Friday, May 30, 2008

Some people should just stay home...

Oh no! This story is just too precious! You think this guy, being a lawyer, should be at least somewhat maybe perhaps vaguely smart. But noooooo!
And now he acts like he’s the only passenger ever, whose "vacation turned into a nightmare after his family was stranded in an airport for days and treated disdainfully by airlines employees." What a schmuck!


Mr. Lawyer, I guess you haven’t been traveling much these days, have you?


But let’s start from the top.


1.    Why did you book such a close connection in Atlanta? Especially when connecting to an international flight? In Atlanta! And especially when traveling from NYC? On Delta! During the Christmas vacation season!


Hmmm… How do you say “an IQ of a stool sample?”


If your flight from NYC was only 2 (yes, ONLY TWO) hours late, and you were denied boarding for your connecting flight to Buenos Aires, that means you (or your secretary, if she booked your tickets) knows zilch about air travel. Your connection was too close, and of course you missed it! Did you really think you could comfortably make a two-hour transfer from a domestic flight (from NYC!) to an international one? In Atlanta!


Let’s just hope that your secretary, if she indeed booked your tickets, has huge bazongas, because obviously she’s not all that when it comes to brain power.


And if you booked this flight yourself, then you got exactly what you deserved.


2.    Of course being a tightwad, you flew economy. Because if you were a first class crowd, they would have let you board late, or wouldn’t have told you that the next available flight was 2 weeks later. Trust me! You’d be whisked away to a lounge and sorted out in no time.


So not only you are dumb as a doorknob (or hire secretaries based on the size of their chests), you’re also a cheap doorknob.


And now you think you can sue Delta for 1 million dollars, because “through its gross negligence, malfeasance and absolute incompetence”, your vacation was ruined.


I have two words for you – travel insurance.


But why am I having this very strange psychic feeling that you were too cheap for that, too?
Wait, how did you describe Delta? Absolute incompetence? Or was that a reference to your own travel planning skills?


Well, Mr. Lawyer, thanks for the laughs, and good luck with your lawsuit!



Delta

(Photo courtesy of caribb. Thanks!)




Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Do we need another one?

Do we really need more travel sites with user-generated content? Can we please stop already!
Or design one that is actually useful?


The new kid on the block is Placely. Kinda awkward name, isn’t it? The site is new and it shows. When typing “London” or “Berlin” into the destination box, it gave me no results. Just for the heck of it, I also tried “Sweden”. Still nada. And “Germany”. Zilch.


The options it does show you are: France, India, Los Angeles and New York. Which is, I’m guessing, where the contributors live. Let’s hope they get more contributors soon.


(Placely asked me to be a Placely guide, but I politely declined. An email sent to them inquiring about compensation for guides’ contributions went unanswered.)


I did sign up for Placely just to see what it looked liked for the initiated. It was still awkward. Inputting all this rubbish about my travels took more time than I had, and so I gave up. And what’s the point anyway?


It seems that Placely, just like Chickable, Matador, MyDayTrip and others, is trying to combine social networking with travel. Which will probably appeal to some people. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.


And just like the other sites, it also provides a platform for wannabe aspiring travel writers to share their stories in a non-threatening, friendly setting. And I’m either too anti-social, or too lazy to be bothered. Or both. Yeah, definitely both…


But I do like Placely, it means well and is full of youthful enthusiasm.


But that name! Dude, you know that half the known universe won’t be able to pronounce it correctly, right?


So, Pracery, I wish you luck! And I’ll be watching you!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's official - I'm dull and boring!

So, I finally got my hands on a scanned copy (thanks Nika!) of my story in the June issue of Real Travel mag, and yeah, just as I expected…


All traces of life and spunk have been very diligently edited out. Things that would have been obvious to American readers acquired additional explanations - not always correct, and one even with a typo. Portugal is spelled with a BIG “P”, you know?


The end result – a dull, boring story of some dull, boring chick who just happened to visit Cape Verde. The article was fashioned into yet another example of the “my friend and I” style of travel writing, which is a perfect way of making sure I stop reading, turn the page and never buy Real Travel again. Or maybe that was the editor’s plan? Dunno…


Ania20001












Anyway, onto bigger, better, brighter things.


The Eurovision Finals are tonight!!! I’m rooting for Latvia!



UPDATE:


Ok, so Russia won Eurovision. Of course! All the former republics voted for the Russian entry.


And Herregud! The Swedes, judging from what the press writes over here, still don’t get it. It’s NOT about songs anymore! People, what year are you living in? Do you honestly think that a western European country will win ever again? Hahaha! Dream on!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Yes, we pay for that too...

