Saturday, 24 September 2016

Corbyn makes May's day

So Jeremy Corbyn has won a resounding victory in the Labour leadership contest.  Well, whoop-di-doop.  It comes as no surprise, I guess, because even if most of his Parliamentary colleagues think he is a walking disaster area, the majority of the Party membership love him to bits so the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  But it seems to me the big winners in this are Theresa May and the Conservative party, because the vote has probably guaranteed her a clean victory whenever she cares to call a General Election to rubber stamp with the population at large her own ascent to her party’s leadership in the wake of Cameron’s post-Brexit retirement.

She has little or no real opposition.

The Liberal Democrats were all but wiped out at the last Election: despite still having a reasonable say in local politics with control over 20 or so councils across the UK, but on a national level they are virtually non-existent – only 8 seats out of 650 in Parliament (a mere 1.2% of those available), representing only 7.8% of the country’s population.  They have a relatively new leader, Tim Farron, who no-one except the party faithful takes seriously.  This is a devastating position for a party that until last year was in Government (albeit as part of the Cameron coalition).

Then there is UKIP, the Millwall football club of British politics (no-one likes us, we don’t care).  Their claim to fame is playing, mainly through ex-leader and gravy-train riding MEP Nigel Farage, a leading role in that damned Brexit campaign, and winning.  He too has stepped down and been replaced by someone few people have heard of (Diane James – no, I hadn’t heard of her either).  They boast a single MP, the Tory defector and generally incompetent and widely disliked (and distrusted) Douglas Carswell, who despite being the One at Westminster does not feature anywhere in the list of the party’s policy makers and leading lights.  Like the LibDems, they hold more sway in local politics, largely through LCD politics – appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator of voter with rhetoric that harks back to the good old days of Britain’s colonial and world power status, and grossly exaggerating concerns about immigration, terrorism threats and border controls.  It worked during the referendum, but it seems questionable whether it will hold a similar appeal in a general election campaign.  Time will tell.

Then there is a collection of vested interest parties – groups like the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Ulster Unionists (all of whom are popular and indeed dominant in their own parts of the UK), the Greens and a few Independents.  But the chances of them forming a genuine threat to the Conservatives, come the General Election, are at best minimal, at worst infinitesimal.

And Labour?

If this leadership contest has shown anything at all, it is that the party is split.  This is a sad reflection of a once great party that has failed really to move with the changing times.  I voted for them in the past, back in the 70s when the likes of Wilson and Callaghan and Healey and Jenkins and Castle seemed to my youthful self to offer more leadership and hope than a then weak and less than competent Conservative party under Heath.  They were all from the older war-time generation, the same as my Labour supporting, working class dad.  But they were clearly in thrall to a trades union movement that despite its good intentions, seemed to be abusing its power by moving increasingly to the left, to a place that was close to an already discredited Communism.
I remember the strikes throughout the 70s – working by candle-light like a Dickens character in an office in the City of London, courtesy of power cuts enforced as part of the imposition of a three day working week due to an industrial dispute.  I remember the car industry, once the best in the world, being virtually destroyed by a succession of strikes.  I remember piles of rubbish in the streets of towns and cities because the refuse collectors were involved in a wider ranging industrial dispute with local councils.  I stopped voting Labour then, and switched allegiance reluctantly to the Liberals, then the SDP (before their merger), feeling they offered a better way forward.

Then came Thatcher, and a re-invigorated Conservative party took power and took on the unions.  It needed doing, but the price paid was regrettably high – a steel industry and coal industry all but destroyed as their unions took on the government and lost, with whole communities left unemployed and hopeless, and pitched battles between union activists and the police that cost lives.  But over the course of three parliaments Britain was transformed into a confident, share- and property-owning democracy, with generally higher wages and lower unemployment.  But as happens, it went too far, ran out of ideas, Thatcher was replaced by John Major, and started its own soul searching period.

Meanwhile for Labour Neil Kinnock took on the left wing nutters in Militant, and diluted their power within the party, moving it somewhat to the right.  He was replaced by John Smith, on whose untimely death Tony Blair took over, re-branded the party New Labour, moved it to even more of a centre ground and was rewarded by three general election victories (the only Labour leader to have done that).  Perhaps unfairly branded as Tory Lite, he achieved over his time as leader arguably some quite good things – the Social Chapter, the abolition of Clause 4, further labour, educational and tax reforms, that ensured the country did not lurch back into a wasteland of industrial disputes, and continued to grow the economy.   But he also joined the US in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts that were the response to the 9/11 terrorist atrocity, based on intelligence that with the benefit of hindsight proved to be at best inaccurate and exaggerated and arguably downright lies, and without a clear mandate from the UN that has tarnished his reputation and left him branded forever (and in my view unreasonably) as a war criminal.

