Friday, December 16, 2016

A Toast to 2016 - Looking Ahead to 2017


2016 was an amazing year.

And, I'd have to say it was the time spent in my journey's that kept me sane.
You see, luckily, much of my travel this year took me to places that didn't pander to the self-absorbed, national embarrassment that was America's 2016's presidential election.  I simply was able to ignore it for large periods of time.

Indeed, I found that the rest of the world was both amused (and deeply troubled) by America's fixation on the daily doses of irrelevance we were dished out, while the candidates completely ignoring melting polar ice caps.

It was brought home no more than 10 steps from a typical coed restaurant restroom in Spain. That is where I heard a fellow from our tour group emphatically telling our Spanish guide Carlos how "crazy" politicians in the US were "forcing men to use women's bathrooms and vice versa", it was  "so unsafe and disgusting!"

I stopped mid-step, looked back over my shoulder at the patient, yet incredulous Spaniard and thought "Yes, Carlos he means just like that safe, clean restroom I just left. The one simultaneously being used by men, women and kids."

When will Americans grow up?

But enough of that.

My 2016 highlights included a few weeks spent in amazing Singapore and 2 weeks spent in Barcelona and bicycling through Spain's beautiful Costa Brava.  

Later I was able to experience Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece "Fallingwater" in Pennsylvania. 

There was also a rainy weekend spent in the Chicago Art Institute and a return to (one of my favorite cities) Toronto.

Business travel included multiple trips to Washington State, Oklahoma, Montana, Virginia, Southern California, Florida, Hawaii and Colorado. 

Yes indeed, 2016 was a great year in travel. 

And, it kept me sane,

So where is Roadboy going in 2017?

First off is a springtime visit to San Francisco. Then in May I'll return to Ireland for a week (including the Giant's Causeway) and follow that with a week in London (to enjoy a new season of West End plays!)

In the fall, there will be a week long "Low Country" bicycle tour from Charleston SC to Savannah GA. Another return to Mrs. Wilkes Dining room in Savannah is eagerly anticipated!

Scattered in between will be a gaggle of business trips to Washington, Colorado, California and Florida.

And how will Roadboy travel in 2017? 

Well, I'll be using Air BNB's more and conventional hotels less. I'll rent fewer cars and use more public transport / Uber and LYFT.

I'll be clearing my browser cache daily and changing all my passwords regularly. 

I'll travel with my passport and credit cards comfortably residing in new RFID protected sheathes.

And, after a recent sobering conversation with a cyber security expert, I'll continue to stay the hell off of social network sites.

As always, my travel goals will be to learn more about the people, history, culture, food, flora and fauna of this amazing planet. And, while traveling I'll be praying each day for our newbie president, hoping he doesn't tweet us into World War III.

Stay tuned!

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Sharing Economy Meets Travel

Repairing a Broken Travel Industry One App at a Time

The world of travel is experiencing a seismic shift. Quite simply the way we travel is changing rapidly and a bunch of huge travel industry players may soon find themselves staring into the abyss of irrelevancy.

They are the new Polaroid.

Why? Lets begin by assessing the state of the conventional travel industry.

Domestic Airlines
I speak as a 2 million mile flier with lifetime platinum status with over a million air miles banked in multiple airline FF accounts.

• America's domestic airlines view passengers as a materials handling problem.
  Airline's focus on finding more profitable ways to ticket and transport human cargo.

• Airlines openly disregard passenger expectations of decency, comfort and civility.
   American Airline ads recently blamed eroding service on their customers.
• Airline mergers have reduced competition & capacity and led to higher fares.

• Airlines are rewarded for adding fees like pollen in the spring.
  United's share price recently soared after announcing fees to use overhead bins.

• Domestic airlines go political in lieu of competing with superior airlines.
  They demand access to foreign markets and block foreign airlines from US markets.

• Airlines change rules on loyalty programs faster than I change socks.
  The changes never favor passengers.

• All of the above is 10 X's worse on Spirit or Allegiant Airlines.

Here I also speak as a lifetime platinum traveler with millions of hotel miles in various accounts.

