Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, March 31, 2008

No Reservations for this non-foodie

When it comes to travel, I'm not a "foodie" (someone for whom sampling the local fare is the raison d'etre of travel). So if you, like my friend Carlton Lear, are a foodie, you're not going to find a lot of food blogging here.

Don't get me wrong; I love to eat, and I dig trying the local cuisine wherever I may find myself. I'm just not a picky eater, and I don't have a very discriminating palate. And often I'm too busy exploring the local sights and sounds to give much thought to appeasing my hunger.

Having said all that, however, my favorite show on the Travel Channel (and possibly my current favorite TV show overall, except for "Battlestar Galactica") is Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." If you have not seen this show, stop reading this blog and go turn on your TV (it's on tonight and every Monday at 10 PM—and the Travel Channel reruns old episodes at various other times).

Being a New York chef-cum writer, Bourdain's show focuses on the food in the places he visits around the world. But the reason he became a best-selling author is also what makes his show so great. Unlike many travel programs, which can often seem as bland as a watered-down cocktail at an overpriced poolside bar, Bourdain's show goes down like a shot of top-shelf tequila. His writing brings out all the colors in the places he visits and the food he tastes, and his personality makes even the most ostensibly mundane locations seem worth a visit (such as his shows on Cleveland and New Jersey).

But just as any program about food can take you only so far—you gotta taste it for yourself—this blog can only sing his praises so much. You gotta watch his show for yourself.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vagabonding and other travel philosophies

I'm currently reading "Vagabonding," a book by world traveler Rolf Potts that calls itself "an uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel."

I first heard about this book and its author when researching travel podcasts. One of the podcasts I listened to featured Potts, and his interview awoke my inner vagabond. I put his book on my Amazon wish list, but it stayed there for a lot less time than many of the other books that are still there.

The book's back cover defines "vagabonding" as "taking time off from your normal life—from six weeks to four months to two years—to discover and experience the world on your own terms." But what impresses me most about this book so far (I'm only two chapters into it) is that it's not a "how to" book. Instead, it discusses the philosophy of vagabonding, which seems so at-odds with the "normal" way of thinking in our contemporary society.

That "normal," very American philosophy has us all locked into a cycle of working hard to buy stuff, and then having to work harder to make the payments on that stuff, and working still harder to protect and insure our stuff, and then fitting in a week or two per year to go sit next to a pool somewhere. And along the way, we add on a few more hours to our work week to put money away for a far-off time when we "retire" from this cycle and live a life closer to what I'd call "normal."

Thoreau (quoted by Potts) questioned this wisdom of spending "the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it." I too have often thought such a lifestyle seemed at odds with true happiness, and even suggested in a former blog that we upend the cycle by retiring till we're 50 and then working till we die.

In the first chapter, Potts briefly mentions fear (as he puts it, "our insane duty to fear") as one of the factors that keep people from acting on their dreams of long-term travel. Though he goes on to discuss other factors, I think it's all about fear. Not so much a fear of the unknown—what we might encounter out there in the wide world if we go out and experience it—but a fear of the known, a fear of giving up that lifestyle that society tells us we must have, a fear of the uncertainty that "dropping out" (even if only temporarily) entails.

While I still have most of a book to go before I fully acquaint myself with Potts' philosophy, I already subscribe to a philosophy of a different type: that if I want to do something, I can find a way to make it happen. I've certainly done it before. And that philosophy goes a long way toward conquering any fear that society tries to instill in me.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday travel photo

Old cemetery in Harper's Ferry, Virginia

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Even More Legroom™

I don't mean to continue a rant against the airlines, but a couple of items that I read about last night after blogging rubbed me the wrong way, especially in light of yesterday's blog about the airlines.

You may have already heard this, but Delta followed United's and US Air's example, and now also plans to charge $25 for that second checked bag. So consider that charge all but standard now. I'd go on at length about this "airway robbery," but I've already done so here.

