Dear Will

You fly so often, what are your thoughts on lessening the stresses of travel?

Well, funny you should ask…….

Is it worth flying business class?

If your company’s paying, yes. If you are, no. No matter how unpleasant it is to fly down the back, the difference in price between the pointy end and row 99Z will pay for your hotel, car hire and meals. And anyway, people in First and Business are usually fat, boring businessmen – cute people fly economy.

The exception is generally to Australia and New Zealand when the journey is awfully long (as well as longly awful) and on a pence per mile basis, you can often get some decent Business Class deals especially if you go with the “I wouldn’t have thought of them” airlines such as Asiana via Seoul or Etihad via Abu Dhabi.

You could see how much it costs to upgrade to Premium Economy at the airport. I did this recently and it was only £120 from Heathrow to Washington on BA, and I was recently offered an upgrade to LA on Virgin for £300.

What’s the difference between Business Class and First Class?

The level of sucking up from the crew and better seat padding. Businessmen are even podgier and more boring.

What’s the best way to overcome jet lag?

There really is no miracle cure for jet lag, despite travel editors loving to commission frequent articles on the subject.  I like to go for a short jog when I arrive and drink lots of water, but I still end up waking at three in the morning. Don’t force it – if you feel like having a nap at 4pm, do it. And then there’s always Ambien: it’s a prescription-only sleeping pill that is the only thing I’ve ever fond that will knock you out all night but leave no grogginess in the morning.

Should I drink on the flight?

Yes, life’s too short not to. You’ve earned it.  Crack open the Chilean red. Have a glass. Oh go on, have another.

Aisle or window?

There are those who rhapsodise about the time they witnessed sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro blah blah blah, but for me it’s always aisle. You don’t want to be clambering over some stranger to get out every time especially when they’re fast asleep.

Should I join the airline’s frequent flyer scheme?

Yes, absolutely. If you’re a fairly frequent flyer the benefits start to add up and points make prizes. You will also be higher up the pecking order if they are looking for upgrades. Consider getting an airline-loyalty credit card too for extra points.

Anything extra should I take on board?

(1) A small but sturdy pillow for the small of your back, which economy class seats don’t support very well. Muji do a good one (2) A decent pair of quality, non-plasticy eye shades – if the airline even gives out a pair these days they’ll be pretty cr*ppy quality and make you sweat like a pig (3) Earplugs. Can you hear that small child screaming in row 34? No, us neither. (4) Healthy snacks – almonds and/or raisins are always a winner. (5) Moisturiser. Yes fellas, you too.

Should I pay attention to the inflight safety video?

Yes – the crew are about to give you several hours of their attention, so it’s only polite you give them several minutes of yours. Oh and it could save your life.

Any tips on packing light?

No – I’m totally rubbish and usually look like I’m going away for three weeks even if I’m on a day trip to Milton Keynes. My only advice is travel with someone who has a bigger suitcase, secretly load half your stuff in theirs when they’re not looking, then when unpacking at the other end, feign surprise with “how did all my books / toiletries / shoes get in your case?” Generally works just once.

Should I flirt with the crew?

Yes, absolutely. You could reap untold benefits from free bottles of champagne to upgrades and more.  So flash the pearly-whites and plunge in with “gosh, I just don’t know how you deal with the public day in day out” and away you go.

What’s the best way to fly with children?

Leave them at home with granny and grandpa. You can always toast the little cherubs with a glass of Malbec at the airport.

ANY OTHER TIPS? DO LET ME KNOW!

It’s 20 years ago this week that the conflict in Bosnia & Herzegovina started, which is estimated to have cost the lives of nearly 12,000 residents of its capital Sarajevo.

I went there in August 2008 to attend the annual film festival: W (Will) Hide had been confused with the Times’ film critic W (Wendy) Ide. Oops.

Sarajevo is a fascinating (and totally safe) place to visit for a long weekend break. There are no longer direct flights from London but you can go via Vienna for around £200, it’s easy to book a hotel on the internet and if you want to explore the countryside I’d recommend the excellent Green Visions.

Here is my report from the Times that appeared in May 2009. It was an interesting place to visit, with heaps of history and really great food. The saddest thing though was the locals’ pessimism that attitudes hadn’t really changed and that even a small nationalist spark on any side could fan the flames of hatred again at any moment. Even today, three years after the article appeared, no one side seems to have moved on.

THE call to prayer from the muezzin in the mosque next door woke me at 8pm, just as the setting sun lit up the slate roofs of Sarajevo’s old town, spread out beyond my bedroom window.

