Dec 04

My top 10 places to avoid list

What happens when a tourist destination's image and reputation doesn't mesh with one's actual experience? Disappointment with a capital D.

Having just visited Scotland, and been disappointed by one of its best-known attractions, I thought I'd compile RepMan's Top 10 places to avoid list:

December 4 - loch-ness1 1.) Loch Ness, Scotland. There are many other lochs with far more to do and see than this one. Nessie's a no-go. Instead, head northwest to the Isle of Skye. In fact, the latter would lead my top 10 best places to see list.

2) Blarney Castle, Ireland. It takes forever to get to and, once there, you pay to forage around what is little more than a damp dump of rubble. And, the Blarney Stone itself is a small hunk of rock that I wouldn't kiss for all the potatoes in Ireland.

3) The Ring of Kerry, Ireland. Billed as a magical journey around the Emerald Isle the ring ride is, instead, a long, boring tour with little, if anything, of real interest to see or experience. Stick with Dublin. It's awesome.

December 4 - couples-in-love-at-disney-world-760376 4) Disneyworld, Disneyland and anything associated with Disney. If you're looking for the worst possible cost-benefit ratio, then these theme parks are your ticket (literally). Endless lines, massive hype and outrageous a la carte pricing make the Mouse more of a rat.

5) A Norwegian cruise. Call it a Norwegian snooze instead. If you've seen one fjord, you've seen them all. Opt for an Alaskan cruise instead. You'll love it.

6) The London Eye. Another over-hyped tourist trap, the Eye is nothing more than a big Ferris Wheel that stops every five minutes or so and provides views of the city. Big bloody deal. Don't waste your time or money. Opt for the Jack the Ripper walking tour instead. It kills.

7) Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C. I adore everything about Charleston. But, the fabled Civil War fort is a must-miss. Avoid the long ferry ride to see a mass of rocks and ruins and, instead, visit one of the working history plantations like Middleton. They're spellbinding and the nearest thing to time travel I've yet found.

December 4 - 30rock_kenneth 8) The NBC Studio Tour, NY, NY. The admission price is outrageous, the tour is underwhelming and you see little and learn even less about the fabled network. A Circle Line cruise around the island is still the best Big Apple experience in this blogger's opinion. 

9) The Eiffel Tower. Sorry mes amis, but I found the long lines and overall experience less than formidable. Sitting at the Cafe de le Paix, sipping wine and people watching is a better alternative.

10) Berlin. I'm not sure what I expected, but as a huge history buff, I was very disappointed with the ultra modern destination. Aside from the Brandenburg Gate, there's really nothing to do or see (except for Checkpoint Charlie, which is way cool).

I wanted to end my Top 10 places to avoid list with a special honorable mention for the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Site in St. Augustine, Fla. It's a five-and-dime version of Disneyworld with a few, trashy 'rides' that look as if they haven't been updated since Ponce himself first visited in the early 16th century.

How about you? Do you have over-hyped destinations that should be added to the list? Or, do you take exception with what I've said about one or more sites? Speak up. The plane's doors are about to close.

Dec 01

Beasting it in the bothy

My trusty sidekick Chris 'Repman Jr.' and I have been hiking and climbing Scotland's breathtakingly beautiful Isle of Skye this week.

December 1 - motoring in isle of skye
The chamber of commerce weather has been picture perfect (bright sunshine and daytime temperatures right around freezing). But, come nighttime, which at this latitude begins at about 3:30 p.m., duck and cover. The winds begin howling and the temperatures drop faster than the NY Jets winning percentage.

Our resolute guide, Peter Khambatta suggested we stay several nights in a bothy in order to fully experience a Scottish highlands trek. My goodness. Talk about a trip back in time. The bothy in which we slept is a small, compact stone hut with four tiny sleeping rooms and one fireplace. There is no running water, heat or electricity. One sleeps on the floor in one's sleeping bag, collects firewood along the beach and cooks a spare dinner around 6 p.m. (which feels like midnight since its been dark for so long). And, when nature calls at about 2 a.m., one braves the sub-zero wind chills to accomplish the task at hand.

