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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Talking Airports on Twitter and on CNN

We are getting ready to discuss airports on #TravelToppers on Twitter Thursday at noon in New York/5:00 PM London. Below are the chat questions and a bit of background for your reading pleasure. 

Questions for #TravelToppers

1.  Airport with the Best Food
2.  Most Unusual Airport Amenity (examples: indoor swimming pool, aquarium) 
3.  Cleanest Airport 
4.  What Drives You Nuts About Airports?
5.  Best European Airport/Best US Airport 
6.  Best Airport Worldwide 
7.  Most Impressive Airport Architecture
8.  Airport with the Best Shopping 
9.  If you were building an airport, what feature would you add outside the norm?
10. What's your strategy for minimizing airport hassles?

New airport openings and upgrades for 2015

Story highlights

  • China said to be increasing its operational airports to 230 in 2015
  • Tokyo and Munich to open new terminal facilities, Amsterdam and Rio will get upgrades
  • Beijing, Mexico City and Singapore press ahead with impressive new projects
  • More delays for Berlin's long overdue new Brandenburg airport, originally slated for 2012
(CNN) Futuristic superstructures, shimmering glass facades and fuzzier lines between indoor and outdoor spaces.
These are some of the major trends expected in the coming year as the global aviation industry strives to meet ever-increasing demands.
With few major projects scheduled for completion in 2015, it's likely to be seen as a transition year as many airports upgrade facilities or begin new building projects to cope with a forecast 3.6 billion global air passengers in 2016.
Here's what to expect over the next 12 months.

    China's efforts to rapidly expand its airport infrastructure are expected to reach a peak in 2015 with scores of regional airstrips scheduled for opening.
    Official government plans have previously claimed that the number of airports will expand from 175 in 2010 to 230 in 2015 as the country ramps up its aviation industry in step with economic expansion. While many of these are smaller facilities have yet to be officially announced, several larger projects have been widely publicized.
    In Beijing, work gets underway in earnest this year on a $14 billion international airport in the city's southern Daxing district.
    The facility is scheduled to come online in 2017 and is reportedly expected to handle up to 72 million passengers annually by 2025.
    Every airport should have a waterfall: Singapore Changi Jewel.
    Meanwhile, at Chongqing Jianbei International Airport, serving the largest city in southwestern China, a new terminal three is expected to become operational this year.
    It's claimed the facility, designed for further expansion to meet expected growing demand, will be able to handle up to 55 million people annually, the largest capacity of any single terminal.
    In the same Chinese province, the city of Wulong is expected to get to work on its own airport scheduled for completion in 2017.

    With low-cost carriers on the rise in Japan, Tokyo's Narita International Airport is adding a new terminal dedicated to exclusively to no-frills flights. Terminal 3, designed to handle 50 million passengers a year, is expected to open in March or April. It'll contain plenty of places where those budget passengers can spend their savings, including a vast duty free shopping area and Japan's largest airport food court.

    Once again Changi Airport Singapore, considered by many to be the world's best, appears to be raising the bar with a futuristic new complex that's likely to revolutionize terminal design.
    After breaking ground in December, work begins in earnest this year on Jewel Changi Airport, an impressive-looking palace of glass that will shroud retail, entertainment and leisure outlets as well as a multi-level gardens and walking trails. The centerpiece will be the Rain Vortex, a 40-meter-tall waterfall cascading from the roof of the glass dome.

    Construction on another eagerly anticipated international airport gets underway in 2015 in Mexico City. Mexico City International Airport, a collaboration between world-renowned architects, Briton Norman Foster and Mexico's Fernando Romero, is designed to be the world's most sustainable when it opens in 2018. Foster and Partners says that because the structure will be one massive terminal housed under vast canopies of glass, it'll require fewer materials and less energy than the standard multi-building airport.

    New management is taking over and re-branding Rio Galeao -- Tom Jobim International Airport.
    The country's second-busiest airport after Sao Paolo is undergoing a long overdue facelift in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics. About $2 billion is going into infrastructure construction, which covers everything from restrooms to runways. The upgrade to four decades-old facilities should allow the airport to increase annual capacity from 18 million passengers to 30 million without the need for an extra runway.

