Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Sounds of Key West

Unlike Key West, for anyone that lives in places that get cold (I live in Chiswick in London), Summer is an urgent time. Summer needs to be celebrated because, unusually, we get to sit, lie, laze, and generally spend time outdoors. Most of the time it's cold so we rush to get indoors and so don't get time to sit out and just listen.

Unlike Key West, we need to make the most of the weather as it does not last and it does not spoil us.

I've just come in from sitting outside in my small garden.

Three peculiar things have aligned this weekend to make it rare indeed in London:

1. it's hot in London: the air temps is 19C/66F and in my tiny back yard, in full sun, with no wind to speak of, it's HOT!

2. there is not a single cloud in the sky (how often do you get that in Key West??!!).

3. because of the Icelandic volcanic ash (invisibly up there somewhere in the upper atmosphere), there are absolutely no flights into, or out of, Heathrow airport - so my patch of west London is without its customary aircraft noise.

So, for the first time (in the 20 years I have lived in London) I can ever remember, it's quiet. Really quiet. The noisiest thing this afternoon has been the neighbourhood blackbirds.

So today, for one day only, London is a good match for Key West!! They are both party towns. And today London is as sunny and hot as Key West. And it's as quiet and laid back because everyone is celebrating in the sunshine. And the peace is chillin' everyone out.

Which brings me back to sounds.

What are the typical sounds of Key West?

At the edges of the island, of course, it's the crash of the sea.

On Duval, it's the sounds of a party.

Fortunately, a few roads back from Duval, it's really, surprisingly quiet.

Unlike London today, every 2 hours or so everyone's Key West peace is interrupted by Delta or American propellers.

The ding of the bell from the Conch tour is a constant, regular alarm clock.

The roosters constant announcements.

And during certain lucky months, the sounds of a brisk wind through the palm trees bringing a momentary relief.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

From Cologne via paternoster to Key West and La Concha

I'm fascinated by hotel rooms, hotel bars, hotel showers, hotel foyers etc; as, being a frequent traveller, I spend a lot of time in them.

(And, after all these years of travelling, I still get surprised by how often decent hotels get some of these disasterously wrong.)

This week I was travelling for business in Cologne in Germany. Here's my snap of Cologne's mighty and very impressive cathedral, the Dom:

I've gotten used to the general standard of German hotel rooms in the 6 months now I've been visiting almost on a weekly basis.

The stereotype of German hotels holds absolutely true: the rooms are ruthlessly efficient but there is a bare minimum of pandering and luxury.

What do I mean? No luxury..... Well the single bed is really only a half-a-single - don't roll over too far or you'll be out! There's only ever, ever, the bare minimum on towel allocation (ie one bath towel and one hand towel). There is rarely tea or coffee in the room. The staff and polite but that's about it.

So, that's the basic. What do I mean by the efficient?

Well I've yet to spot a speck of dirt in a German hotel room. Germs be scared if you are visiting Germany. And the equipment.... I asked for an iron and I got the biggest, meanest iron I have ever seen. It even had a headlight on it. I had to take a picture. Here it is, ready for action:

(For iron fetishists it was a Siemens slider highlight 2400 watt).

So far so predictable.....

But then....

But then the RED light in the bathroom.

Yes, RED!

I was really surprised. You just don't expect to find a red light in a bathroom. It was great. I put it on and felt very naughty and explicit.

Also in the hotel, there was a paternoster going up and down the 16 floors.

I have never, in my whole life, come across or even heard of a paternoster. I don't think there is a single paternoster working in the USA and only a few in Europe. (The next day I took a ride on it - very exciting but not exactly SheiKra.)

So two times in one hotel where my expecations where rumbled and I was surprised. It's good to have/inject some unpredictability into your life. Surprises are good. And all 'experience designers' (=ie everybody) should bear that in mind.

So that got me thinking of 2 questions:

1 if key west was it's own country, what kind of stereotype would it live up to?

American, maybe in the good food and the achievement that civilisation can be brought to somewhere 159 miles from the nearest big city.

European, with lots of walking and fewer cars.

Carribean, in the flora.

British, in its sense of humor and irony.

Spanish, in its laid back-ness.

French, in its sense of priorities.

Cuban, in its outlook.

2 which bits of key west are the surprise?

The locals, always.

Just before a hurricane passes?

Alone, in the middle of the cemetery?

The moment of sunset?

The peace and honesty of a stifling mid-August afternoon?

(btw, I get surprised by how little today's Key West is influenced by the sea. It's a missed opportunity for creating surprises!)


So, where ever you are, keep up with the surprises, it'll keep people coming back for more!

And, let's install America's only working paternoster in La Concha!