December 1 - 192493074_a8dac6e02c
After dinner and conversation, we did what people did for centuries prior to the invention of all our modern conveniences: we piled on layers of clothes, snuggled inside sleeping bags and hunkered down to snooze (which, after six hours of arduous climbing came rather easily).

I cannot tell you how much the bothy enhanced the overall experience. It was so austere, so remote and so unforgiving that I half expected to see a Viking war ship turn the corner near the Isle of Rum across the Irish Sea and begin heading our way. But, the bothy was also way cool in a manner that defies this blogger's best attempts to describe it.

Trips that test endurance and everyday niceties accomplish two things for me: they totally refresh my mind (i.e. does losing an account really matter in the grand scheme of things?) and, second, it further increases my admiration and respect for the hardiness of those who came before us.

That said, I'm looking forward to returning to all the creature comforts and mindless entertainment that America can provide.

Oct 09

A miniature statue of a 5th Century Greek boy? Sure. It’s right by gate 124.

Met I've seen some questionable business decisions in my life, but none quite as perplexing as the sight of a Metropolitan Museum of Art Store right smack in the middle of Terminal C at Newark's Liberty International Airport.

The store features everything from Egyptian cat bookmarks (now there's a perfect stocking stuffer) to busts and miniatures of ancient heroes ('Honey, let's pick up that figurine of Herodotus before we board.'). There are also books on Cleopatra and 2010 calendars featuring the works of Monet and Winslow Homer.

And, of course, the store is completely deserted.

I like to think I appreciate finer things in life and I really enjoyed strolling through the Classic artifacts and facsimiles thereof. But, an art store at Newark? That's like having a Bentley dealership in South Central L.A. It's laudable, but makes no sense whatsoever from an image, reputation or target audience standpoint.

The average Newark Airport visitor appears to be harried, hurried and much more interested in a quick Sbarro pizza slice than a Degas pastel of some South Sea island.

I'm not sure what Met executive made the daffy decision to situate a high-end boutique in the midst of a déclassé thoroughfare like Terminal C, but I'm guessing his or her career will soon be experiencing its own version of 476 AD.

Sep 23

Image goes for a ride

I always wear jeans and sneaks when I fly. To me, comfort trumps appearance, especially in today's unfriendly skies.

September 23 - business_travel

It wasn't too long ago, though, that the very thought of dressing in jeans and sneaks on a business trip was verboten. My CEO at JWT always dressed in business formal wear, even when we were traveling on a Sunday. 'You never know who you might meet,' he admonished me, after spying my open neck polo.

On another occasion in the late 1980s, I sported jeans, cowboy boots and an unshaven face on a Sunday night flight to a client off-site. I figured I'd be flying alone, so why worry. Ah, but my client was also on the flight. We shook hands after landing, and then he offered me a piece of advice. 'There's casual and then there's casual. You represent your firm wherever you go. How do you think your CEO would feel if he saw you looking like this?' Duly noted.

That was many moons ago, of course. Today, there is no dress code for business travel. In fact, any code of airline comportment has been blown to smithereens. Nowadays, the typical fellow traveler is a morbidly-obese man dressed in a track suit, flip-flops and carrying two Double Whoppers with cheese on board. In fact, spying a passenger in suit-and-tie is akin to a sighting of Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman.

I knew the times had truly changed when I recently spied the always erudite, always neatly coiffed Bill Heyman in a pair of jeans at O'Hare. If the Bill Blass of PR search consultants is ok with jeans and sneaks at the airport, then it's ok with me as well. I just hope Mr. Heyman doesn't lapse into the track suit and Whopper mode any time soon. If he does, then we will have truly reached the end of days.

Jul 01

NJT: We just don’t care.

Guest Post by Ann Barlow

July 1 Last week I had the opportunity to take NJ Transit for the first time in quite awhile. I used to take it five days a week when I lived in NJ and commuted to the city. Although four years have passed, it would be difficult to forget all the delays, cancellations and complete absence of explanation on what was happening and why. Ah yes, and the recollection that if you should be naïve enough to ask for an explanation, you could look forward to at the least a surly response, at the most a swift removal of your personage from the train for your temerity. The experience spawned a new tagline recommendation from Steve Cody – New Jersey Transit: We Just Don’t Care.