    The Netherlands
    Mainly aimed at increasing retail opportunities, a revamp of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol's Terminal 2 departure lounge is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2015. Without going into detail, information from the airport trumpets the renovated area's six themed sections, titled "luxury," "family," "travel and culture," "modern Dutch," "see buy fly," "fashion and lifestyle" and "care and wellness." On a more boozy note, it'll get Europe's first Johnnie Walker House luxury retail concept store and, naturally, a Heineken bar.

    Munich Airport's new satellite facility to expand its Terminal 2 should be complete by the third quarter of 2015, potentially increasing annual capacity to 17 million passengers.
    After work is complete, there'll be an operational test phase to make sure everything's working.
    If it is, Star Alliance member airlines (including Lufthansa, Air China, Singapore Airlines and United) will move some flights over to the new building. During similar test phases, safety concerns emerged at Berlin's Brandenburg International Airport, originally slated to open around 2011 or 2012.
    Despite appearances of having been completed, it's still not open. A string of management and engineering setbacks have dogged the project and doubled its initial projected cost. Brandenburg will not open in 2015, and latest reports say it may be 2017 before it's fully up and running.

    Saudi Arabia
    Also not opening in 2015 is an expansion project at Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport, now slated for completion early in 2016 after originally being scheduled for a 2014 delivery.
    The expansion is part of a project to up Saudi Arabia's passenger capacity to 100 million passengers annually by 2020.
    Berlin's Brandenburg Airport: Still no opening date.

    As these facilities come on line, passengers may begin to notice new trends emerging in airport design -- chiefly a greater sense of space and place. Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, says the changes are all about meeting passenger demands, with surveys indicating they're looking for a greater sense of orientation, control, safety, visibility and openness. In real terms this means bringing the outdoors into the picture.

    Changi Airport Singapore has been a leader in this area, with its butterfly garden and rooftop green spaces, while passengers with a stopover at Munich Airport can wander through an outdoor plaza hosting exhibits and performances, or visit an outdoor terrace. Updated facilities are also incorporating glass facades to bring natural light inside.

    This strategy, says Gittens, also improves energy efficiency. "Not only do these new windows allow for the use of natural light," she adds "but they are made with energy efficient materials that can repel heat and insulate against cold."

    'A sense of place'
    David Stewart, head of airport development for the International Air Transport Association, says airport authorities are increasingly understanding that passengers want to get a feel of what's local.
    "They're craving a sense of place," he says. Gittens says fashioning an airport to better represent the city it serves is becoming an important point of differentiation. One of the easiest ways to do this is with food and big name chefs. While McDonald's and Starbucks outlets will continue to exist, more airports are dishing out regional cuisine made by local chefs, such as Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food at London Heathrow and Carles Gaig's Catalan-inspired Porta Gaig in Barcelona. It's not just high-end eateries bringing local to the airport. Hung's Delicacies in Hong Kong International favors braised meats and regional dishes. Airbrau in Munich Airport Plaza is a Bavarian brewery that serves its own beer, along with time-honored dishes like schnitzel, suckling pig and sauerkraut.

    New Music, Old Masters
    National culture is also making its way into airports. While many international airports have at least a little space devoted to displays of art, some are taking it up a notch. At the Traditional Korean Cultural Experience Zone at Seoul's Incheon Airport, passengers can learn about calligraphy or fan-making, or check out handicrafts while listening to live musicians.Workshops, demonstrations and performances are scheduled on a regular basis. Amsterdam's Schiphol was the first airport to house its own art museum beyond passport control. Currently under renovation, the pioneering Schiphol outpost of the Rijksmuseum provides a glimpse into local life through special exhibitions and the artworks of Dutch masters.

    Airports are also literally being connected to the cities they serve by modern mass transit.
    Airports as far flung from the cities they serve, including Washington Dulles and Xian Xianyang (among the 10 busiest airports in China), are developing linking train lines in order to accommodate travelers looking to make local connections.

    The link to the original CNN Business story is here.

    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    Traveling in Russia: Images of Moscow

    Just revisited Moscow in July thanks to Viking River Cruises. Here are nine images taken there. Check them out while listening to this radio segment updating the tourism situation in Russia.

    Vintage Portrait of a Young Pioneer
    at Izmailovsky Market.

    Cyrillic 101: Mockba=Moscow

    I spy the Kremlin.

    The famous GUM department store has transitioned
    into a luxury mall featuring Louis Vuitton and
    Manoli Blahnik.

    Leaving Moscow on the Viking Truvor.

