I sit here at Virgin Atlantic’s upper class lounge at London’s Heathrow airport, awaiting their transcontinental nonstop service to San Francisco, listening to Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G Minor on my headphones. I am returning from a two-month tour of Europe that was highly informative, exciting, and even mind expanding. The proof is the ten new pounds that I am packing under my belt.
Living in the US, all I hear about are America’s weaknesses and the strength’s of foreign countries, mostly China. Traveling abroad, one is barraged with admiration for our country’s strengths and endless mewling about their weaknesses. So to look at the United States objectively, it is necessary to spend a certain amount of time abroad. This I did in spades.
It was first class and five stars all the way. I’m talking palaces, presidential suites, and Michelin three star restaurants. My credit card is worn out, the magnetic strip a mere fragment of its former self, and shall be retired to stud when I get home. PayPal is laughing all the way to the bank. As for my travel blazer, it needs to be shot and buried, being far beyond the reach of even the most diligent dry cleaner.
My global strategy luncheons in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Portofino, Mykonos, and Zermatt were a blowout success. Several venues required rebooking to larger facilities to accommodate greater than anticipated numbers.
It appears that a 37% return in a year when everyone else is tearing their hair out is a real crowd draw. All went away with a broadened view of the world, and I picked up some first class intelligence. It was well worth the investment for all.
The adventures came fast and furious. I picked up a new fedora at Locke & Co., just down St. James Street from my old office at The Economist magazine, the firm that supplied Lord Nelson of Trafalgar and all the kings and queens of England with their fine hats. Tea at the Ritz is a people watching experience par excellence.
The red light district in Amsterdam has gone tourist, with families perusing the bikini clad ladies of the evening in the bay windows, who are now mostly from Russia. After a major cleaning job, Rembrandt’s Night Watch looks even better than it did when I first saw it 45 years ago. The international flower market performed a logistical masterpiece that would have done the founders of the original Dutch East India Company proud.
The city of Dresden was a cultural gem long outside my reach in the old communist East Germany. The shadow of the mass firebombing that killed most of the population in 1945 is ever present. Looking at the crown jewels of the Saxon kings, it is easy to understand from where the anti tax movement sprung.
It was an emotional moment for me riding my bicycle across the site of the former Berlin Wall. Where machine guns once threatened, a million flowers now bloom. My deluxe accommodations at the Hotel Adlon were the old wartime Gestapo headquarters. That is a vast improvement over the dilapidated student dormitory where I stayed in the sixties, which, remarkably, is still standing. Goering’s solidly built Air Ministry still exists just down the street, an Art Deco tour de force. Scouring the city’s vintage shops, I managed to score an Italian embroidered suede alpine jacket that fit perfectly for only €8.
My free afternoon in Frankfurt’s botanical gardens saw me curiously exploring such oddities as barrel cactus, cholla, and octillo, the kinds of flora we have in abundance in the deserts back home.
Portofino, on the Italian Riviera, was beautiful to look at, but was plagued by European summer vacations crowds that are typical for this time of year. One only hoped that the competing Russian oligarchs attempting to maneuver their mega yachts into the village’s tiny harbor didn’t break out into a shooting war. Watching a pod of dolphins race with the bow of our own ship made it all worth it.
The worst nightmare of the trip was the check in at budget Meridian Airlines for the flight to Mykonos. It was me and 200 hard partying Italian kids. The seats were jammed so close together I nearly suffered a double amputation (see photo below). It was so disorganized I barely made the flight. Better to leave the Italians to food, fashion, and race cars, than to running airlines and cruise ships.
With Italy in its third year of recession, the bargains in Milan were to die for. The children are outfitted for the next two years. I even bought clothes for people I didn’t like, and shipped them home in suitcases bought at 50% off. Only the 100 degree heat and the clouds of mosquitoes drove me away from a longer stay. There’s nothing like flaunting death in a taxi racing to the airport at 100 miles per hour tailgating the car in front by ten feet.
Mykonos was the first “sit on the beach and do nothing” holiday I’ve enjoyed in many years. But I still got a lot of writing done between racing around the island on a beat up quadracycle and the girls dancing on the tables.
I finally made it to the top of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, all 14,800 feet of it. Knock that item off the bucket list. What I hadn’t bargained for was the rescue effort I got involved in on the way down. More on that in a future piece. Zermatt is a fantasy destination that I will keep returning to every year to climb as long as I live. Having just bagged my 45 year pin from the tourist bureau, can I shoot for 90?
I completed my journey by climbing the highest mountain in Wales, Mount Snowdon. The weather was perfect, rare for this part of the world. I took it as a good omen for the future. Scaling rocky crags, the view of the lakes and the Irish Sea was breathtaking. By then I was just plum worn out from traveling, and longed for my own bed and the morning edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, even one soaked by the sprinklers. California wine is looking pretty good right now, with the fall harvest fast upon us.
I return with a new lease on life, my batteries recharged, and chomping at the bit. It doesn’t hurt that my Trade Alert performance is tickling yet another all time high, up 92% since inception two and a half years ago. I’ll get some new Trade Alerts out soon to throw the hard core traders among you some red meat. It is going to be a very good year.
Many thanks for all your support. You, the readers, make it all worth it.
I’m on the plane now, two hours into the Atlantic. Below are the endless glaciers and snowfields of Greenland. I’ve made it all the way to Bach’s Partita No. II in D Minor. Iceland is in our rear view mirror. The stewardess is asking me to make room for my steak and cabernet. So that’s it for now.