It looks like travelers in the US are getting their panties all up in a wad, because American Airlines decided to charge monies for ALL checked bags.


So what’s the big deal here anyway? Have you been to Europe recently? We’ve been paying for the privilege of flying with checked luggage for quite some time now. For that very reason, I always avoided Ryanair like the plague…


Unfortunately, when FlyNordic merged with Norwegian, and became one of the two airlines that fly to my Arctic village (the third one doesn’t really count), they instituted the same policy.


Three days ago, on May 19, Germanwings began charging 5 euro per bag. WizzAir also wants money for checking in your luggage.


AirBaltic has this to say: Economy Class – there is fee of EUR 9 (if paying for baggage and ticket together) or EUR 15 (if paying for baggage separately) on each flight segment for each piece of baggage with total weight up to 20 kg.


And these are just the ones I flew on recently. The big national carriers are still trying to hold on to the “1 bag of up to 20kgs free” policy, though rumors abound it’ll change soon. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of SAS and Lufthansa start charging for all bags, as well.


I guess it will be a rude awakening for Americans traveling in Europe this summer. You see? Your airlines are just getting on with the program. Too bad it was the dismal American Airlines that decided to go first. And yes, I totally agree they suck. I’d rather walk than fly AA.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Charity begins at home

In more ways than one. And that’s a fact.


Every so often, to satisfy my need for feeling superior to other humans, I donate my precious time to a local organization that helps immigrant women. OK, you’re right. That’s a crock of BS. The real reason I do it is that a lady who works there gives killer manicures. And since our town lacks a proper nail salon, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Especially since the lady also does massages and aromatherapy.


So, in exchange for an occasional pampering session, I am responsible for leading refugee and asylum seeking women through the intricacies of western bureaucracy. Which most of the time means, I do my best to guess which boxes on their many forms and applications I should check.


Such services should be provided by the state, but as in other civilized countries, the state does a poor job of providing anything, except mountains of paper to fill out.


Some volunteers teach English (because let’s face it, Swedish is as useless as two tits on a bull, and that’s a fact, too), some provide cultural information (we should take a bath everyday), and some try to convince their charges it’s OK to see a western doctor. It’s all women, by women, for women. Grrrl power at its finest.


My tasks vary. Recently, I taught a chick how to sign her name. I helped another during a visit to the ER. You know, your average do-good volunteer stuff.


Last week I was translating for a quiet woman from Africa. I asked her where she was from. Gabon, she answered. She came to Europe for her children, she said. What was she doing in Gabon? She was a midwife.


I mentioned that I would like to visit her country someday. And visit you should, she answered. The more you know about how people live, the more you can do to help.


After a bit of chatting I found out her brother, who’s a priest, runs a local charity school and would love to have some volunteer help with filling out grant applications, writing quarterly reports, and begging donors for more books and supplies.


So there you have it. You want to volunteer abroad, but can’t afford a program fee with one of the big voluntourism packagers? Get yer lazy ass to a library, ask to help with your local literacy/immigrant/refugee/ group and make friends. It’s one of the many ways to find leads for a DIY voluntour project.


See, your momma was right, charity does begin at home. Helping others will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And who knows, you might even get a manicure out of it.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Shopping and sleeping part 2

When living in more or less civilized countries, I never had to think about the lowly concept of sleeping in airports. There were always hotels around, some with airport pick-up, some without, some expensive, and some cheap. And with a bit of searching, I always managed to find a place for the night.


Even in one of the most expensive (supposedly) countries in the world - Japan, at the Narita Airport Washington Hotel a double room for one night set me back all of US$80. With a pick up at the JR station in Narita and a drop off at my terminal the next morning. And complimentary drinks, alcoholic even! Ha! 80 bucks at last year’s exchange rates, is what? SEK 560, and I’m being really generous here.


CDG, Paris? A slew of cheap options nearby. Heathrow, London? There’s a Travelodge right there under your nose, I mean the ill-fated Terminal 5. And if you’re willing to go a bit further inland, there’s no shortage of affordable places.


Arlanda






Enter Arlanda, Stockholm. Where affordable means a coffin-like room at Rest&Fly and communal showers at the end of the hall. And not just any old room, it’s a “night room” where your stay is calculated by the hour, and where 10 hours will cost you SEK 540. And dude! They have bunk beds!


Rest&Fly proudly proclaims on their webpage that 70,000 happy guests can’t be wrong, R&F is fab. Well, sure it is! It’s the ONLY budget option available.


