September 09, 2010
La Basilica: Gargoyles of Paris, Eat Your Heart OutI've explored so many churches in my life that I tend to skip over the majority these days unless there's something uniquely special about it. From turn of the century to turn of the last two centuries, I've meandered through churches in nearly every country in Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia. Little did I know what Quito Ecuador had to offer.
In Ecuador's second largest town that dates from pre-Hispanic times, there are over 40 churches and chapels, 16 convents and monasteries with their respective cloisters, 17 plazas, 12 chapter rooms and refectories, 12 museums and countless courtyards. A more extensive blog post captures some of the visuals in the old town, including La Ronda, a narrow lane lined with picture-book 17th century buildings, with placards along the walls describing some of the street's history and the artists, writers and political figures who once lived there.
La Basilica is a must visit; its tower visit is a mere $2. Be prepared to climb very high, but it's well worth the experience. Gothic and overbearing in a glorious sort of way, it was built in 1926. Not the gargoyles of Paris, but as magnificent of a view and the architecture is incredible -- every step of the way.
Instead of gargoyles, turtles and iguanas protrude from the church's side. The highlight is the climb itself, straight up to the clock tower as well as the stunning views of Quito below. It requires crossing a rickety wooden plank inside the main roof and climbing steep stairs and ladders to the top.....all this after climbing a spiral staircase and three more sets of ladders. Loved every minute of it - below I capture the views and the experience of the climb itself in three separate short videos.
August 23, 2010
Cell Phones Are Alive and Well in Ecuador
Cell phone culture is alive and well in Ecuador. Whether you are walking through a traditional market in a small village or a town like Cuenca in the center of the country where expats and retirees are buying up property (population 50,000), there's a cell phone in hand.
It's not uncommon for older women (mid-forties to early fifties since they tend to marry early here) in traditional costumes to be carrying their grandchildren on their backs and be talking on a cell phone in the middle of a market or on the back of a pick-up truck.
July 27, 2010
Lovin’ Cars in DetroitLast week, I went on one of the fastest trips to anywhere “new” quite possibly in the last ten years. Quick trips are something I typically avoid; I try to stay several days after my business purpose for being there – to meet up with friends, scour the destination, shoot (my Canon is never very far away) and sample restaurants, cafes, bars and venues.
There are some places on this globe you really have no reason to go unless something about that destination that the whole world knows about, draws you there. Memphis for Elvis, Pisa for its leaning tower, Stonehenge for “stones,” Orlando for Disney….you get the idea. So, if you ever find yourself on a plane to Detroit, just because I’d be surprised, although I’m sure people have done it.
People typically head there – at least on business - because they are involved in some way, shape or form to the car industry or might want to partner with a player in the car industry. In fact, I ran into a former client I had not seen in awhile and of course they too were heading to Ford for a meeting the next day.
Because of the fact that I’m blogging more ‘lifestyle’ these days, in Detroit, I found myself on a plane to Detroit and then a shuttle to Dearborn Michigan for a dog-and-pony with Ford with over 75 other journalists and bloggers brought in from around the world. (Reason: advance look at the 2011 Ford Explorer - my coverage of the news here).
One of the things I immediately noticed was the ‘air’ – a quick reminder that we were closer to East Coast summer climate. For example, I saw a lightening bug, a wonderful reminder of my childhood in upstate New York where we’d run around and capture them for late night viewing in glass jars set next to our beds.
Because the trip was so short, I didn’t have time to explore Detroit or Dearborn, but the Dearborn Inn is worth noting because it ‘wears’ the auto industry on its sleeve, with photos of automobiles on the room walls, the hallway walls and in the pub, which is decked out with a burgundy pool table, plenty of TV screens blaring with sports, antique wooden tables and comfortable chairs covered with decorative paisley Victorian-style material.
After an outside buffet dinner which included burgers, salads, salmon, and chicken, several of us headed to the pub. Others headed to their rooms to work or call their families -- I quickly learned that more traditional automotive reporters spend a lot of time on the road traveling to car shows and various manufacturers who do dog-and-pony shows like the one Ford set up for us this week.
Many were not returning home but to LA for another gig. I learned about a recent shindig in Montreal, another in the Bay Area, the list goes on. Most of the reporters knew each other from the repetitive trips to all the usual suspects which they have done again and again for years. One guy from Texas and another from Oklahoma spotted me and said “you’re new. We don’t know you.” It wasn’t done in that secluded “you’re not one of us kinda way; it was done in an endearing “wanting to know what you’re about and are interested in” kind of way.