Contrast this to the BART system in Bay Area, where I now live. I confess that it took me awhile to adapt to the whole BART culture. First of all, people line up to get on the train. They don’t try to edge each other out of position or discreetly push anyone who isn’t moving at the appropriate speed.  But as I quickly learned, they’re just reflecting the courtesy and organization that the BART personnel  show passengers. There are ongoing announcements at every stop on which trains are coming and when. Once on the train, the conductor announces any delays, providing possibly more detail than necessary along with a profuse apology, as if he were personally at fault for the delay. 

Of course, BART riders still find plenty to complain about. They should only know.

Back to NJT. My colleague Deb Brown and I boarded the 7:53 train. At least, it was supposed to be a 7:53 train. Deb and I were talking through the presentation we were to give at 9, so we didn’t immediately notice when 7:53 came and went. But then it became a little more difficult to hear one another as the conductors yelled at each other over the PA. I glanced out at the clock on the platform and realized that it was now after 8. We listened in the argument and ascertained that the problem was a brake light that hadn’t gone off, suggesting the one of the cars still had its brake on. After another 10 minutes of bickering, the personnel decided to ignore the red light, since a search revealed that all the brakes were indeed off.  And the communication and apology to riders for the 20-minute delay? We’d see pigs flying outside the train car windows first.

I think it’s outrageous that the people who run NJT allow the service to be so lousy, so incredibly indifferent. So what if it’s the only train system available? People can drive or take the bus or telecommute. And isn’t there a certain amount of pride that comes from treating people as customers, with courtesy and respect?

Not at NJT. At NJT, we just don’t care.

Jun 29

Reelin’ in the years

June 29 - cupcake It’s my birthday. No big deal in the grand scheme of things but, as Pink Floyd once wrote, ‘Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.’ Maudlin to be sure, but since we’re all mortal, it’s tough not to reflect on what’s been accomplished and what’s still to be done.

In that spirit, I’ve given some thought to what I’m most proud of and what I’d like to do between now and the inevitable appearance of the Grim Reaper. Here goes:

Accomplishments:

  • Chris and Catharine
  • Peppercom
  • McGraw-Hill published book, ‘What’s keeping your customer up at night?’ (continues to fly off the bookshelves in Third World countries while gathering dust here)
  • 75 or so stand-up comedy performances
  • One ‘improv’ performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in NYC (easily the toughest mental challenge I’ve yet faced)
  • Mountain climbing, ice climbing, three half marathons and two 18-mile marathons
  • PR industry awards, bylined articles, speeches, panels, agency of the year, yada, yada
  • Mentoring more than one dazed and confused college student

Goals:

  • Learning a second language
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Climbing at least three more of the Seven Summits
  • Rock climbing
  • Antarctica and the Galapagos
  • Acting
  • Completing my swimming lessons and finishing a sprint triathalon

Reflecting on my mortality, I’m reminded of the classic William Saroyan quip, ‘Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’ If only……

Apr 01

Suits, Ties and the American Express Card: Don’t Leave Home WITH Them

U.K. media are in a positive tizzy over the G20 Summit meeting in London. Some headlines suggest it's now or never for the world's economic future. Others predict embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs to pull an economic rabbit out of his hat to hold onto his job. And, those omni-present paparazzi marvel at Michelle Obama's wardrobe ("……It's spot on, Penny" or "…..I must say I find it a tad too upscale for these times, Fiona" ). 

Other headlines warn "City" employees to dress down. They say that irate working class Brits are livid at their banking sector peers and might very well follow their French peers' lead and hold bankers hostage, rough them up or even worse. "…….So, keep those suits and ties on the hanger for the time being," warned The Times of London. 
RBS 01.04.09
Security and media outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in London in anticipation of protests

Amidst the chaos, I found the American Express card's near universal rejection almost comical. I've come to Europe many times in the past and seen acceptance of the Amex card spotty at best. Now, in the wake of the global crisis and the eight years of damage done to America's global image by Messrs Bush and Cheney, I'm experiencing outright contempt by local retailers when I do present the Amex card. One Glaswegian restauranteur sniffed and said, "An American Express card? Are you kidding? Not only are their retailer charges totally excessive, but they treat us like dirt. And, a card with the word 'American' in it?" he asked, with an arched eyebrow. "Put it away now," he advised. 