• Mega mergers consolidate reservation networks and crush independent hotel chains.
  Marriott and Hilton have clearly taken a page from WalMart. 
  Move in and kill off local competition.
  Try some great local chains: Room Mate (Spain) / Citizen M (Paris, London, NYC).

• Reduced competition = rooms that cost $79 / nt. in 2008 now cost $150 / nt.
  Hotel rates skyrocketed during a period of near zero inflation.

• And, like airline bag fees - hotels keep dreaming up new fees.
  Resort fees, amenity fees, parking fees, early check-out fees, internet fees etc.

Rental Cars
My clients are taxpayers, so I am a car rental hoe. I have no loyalty. I rent from the agency that offers the best price coupled with a skip the counter program.

• Every novice rental car customer faces a shit storm of up selling at the counter.

• Rental agencies love hiding extras.
  Like the "emergency road service" fee added automatically at Thrifty SLC.
  Rental agencies play "Where's Waldo" and novice renters get fleeced.

• Rental agencies quietly dream up new zingers like the LDW (loss damage waiver).
  A renter damaging a car is liable for lost revenue during the repair of a damaged car. 
  That may sound fair....but....
  Renters have no way of determining how long it (should have taken) for repairs.

The Government
• State and local governments tax the crap out of rental car / hotel customers.
  Travelers pay for everything from convention centers to Cactus League baseball in AZ.
  Seattle frequently rack up more taxes & fees than the actual daily car rental rate.

• Despite rising traveler complaints, consumer watchdog protections are disappearing.
  Travelers are left to  fend for themselves. So learn your rights.

They're so icky!
• Taxi fares remain stupidly high in most major markets.

• In key markets (Vegas) taxi monopolies appear wired.
  Far be it for Roadboy to suggest that kickbacks might be the culprit.

• Expect "check engine" lights, smelly stained seats & broken credit card readers.

• Many cab drivers are lost.
  Try turning off their Google Maps or Waze and see where you wind up.

In sum, as the conventional travel / hospitality industry now offers frightening levels of ambivalence toward customers, so travelers have responded by seeking other options.

And by increasingly abandoning conventional travel offerings via new app based services they are frequently liking what they find.

So what is the future?

Long Distance Transport
Although most Americans have never heard of Europe's Bla Bla Car, more than 4,000,000 Europeans use this app each month to arrange long distance rides (averaging 200 miles). Put in perspective every month more travelers ride share on Bla Bla than use EuroStar and Jet Blue combined. We'll surely see something similar in key markets like the NE.

Despite all my banked hotel points I now frequently opt to save my points (for emergency trips) and opt for Airbnb accommodations.

Airbnb delivers me an entire home, located right where I want to be. I can get a full kitchen, wireless internet and a washer and dryer. And, frequently, they come with hosts that offer a "locals only" perspective on the cities and neighborhoods they love.

It becomes a trade: tiny overpriced hotel rooms with daily maid service vs. entire homes with a built-in concierge. All at prices that are typically far less than even moderately priced, limited service hotels. But be very careful. AirBNB cancellation policies for high demand areas can be onerous if you need to cancel in an emergency. Also don;t go looking for customer support from AirBNB.  There simply isn't any way to talk to a human being about key policies etc.

Rental Cars / Taxis
Nowadays, I rigorously avoid renting cars for business whenever I can. Instead I opt for light rail, Uber and / or Lyft. No more fighting for parking spots, mad dashes to refill gas, watching for local speed / radar traps and toll roads.

And, so far nearly every Uber I've experienced provided a clean car with a friendly, competent driver. And (I contend) everyone is far safer when travel transactions are cashless.

When I rent a car for pleasure trips I first check to see if my destination has Silvercar. Silvercar only rents Audi A4's at $69 / day or less. There is no counter, you go straight to the car and check-in using your app.

So as fast buck private equity owned hospitality providers feed shareholder greed, the sharing economy is expanding to provide new opportunities to exploit the void the travel dinosaurs so willingly create. And, frequently adventurous travelers emerge as big winners.