He stepped down and was replaced by Gordon Brown, who had been a decent Chancellor of the Exchequer but proved a useless leader who led the Labour party to Electoral defeat in 2010.  He in turn stepped down and was replaced by a rather wishy-washy Ed Milliband who repeated the trick of leading Labour to an Electoral defeat in 2015.  Throughout the Brown and Milliband years, the Labour party seemed at a loss as to what it stood for, never really coming up with a coherent agenda or identity.  After the last election, Milliband stepped down (a recurring story so far this century) and was replaced by the surprise choice of Corbyn. 

Which is where we are now.  Corbyn has been in the party and in parliament for 30 odd years, and has served exclusively on the back benches – Leader of the Opposition is his first front-bench position and one in which he has at times struggled – hence the leadership challenge.  He is an old-style conviction politician, somewhat to the Left of New Labour, but at least consistent in his beliefs.  He is strongly anti-war (he voted against the Iraq adventure and has stated publicly he will not authorise military intervention in any foreign war) and pro-trade union.  He is against the austerity measures that have been forced upon most of the world after the 2008 financial crisis, and lukewarm as far as Europe is concerned – one of the main criticisms levelled at him is that during the referendum he failed to provide clear leadership in putting across the party’s Stay In stance.

His task now is to unite a fractured party behind a more left wing agenda – less austerity, more job creation, more public ownership of things like the railways, more cash for education and the NHS – that appeals to the party membership and the man in the street, but does not sit so well with a more moderate parliamentary party that whilst not rampantly New Labour is still more centrist.  Whether he is up to the job is debatable.  Whether there is actually anyone else in the party who could do that is equally uncertain.   But unless he does so, the party is quite probably unelectable.   Hence the glee with which May and her Conservative will undoubtedly greet this result. 

It reminds me of an evening back at the height of Mrs. Thatcher’s powers, when the Labour party was similarly soul searching and light years from an electoral victory.  I attended a dinner in the City of London (the annual beano of one of the finance industry’s many self-regulating bodies) at which the keynote address was provided by Jeffrey Archer.  At the time he was an ex-MP, best-selling author and rampant Tory with ambitions still of high political office (the libel case against the Daily Star newspaper that led to a subsequent conviction and imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice was still some years away).  

He was also a very entertaining after-dinner speaker.  Anyway, when we came to the after-speech Q&A, he wearily answered a few inane questions about how he would act if he were managing a securities settlement department in such-and-such a situation, or whether England would qualify for the next World Cup – matters for which he clearly had not the slightest interest.  Then I stuck my hand up, was passed the microphone, and asked if, given the state of the Opposition and the strength of the Tories and Mrs. Thatcher’s grip on power, he agreed with me that the country was in danger of becoming a one-Party state, and whether this was good for democracy and Britain.  He was delighted and answered at length (basically he agreed with me, and promised that when he became Prime Minister things would change to prevent such a thing happening again).

It seems to me, maybe 30 years later, that the wheel has turned full circle and we are back in the same place, with a strong Tory party under a female leader, and a fragmented and weak Opposition.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Tasty Tel Aviv Tucker

As usual, before travelling to Tel Aviv for the first time, I I did my usual search for favoured eateries.  If there is an Irish bar and a Starbucks within walking distance of the hotel and/or office then I’m a happy chappy.  That’s not to say I live on Guinness and grande latte – far from it.  I’ll always try the local food and drink (even horsemeat pasties in Almaty – delicious!), you can’t go far wrong with a pizza or a spag bol, and a decent Mexican chilli goes down well.  As does the occasional Big Mac or Whopper menu, and a good curry or chow mein for variety.   And of course, 9 times out of 10, the hotel food is very good too (if a bit pricy). A foodie I am not – but I do know what I like.

To my surprise, there are no Starbucks in the country, never mind the City – possibly the only country in the developed world where they are not represented.  Depending in what report you read, the reason is either Israelis prefer their own type of coffee shops to the franchised one-size-fits-all American style, or Starbucks did not make sufficient show of supporting the Israeli Cause backed up with significant financial donations to the local politicos, who in a fit of pique demanded – and got – a boycott.   Whichever it is, the half dozen outlets that were originally opened in Tel Aviv lasted less than two years and are long gone.