This is old news, but in case you didn't know, JetBlue will offer Even More Legroom™ —for a fee of course (yes, they trademarked "Even More Legroom"). While this is as annoying as every nickle-and-dime tactic that the airlines have been exercising recently, what really incenses me is that they charge extra for the "even more legroom" that you get in the exit row.

Fine, charge me an additional $10 or $20 for the extra four inches in one of the forward rows. But the exit row? Hey airlines! We have an unwritten rule that in exchange for the extra legroom in these rows, we'll help your dumbass passengers find their way out the door in the event of an emergency. Now you want to charge us for this privilege? Guess what? If I pay extra to sit in this row, I'll be the first one off your frickin' plane in the event of an emergency.

What's next, you're going to levy a fee for the oxygen masks that might drop in case of a decrease in cabin pressure? Add a credit card slot to recline your seat? Tokens for the lavatory? Tell you what, next time I board one of your planes, I'll pull down my pants and you can pay me $5 to kiss my ass.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My airline conspiracy theories

I've made no secret of my growing disgust with the airline industry. Fares skyrocket while service plummets. Miles are impossible to redeem, as I've commented on before. Michael Craig called air travel "the new bus," but the more I fly, the more I miss riding that D.C. to New York Chinatown bus.

Here are a few of my airline conspiracy theories, secret ways in which I suspect the airlines might be giving it to us without our knowledge:

Misleading departure times. They craftily publish departure times that reflect when the aircraft pushes back from the gate, not when it actually takes off, so that when you wait in a queue on the tarmac for more than half an hour, the flight is still considered "on time." And when they say they'll "make up" delays in the air, you know that means they padded the arrival time to account for such delays.

Arcane mileage programs. It's a great concept to accrue miles for traveling with an airline, and then redeem those miles for free travel. Just don't try to turn the concept into reality. The airlines have created a deeply arcane system designed to make you give up long before you ever find that free mileage award flight. Unless you want to fly a red-eye. Fourteen months from now. Between Charlotte and Paducah.

Bait and switch. More than once, I've checked fares on an airline website, found a good fare, gone to other sites to compare fares, then come back to the first site, only to find out that fare is gone. Sure, you snooze, you lose. But often, that fare reappears later. It's almost as if their website is logging my IP address and what routes I'm looking up, then jacking up the fare the longer I spend searching.

Fuel surcharge. Okay, the price of crude is at an all-time high, fuel costs are rising, airplanes burn a lot of fuel. I get it. But don't raise your fares to recoup these costs, and then also tack on a "fuel surcharge."

If you're as fed up as I am, read about Charis Atlas Heelan's experiences trying to get a decent fare on the common route New York to Paris. The article won't make you feel better, but you'll know you're not alone—and the article contains links to some useful air fare websites that I didn't know about.

Happy Flying!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Europe on $128 a day?

When I went to Europe in 2001, the euro hadn't debuted yet. I paid with francs in Paris and lira in Rome. When the euro hit the market not long after, it was roughly equal to the U.S. dollar. Today, it's worth more than US$1.50. Or, stated another way, things in Europe will cost you one and a half times what they do in the U.S. (Unless you're going to Great Britain, where they're twice as much.)

Add to that situation the rising cost of air fare and fuel surcharges, and you'll be nearly broke before you can even change your dollars into euros. It doesn't take an economist to figure out that U.S. tourism to Europe is falling in lockstep with the value of the dollar.

What I find interesting is watching how travel marketing and information providers deal with this situation. Europe has always been an extremely popular travel destination for Americans, yet it's receding out of reach for more and more of us. Companies like Fodors and Lonely Planet cover global destinations, so they can compensate by suggesting travel to bargains like Central America and Africa. What I'm really wondering is how Rick Steves is coping. His business model is virtually exclusive to European travel.

On that trip back in 2001, my Bible was Frommer's "Europe on $70 a Day." Inflation drove that book's title to "Europe on $85 a Day" in 2004 (the latest year an edition was published). If you factor in the current state of the currency market, that's more like $128 a day that you'll need to get by—and I still have a hard time believing that's possible.

