Travel

I was supposed to write about America for an American newspaper, and the last thing I wanted was to seem like an introverted European complaining about how awful everything was here.

Here is another bit:

Cleveland meant nothing to me.

There is more here, via Michael Rosenwald.

Sam asks:

Given all the recent global currency changes, and other turmoil, what is the best vacation destination for American’s who earn dollars.

Is it possible that I/others can go somewhere previously unaffordable because of the changes?

The dollar is much stronger in many parts of the world these days.  But the currency of Ukraine has taken an especially steep dive as of late.  It’s down about 17% in the last two weeks and that is mostly for geopolitical reasons, not hyperinflation.  So go quickly, and avoid the East!  (Whoops!  Kharkiv too…)  I hear Kiev is lovely in February.

Given government shenanigans, it is hard to get a read on the true price level and real exchange rate in Argentina, but the country has offered incredible bargains during crises in times past, and our winter is their summer.  Brazil has become much cheaper, relative to the past, but it still feels more expensive than traveling in the U.S., for the most part.  But if you are convinced you must go there, try now.  Tokyo is much cheaper than people think, but that has been the case for quite a while.

In my opinion most of the eurozone is at about PPP right now for Americans, Berlin has the best bargains, maybe Paris the worst.  Spain and Portugal to me seem to have had a lot of unreported deflation.  Just say nein to die Schweiz, they let Scott Sumner down and now you must pay for that.

Mexico remains a tremendous bargain, with a rate of about fifteen pesos to one dollar.  The best food in Mexico only costs about $2.50 a meal to begin with, now it is cheaper yet.  Most of the country is quite safe, in Yucatan the murder rate is about as low as in Finland.

The first Sacred Introvert Retreat Tour will take place this coming May, led by founder Lisa Avebury. Over ten days, participants will visit Glastonbury and other sites in south east England. Travellers will each have their own room and every other day will be a ‘local’ day, when visitors can rest and recharge in the peaceful surroundings of Glastonbury Abbey Retreat. The tour includes visits to mystical, historical sights such as the stone circle and the Chalice Well — where the Holy Grail is supposedly hidden. There are relaxed day trips to medieval churches and roman baths, optional yoga sessions and evening activities such as torchlit walks and bonfires.

Lisa Avebury, a self-proclaimed introvert, founded the retreat company to give quieter individuals a group travel option which catered to their needs, where silences are comfortable and socializing is optional, not mandatory. The trips costs USD 3,795 excluding flights and Avebury hopes it will be the first of many.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

Montgomery, Alabama bleg

by on February 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm in Education, Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Natasha and I will be there too, not just Birmingham, your suggestions would be most appreciated, thanks!

Birmingham bleg

by on February 4, 2015 at 1:17 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Alabama, that is.  C’mon people, spill the beans, I await your wisdom as always.  Food, but not just.  I’ve never been there, I am sorry to say, and so have much to learn.

Nonetheless it is considering tolerating them, as we are told by Air Genius Gary Leff.  Here is one short bit:

The tourism minister says that even though the Greek Prime Minister is attacking all-inclusive resorts as it identifies problems with the country’s economy, it has no plans to make crackdown on these properties ‘its mission’.

How reassuring.  Greece needs some Very Serious People in charge!  Right now it doesn’t have them.  And as you know, one thing worse than the Very Serious People is…the Not Very Serious People.  I think someone told them that all-inclusive resorts might drain off domestic aggregate demand (p.s. investment matters too, including for demand).

Oh, had I mentioned that tourism provides 15% of Greek gdp? (higher by some estimates, perhaps up to 20%).  I’m all for debt forgiveness in this context, but right now the Greeks need to get serious or they will tumble off the cliff and soon.

A hotel with robot staff and face recognition instead of room keys will open this summer in Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture, the operator of the theme park said Tuesday.

The two-story Henn na Hotel is scheduled to open July 17. It will be promoted with the slogan “A Commitment for Evolution,” Huis Ten Bosch Co. said.

