Friday, December 24, 2010
A U2 Christmas Miracle
Achtung, baby. Here's the tale, courtesy of Dromoland Castle's PR firm:
Even the royalty of rock n’ roll can’t fly above the terrible weather plaguing Europe, it seems. No sleeping on the floor of the airport lounge for U2, though. When their plane was diverted to Shannon International Airport recently on return from a five-week tour in Australia, Bono declared that the destination was acceptable ... if the group could stay at Dromoland Castle, County Clare’s five-star luxury resort. Only a celebrity of Bono’s stature could dictate such a thing, of course, and only a bespoke Irish castle hotel could rise to the occasion. One of Ireland’s finest, Dromoland is a secluded retreat located just 7.5 miles from Shannon Airport. The resort was closed for refurbishment, (but) unfazed by Bono’s decree, Mark Nolan, the Managing Director of The Dromoland Collection, stepped into service, finding a room at the inn for the band. In the true spirit of the holidays, he even managed to arrange a festive Irish dinner for his guests -- in the form of the huge Shepherd’s Pie his wife Maria had put up for the family’s holiday.
Well, isn't that the sweetest thing? Despite the weather, U2 had a beautiful day, thanks to Mark and Maria. Just goes to show that sometimes you can't make it on your own. Meanwhile, back at Shannon and Berlin's Zoo Station or other transportation hubs in winter-weather-weary Zooropa, a pride of stateless wanderers still haven't found what they're looking for and are planning to spend Sunday, bloody Sunday in waiting areas, left to imbibe on Xanax and wine and other miracle drugs. So cruel. Mercy and Mofo. I guess some days are better than others.
To check on the italics, note this U2 song and album list. And yes, I know, I left out Where the Streets Have No Name. If you can find a place to fit it in, rise up and love, rescue me. And while you're at it, do you know how to dismantle an atomic bomb?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
The Audacity of Grope
My ire is currently aimed at the inane idea of Opt Out Day (I shall not deign to dignify the premise with a link). Opt Out organizers want to make November 24...the day before Thanksgiving...the time when passengers just say no to advanced imaging machines, aka virtual body scans. Ah, brilliant. Encourage people to hold up security lines on the busiest travel day of the year. That'll work like a charm, I'm sure.
There is an option, of course, for opting out of the scanner. However, the full-body pat-down opens a whole new can of worms for civil libertarians and harried passengers who say the touching is too much.
Hence, another protest group, called wewontfly.com, is asking its sympathizers to reject the pat-downs. Prima facie evidence of this group's acumen: Its website equates pat-downs with groping and suggests "jamming TSA checkpoints...until they remove the porno-scanners." Porno-scanners? Really?
"It is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that could prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole says (as quoted in the Washington Post). "This technology is not only safe, it's vital to aviation security and a critical measure to thwart potential terrorist attacks."
I agree. The choice between an overly-friendly pat-down or a body scanner that might reveal a blurred image of one’s privates to a solitary TSA agent versus being blown up in an airplane seems like a no-brainer to me.
Seems logical to the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) as well. The group can barely contain its excitement about the technology. “Put it in perspective, America,” an AANR press release says. “Allowing body scanners aids in travel safety and security, which is far more important than parochial concerns over a scanned image of a clothed body.” AANR’s executive director suggests imagining imaging as “a virtual skinny dip, something regarded as American as apple pie since before Norman Rockwell. (Then), everyone wins in the name of better air travel security.” Good points all (though it does give me pause to agree with a group that promotes nudist vacations as the ultimate way to avoid baggage fees).
Now, there are some arguments against scanners and pat-downs that I might buy. For example, some people are concerned with possible radiation being emitted by the scanners. I can't comment knowledgeably on that, given that I am not a scientist. Some true believers and some who are truly prudish balk at being patted down. But instead of pitching a fit, those groups can walk through a scanner.
Then there are the political theories. To wit, some say pat-downs and scanners are merely window dressing/government propaganda, and that the real evil-doers will always be one step ahead of our security systems. And there's the noted nexus between high-level DC insiders, like ex-Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, who are touting scanners as the ultimate security option, and the manufacturers of whole body imaging machines. It's a crowded lobby, indeed.
Of course, on the other side of the coin is one Mr. Ralph Nader. The consumer activist and former presidential candidate is getting his Nader’s crusaders to take an anti-scanner stance. Now, there’s a Morton’s Fork...self-interested politicians versus the guy who screwed up the 2000 election.
Nearly 500 scanners will be in U.S. airports by the end of the year, Another 500 are expected to be installed next year. Ultimately, TSA plans to have the machines replace metal detectors at nearly every airport checkpoint. So, in the 2000-teens, body imaging is going to be a fact of life. As for pat-downs, I truly doubt they are designed to provide TSA employees with a cheap thrill. That said, if a guard is the subject of frequent complaints, he or she should be retrained or reassigned to patting down cargo packages.
Perhaps a better idea is to get robots on the case. After all, if you can train Cody to give a sponge bath, scientists should be able to develop a robot that can render a reliable rubdown.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
O Say, Can You See America?
After USTTA packed most of its bags, overseas marketing was left, in large part, to individual companies like Disney or large tourism destinations like Las Vegas and New York City. The U.S. Travel Association also has worked to bring international travelers to these shores. But especially after September 11, 2001, when tourism plummeted dramatically, the need for renewed federal support became ever more evident.