Then again, Arthur Frommer recently suggested camping as a way to afford a European vacation (yeah, I'm sure he researched that article personally). So there you have it: Europe on $128 a day, sleeping bag not included.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 24, 2008

Travel vicariously: host a visitor

I love to travel. Why else would I update this blog on a near-daily basis, when I could be watching the TV shows stacked up on my DVR or getting to bed at a decent hour? But the responsibilities of my current life (namely, work) keep me from traveling more often (though I guess one could argue that I'd travel less if I weren't earning money).

But there's one fun way to travel without going anywhere: hosting visitors. When people come visit, you can see your town through their eyes, pretending like you too are traveling and seeing things for the first time. And if you're like many of us, there are probably a lot of sights in your own town that you haven't even seen yourself.

That's just what I've done this weekend: I've been vicariously traveling to New York City by hosting my friend Sirpa from Finland (by way of San Diego). We walked across Brooklyn Bridge (pictured), ate New York pizza at Lombardi's (America's first pizzeria), saw as much of the Met as our feet and legs could handle, and had a cocktail overlooking Grand Central Terminal.

Her visit will end all too soon tomorrow, but I will get the chance to vicariously travel to New York City again next week, when my parents arrive for a visit.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday travel photo

Santa Rita Ranchos, Templeton, California

I shot this photo last weekend, while visiting my parents on California's Central Coast. As you can see, spring has sprung, and the ground under the countless oak trees on their property is carpeted in emerald green.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

SoCal, SoCool: California with Avra

Traveling and scuba diving are two of my favorite activities, and there could possibly be no hobbies more compatible with each other. It occurred to me to write a blog posting on this subject, but when casting about the web for inspiration, I came across a trip report written by fellow Oceanblue Divers member Avra Cohen about his recent trip to southern California.

The beautiful descriptions of his experiences exploring SoCal's kelp forests, deserts and beaches made me more homesick than just about anything else I've read or seen since moving to the East Coast in 2005. His accounts brought back vivid memories of my own times exploring the very same places. He "meticulously planned, for ten days, to go whichever way the wind blew," and the result is testament to the value of spontaneity in travel.

Avra's report is far better than anything I'm going to write today, so travel vicariously to California with him through this link.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to get upgraded to business class

I'm not a frequent business class traveler (in fact, I've only done so once, flying from L.A. to Paris). But I came across an interesting tip for getting business class upgrades during the busy holiday flying season, courtesy of Matthew Bennett's site

Because business travel is down during the holidays, business class fares also come down. In fact, according to Bennett, if you time it right, you can sometimes find business class fares near coach prices. The best time to shop for these fares is between September and November.

It used to be easy to get free upgrades by using mileage, but now the airlines have arcane hierarchies to determine who they upgrade. American Airlines, for example, doesn't allow you to use their miles for business class upgrades. The secret is creativity: Bennett says that American will allow you to upgrade even the lowest American fares by using Cathay Pacific miles.

Not a Cathy Pacific flyer? Me neither. But you can easily transfer Starwood Starpoints into Cathy Pacific's program, and you're good to go!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Side order of crazy

For my final dinner in Los Angeles last night, a friend recommended I try a little Mexican food joint between Santa Monica and Venice Beach. It was on the way to my hotel by LAX, so I gave it a try. La Playita was more of a "shack" than a restaurant, but that's just the way I like them. Some of the best Mexican food I've ever tasted have been Baja street tacos, and sometimes it seems the bigger and more fancy the Mexican restaurant, the crappier the food.

I got a carne asada burrito, and according to my friend's recommendation (and what I would have done anyway), I squirted some of the homemade hot sauce on every bite. The burrito was decent, but the sauce was awesome: plenty of kick, but not so much that you're panting half an hour later. It was definitely worth the stop.

