How can I travel without a selfie stick?

Yes, those obnoxious attachments are being banned in place after place – Milan being the latest.  Even if your selfie stick is a Louis Vuitton or Chanel model you still won’t be allowed to use it in Milan.   Because really – it has got to be a bit too much.
chanel selfie stick

The selfie stick has also been banned in the Vatican City, in Beijing’s Forbidden City, Pamplona, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum…. And the list goes on.

But why – you ask – with your selfie face…
mona lisa

Well the thing is, in your pursuit to get the perfect shot of yourself in famous places around the world works of art are being damaged and people and animals are ending up getting killed – yes really!

Can you believe that baby dolphins were taken out of the sea in Argentina so that they could be used in a selfie shot.  Guess what – the baby dolphins died!

It’s the second time in a year that this has occurred in Argentina alone: In February 2016 a rare La Plata baby dolphin died after tourists in the resort of Santa Teresita removed it from the water to pass around and take selfies with, eventually leaving it in the sand. Vida Silvestre, a wildlife foundation in the country, has warned people against removing dolphins from the ocean in the past. (courtesy Conde Nast).

In another embarrassing incident a woman managed to destroy over $200.000 of artwork while trying to take a selfie at the 14th Factory in Los Angeles.

The woman was attempting to take a selfie while kneeling in front of a row of sculptures displayed on pedestals, when she lost her balance and knocked into the artwork directly behind her, causing a cringe-inducing domino effect. At least 10 pedestals were knocked over as a result and, according to the museum, three sculptures were “permanently damaged,” Mashable reports

The quest for the perfect travel selfie knows no boundaries – people have died in the pursuit by falling down stairs, mountains and off bridges.

Apart from which – an army of selfie hunters just spoils the view for anyone else.
selfie stick crowd

So maybe take that selfie stick and…. well …. stick it somewhere else.

 

 

Would you like fries with that?

Trying to decide which country will be the cheapest for your next vacation?  Maybe you should consult the Big Mac Index – the latest evaluation having just been released.

bigmac meme

Basically the Big Mac index is a comparison of what it would cost to buy a Big Mac (if it was available) in different countries around the world using the price of a Big Mac in the United States and then comparing what the price would be in other countries.  It gives a pretty good idea of where in the world you could go to and where your dollar would stretch further – or where it would be more expensive.  Pretty nifty test.  Here are the latest figures as at 12th July.

big mac index

So according to this South Africa would be a really good place to go on holiday – it is cheap, cheap, cheap to eat out (and drink out – after all it is the land of the vineyard).  We know this particularly from the sticker shock when South African friends and family come to visit.  Consider – they pay about $1.50 to $2.00 (Cdn $) for a pint of beer.

Britain and the whole Euro area look pretty good too and naturally these numbers are aggregates so some places in Europe will be much cheaper than others.  Friends who have chosen to winter in Spain rather than Phoenix come home with tales of amazingly cheap fresh vegetables and bottles of wine for just 4 Euro.  This is interesting because it also reflects where people are travelling and despite recent terrorist attacks in Europe tourism there still remains strong, with the exception of poor France where bookings are down.  That’s a shame as it is one of my favourite places to visit and river cruises offering Southern France and Bordeaux are just such a win at the moment.

Surprises on the list were Japan and Russia.  I have always seen Japan as a very expensive country to visit as real estate is at a premium and hotel prices are high but perhaps once you are there eating out or shopping is better and cheaper than in the States.

And Russia is hopping!  River cruises and tours regularly sell out to this fascinating country.  Maybe the revived interest is due to the on again off again Trump Putin romance being front and centre in the news.  It has certainly given the country lots of exposure and seeing reporters filing their newscast with the beautiful and exotic Red Square in the background can certainly do no harm.
red square

The full article makes for interesting reading https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21725034-dollar-has-slipped-over-past-six-months-still-looks-dear-big-mac

My advice?  Go travel – eat local – avoid the Big Mac and if you are looking at a country where the cost of living and/or eating out is expensive then go as all inclusive as you can such as a river cruise with tours, meals, wine and beer included.  It will seem more expensive at first glance but once you secure your price in Canadian dollars and take advantage of those early booking offers you will end up on the winning side!

The Ballad of online booking

I booked me a cheap trip to fair Dublin City
Heard it on the news – forget the nitty gritty
It was a steal of a deal just couldn’t fail –
After all how often do you get this kind of sale?

There’s always a catch – isn’t that what they say?
But it seemed OK for what I had to pay
Who cares that the flight leaves in the middle of the night
I’ll just sleep on the plane the whole way, right?

Wrong, silly girl – you know that won’t work
Especially when you got the seat next to a jerk
Doesn’t he know that the armrest is mine
Aaargh, I’ll just have another glass of wine

So finally I fell asleep and slept for an age and a half
Flying miles and miles over the sea, and now I have to laugh
Cos when we landed I was kinda confused
And then I found out and I wasn’t amused

That “amazing deal” was for Dublin oh yes
Not Dublin Ireland but – can you guess?
Was it Dublin in Belarus – or maybe New York?
No it was near Adelaide – so I felt like a dork.