A lot of these guys are more interested in the nuts and bolts, the factual details, the stats of new car features, whether it be about fuel economy, technology, safety or things that make the car better. Others were really into the engine – and I mean, really into the engine. Everyone from car radio and TV talk shows and the Detroit Free Press to Kelley Blue Book and L’Automobile out of Canada were there.
Some lifestyle folks were there and a few bloggers, although adding bloggers and social media types is relatively new for them, largely due to the impressive efforts of Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, who I’ve met over the years at events like BlogWorldExpo and SXSW. He’s prolific and everywhere, eager to explore, engage and listen.
What was most intriguing was how regimented it was – not specifically the way Ford does things, since most corporate giants run press events in a fairly structured way, but how regimented the process was for the ‘industry.’ It’s an industry these guys take seriously and after all, why not? Cars are one of the most expensive purchases we tend to make after a home. People are so interested in cars that some traditional press despite circulation declines, still have a significant amount of space set aside for auto coverage. Tim Spell from the Houston Chronicle writes for a daily column dedicated only to cars and trucks.
The second thing I noticed was how passionate everyone was about cars. It’s a lifestyle for those who live and breathe automobiles. I grew up in a family who tinkered with cars when you could still tinker with them. My grandfather had several cars hanging around at any given time and my male cousins and uncles had the same. Ford was a favorite in the 1950s and 1960s when ‘buying American’ and supporting an American car manufacturer wasn’t just trendy, it was the “right thing” to do.
I’ve had my fair share of cars over the years and they’ve ranged from Chevys (my first two), a Fort Escort, a Fiat Uno, Toyotas and then Hondas. I stayed away from BMWs and Saabs for the most part because I didn’t want to have to rely on a man to tinker with a mess (at the time when you could still tinker).
I just wanted the damn thing to run for as long as it could without a lot of maintenance. I voted less with my pocket and more for what was going to give me the best endurance and reliability. A close second was design, color and inside functionality. For my grandmother, oddly enough, it was both speed and safety. She had a ‘lead’ foot, so that is likely why safety was her close second.
I ran into Bob Tasca Jr. from the infamous Tasca Ford, a name you’ve probably heard of if you’ve spent any time on the East Coast. He’s based in Rhode Island and his father, who passed away in January at 83, is known as a Ford racing legend. He spent more than two hours trying to convince me to give up my Honda and buy a Ford and seemed committed to getting me into a Ford Mustang convertible before the year was up.
Not only is he passionate about Ford, but he feels pretty strongly about buying a vehicle that supports the “motherland.” As for Ford being the most reliable car on the market, he’s convinced that they are ahead of other players and lived and breathed this conviction in a way that was addictive. I did a video interview with Bob which you can tune into here.
Also milling about the pub were others in town who were not part of our tribe, but who also lived and breathed cars. Ford dealers in from Texas, Colorado and other parts of the country were talking shop over beers and martinis. The pub albeit a traditional and cosy pub that reminded me more of British pubs than American ones in many ways, had a surprisingly diverse wine selection and they also served monster sized shrimp cocktails with spicy rangy sauce and thousand island dressing.
Flights to and fro were packed and the air was hot and muggy and had that mid-summer thickness about it, something many people flea from, but I love. I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to Detroit for more ‘car talk’ at some juncture for once the car bug hits you in some way, I have a feeling it either sticks around for awhile or returns at another juncture in your life.
July 24, 2010
The Travel Blogger Show
The Travel Blogger Show is coming up on September 12-14, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.
They'll cover everything from the basics, as well as approaches bloggers take and don't take. For example, some travel bloggers depend on publicists for access to travel information and experiences to write about, and value their news tips. Other bloggers dismiss publicists and marketers as time-wasting spammers.
Also on the agenda are the do's and don'ts, how to keep the content fresh if you're only covering one subject.
July 18, 2010
Travel Like a Human: Hotels Be GoneThe New York Times has an interesting piece about traveling the 'human way' - in other words, find houses, apartments and various other dwelling variations rather than stay in a hotel.
I learn about a short-term rental service called AirBnB.com, their tagline btw is: travel like a human. Called the "Ebay for space" by Time Magazine, Airbnb is an online marketplace allowing anyone from private residents to commercial properties to rent out their extra space. The reputation-based site allows for user reviews, verification, and secure online transactions. Listings include vacation rentals, private rooms, entire apartments, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, castles, treehouses, and many other traditional and non-traditional accommodations.