Finally, in March, 2010, the Travel Promotion Act was signed into federal law. It called for the development of a public-private Corporation for Travel Promotion, which is charged with attracting more international visitors to the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the Corporation. An 11-member board was named in September.
At a board meeting today in Washington, DC, it was noted that President Obama has agreed to "star" in promotional spots touting the country's tourism attractions overseas. The board also discussed the use of a sexier nom de plume. "Discover America" was the popular choice. While that trademark currently belongs to the U.S. Travel Association, it appears that the name may be transferred to the new cause. The other big piece of news to come out of the session is that the board is starting the search for a full-time executive director. So, industry veterans, get those resumes ready.
Details for Policy Wonks
According to U.S. Travel, "the Corporation will develop a multi-channel marketing and communications program to attract more international visitors and explain changing travel security policies. The initiative will be funded through a matching program featuring up to $100 million in private sector contributions and a $10 fee on foreign travelers who do not pay $131 for a visa to enter the United States. No money is provided by U.S. taxpayers."
Oxford Economics estimates that, if CTP efforts are successful, it will lead to $4 billion in new spending annually, along with the creation of 40,000 new jobs and the generation of $321 million in new tax revenue each year. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the Travel Promotion Act could reduce the federal deficit by $425 million over ten years.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Pssst, Your Routes are Showing
Gobble It Up
As a special Thanksgiving treat, Turkey is now on the menu for Washington, DC pilgrims who prefer their travel nonstop. Turkish Airlines is providing service from Washington Dulles to Istanbul four times a week starting on Saturday, November 6. The introductory one-way fare of $751 will be gobbled up fast, so book now.
With Washington expected to be at loggerheads this winter, there's no better time to take off to the Caribbean. Between December 18 and April 30, Cayman Airways is bringing back twice-a-week nonstop service between Dulles and sunny Grand Cayman. Aside from the Caribbean beaches, you can visit one of the world's biggest turtle farms. No loggerheads there, just green sea chelonians. Book now and you'll only have to shell out $238 for a roundtrip ticket.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Want to go somewhere where the economy is worse than ours? Then Iceland may be your cup of tea. Icelandair begins its summer service from Dulles in May, 2011. Due to the low value of the Icelandic Krona, the country is a one hail of a deal...definitely one of the best bargains in Europe. Roundtrips to Reykjavik start as low as $429. Mind you, that's just the tip of the iceberg, as you have to add taxes and fees. But still, the trip can cost less than $700....a small chunk of change for high season travel.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Germane to Germany
A few other notes for folks heading to Germany:
--Outside of the major cities, it can be difficult to use major credit cards. Many stores and restaurants don't accept plastic from non-European banks. So, bring cash.
--As I traveled through Saxony and Bavaria, I found still/flat bottled water hard to find. If you prefer your water non-carbonated, you may have to drink it from the tap (a perfectly safe option, by the by, although some waiters will look at you funny should you order it that way).
--If you want your hair to look smooth and shiny, BYO conditioner. I didn't find this amenity at any of the 12 hotels I visited during my recent trip.
*If the link takes you to the main page of the ATW website, go to the Archives for the 10/28 show.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Naked Truth: Undressed to the Neins Part II
That preamble out of the way, let us return to our tale of the Naked Spa of Bad Fussing. I am traveling with a quintet of women of a certain age, including a statuesque guide of German and French Guianan descent. Given her height, her exotic skin color, and her status as an ex-model, she diverts the attention of all wandering eyes. Therefore, I suppose she is also acting as our bodyguard. Ah, Isabelle, I shall always love you.
We enter a facility that seems somewhat antiseptic, like a sanitarium of yore…not to imply that I intimately know what a sanitarium of yore looks like. (This reminds me of a recent conversation with someone who had taken a tour of an insane asylum back when political correctness had not invaded our language. Said “tourist” mentioned her guide was a schizophrenic. To which I replied, “At least you got both sides of the story.”)
Apologies for the digression. I know you are probably sitting at the edge of your seat waiting for the Naked Spa story. And naked truth be told, we were sitting at the edges of our seats naked in the honey-baked sauna. But I get ahead of myself.
The first clue that something might be amiss was in the changing area. While our little group changed into our bloomers (swimsuits were required for the pool area), we noticed men...and children...walking right on by. Here we were, buck naked (ring a bell, Seinfeld fans?), and parades of Germans were marching past. Enjoy the cabaret, mein herrs.
To warm up, three of us took part in a water aerobics session, set to a tune that was a fusion of bad 1980s Euro-disco (I know, that's redundant) and an alpine yodel. Next, our intrepid quintet made its way to the sauna garden. There, Isabelle knocked up the Sauna Meister. Apparently, Sauna Meister is a full-time job in Germany ("...and what do you want to be when you grow up, little Helmut?"). The Sauna Meister gave us the skinny on Naked Spa activities (in the name of journalistic accuracy, I should mention that the facility was actually called Thermae I).
The first sticky situation reared its head as we entered the Honegspeeleng (the honey sauna). This was the point at which we fully realized we not only had to lose our outerwear, but our towel wraps as well. Frankly, there was no choice. With the sauna room packed cheek to cheek, it became quite apparent that we would poke out like sore thumbs (or something) if we remained clad.