McDonalds are present (aren’t they everywhere?) but apparently in two guises.  There is the bog standard McD’s that we all know, complete with the Golden Arches, selling all the usual Big Mac Menus, McFlurry’s and so on.  I found one, tried it, and was not disappointed – the Big American Meal I had featured a burger the size of a dinner plate.  Then there are kosher branches scattered around – I haven’t seen one yet – where the Arches are blue and the food is prepared according to strict kosher rules.  (I had a read of them as my hotel is kosher, and I had never eaten such food before.  All very complicated, but it seems to be more the type of animal and the way it’s slaughtered rather than the way it’s cooked.  But I may be wrong.)

And there are five Irish bars listed, of which one is now closed down and two others I have tried – more of which shortly.


There are of course many other restaurants scattered around. 

On my first night here, I went to an Italian close to the hotel with two Greek colleagues.   It was ok, nicely decorated, decent draught Stella Artois beer, but the food very average.  I sampled the Spaghetti Bolognese – the minced meat and tomato sauce was tasty enough though not as herby or garlicy as I would have liked.  The pasta was not the usual thin strings but a flatter variety, possibly vermicelli or maccheroncini (I’m no expert…), and the grated parmesan was replaced with chunks of a tasteless local cheese (presumably in accordance with kosher regulations….).   It was also a small portion, more like a starter than a main course, and I thought it quite expensive.  I haven’t returned, nor am I likely too, even though the place is very close to both the hotel and the office.

The next day a group of us went to French bistro close to the office.  From the outside it looks scruffy (true of many buildings in the city) but inside it was roomy with a wooden floor, a balcony area that appeared to be used for storage, and many tables scattered around.  We sat at a corner table under a wall covered with pictures of famous French people – Jean Reno, Edith Piaf and so on.  Most of them my French colleagues did not recognise, especially the older generation.  Service was slow but the food good.  I had an excellent roast beef sandwich with pickles, there were good salads, and one guy had a schnitzel that, when delivered, was actually two huge cutlets and big portion of fries.  He left half.  I went back one weekend but it was not open – a shame: I quite fancied those schnitzels.  Another time, maybe.

In a small, grubby looking side street that runs between hotel and office I found a café called Lulu’s one Friday.  I was hot, tired and hungry after a foot expedition to Jaffa, so settled at a pavement  table.  The local beer was very pleasant, and to my surprise the menu featured a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, with roast vegetables.    I ordered that, and when it came the chicken was indeed wrapped in about four slices of smoked back bacon and nicely grilled.  Given that pig products are not acceptable here, that seems very odd, but it was a very tasty meal nonetheless.   I can only assume the owner is not local and doesn’t follow the Jewish culinary norm.  It’s also possible the owner is Jewish but disagrees with such restrictions – I remember forty-odd years ago working with an old Jewish guy whose favourite lunch was a couple of ham and mustard sandwiches and a packet of smoky bacon crisps, because despite his upbringing he “liked the taste”.  I’d go along with that….

Now – the Irish pubs. 

I’ve used two, situated quite close to each other, by the beach and just about a 2km stroll from the hotel. 

The first I found is called Mike’s Place, and it’s perhaps 100m from the McDonald’s I used, on the Retsif Herbert Samuel promenade that runs alongside the beaches.  It’s a fairly scruffy looking building, typical of Tel Aviv, with a covered terrace outside that faces over the beach to the Mediterranean.  The terrace is furnished with a selection of shabby wooden tables and chairs, and the interior bar is equally dingy looking.  I settled down at a table in the corner of the terrace, in the shade of a bush the grows up the terrace roof-posts, Joe Cocker on the headphones and my book (Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser – very good) in my hand.  The menu has a mix of local dishes, salads, sandwiches and the usual quasi-Irish fare like burgers, beef stew, fish and chips, and sweets like apple pie and cheese cake.  Draught beers included Guinness and Kilkenny, with local bottled beers and Magner’s cider in bottles.  There was also a wide range of spirits (Bushmills Whiskey prominent) and the usual range of cocktails including Sex on the Beach and Tequila Sunrise.

I settled for a pint of draught Kilkenny (I find it travels better than Guinness) and the sausage and mash with gravy and a side order of fries - I was hungry after a long walk along the beach to the harbour perhaps a further 2–3km further north, just before the Yarkon River flows into the sea.  The beer, as expected, was very nice – it’s my favourite Irish brew – and chilled to perfection.   I ended up having two.

When it came the food was also good.  Proper mashed potatoes (not powdered), chunky chips made from proper sliced spuds, and three big veal sausages with a jug of thick spicy gravy.  The sausages looked and tasted like the Polish kielbaski that we grill on the barbecue or bonfire on sunny Sunday afternoons – Irish or Wall’s pork they were not.  It was just decent hearty food, not gourmet cooking, and would probably go nowhere on Masterchef, but that is fine by me.  Tasty and filling, washed down with good beer, it hit the spot.  I will certainly use the place regularly.

Close by, one street further inland and perhaps 200m further north, is Molly Bloom’s.   It’s a more authentic looking pub with perhaps ten high tables and chairs outside the corner doorway instead of a terrace.  Inside is much brighter and (dare I say it) cleaner looking than Mike’s, with several tables and booths scattered around.  There are three big-screen tv’s showing a variety of sports, including Sky’s transmission of English Premier and Italian Serie A league football, Irish hurling, Gaelic football, Formula 1 motor racing and American NFL football.  There is also a back room with another big tv showing the same programming but offering a little more privacy.

The menu was not dissimilar to Mike’s, but with a few additions – I settled for an old favourite, shepherd’s pie, again with a side order of fries (I had been on another long walk), and again Kilkenny.  By the way, why oh why do so many pubs and restaurants get it wrong?  Most of them deliver a perfectly tasty and acceptable shepherd’s pie made from minced beef – which makes it a COTTAGE PIE.  Shepherd’s pie is made from minced LAMB – the clue is in the name: shepherds care for sheep not cattle.

But I’m being a bit anal there.  When it came, it was delicious – minced beef in a thick gravy, with chunks of carrot and peas and onions, topped off with creamy mashed potatoes and grated cheese.  A fine meal indeed – and the chips were good, too.  So I spent a pleasant couple of hours watching the Singapore GP Qualifying and some football (Hull v Arsenal: so you can’t have everything), eating my fill, drinking a couple of beers and in between times reading my book.

I went back a couple of days later, largely for the football (Spurs v Sunderland) and tried some different food.  This time I had lamb sausages with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and a Guinness gravy.  It was ok – the sausages were a little dry but quite spicy, the spuds creamy but with nice little chunks that hadn’t been fully mashed (to prove again real potatoes rather than powdered), the gravy thick if a little insufficient (no jug this time, just a small helping poured into a little volcano in the spuds) and the coleslaw suitably sour.

I will go here again, too.


The restaurant at the hotel is also good.  I’m not a big breakfast eater – I tend to snack at lunchtime and have a decent meal in the evenings – except at the weekend.  The selection is pretty good: lots of fresh fruit and salad-y things, cooked meats, local cheeses, fish, cereals, a variety of fresh breads and rolls, and lots of different cakes and pastries.  As far as I’ve seen there are no sausages or eggs anywhere, nor bacon – kosher hotel, remember.  I usually settle for rolls with butter and jam or honey, and a couple of pastries or cakes, plus cappuccino from the machine.  It’s plenty.

The room service menu is fine, burgers, salads, pizza and local stuff, plus a selection of drinks.  The quality I’ve found variable – I’ve had a couple of excellent beef and chicken club sandwiches (on the Sabbath there are no cooked meals on room service), and twice a rather fine plate of chicken nuggets, frankfurters and fries (but the nuggets are actually chicken breasts fried in breadcrumbs) that have filled me up a treat.  But I also had a chicken kebab with fries that was disappointing: the chicken pieces were undercooked and very stringy and chewy – not to my taste at all.

But the evening meal is something else again.  I don’t have it every evening (I would be an even fatter old sod than I already am if I did!), but when I do it is invariably excellent.  It’s a self-service, as-much-as-you-can-eat buffet: and I can eat a lot.  The soup course offers a different flavour daily – today it was a very tasty lentil soup, and I’ve also had a creamy mushroom, a vegetable, and a spicy bean soup – and there is a huge selection of salads and cold meats for an alternative (or even additional) starter.  Main courses are of course a fish and a meat course, sometimes two of each, including a grill or fry course prepared to order by line chefs while you watch.  Tonight I had rather splendid spicy veal meatballs with grilled vegetables in a thick sauce, and huge roast potatoes topped with a thin coating of cheese and sesame seeds.  You can of course have more than one helping – I didn’t.  For sweet there is a huge range of things – individual crème caramels and souffles, apple pie, various fruit pastries, cheesecakes, blancmanges, meringues, chocolate sponges, ice cream, fresh fruit…..the sweet table is literally bowed under its load.  It’s good value but my company has a special deal that reduces the cost dramatically. 

I love it.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Here we go again.......

Now I’ve not written anything on here for a while.  Partly I’ve been too busy at work, and partly I’ve been based in Amsterdam for the best part of two years so had relatively little new to say after the first few months.  What essays I have written have been published on LinkedIn as they have been less about travel and more about business and politics.  But the Amsterdam contract has finished and after a relaxing summer, recharging these clapped out old batteries, I’m on the move again.  So I’m back……

To a new project, and a new destination.

It’s a place I’ve been very critical of in past essays and conversations, both here and on other social media and over coffee or beer in a variety of places, and one I’ve always said I had no real interest in visiting.  But the lure of a long term project and a decent financial deal have brought me here anyway.  And before you ask, my scruples haven’t particularly changed – my wider view of the country’s politics and behaviour remain unchanged, and had I been able to find an equally attractive proposal elsewhere would undoubtedly have taken that instead.  But in the event that didn’t happen so here I am, at least until the New Year and quite possible for a good while beyond that.

So here I am, in sunny Tel Aviv.  Israel.

Getting here was challenging.

There are plenty of options, both direct from Warsaw and on various alternative routes with one or more flight changes, but because of some mild disagreements over contract details (happily and favourably resolved) my departure was delayed to the extent that those options were limited.  I had proposed a specific (very reasonably priced) pair of direct flights on my old friends WizzAir, but the airline is not on my agent’s approved list.  So last Friday, once the contract details were in place, the client company tried to book flights for the following day, to start on the usual Middle Eastern business day of Sunday.  No chance – fully booked.  There were two options offered – a direct night flight on LOT Sunday night (arriving Monday early hours) or a 9:15 a.m. departure Tuesday morning on El Al, arriving mid-afternoon. 

I had no choice in the decision, since I was paddling along in kayaks on the river Pilica with my beloveds, enjoying a final break before my return to gainful employment (and their return to school) and thus out of touch.  My project manager made a judgement call and chose the El Al flight on my behalf – and very happy I was too.  An extra couple of days at home and a full nights’ sleep before work.  Perfect.

I packed my bags, for a 12 day trip, and on Monday went on the website to check-in.

Now, everyone knows that El Al are incredibly security conscious – nothing wrong with that – and I had heard some horror stories from friends who work at Okecie airport in Warsaw about long queues and arrogant Israeli security personnel.  Equally I had conversations with friends already working here who were insistent that it was straightforward and nothing to lose sleep over.  Traveller opinions on TripAdvisor and elsewhere were equally split – a huge number were scathing (some of the worst I have ever read anywhere) and others very complimentary.  Usually when I’m doing research like this I discount the really good and the really poor and settle for the middle ground as probably more accurate – but in this case there was no middle ground at all.  And so no real help at all. 

Incidentally, I did notice a bit of a curiosity in the reviews.  The complimentary ones tended to be by short and medium haul passengers, usually from Europe somewhere, with names like Goldstein and Cohen.  The worst – by far! – were from US located long haul passengers with names like Goldstein and Cohen, whose expectations were clearly way higher than the more local passengers.  There were complaints about security procedures, flight delays, quality of the food and service (too small helpings delivered slowly by harassed cabin crew was a popular refrain), and – ludicrously! – too many children on the flight (are they supposed to swim the Atlantic?!?!?!?).  Now having flown on various US carriers a few times over the last 15 years or so, I simply do not understand this – I can honestly say that the worst flight experiences and miserable, old and ugly flight crews, and the worst food, were all delivered courtesy of those US carriers.  Delta in particular were abysmal. 

Which all goes to prove my belief that in general terms Americans have little or no taste – any nation even half-seriously considering an oaf like Donald Trump for President is really in trouble and has nothing to brag about.

Anyway, check in was easy enough, but I could not change my over-wing seat, despite being offered the option: a technical problem of some kind blocked the seat map.  Not a big deal, but frustrating – I do like a good uninterrupted view when I’m going anywhere new, and with the Mediterranean sunshine stretching pretty much all the way to Poland I anticipated a pleasant flight. 

