I Was Just Thinking…

. . . about fires. The fires of California, Oregon and elsewhere. Although I’m an East Coast guy currently living in the Upper Midwest, I have a strong affinity for California. I’ve visited many times, lived there for three months a couple of times, and have dear friends who live there.

But the fires came home for me when I saw television news video of Meadowood resort near Yountville burning down. I’ve stayed there many times, and a close friend of mine has been involved with Meadowood management. (The resort is owned by Bill Harlan, whose wine called “Harlan” is highly coveted.)

Until the fire torched Meadowood in the early morning of September 28th, there were two, three-star Michelin restaurants in California. The French Laundry in Yountville still stands; the Restaurant at Meadowood is in ashes.

However, to put things in perspective, no lives were lost. Guests don’t stay in the big lodge where the restaurant was; they stay in luxury bungalows scattered among the surrounding forest. And a restaurant and lodge can be rebuilt.

Much more deserving of my empathy—and the nation’s empathy—are the families who have lost homes and loved ones in this season of fires. Against a backdrop of Covid and what I’d call an “unsettled” political landscape, the fires seemed a gratuitous insult to normalcy.

I note that the smoke from the West Coast fires over the last month stretched around the globe as far as the skies over Russia. Which reminded me of the fires that clog the skies of a number of southeast Asian countries for a couple of months every year when Indonesian farmers slash and burn forests.

Nothing—politics, viruses, and fires—seems entirely local anymore. Travelers know this better than most. Which is only one reason travel is always important: You really do learn we’re ALL in this together.

Footnote: Only two weeks ago, Christopher Kostow, the chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood, was featured in a San Francisco Chronicle article headlined “Smoke Be Damned: Napa’s Luxury Restaurants Are Seeing High Demand.” The article noted that despite high heat and orange skies, Napa restaurants were enjoying strong business. You may view it here.


Short Takes

  • Japan Airlines decides to go gender neutral in its on-board announcements. Out: “Ladies and gentlemen.” In: “Attention all passengers.” Air Canada and EasyJet are already there. Japan Airlines’ seating chart will also show you where a child under two years old is seated in case you want to choose a seat elsewhere.
  • Is now the best time to visit Venice? The London-based Spectator says, “Absolutely.” The obvious reason is there are so few travelers there right now. You can read the paper’s advice on visiting the city of canals here.
  • JetBlue announces a Covid test you can give yourself at home. It’s a saliva test, not a nasal swab, and you’ll administer the test while online with a test administrator. Your test is overnighted to a lab, and results are expected in 72 hours. But check with your destination to see if such a test will be accepted. JetBlue passengers get a discount. Price is not determined as of this writing.
  • An American living in Thailand who posted a number of derogatory reviews of a hotel on the island of Koh Chang faces two years in jail for violating the country’s anti-defamation laws. Details on BBC here.
  • Viking says it will finally begin its river cruises on the Mississippi River in August of 2022. The company says advance bookings have been so strong, it’s posted 2023 sailing dates.
  • After a couple years of arguing with London authorities, Uber beat back an effort by London cabbies to shut it down. This week Uber was granted an 18-month extension of its operating license by the London transport authority.


COVID-19 Tests for Hawaii

Hawaii says it will open to visitors on October 15th, and you can avoid quarantining for two weeks by providing a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of flying.

I’m indebted to Johnny Jet  for providing details on three airlines that will administer passengers tests.

United will give tests that deliver a rapid answer from its San Francisco gateway for $250, or you may provide you your own results from a current test.

Hawaiian Airlines will charge you $150 for a day-of-travel, drive-through test or $90 for a test that will let you know if you’re positive or negative in 36 hours.

Lufthansa, on the other hand, says its test will deliver results in 15 minutes for $12. Which led a reader of Johnny’s blog to ask why Lufthansa can get the job done for $12 while the competition charges many times that.


“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

—Oscar Wilde, poet and playwright


“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”

—Edmund Hillary, explorer

Today’s Webinar Guest

Join me for a conversation online with David Hume Kennerly, titled “Have Camera, Will Travel.” One of America’s most famous photographers, Kennerly will discuss his experiences covering wars, the flights of refugees, and his tenure as chief White House photographer for Gerald Ford.

He was one of the youngest photographers to win a Pulitzer Prize for photography during his years in  Vietnam, and his photos have appeared as cover photos in more than 50 major magazines.

You may read more about him on his website here.

Please register here to join me and our guest at Thursday’s free webinar at noon PACIFIC. And when you register, please click “subscribe” to be informed of upcoming guests. You’ll receive a reminder before each week’s Really Big Show.

And if you think a friend might like to receive this newsletter, invite him or her to go here and scroll to the bottom of the home page to enter their name and email address.

My past interviews with guests such as actors Andrew McCarthy & Kurt Fuller, writers Phillip Caputo & Max Brooks, journalist Jonathan Karl, Tim & Nina Zagat of Zagat Guides, travel hosts Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, and Phil Rosenthal can be found on YouTube.

Just click here.