Every time I attempted to book a coffin at R&F, the place was full. And just as well. Sleeping in the airport itself is not a problem at Arlanda, it’s a silent airport (the announcements are limited to the absolute minimum), most seats are padded and don’t have arm rests, and the security lets you be… And you save SEK540 in the process.


It’s a no-brainer to me. I’d rather sleep in the terminal. My favorite spots are:


  • in Sky City by the hairdresser's (comfortable and close to the bathroom)

  • downstairs in Terminal 5 in the left/lost luggage area (quiet).

Because seemingly, everyone else overnighting at Arlanda has the same brilliant idea, be sure to claim your spot early. Come 2AM Sky City will look like a refugee camp, or a homeless shelter. People on the floor everywhere, people under the tables everywhere. People on the tables, if all other space is taken.


And if you don’t feel like sleeping? There’s Sidewalk Café internet for your pleasure. Nothing like playing mahjong on-line all night long.


So, while Arlanda gets a big fat zero for its shopping options, it feels like a freaking Club Med when it comes to airport sleeping. I consider it my puny contribution towards reducing my carbon footprint. It’s economical and environmentally friendly, because hey, the bloody airport is always open, anyway…





Thursday, May 15, 2008

100 really cool travel blogs

So… The good folks over at Travel Hacker made a massive list of one hundred “required reading” travel blogs. And they even included yours truly. Thanks guys!


Their list saved me a lot of searching and googling (I love when someone else does the manual labor!), because now, I no longer have to worry about updating my links. And as y’all know, I suck at updating my links.


I’m already familiar with some of the blogs listed there, I even have quite a few of them bookmarked. But there’s also plenty I haven’t read before. And I can tell you already, I have a new obsession. And her name is Girl Solo in Arabia.



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The idiocy of it all...

I admit it, I never understood the hoopla over airfare aggregator sites. You know, the ones like kayak, or kelkoo.


Kelkoo gets my vote every time, as it doesn’t limit itself to travel and aggregates just about anything you can think of, but in Swedish. Kayak, on the other hand, always rubbed me the wrong way. So what’s my problem? While these sites are indeed designed for lazy people, they are not for those of us who are both lazy AND cheap. Like me.


For people who don’t mind flying the likes of Frankie’s Western Sky Pacific Airservice (and who cares that there are goats on the plane, it’s CHEAP!), and who pride themselves on making it from Stockholm to Mumbai for less than 350 euro return (yes, it involved changes in Istanbul, Dubai, and Yerevan, but damn, it was CHEAP!), the aggregator sites offer little help. Because we give a whole new meaning to the word "budget".
And sorry, but I'd rather spend my money on designer purses (for me) or coloring books (for slum kids in India) than on airfares.


Today, just for gits and shiggles I gave kayak another run. And then went directly to the airlines’ websites. Just because, you know? And guess what? Nine out of ten, what kayak showed as the best deal, wasn’t.


And speaking of deals…


Why is it that a round-trip ticket Stockholm-Helsinki-Seoul costs almost SEK10,000 (well, 9 thousand and change), Helsinki-Seoul about SEK8,000 but London-Helsinki-Seoul less than SEK6,000? And Paris-Helsinki-Seoul around SEK7,000? (No, I’m not gonna give you the exchange rate! What am I? A bloody calculator?)


The Helsinki-Seoul leg of the trip is the same in all cases.


Finnair has me stumped. Or is Sweden really that much more expensive than the rest of the continent? I shudder at the thought…


Well, it’s a no-brainer to me. My frequent flyer miles will get me to London, I’ll go shopping, spend the night in some Travelodge, and still pay less than when flying from Stockholm to Helsinki directly…


But at least in London I’ll be able to shop at decent stores and hopefully pick gifts that won’t be cringe inducing… Sorry, I love the North and all that, but reindeer skins, Viking hats and bone-handle cheese slicers just don’t do it for me. And Swedish design is highly over-rated...


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shopping and sleeping part 1

My last post made me think about airports in general. There are some that I love, there are some that I hate, and finally, there are some that I’d rather chew my leg off and bleed to death than visit ever again. In other words, I’m just like most travelers.


But unlike most travelers, I rate my airports according to a super-sophisticated, scientific methodology. It’s extensive and complex, and took years to perfect, but fortunately, it neatly comes down to two easy to grasp points: shopping and sleeping.


(Eating is not all that important to me, as long as there’s a soda vending machine nearby and a place to buy a bag of chips, I’m all set.)