What my friend didn't tell me was that the burrito came with a side order of crazy. The shack didn't have any outside seating, so I ate standing up at the front counter. As I took my first bite, a woman came riding up on a bicycle. Our eyes met for just a moment, but that's all the time I needed to recognize that half-wild, off-kilter look that you only see in the demented or drugged-out. She'd hardly dismounted before asking me if I had a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I groaned inwardly, knowing what was coming. I glanced around: I could eat my burrito at the counter, at a bench next to the shack, or in my car. I wasn't about to let some Jesus-crazed beach bum ruin my meal, so I defiantly glared at her and kept eating. She placed her order, and then turned to me and launched into a tirade about how damned people like me were, how Armageddon was coming, California was going to fall into the ocean, and on like that.

Deciding to try to nip this one in the bud, I turned to her and told her to shut up. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought that would actually shut her up; it had the opposite effect. She proceeded to describe how hot Hell was going to be when I got there, that she wished she'd brought a tape recorder to record my heresy, and God knows what else (pun intended).

I wolfed down the rest of my burrito, but not before her rants devolved into diatribes against the White Man and how the U.S. had been stolen from the native peoples. As I got in my car and drove away, it occurred to me that I got what I'd come for: some authentic local flavor.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home away from home

When we travel, hotels become our homes away from home. Because we typically pay a lot of money for the privilege, we expect the room and amenities to be to our satisfaction. When that isn't the case, we expect problems to be remedied immediately. Unfortunately, in an imperfect world, that doesn't always happen.

My stay at the Universal City Sheraton this past weekend was not without issues. The hotel is under renovation, and on Saturday morning, the hammering began. The staff was responsive, however, and soon switched me to another room.

We all have our hotel horror stories, and not all of them end well. My problems were not significant, but could have been worse. Sometimes the hotel staff just doesn't care. ran a story in their newsletter today that shows "satisfaction guarantees" sometimes offer neither satisfaction nor a guarantee.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A festive weekend

This weekend in California, I've been lucky enough to enjoy not one, but two festivals. I'm ostensibly here on business for the 25th annual Paley Festival, a celebration of the best of what television has to offer. Last night, that meant watching the cast and producers of the ABC show "Pushing Daisies" talk about their experiences making the show. Friday night, I watched the 1968 Elvis Comeback Special and saw Priscilla Presley and the Special's producers reminisce about The King.

Today, I took advantage of a free Sunday to drive up to Paso Robles to enjoy a festival of a different sort: the Zinfandel Festival. I'm lucky enough to have parents that live in the wine country, so a short drive from L.A. took me a world away. At this time of year, California's Central Coast resembles Ireland, with emerald hills blazing with green grass. Conversely, the area's vines are all dormant and barren, but the wineries were in full swing this weekend to celebrate the region's signature grape: zinfandel.

I joined my parents and two of their friends on a festive tour of the area's wineries, tasting zinfandel at Peachy Canyon, Eberle, Robert Hall and Still Waters. The wine in this area is consistently excellent (especially the zin), but as is typically the case with wine tasting, it's the people you spend the day with that make it the most fun. That was certainly the case today, and it made it worth the three-hour drive from L.A.

Tomorrow, the festivities continue for one more day before I head back to New York. The Paley Festival continues with an evening with Judd Apatow and Friends. Judd and his fellow filmmakers are the talent behind such quality TV shows as "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" and movies "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." It's going to be a fun night!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Air travel: the new bus

I'm currently in Los Angeles for business, so yesterday gave me an opportunity to experience the most current airline service (in this case, Delta). While I didn't note any earth-shattering changes from when I last flew in January, I did make a few observations.

Beverage service. This is one of the last remaining freebies on flights, and as such, I predict it won't stay that way for long. Airlines can't deny people the ability to stay hydrated, so I'm sure they'll always provide water for free. But I won't be surprised if airlines start charging a buck or more for each soda or juice you request. Already, Delta gives you a plastic cup's worth of soda, poured from a can, where previously they gave you the whole can.

Food service. It's not news that airlines now charge five bucks or more for a soggy, cold sandwich. But what I noticed yesterday is that they're really pushing them now. Instead of offering them on request, they now patrol the cabin with a cart of food, passing out menus that offer a selection of several different types of soggy, cold sandwiches. I guess they're not just trying to cut costs by charging for meals, they're now trying to turn a profit.