The name reflects how the hotel will “change with cutting-edge technology,” a company official said. This is a play on words: “Henn” is also part of the Japanese word for change.

Robots will provide porter service, room cleaning, front desk and other services to reduce costs and to ensure comfort.

There will be facial recognition technology so guests can enter their rooms without a key.

At least for now, the facial recognition bit means you cannot send your robot to stay there…

The story is here, alas I have forgotten whom I should thank for this pointer.

I hope Robert Mundell is proud:

The idyllic Swiss village of Grächen, flanked by better-known competitors Zermatt and Saas-Fee, has declared itself a financial microclimate, with constant exchange rate of 1.35 francs to the euro. The rate has been in place during winter months since 2011, and squarely ignores the official rate, which is currently closer to parity. It’s observed by the vast majority of hotels, shops, lift pass providers and restaurants—and has particularly paid off during the last two weeks. The only catch? You have to pay cash.

“In 2011, when the euro started falling during the eurozone crisis, bookings decreased rapidly for the winter season because it was just becoming too expensive for tourists, especially those from abroad,” explains Berno Stoffel, director at the tourism office in Grächen, which has less than 1,400 permanent residents and is almost exclusively economically dependent on farming and tourism. As the Swiss franc has soared, resorts in neighboring France, Austria and Germany – all in the eurozone – have become cheaper. “We had to do something so we decided to play central bank,” says Mr. Stoffel.

And so far it’s proved lucrative.

“I have heard from colleagues in other resorts that they have seen a huge number of holiday cancellations after the Swiss National Bank removed the currency floor, because it’s just become too expensive. We haven’t had a single cancellation on a holiday home or in a hotel due to the currency,” he says.

That is from Josie Cox at the WSJ.  Here is a picture of the village.

My visit to Auschwitz

by on January 28, 2015 at 7:09 am in History, Travel | Permalink

I went once, might that have been 2004?  It was after a Unesco conference in Warsaw and from a hotel room in Krakow.  I have the recollection that Auschwitz had a terrible stench, though I doubt if it actually did.  Each journey that we take has a single place and experience at its emotional center, and no trek with a stop in Auschwitz can have any emotional center other than Auschwitz itself.  The rest of that trip is more or less forgotten.

The place was full of Germans walking the halls, confused and wailing.  The Jews were more somber.

Track it on Twitter.

By the way, it doesn’t seem to be settling at 39% up (18% as of late), but that was the FT headline.  The Economist offers some commentary:

Some analysts speculated that political pressure may have caused the Swiss to abandon the policy; in November last year, a referendum campaign to force the SNB to hold 20% of its balance sheet in gold (which would have made it more difficult to maintain the cap) was defeated. But others felt that the SNB may be expecting the European central Bank to announce quantitative easing in the near future; a shift that would weaken the euro and require even more intervention to cap the franc. In a hole, the SNB may have decided to stop digging.

Swiss equities were down over thirteen percent.  And this means a revaluation of Swiss-franc denominated mortgages, which are plentiful in Eastern Europe, Russia and Hungary come to mind first.  And it raises the question of how much we can trust central bank commitments, looking forward…

Here is summary coverage from Neil Irwin.

Nicaragua plans to begin building access roads and highways on Monday near the country’s Pacific coast as it starts work on a $50 billion inter-oceanic canal meant to rival Panama’s century-old waterway.

…At an estimated cost more than four times the size of Nicaragua’s $11 billion economy, the project has raised doubts among analysts who point to HKND’s lack of experience in major infrastructure projects and question the need for another Central American canal. Panama is planning to complete a $5.25 billion expansion of its waterway next year.

“I think there is some skepticism about it getting built and getting built on time and on budget,” said Lee Klaskow, a marine shipping analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “There are a bunch of active volcanoes in and around the area.”

Nicaragua’s canal would also require higher locks than Panama’s since it is 20 feet more above sea level he said.

There is more from Bloomberg here.  Here is further coverage:

No feasibility study, environmental-impact report, business case or financing plan has yet been released. Instead come platitudes from the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega about how it will bring a jobs bonanza and end poverty.