Thus we sat, a co-ed group of 40 naked people, with nary a washboard ab in sight. Within minutes, the Sauna Meister cometh. For those trying to picture the scene (and please leave me out of it if you are), the Sauna Meister was not naked. Nor was he wearing a Speedo, so his status as a bearer of washboard abs is in question. No, it was a fully-clothed Sauna Meister who came in bearing pots of honey. He passed them out and everyone proceeded to slather themselves and their neighbor. Isabelle advised we naifs that the honey should not be rubbed on die scheide.
After the honey mixed with sauna-induced sweat, lo and beehold, we were all detoxified. After leaving the sauna, the next step was to cool off with a naked foot bath. I had the pleasure of taking mine next to an incessant hummer (to clarify for readers of the Urban Dictionary, please note that said man was merely singing without words).
As for the rest of the afternoon, we got naked again, yadda, yadda, yadda, and then we left the premises. Seriously, after being naked for so long, it blurs altogether.
Now, lest this scare you off a spa trip to Germany, be advised that all spas aren’t naked spas. In fact, at the next place we visited, the Wellness-Hotel Sonnegut in Bad Birnbach, swimsuits were de rigueur. And interestingly enough, the bodies in those swimsuits were much more fit than the naked bodies at Thermae 1 (not that I was looking, mind you). Go figure.
Monday, October 18, 2010
The Naked Truth: Undressed to the Neins-Part 1
The foreshadowing began in Berlin. As I was on a mission to investigate the remnants of the Cold War in the once divided city, I visited the DDR Museum, devoted to all things East Germany (DDR is short for the Orwellian Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Among the exhibits was one on naked tourism. Yep, those East Germans may not have had any political freedom, but they sure let it all hang out on vacation. The exhibit was marked by what Americans would deem illicit photos (full frontal images of an unclad Mom and Dad swinging bare naked Junior through the sea) and a lovely diorama depicting all of the things East Germans did on nude beaches (I will spare you the details).
The next harbinger of things to come happened in Bad Kissingen, when I was given a rubdown with hot, oily balls by Stefan, a masseur half my age (you do the math). Mind you, I've been kneaded by many a male massage therapist, including Dan the Man the Romanian Rubber and Bud Light. But the combination of Stefan's youthful appearance and the lack of a modesty towel or sheet did give me pause.
But my dalliance with Stefan rated a mere PG-13 when compared to what happened in Bad Fussing. Now, normally, what happens in Bad Fussing stays in Bad Fussing. But this tale is too good not to bare.
To Be Continued...
Monday, September 27, 2010
Great Vacation Ideas
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
A Soap Opera Bar None
Rather, my name is Laura and I am a soap-oholic. Or to be more specific, I have a zest for checking out with hotel soap. There’s nothing that can safeguard those pristine bars from my little paws. And yes, sometimes I do coast by the unattended housekeeper’s cart and lift a hunk or two. I can’t help myself. Those little pieces of wrapped ivory are as tempting to me as the ebony washboard abs of the new Old Spice Man.
Now, mind you, I am particular. I don’t do Cashmere Bouquet nor other tiny soaps exsiccated to the point of flakiness (you know, the ones that seem to be de rigueur at chintzy hotels worldwide). Nor do I pry the ever-more-present (green) soap dispenser from the wall. But dial me up a lovey-dovey bar of Gilchrist and Soames, Crabtree & Evelyn, Caswell-Massey (so many soap names seem to come in pears**), and other lux brands, and I’m in a lather. And if I stumble upon Hermes or Kiehl’s (the former stocked in a mere two dozen American hotels; the latter in fewer than 10)…well, that‘s a rarity in life, buoy or buoy.
I used to be addicted to hotel shampoos and lotions, too. (I have never had much use for bath gel, which, although soap in definition, doesn’t meet my bar). But now that one’s liquids are on full frontal display at security, well, it’s simply not suave to have one’s one-quart plastic bag stuffed with dozens of two-ounce elixirs. Even when traveling with a checked bag, the notion of lotion caressing one’s DWF wrap dress leaves me feeling unctuous. So, clearly, I have been cured of my liquid predilection. Olay.* But, alas, I believe my soap opera is to be continued.
*In the name of full disclosure, I must parenthetically add, dear reader, that yours truly was once a spokesmodel for the Olay brand.
**For the soap-pun challenged, please note that all misspellings are intentional.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Let's Make A Deal/Exchanging Your Home
The home exchange concept started in the 1950s. That's when some teachers, faced with free summers and low salaries, figured out this way to travel far and wide without spending a fortune. Two current exchange companies, Homelink and Intervac, date back to that decade.
To describe what home exchange is, it is first necessary to discuss what it is not. It’s not a homestay, where you reside with a family. It’s not a home rental, where you pay to stay at someone’s abode. And it’s not couch surfing, that favorite activity among international budget travelers. Instead, home exchange is a trust-based transaction, where two dwellings are swapped without payment for a mutually-agreed upon period of time.
If you don't have friends living in desirable vacation destinations, your best bet for home exchange is signing up with an international agency. Most are now online. When looking for an online agency, though, do consider its history, references, mentions in newspaper and magazine articles, and its number of members (the more members, the more flexible the exchange). Most of the big guys charge a subscription fee in the neighborhood of $100 a year. For that C-note, you’ll get access to an online directory complete with comprehensive listings of who wants to exchange what, where and when. Beyond the home, the exchange may even include pets and cars (that is, if both parties agree).
(You can also “house swap” via Craigslist, but that can be more of a crapshoot (as it is when responding to any Craigslist listing). Potential exchangers on Craigslist also tend to be very specific about their desired destinations).
