As I travel, I am always looking for someone to go to dinner with, share a barbeque sandwich lunch and so forth. If you are in the area of any of these events (or along the way, since I often drive), give me a call on my cell phone (404-822-3412 ). I would be delighted to visit with you. Also, I accept a limited number of trips per year to mills for reimbursement of travel expenses only (I am a cheap date). I like to visit mills and talk, and I'll be happy to hang around a day or two and talk to your professionals, shift teams and so forth, in a formal setting or just out in operations. Contact me for arranging such a visit. One caveat: clients may require my presence at a time or place that conflicts with these. Clients get priority for every date but my wife's birthday or our anniversary.
Jim's Travel Rankings
Hilton Airport, Zurich, Switzerland. 12 December 2019. This hotel is the worst of the trip. Free shuttle from airport or train station to hotel. They charge you Fr 5 to take you back. They also have a Fr 2.90 "Environmental Fee" to get out of the place. I asked for an itemized bill on the environmental fee and, of course, they couldn't give me one. Nickel and dime you to death.
Metropole, Interlocken, Switzerland. 11 December 2019. Tallest hotel in town and we were on the 14th floor. Great view when we arose in the morning. Nothing spectacular, but room was nice.
Ibis Styles, Lucerne, Switzerland. 9- 10 December 2019. A sweet little surprise. Cheap. Price includes breakfast. What I call a "European style" hotel room, but it was fine. Best hotel of the trip.
Sheraton, Zurich, Switzerland. 6 - 8 December 2019. This hotel is OK, but nothing great. Steam heat is funky. Hotel is off the beaten path for the weekend. The restaurant isn't even open on the weekends.
Hilton's Home2 Suites. 26 April 2019. Hilton has been coming up with some funky brands as they try to lower costs and attract millennials. I have been trying them out. This is one of them. Rooms are tiny but functional. Constant lecture in the signage and breakfast area about being "green" and eating healthy. This old guy's interpretation? They are using this propaganda to keep their costs down. Breakfast has no hot foods except oatmeal and toast--a breakfast fit for Days Inn or Motel 6. The rooms are not cleaned every day in the name of cheap--I mean "green." Note to self--don't stay here multiple nights in a row. When they start offering discounts if you clean the room of the previous guest's offal when you arrive, or worse yet, charge you extra for cleaning the room for you before you arrive--I am done.
Singapore, Singapore. 19 Feb - 1 Mar 2019. Colonial United Kingdom meets Disney World and Las Vegas. An amazing city-state. Everything is up to date, gleaming and clean. Draconian laws keep it spotless and everyone seems to like it. Don't miss the orchids at the Botanical Garden or the various venues telling the very interesting story of the history of Singapore.
Oslo, Norway. 19 -22 Apr 18. It is a privilege to travel and recently I had the privilege of visiting Oslo. Had not been to Norway before, the last of the Scandinavian countries for me. Oslo left me feeling irritated. The extreme socialism, the arrogance of the people of Norway seemingly thinking they have the edge on how the world should behave was insulting. It did give me some insight into how others view American arrogance as they call it. The people are rude, at least the ones I encountered on the streets and in the airport. This city is nothing like Helsinki (see below). I didn't leave anything in Oslo I will ever need to go back to retrieve.
I-85 Raleigh - Atlanta. I have been traveling this interstate for 30 years, and it has always been under construction. Now it is under construction around Kannapolis, North Carolina and Spartanburg, South Carolina. With Atlanta as a hub, it would surely make sense to run high speed passenger trains right down the middle of the interstates to Birmingham, Chattanooga and Raleigh, respectively.
Holland America Cruise Lines. Laura and I took a ten day cruise on this line in February 2018. We visited Aruba, Curaçao, Cartagena, the Panama Canal and Costa Rica. Somewhat duplicated a cruise we took fifteen years ago. You know what they say about passengers on cruise ships--the newly wed and nearly dead. This was a nearly dead cruise, but it was fine. The ship needs some maintenance, broken windows and so forth were very noticeable. The surprise of the trip was entertainment by the Island Magic Steel Band. These folks do not belong on a cruise ship--they are much better than the usual cruise ship entertainment. They play show tunes, classical music, other surprises for being a steel drum band.
Jekyll Island, Georgia. I used to like to come to Jekyll Island. The reasons are counter-intuitive. The entire island is owned by the State of Georgia. There are private homes and businesses here which lease the land beneath them from the state. Over time, the financial institutions have gotten used to this and lend for property built here. Once a sleepy beach destination, the place is now being overbuilt by big name outfits. They have added one of those irritating traffic roundabouts and most probably the first traffic light on the island is not far away. This is likely my last trip here--they have ruined a charming location and are turning it into the same madhouse all other beach communities have become.
OK, here we go--latest European cities visited. Laura and I took a little cruise on the Baltic from 22 Aug 15 - 5 Sept 15. Actually, the cruise was a bit shorter than that and we tucked in a couple of days in Amsterdam on either end. I'll go in sequence below, leaving Amsterdam until last.