So far, it has brought as much fear as hope. Since Chinese-speaking surveyors, backed by Nicaraguan soldiers and police, began assessing land and houses along the canal’s proposed 278km (172-mile) route a few months ago (see map), peasants fearful of their land being expropriated have taken to the streets 16 times. On December 10th several thousand, shouting “We don’t want the Chinese”, protested in Managua, the capital, despite police efforts to keep them in their villages, activists say. Boatmen in Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast have refused to ferry heavy machinery to be used to begin construction, fearing their livelihoods will be harmed.

Maybe the equilibrium here is “start first, plan later” — what does that imply about the nature of the underlying game?   We’re going to see how good that vaunted Chinese soft power really is.

Lucy Kellaway of the FT reports that “food, activities and even spa treatments are chocolate-themed,” here is one description from another source:

A dessert island fantasy, Boucan by Hotel Chocolat in St Lucia seems made for chocolate lovers. The jungle-surrounded hilltop lodges – with views of the Caribbean Sea and Petit Piton peak – perch beside a cacao plantation that hosts classes and tours, with plenty of samples. The ultra-local restaurant serves some of the island’s best food, including chocolate in both sweet and savoury preparations. Though the hotel natural setting is relaxing enough to help you forget it all, cocoa is rarely far from mind: the superlative spa even uses homegrown pods in its massage treatments.

That link is here, a full set of links is here.  For breakfast they serve chocolate tea and chocolate muesli, and for dinner the tuna steak is cooked over bitter chocolate.

Many economists like to dump on their fellow social scientists, and personally I find that reading anthropology is often quite uninspiring.  That said, I would like to say a small bit on the superiority of anthropologists.  I view the “products” of anthropology as the experiences, world views, and conversations of the anthropologists themselves.  Those products translate poorly into the medium of print, and so from a distance the anthropologists appear to be inferior and lackluster (I wonder to what extent the anthropologists realize this themselves?).

Yet anthropologists have some of the most profound understandings of the human condition.  They have witnessed, absorbed, and processed some of the most interesting data, especially those anthropologists who do fieldwork of the traditional kind.

The rest of us are simply (usually) too blind to see this.  It even can be argued that anthropology is the queen and most general of the social sciences, and that economics, as a social science, is simply playing around in one of the larger anthropologically-motivated sandboxes, namely the economy.

We so often confuse “what can be translated into print well” with “what is important and interesting.”  In classical music there have been performers, such as Jorge Bolet, who are incredible but whose genius didn’t translate well in the recording studio.  That does mean anthropology is very often not a highly leveraged means of status and influence.

I believe that travel — when done intelligently — is the most fundamental method of learning.  And yet most travel books are a crashing bore.  Don’t confuse what you — as an outsider — can consume well with what is good and important from an inside perspective.

The economics of Uber

by on November 28, 2014 at 7:16 am in Data Source, Economics, Travel | Permalink

We were talking about this at lunch the other day, and now Josh Barro steps forward with the numbers:

The average price of an individual New York City taxi medallion fell to $872,000 in October, down 17 percent from a peak reached in the spring of 2013, according to an analysis of sales data. Previous figures published by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission — showing flat prices — appear to have been incorrect, and the commission removed them from its website after an inquiry from The New York Times.

In other big cities, medallion prices are also falling, often in conjunction with a sharp decline in sales volume. In Chicago, prices are down 17 percent. In Boston, they’re down at least 20 percent, though it’s hard to establish an exact market price because there have been only five trades since July. In Philadelphia, the taxi authority recently scrapped a planned medallion auction.

There is more here.  I learn also that Nevada just banned Uber.

The best-laid plans…

by on November 27, 2014 at 11:32 am in History, Philosophy, Science, Travel | Permalink

Circa 1985:

Merkel, in her early thirties, was looking forward to 2014—when she would turn sixty, collect her state pension, and be allowed to travel to California.

That is from the George Packer profile of Angela Merkel, which I will recommend to you all once again, do note it starts a bit slowly but picks up.