Roadboy is selling his retirement funds if they contain conventional hospitality industry players.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hospital St. Pau - Barcelona's Other Architectural Masterpiece

Cycling Dali's Landscapes in Spain - Day 11

Well I've been meaning to write the last installment of my trip to Spain for a long time. So today seemed like a good time to do it.

The final day of the main tour was spent by the sea. And, there is nothing more wonderful than a full nights sleep by the sea to leave you feeling good about life. And having the chance to sleep in made it even better.

At 11:00 we gathered together for final transport back to Barcelona where we'd enjoy one more day and night before returning home.

To an architect Barcelona is a visual candy store. During the turn of the century when the world's major cities were choking themselves with the unsanitary by-products of the industrial revolution, Barcelona was embracing the implementation of Ildefons Cerda's visionary city plan entitled L'Eixample.

The L'Eixample plan stressed a grid filled with mid-rise superblocks served by wide streets and boulevards. At every intersection of streets you find vuilding corners tapered (chamfered) back at 45° angles to offer light and visibility.

The concept encouraged natural ventilation, smooth traffic flow while allowing natural light to flood public spaces. Although (sadly) many have been filled, each superblock was initially configured to contain a quiet green space in the center.

The plan delivered the sweet spot of urban density sufficient to support mass transit, yet is very walkable and lacks the claustrophobia inducing high rises of many major world cities.  

Aerial View of Barcelona's L'Eixample District

This short trip back to Barcelona allowed me almost a full afternoon to make a final architectural pilgrimage to visit architect Lluis Domenich i Montaner's Art Nouveau masterpiece Hospital St. Pau. i Montaner is the architect that designed the magical Palace of Catalan Music and supervised the 1888 Barcelona World Exhibition.

Hospital St. Pau
Although the origins of this hospital can be traced back to 1401, the hospital we see today began with a legacy from Catalan banker Pau Gil upon his death in Paris in 1898. Construction on the hospital began in 1902 and continued for a period of 28 years.

An integral part of L'Eixample, Luis Domenech i Montaner designed Sant Pau at a 45° angle using 9 L'Eixample blocks. The initial plan included 48 buildings and occupies a prominent location at the end of one of L'Eixample's few boulevards set at an angle to the grid. At the other end of the diagonal boulevard is Gaudi's Masterpiece the Sagrada Famillia. The site is on a hillside, so each building is gently embedded into the hillside.

The completed hospital has 27 buildings, 16 of which are Modernista. Of the 16, 12 were designed by Domenech i Montaner prior to his death in 1928. The remaining 4 were completed by his son Pere Domenech i Roura.

Sant Pau was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and reopened to tours after a remarkable restoration in 2014.

Sant Pau was designed as a monumental city within a city. The hospital is organized as a campus arrayed along a linear spine. The multi-building design was conceived to assure there would be restful, healing green spaces providing views and furnishing fresh air to each of the patient wings.Each wing devoted to treatment of a specific medical specialty.

Each wing is connected by over a kilometre of tunnels where patients could be moved out of the weather along with supplies, laundry, medication and meals.

A Section of St. Pau's Tunnels

At the center of the campus is The Operations House. The building is oriented to maximize glare-free northern light in its three operating rooms. There is a main operating theater flanked by two small theaters (one exclusively for men, the other for women). 

The Operations House included modern sterilization, radiology and photography equipment and was the central storehouse for all the doctor's various instruments and tools.

The Main Operating Theater Today

 The Main Operating When it Was in Use
(Note original window sill heights)

Each of the spacious patient wings features high arched ceilings and each filled with natural light.

A Patient Ward

Patients in Each Ward Had Access to Circular Reading / Sitting Rooms

Sculpture is Integrated Throughout Sant Pau's Design 

As a center for research and training the main administrative building is a showpiece of art infused architecture. Every detail from structural columns, lighting and ceiling tracery down to its window handles are exquisitely designed and crafted. Much like his Palau, Sant Pau demonstrates the architect's mastery of glass, ceramic mosaic, metals and brick.