When listing your home on most sites, you will be asked to describe its features, your guest requirements (kids/no kids; maximum number of guests, etc.), local attractions in your area, and other matters that may make your house unique and interesting to out-of-towners. Photos are also a requirement.
Once you pick your exchangee, the online agency wanders out of the picture, leaving the two of you to discuss the exchange between yourselves. When you are talking, ask about anything that may be an issue. If you are allergic to smoke, down, or pet hair, ask about it. If you don’t drive and need to be by public transportation, ask about it. If you are a clean freak and need to take six showers a day, ask if that will be okay.
When you are planning an exchange, it’s generally best to start at least six months out, particularly if you are looking to travel to a desirable vacation destination during peak season. Note that Australians and New Zealanders like to set up their exchanges about a year ahead of time, in order to get cheaper overseas airfares. So, if you want to trade Down Under, work it out far ahead, mate. Similarly, if you want to be somewhere for a special event, say, London during the 2012 Olympics, start arranging things this very minute.
That said, there are also opportunities for last-minute rentals. The aforementioned CraigsList is a last-minute option. And many agencies do send members shortlists for 11th hour exchanges.
Speaking of lists, let's consider one. Here are some pros and cons of home exchange versus a standard hotel vacation.
- It's cheaper.
- You get more of a feeling of living in the place.
- There's more room.
- You can probably pack less, particularly if you are traveling with kids, since the exchange might include games, toys, and other items you would otherwise have to bring along.
- Someone will be occupying your home when you are away.
- There's a huge trust factor. If you are paranoid, forget about it.
- There's no hotel staff (housekeepers, bellmen, concierges) upon which to rely.
- You have to clean your home before going on vacation.
- You have to clean your vacation home before going back.
- Choice of exchange destinations may be limited.
1. Put terms of exchange in writing.
2. Buy trip cancellation insurance.
3. Find exchangers with similar lifestyles.
4. Start looking at least six months in advance if you plan to exchange during peak seasons.
5. Consider local standards. An average house in Sofia, Bulgaria may be quite different from an average home in Manhattan.
Questions to Ask:
1. Are there pets? If so, and even if the pets are not going to be in the home while you are there, consider allergies for cat hair, etc.
2. Are you actually exchanging pets? If so, what is the care regimen?
3. Does the house smell? Ask this question gently. But do remember that scents like smoke get engrained over time, and often are forgotten by the residents. Similarly, if the home cook likes to use onions or pepper on a frequent basis, the aroma in the kitchen may reflect that.
4. Ask about the car exchange. If you do exchange cars, make sure yours works, and that insurance covers guest drivers.
5. If your exchangees are traveling with kids, find out how old (messy) they are.
Things to Do for Visitors:
1. Leave a complete list of instructions for operating appliances, television sets and other equipment that normally comes from the store with a manual.
2. Leave local contacts/neighbors, etc. and emergency numbers.
3. Make a list of stores and attractions in the area.
4. Provide a welcome goodie, perhaps a bottle of wine (and corkscrew) and a snack plate.
5. Stock the refrigerator with a few general provisions (butter, eggs, soda) to get guests going.
6. Let guests know what they have access to (bikes, certain dishes, computers, etc.) If you want to guarantee non-use, put off-limits items in a separate locked room.
7. Set house rules.
8. Arrange for a family member, neighbor or friend to come by and welcome your exchange partners when they arrive.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Viva Sun Valley
The Sun Valley area encompasses the Sun Valley Resort, the town of Ketchum (the area's "big" city), and Hailey (home of Bruce Willis). Visitors usually spend most of their time in Sun Valley and Ketchum, which are only a mile or so apart (and connected by a free shuttle).
Historic Sun Valley is America's first destination wintertime resort. Shortly after the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics introduced winter sports to the U.S. on a large scale, demand for snowy playgrounds started developing. Millionaire W. Averill Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, sensed this demand while at the same time looking to increase ridership on his trains.
He built the Sun Valley Lodge in 1936, and what was to become the Sun Valley Inn in 1937. The resort's ski mountain housed the world's first chairlift (circa 1936).
Other special features of the resort include an intimate outdoor ice skating rink which has hosted championship figure skaters since the days of Sonja Henie. Saturday summer nights (through Labor Day) feature an ice capades headlined by a rotating series of stars (read Sasha Cohen, Brian Boitano, etc.) The lodge also houses a 70-year-old indoor bowling alley.
Like many Western resorts, in recent years, Sun Valley has become equally popular in the summer. Outdoor adventurers can take advantage of the temperate summer climate. For those who prefer the summer activities in more rarified air, the season is filled with cultural events and concerts. Be sure to take in a performance of the symphony at the new Sun Valley Pavilion.
But since summer is almost over for this year, let's look toward the fall. This is "between" season in Sun Valley--the summer vacationers are back to school and the skiers have yet to don their boots. Autumn offers weather warm enough for hiking, biking, golf and tennis, and a full slate of festivals.
Formerly the Food & Wine Festival, the Sun Valley Harvest Festival takes place from September 24-26. There are demonstrations by guest chefs; wine seminars; vintner dinners; and food sampling.