Shopping is self-explanatory. I love to shop. It’s hands-down my most favorite activity. And because I’m lazy by nature, I don’t want to go far to indulge my need for designer sunglasses and skin creams.


Some airports, simply based on their proximity to shopping nirvanas of New York or Paris, you’d think would be magnificent places to buy, buy and then buy some more. Sadly, you’d think wrong.


Paris CDG is a vile pit of dirt with pedestrian selection of big-name brands. The airport shopping options seem to cater almost exclusively to Russians and Chinese, who push and shove and scoop up make-up on sale like it’s going out of style.


New York airports are shopping disasters not even worth mentioning here.


And then, there are the likes of Dubai and Narita. As far as I’m concerned, Dubai is as close to paradise as one can get. What am I saying? Dubai IS paradise. A 24-hours a day, 7-days a week shopping paradise, all within the comforts of your departure gate. And there’s even a Baskin Robbins there. Yes, I’m sure the rest of Dubai is also lovely, but why bother? I can satisfy all my needs without ever visiting the city.


Baskin_robbins_in_dubai

After several years of living in a third-world country without a donut in sight, this proved to be an orgasmic experience.





Narita, on the other hand, is Narita, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from the Japanese, right?


Unfortunately, when traveling to Seoul this summer, I won’t be transiting through either Dubai or Tokyo. Not even Paris. I’ll have to make do with Helsinki. Which leaves me with a serious problem, and anyone who’s seen the airport shopping options in Helsinki will understand my pain…


Dubai_shopping

Dubai, oh how I miss thee, let me count the ways... Chanel, Dior, Michael Kors, Prada...


Next time, we’ll discuss sleeping in airports.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chickable disaster

So there’s this new website for women travelers, Chickable, whatever that means. Oh, wait, it means connecting chicks and travel!


And what’s up with the recent proliferations of women’s travel sites, anyway? Has somebody told the Gods of Internet that yeah, broads like go to places, too?


I just signed up for this Chickable thingy, and even though, the service is brand new, I can already tell you that I doubt it will be successful, at least as a social networking site. Why? Most of the travel forums out there already have a chick section, for one. And two, the details of this particular enterprise are not very well thought out.


For example, why can I select only ONE top interest? I have many! I resent to be limited to just one. Do you honestly think women are so one-dimensional? Or is it really only for specific targeted advertising purposes?


Same with a favorite chick trip. Why do I have to pick just one? I like to shop, but I like action/sport/adventure, too. And I adore spas. And culture. And volunteering. And speaking of volunteering, can you believe Chickable didn’t even provide such a choice? In this day and age?


But I’ll let it slide for now, and chalk it up as growing pains.


What I can’t let slide is padding up the site with fictitious members, or at least with members, who have a very curious penchant for using stock commercial photography as their profile pictures. That is just a tad bit too obvious, or perhaps desperate, wouldn’t you say?


And how come that the country option in the registration menu is not obligatory? It's not even included in the sign-up options, and to select a country, you have to edit your profile AFTER you register. Do you gals-in-charge really think that the civilization as you know it begins and ends in North America? Or are you planning to serve that particular market exclusively?


Chickable’s lack of attention to details is also evident in careless spelling. What the heck is an “Ice and Glod Adventure Girlfriends Getaway”? Or a “Sedona Splendor Girfriends Getaway”?


The thinly veiled primary purpose of the website seems to be selling girl-themed package trips. (And t-shirts! We can't forget about the t-shirts!) Nothing wrong with that, but it can be done with a lot more finesse and oompf. Traveling chicks are not dumb, so please don’t treat us like that.


In short, the site was not ready to be launched, I fail to see how it can provide a valuable service, the functionality is limited, and as much as it wants to (and COULD) fill a niche, it comes up short.


The idea is good, but the execution sucks. Big time.


Monday, May 5, 2008

When cats fly...

Much has been written about traveling with pets. And the bulk of it, seemingly, by people for whom the word “pet” is synonymous with “dog*.


I travel with cats. My cats clocked in more frequent flier miles than most humans I know. Every move, be it cross country, or across the oceans, is carefully evaluated from the point of view of a cat. I passed on a lucrative job offer in Australia due to their stringent pet quarantine requirements, and I’m not so keen on moving to the UK for the very same reason. My cats are my children, and no sane parent I know would voluntarily subject their pride and joy to the ordeal of forced quarantine.