I left the courtyard of my guesthouse, walked down the hill, past the supermarket and the little kiosks selling packets of cigarettes at 40p a go.

In front I crossed the small, hump-backed pedestrian bridge over the River Miljacka, directly across from the street corner where, on June 28, 1914, the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife by Gavrilo Princip precipitated the First World War.

On Zelenih Beretki, west of the old cobbled Ottoman district of Bascarsija, crowds were carrying out a local version of a passeggiata — meandering with no particular purpose — in front of the buildings with their Austro-Hungarian façades.

Lovers walked arm in arm, grannies strolled with grandchildren, and teenage girls — some in miniskirts, others in hijab — flirted outside the lively City Pub. A more subdued hubbub came from the terrace of the Cafe Central, which linked the Catholic Cathedral at one end of the street with the Orthodox one on the other.

I was late and couldn’t stop to enjoy the scene as I would have liked, so I carried on for a few hundred metres, handed over my ticket, ducked into what looked like a car park, and plonked myself down in front of a cinema screen with about a thousand others as an advertisement for NATO blared out and bats flew in front of the projector. It was another balmy night at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

The festival began in 1995 when the city was still besieged. The actions of the “aggressor forces” (as one of my tour guides called the Serbian troops), after Bosnia and Herzegovina broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, caused 11,000 civilian deaths in the city. At least 5,000 artillery shells landed on Sarajevo each day.

The Zetra stadium, where Torvill and Dean skated a perfect ten to Ravel’s Bolero in the 1984 Winter Olympics, was smashed. Victims of the shelling buried after dark in case mourners were targeted by snipers.

The scars are still there if you look — from the burnt-out interior of the magnificent National Library (gutted by Serbian shelling at the end of the conflict) to bullet holes in buildings. However, there is a welcoming air about the place.

Sarajevo is an attractive place for a long weekend, there is no better time to visit than August when the entire town is in party mood for the film festival. The pavement cafes, bars and restaurants are at their liveliest, and in the Ottoman quarter the smell of fresh food fills the air.

The peoples of former Yugoslavia may agree on very little these days, but even the most begrudging would accept that Sarajevo does the best cevapi, small sausages served inside pitta-like bread with chopped onions and sometimes cream cheese on the side, washed down with Sarajevsko Pivo beer, and all for the equivalent of about £4.

The restaurant Kod Bibana, a ten-minute drive into the hills, offers views over the city and a plate of fresh ustipci — deep-fried savoury doughnuts served with cream cheese. In the evening, sit by the river opposite the National Library at Inat Kuca restaurant with a glass of wine and some local soup or stew and watch the sun set.

One of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s biggest attractions is the easy access it offers to star producers, directors and actors. Unlike Cannes or Venice, here you’re likely to bump into Kevin Spacey chilling in a caf? off the main pedestrian area or get close to Mike Leigh to ask him about his latest production.

Each evening there are at least two outdoor screenings, which I found as enjoyable for the people-watching as for the movies. The Sarajevans I met were a revelation. I’m not sure what, or who, I was expecting, but it wasn’t this polite, good-looking crowd.

During the day I would hop on one of the trams to visit the large fruit and veg market. I toured the national museum, which showed photos of the siege and contained a mock-up of a typical home 15 years ago, complete with plastic windows, a small gas burner for cooking and UN humanitarian rations.

I also went to the tunnel museum near the airport. During the siege the 800m passage under the runway was the only link to the outside world. Everything from soldiers to goats, cigarettes and food, passed through the tunnel and emerged in a suburban garage out of sight of the Serbian snipers.

“The last thing people here want is your guilt,” I was told by one resident. Still it’s hard not to feel uneasy when so many horrible things happened only a little over a decade ago. However, the film festival is one way that Sarajevo shows the world that it can look to the future without forgetting the past. END

 

I’m fresh off a flight from Miami this morning – although “fresh” really isn’t the right word (at all).

Having spent a week in Washington DC then south Florida (and thoroughly enjoyed both), I wanted to share this article that appeared in the New York Times (published December 2009) by British writer Geoff Dyer.

(As someone who’s new to blogging, I’m not quite sure what the legalities & niceties are of reproducing this, but I’m acknowledging where I got it from – hope that’s OK.)