It turned out OK ‘cos the Ozzies are kind
especially to someone half out of their mind
No shamrock for me but a stuffed kangaroo
And a pat on my back – I just had no clue…

The boarding agent just merrily scanned my pass
And said “Enjoy your flight” while she laughed off her ass
And I read my Irish guide book from beginning to end
But don’t worry now ‘cos I found a friend

He’s tall and he’s blond and he speaks kinda funny
Using words like barbie, chunder and dunny
He tore up my ticket and begged me to stay
But I said no thanks mate – this is too far away.

So remember this story next time you’re online
Check the city, the date and of course the airline
Or you too could end up flying far over the sea
To a strange foreign land where you would rather not be.
~~ lmk ~~

A FISHY TALE….

A long long time ago (well actually in the mid 80’s) I had the chance to visit Hong Kong.  I was actually tagging along with my husband who was on a business trip.  What a great opportunity to visit Hong Kong while it was still a colony of Britain and was an economy on the rise.  Real estate was selling at ridiculous prices and the latest Mercedes and Rolls Royce motor vehicles cruised the crowded streets.

We stayed in Kowloon but visited the Peninsula for afternoon tea and took the train up to the top of Victoria Peak while the sun went down and all the lights of the city slowly appeared twinkling in the dusk.  It was a magical experience.

Now I have to confess that I seem to have been on a perpetual diet my whole life (what woman hasn’t) so I always look for the grilled / steamed version and try to stay away from lots of sauces.  Well – hello Hong Kong.  I thought I managed it all rather well until one night we chose a particular restaurant in Kowloon for dinner.  There I was confronted with a four page menu of numbered items up to (I think) 140.  Well I hummed and haa’d over all the descriptions while my husband and his  business friend picked out their choices quite easily.  Eventually I asked the waiter if I could just have some grilled fish and steamed vegetables.  Seems like a reasonable request?  You have to remember that back in the mid 80’s not everyone in Hong Kong was totally fluent in English.

The waiter (bless his heart) nodded enthusiastically and said he could give me XYZ unpronounceable fish.  I asked if it was grilled.  Yes, Yes he nodded again.  Grilled fish.  Vegetables.  No problem.  Very nice.

OK……

The fish came.

Gulp – a whole fish.  With head.  And tail.  And scales.  And eyes.  Looking at me with a grimace on its face.

Well I asked for it and now I had to eat it.  So, delicately I picked off the skin and the scales and managed to pluck some meat off the bones (ugh) and pushed the whole thing around my plate a few times and then did the time-honoured trick that every kid knows.  I hid some of it under the rice.  Whew.

Waiter came to collect dishes.  Everything OK?  Oh yes – smile smile – lovely thank you very much.  (not).  We get the bill.

What the hell?  Number 14 was around $15 (in today’s currency), Number 23 was probably $20 and my fish was priced at what today would probably be over $100.  Jeez – did they send someone over the side of the dock to go and catch it.

No ways say the guys to the waiter.  This is ridiculous.  It was just a grilled fish – no sauce, no frills.  The waiter says he has to check.  So we sit and wait.  It is late by now and the restaurant is almost empty but the guys are not budging.  They are not going to pay over $100 for that fish.  Waiter comes back.  Sorry – manager says that is the price.

Well then – say the guys – let’s speak to the manager.  OK – says the waiter.  Follow me.  We all get up and traipse after him down some stairs and into the basement of the restaurant.  Here we come into a scene which felt a bit like an Asian Godfather moment.  Five guys sitting around a table playing cards, smoking cigars, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label on the table.

Well now I am distinctly uncomfortable.  The head honcho looks up at us squinting through the smoke and asks why we don’t want to pay the bill.  The guys explain that it is a rip off but I can sense that they are a bit leery by now.  After all – we are in the basement of a restaurant of which we don’t even know the address, listening to a conversation about us which we cannot understand.

Listen – says my husband – the best way to settle this dispute is to call the Hong Kong British Police (there were still a lot of Brit officers in the force at that stage and the police force was universally feared and respected in Hong Kong).  At this mention the Godfather Gang go suddenly silent.

With what seems like a sneer – Godfather number 1 fires off a rapid instruction to the waiter who says to us – no problem.  I fix the bill.  Come this way.

We troop up the stairs after the waiter while he reduces the bill and we slink out of the restaurant.

Holy crap – if only I had just picked number 43!

