the rooms and adding a spa. This is a place to watch. Its sister hotel Lilianfels, where we stayed overnight, is resting on its reputation as a Orient Express 5-star property which it no longer is. It has facilities such as an indoor pool but its gym is gross, there is no hotel concierge and the fine dining restaurant’s chef at Echoes next door left in the middle of our dinner because it was quitting time for him (even though the restaurant was open) and nobody offered us desert or warned us that he was leaving. The main site here is Scenic World a few minutes from the hotel. They have a railway that goes right down a mountain pretty fast at a heavy angle, a gondola that crosses the canyon, and some pretty trails that views things such as a waterfall and the local forest. You can ride atop the gondola at certain times (think of “Jaws” in the Moonraker James Bond movie) if you book ahead and pay big bucks for it.
Sydney suffers from being a nanny state which is very risk averse. You expect Ozzies to be tough and in the Olympic Village I saw a few that looked like giants, but generally this is a very compliant docile risk averse country where people want to be told what to do all the time, they like having a socialist system in place to take care of them, and where anytime something bad happens once or twice, they shut down all options so that it can never happen again. So there are strict curfews here for bars and restaurants because some kids got in a fight late one night. Bus doors in the middle of buses don’t open anymore to let people on and off after some kid lost his life in a freak accident involving a bus door. It’s not a complete curfew (you can go to a movie or get food at a McDonalds or a gelateria. There are secret parties. They are so environmentally conscious that you can’t find plastic bags or eating utensils. You have to eat your gelato with tongue depressors. During Covid this country was beyond the pale in terms of being an awful police state that drove its people crazy in the name of keeping people healthy. My cousin lives in a house with other kids on the spectrum; one worker tested positive for covid this past month. They have shut down the house for 2 months so that even parents can’t visit their kids. This is now 2 years later with covid vaccines and a disease that is not nearly as dangerous as it was. And they’re still going nuts here. What do you think this does to that kid or to his parents?
One day we took a seaplane from Rose Bay terminal (which used to be the international terminal till the 1950’s) about 20 minutes to a suburb and a restaurant-hotel called Johan’s. It was probably the best meal of the trip on a cliff overlooking the sea. This was a great way to spend a memorable day in Sydney which we did with Karen’s sister and her husband. After I had a bad chiropractor mess me up, Glen Cameron at 3 Bronte Road at Bondi Junction was a good one. I went with the kids on a Beast-like ride in Sydney Harbor with a speedboat that does sharp turns and stops in the water and then a tsunami comes over the boat thoroughly soaking us. I didn’t realize our shoes and socks would be that bad with sea water all over. Good thing I had a laundry room back at our hotel. The kids wanted to see some of the sites they see on TikTok so we went to trendy rooftop AP Bakery near Surrey Hilll near the central part of the city to sit with beautiful people amid the beautiful sky with skywriting overhead asking MARRY ME? We stopped at the Queen Victoria Building in center city which is something to walk thru. Our kids went indoor rock climbing with a cousin. On the TV news, the leading items were a shark attack and a husband hitting his wife with a hammer. In Australia, you don’t have to hear about Donald Trump anymore.
Walked around a pretty area called the North Shore across the harbor from Sydney’s opera house. There is an amusement park there and an urban garden called Wendy’s Secret Garden which is something to see. Flea Market at Glebe on Sundays in a trendy area for second-hand clothes. Walked the Hermitage Trail from Rose Bay to Vaucluse neighborhood. It was about 45 minutes of a pretty harbor-side walk. You can also walk the cliffs on the ocean side opposite, but that’s another walk. We took an Uber over to Doyles which is a seafood restaurant on the pier at the end of town. There is also a takeout section with seating. It’s a ritual to go there and see the sunset. There is a stand next to it that is not Doyles but wants you to think it is. We took a photo with a koala bear at the Sydney Zoo at Darling Harbor. There are various zoos but this is the one that lets you take a photo with the bear. You can’t touch the bear and you might not want to; they have sharp claws. George Greek restaurant on the waterfront at Darling Harbor/Bangaroo (the two areas are next to each other) offers a good lunch. Bangaroo Canteen is a great food court during the week in an office building. The subway system runs right into the Bangaroo area. We used Uber a lot in Sydney; we noticed that even if they tell you a ride is 2 minutes away it might not be and that if you select the cheapest ride, nobody might accept it and then you can accept a higher fare and see if that gets you a better result. Uber is more of an auction than a reliable indicator of available rides. It was faster to get around Sydney with Uber than with public transport. Time to leave now after being here for 4 weeks.