Anyway, I have lots of American friends in London, and am often quite embarrassed at the snide, chippy way we Brits treat them, compared to the usually-lavish treatment we get when we’re in the USA. I just think this is a great piece of writing. See if you agree with Geoff:

“THE first thing I ever heard about Americans was that they all carried guns. Then, when I came across people who’d had direct contact with this ferocious-sounding tribe, I learned that they were actually rather friendly. At university, friends who had traveled in the United States came back with more detailed stories, not just of the friendliness of Americans but also of their hospitality (which, in our quaint English way, was translated into something close to gullibility). When I finally got to America myself, I found that not only were the natives friendly and hospitable, they were also incredibly polite. No one tells you this about Americans, but once you notice it, it becomes one of their defining characteristics, especially when they’re abroad.

This is very strange, or at least it says something strange about the way that perception routinely conforms to the preconceptions it would appear to contradict. The archetypal American abroad is perceived as loud and crass even though actually existing American tourists are distinguished by the way they address bus drivers and bartenders as “sir” and are effusive in their thanks when any small service is rendered. We look on with some confusion at these encounters because, on the one hand, the Americans seem a bit country-bumpkinish, and, on the other, good manners are a form of sophistication.

Granted, these visiting Americans often seem to have loud voices, but on closer examination, it’s a little subtler than that. Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else. To open your mouth is to risk offending someone. So we mutter and mumble as if surrounded by informers or, more exactly, as if they are living in our heads. In America the right to free speech is exercised freely and cordially. The basic assumption is that nothing you say will offend anyone else because, deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else. No such belief animates British life. On the contrary. A couple of years ago a survey indicated that British Muslims were the most fed-up of any in Europe: a sign, paradoxically, of profound assimilation.

If the typical American interaction involves an ostensibly contradictory mixture of the formal (politeness), the casual and the cordial, what happens when one moves beyond the transactional? Like many Europeans, I always feel good about myself in America; I feel appreciated, liked. It took a while to realize that this had nothing to do with me. It was about the people who made me feel this way: it was about charm. Yes, this is the bright secret of life in the United States: Americans are not just friendly and polite — they are also charming. And the most charming thing of all is that it rarely looks like charm. The French put a rather charmless emphasis on charm, are consciously or unconsciously persuaded that it is either part of a display of sophistication or — and it may amount to the same thing — a tool in the service of seduction.

You can see all of this in operation on flights back across the Atlantic from America to Euroland. At first we are under the spell of America. Instead of plunking ourselves down next to someone without a word, we say “Hi.” Maybe even indulge in a little conversation, though this American readiness to chat is counterbalanced by the fear that once we’ve got into a conversation we might not be able to extricate ourselves from it. By the time we’re mid-ocean, a kind of preparatory freeze has set in. As the flight stacks up in the inevitable holding pattern over Heathrow, we begin to revert to our muttering and moaning national selves. But, for a week or so after landing, a form of what might be called Ameristalgia makes us conscious of a rudeness in British life — a coarsening in the texture of daily life — that had hitherto seemed quite normal.

For example. I pay a considerable sum of money to play indoors at Islington Tennis Centre. Eighty percent of the time, the next people to play indicate that your time is up by unzipping their racket covers and strolling on court, without saying a word, without a smile, without acknowledging your existence except as an impediment. In America that would be not just unacceptable but inconceivable.

What is the relevance of this anecdotal trivia to a serious debate about the status of America in the world?

Most of my American friends were depressed and gloomy about the Bush years. Several said that if Bush were re-elected in 2004, they would leave the country. He was and they didn’t. The bottom line is that given the choice, Americans love it rather than leave it. Day to day, American life remained as pleasant as could be expected, even in the midst of considerable economic hardship. There was even a bonding, anti-Bush feeling similar to the kind of consensual opposition that we experienced under Margaret Thatcher. A visiting American artist like Patti Smith found that while the usual torrent of name-­dropping — Rimbaud, Mapplethorpe, Kerouac et al. — got a smattering of appreciative applause, a single gibe about Bush brought the house down.

At the same time, either sterling went up or the dollar went down (I don’t really understand this stuff), and as a consequence, Americans felt poor when they visited our rainy little island. So, for a brief period, we felt richer — planeloads of us went to Mannahatta and bought up everything in sight — and ideologically and ethically superior. Man, that felt good. We had a less blinkered attitude to Israel, didn’t drive big gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s, and if we were chilly of an evening we put on a sweater rather than turning up the heating (or, more accurately, turning off the A.C.). Sure, Blair went along with invading Iraq, but wasn’t that partly because he hoped to restrain the crusading fundamentalism of Bush? Now the dollar is back up — or down, or whichever it is — Europe is no longer expensive, and with the election of Barack Obama, the brief cushion of political superiority has been permanently deflated.