The Hospital Administration Building

 Rich Mosaics Adorn Stair Lights

The Graceful Ceiling of the Admin Building 
Features Stained Glass Skylights

 Typical Window Handles

Similar to many of Barcelona's buildings of the era, the wrought iron fencing and gates are also works of art.

 Angels at Each Gate

The restored site is now being re-purposed as a center of knowledge devoted healthcare, sustainability and education.

Each visit Barcelona affords me another opportunity to peel back additional layers of this wonderful cities rich architectural heritage.

The particulars:
An architectural tour de force, Hospital Sant Pau is still undergoing vigorous restoration and re-purposing so not all buildings are available to tour.

While Gaudi's buildings are overrun with tourists Sant Pau offers a blissful place. Staff on hand are very helpful and the site is easily accessed having its very own Metro stop. There is an admission charge for its self guided tour. Guided tours are also available as well. Check online here for times and current admission charges.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Price Paid for Freedom

Roadboy visits the Arizona Memorial

Most days I wake up pretty proud of the country of my birth.

As a nation we've made lots of errors in judgement over our history. Most we've come to admit, some we continue to avert from our gaze.

But on balance, no nation has stood as a force for good over evil more than the United States.

And when tested, either during staggering economic depressions or when confronted in war, our leaders have proven an uncanny ability to do the right thing.

Winston Churchill opined that we always do the right thing "once we have exhausted all other options".

Saturday, nearly three decades after my first visit, I returned to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. 

And after 30 years it is still deeply moving.

The USS Arizona Memorial

A Surprise Attack
On Sunday December 7, 1941, at 7:55 am, Oahu was attacked without warning by the Japanese. The meticulously planned attack resulted in the death of more than 2,400 and the near complete destruction of America's entire fleet of battleships.

1,177 of the casualties were the sailors and marines aboard the fully fueled and armed battleship USS Arizona. When hit by a Japanese torpedo it exploded and burned for days.

A Fitting Memorial
In 1962 The USS Arizona Memorial was consecrated directly above the remains of the sunken battleship. It is white for purity. It sags in the center as the ship did signifying the damage from attack. It then rises at each end celebrating eventual victory.

The Memorial "Floats" Above the Wreckage

This memorial provides a place of remembrance of the 1,102 servicemen that perished and whose bodies still remain aboard the Arizona.

National Park Service rangers at the memorial point out that a father and son and 37 pairs (or trios) of brothers were assigned to the ship at the time of the attack. Of those 77 brothers, 62 (23 full sets of brothers) perished. 

 During My Visit This Group Came, Offered a Solemn Prayer for Peace 
Placing Flower Leis Upon the Rail

Now a sacred cemetery, as survivors die many choose to have their remains returned to the Arizona to rejoin their mates forever.

NPS Divers Continue to Inter Remains Into the Arizona

In just a few weeks, on December 7, 2016, the 5 living survivors of the Arizona are all expected to return to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the attack.

The Memorial's Architect
The USS Arizona portion of the "Valor in the Pacific" Pearl Harbor Memorial itself was designed by architect Alfred Preis. 

 A Singular Flag Flies Above the Memorial

The Tree of Life
A Universal Symbol of Renewal

The story of Mr. Preis bears telling.  

Preis arrived in Honolulu in 1939 as an Austrian political refugee escaping Hitler's Third Reich.

I found a sad irony with today's headlines that Preis was initially welcomed and then immediately taken into custody and incarcerated in an internment camp after the attack. 

Yet, after the war Preis emerged destined to create this iconic and enduring symbol; a tangible demonstration of his love for a nation in which he found sanctuary.

Black Tears
After 75 years, the Arizona still releases about 9 quarts of oil a day (which are referred to as the "Black Tears of the Arizona").

The Tears of the Arizona
Viewed From the Decks of the USS Missouri 
On Whose Decks Japan Surrendered to the US 

Integrity and Honor
It is still customary for the sailors of all ships entering Pearl Harbor to approach the rail, stand at attention and salute the Arizona as they pass.

As for me, I left Pearl harbor with two messages I will never forget.