Judging from the photo pile, everyone enjoyed Singapore. We had tons of photos from our 3 day visit. There are just lots of things to see here and you get nice photos with great color and cool things to see.
Check in for Singapore flights at least 24 hours in advance (it starts at 48 hours). If something is wrong with the online check-in process, it’s hard to fix it within the last 24 hours. Departure from this airport was smoother than I expected, and the lounges are pretty good. Amex has a Centurion lounge here too. Karen kept scaring us about how bad the airports and flights here would be, but it was fine. She was scarred by the bad experiences she had here during her covid-era visit.
Singapore’s Changi airport is very highly rated and I was expecting all of us to be impressed with it. It’s way overrated and gives a bad first impression of the country. Arrival was awful all the way to finding a large taxi to take us because it was not well organized outside. It took us nearly an hour to get out of that airport. They had 4 automated kiosks for an entire terminal and a few counters with people who seemed to be in no rush to process people. There was one heckuva bitchy lady screaming at people to control the lines. There is no VIP service for immigration or business fast track. On departure there were plenty of automated kiosks so the question begs an answer: where were the kiosks for arrivals? In Montreal, the airport has something like 50 of them in the arrivals hall. The airport is not well air conditioned and it is very large to walk. There is a good Pret there by the way. The Singapore lounge is nice but the wait for a shower is over an hour which makes it pretty useless for that purpose. You need a shower there after going through that airport for departure. There is the much-hyped Jewel which is a big shopping mall with some attractions about a ten minute walk from the terminal through a walkway. Neither the walkway nor the shopping mall is air conditioned and unless you figure out that there is a baggage check place in the shopping mall, it is a pain to carry things with you because no trolleys are allowed. The Jewel is worth seeing because it has a giant waterfall in the middle atrium and there are some attractions you might enjoy such as a ropes course and some bouncy stuff. I will discuss this more later. It’s a 15 minute ride to center city and the road still splits into a runway built for F-16’s as you head toward town. Security is still a big thing for the government; every public housing unit has a bomb shelter in it that everyone uses as a closet.
We stayed at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. It is the quintessential hotel you think of with its rich history. It is an oasis in the middle of a city with a big courtyard around which are rooms. We took a historical tour of the hotel and played grammaphone records and a very old piano, and saw the library and the presidential suite. We tried the Singapore Sling cocktail with and without alcohol and voted that the mocktail tasted better. Our Palm Court Suites were dark but spacious and had some of those useless electronics that people over age 50 don’t want to deal with such as a tablet instead of a remote control to make the TV work. The hotel had the first heated pool since Hawaii and it also had a somewhat decent gym.
The last time I was here was in 2005. Things have changed. There is more nightlife and things to do. Gay people are not as ostracized. You can get food after 9pm; 20 years ago everyone on the plane in town who wanted dinner had to go to Denny’s restaurant. The Marina Bay Sands casino complex (MBS) opened in 2010 and it is quite a development with shopping mall, casino, hotel and various attractions built around a huge garden. The hotel has 2,500 rooms and it is a zoo that is not very upscale; it is a 5-10 minute drive from downtown and doesn’t have easy metro connections. It took us 30 minutes to get there by subway from center city and the place is so huge you then walk around for a long time to get anywhere. Raffles or some other hotel nearby such as the Fairmont or JW Marriott is much more centrally located. The Raffles City Mall next door to these hotels is a huge mall with everything you could want including a Marks and Spencers.
There are 4 miles of underground retail space across the center of town and you can use them to avoid the heat at street level. It seems that just about all year long it’s hot here; the only variable is how much it rains. There is no real sense of seasons here since you are at the equator. One happy place of mine is the Movenpick Marche in Suntec City Tower 3 about 5 minutes ride from Raffles. It’s open till 9:30pm and it is a food court with beautiful looking things to eat that also taste very good. It’s a Swiss chain and most of them around the world have closed. I took the kids there for our first meal and they liked it because it is impossible not to find things to eat. The kids wanted local food since they were tired of the same western food each night. We then went for Asian food to the La Pau Sat market which is open at night. Jeremy was salivating at the stalls selling chicken satay. There are plenty of vegetarian options there because you have lots of Hindus who don’t eat meat. There are separate trays for Halal observers. In Singapore, things open later and stay open later, so you can go out at night here and have fun.