The Obama election was a real kick in the teeth, because although we Britons still seethe with class hatred, we pride ourselves on our highly evolved attitude to the question of race that has consistently undermined the American dream. The slight problem is that racial intermingling in Britain is most conspicuous in the ethnically diverse makeup of the groups of yobs — Asian, black and white — who exercise their antisocial behavioral skills without any kind of discrimination as to whom they happen to be terrorizing. In this regard, as in so many others, we seem to be leading from the bottom up.

Across the board, the grounds for all our feelings of superiority have been steadily whittled away. It turns out that the qualities that make us indubitably British — that is, the ones that we don’t share with or have not imported from America — are no longer conducive to Greatness. They actually add up to a kind of ostrich stoicism that, though it can be traced back to our finest hour (the blitz, the Battle of Britain), manifests itself in a peculiar compromise: a highly stylized willingness to muddle on, to put up with poor quality and high prices (restaurants, trains), to proffer (and accept) apologies not as a prelude to but as a substitute for improvement. We may not enjoy the way things are, but we endure them in a way that seems either quaint or quasi-Soviet to American visitors.

A tiny example. There’s a fashionable gastro pub near where I live. You scrum at the bar, desperate to get the attention of the barman. After a while, he will raise his eyebrows and glare at you. Unschooled in our rough ways, a visitor from America might assume he is being threatened, but actually the glare means that your order can now be taken — as long as you’re quick about it. When a friend from California had managed to order, he was handed the credit card terminal, which showed the amount and the option to add something for service. Americans are predisposed to tip, but my friend was slightly taken aback because, far from being in receipt of anything that might be described as service, it felt as if he had been fighting for a place aboard the last lifeboat on the Titanic. “Welcome to England,” I said.” END

 

 

Travel eh – it’s a funny old world. You meet a Peruvian based in South Africa who’s name is literally German.

Senor de le Melena – who yes ladies is a model – owns Keenwa, the Mother City’s first and only Peruvian restaurant.

Here are his top Cape Town tips,  but first make sure you head to Keenwa, which is at 50 Waterkant Street, for the finest ceviche east of  Lima.

German de la Melena

Where should I be eating right now?

Dinner at Mano’s for its great simple menu, very home style and delicious every time, great ambiance and service. Also La Boheme which is a great concept, great value for money and fun always. Keenwa, of course, only Peruvian restaurant in town! Sorry, only Peruvian restaurant in the country, so it’s a must of you want to try something very different. Breakfast obviously Sand Bar in Camps Bay, it’s a must. Always welcoming and the scenery is awesome. The Old Biscuit Mill is a fun option for a crazy Saturday morning. Wakame makes a great place for a drink and a meal after the sunsets.

Where should I be drinking right now?

Tjing Tjing in town is the place to be, also &union lots of fun, on Wednesdays especially.Bungalow at sunset time in Clifton.

Where should I be shopping right now?

At the top of Long Street and start of Kloof Street for funky one-off clothes boutiques.

Describe your perfect Cape Town summer weekend?

Saturday day trip to the Crystal Pools with a picnic, not too much food because the baboons might create a problem there, then lay back and relax in Kogel Bay beach further up the road and finish it with a night over in Betty’s Bay or Hermanus, if not back to Cape Town and go for a great meal – suggestions above. Best spot for sunset is our secret rock at the end of Oceanview Drive, we call it the Sunset Rock! Beautiful, great for sundowners.

Sunday lunch at Eden on the Bay in Bloubergrstrand is awesome or a weekend away in the wine lands especially Robertson or Franschhoek.

Anywhere local you like to escape to?

Guess I said that one before! Misty Cliffs by far the best though.

What’s your guilty Cape Town pleasure?

A chocco rico form Mano’s, or somosas from Moyo (or any somosa really!)

What’s your number one tip for anyone coming to Cape Town?

Climb Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.  If have to chose one do Table Mountain. Go to Cape Point, around the whole peninsula and do Crystal Pools.  Cape Town is Amazing!

Gracias German, en baie dankie!

If you’re around Brick Lane or Whitechappel in east London and see some flowers poking out of the road or pavement, it’s not Mother Nature who’s put them there – it’s my mate Steve Wheen.

They are part art project, part campaign to highlight awareness of the capital’s pot holes –  and the risk they pose to cyclists.

Here are a couple of examples of Steve’s handywork. The London empire is expanding soon to Milan and elsewhere so watch this space.