All's wool that ends wool at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival spanning Hailey and Ketchum. Celebrating Basque farming traditions, the towns become wild and woolly between October 8 and 10. Area chefs cook lamb (baaaaaaa!); wool artisans knit up a storm; and sheep get sheared and herded. According to the website, sheep poetry reading is also on the agenda. I assume this can't possibly mean that the sheep are actually reading poetry. But then again, magical things have been known to happen in the Sun Valley area. The highlight of the event is Sunday's Trailing of the Sheep parade. The 150-year-old tradition features Boise Highlanders, bagpipers, Basque dancers, and baa, baa black and white sheep.
http://www.visitsunvalley.com/ Information on Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Hailey
http://www.sunvalley.com/ Information on the Sun Valley Resort
Sunday, August 15, 2010
On the Radio: Delaware and Idaho
Speaking of spuds, we next go to Idaho for a report on Coeur D'Alene (air date: 7/22). Please enjoy the vicarious hot stone massage.
Monday, July 12, 2010
But no, I didn't spend my birthday in our 50th state. Rather, I spent it in our
43rd. So why am I rambling on about Hawaii? Because I stayed at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel in Boise, Idaho. Said hostelry is named after the Owyhee River, discovered by those wandering Hawaiians.
There was no luau in Boise, nor did I get lei'ed there. But let me tell you, little spuds, while the Owyhee Plaza is no place to shake one's hips about, Boise isn't such a bad little place to birthday. Allow me to yammer on a bit about the Idaho state capital.
What does Boise have that other places don't? For starters, one can bask in Basque culture. Aside from hosting the only Basque museum in the United States, there's quite a sampling of food from Euskara (the region of the Pyrenees which the Basques call home). I dined on paella at the Gernika Basque Pub & Brewery and was as happy as a clam (albeit not the particular clam embedded in the rice dish).
Boise and its surroundings also provide adventure travel opportunities for weenies such as myself. Anyone can easily bike the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile swath of flat pathway. The Greenbelt connects many popular sites, including the M.K. Nature Center, Zoo Boise, and 12 city parks. Soft adventurers can also play Lawrence or Laura of Arabia at Bruneau Dunes State Park, the home of the tallest sand mountain in the United States. For those who prefer aqueous adventures, whitewater rafting, waterskiing, and fly fishing options are nearby.
Speaking of fishing, my understanding is that it is now legal to fish from the back of a giraffe or a camel (just in case you had the hankering). At one time, it was illegal to cast a reel from an animal's back in Idaho. However, despite urban legend, it appears the bicameral state legislature has shelved the law. If you know otherwise, please comment.
But I digress. The Saturday Farmers Market downtown offers visitors a typical slice of Boise life. While the crowd is pretty white, at least the victuals are colorful and diverse. There are opportunities to nibble on locally-made/grown goodies ranging from mulberries to potato chips (naturally).
Speaking of spuds, I would be remiss if I didn't include a hash of potato trivia in this post (despite the state's recent efforts to downplay the exalted tuber). Yes, the potato is Idaho's state vegetable. The was first planted there in 1837. Idaho is responsible for one-third of the country's potato crop. Finally, according to a researcher in Ireland, potatoes are a powerful aphrodisiac. While I can't confirm the science, do note that the Irish know their potatoes and they are known for their large families. Just sayin'.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Time After Time
However, I have come across some engaging facts that I would like to share with you. Some of you may know that Indiana is split (not evenly) East/West between the Eastern and Central Time Zones. But do you know the only state that is split between times zones on a North/South basis? As you ponder, I have my eye on you, you little spud. Any IDeas? It's Idaho! The southern part of the state is on Mountain Time, while the northern part of the state is on Pacific Time. The dividing line is marked by the Time Zone Bridge in Riggins.
Speaking of time zone trivia, let me share a few other tidbits I learned in Googling the topic. I knew that Hawaii and Arizona do not observe Daylight Savings Time. But the Navajo Nation, located geographically within Arizona's borders, does give the sun its due in the summertime. U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands stay on standard time all year long. But with those island climates, who needs summer time?
Internationally, Argentina decided to skip DST last summer (October, 2009-March, 2010) in order to save energy. China, in a normal world, would span at least five time zones. But after the Communist Party took over the country in 1949, it reverted to one common time zone (UTC +8), helping the trains run on time (oops, that was Mussolini) and leaving the poor farmers in Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces in the dark most of the morning. The PRC doesn't not observe DST. Only three countries on the continent of Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Namibia) follow Daylight Savings Time.
I don't know how Vanilla Ice, Ice Baby feels about Daylight Savings Time, but Iceland and Antarctica are officially frozen on standard time all year long (although some bases and stations on the tundra stay consistent with their home territories). If you are hanging out at the South Pole though, you can walk through 24 standard time zones in a matter of seconds.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Volcanoes and Oil Spills and Boycotts, Oh My
Add in nasty political machinations in Thailand and Arizona, and the hot mess that is Greece, and it might all seem to add up to a big "Don't Go."
But it doesn't. Travelers will go. And as many economies will suffer from the bad news, some will benefit. To wit, that blasted Icelandic volcano is proving a godsend to, well, Iceland. Southern European countries well out of the way of its emanations may end up winning over visitors who might otherwise have headed to Ireland, Germany or other northern'ish countries in the eurozone. Speaking of which, the shrinking euro means bargains for Americans who do venture forth to the 16 nations contained within that economic union. So, despite the volcano, there might be some hope for the Continent this summer after all.