We did two day tours of Singapore. The first day was to cover the basics. We went to a waterfront where you could view the famous statue with the lion spouting water and see an old bridge from the Fullerton Hotel. That vista point also gives you a good view of the MBS casino complex. We walked through basement levels of the underground city. Saw two synagogues and a little exhibit that tells you about the local Jewish community. Saw the local community grocery with kosher meat from Melbourne, Australia. Then our tour took a Crazy Rich Asians turn with visits to uber-wealthy neighborhoods to see a 5-star pet hotel, upscale food markets, and strange mansions (ie; one had a helicopter on the roof with various dinosaurs by the front gate; one had a dozen Ferraris parked in front and more down below ground). Orchard Road is the main shopping street (we looked at it but never stopped and figured it was just more international brands one after the other). We visited Chinese, Indian and Arab neighborhoods. We saw a large tower built by one billionaire on top of his old house to have lots of rooms for his extended family. We visited a store with Singaporean branded merchandise such as clothes and crafts. There were some nice things there. The hotel has a shopping arcade next to it; we were told their moon cakes are the best. We tried two of them; we thought they tasted very weird. It’s an Asian palette thing.
The weather here was hot and humid but not as awful as I was expecting and not as rainy as had been predicted. We were expecting nonstop rain but the sun came out quite a bit. We didn’t have any bugs flying around either. We had dinner at the home of one of my friends. Cars and homes are very pricey here and it can cost $10,000 a year just to have a permit just to have the car. People shop a lot in malls because that’s where they can at least afford to buy things to make them happy such as handbags. My friend says that living here is tough because it is expensive, hot all the time and that after a point it gets boring and you have to fly anywhere to get anywhere. And Singapore is far from just about anywhere. It’s also a rather dystopian place where there is a sort of democracy with compulsory voting, but everyone knows who is going to win. Both our guides were excellent and had all the answers, but you’re never quite sure if they say what they feel or what they think they are allowed to say.
Our second day tour was to see Singapore off the tourist track. We visited the local housing authority to see model public housing units. 80% of Singaporeans live in these units but they actually purchase them from the municipality and then own them and can resell them. The units are rather small. They look great in the mockups except that there are no possessions taking up space. To buy anything beyond a closet space, you need to be 35 years old or married in a heterosexual marriage. They want married couples having kids to ensure population growth, which right now is barely replacement rate. They social engineer these housing projects to promote diversity; people seem to like it and intermarriage is common. We went to a Malay-oriented food court and market, a street with peranakan-style homes (a Chinese style), a local bakery selling “on-day” cakes that everyone somewhat liked, and then we walked through the Indian, Arab and Chinese streets and a Chinese Buddhist temple. Lots of interesting murals in these neighborhoods; people don’t actually live here anymore. They are preserved areas for tourists with commercial activity going on during the day. It’s all fake to some extent but it somehow works. Singapore wants everybody in a melting pot and not living among their own kind. The public housing areas (there are 24 of them) are organized into villages with everything you could possibly want built around them. It’s all very perfect and a bit creepy at the same time. I saw “public security” robots walking around public areas. There was a robot cutting the grass at the hotel and a robot moving dishes around at the Movenpick.
The state is a nanny state with tons of rules and fines for noncompliance. Failure to bus your tray at a food court is a $250 fine, for instance. On TV and in videos they show in shopping malls, they are telling you how to vote and that you must vote this week in an election. It’s always cute little cartoon characters telling you what to do or not to do. In the metro stations, there are tons of cameras pointed at you every few feet from every angle intimidating you (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea in NYC where too many people don’t pay the fare). I can only wonder what mainland China must look like at this point and how people must feel. It is very clean and safe here (and we let Elizabeth and Jeremy go around on their own), but you do feel the sense of being in a police state. We were told that 60 years ago Singapore was a lawless state that nobody wanted (even Malaysia threw them out) and that in order to make things work with all the various peoples living there the idea was that there had to be law and order, a melting pot culture, and a common language which wound up being English.