Yes, Virginia, being an American on European holiday can be a dodgy thing (as the Scots like to say). We're being blamed for everything from Middle East discord and terrorism to the economic recession and global warming (source: our Ben Nevis guide). If it's bad, it's America's fault. 

I've found avoiding the BBC news feeds helps. So, too, does mountain climbing and stand-up comedy. Now, I can add another stress buster to my personal "to do" list. Leave the American Express card at home. 

It's too bad Karl Malden's no longer among the living. American Express could dust him off, throw him a few greenbacks and have him insert the word "WITH" instead of "WITHOUT" in those old "…Don't leave home…" TV commercials. Come to think of it, they may want to consider a name change in about 150 countries outside the U.S.
Jan 08

Welcome to the United Kingdom, Now Get the Hell Out!

Guest Post by Garret Hall

Immigration officials have a thankless job.  Day in and day out, they are responsible for protecting a sovereign nation's borders and in doing so, directly protect those citizens who reside in that nation.   They do this with little appreciation and fanfare, and yet, their job is vital to the well being and integrity of all countries.  I cannot begin to imagine some of the methods used by travelers throughout the major international airports in order to illegally gain access into a country.  Immigration officials must see attempts at ill conceived plans on a near daily basis and, understandably so, probably tire of them quickly.  Aside from thwarting illegal attempts, immigration officials must also deal with those passengers who are trying to enter a country legally, but are not the easiest of people to get along with.  After what could have been a ten, twelve, or fifteen hour flight, the last thing a passenger wants to deal with is an immigration official simply doing his or her job: protecting their nation’s borders from those who wish to enter for less than benevolent reasons. 

It is in this context and for this reason that I deal with immigration officials as politely as I can after being on a flight that most likely lasted no less than five or six hours.  They are simply performing a necessary service, and in my past experience, if you treat them with respect, they will do the same towards you.  There is no need to make a tedious experience even worse for either myself or the immigration officer by having either party be antagonistic.  Up until two months ago, this policy had served me well, that was until I traveled to and from the UK in October, for what I thought would be a simple flight transfer. 

My friend and I were returning on a weekend trip from Amsterdam, and upon re-entry into the UK, where I would stay for a two week period, I would fly home to Washington, DC for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Upon arrival my friend and I proceeded to customs, where my ordeal was to begin.  The immigration officer that greeted me at the customs desk was less than cordial, but it being a Sunday afternoon, he was probably worn out and simply wanted to be home with his family.  After being asked the standard questions asked by all immigration officers around the world, I was found to be a person of interest to UK Immigration for a myriad of reasons, which I will not delve into (for my own sense of justification however, I will state that none of the reasons were, as far as I am concerned legitimate enough to refuse entry).  Border460

It was at this point which every official from there on out that I dealt with treated me as if I was guilty until proven innocent.  Under UK immigration laws I had done nothing wrong: I was planning on staying in the UK for under 3 months, meaning I needed no documentation other than my passport, and I had performed no work within the UK since I had been traveling and staying there.  In every way, shape and form I had done nothing wrong as British immigration laws are written and yet I was treated as if I had been trying to enter the UK whilst being listed on a terrorism watch list.  When I asked if I could be allowed internet access so that I may provide officials with all the information they wanted from me I was promptly denied with the excuse being, “It’s not their problem that I do not carry the necessary documents on my person.”  These documents, which ranged from financial records to written letters from people I may be staying with during my stay in the UK are papers which no normal traveler has on them in any given moment.

Apparently to these officials it mattered not that I was a recent college graduate who was obviously just traveling around Europe during the one time in my life that such a trip would be possible.  And while I generally dislike the idea of playing the American “get out of jail free card,” it was rather shocking to have what most experts agree is our closest ally treat an American citizen so poorly.  After enduring a night full of condescending retorts to my responses and brush away answers such as “someone will look into that for you,” the idea of going back to Britain within the near future is quite unpalatable to me.  While I will never know firsthand what the treatment of foreign travelers is like from American immigration officers, I can only hope that upon landing into the United States travelers are met with a certain level of respect and courtesy that the five or six British immigration officials I dealt with sorely lacked.