It may be one of the last countries where travelers are allowed, and it’s not China.
In 2008, the national anthems of both North Korea and the United States resonated throughout the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre — echoing hopes of a thawing relationship between the countries.
The curtains have since long closed on these hopes.
The historic concert, performed by the New York Philharmonic is one of Mark Edward Harris’ favorite moments of his 10 trips to the “Hermit Kingdom.”
Harris, a Los Angeles-based photographer, told CNBC that he hopes to return to North Korea soon.
Covid holdouts in Asia — such as Japan and Hong Kong — have relaxed border restrictions, but North Korea is expected to keep its rules firmly in place.
Furthermore, North Korea’s reopening depends on two countries — China and Russia. Travelers eager to visit it often have to enter through them.
Even if North Korea were to open tomorrow, “neither option is available,” said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, which specializes in North Korean tourism. He cited the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and China’s strict border closures.
North Korean’s border reopening “entirely relies” on how China reopens to foreign travelers, said Rowan Beard, a tour manager at Young Pioneer Tours.
“The majority of tourists going to North Korea go directly through China,” he said.
If China does not issue tourist visas or allow tourists to transit through it, it will be impossible for Westerners based in China to go to Pyongyang, agreed Rayco Vega, general manager of tour agency KTG Tours.
Demand never stopped
Even as North Korea retreated into its shell during the pandemic, demand to visit never waned, according to several tour agencies.
“There has always been solid demand, and it may even be pent up at this point,” said Cockerell.
North Korea tours make up more than 90% of Koryo’s revenue stream, he said.
Beard agreed, saying travelers still send requests to visit North Korea.
“I receive emails daily from those asking if North Korea has reopened and if they can go,” he said. “They’re on the waiting list, and once it does reopen, it’s first-come, first-served.”
North Korea’s tourism revenue rose around 400% between 2014 and 2019, according to the North Korea analysis database 38 North.
Tours into North Korea comprised about 75% of his company’s business before the pandemic, said Beard. He organized trips for about 1,200 tourists in 2019, comprising mainly Australians, Brits, Canadians, the Dutch and Germans, he said.
“We could have taken more but the demand for travel to North Korea was also in high demand with the Chinese market, which made flight and train tickets incredibly limited,” he said.
‘One of the last countries to let travelers in’
With China still adhering to its zero-Covid strategy, the tour agencies that spoke to CNBC estimate that North Korea may reopen to foreign tourists in 2024 — or later.
“Our guess is that the DPRK will be one of the last countries to let travelers in,” said Vega.
“They will take the most conservative line on this,” Cockerell said. “The country has also closed for months due to SARS in 2003 and Ebola in 2015, so they do act decisively in the face of pandemics.”
He added that a “a European-style relaxed attitude” toward travelers won’t come anytime soon, and expects strict controls to remain in place even when it does reopen.
Beard said he believes North Korea’s reopening will be a “tedious” one, plagued by Covid testing, tracking apps and face mask rules, even when the “rest of the world will have mostly moved on.”
Apple Inc., formerly Apple Computer, Inc., American manufacturer of personal computers, smartphones, tablet computers, computer peripherals, and computer software. It was the first successful personal computer company and the popularizer of the graphical user interface. Headquarters are located in Cupertino, California.
Apple Inc. had its genesis in the lifelong dream of Stephen G. Wozniak to build his own computer—a dream that was made suddenly feasible with the arrival in 1975 of the first commercially successful microcomputer, the Altair 8800, which came as a kit and used the recently invented microprocessor chip. Encouraged by his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club, a San Francisco Bay area group centred around the Altair, Wozniak quickly came up with a plan for his own microcomputer. In 1976, when the Hewlett-Packard Company, where Wozniak was an engineering intern, expressed no interest in his design, Wozniak, then 26 years old, together with a former high-school classmate, 21-year-old Steve Jobs, moved production operations to the Jobs family garage. Jobs and Wozniak named their company Apple. For working capital, Jobs sold his Volkswagen minibus and Wozniak his programmable calculator. Their first model was simply a working circuit board, but at Jobs’s insistence the 1977 version was a stand-alone machine in a custom-molded plastic case, in contrast to the forbidding steel boxes of other early machines. This Apple II also offered a colour display and other features that made Wozniak’s creation the first microcomputer that appealed to the average person.