    Saturday, August 22, 2015

    It's the Experience, Dude

    Based on information supplied by yours truly during a radio interview for Washington, DC's WTOP,  Rachel Nania did a write-up. **

    Travel Trends for Adventure Seekers: It's About the Experience

    WASHINGTON — Gone are the days when windsurfing, parasailing or zip-lining qualified as a unique vacation adventure. Today’s travelers are upping the ante and redefining what it means to live it up.

    Laura Powell, travel expert and writer for The Daily Suitcase, says the latest craze doesn’t involve jetting off to the most exotic locations — it’s all about collecting experiences.
    Riding around Saigon, Vietnam on a scooter is a hair-raising
    experience, even with a helmet on. Only attempt it
    as the passenger of an experienced driver.
    (Courtesy Laura Powell)

    “The world is pretty much open to all, so in order to have that different kind of adventure, you need to have a unique experience, as opposed to solely going to an offbeat place,” she says.**

    And throughout that experience, collecting the best photos, composing the best tweets and checking in at the most interesting locations is imperative. “Now that everyone is trying to outdo each other on social media, the more unusual the experience, the better,” Powell says.

    Ready to plan your next trip?  Here’s how you can make sure your Instagram account gets more likes.
    Vietnam Cruise
    In 2016, AmaWaterways and Backroads will team up for
    bicycling-focused cruises to Vietnam and Cambodia, along with
    several European destinations.
    Above: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
    Travel with your taste buds

    While some prefer to soak up a city’s culture by visiting museums and historic sites, others prefer to slurp it up with authentic bowls of ramen and heaping servings of pasta. Food tourism is a booming industry, and there are more options available for tourists looking to get a taste — or a sip — of foreign destinations.

    “Whereas it used to be you [could go] to a cooking school, now you can do even more,” Powell says.
    In Italy, travelers can tour a pasta factory or have Sunday dinner with grandma; Switzerland offers a variety of cheese and chocolate tours; and tourists in Bangkok can ride a boat through a traditional floating market. Plus, there are companies such as Home Food and Bookalokal that make it possible for travelers to attend dinner parties hosted by locals.

    Cruise the water by night and bike paths by day

    AmaWaterways recently launched a partnership with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey that combines cruising, biking and hiking. (Courtesy Backroads)
    AmaWaterways recently launched a partnership with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey that combines cruising, biking and hiking. (Courtesy Backroads)
    One cruise company is rocking the boat with its nontraditional tours.
    AmaWaterways is teaming up with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey combining cruising, biking and hiking.

    By night, guests who sign up for the Backroads adventure cruise can dine and sleep on the boat as it travels up river. During the day, they’re led on biking and/or hiking adventures with Backroads tour guides. Powell notes that the bike and cruise adventure is currently limited to the Danube River route. But, the itineraries will expand to other rivers throughout Europe and Asia in 2016.

    A new degree of adventure

    From Canada to Copenhagen, ice bars and ice hotels were once the rage. “All of the sudden, everywhere that had a cold winter had an ice hotel,” Powell says. But a chilling new destination is taking the excitement over ice structures to a whole new level. In June, travelers will be able to walk into the ice tunnels and caves of Langjökull, Europe’s second largest glacier. “They’ve burrowed out a tunnel within the glacier, so that people can actually go ice tunneling in the middle of a glacier," Powell says.

    Peek inside the tunnels of Langjökull:

    Experience nothing

    In a constantly connected world where it’s hard to escape work, no matter how many miles are between you and the office, it’s no surprise that some travelers are in need of a little peace and quiet on vacation. And the travel industry is taking notice.

    “Another thing people are interested in experiencing these days is nothing,” Powell says. She adds: “Silence tourism is kind of the next big thing.  There’s growing demand for places where people can get away, walk in nature, and not necessarily have access to Wi-Fi and cell service.”

    In fact, “Silence, please,” is the slogan on Finland's official travel site. The slogan is accompanied by recommended escapes to remote lakeside cottages, igloo huts in the middle of the forest and foraging tours through the Finnish forest.

    For original article, follow this link: http://wtop.com/travel/2015/05/travel-trends-for-adventure-seekers-its-about-experience/  © 2015 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

    **Note: I modified quotes and copy in order to clarify and/or add information to the story. I also added the Vietnam images and captions.

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    New Spa Treatments and Wellness Trends

    Interested in innovations in spa treatments? Watch me chat on Let's Talk Live in Washington, DC.  Click this link and take a look.