Friendliness. I imagine it's no joy to deal with the average flyer day in and day out, but I still can't help wondering why flight attendants have become so surly. I'm not saying they're all rude as a general rule, but it has become increasingly rare to encounter a truly friendly and caring flight attendant. It now seems the norm to feel like you're inconveniencing them if you make any request at all, no matter how trivial (a pillow, a full can of soda, and so on).

Cassie's brother Michael summed it up best when he commented last week that planes have become "the new bus." So get in, sit down and shut up. They'll get you there safely; if you want anything else, you're on your own.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday travel photo

San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Leaving it all behind currently features an article about a middle-aged couple who sold everything and toured the world on bicycles from 2002-2006. The title of the article is "Leaving it all behind." I can't imagine a more warped (yet, admittedly, mainstream) way to characterize their lifestyle change. Instead, I'd call it "Putting it all ahead."

If traversing the well-worn path between home and office every day, sitting in a chair for 40 hours a week, seeing and experiencing the same things day in and day out is "normal," such that breaking out of that cycle and doing something bold means you're "leaving it all behind," then maybe I'm the one with the warped perspective. To me, it seems that escaping the rat race would put the best of what life can offer ahead of—not behind—you.

Contemplating the seductive idea of exploring the world on your own timetable (instead of wedging such journeys into the small box delimited by your company's vacation policy), I imagine how liberating that would feel, how open your lifestyle would become. The phrase "leaving it all behind" contradicts that feeling; it connotes sacrifice, a limitation of options, like you're giving up everything. I think the opposite is true: in choosing such a lifestyle, I think you gain everything.

You acquire the power to define your own life, instead of having it defined for you by the expectations of America's consumerist society. You get the humbling insight of experiencing how the other 98 percent of the world lives, instead of viewing life through the lens of reality TV, celebrity gossip mags and Pottery Barn catalogs. You attain the perspective of seeing just how large this planet is, and how tiny your little place in it is. Perhaps most importantly, you learn what matters most: how much more a new experience adds to your life than does a new pair of trendy shoes.

The critics (my father chief among them) will offer the usual arguments against vagabond living: what about health insurance? retirement savings? financial security? Clearly, these are valid concerns, but they are not reasons NOT to "leave it all behind." If done right, you can live like Pat and Cat Patterson, bicycling around the world—or sailing, or backpacking, or whatever turns you on—and still keep some measure of security. Your 401(k) might not grow as quickly, you might not be able to see a doctor for every sniffle, you will almost certainly have to tighten the belt and live on less. But isn't that the point?

I think we should all take a sabbatical at some point in our lives, whether for only a few months, or for several years, like the Pattersons. It's certainly a notion that I've thought about more than once before. If or when I do it, however, you won't hear me saying I'm "leaving it all behind."

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Beer as a metaphor for travel

I like beer. Pilsner, pale ale, porter, dopplebock, hefeweizen—hell, I've even been known to drink a "Silver Bullet" on a hot summer day at the beach. In my travels, beer has often been a way to connect with the country I'm visiting. Wherever I go, I try to sample the local brew.

In some countries, I've been happily surprised: Japanese beer, for example, tasted far better in Japan than the Japanese imports available back in the States. In other places, the local brew has been less than impressive: in Thailand, Kloster and Singha were best enjoyed in large quantities.

Back home, beer often becomes a way to recapture the magic of travel. After my first trip to Honduras, I sought out Port Royal (a Honduran beer imported to the U.S.) whenever possible. I brought home a case of Creemore Springs lager from a trip to Toronto (sadly, I didn't realize it was unpasteurized until it was too late). Even Peroni, a pretty unremarkable pilsner, can sometimes bring back memories of Italy.

And beer is the central theme of a future, as yet unplanned, trip. I know it's a cliche, but someday I want to make the pilgrimage to Oktoberfest in Munich. It's like going up the Eiffel Tower: a touristy thing to do, but everyone's gotta do it once.

Beer me!

