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.


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

Next time, we’ll discuss sleeping in airports.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shallow and proud of it

There are two things, on which I spend the majority of my hard-earned money. Beauty treatments and travel. The travel bit is obvious – I’m nosey by nature and want to know for sure that life is beautiful around the world. (Yes, someday, when I have enough time, I may compose an entire blog post using only RHCP quotes.)

Back to the topic.

And the other thing that gets my cash? Beauty treatments.
Yes, I’m THAT shallow.

I’m not exactly a ravishing blond with huge bazongas, you know? Despite many years of braces, my teeth are still crooked (and someday, I’ll just replace the bloody lot with dental implants, I swear!), I’m short and not particularly attractive. So, I’m forced to take care of what I’m stuck with. And even what I’m stuck with doesn’t have to be permanent – hello butt liposuction*!

Yesterday, instead of buying a round trip ticket to Dubai, I treated myself to botox.
Anna loves botox. Anna wants botox everywhere. Just pump it in! Though maybe next time, I should try Restylene, instead – that’s my spirit of exploration for ya.

I am seriously considering a trip to Iran for a nose job, a trip to Estonia for new teeth, and a trip to the gym for new abs. I know, I know… The last one will be the hardest – I’m allergic to gyms.

What about new funbags? Nah, for now I’m happy with trips to Paris for new heavy-duty support equipment – I’m still searching for that perfect push up bra.

And now, if you excuse me, I have to look for A-melan on the net, because they don’t sell it here in Sweden. Which explains, why Swedish women over 30 look like they’re over 40.

And next week, I'm thinking to go blond for a while...

* Yes, I do have an appointment with a plastic surgeon to discuss my butt. Oh, the things we do (ok, some of us do) to look good in a bikini! Because sure as hell, I’m NOT giving up ice-cream.

PS. For obvious reasons, I'll spare you the visuals today.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lonely Planet, schmonely planet...

I am a poster child for brand loyalty. Be it face powder, fabric softener or cat litter, once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it. Sometimes my opinion is based on such important factors like the package design and pretty graphics, especially if they are in a language I can’t read. But more often than not, I am more concerned with the quality of the product, and if it works, I will keep buying it (like DiorSnow face cream for example). I’m simply too lazy to look for something else…

Same with travel guidebooks.

My very first guidebooks to Peru and Ecuador (sometime in the early 1990s) were Lonely Planet. The Peru book, by Rob Rachowiecki had not only pretty pictures, but also decent content. It got stolen, along with the rest of my luggage, somewhere on a bus to Ayacucho. But I remember it fondly, and when it came to getting an Ecuador guidebook, I also purchased a Lonely Planet edition. I liked it, too.

Then came the disastrous book on Bolivia. What a mess it was! We used the pages to make origami for school children somewhere in the Andes, because the paper was too hard and fancy to wipe our asses (even after scrunching it up).

And then the Colombia guidebook, the ancient one, written by Krzysztof Dydynski! What a waste of paper! And a lot of hurt national pride. I expected a better job from a Pole. The book was so useless and terrible, it ended up as a support for my wobbly desk in a Spanish class I was taking in Cartagena. I seriously questioned if Mr. Dydynski ever visited the places he was writing about.

The Colombia guidebook must have been cursed from the beginning. The new editions are as bad as the old ones.

And now LP is in all sorts of news, because of a writer's claim that he faked a book, including parts of the Colombia guide. Oh! For crap’s sakes!

Apart from the detail that the writer in question is a petty opportunist promoting his own book, and who obviously belongs to the school of “there is no bad publicity”, the fact remains that the LP guides are getting worse and worse.

I know, because I stayed loyal to the brand. LP can dispute the claims all they want, and stand by their accuracy, but the truth is, the days of Tony and Maureen Wheeler are over.

I don’t treat the LP books as a source of travel knowledge anymore. I read them for fun and amusement, because for anything else, they’re as useless as two tits on a bull – the West Africa guide immediately comes to mind.

The not so far-flung destinations are no better. I know, because I lived in a few, and just for gits and shiggles compared what’s around me with what’s in an LP guidebook.

So why do I keep on reading the Lonely Planet offerings? Well, this is the only English language guidebook publisher that my local library stocks, so I have little choice.

And once in a blue moon, there is a book that makes it all worthwhile, and for me it’s LP’s Bhutan guide. A truly excellent piece of guidebook writing. Accurate and to the point. A pleasure to lug around when you frolic in the Bhutanese countryside. But duh, no wonder! The first and second editions were written by Stan Armington, and the updating authors had enough brains not to fiddle too much with the Master’s words.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Oooohhhh... cherry blossoms!

Out of the many things that confuddle me about Japan, the national obsession with cherry blossoms is pretty high on the list. A cherry blossom is a cherry blossom is ought to be a cherry. I much rather prefer the cherries than the flowers. Cherries are yummy and don’t make me sneeze. But sadly, the yummy cherry comes from a different species of cherry trees.

Sakura, on the other hand, while pretty, provokes the consumption of massive amounts of Singulair. At least for me. And because I’m a crude gaijin, the esthetics tend to be lost on me anyway.

For years I managed to valiantly avoid cherry blossom viewings, claiming asthma, PMS, food poisoning and alien abductions as my excuses. And because the Japanese are, by and large, a very gullible breed, they just nodded and left me alone. Until one year when a non-Japanese cherry blossom obsessed friend got her hands on me... I was kidnapped in the middle of the night, whisked away in an unmarked minivan to Kyoto, and subjected to a sakura extravaganza.

From Kyoto to Nara to Tokyo, I witnessed numerous parks filled with herds of Japanese of all ages, shapes and sizes. From infants in buggies to old ladies in tour buses. There were poets, and painters, and lovers sitting under the cherry trees. And groups of retirees ooohhed and aaahhed, commenting that the blossoms of 1963, or 1971, or whatever year they happened to fall in love, were so unforgettable, and so much better.

I finally managed to chew through the restraints somewhere in the Tochigi prefecture and sought refuge at the Sano Outlet Mall.

And while the blossoms were indeed lovely, the Chanel coat I bought at Sano (80% off - an after season sale) was even lovelier.

One thing that I never had the pleasure of experiencing, however, was the nighttime sakura viewing – with the trees lit up from different angles, all to better showcase the beauty of the flowers. Yeah, only in Japan…

My super-dutiful friend, Miki of Soul Box in Tokyo, did the nighttime cherry blossom appreciation madness, and because she’s just all kinds of wonderful, sent me the photographic evidence. Now, how’s that for a really dedicated, proud Japanese woman?



And here's a bit of sakura in Kyoto taken during my cherry blossom viewing abduction a couple of years ago: