in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


live blog: candid camera, gyros edition


live blog: bang into bodrum

Situated at the end of a peninsula jutting into the Aegean, Bodrum, Turkey – home of the Greek historian Herodatus – is these days better known as a coastal holiday resort. In ancient times the town was called Halicarnassus – famous for the Mausoleum of Mausolos, one of the original seven wonders of the world. Destroyed by successive earthquakes, the Mausoleum today lies in ruins. Of interest however is the fortress of Bodrum Castle, which overlooks the harbor. Built by the same Knights who later fled to Malta via Rhodes, the castle has been turned into a museum of underwater archaeology, with a collection of amphoras, ancient glass, bronze, clay, and iron items recovered from ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea. It’s also a great place to sip a Turkish coffee.


live blog: midnight at the oasis

The sun sets over the old town of Rhodes and the city lights up like an oasis in The Levant: palm trees, minarets, and medieval ruins all crowned by a crescent moon. There’s something mystical here. The island, though clearly Greek today, has been a crossroads for travelers and divergent civilizations over centuries. It’s made for a perfect launch point: tomorrow I’ll be sailing the Dodecanese for just over a week, zigzagging my way from the coast of Turkey to Santorini, Crete and a handful of lesser islands on a small sailing ship with Variety Cruises. Yet again, I’ve no idea what the internet situation will be, so postings may be sporadic.  Fear not, however; Odysseus will be making a full report as time – and technology – allows.


live blog: sounds of the sea

At last, a proper computer where I can jot down a few words:  I’ve arrived on the island of Rhodes and am happily ensconced at the Sheraton Rhodes Resort, the only internationally-managed hotel on the island. (Most of the accommodation in the Greek isles is still family-owned and run) My deepest desire on landing was a headlong plunge into the Aegean - and that’s exactly what I did. The beach is accessed through a vine-covered pergola, which leads under the road and out to a wide stretch of powdery sand, with the coast of Turkey in the foreground. The actual swimming part of the beach, however, is pure pebbles. Or rocks, more to the point, which have been tumbled to smoothness by the relentless crash of the waves. The water is a deep blue, almost iridescent, and warm as a bath. This is the northern, windward side of the island, so the surf is challenging, yet I am still surprised at the depth of clarity to the water, despite the churning. There is a musical element to my wading swim, too: the stones hurtle low toward the shore carried along by the force of water; when the tide pulls out they tumble back from whence they came, making the most pleasant of sounds in the process, like a rack of billiard balls coming into play, or the start of a game of skee-ball. It’s rhythmically sporadic, like wind chimes, making me eager to drift off to sleep tonight with the windows wide open.


god is in the details

The rise of Islam in Arabia and its subsequent spread had a profound and unifying effect on the art and culture of the Arab lands, Turkey, Iran and Central and South Asia. Underpinned by a shared Islamic heritage, each region nevertheless continued to strongly express its artistic individuality. This cultural diversity is made clear – as well as being beautifully displayed – in the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s newly refurbished Islamic galleries. Hidden from view since 2003, many of the works on display were created for dynastic rulers and nobles by workshops in the service of the court. This world is revealed in illustrated literary, poetic, and heroic texts, like the epic Persian Book of Kings or in royal portraits and precious objects for the Ottoman Sultans. Patterns of patronage extended into the worlds of trade, commerce and village life, too; expressed in carpets, ceramics, and quotidian objects rendered as items of exquisite beauty, like the mihrab or prayer niche seen above. Yet the quintessential form of artistic expression in the Islamic world was calligraphy as derived from the holy book, the Qur’an. Lavishly copied in many beautiful scripts, its sacred verses adorned architecture and art everywhere, woven into complex geometric designs, along with floral and vegetable motifs in a variety of scrolling patterns. It has been said that God is in the details. For the artists who toiled anonymously in the service of Islam, that truism was more than just hyperbole; it was the highest form of expression.



surgical sojourns

Despite the passage of Obama-care, medical tourism is expected to be a $100 billion industry by 2012.  That’s a lot of people looking to save on the skyrocketing costs of medical care at home  – or recuperate far from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

For example, nearly 200,000 people a year head to Turkey for eye treatments like Lasik. Lithuania has become the go-to country for experimental stem cell transplants or gastric bypass. Israel is famous for its low-cost cancer treatment centers, while Thailand is world renowned for cheap plastic surgery.  And dental procedures in India can be as much as 10 times cheaper than in the US.

Closer to home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Casa Velas is riding the medical trend by expanding the parameters of its wellness programs to combine elective surgery with a luxurious recuperation.  The AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel and spa works in conjunction with the board-certified, bilingual doctors of Amerimed (a network of hospitals in Mexico adhering to US healthcare standards) to partner on elective surgeries and cosmetic enhancements ranging from facelifts, tummy tucks, and nose jobs to gastric bypass and botox.

Following procedures, the hotel provides a restful retreat for recuperation where patients receive personal attention 24-hours a day from the staff as well as visits from qualified medical personnel to attend to post-surgery needs.  It’s hard to argue with the logic: if you’re going to be bed-bound for a few days or longer, why not splurge some of the savings on an ocean view, room service, and mani-pedi?


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