Labels: ,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Group travel: save a buck and make a friend

Last weekend, I went skiing in Vermont with a group from the Appalachian Mountain Club. In January, I spent a week diving in Honduras with a group from scuba club Oceanblue Divers. Before moving to the East Coast, I frequently traveled on weekend camping excursions with adventure club Total Escape. Come to think of it, many of my travels over the years have been with groups. Why is that?

Save. You can save time, hassle and money. For people like me, researching new destinations and planning a trip is part of the fun. But it takes time, and sometimes it's a hassle. Booking a spot on a group trip makes it as easy as point, click, buy and travel. Typically, group trips also build in an economy of scale, bringing the cost down lower than if you booked individually. And if you're a solo traveler, you avoid those pesky single supplements.

Do. You can do things you might not be able to do as an individual. On some of my dive trips, we've done optional activities like shark dives. Often, such excursions require a minimum number of people, so if you're on your own, you might not be able to make them happen. The leader of a group trip might also be able to make special arrangements to see sights that aren't typically open to individual travelers.

Meet. For me, meeting new people and making new friends has always been the best reason for group travel. In 2002, I moved back to my hometown of San Diego after an extended absence. In 2005, I relocated again, this time to the East Coast. In both instances, I had to recreate my circle of friends, so I did it the quickest way possible: finding clubs and organizations that catered to my hobbies, and signing up for their group trips. Show me a group of strangers who travel together—even just for a weekend getaway—and I'll show you a group of fast friends. Many of my closest friends (and even my girlfriend) are people I've met on group trips.

Sometimes, traveling solo gives you a great deal of freedom and flexibility to get the most out of your trip. I'm overdue myself for such independent travel. But if you just want to go have some fun without breaking the bank or spending a lot of time planning, or if you are new to your area or want to make some new friends, go on a group trip!

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring skiing in Vermont

Being a southern California native who also likes to ski, the term "spring skiing" has always been something I associate with SoCal skiing. The term is synonymous with warm temperatures, sunny ski days and snow so slushy it gets the name "SoCal cement." Yesterday in Killington, we lacked the sun, but otherwise it was classic "spring skiing."

Spring is still two weeks away, but the weather conditions and premature Daylight Savings Time made me think it was already April. We hit the slopes first thing Saturday morning, and the snow already sloshed around my skis like a 7-Eleven Slurpee. The rain wasted no time coming down, and well before noon, I was already thinking about setting up shop with a bottle of strawberry syrup and serving Sno-Cones. I can't think of anything more miserable than rain that's just barely warm enough not to turn to snow. Getting soaked through is bad enough, but when you get soaked with 33-degree water... Well, needless to say, we were in the hot tub by mid-afternoon.

The temperature dropped overnight, and we awoke to a howling wind blowing around plenty of new snow. So today didn't qualify as "spring skiing," but that was just fine with me. As one of our fellow gondola riders put it, a 10-degree, windy and snowy day is much better than a 40-degree rainy day. As long as you dress for the weather, it's just fine (and, as the picture shows, I was dressed for it).

The change was most evident on the slopes. While conditions were still not excellent—we hit icy patches here and there—things were far and away better than the day before. Where I'd felt like a new skier on Saturday, slogging through the slush and forcing my turns, I glided down the slopes today like a hot knife through butter. We cut the day short to avoid getting home too late, but not before resolving to take a whole week off for a real ski vacation next year.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

A rainy day on the slopes

Today was a first for me: skiing in the rain. We drove up to Killington, Vermont last night—in the rain—and woke up to a wet day on the slopes. We'd hoped that the temperature would drop a couple of degrees, so that the rain would turn to snow, but no such luck. By midday, my down jacket was soaked through, and I could wring my gloves out like they were full, wet sponges. I'd like to say that this was not only a "first," but also a "last."


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Friday travel photo

Lincoln Memorial, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Labels: ,

Is your plane safe?