Kids have to go to the army at 18 for 2 years. Orthodox Jewish kids can go to the Israeli army on an exchange program. The two countries have strong military ties. When the country was founded, Israel was said to be the only country that offered support. Here private school is frowned upon and is a thing for “dumb” kids who can’t hack it in public schools. There are also international schools for which you have to get permission to attend. The public schools are very stressful and competitive; not everyone wants them for their kids.
Unique to Asia in Singapore is that public signage is all in English. You might also see another language but you will always see English. Everyone speaks it here. There is lots of great building architecture here. Dubai is also cool but Singapore actually is more of a real city with more flora around since it is not so hot in the summer that everything dies. The flora is even built into the sides of tall buildings. The fonts you see for Singapore Airlines carry through all over Singapore. The country presents itself like a brand. Somewhat like Canada or the Emirates.
Even though you see a lot of wealth and pretty things in the tourist area, if you go one or two blocks away, it gets less glitzy real fast. Toilets can be yuck, floors are broken and it’s not all shiny and new. Not everything works either. They have all these apps that don’t always work. I told you how the airport was awful. So the place puts on a good show but at the end of the day, America and Canada still have better infrastructure running the last mile to your home even if Singapore is impressive when you go into the common areas. Roads and public transport all are excellent but you pay a ton to have a car and to drive it, so it’s not really something for everyone. There are taxis with apps but it’s not always easy to get one. I was not happy that at the Raffles hotel there was no taxi rank and the valet kept calling on apps for taxis. Although they are pretty cheap by American standards.
The kids did a bubble tea making workshop at an industrial building outside the city center. If it weren’t Singapore, I would have expected someone to shoot us when we got off the elevator. It’s called Tea Hee Singapore and the 90 minute experience was fun for the kids. We then went to Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Bar at the top of the MBS hotel where they have a cool infinity pool looking out over the city and where you can have either small plates or a big dinner. We took some OK sunset photos. They don’t let you go outside on the deck to take photos which is a bummer but you can sneak some photos from the restaurant. Liz snuck out onto the deck. Food was decent. It’s essential to book this 30 days in advance online. There is a big sound and light show in the Gardens by the Bay behind the MBS building and it is about a 20 minute walk from the restaurant. It’s a 13 minute show with music and lights and it’s something to see. It’s their version of a Disney night-time show. Bring a bottle of water with you. There is a café nearby but it is a long walk till you arrive at the Gardens. You can get a taxi back at the hotel which is again a long walk. There is a metro station but it is far away despite all the signs telling you to go in a certain direction. Everyone was all sweaty and angry by the time we got back to the hotel over an hour later.
Our third day we went to MBS by day and saw the super-cool Apple and Luis Vuitton stores in their shopping mall. The mall is mostly if not all major international brands showing off and there is no compelling reason for an American tourist to shop here. We used the metro; each person has to have a credit card to tap in as there are no ride cards for tourists. It is a bit confusing and our kids just walked in because they don’t have credit cards. I actually thought the Sydney mass transit system made a better impression with better displays and connections. We went back to the Garden by the Bay with two domed attractions: Cloud Garden and Flower Dome. They had really beautiful exhibits that were impressive, such as orchids and aerial walks above a forest. You can use Singapore airline miles to pay for it. Was a good way to use up some extra points I had. There is a taxi rank at the exit so you don’t have to walk all the way back to the hotel. Guess where we had lunch? After making fun of my bland tastebuds, the kids were finally tired of the local food and wanted the Movenpick again. Jeremy had two rosti potato dishes. I went to the National Gallery about 10 minutes walk from the hotel to the rooftop garden with free entrance where you could get some nice photos of downtown Singapore. We learned that you should avoid visiting Singapore during mid-September if they have the Formula 1 Race – they literally close down the central part of the city and you can’t go anywhere for a week or so.
