George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘cruise

EUROPEAN TRAVEL NOTES & RANDOM REFLECTIONS

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Returning home to New York’s JFK airport from abroad continues to be a major embarrassment, after leaving a shiny modern airport in Europe. You exit through a dingy corridor to customs, immigration, and baggage retrieval, to find transportation. You have to haul your baggage across a busy thoroughfare to reach the cabstand. Then you’re treated to a bumpy ride into the city over bad roads through dismal surroundings. Welcome to America 2013. There is no possible excuse for the way our infrastructure has deteriorated. It is nice to hear the administration talk about improving this but you have to wonder where all those billions of stimulus funds went, when there’s not a single project of any note being undertaken anywhere. 

Another embarrassment is Times Square, especially insofar as it is largely populated by tourists, wandering about what is a joke of a pedestrian mall. Having just left countries with beautiful piazzas with fountains, etc. the plaza created on Broadway is laughably bad in comparison, consisting of junk outdoor patio furniture and baffled visitors milling around. It desperately needs some creative architecture. Perhaps Bloomberg will donate a fountain, but then again he would probably want to plaster his name all over it.

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Everywhere you go in Europe now there are huge crowds of tourists at the most visited sites. If you want to see anything important you really have to arrange it in advance these days by booking a time slot via the Internet, as far ahead as possible. That’s the only way to avoid long lines when you get there. Much of the continent has become a museum. What is really striking is how anywhere you go there is a church or cathedral that is the major feature of the city or town. But almost all the visitors are tourists in the overwhelmingly secular Europe of today and few of the locals go to church. 

This loss of faith has profound consequences, and I say this as an agnostic, but one who is sympathetic to religion. First there is nothing to replace it, resulting in a kind of nihilistic fatalism. Second, there is no faith in the future, only living in the present, and as a result the population is not growing and there are not enough people to pay for all the benefits they have promised themselves. Third, without Christianity, which is a crucial part of their cultural DNA, they are disconnected from a rich heritage. This is symptomatic of a long decline that began with the monstrous disaster of World War I, which I believe to be the seminal event of modern history, considering the impact and all the consequences that flowed from it. 

A century ago, just prior to the war, Europe was on top of the world and the epicenter of western world. The war destroyed too much of that civilization, and this was compounded by the second world war, which was a direct consequence of the first. The continent has yet to recover its cultural vibrancy, if it ever will, as it is now under American influence more than ever. 

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Two decades ago in any European city you could pick out the American tourists due to their casual, if not sloppy dress. Nowadays that is impossible as everyone looks the same, no matter what their origin. I’ve written on this in more detail here.  We are more alike than ever, especially the young, who everywhere use the same Iphones and Ipads, due to the now ubiquitous Internet. But some things are not the same. Today the single greatest difference between Europeans and Americans is space. In America we have a lot of it, even in less affluent homes. In Europe space is at a premium and private spaces tend to be much smaller. Anything from a hotel room to a car is smaller, due having a larger population in a smaller territory.

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Much of the traveling on this trip was done on a cruise ship. Apart from people from all over the U.S., there were many others on the ship, notably Australians, French Canadians, and people from the Netherlands, where the ship is registered. It is a hell of a trip from Australia to Europe, but a lot of them do it. The French Canadians are a lot more jolly than the people in France, and actually speak better French. 

 

That was a fairly diverse population, but it wouldn’t be for a left-winger. I picture one defining this as a boatload of predominantly older white people served by a third world population, (never mind that they are genuinely happy in their work). Since the left sees any grouping that happens to be overwhelmingly white as illegitimate, I get the impression they don’t cruise much, otherwise they would have shitted it up the way they have ruined everything else by politicizing anything they come into contact with.

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As I prepared for this trip it occurred to me how much we depend on things going right in our lives every day,  i.e.  that the plane will land safely, on time, and that we will get our luggage,  that no one will break into our homes while we are away, etc. (Although they could have been enticed, thanks to the Post Office, which again bungled a hold-mail request while we were away and allowed it to pile up). Fortunately most of the time, we go through life expecting that other people will do the right thing, and get angry when they don’t, i.e. in traffic. Whatever problems there are here, there is still a high level of interpersonal trust, which is one of the best features of this society. Nevertheless, things do happen, and it is wise to always expect the unexpected in life. 

 

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Written by georgesarant

May 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM

SOME VERY GOOD BRANDS

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We often complain about companies that perform poorly, but seldom give credit when they consistently perform well. Here are a few that I think are deserving of some plaudits.

The Eastman Kodak corporation has fallen on hard times since the advent of digital photography, but I can’t say enough good things about the products they are producing currently. They are also continues to be one of the most consumer-friendly companies around. I recently bought a printer from the Office Hero series that does just about anything one might want, notably duplex printing, network wireless connection (easily set up unlike some others), and faxing, along with beautiful color prints. When the printer I purchased had a problem with slightly skewed pages they promptly sent me a replacement. The printer also uses the special inks that Kodak developed that are significantly cheaper than other brands. They continue to make the finest grade of photographic paper in the world, as well as film, of course. I also bought an inexpensive Kodak waterproof video camera that takes remarkably good images, above or below the pool surface. I’ve always found everything they produce to be completely reliable and of good quality, and choose their products whenever possible.

Some might be surprised to hear me say good things about an airline, given how miserable air travel can be these days, but personally I have always gotten good service from American Airlines. They make good on frequent flyer miles, and when things go awry they are pretty generous with compensation. They have also put us up a couple of times with a hotel and meals due to Caribbean flights that had to be canceled because the island destination airport was unexpectedly closed. They’ve never turned down a reasonable request, and although they are technically bankrupt you’d never know it from the level of service. They also have a really good worldwide network with other airlines, so if they don’t fly somewhere they’ll put you on an airline that does and still give you mileage credit. They have an excellent website where you can book the cheapest fare directly, as well as rent a car or book a hotel at a good price. Now that they are merging with US Air the network will be even more extensive. I just hope the merger doesn’t change American from the way it operates now. 

When it comes to another form of transportation, the cruise ship, I am very enthusiastic about the Holland America line. The disasters that always seem to happen on cruise lines beginning with a “C” never occur on Holland America. Unlike other lines that keep making bigger and bigger ships that become cattle boats, their ships are mid-sized and optimum for a pleasant voyage. There is a great consistency from one ship to another so you feel right at home in a familiar setting. I know something of ships from when I was in the shipping business many years ago, and find the design of their vessels to be excellent. The dining experience and crew performance are consistently good, and you don’t get charged for a lot of onboard extras. They are generous to repeat customers, which they continue to get because the experience is so positive. Overall they are a step up from the other, larger cruise lines, but still have voyages all over the world, so that you can almost always find a ship going to destinations you want to visit. 

 

There are some others, but as I prepare for another trip these readily come to mind because I’m using them and think they deserve a shout out. 

 

Written by georgesarant

February 23, 2013 at 8:50 PM