Berlin, Germany. 24 Aug 15. Love Berlin. We had been there less than two years ago and it continues to grow on me. This time we were on a guided tour, which added a lot of information. I particularly like old East Berlin, which is really almost all new now. I want this to be our future Christmas trip destination, particularly if New York City, where we have gone for many years at Christmastime, continues to deteriorate.
Tallin, Estonia. 26 Aug 15. I used to hear about Tallin when I lived in Helsinki, but had never been there. Only had time to tour the old city, which is much like other "old town" parts of European cities (Nuremberg and Toledo come to mind). Nice place and I would go back.
St. Petersburg, Russia. 27 - 28 Aug 15. I was most anxious to see St. Petersburg again. I had been there in the spring of 1988 when it was Leningrad and when Russia was a part of the USSR. Much improved and had a very prosperous feeling. Apparently the shipyards are quite busy and there are several auto assembly plants there now, including one belonging to Ford. Not enough time in the Hermitage, of course.
Helsinki, Finland. 29 Aug 15. How I love Helsinki. It also helped that it was a gorgeous day. We took a train out to where I had lived in 1988 and the neighborhood had been completely leveled and renovated! The grocery stores have more of an American feel now--they have full size shopping carts (we used to have very small ones) and a much larger selection of food. It wasn't bad in the old days, but a much larger selection now. We walked all over downtown and near downtown. Just as I remembered. And with Helsinki, we start to see lots of bicycles.
Stockholm, Sweden. 30 Aug 15. Never much liked Stockholm and that has not changed. Seems very hard to get around in downtown Stockholm to me. Went to see the Vasa, which I had seen before when it was in a temporary building. Now it is in a permanent structure. They are doing a nice job with this. We had a gorgeous evening navigating out through the archipelago--it took four hours and the sun was nearly down when we go to the open sea.
Copenhagen, Denmark. 1 Sep 15. I am getting tired of all the bicycles. Tour guide says there are two bicycles for every Dane. Why? Because the tax on a new automobile is 180%. Tivoli--not worth the admission fee in my opinion, but Laura liked it.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 3 - 4 Sep 15. Laura loves Amsterdam, so I love Amsterdam. Actually, I don't. Too many potheads, too many bicycles and too many canals. I say fill in the canals and make them four lane streets. Some good museums. The Anne Frank house and the Dutch Resistance Museum are well worth the visit. We also toured the Rijksmuseum. Laura was deeply disappointed because the Van Gogh Museum was closed. If I ever go back, it will be to take Laura to the Van Gogh Museum again (she had actually been there before). By the way, I have a taxi recommendation in Amsterdam: Imenza Taxi. Local phone: +31648650883. Very reliable and he doesn't pay kickbacks to the hotels, so he is much lower priced. Neatly dressed and drives a late model black Mercedes. I have his email, but won't publish it here. If you need to reach him by email, email me (you can find my email anywhere and I will send it by return email).
Pet Peeves--Air Travel. Why do experienced travelers (I know they are experienced because they are in the trusted traveler line with me) show up at the airport as if they are not going through security? I empty my pockets in the parking lot and stuff everything away (except for my ID) long before I get to security. It is irritating to be stuck behind someone who is going through a self-performed frisk as if they suddenly discovered what is about to happen next. Anyone else feel this way? Come to the airport ready to proceed hastily through TSA, people.
Winter 2015 Restaurant Week, Manhattan, NY. Since Laura and I had to be here anyway, we decided to do our public service duty and check out a few restaurants we had not previously patronized. Tribeca Grill, 375 Greenwich Street. Great Sunday lunch in a great old building. Definitely would go back. Tavern on the Green, Central Park. I was skeptical and prepared to be disappointed, but was not. Delightful Sunday evening dinner. Great view of the snow impacted Green. Le Cirque, One Beacon Court, 151 East 58th Street. Here was the dud! Shoved us Restaurant Week riff raff off in a side room so we would not offend the regular patrons. Fed us swill for lunch. Milos, 125 West 55th Street. We were introduced to the original Milos in Montreal by our good friend Albert Moore, many years ago. Same menu, more industrial feel. Prefer the Montreal version for ambiance. Here you get to select your own fish, and it is cooked to order. Fantastic food, but be prepared to take out a second mortgage on your home to pay the bill.
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, 3 Jan 15. Laura and I went to see the famous bunker which the US government built under this facility. The staff is as snooty as the wait staff in Savannah (see below). On top of that, management has a clever way to extract more money from you. If you travel, you are used to onerous taxes inflicted on hotel bills by local authorities. The Greenbrier has done this trick one better--they inflict an onerous tax on top of everything else for their own benefit. It is called the Preservation Fee and it is 6.5% on everything you buy on site. I would recommend this place if you want to go somewhere and lose yourself for a week, spending about what you would on a week long cruise. Just be prepared to shell out the money.
Mount Vernon, 2 Jan 15. The home of George Washington. Not bad, unfortunate day to do this, however. The staff was expecting a normal crowd of 500, instead 3,000 of us showed up. Strained the facilities. My surprised was that there are this many people in the US who know or care who George Washington was.