Though he was a brash business novice whose appearance still bore traces of his hippie past, Jobs understood that in order for the company to grow, it would require professional management and substantial funding. He convinced Regis McKenna, a well-known public relations specialist for the semiconductor industry, to represent the company; he also secured an investment from Michael Markkula, a wealthy veteran of the Intel Corporation who became Apple’s largest shareholder and an influential member of Apple’s board of directors. The company became an instant success, particularly after Wozniak invented a disk controller that allowed the addition of a low-cost floppy disk drive that made information storage and retrieval fast and reliable. With room to store and manipulate data, the Apple II became the computer of choice for legions of amateur programmers. Most notably, in 1979 two Bostonians—Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston—introduced the first personal computer spreadsheet, VisiCalc, creating what would later be known as a “killer app” (application): a software program so useful that it propels hardware sales.
While VisiCalc opened up the small-business and consumer market for the Apple II, another important early market was primary educational institutions. By a combination of aggressive discounts and donations (and an absence of any early competition), Apple established a commanding presence among educational institutions, contributing to its platform’s dominance of primary-school software well into the 1990s.
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Competition from IBM
Apple’s profits and size grew at a historic rate: by 1980 the company netted over $100 million and had more than 1,000 employees. Its public offering in December was the biggest since 1956, when the Ford Motor Company had gone public. (Indeed, by the end of 1980, Apple’s valuation of nearly $2 billion was greater than Ford’s.) However, Apple would soon face competition from the computer industry’s leading player, International Business Machines Corporation. IBM had waited for the personal computer market to grow before introducing its own line of personal computers, the IBM PC, in 1981. IBM broke with its tradition of using only proprietary hardware components and software and built a machine from readily available components, including the Intel microprocessor, and used DOS (disk operating system) from the Microsoft Corporation. Because other manufacturers could use the same hardware components that IBM used, as well as license DOS from Microsoft, new software developers could count on a wide IBM PC-compatible market for their software. Soon the new system had its own killer app: the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, which won an instant constituency in the business community—a market that the Apple II had failed to penetrate.
Macintosh and the first affordable GUI
Apple had its own plan to regain leadership: a sophisticated new generation of computers that would be dramatically easier to use. In 1979 Jobs had led a team of engineers to see the innovations created at the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto (California) Research Center (PARC). There they were shown the first functional graphical user interface (GUI), featuring on-screen windows, a pointing device known as a mouse, and the use of icons, or pictures, to replace the awkward protocols required by all other computers. Apple immediately incorporated these ideas into two new computers: Lisa, released in 1983, and the lower-cost Macintosh, released in 1984. Jobs himself took over the latter project, insisting that the computer should be not merely great but “insanely great.” The result was a revelation—perfectly in tune with the unconventional, science-fiction-esque television commercial that introduced the Macintosh during the broadcast of the 1984 Super Bowl—a $2,500 computer unlike any that preceded it.
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Desktop publishing revolution
Despite an ecstatic reaction from the media, the Macintosh initially sold below Apple’s expectations. Critics noted that the Mac, as it came to be known, had insufficient memory and storage and lacked standard amenities such as cursor keys and a colour display. (Many skeptics also doubted that adults would ever want to use a machine that relied on the GUI, condemning it as “toylike” and wasteful of computational resources.) In the wake of the poor sales performance, Jobs was ousted from the company in September 1985 by its chief executive officer (CEO), John Sculley. (Wozniak had left Apple in February 1985 to become a teacher.) Under Sculley, Apple steadily improved the machine. However, what saved the Mac in those early years was Apple’s 1985 introduction of an affordable laser printer along with Aldus Corporation’s PageMaker, the Mac’s first killer app. Together these two innovations launched the desktop publishing revolution. Suddenly, small businesses and print shops could produce professional-looking brochures, pamphlets, and letters without having to resort to expensive lithographic processes. The graphic arts and publishing industries quickly became the Mac’s single most important market.