While we are across the pond, we must not neglect the tragedy that is Greece. With the Grecian economy in ruins, the tourism industry there is in a hellish situation. Tourism is the major source of foreign exchange for Greece, but visitors are cancelling right and left. However, between the declining euro and the slashing of bed prices in the cradle of democracy, Greece is offering some Olympian deals this summer for bargain bottom feeders.
Meanwhile, back in the US of A, politics and BP are muddying the waters for several state tourism industries. While Arizona is not exactly a hot spot for summer tourism due to the fact that it is, well, a hot spot, the developing boycott will have both short and long-term repercussions. Tourism is one of the state's top industries, as visitor spending accounts for $18.5 billion in income and hundreds of thousands of jobs. But as tourists trade planned visits to the Grand Canyon for visits to grand national parks in California or Utah, and as meeting planners cancel conventions slated for the Grand Canyon State in 2010 and beyond, an already fragile Arizona economy may soon be heading over the borderline. Meanwhile, cities with convention facilities of a similar size are hoping that Arizona's cancelled meetings business may migrate to them.
As for the tourism industries along the Gulf shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, fear is spreading through the air as the oil slick proliferates. After all, who wants to visit white sand beaches covered in gunk? The Gulf states are already complaining that East Coast communities are trying to take advantage of the disaster by poaching the sea and sand trade. But the fact is, due to the possibility that a loop current could carry the oil around the tip of Florida to the Atlantic coast, even those places south of the Mid-Atlantic are not out of the danger zone. Then what's the situation? Jersey Shore, anyone?
Finally, Thailand. What a mess. You might think that, since the action is centered in Bangkok, other parts of the country might still be okay for tourism. But the problem is, the country's main international airport is in Bangkok, and said airport has already been under siege this year. For those planning a visit to Southeast Asia this summer, Vietnam, ironically, might be a much more peaceful bet.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
A Bee Story/A Sting Operation/To Bee or Not to Bee
You see, recently, Myk Banas, who acts as the hotel’s executive chef and director of food and beverage operations (he’s a busy bee) was pondering ways of expanding his property’s F & B philosophy. Said philosophy is to make food from scratch whenever possible.
His brain swarming with ideas, he decided he needed a little fresh air (or thus the story goes, as warped though my mind). So, he wandered up to the roof of The Richard J. Daley Center (the skyscraper with the abstruse Picasso sculpture in front of it). For reasons unbeknownst to him, the roof was filled with bees and their cribs. Suddenly, his mind was pollinated with the nectar of a new idea. “What if,” he thought (and again, I take the liberty of creative license in paraphrasing his thoughts--sorry, Myk), “I bought some bees and put them to work making honey? Wouldn‘t that be a sweet idea?”
Banas searched far and wide for the licenses that would allow him to place a bunch of bees on his hotel’s roof. Interestingly, however, there was no red tape to be found. So, Banas found an abbondanza of Italian five-striped honeybees and moved them to his rooftop in 2009.
These Italian stallions worked hard, producing more than 200 pounds of the golden stuff last year. (In this city of big shoulders and big unions, I wonder if these industrious worker bees have labor representation). After a winter in hibernation, Banas expects even more honey for his money in 2010. That money--a $2500 total investment in Italian bees, hives, honey extracting equipment and protective bee suits (made by Armani?).
So, you may wonder, what does the hotel do with a tenth of a ton of honey? Banas brews Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer, he bakes up honey-kissed pastries, and he sticks his honey on the breakfast buffet.
For now, dear reader, I won't drone on further, as I simply can no longer wax poetic on this subject. For more on this story, check out my article in the May issue of Hotel F & B (http://www.hotelfandb.com/).
Friday, April 30, 2010
Can It to Save the Planet
No, I'm not the bleached blonde near the beginning of the clip; you have to fast forward about six minutes in to see me. BTW, speaking of hair, my tresses were styled by a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. I think he did a great job. "He?" query my observant readers. Yes, friends. Said stylist was among the last class of male DCCs, circa 1968.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Flying Standby: An Easter Miracle
When you get to the departure airport, you notice there is a non-stop flight to your home city leaving a few minutes before the first leg of your one-stop. Not only that, but it arrives at an airport just 20 minutes from home. Total travel time would be two hours and 15 minutes. A thought germinates. What a delight it would be to hop on that earlier flight. You start envisioning the possibilities and ask the desk agent for advice. She sprinkles on your Easter parade by telling you the non-stop is oversold. Nevertheless, she advises you to check at the non-stop gate which, coincidentally and conveniently, is adjacent to the one-stop gate.
Now, let me transition to the first person. For some reason, even though the news is downbeat, I roll through security and skip down the lengthy corridor to Gate A8 like an Easter Bunny who has OD'ed on caffeine. I bound up to A8 and dangle the carrot to the gate agent (let‘s call him Elijah). With a lighthearted lilt and a hint of a wink, I say, “I am hoping you can help me fulfill a fantasy.” I have his attention. I then proceed to egg Elijah on with the details of my desire--the even trade of the one-stop ticket to Nowheresville (Washington Dulles) for the non-stop to Mecca (Washington Reagan). Elijah seem to cotton to the idea and suggests that, although the flight is more than full, I return to the desk a few minutes before departure time.
