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Super Bowl 2017 – No Time For Hot Dogs

Houston plays host to Super Bowl LI on February 5.  America’s most prominent sporting event is a very big deal in the travel industry, and this year should be no exception.  In the video below (posted December 16), Bloomberg’s Nikki Epstein and David Gura explore the fine art of finding a deal.  The city has spent massive amounts of money preparing its entertainment districts for visitors, and if one can’t find a room in one of the hot hotels, there’s still the chance to book a reservation in the right restaurant and stargaze.

Of course, by now the bargains are gone and most of us will stay at home.  Gameday occupies an iconic place in American life, as illustrated by the decision of Kraft Heinz  to give its office employees the next day off.  Those that remain, that is.  Kraft recently acquired the Heinz ketchup empire in one of the decade’s mega-mergers, and the restructuring that followed was a particularly tough one.  The company has decided not to repeat its pricey Super Bowl advertising campaign of 2016, which featured pooches in hot dog outfits performing for condiment-clad owners, (The former had more dignity,)  Even the Super Bowl is not immune to the allure of saving a buck!

 

Brexit: The Lady’s Not For Turning

British Prime Minister delivered a key policy speech on January 17 that set forth her plans for a definitive exit from the European Union.  Speculation had been growing that her Cabinet was struggling with the outcome of last year’s referendum, and that she could not deliver on her previous promise that “Brexit means Brexit”.  Her address laid out the broad principles governing the Brexit negotiation: restoration of full sovereignty to Parliament, exit from the EU’s customs union, recognition of British courts as the highest legal authority in the UK, and full control by Westminster over borders and immigration. The Wall Street Journal reports her declaration that:

“What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free-trade agreement.

I want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements. But I also want tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible.”

Social Commentary Channel has posted the video of the entire 50 minute speech, which appears below.

Transport Strikes Snarl London

Strike activity broke out across London today, delaying commuters and illustrating the dependence of the British capital and world financial center on its public transfer system.  A union walkout shut down most of the underground, and hundreds of thousands of city residents had to find alternatives to the famous “Tube” (Reuters via Yahoo News).  Extra buses have been deployed to replace some of the lost rail capacity, but they are providing only modest relief for the many commuters whose daily routine has turned into an uncertain, frustrating nightmare.  (See video below by Al Jazeera).

Strike activity is expected to spread beyond the underground services to commuter rail and even British Airways.  Travelers to the UK should plan carefully and keep up-to-date about the latest developments.

 

Documore! Empire Of The Tsars

The holidays provide a great opportunity to catch quality documentaries, and this BBC special, now available via Netflix, explores the fascinating history of Russia under the Romanov dynasty.  They ruled the Eurasian colossus from the seventeenth century to their downfall during World War I.  Host Lucy Worsley examines the notable reigns: from dynamic (and ruthless) Peter The Great to enlightened (but sensuous) Catherine The Great to Alexander I, who led the empire to victory over Napoleon.  The series then covers the ill-starred Alexander II, who freed the serfs, and finally the tragedy of Nicholas II, whose attachment to autocracy doomed the dynasty once it became embroiled in the first global war.

During the recent US presidential election Russia featured more prominently in the public discourse than it has at any time since the end of the Cold War.  This three part series, with great visuals and engaging narration, sheds a lot of light on the history and culture of one of the world’s most important powers.

AngloFiles: The Crown Resonates

In between bustle and triptofan slumbers, the holidays offer the opportunity to do gulp down some healthy portions of television.  Over Thanksgiving I came across The Crown and was instantly hooked, taking in all 10 episodes by the time the last turkey leftovers disappeared.  It deals with the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952 and her early years as British sovereign.  The production marks another stage in the emergence of Netflix as an entertainment powerhouse.  The online media company spent over $100 million on the series, and spent it wisely.  The cast, headed by Claire Foy as the young queen and John Lithgow as wily Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is first rate. The series explores the often intense family disputes that occur amid the palaces and privilege, especially the lingering resentments of the abdication crisis that paved Elizabeth’s road to the throne in the first place, and the pressure of royal responsibility on her marriage.

The politicians get their share of attention.  Even the magisterial Churchill, in his 70’s and serving his second term as Prime Minister, found acquiring and holding power to be a challenge, and he used every ounce of eloquence and gamesmanship at his command to bring it off. (The scene where he steals the show at Elizabeth’s wedding is a classic.)  There’s something in this series for everyone, from political junkies to royal watchers to history buffs to fashion devotees.  And since this is an aviation site, it would be remiss not to mention the cameo appearances put in by airplanes, from the one engine trainer Prince Philip uses for his flying lessons to the venerable propliners that carried the Queen on her journeys in the 1950’s!