Another innovation was a software database called HyperCard, which Apple included free with every Macintosh starting in 1987. Using a technique called hyperlinking, this program, written by Bill Atkinson, was employed by many teachers to organize multimedia elements for classroom presentations—an idea that anticipated the HTML (hypertext markup language) underpinnings of the World Wide Web.
Apple litigates while PCs innovate
This was a golden age for Apple; the company’s revenues approached $10 billion, and it sold more than a million computers a year. Still, Apple’s profits obscured the fact that its share of the market was falling, despite the technological superiority of its products. The Mac’s incompatibility with Apple II software, a problem initially ignored, slowed educational sales and compelled the retention of the outmoded Apple II line through 1993. Consumer sales suffered as the company discouraged game development out of fear that the Mac would not be taken seriously in the business community. Moreover, Microsoft, after an unsuccessful attempt to secure an agreement to market the Mac OS on the Intel processor, introduced Windows, its own graphical operating system. Apple litigated for years, in vain, to stop Microsoft from copying the “look and feel” of its operating system, though the Mac OS itself drew upon the PARC GUI. Meanwhile, as successive versions of Windows were improved and as competition among multiple PC manufacturers led to greater innovation and lower prices, fewer people were willing to pay the premiums that Apple had been able to command owing to its reputation for quality.
In a rather surprising development, Apple and IBM announced an alliance in 1991. In addition to signing a technology agreement with Motorola, Inc., to develop a next-generation RISC (reduced-instruction-set computing) chip, known as the PowerPC, Apple and IBM created two new software companies, Taligent, Inc., and Kaleida Labs, Inc., for the development of operating system software. Taligent was expected to enable versions of both the Mac OS and the IBM OS/2 to run on a new computer hardware standard, the common hardware reference platform (CHRP), and Kaleida Labs was to develop multimedia software. However, as Apple and IBM began to quarrel over CHRP’s engineering specifications and as costs mounted to approximately $400 million for Taligent and $200 million for Kaleida Labs, Apple pulled out with little to show for its investment.
Newton and Claris
Sculley also promised more than Apple could deliver with Newton, a personal digital assistant (PDA) that suffered from poor handwriting recognition and that diverted company engineering and financial resources. In addition, the company vacillated over Claris Corporation, its software division, first reorganizing it as an independent company and then reabsorbing it when it began shifting more resources to Windows software.
Apple continues to flounder
Sculley was replaced by Michael Spindler in 1993. Spindler’s most notable achievements as CEO were the successful migration of the Mac OS to the PowerPC microprocessor and the initiation of a shift away from Apple’s proprietary standards. Nevertheless, Apple struggled with marketing projections, accumulating large unsalable inventories of some models while simultaneously being unable to meet a billion dollars in orders for other models. Combined with drastic quality control problems, notably a defective line of monitors and some highly publicized combustible portable computers, these failings brought an end to Spindler’s reign in early 1996 with the appointment of Gilbert F. Amelio.
The return of Jobs: iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad
Apple cut operating costs and reestablished quality controls, but by that time only a small percentage of new computer buyers were choosing Macs over machines running Windows, and Apple’s financial situation was dire. In December 1996, in order to secure a replacement for the Mac’s aging operating system following the collapse of CHRP and the company’s protracted inability to produce one internally, Apple purchased NeXT Software, Inc., the company formed by Jobs after his 1985 departure. Jobs himself was retained as an advisor to the CEO, but he quickly became disenchanted and sold all but one share of the Apple stock he had received in the NeXT sale. When Apple failed to become profitable under Amelio and its worldwide market share fell to roughly 3 percent, the board of directors, in mid-1997, recruited a surprising temporary replacement: Jobs, for the first time the undisputed leader of the company he cofounded.
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There are many ways to get to Montenegro Adriatic Coast, my taxi driver assured me, raising his voice over a chorus of horns that angrily saluted his laissez-faire attitude toward lane use during morning rush-hour traffic in Belgrade. ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ He weaved through less aggressive vehicles like a skier clearing slalom gates. A cold, grey autumn rain began to fall harder, drops beading down my window, as the main railway station came into view.
There are many ways to get to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast, my taxi driver assured me, raising his voice over a chorus of horns that angrily saluted his laissez-faire attitude toward lane use during morning rush-hour traffic in Belgrade. ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ He weaved through less aggressive vehicles like a skier clearing slalom gates. A cold, grey autumn rain began to fall harder, drops beading down my window, as the main railway station came into view.