In that interim, a second gate agent at A8 starts asking for volunteers to give up seats on the oversold flight to DCA. Then my original flight, leaving out of A10, begins to board. Imminently, I will have to make a choice: Give up my slim hope at A8 or risk losing my confirmed seat at A10. At the 11th hour, Elijah has a pow wow with the A8 ticket-taker. The request for volunteers is rescinded, as seven seats have magically resurrected. Six of those seats are taken by people who are ticketed for the non-stop, but without seat assignments. I, apparently, am the only other potential passenger who has burrowed my way into the proceedings. Elijah instructs all ticketed passengers to board and find any available seat. Any standby list seems to be passed over. I then catch Elijah's eye. He catches mine. His look says, “Come hither” and hither I come. It was like the Red Sea parting as I bunny-hop unimpeded down the jetway into a comfortable aisle seat near the front of the plane. No fuss, no muss, not a peep about money changing hands. The latter is amazing, considering that A) the non-stop flight was undoubtedly more expensive than the one-stop and B) airlines typically charge for any change of itinerary.
While I would like to attribute this success to my mad skills as a professional traveler, it might have been an Easter miracle. On the other hand, this wasn't the first time I've talked my way onto an oversold flight. So, maybe the moral of the story is that the idea of appearing at the airport with a friendly attitude, a humorous line, and overdone make-up (both walk-ons occurred after television appearances) isn't so hare-brained after all. So consider this strategy lent to you. It may be your ticket to pulling a rabbit out of a skycap.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Laura on TV
Travel Deals for Procrastinators
General Information for Last-Minute Travel Planning
Spring is a good time to find last-minute travel deals…particularly once spring break is over. It’s also a good time to bargain shop for cheap summer travel deals.
Look for your best deals at standard vacation destinations (theme parks, beaches) during the week.
Look for special offers, like stay two nights/get a third free. Also, ask about packages.
April and May are still shoulder season at the beach, so bargains can be found oceanside.
Some current last-minute deals in Virginia:
Refuge Inn on Chincoteague Island
Book within 48 hours --20% off the entire stay. Or stay Sunday through Thursday--book two nights, get the third for $25. Call 800-664-6089 and ask for the Gotta Get Away Web Offer.
The Waterside Inn in Chincoteague has a stay two nights, get one free promotion through May.
The Homestead celebrates April Fools Day with a 48-hour sale. The "We Aren't Fooling" deal offers three nights for the price of two. The sale begins April 1. Book at http://www.thehomestead.com.
Lansdowne Resort, located near Virginia's Wine Country, is offering a spring break deal at $79/night (a 50% savings) through April 5. Call (800) 729-8400 and mention Easter 79 to receive the rate.
Get a Jump on Summer
Now is also the time to find bargains for the summer. If you don't wait until the last minute to book your summer vacation, you may get off cheap. To wit:
If you book an Ocean City June vacation by April 1, you'll get discounted rates or free nights. Check the June lodging promotions page on http://www.ocvisitors.com/ for deals like five nights for $500 at the Fenwick Inn and Princess Bayside, and 10%-25% room rates at half a dozen hotels.
Also in the book now category--airfares for summer travel, particularly for international flights.
All-business-class airline OpenSkies (a subsidiary of BA) starts service from Washington Dulles to Paris Orly on May 3. Seats on introductory flights cost as little as $815 one way.
Websites for Last-Minute Booking
I have found http://www.sidestep.com/ helpful for packages and http://www.priceline.com/ useful for those with flexibility and patience.
One of the newest trends in online travel is “Invitation Only”. Sites are offering private sales for luxury deals. Among them are http://www.tablet.com/ (for hotels), http://www.jetsetter.com/, http://www.ruelala.com/, and the private sale section of http://www.kayak.com/ (which offers a wider array of price points). Some of these invitation sites require an invitation from an existing member; others merely require an e-mail address.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Of DC Cherry Blossoms, Maryland Crabs and Delaware Blue Hens
Speaking of the end of March, please vote for me every day through the 31st on every computing device you have at http://www.hostourcoast.com. The winner gets to spend the summer blogging about the pleasures to be found along the Delmarva Peninsula. If you enjoy this blog, you'll love Laura living large along the beach.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Traveling with Thomas Jefferson, A Hen, and a Crab
Please enjoy my homage to Mr. Bill by clicking on the link below. Then, vote early and vote often!
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Why do women want their own place to, ahem, wash? An ANA spokesperson says the reason is, "Many women said that they feel uncomfortable taking their time in the lavatory knowing that a male is waiting just behind them in line." While I am not privy to Japanese culture, methinkst that answer is plumb crazy. Anyone who has taken a long-distance flight is well aware of the cumulative mess men tend to make in the commode. However, the ANA spokesperson took pains to point out that female-only lavs are not being introduced due to complaints about men soiling the bathroom, although she did admit that Japanese women do not like it when men leave the seat up.
The fine print: Most international flights will sport just one female-only lavatory and men will be allowed to use it in case of emergency. As for what qualifies as an emergency...let's not flush that one out.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Get A Whiff of This
I say bravo to Jazz Air for giving the guy the old heave-ho. While the airline doesn't have a policy on pungent passengers per se, Jazz Air, while vague about this specific incident, did state that "as an airline, the safety and comfort of our passengers and crew are our top priorities. Therefore, any situation that compromises either their safety or comfort is taken seriously…the crew will act in the best interest of the majority of our passengers. It's important to understand that our crew members make every effort to resolve a situation before it becomes an issue. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, it may become necessary for our crew to remove passengers."