Attention (Russian) Shoppers

Americans are often confused and bemused by the internal popularity of Vladimir Putin’s decidedly authoritarian, heavy-handed regime.  But it’s not hard to understand.  While America enjoyed the Reagan boom, Russians had to put up with the chronic shortages of consumer goods in the late Soviet era.  Then during the Clinton dot-com gold rush, Russians were suffering through the badly managed transition to a market based economic system, aggravated by the kleptomania of its new ruling elite.  Pensions vaporized, unemployment soared and companies often did not make payroll.

That all changed under Putin. Aided by the surge in oil prices, Russia’s economy began to deliver basic goods and services, and, for some, affluence.  Real Russsia offers this look at a well-stocked “Matrix” supermarket in Ufa, deep in Russia’s interior.  It is a scene taken for granted all over the West, but unimaginable in the Russia of two decades ago, especially far away from the cosmopolitan centers of Moscow and St. Petersberg.  The narrator’s English may be a bit wobbly, but the video shows the reach of the country’s economic recovery.

Russian Yacht! Travels With The Upper Upper One Percentski

Russia has certainly captured the popular imagination this election cycle.  We haven’t heard as many tales of espionage since the halcyon days of Boris and Natasha.  But it’s all high-tech now, and that takes cash.  Not to worry- Russia’s super-rich now live on a scale of grandeur not seen since Tsarist days.

The Wall Street Journal takes us aboard the floating palace of billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, known simply as “A”.  We are not exactly talking about understated elegance here – scalloped silver leaf walls, a bedroom fitted out with stingray hide decor, and – a must for the sybaritic mores of today’s global super-rich- a “nookie room”. (!)  A disco, three pools, a cavernous garage housing three designer launch boats, and, of course, a helipad, complete the list of “must haves”.

We are living in a Gatsbyesque age, folks.  On steroids.  Where it will end, no one knows.

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo At Night

By necessity, Japan has pioneered the art of high density living.  Tokyo is a collection of downtown beehives surrounded by somewhat less dense urban neighborhoods, all linked by complex transportation and support networks.  In this video Noguchi Katsuya offers spectacular nighttime views of Japan’s capital, punctuated by the inky blackness of the ocean shore and the gardens of the Imperial Palace.  Despite the similarities to its Parisian counterpart, the Tokyo Tower emits a totally different vibe in this galaxy of electric lights. You can enjoy an extensive aerial peek at the cityscapes made famous by the film Lost In Translation, but without having to pay the infamous sky-high prices of a Tokyo luxury hotel 🙂

State Department Updates Iran Travel Warning

The U.S. State Department has issued an updated travel warning for Iran, signaling a fresh deterioration in the relationship between the two countries despite the recently concluded nuclear agreement.  The warning is explicit and chilling:

Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, particularly Iranian-Americans, including students, journalists, business travelers, and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security. Iranian authorities have also prevented the departure, in some cases for months, of a number of Iranian-American citizens who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons. U.S. citizens traveling to Iran should very carefully weigh the risks of travel and consider postponing their travel. U.S. citizens residing in Iran should closely follow media reports, monitor local conditions, and evaluate the risks of remaining in the country.

This development is reigniting the controversy over the recent payment of USD 400 million by the US government to Iran and its linkage to the recent release of American prisoners. Despite the lifting of economic sanctions,the prudent business traveler should avoid the country completely.

First Class: A Tale of Two Cities, Aircraft And Airlines

If only all flying meant a sojourn in First Class!  Of course, in real life, budgetary considerations rule, and even the expense account set has been shifting from First to Business Class. Airlines are configuring their planes accordingly, and First Class has disappeared as an option on an increasing number of routes.  But we can still experience it via armchair thanks to the fortunate few lucky enough to enjoy the remainder.  There is an abundance of video footage celebrating the amenities of premium cabin experience: the relatively pain free check-in process, the cushy lounges with their culinary delights, the spacious accommodations aboard the airplane and, most important, all that pampering by the flight attendants once aloft.

I thought it would be interesting to post two views of the First Class experience on the same route-London to Abu Dhabi (LHR-AUH).   The Luxury Travel Expert filmed the trip aboard a British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner, while Eddie Khoo presents the service offered on an Etihad Airbus A380.  Browse through the videos at your leisure.  There does seem to be a difference between the understated, somewhat monochromatic comforts of the BA experience and the warmer ambiance of Etihad.  Note the contrast between the modernistic “bucket seat” of BA versus the more conventional, incredibly roomy reclining chair on Etihad, the centerpiece of what they dub “an apartment”.  These variations no doubt reflect differences in corporate culture and budgetary resources, not to mention what’s physically possible on each aircraft.  The A380 may be a bit wobbly as a money-making enterprise for the manufacturer, but its sheer scale gives the cabin designer a lot of scope.

I’ll take both! 🙂