WHAT’S IN A NAME

I read an interesting article about Blackbeard the pirate.  I am sure you have heard of him but did you know that he was quite ahead of his time with regard to marketing? Even today his name is recognized as being a fearsome pirate.  Maybe Johnny Depp used his character as inspiration for his role in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Johnny-Depp-on-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-poster

He was apparently British – either Edward Thatch or Edward Teach – and was a mariner with the Royal Navy.  Maybe he went rogue?  He got in tow with a privateer and then managed to capture a French merchant vessel which he equipped with 40 guns.  This out-powered anything else and he was able to blockade ports and extract huge ransoms.

The funny thing is that he apparently never used violence as such – just relied on his fearsome brand.  He grew a massive beard which he made even more terrifying by decorating it with lit fuses when he went into battle.

Who would stand up against that?

Blackbeard_3-58d3fa435f9b5846835445c7

It made me think about other great brands on the seas of today with a little more of a friendly feel.  Each cruise line has its own way of reinforcing its brand and differentiating itself from the rest of the pack.

Royal Caribbean – This is not a cruise.  comeseek-ss

Reinforcing the fact that there is so much to do on their cruise ships.  Many of them are mega-ships now but having cruised on them it never felt crowded or too huge for comfort.  Amazing entertainment and great little venues like the jazz club and the comedy club.  They are right – this is not a cruise.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises – The most inclusive luxury experience.

Regent-Tagline-Gold-V2-788x255Yes this is correct – they do include everything (just about) from flights, drinks, excursions.  Your upfront price can give a little sticker shock but at the end of the day it probably works out the same.  Compare this to –

Crystal Cruises – All Exclusive.
crystal Mmmm – starts getting confusing, right?  We are used to the description all inclusive but all exclusive?  Now it is true that Crystal includes everything except the excursions. Some may prefer that and then do their own thing when they get to the port or choose from the list of excursions to book on board so maybe it is a little more “exclusive” that way.

And now for something completely different – Windstar – 180 degrees from ordinary.

windstar

Well to a large extent this is correct as they operate tall ships with sails – although they are now changing this brand somewhat with the addition of the small Seabourn yachts which are motorised yachts.

Talking about sailing ships – Star Clippers – Unique Sailing Adventures.
star clippers

And this is true – if you relish the idea of pretending to be Blackbeard for a few days on a proper sailing ship where you can hoist in the sails and climb up to the crow’s nest then this is your ship.  Just don’t try decorating your beard with lit fuses – I don’t think that would go down well with the safety crew on board.

 

 

Italy and simple pleasures

Italy is the country of simple pleasures. It became clear to me when I ordered a green salad to go with my pasta. I am not sure what type of green it was. I think it might’ve been baby spinach. But that was it. A green salad. I was provided with olive oil and balsamic vinegar . What else would I need? Certainly not one of those horrendous mixtures in a bottle we fondly call salad dressing.
And the pasta?
Where do I begin? Al dente, a smattering of sun dried tomatoes and a flash of garlic. Heaven.
There is a good reason why Italy is one of the most popular destinations. I love Rome…walk around any corner slap bang into another temple being excavated. It is a treasure trove for ancient history enthusiasts. Likewise with Florence, a great base to explore Cinqe Terra. And then there is Venice….so much to love about this city of canals.
Stresa has been a delightful surprise for me. Perched on the shores of Lake Maggiore it offers all the old fashioned grandeur of a bygone era when the aristocracy went on “the grand tour”. Stately hotels along the lake shore offer chintzy rooms and white glove service.

IMG_1729 Here you can hop on a ferry to discover the islands. Napoleon loved it here and so will you. My favourite is Fishermans Island which even has a couple of small hotels.
The old town centre of Stresa is tucked away and is full of pedestrian cobbled streets and lovely piazzas. I have never heard so much bird song ….and they do have signs in the restaurants asking you not to feed the birds. I guess the happy singing means that the patrons are ignoring the signs.
Stresa, ciao for now….but I will be back.

IMG_1627

 

Foggy nights at sea

There is something sad and folourn about the sound of a ships foghorn. Is it a cry for help or a get out of my way? Either way I could not help but be moved as we heard the great reverberating sound of ms Koningsdam’s fog horn as we blasted our way down the coast of Norway shrouded in fog. It was an almost comforting feel as we sat cosseted in the Italian restaurant on board enjoying fine pasta and a chilled Sauvignon blanc. It conjured up images of Leonardo Di caprio in a life belt floating among icebergs while Celine Dion belted out the theme song of Titanic. It reminded me of those old great fifties films such as The sea shall not have them. Seriously, google it. I can’t remember who was in it. It it featured navy marines floating in mine infested waters after their air craft carrier had been torpedoed. Wow …they don’t make movies like that any more.

That’s what makes cruising so special. It doesn’t have to have Caribbean islands and umbrella cocktails to make it special…it is a tradition many years old which is enjoyed in the waters of the arctic or the Antarctic, through the famous canals of the world such as Panama or Suez. It is the art of travelling in the style of a bygone era and personally I love the foggy nights on the sea.