We went to the airport at 5 for an 8pm departure figuring we would have time to enjoy the Jewel but it wasn’t nearly enough. You need at least 2-3 hours to walk around the place and do some attractions. It might be just as well to take the metro to the airport to enjoy it as an excursion while in Singapore rather than to wait till departure to go there. At this airport, you do security when you get to the gate, but you do passport control right at the beginning. Departure was smooth with lots of electronic gates. However, the air-con was pretty bad in the airport and going to the Jewel and at the Jewel, and I was all sweaty by the time I got to the lounge. They may offer showers but the wait is over an hour so that’s BS. It’s not a great way to arrive at the gate for a 15 hour flight to San Francisco. Something to know about Singapore A380 business class – the overhead space is tiny so you have to get your small suitcase in a closet or gate-check it. The overhead space in the A350 is much better – we flew the A380 from Sydney to Singapore, and the A350 to San Francisco.
Despite the fact that the highest tax rate in Singapore is 23%, it’s not a place that expats are dying to go to and want to stay. It’s hugely expensive and most expats don’t live very well there. The one thing you can get is cheap domestic help. My friend is planning to move to Europe in a number of years and another one of my friends moved last year to Dubai (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves again in another year after he gets tired of that place too like most people do). The place was draconian during covid and that probably drove people away too. Strip away some of the glitz and you see that apps and various things don’t always actually work here. Filling out the arrival forms online was the most bureaucratic and wasteful exercise of the entire trip and talking to people at Singapore Airlines was always a pain as they were constantly repeating everything back to you and it was necessary to call them 5x to get anything done till they actually did it. The arrival experience was awful. It’s a place with a lot going for it but I am not in any hurry to return or to view it as a model for human existence. But compared to the rest of Asia, it’s pretty darn good and it’s in English.
Welcome to the USA. Believe it or not, all the kiosks at the Global Entry point actually worked. Usually only one or two of them work. We arrived at the Four Seasons Embarcadero in time to get dinner at their lobby restaurant before 10pm. We arrived roughly at the same time we left and now 9 time zones ahead of Singapore we are here for 3 nights to recuperate on the way to NY. The next morning Karen walked around the financial district which is where the hotel is located and said the streets were deserted. Granted, it was the Friday before Labor Day but the area is just dead. The only time we ever saw people come to life was at a farmers market at the Embarcadero on a weekend morning. There is an Equinox gym across the street from the hotel with a pool. It was closed for the weekend. We’ve stayed at this hotel before and it is a decent one. It lacks a taxi stand. Check out the Palace Hotel about half a mile away with its beautiful lobby (and a taxi stand). But that hotel is much larger. This place is small and looks after its guests. The city made a better impression than the last time we visited 2 years ago; they have moved homeless people away from tourist streets.
We took a 4 hour tour of offbeat San Francisco with a Tours By Locals guide and visited the Presidio area, Lucas Films campus, a nearby pet cemetery with humorous gravestones, Rodeo Beach across the bridge in Marin County, a marine mammal hospital near the beach, houseboats in Sausalito, Golden Gate Park, Lombard Street and the Haight-Ashbury district where they sell vintage goods. Fisherman’s Wharf area was also deserted in the evening on what should have been a top vacation weekend. The arcade Musee Mechanique on the Wharf is a perennial favorite with old arcade games. Dinner at Scoma’s on the Wharf is probably the best in that area although it was nothing special. We went to the Exploratorium museum which is the science museum on the Embarcardero. We saw this really stupid special exhibit called The Great Animal Orchestra which was a dark room featuring recordings of animals making noises and some lights on the walls to show the frequency of the noise. The idea was to show the progression over a decade of deforestation on animal life. This was going on for about 90 minutes. We felt thoroughly “had” with this one. I think I will do a study of the kids’ rooms to detect extinction when our kids go away to college. We ate dinner at La Mar, a restaurant on the Embarcadero that features Peruvian food including a full belly of halibut. It was actually some of the best halibut we’ve had being very juicy as a whole fish and easy to cut and eat. American Airlines is discontinuing its flagship service coast to coast and its business class will be 2:2. They got rid of the flagship lounge in San Francisco and the regular lounge is really lame. There was an excellent veg healthy food option near gate B6 with some of the best airport food in the country.
TO SUM UP, After 5½ weeks, I am happy to flush my own toilet, not wait for restaurant food 3x a day and to have my own exercise equipment where and the way I want it. I can stop changing time zones and wondering what side to look before crossing the street. I’ve never been on the road for this length of time before and I’d say about 2½ weeks is as much as I want at any one time. Lots of strain on my back and zits on my face having to wake up at different times all the time and not being comfortable in bed with not enough air conditioning or shower water pressure more often than I wished even in good hotels. We transferred hotels 12x during this period because of all the places we went. I don’t expect that we will do this type of trip again. I’d hate to be a politician on the road on a long campaign.