It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. 
War is hell.
     William T. Sherman

And this poem

Dear Lord, 
Lest I continue my complacent way. 
Help me to remember somehow out there a man died for me today.  
As long as there be war I must ask and answer 
Am I worth dying for?
     The Poem Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her wallet during all of World War II  

Both seem important as our Nation's leadership now passes to individuals that have never faced hunger, oppression or shouldered weapons in war.

To all of America's veterans - thank you. 

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cruising Costa Brava's Marine Preserves and Farewells

Cycling Dali's Landscapes in Spain - Day 10

Our final morning of biking began after a beautiful sunrise and a great hotel breakfast followed by a quick shuttle to the nearby docks of L'Escala to enjoy coastal cruise to Port de L'Estartit.

An Ocean Sunrise At Breakfast

Along the way we saw the rugged coast, an arch, fed the gulls and watched lots of scuba activity in the marine sanctuary.

 Boarding Our  Morning Cruise

 Feeding The Gulls

 A Fishing Boat Traverses the Sea Arch

 Isles Medes Marine Sanctuary

 Our Bikes Await At The Docks

Upon arrival at Port de L'Estartit we found our bicycles lined up for us to begin our final 17 miles of cycling. Along the way we had numerous views of the mountaintop Montgri Castle.

 Biking Through Cornfields and Apple Orchards

 The Greek Ruins at Empuries

As we concluded out final ride we passed the ancient Empuries Greek and Roman ruins next to our hotel.

 Returning To Our Hotel

Upon returning to the hotel we all turned in our bicycles for the last time and prepared for our farewell dinner.

The dinner began with the sampling of a variety of excellent local (Emporda) wines and then went on to a three course dinner (including a glorious poached pear desert) that would make any foodie happy. After saying our goodbyes and trading of contact information, it was time to pack our bags and get a good nights sleep before a morning return trip to Barcelona.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Cycling From Our Hillside Castle to the Sea

Cycling Dali's Landscapes in Spain's Costa Brava - Day 8 and 9

Day 8:
Today we rode 21 miles from Upper Emporda to Lower Emporda and our seaside spa hotel. 

 Cycling Through Small Villages in Upper Emporda

 Sunflower Fields Upper Emporda

Along the way we stopped in the village of Verges. Every year on Maundy Thursday the residents of Verges carefully perform a macabre dance that dates back to 1666; the Dance of Death. The dance symbolizes the Black Death and includes scythe bearing skeletons that dance while spinning in 360° circles to designate that no one escapes death. 


The festival celebrates the human triumph over plague.

From here we pedaled to our lunch stop at Mas Pi. In Catalan "Mas" means "home of". Here we had a spectacular family style feast served al fresco. Every dish seemed to eclipse the last, beginning with a sweet cold (frogs back) melon soup to exquisite skewers of lamb. The owner repeatedly came to make sure we were enjoying our feast.    
Our Lunch Host at Mas Pi
After Arriving at St. Marti d'Empuries where we checked into our lux oceanfront hotel Hostal Spa Empuries. The rest of the afternoon we were free to take a swim in the Mediterranean, secure a spa treatment or explore adjacent Greek and Roman ruins.

Hostal Spa Empuries

 View from My Hotel Spa Empuries

Day 9:
Today we rode 31 miles through farms and villages with a picnic lunch at the Aiguamolls Natural Reserve. Of all the rides so far today's was (for me) the only disappointment as it included a lot of time spent riding on very busy highways with small shoulders and really not much scenery.

The day however was salvaged by our visit to Salvador Dali's museum in his hometown of Figueres. While I put Dali into the same category as Andy Warhol (i.e. self promoting eccentrics), the museum offered me some additional insight into the artist. 

The museum was created from a theater that was partially destroyed by bombing in the Spanish civil war. The main seating area has become and outdoor forecourt showcasing Dali's raining limousine and lots of assemblage art.

The large stage area is now capped with a dome shaped skylight and features some of Dali's larger canvases. This is where Dali is entombed. 

We spent time in a smaller gallery that houses pieces Dali felt were some of his most important. 

