Where’s the worst place to be if you’re trying to faithfully follow a low-carb diet in hopes of shedding a few pounds? Any American airport, basically. Airport concourses are probably the most carbohydrate-rich environment on Earth. You can’t navigate your roller bag even a few feet without encountering a Dunkin Donuts or a Pinkberry or something similar, and virtually every food option is served on a bun with a side of fries.
If you’re lucky, you might find something suitable in one of those “to-go” shops connected to restaurants, or in the refrigerated stands in a concourse. The other day I was in Salt Lake City, half-heartedly looked at the options offered in one of those places, and found a small packet of just prosciutto and cheese slices that was perfect for my stand-at-the-gate dinner. I felt like a prospector who found a few nuggets of gold in his pan.
What could be more inviting than a trip to Florida in July? The sun is powerful enough to strip paint, and the humidity exceeds any measuring device known to science. Even the boats seem too hot to do anything. But the “early bird” specials continue to be offered, in case you’re wondering.
Florida in July also tests the capability of the human body to adjust to abrupt and extreme changes in temperature. You go from frying pan heat outside to blood-congealing cold when you enter any hotel air-conditioning zone. For the glasses wearer, that means one thing: lenses so hopelessly fogged that you’re effectively rendered blind and left stumbling in your search for the reception desk.
What’s good about Florida in July? Well, it’s not crowded.
The readers of Travel + Leisure magazine have rated their top hotels, and the magazine has produced a “top 100” list from the results. The hotels feature a lot of beautiful views, enormous rooms and posh furnishings, and extremely expensive prices.
That’s all well and good, but it’s pretty much irrelevant to the travel that most of us experience. We’re business travelers, and except for rare occasions we don’t stay at places by lakes — unless you count those artificial ponds with the spraying fountain in the middle — or any staggering natural beauty. We’re in downtown areas for the most part, on a block of a city grid that looks pretty much like the next block over. So, the Travel + Leisure ratings might be interesting, but they don’t have much application to our daily business travel lives.
So, what do business travelers care about? Speaking for myself, I’d say the baseline needs are a place that is quiet and clean. Quiet, so I can try to get a good night’s sleep after after a busy travel and work day, and clean, so that I don’t notice dust bunnies under the bed or something left by the person who stayed in the room last night, and I can at least maintain the pretense that I’m not staying in a room that is probably used by hundreds of total strangers every year. After those basics, I’m looking for a room that has the right functional furniture — a desk is a must — a comfortable bed that isn’t covered in accent pillows that need to be thrown on the floor and that might trip me when I go to the bathroom, and an easy-to-use coffee maker that can make at least two cups of decent regular coffee. If you then throw in a shower with lots of hot water and decent water pressure, you’ve got a top 100 business hotel in my book.
No need for a mint on the pillow, or turn-down service, or a huge room. Just make sure I’m not awakened in the middle of the night by a party down the hallway, and I’ll come back.
Imagine working on one thing for 35 years.
That’s how long it took Italo Gismondi to build a painstakingly realistic model of ancient Rome. Commissioned by Mussolini to build the model in 1933, Gismondi used a number of ancient maps to create the model and kept adding to it for 35 years. His finished product is considered to be scrupulously accurate and detailed — so much so that historians apparently use it to give them a better sense of the city as a whole.
The model reveals a Rome that was beautiful and sprawling, with a glimpse of what an amazing place it must have been when the Colosseum, the Forum, and the other buildings were intact and in use and buildings and people were packed together. Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Rome have seen these once-glorious buildings only in ruins and in isolation, without their neighboring buildings to give a complete picture of ancient Rome in full flower. It must have been a bustling, extraordinary place.
Gismondi’s model depicts Rome as it was in the fourth century AD. That time period shows Rome, the city, at its height, but was also a time when the Roman Empire was in decline. Only 100 years later, in 476 AD, the last Roman emperor was toppled by barbarian invaders and the Dark Ages descended in the west.
The Gismondi model is on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization, in Rome. I didn’t visit that museum on our trip to Italy years ago, but I hope to make it back to Italy one of these days, and when I do that museum will be a must-see stop.
Today I’m taking a plane flight without luggage. I’ll have my faithful black satchel to carry my laptop and a few books, but that’s it. Today, I’ll have no carry-on bags to stuff into the overhead bins.
It’s amazing how different a trip without suitcases feels. Yesterday I didn’t worry about getting checked in precisely 24 hours before my flight is to depart, to make sure that I get an early boarding assignment so I can be sure to have overhead bin space. I also don’t have to fret about whether my bag would exceed weight allowances, or be too big to fit overhead. I know from hundreds of trips that my satchel will fit comfortably beneath the seat in front of me.
And when I arrive back home, I’ll be able to grab my little bag and zip off the plane without having to wrangle a suitcase from the bin space and worry about clobbering the little old lady across the aisle. I won’t have to be part of the scrum of travelers clustering in the jetway to get their gate-checked bags — a process that inevitably leaves me in a foul mood about the grace and patience of my fellow human beings — nor will I have to wonder whether my bag will be the last one to come tumbling out onto the baggage claim carousel.
When you think about it, a lot of the angst in travel is directly attributable to our being weighted down by concerns about the possessions we’re carting around in our luggage. I’m looking forward to enjoying a luggage-free trip for a change.
We’re fog-bound this morning. The thick fog crept in like a living thing, blanketing the harbor, oozing up the hillside, and invading every nook and cranny to the point where even our neighbor’s house was rendered distant and indistinct through the foggy wisps.
I like the fog because it’s a tangible reminder that we’re in a seaside community. I also like the cool spritz on the skin that the fog brings. But I can understand why the lobstermen hate it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be out on the water with this grey haze shrouding the normal landmarks, without knowing what rocky outcropping or boat might be lurking nearby. It’s one reason why lobstering is a dangerous, tough business.
Happy Fourth of July from dazzling Stonington, Maine, where the tide is out, the sun is shining, and conditions are perfect for a celebration of our independence.
May everyone enjoy their freedoms today!