    The Umstead Spa in
    Cary, North Carolina
    offers forest bathing, which
    involves neither getting wet
    nor getting naked.

    The Spa Nalai at Park Hyatt in New York City
    is one of the first places in the
    United States where you can
    indulge in a sand massage.

    SpaFinderWellness named Cannabis, Forest Bathing and Islamic Treatments top wellness trends for 2015.

    Friday, August 14, 2015

    The Quirky Museums of St. Petersburg, Russia

    After leaving the oh-so-chic Faberge, my next mission is finding the Museum of Hygiene, a Soviet-era relic that would appeal to my taste for the quirky. I head to Italyanskaya Street, which is right around the corner from the Faberge Museum. I stumble upon the sign below  and assume I have accomplished my mission.

    It's a natural mistake to make. One sees a microscope, and understands the Cyrillic to read "Museum Russia Levsha".  I don't know what Levsha means, so I'm thinking maybe he's a famous Soviet doctor.  Thus, I go in, pay my admission (300 rubles--same as
    the entry fee to the Hermitage), and come upon a caboodle of microscopic masterpieces.

    A wee Winnie the Pooh, Piglet
    and Eeyore sitting on a walnut shell
    I'm talking teeny-tiny works of art--all less than 1 millimeter in size, and all viewable only through a microscope. Clearly, this is not the Museum of Hygiene. No, I have discovered the Russian Levsha, founded by the International Craft Guild of Masters.

    Microscopes lined up inside
    the  Russian Levsha
    Aside from Winnie the Pooh and friends hanging on a walnut shell, you see things like the world's smallest matryoshka doll balanced on the top of a strand of hair and camels carved into the eye of a needle. 

    A miniature masterwork by Vladimir Aniskin

    In case you are wondering, it turns out that "Levsha" ( Левше) is a Russian folk hero, a left-handed artisan who is able to craft shoes for a flea.   

    After peering through dozens of microscopes, it's time to continue my quest for the Museum of Hygiene. And there it is, located just down the block. Housed in yet another St. Petersburg palace (circa 1755), the interior definitely hearkens back to Soviet days. 

    I translate this as
    "Profane the Nature"
    Russian speakers, please correct me.

    The museum was founded in 1919, shortly after the Russian Revolution. It was part of the plan by the new Soviet of the People's Commissars to drive home the importance of health and hygiene. 

    Aside from numerous posters depicting warnings against all sorts of evil, there's Pavlov's Dog. I kid you not. An encased Pavlov's Dog, which should ring a bell to my intelligent audience, is the centerpiece of an exhibit covering conditioned reflexes. I must admit, looking at the caged beast inspired a gag reflex in me.*

    Unconditionally, this is Pavlov's Dog.

    Speaking of KG-beasts, another offbeat St. Petersburg museum is Gorokhovaya 2: The History of the Political Police and State Security. The  locals call it the KGB Museum. Sadly, I stumble upon it during the weekend, when it is closed (it's open from 10-6 weekdays). So, I cannot provide a first-hand report. I can say that it is located in an Art Nouveau building that housed the  bodies of political control from pre-Revolution days through the Soviet era. According to the website, inside are expositions covering the "activities of secret services that ensured the political security in the Russian Empire and the USSR, the suppression of dissent, and the role of secret services in political society." 

    *More on Pavlov's dogs here.

    Sunday, August 9, 2015

    St. Petersburg Travel Tips: Museums

    Having just spent five days in St. Petersburg, Russia, I learned that there is a paucity of good travel information about the city. So, here's some inside skinny just for you.

    1. Everyone knows about the Hermitage. But not everyone knows about the newest Hermitage outpost.

    The Hermitage is Russia's largest museum. The main building is housed in the Winter Palace, the former home of several tsars. For years, the most popular galleries in the behemoth building consisted of works from Western Europe--more specifically, from the studios of Impressionist and post-Impressionist era giants like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. But here's the scoop. Last December, this collection was relocated across Palace Square to the General Staff Building. As of yet, no one seems to know about the move. So, while the old Hermitage is packed with throngs of tourists, the General Staff Building is almost empty. So, canvas this impressive collection before word gets out.

    Top: Vincent Van Gogh: Chaumieres a Auvers-sur-Oise (1890)
    Bottom: Henri Matisse: The Red Room (1908)

    2. The Hermitage is dirt cheap. 

    The Hermitage is actually a collection of museum facilities. Six hundred rubles buys you an entry ticket to the Main Museum Complex and the branches, including The General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great, and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. If you want to go to just one branch, entry is 300 rubles (less than 6 dollars). If you don't want to stand in an endless line to purchase tickets, buy online The first Thursday of the month is free entry. More information can be found here.