I have to admit, a treehouse definitely sounds more compelling than a cold, lifeless motel room providing there's mosquito nets if in more tropical areas. Then again, I doubt I'd get wifi in a treehouse or a hot shower with great water pressure, but you most certainly would have ambience and surrounded by nature on all sounds.
You can find a studio apartment for as low as 65 Euros a night in Paris only ten minutes away from the Louvre. Other sites such as iStopOver.com and Crashpadder.com offer similar offerings. In other words, travel like a human and get the comforts of home for much less than you'd pay for a hotel.
Couchsurfing has become more popular in recent years, which is essentially a service in which members offer a spare couch — or bed, or floor space — to fellow Couchsurfers, at no charge. When I was at SXSW last year in Austin, I ran into several people who were couchsurfing there (smart given how ridiculously high the hotels were that week). The same applied to people I talked to at CES last year in Las Vegas. Apparently it is growing so fast that the phenomena has two million people in 238 countries as members. that's because travel is broken and service at hotels is often an afterthought.
Like airlines, hotels are going after every nickel. There are so many extra charges, it's hard to keep track: the often ridiculous amount for daily wifi access (more than half the time it isn't even reliable), overpriced canned soda, $30 room service bills for a very basic breakfast, luggage storage, bellmen tips, 5 different kinds of taxes - the list goes on. They even charge you to RECEIVE a fax. Soon, like restaurants have started doing, we'll be paying for employee's medical insurance as well, as if that should be the 'guests' responsibility. Restaurants are getting away with it, so I wouldn't be surprised if hotels adopted a similar obnoxious policy. Bottom line, travelers will get fed up and go where service works - other consumers with rooms to rent, many of whom have felt similar travel pains.
Social networking at its best, these services tap into the power of other 'trusted sources' and reviews from their community. Other sites will emerge to make it even more targeted based on similar interests and tastes.
Photo Credit: Ed Alcock
July 15, 2010
Airlines & Airports Need to GET Technology FasterThe New York Times has a piece on technology and social networking for travelers - how airlines, airports and travelers are using social networking as a way to what, make traveling easier? Perhaps a little less painful if you can connect with a like-minded person when you're stuck at the Detroit or Delhi airport for hours.
Yet, the article references a survey of 84 of the world’s largest airports done by the Airports Council International earlier this year, which found that 96% offered Wi-Fi connections, and 73% had connections throughout their terminals. The survey reports that 45% offer the service free; the rest charge an average of about $8 an hour. Hmmm, so if I'm stuck for 6 hours because of a technical difficulty, I have to pay $50 to stay connected and get my work done, more than I pay for a month's service at home.
The piece talks about increasing availability of Wi-Fi at airports yet I still struggle to find 'reliable' connections even in places that tout they have it and then, they overcharge. Thanks to Verizon Wireless (AT&T obviously has also in the states but only half as reliable in my experience), I don't have to be hostage to airports' expensive connectivity plans that are often sketchy anyway. And while we're at it, what about the lack of power outlets? On every trip, I am on my hands and knees looking for the only one or two power outlets in the waiting area and 9 times out of 10, someone is charging their iPhone on it.
So I learn that "more than 10 airlines in North America, including American, Delta and Southwest, are wiring their planes for Internet access, and major foreign airlines like Lufthansa are introducing new technology that will let customers connect on transoceanic flights. And, as many as 1,200 commercial airliners in the United States will have Wi-Fi capability by the end of the year, according to Chris Babb, senior product manager of in-flight entertainment for Delta Air Lines."
Apparently Lufthansa has consulted with members of the FlyerTalk service to potentially develop an iPhone app so people can tap into the power social networking from anywhere. (a Blackberry version coming later). How it would work? A built-in GPS allows users to find fellow fliers who might be nearby. It also has a taxi-sharing feature that travelers can activate upon landing. I LOVE THIS ONE BTW and this is so logical and overdue I can't believe no one has launched something like this earlier.
It's great that the travel industry is starting to embrace technology, but frankly, they need to embrace it faster AND make it less painful to use - more power outlets, free wifi in airports and hotels, and easy-to-find and use mobile devices where you can connect locally at your new destination without the need to go through weeks of advance research to figure out the best mobile option for your four day stay. It needs to be easier and it needs to be cheaper so that not only the business traveler who can expense his $100 for the day wifi charge can benefit.