My biggest complaint however is reserved for my kids. Today’s kids just don’t approach international travel with the same reverence that I did. I never even left the USA till I was 17; my kids have been to about 30 countries by now and maybe that’s my fault. It’s one thing to get up an hour earlier and run around finding breakfast for them and helping them pack and unpack every time, especially with an ADHD kid who couldn’t care less about anything other than his earbuds and phone. But when you are looking around at everything around you and seeing kids looking into their phones with their earphones on and just being more interested in their teenage friends back at home (or maybe somewhere else entirely, but kids don’t even care to know where they are – they are on the phone and that’s all that matters) than appreciating where they are, that’s painful. You are driving on the wrong side of the road and you can’t enjoy the scenery so you at least hope they are, you are paying for this and spending the time to do it. You could wait a few years till they leave home and do it all without the two of them for half the price. It took the better of a year to organize this trip because travel today is not spontaneous, and you have to reserve everything in advance to avoid disappointment upon arrival. I didn’t know I even had to plan a walk on Diamond Head prior to arrival. I figure that if Disney ever gets into the funeral business, you’ll have to plan even that 3 months ahead. What does it make it worth it is that a week after we got home, I took my daughter to a forum sponsored by a think tank with Brett Stephens, the NY Times columnist, and he offhandedly mentioned Singapore being both boring and an autocracy and he also mentioned Dubai. Because she had just been there and also had visited the Emirates, she could relate to that nuance like 99% of nobody else in that room could even though the people in that room were the elite trustees of that international-minded organization. That’s part of the education I want for my kids and for that you have to get out there and Shake It. I want Global Thinkers. Which is why you are reading this on Global Thoughts.
After a six week tour with my family, I told the peasants that I am leaving them behind for a few days to enjoy Paris on my own. It is an essential part of not losing one’s will to live as a married man and father of two teenagers, especially in a year when one of them is applying to college. I’ve been to Paris and Versailles now more times than I can remember, so I wanted to do something special for this trip and see new things that have spruced up around here.
This was actually my first flight on United’s Polaris on a 777-200 plane. I learned that Rows 1 and 9 are good seats and that if you can’t get them, at least take odd number rows if you want a decent window and not to be sitting along the aisle with some element of privacy. The seats themselves are designed pretty well with a decent pull-out tray (you’d be surprised how awful many of these are), good sleep angles and some space on the side of you to put things. I’d like to see the American carriers get rid of the breakfast croissant; it looks out of place being so forlorn and dead on the tray. According to my flight attendant, 50% of the passengers don’t even touch it. United didn’t send me a survey about either of my two flights. I guess they stopped sending out surveys. At Charles de Gaulle airport, I used the VIP service upon arrival because I’ve been burned too many times at airports that have long lines on arrival and the service was not very pricey. Even Zurich airport took an hour on arrival earlier this year. I didn’t need it here; they have electronic kiosk entry for US passports now and the arrival area worked well.
An hour’s drive to Versaille to the Grand Controle hotel named for its previous history as the comptroller’s office building under one of the King Louie’s of France a few hundred years ago. This new property opened on the actual grounds of Versailles right next door to the Chateau. It is an intimate place with fruit bowls and macarons in all the public rooms that gives it a homey touch and reminds you that the owner of the hotel also owns Laduree (producer of macarons). The advantage of staying here is that you can get semi-private tours of the chateau and nearby palaces such as the Trianon Palace (smaller but very good interiors that have survived because that’s where the king lived unofficially), and the tours to the chateau are after-hours, so it’s like going backstage at a Disney Park after closing hours. I saw the queen’s private apartments which are behind the big public rooms that everyone walks through. Those apartments were under renovation when I last visited 4 years ago. Versailles is a bit of a red herring to visit because most of the interiors were sold after the French revolution of 1789, so what you see there is filler stuff. The Hotel de la Marine (described below) has a good amount of stuff that the French regained later. There is also a fine dining restaurant on the property. This would be something special for a couple or a solo traveler who wants to feel like visiting royalty for a day. This particular property stands at a level above others. The guests were an interesting sort but many were well educated with an interest in French history, art and furniture. One fun activity was to take a half hour flight on a light plane around the countryside with views of Versailles. They upgraded me to the presidential suite which had so many rooms I didn’t know what to do with that I joked that for such a suite in France they should have told me to come with several mistresses.