    The Hermitage and Alexander Column
    3. The Faberge Museum is fabulous. 

    This addition to the St. Petersburg art scene opened in the fall of 2013. The museum contains the largest collection of the works of Carl Faberge, jeweler to the tsars. Many of the pieces come from the famed Malcolm Forbes collection, which was purchased by Russian gazallionaire Viktor Vekselberg in 2004. The highlights are nine Imperial Easter Eggs created by Faberge for the last two Russian tsars--Alexander III and Nicholas II. (Prior to Vekselberg's purchase, St. Petersburg had been eggless).

    There are more than 4,000 works of art in the museum, so make sure to spend some time. The Faberge Museum is open every day except Friday. From 10 to 6, the exhibition is only available for viewing with a guided tour. An English-language guided tour is available at least once per day, or you can join any tour wearing an audioguide. From 6 PM to 8:45 PM, visitors can explore the museum on their own.

    Lilies of the Valley
    Imperial Easter Egg 1908

    The renovated Shulalov Palace (circa 1799), in which the collection resides, is a masterpiece in and of itself. 

    The dome inside the main hall of
    Shulalov Palace

    Exterior of the Faberge Museum

    4. In addition to its glam museums, St. Petersburg also has its share of the quirky. 

    To wit, one museum features Pavlov's dog. Another showcases micro-miniatures: wee pieces of art smaller than one millimeter...and only visible by microscope. More on those unconventional menageries in the next post.  

    The Hygiene Museum or the
    Miniatures Museum? See next post for the answer.

    Retro Soviet posters at the Museum of Hygiene

    Monday, August 3, 2015

    Things to Know Before Traveling to Russia: Part I

    While international tourism arrivals in Russia are down this year, the fact is, politics aside, now it a fine time to visit the country. The ruble's value has plummeted, and fresh artistic attractions in St. Petersburg are among the draws.

    1. At the end of 2012, $1 U.S. bought 30 rubles. In July 2015, $1 buys 57 rubles. In other words, the ruble has nearly halved in value in two and a half years. The dollar's new buying power is especially noticeable in the Moscow hotel market. Hotel rooms that cost $400 a night in 2012 are going for $150 a night today.
      Shopping at GUM, Moscow's
      famous shopping mecca, is much
      less expensive than it was just
      two years ago.
    2. The Cyrillic alphabet was imported into Russia during the 9th century by St. Cyril and St. Methodius (poor St. Methodius. All the work and none of the credit). Back then, the alphabet had 42 letters. Now, there are only 33 to confuse you. Try to learn a few key letters before you go. The skill will greatly help you navigate your way.
      Learn the language by reading the signs.
    3. Good cheese is hard to find. In August, 2014, Vladimir Putin put sanctions on many agricultural imports from the European Union, including cheese. While domestic production has soared this year (the first quarter of 2015 was up nearly 30% from the comparable period in 2014), eating local cheese is making Russians bleu.
      Customers at the upscale Eliseevsky Market
      in Moscow are missing their imported cheese.

    Mayokovskaya (Маяковская) Station, built in 1938,
    is considered among the most beautiful
    in the Moscow Metro system.

    4. The Moscow Metro is 80 years old. The first line was launched in 1935, part of Stalin’s vast plan to update the city's transportation system while creating "palaces for the people". Today, the Moscow Metro carries about 2.5 billion passengers a year (versus about 1.5 billion in Paris and 1.7 billion in New York). Many of the system's 200 or so stations are works of art. The earliest stations are filled with scenes depicting the idealized Soviet citizen--the farmer, the factory worker, the athlete, and the soldier.

    Soviet solder in bronze at the
    Ploschad Revolyutsii ( Площадь Революции)
    ,Metro Station

    Ceiling mosaic at
    Маяковская Station

    5. Getting a visa for Russia is a giant pain, even if you live in a city with a Russian consulate. If you go through the process, get a three-year visa. It's not that much more expensive, and it will spare you the red tape if you want to travel to Russia again within the time span. Want to go to Russia without seeing red? St. Petersburg has a relatively-new 72-hour visa-free program which I will detail in the next post.      
    Tourist poses with Lenin and
    Stalin near Red Square