Secondary highways in Indiana, Summer 2014. Avoid them. I made a drive on the 13th of August that should have taken 3 hours--Terre Haute to Valparaiso. Instead it took 5 hours. Indiana DOT is replacing bridges on state and federal highways. But they are not bothering to put in temporary bypasses--they are just routing you miles and miles out of your way. Ugh!
Bennington, Vermont. Everything has an antipode. Bennington, Vermont is the antipode of New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is the place to go to eat. Bennington is definitely not the place to go to eat. Nice people, trying hard, but, sadly a decent lunch is not to be found. We walked in three or four places and walked by more. We are not picky eaters. Also, avoid the traffic light at Main and Route 7. Some traffic engineer has gone a bit wild trying to control traffic in this small town.
55th and 59th Streets, Chicago, Illinois. These may seem a curious destination, but if you regularly use Chicago's Midway Airport to reach northwestern Indiana, as I do frequently these days, you will spend about 15 minutes on one of these streets. 55th Street displays the remnants of a once great boulevard. Both are in deplorable shape and are candidates for relocation to Detroit. Very depressing, but choices are limited. If anyone has a better alternative for reaching the Dan Ryan Expressway from Midway, please let me know.
May 2014 Madrid and Toledo, Spain. Beautiful country, very nice people. Huge amount of history, of course. Toledo is not to be missed and if you like art, El Greco lived here. Toledo is a fortress hill, with a charming old town, winding streets and a fabulous military history museum. Madrid is a modern city with mostly polite drivers (they will even wait for you if you are in a crosswalk). Madrid has trees everywhere. Wine is extremely cheap, food is good.
April 2014 Savannah, Georgia. Savannah continues to disappoint. Great architecture, well preserved. I suspect the real locals, if you can find them, are a treat. However, most of the folks you will come in contact with came from somewhere else and forgot to leave the chip on their shoulder behind. And when did it become chic to decorate your restaurant with furniture that came out of the trash heap beside the street? They have been doing this for so long in so many establishments in Savannah that it is very, very tiring, not to mention boring.
March 2014 Panajachel, Guatemala. If you haven't been to southwestern Guatemala, you are missing some of the most beautiful scenery and climate in the world. It is a very poor area, but has surprising amenities. Look it up and take a trip.
November 2013 European trains are great. Traveled all over Germany and a fairly good train trip in Spain. Of course, I don't know how much they are subsidized by the government, but the service and equipment are outstanding. In Spain, we reached 300 kph at one point. Barcelona. I must admit I was only in transit between the airport and the main train station, but I didn't see any reason to go back. I described it to my wife as Genoa, Italy without the charm (and a number of years ago, I had characterized Genoa as "Cleveland on the Mediterranean"). Berlin, however, was another matter. I fell in love with Berlin.
Summer Construction 2013 In the first half of July, drove to Niagara Falls, New York and return. Via Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Erie and Buffalo. Quite a bit of construction, primarily paving, no serious slowdowns or blockages. Leaving on July 24th and returning on August 3rd, I drove Chattanooga > Nashville > Paducah > St. Louis > Kansas City > Denver > Golden > Pueblo > Amarillo > Oklahoma City > Dallas > Shreveport > Jackson > Birmingham > home. In Southern Illinois, on I-57, there is a horrific amount of construction that I know has been going on for over a year. In Kansas City, KS, the interstate is nearly shut down with construction (at least at 11 pm when I was sailing through). Otherwise, paving everywhere. I would say it is no exaggeration to say paving is going on every twenty miles throughout the system.
On 24 - 26 Jun 13, I took Megabus from Atlanta to Buffalo, New York and back. It is a twenty hour trip each way including an hour and a half layover in Cincinnati. I have got to say it wasn't that bad (but I like to be on the road). The college crowd has apparently found Megabus and love it. And it is cheap, very cheap. Even with a last minute ticket, it was only $67 one way. If I were going point to point, and did not need a rental car on the other end, I would consider using it again. For instance, from downtown Atlanta to downtown Cincinnati, I would be hard pressed to make the trip, portal-to-portal (my front door to my destination), in less than nine hours, which is what it would take you on the bus. You can work all the way with the onboard Wi-Fi and you can avoid the dreaded TSA at the airports. It must be catching on--Greyhound has a competing express service now, too.
May 2013--The Hilton chain is losing its luster. They devalued their points system a few months ago. And the management at some of their so-called better properties is deteriorating. This spring, at the Doubletree on Canal Street in New Orleans, they tried to convince me that a room by the pool with sliding glass doors was a great thing. I don't even swim, plus you would have to keep the drapes pulled the entire time if you wanted any privacy, let alone thinking about security. At the Conrad in Lower Manhattan, their idea of breakfast is a joke, as well as their idea of service. This was not an idle observation--we were there four days.
Jim's Airport Rankings
Love flying, hate airports. Hence these are ranked from the airport I least despise on down to the one I most despise. A subjective amalgamation of many characteristics. All airports listed have been visited within the last three years.
Chicago (Midway), Illinois
LaGuardia, New York, New York
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Prague, Czech Republic
Buffalo, New York
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Dallas (Love), Texas
Newark, New Jersey
Dallas (DFW), Texas
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
St. Louis, Missouri
JFK, New York, New York
Salt Lake City, Utah