Mobile warriors have to stay connected in order to be productive on the road otherwise, staying home and doing a Skype call or virtual conference may prove to be a more productive and less stressful alternative.
July 02, 2010
A Chat with Virgin America's CEO David Cush
Fortune's Adam Lashinksy interviews Virgin America CEO David Cush, who discusses the innovative tools the carrier uses to expand its routes and please its customers.
Below, Virgin America vs. big U.S. carriers. In a second interview with David Cush, he says that in going up against U.S. airlines, they are competing on price, flights and routes. They're not yet making money yet, but he says they hope to make a profit this year. The initial plan called for profitability in year three and it looks like they're on target.
June 11, 2010
Israel Film Festival: What We Can ExpectLast week at The Israel Conference, I interviewed Meir Feningstein about this year's Israel Film Festival, coming to Los Angeles from October 20 to November 4, 2010 and New York from December 2-16, 2010. They'll also be holding one in Miami in February 8-17, 2011. We learn about some of the highlights and what you can expect. Join us.
May 19, 2010
Should You Pack Candles for the World Cup?
In January of 2008 South Africa endured blackouts that crippled the country, shutting down some of the major industries for days and causing a general drag on the economy.
Power has been rationed to the major consumers and general public since then and other conservation measures have been in effect.
Yet blackouts continue, in spite of a reduction in demand due to the global recession's effects on South Africa's economy. The problem is a result of decades of neglect in capacity generation and is exacerbated by power cable theft. Increased supply is supposed to help the problem but this isn't coming until 2012.
The problems were serious enough to draw the world's attention and questions have been raised about whether the country would be able to power the World Cup.
A trip to South Africa 18 months ago included a meeting with Eskom, the public utility which supplies 95% of the country's electricity and is one of the world's ten largest producers, and a meeting with FIFA, the international football organization presenting the tournament.
Questions to Eskom were met with brief and confident responses, and FIFA's answers focused on the games themselves, with reassurances that power generators would provide sufficient electricity for the stadiums during play.
When the same questions were asked of business leaders and the general citizenry the responses were much less certain. Many people mentioned crime and public safety as a trouble spot, but electricity was the primary infrastructure concern cited, with ground transportation a distant second (freight transport workers are on strike and the passenger train unions joined them earlier this week).
Now with the tournament less than a month away it is clear that authorities are worried. Eskom recently released a statement saying that they "expect quantities to be sufficient" but acknowledge pressure on the system and increased their calls to spare usage. Color-coded referees will appear on television to alert citizens and visitors about imminent reductions in power, at which point people will be asked to limit their usage to one light and one television.
Hopefully they are also asking people to "power pool," something that would make sense for a social activity like watching football. Perhaps an ad campaign of "Got Torch?" (We call them flashlights in the States).
The scheduling of matches can't help. FIFA understandably wants to avoid overlap. But 19 of the preliminary round's 48 matches are at night, with an additional 19 finishing after dark. Only 10 are day games. Among South Africa's biggest electricity consumers are the natural-resource extractors, but these consume electricity day and night. Residential consumption increases dramatically in the evening, and the games are taking place during South Africa's winter, so people are going to need heat as well as light.
In addition to concerns about the effect on the games themselves, there is the considerable matter of public safety, particularly with large crowds. It's not going to matter that FIFA has sufficient generator capacity to keep the bulbs on in the stadium if the traffic lights, street lights and public transit are shut down.
Meanwhile, here in San Francisco the first matches begin at 4:30 in the morning, or at nautical twilight, which is the point at which seafarers are able to discern a soccer ball against the horizon. Our biggest concerns are whether to stay up all night or wake up early, and how to change the city's liquor laws so that the game's first match can be met with a civilizing Bloody Mary or Mimosa. How about a new pub tradition called Groggy Hour? Ah, the problems of a first-world nation in consumptive decline.
Which brings us to the matter of global perception. This is being pitched as South Africa's coming-out party. It's been 17 years since the end of white rule, close to a generation, and the country is eager to demonstrate its modernity and readiness for a prominent place among the many new players in the global economy.
But what happens if the lights go out while everyone is watching?
February 08, 2010
Munich's Pulse During a Frigid January WeekBelow are a sampling of colors and shapes and lack thereof during a cold January week in Munich this past month.