The check-in also advised getting to the airport a full four hours before departure for the “enhanced security process”.  It seemed extreme and meant a 4:30 a.m. start, but ok – I’ll do it if I have to.  The website lied.  I dutifully got there at 5:00, and check-in didn’t start until 6:20.  At least I was at the front of the “Other Passports” queue.  Rather than just a couple of desk agents, the airline commandeered an entire block of six, and in front of them set up about 10 small portable lecterns and a maze of rope barriers.  Each lectern was manned by a customer security agent (their terminology) who made a cross-examination of each passenger in turn, before allowing them to proceed to three gate agents and two supervisors to deposit checked bags.  At each end of the zone stood burly guards in camouflage suits, bullet proof vests, headsets and dark glasses, cradling Uzi machine pistols across their chests and looking suspiciously all around.  Just a tad intimidating…..

I got the Third Degree Interrogation (as opposed to the “have a nice flight” most of the other passengers seemed to be getting).  The very nice Polish girl who conducted it was having problems understanding how an English man can own a company domiciled in Poland, and through a separate English company work on a project in Israel supporting a Swiss software house.  There was also a concern about some old Qatari stamps in my passport, so my baggage had a thorough going over, both hand and hold bags opened and searched.  Oh, and the lack of a work permit didn’t help – the explanation that I was visiting the bank this week to finalise terms and conditions and the bank would then kick off the application was eventually accepted after some discussion.  It all took 45 minutes.

Time for a coffee and cake for breakfast, then onto the flight.  I asked about a seat change, on the grounds that their check-in system was broken and wouldn’t let me do it myself.  They offered to sell me a different seat for an additional $200.  I stayed where I was, over the wing.  I had a good book, and of course my music, so was happy enough.

The flight was actually ok.  A 737-800 is a comfortable enough plane, just about enough leg room and the person in front didn’t recline her seat much.  The weather was perfect, clear and smooth air all the way…..just a shame about the (lack of a) view.  We had a just about adequate breakfast – a very plain and very small omelette, roll, butter and apricot jam, a yoghurt, tea or coffee (glad I ate something before boarding!) but at least the flight crew were polite and helpful (unlike some mentioned in the various customer reviews I had read).

Breezed through passport control on arrival, a 10 minute wait for my bag and out through customs with not a second glance from anyone.    Efficient taxi service, and into the city within an hour of landing – better than I had expected.  Hurrah!

I’m staying in the Dan Panorama Hotel.  It towers over the beach and my tenth floor room has a small balcony and a nice view north along the promenade, the beach and Mediterranean – all very pleasant.  There is a decent sized pool here and a gym, neither of which I’ve used yet, and a couple of bars and restaurants that seem a tad pricy.  TV is ok, local channels, plus German, Italian, Spanish and French options, the inevitable CNN and (for a change) Sky News UK rather than the much better BBC World News.  The bed is comfortable and very big, free wifi, kettle and coffee kit provided so I have no complaints at all really.  It’s also only a 5 minute walk from the site, so I don’t need to rely on local transport – given that I understand not a word of Hebrew (in which of course all the destinations and road signs are written) this is a great advantage.

My taxi driver in from the airport insisted the beaches here were the BEST in the whole world.  He needs to get out more.  It’s a typical Med beach, so sandy, with warm shallow sea that I tested Wednesday evening (delightful of course, especially after the chilly Baltic in July), and it’s very crowded – as you would expect for a city centre beach.  Lots of umbrellas and sunbeds (at a price, no doubt), and hordes of young people in very small swimsuits and bikinis playing beach tennis or a kind of football keepie-uppie and showing off their tans and bodies to anyone who cares to admire them.  Very much like Greece and Italy and Spain, except that they are locals and not drunken tourists.

I had a stroll along it again last night, and located the nearest Irish pub (my venue for the football on tv at weekends when I’m here) and a McDonalds.  I tried it last night, and had a burger I’ve not seen before (at least it’s not sold in Poland or, as far as I know, England).  It’s called a Big American, and is basically a Big Mac the size of a dinner plate – huge.  But very tasty, with large fries and a coke.  My usual healthy eating…….

Anyway, here I am, for the foreseeable future. 

It’s the weekend today (the usual Middle Eastern Sunday through Thursday business week prevails – I always find adjusting to that a bit tricky), so I’m off to the hotel gym and the beach in a minute, to burn off that Big American.  Tomorrow, when more things are open, I’ll have a bit of an explore, see more of the town, maybe mooch along to the old port town of Jaffa a mile or so south, and see what’s there.

So further epistles to follow.

Happy days.