My orange tabby is a veteran of long distance travel. His first inter-continental move brought him from Nara in Japan, via Los Angeles to Manhattan. Not too shabby for an abandoned, little stray! And his travels are not limited to airlines. He’s one of the few, special felines that completed a cross-country road trip – from New York to Seattle.


The trans-Atlantic move to Sweden was also carefully designed with the comfort and wellbeing of a Japanese shorthair in mind. The trip was broken into several legs, with overnight stays at kitty-friendly hotels in Chicago and Stockholm. The airlines were chosen based on their pet in the cabin policies, because sure as hell, my kids are NOT flying as checked luggage.


Cats travel remarkably well. They’re naturally squashy, and a proper carry-on bag ensures their comfort. Their biggest dangers are dehydration and constipation. The meticulously clean creatures that they are, they will refrain from doing their business inside the carrier. Don’t make it hard on them and their bowels and bladders – limit their food intake a day before the trip.


Just as humans on airplanes get dry and thirsty, so do cats. To ease their discomfort, I ask for a cup of ice and place it inside their carry-on. They’re reluctant at first, but as the ice melts, they can enjoy a little drink of cold water.


I am currently contemplating yet another inter-continental move with my feline children. This time to Seoul. Lucky us, Korea doesn’t require a pet quarantine for cats coming from Sweden. All there is to it is an inspection by a government veterinarian upon arrival at Incheon. Oh, the blessings of living in a rabies-free country!





Traveling inter-continentally with cats is not as bad as it sounds. Cats are tough little creatures. Here are a few things to keep in mind:


•    Have your paperwork in order. Start the preparations for your cat’s travel well ahead of time. Depending on the country of your destination (like for example Sweden or Japan) the requirements may be quite convoluted.


•    Assuming that your paperwork is in order, your cat - micro-chipped, and your pet booking is confirmed, call the airline yet again and reconfirm. And then do it a few more times. You don’t want to show up at the airport and discover that your precious fluffy has to travel as cargo, because some faceless automaton screwed up your pet-in-the-cabin booking.


•    Measure your cat carrier case. SAS is EVIL when it comes to that. Delta, JAL and Iberia were a breeze. So was Northwest and LOT Polish Airlines. And Air France. But the pet lovers at SAS whipped out a tape measure and proceeded to tell me that me airline-approved Sherpa bag was too big for travel in the cabin. What saved me was printing out the SAS instructions (scroll to number 18) from their own website recommending the very Sherpa bag they were telling me was too big.


•    24 hours before the trip, skip the food. I keep water available, and never had a problem. Plastic incontinence liners (like the ones used for old people and children, who pee in bed) are great for the bottom of the pet carrier. Just chuck them on arrival and line the bag with a new one. Easy peasy.


•    Cat harness and a leash. Essential, especially when going through airport security. Though some moronic, half-literate TSA screener could tell you that you have to take the harness off. My response – I’d sue the TSA’s bums off, if my cat escapes during their security check. The harness and leash stayed on.


•    On the plane, not much to do, other than spritz water on your babies, but that depends on the length of your flight. If you feel ambitious, take the carrier bag to the toilet, and let your baby out for a few minutes.


•    When arriving, if it’s an international flight, look for a bored customs official and thrust your pet import forms into his hands. Chances are, they won’t know what to do with them and will just wave you through. Or, they will lead you to a special room where you will spend the next few hours waiting for the approved vet to inspect your furry kids.


•    During a lay-over, get your cats out of the pet case and massage their legs to get the circulation going. You know, like your legs hurt like crazy? So do theirs! Your poor baby had to sit for many hours in a very uncomfortable position and is sore and stiff. Massage and rub like crazy. And give water. And let them walk around and explore a little.


•    Repeat the procedure for the second leg of your trip, until you reach your final destination.


I am a bit obsessive and travel with a disposable litter pan and a can of litter in my carry-on luggage, and during lay-overs look for a quite place to set up a cat bathroom. I have done it in a human restroom, in a prayer/mediation area, and in a club lounge, in other words, anywhere I can get away with it.


And a note about water. Frequently, tap water is disgusting. Many cats, especially fixed males, develop kidney/bladder problems, and require a low magnesium, low mineral diet. That includes water. Bottled water in many countries in Europe has minerals added to it, not to mention carbonation. Our friendly suggested distilled water, or purified water without any additives. But when buying bottled water at the airport to give to your cats, READ the labels. And think about (tap) water at your final destination!







(*)
I couldn’t care less about dogs. They are nasty little creatures that make too much noise, force you to go outside in the dead of winter, and then still shit on the carpet without any remorse!