‘Let me take you to the airport,’ he sounded genuinely concerned. ‘You will be in the sea and in the sun and with a beer in half an hour. This thing you are doing, it will take all day … and into the night.’ He finally relented as we pulled up to the curb: ‘At least buy water, sandwiches, and toilet paper.’
The cabbie left me in front of the crenellated railway station, a faded Habsburg-yellow throwback opened in 1884. He was already speeding off to advise another tourist before I could throw my bag over my shoulder. Inside, I found the ticket office. The woman behind the glass informed me that the trip from Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro – on the Adriatic edge of the Balkan Peninsula – takes 12 hours. It costs 21 euros (there would be an additional three-euro charge for a seat reservation). ‘Yes, there is a bakery nearby,’ she said and pointed. ‘It is behind you. The shop for water and tissues is next to it.’ She slid the window closed, stood, picked up her pack of cigarettes, and disappeared.
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That sense of old-world drama would serve me well, I would soon learn, along this route. On the outskirts of the Serbian capital – as I settled into my seat in a weathered, six-person cabin – we passed Topčider Station, where the hulking locomotives from Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito’s famous Blue Train are stored. The behemoths sat dishevelled, graffitied, but still regal and almost lifelike, wishing me a safe passage to the outer lands. Within an hour, the tangle of urban metal and concrete unravelled, and the countryside spread out in all directions with the urgency of a jailbreak. The sun came out as wet, emerald-green hummocks began to play leapfrog across the vista, rolling until they dove out of sight over the horizon.
Though the Belgrade–Bar line doesn’t have a sexy moniker (like the Royal Scotsman or Rocky Mountaineer), the Yugoslav Flyer would be appropriate. When construction began on the 476km railway in 1951, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was in its infancy: a tenuous post-WWII cadre of states on the Balkan Peninsula’s western half. By the time the route opened in 1976 – complete with 254 tunnels and 234 bridges winding down from the Pannonian Plain to the island-studded Adriatic Sea – the country had implanted itself as a geopolitical force and a synapse between the West and the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia has since splintered into seven nations. The railway, thankfully, endures, connecting Serbia to Montenegro with a brief blip across Bosnia & Hercegovina’s eastern border. But the line’s existence represents more than just a continued, now international, transport option. These tracks are the Balkans – and a lifeline to a swath of land where cultures have intertwined since before history. Here, the train takes adventurers across vistas crisscrossed by Greeks and Illyrians, as well as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Along the way, visitors have a literal window onto a living museum frozen in time.
Those natural exhibits were on full display as we rumbled through the foothills of the Dinaric Alps in the southwestern corner of Serbia. When we crossed the border into Montenegro, the museum’s lineup of canvases – pristine panoramas and landscapes – changed again. The Western Balkans’ rotating collection now included towering mountains and canyons that engulfed us whole.
‘I had no idea what to expect,’ said Colin Smith, a fellow passenger and UK native. Outside the window, an old couple leaned against pitchforks next to haystacks. Behind them, vegetable gardens and a small-but-dense orchard of plum trees surrounded a stone farmhouse. ‘But I am so surprised by the beauty: the mountains, steep ravines and endless drops.’
Before I went to sleep that night, I remembered my taxi driver: ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ Lying in bed, I could hear the sea washing onto the shore outside my rented apartment’s window. If I ever saw him again, I would make sure to tell the cabbie he was right: a flight would have been much faster and easier, and more sterile.
Book tickets (and separate necessary reservations) at the station a day in advance. There are 1st- and 2nd-class options. Night-train passengers can choose between couchettes or sleepers (with two or three beds). A one-way ticket (from Belgrade) costs 21 euros; a reservation is necessary and costs an additional three euros. Second-class couchettes on night trains cost an additional six euros. A bed in a three-bed sleeper is 15 euros; a bed in a two-bed sleeper is 20 euros.
The Belgrade–Bar railway line runs twice per day, in both directions. From Belgrade, the train departs at 9:10am and at 9:10pm; the trip takes 12 hour.
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