We completed our main museum tour in a gallery featuring a full living room that becomes Mae West and a gallery with a huge ciueling fresco with Dali and Gala arising to heaven. 

The tour then moved to a bank vault gallery showcasing examples of the over-the-top jewelry he designed.

The Dali Museum

Ceiling Fresco - Dali and Gala
(Dali is identifiable by his moustache)

The Dali Museum 
(Covered in bread and capped with eggs)

Dali's Muse and Wife Gala

Dali Jewelry
The Eye of Time (1949)

Our day with Dali was capped with a wonderful dinner in a village near our hotel.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gala's Castle (Pubol), Castell d'Empordaria, Paratallada and Pals

Cycling Dali's Landscapes in Spain's Costa Brava - Day 6 and 7

Day 7 began with a shuttle trip to Pubol; home of the caslte Salvador Dali gave to his wife Gala. After our tour we saddled up to ride through some lovely Catalan countryside.

"I give you a gothic castle"
       Salvador Dali

"I accept on one condition, that you only come to visit me by written invitation"
       Gala Dali

At the age of 66 (in 1970) surrealist artist Salvador Dali purchased and restored a castle in Pubol for his wife and muse Gala. 

Russian born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova was 10 years older than Dali. She was given the name Gala  to by her first husband Paul Eluard.

Dali's Muse and Wife Gala

At the time of the gift Dali and Gala had been married to for 36 years. In order to enable their marriage they sought (and received) a special Papal dispensation due to Gala's had previous marriage with Eluard (with whom she had a daughter Cecille). Gala hated motherhood ultimately abandoning Cecille (who passed away in 2016).

Throughout their marriage Dali and Gala engaged in a series of affairs (her lovers included Max Ernst, Andre Breton and her former husband Eluard). Dali encouraged her affairs. 

Gala was fond of entertaining young male "friends" in her castle.

Gala Entertained by a Friend
(Re-photo of a photograph on display in Gala's castle)

Gala appears in numerous works by Dali and he signed her name along with his  own to much of his art. Gala managed the wildly lucrative finances of Dali's artistic empire and died in 1982. She is buried in the crypt below the castle.

Gala's Main Hall
The first space a visitor experiences is a grand hall. The hall is ccomplete with a throne where Dali met the media. His crown (made of of forks) sits near the crown.

The Coffee Table Horse
Like much of Dali's life things are never quite what they seem. A closer inspection of the glass top coffee table in the living room reveals a stuffed full size horse in hte room below..

Dali Touches Are Added Everywhere

Warrior Medallion

Seated In Front of the Warrior Medallion
(Photo from the web, attributed to Alan Warren)

Original Pool

Gala's swimming pool has been converted into a reflection pool. It is fed by trickling water from the mouth of a pretty scary looking Monkfish Dali designed. Dali was fascinated by certain animals (giraffes; which he deemed a mistake of nature for example).

Gala's Crypt

The side-by-side second crypt (with a hole between them to hold hands in death) was for Dali. He was instead entombed in his museum. 

Visiting the castle provides a unique window into the souls of two of the world's most prolific and eccentric humans of any era.

From Gala's Castel we completed our 19 mile bike ride to our spectacular hilltop Hotel Castell d'Empordaria. This spectacular hotel has just 38 rooms all with amazing views over the farmlands of Costa Brava. Interestingly Dali also tried to purchase this castle from previous owner's. 

He offered his artwork as payment. 

The owners declined. 

Approaching the hotel from the River Daro.
The current owner has restored and added on to the castle creating a spectacular property. On days when Tramontane winds rush from the Pyrenees the hotels outdoor spaces are protected by elaborately placed wind screens. Our visit included warm, sunny and calm wind days.

The Hotel and its Outdoor Pavilions 

Day 7
Today we rode 26 miles through the lovely medieval villages of Paratallada and Pals (where we lunched).

 The Medieval Village of Pals

Our Bikes in Pals

A Street Scene From Parratalada

So far our days have been blessed with abundant sunshine accompanied by perfect temperatures for biking.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016