After a night there, I transferred to central Paris. Another new property is the Cheval Blanc (same group of hotels under that name which is in St. Barths) which offers an interesting angle to the visitor. Junior suites are perched right above the Seine River at the Pont Neuf bridge so below you all the city goes by, with pedestrians, cycles and automobiles. It was surprisingly quiet at night; I was expecting the worst. It’s across the street from LVMH’s headquarters which houses a nice tea and dessert café as well as a temporary exhibition about the history of Louis Vuitton which was excellent; I didn’t know he lived in the 1800’s; I thought he was some fashion guy living now. Next door to the hotel is a huge department store building they spent 1 billion dollars renovating; LVMH is quite good at merchandising and it’s worth seeing even if you don’t want to buy anything. I’ve stayed at several properties in Paris and this was a good one, located a few minutes from both the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, Rue d’ Rivoli, and the island with the Notre Dame cathedral and great ice cream shops in it. If you are going to eat ice cream, Berthillon is the best. Since I got lost, I will note for the record that the address is 31 Rue Saint Louis and right around the corner is a second café selling their products if you can’t get into the main café at 27 Rue des Deux-Ponts. I keep getting lost finding this place so the best way to get there is to take the #7 metro to the Pont Mare station and just walk over the bridge onto the island. The main street with the cafe is right there and you can’t miss it; the Berthillon cafe is right around the corner from the cafe. That station is 2 stations away from the Pont Nuef station where the hotel Cheval Blanc is. Several museums I saw this visit that are considered new or recently renovated are Hotel de la Marine right at Place d’Concorde with period art and furniture from the 1800’s, and a great balcony right over the Place d’Concorde. The Museum Carnavalet near Place Royale tells about 2,000 years of history of Paris in art and artefacts and does a good job telling about French history and about the various republics and revolutions. The Pinault collection of modern art at the Bourse d’Commerce was in between exhibits and not so exciting but go see the building for its interior dome that is worth the ticket. In this city, it pays to use the metro because traffic is tight. You can purchase a day pass or just buy point to point tickets. At the Louvre-Rivoli station on Line 1, there are exhibits along the train tracks and it is a beautiful station with glass doors to the train. It is surprisingly hard to find ATM’s in central Paris; they have gone cashless here it seems.
The third night I stayed at the Hotel Brach which was in a different part of the city about half an hour walk from the Eiffel Tower. This is in the 16th district and there are more groceries open later hours as well as the ATM’s I couldn’t find in center city. Otherwise, there are no real tourist attractions here and it is not exactly where I’d recommend a tourist to stay although it is certainly a decent part of town. Here they have a rooftop with a chicken house and great views of the Eiffel particularly at night when it lights up and glitters on the hour. You can get a penthouse here with a jacuzzi and a nice view of the tower. The hotel is also connected to a large health club. Although it ticks off all the boxes, I didn’t feel at ease here because it was a very North-African Arab vibe and everybody here spoke only French. If you want to be among the locals it works. I’d rather be among Western tourists and people who know how to take care of them.
While I was here King Charles from Britain was visiting and it was a good thing I was a day ahead of him at Versailles. When I was leaving, you had the triple threat of a car accident, King Charles in town and rain to make my drive to the airport a real nail-biter. The departure areas of the airport are very chic with colorful furniture and decoration. The week I was there was the Rugby World Cup and Paris was getting ready for that. They are also getting ready for the Olympics next year. As I wrote elsewhere in this posting, Paris might have had a summer of discontent, but the country is doing quite well these days and the streets of Paris looked clean and orderly.
People do change over time; I used to love talking to people on airplanes and now I’m just happy to be left to myself. I enjoy an 8 hour day flight to make notes, edit my photos and read a few magazines. Travel calculus has also changed; the cost of a flight hasn’t really changed all that much but hotel rooms have doubled. The cost of a hotel room can be almost the cost of an airline ticket.
Well, that was a lot. There will hopefully be more great travel information in the next edition of Global Thoughts.