What do you think, dear readers? Let's dial up the conversation. Do your thoughts dovetail with mine? To what degree does the odoriferous passenger (who, incidentally, happened to be an American) have a right to be incensed? Was he appropriately banned? Did he deserve the axe? Did the airline make a suave move? What's the secret to dealing with these delicate issues? Are all of these anti-perspirant puns making you sweat? If so, please don't board an arrid (sic) airplane anytime soon.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Here's the Skinny
Now, I realize the following may be politically incorrect, but hear me out. Because for every overweight Kevin Smith who takes up a seat and a half on an airplane, there’s a .5 of us with an equal right to a full seat, even if we don’t fill up the space.
In case you missed it, the kerfuffle about overweight fliers has been re-inflated, thanks to the unceremonious de-boarding of one Kevin Smith, a semi-famous Hollywood director. While hardly a heavyweight like Orson Welles (in all manners of speaking), the increasingly-zaftig Smith normally buys two seats when flying. He says he does so because he can afford it (after all, he's a big Hollywood director) and he doesn‘t want to have someone sitting next to him. He neglects to mention that he is concerned about sitting on someone next to him.
Earlier this week, Smith chose to trade in his two tickets on a Southwest flight for a sole standby seat on an earlier flight. Said flight was fully booked. A flight attendant witnessed Smith overlapping into the next seat and ejected him, per Southwest Airlines policy (see footnote at end of post). Smith tweeted about the incident to his 1.6 million Twitter followers. Southwest apologized and refunded his fare.
Of course, in our 24-7 media age, that wasn’t the end of the story. Rage ensued and large people everywhere protested. Unheard during the coverage, however, was the view of the little guy. So, I'm here to represent.
You see, while I am no Victoria Beckham, I am a size 2. Thus, I am much smaller than the average American. And, I do not fill a seat. Therefore, I am seldom left to sit alone on a two-seat subway car. But that's public transportation, so what can you do?
On an airplane, however, it's a different bottom line. After all, consider what happens when someone with a fanny pack larger than the 17-to-18-inch-wide coach seat sits next to me. If Milton Burly gets to the row first, the armrest gets lifted and suddenly, my seat is reduced by one-third or one-half. Where, I ask you, is Lady Justice? That would be Justitia, that blindfolded babe who sometimes flashes a boob and always travels with a scale. (Incidentally, Justitia’s Greek equivalent is named Dike. If Dike were hanging out between seats, I suppose she could prevent seepage).
Apologies for the parenthetical odyssey. My point is, if my plump seatmate doesn’t have to pony up for taking up space and a half, then perhaps I should get a discount proportional to my width. To wit, in the interest of serious journalism, I just measured my butt. It’s approximately 11 inches across. Accounting for spreadage while seated, let‘s make it 12 inches. If a seat is 18 inches, and I take up 2/3s, I should get a 33% discount on my seat.
Or perhaps airlines could start charging fees for, ahem, extra baggage. While that specific strategy is unlikely, it may be that one day airlines do start taking total weight (you and your bags) into account.
Alas, I don’t have an answer. If you do, please weigh in. In the meantime, speaking from the skinny side of the seat, please stay out of my lap.
A footnote: While many carriers that don’t have official policies about this matter, Southwest does, and it’s been in place for 29 years. You can find details at http://www.southwest.com.
The policy states that large passengers must buy two seats. If there are fewer passengers than seats on a flight, Southwest will refund the second seat and give the customer side-by-side seats. If the flight is sold out, the passenger can opt to buy an extra seat on a less full flight. The reason behind the policy is that Southwest “could no longer ignore complaints from customers who traveled without full access to the seat purchased due to encroachment by a large seat mate." Bravo, Southwest.
Incidentally, the airline says its oversized passenger policy impacts fewer than half of one percent of its customers. That translates to about 127,000 people a year.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Soaking Up Beantown
or visit the archives of AroundtheWorldRadio.com. The date of the program is February 11.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Weathering Winter Travel
During the last huge storm in Washington, DC, I was called upon by local television stations to give advice to airport-bound travelers. Given this week’s weather forecast, said advice bears repeating.
1. Whenever a big winter storm is looming, either in your hometown or anywhere in the country (storms in the East or Midwest can snarl air traffic as far west as Hawaii), go online or call your airline to check on delays and cancellations BEFORE going to the airport. There is absolutely no sense standing in long lines at the airport when it is just as easy...or easier...to monitor and rebook travel from the comfort of your Laz-E-Boy.
2. Especially in the winter, fly non-stop whenever possible. Note: Direct is NOT non-stop. Direct means there is an intermediate stop, although a change of planes is not required. For example, a non-stop flight from Boston to Denver goes from Boston to Denver. A direct flight from Boston to Denver may stop in Chicago, make this flight a triple threat for winter travel delays.
3. If you have a one-stop flight, try to travel earlier in the day. That way, if there is a snafu at Airport #2, the odds of catching a later connecting flight are greater. If you book a one-stop in the evening, be prepared to spend the night at the intermediary airport or at a local hotel.
4. Check on airline refund and rebooking policies due to weather problems. This year, airlines are being quite generous about change fee waivers and the like. Still, I can guarantee you that airlines are not going to give you free room and board in cases of delays to due acts of God and Mother Nature.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
on business and leisure travel.
Selected Television and Radio Appearances:
National Geographic Traveler; Forbes; Hemispheres/United: Alaska Airlines Magazine; Open Skies/Emirates; Travel Weekly