Today, CNN reported that Southwest Airlines routinely flew at least 117 planes in violation of mandatory safety checks until as recently as a year ago, when an FAA inspector discovered that the airline had missed dozens of inspection deadlines. According to two FAA inspectors (who, as whistle-blowers, were unnamed in the article), the FAA not only knew about the violations, but also allowed Southwest to fly the planes without inspections to avoid disrupting Southwest's flight schedules. Does that mean it's okay to lose a plane here and there, as long as the rest of us arrive on schedule?

The inspections that Southwest ignored or delayed were intended to inspect for fuselage cracks and rudder control system problems, and were mandated because of past fatal crashes and incidents. To put it more plainly, the lapses meant Southwest was knowingly flying planes that had not been inspected for problems that had previously caused loss of life. What does that do for your confidence in the maintenance of our nation's commercial fleet?

Southwest flew more passengers in the U.S. than any other airline last year, which I suppose can now be interpreted to mean they risked more lives than any other airline last year. But then again, I suspect that where one airline is getting a pass from the FAA, others may also be getting the same treatment.

I'm flying next week, so I hope the discovery of these violations served as a wake-up call to the airlines to get their acts together.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is Arthur Frommer getting senile?

I saw Arthur Frommer at last weekend's Travel Show. While he's getting up there in years, he seemed mentally sharp as ever. But while browsing the travel blogosphere this morning, I came across something that made me wonder: is Arthur Frommer getting senile?

In his blog, Frommer asks his readership to explain the attraction of travel to Dubai—specifically, why anyone would want to visit: "What reason is there for vacationing in Dubai? ... What does one do there?" He also comments on the restriction of certain freedoms in Dubai, as if to suggest that's reason enough not to visit.

A few lines down, one of his readers offers the brilliant reply "
Ask the editors of 'Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.' They had a big article on it a couple of years ago." I did a quick Google search, and sure enough, Frommer's magazine published at least two articles on Dubai in the last few years, in 2005 and 2007.

After I stopped laughing, I thought about why Frommer would post such a blog article. He's nearly 80 and is a travel writing superstar, so I can't imagine he has much day-to-day oversight over the travel publications that bear his name. Still, I can't imagine why someone in full possession of their mental faculties would write something that makes themselves look so dumb. It would be like Jim Cramer recommending a specific stock, and then later asking his readers/viewers "Why would anyone own this stock?"

So I ask again: is Arthur Frommer getting senile?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What movies have inspired you to travel?

Though I have a film degree, I'm more of a travel nut now than a movie junkie. However, there's no question that movies have inspired me to travel on more than one occasion. As I look back now, I think of the scenes of Italy in "A Room with a View" and the beautiful Mediterranean in "Il Postino." The dramatic scenery from "The Lord of the Rings" has put New Zealand on my wish list, and I even have distant memories of World War II movies watched in my youth that gave me the bug to travel to some far-off Pacific island.

What movies have inspired you to travel?


Monday, March 3, 2008

Friday travel photo

Okay, so I'm a few days late posting the Friday travel photo... I got distracted by the Travel Show. This just means you won't have long to wait till next Friday's travel photo!

This shot is from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico (yes, white snow on white sand).

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Travel Show: Day Two

Okay, today I did get a little burned out. Not by the travel seminars and other cool stuff, but by the droves of people. It got old trying to navigate through the hordes, especially when people stopped in the middle of the aisle when something caught their attention. And since I get to deal with such crowds on a daily basis, commuting via subway here in New York City, it was easy to lose patience with that aspect of the show.

Nevertheless, Rick Steves once again proved to be the highlight. While he's a great speaker and writer, he focuses on Europe, so you'd think I wouldn't be such a big fan. After all, there are so many non-European destinations I'd like to visit, and scuba diving has become a big part of my traveling. But I guess it's because I identify so much with his travel philosophy: finding the "back doors" and lesser-known places, avoiding the crowded tourist sites and package tours, getting to know the locals and their way of life. And I confess I envy his lifestyle—he's spent four months of every year traveling for the past 25 years!

And once again, we availed ourselves of the tasting opportunities. Chef Daisy Martinez shared some Puerto Rican delicacies, and wine critic Eric Asimov poured wines from "rare wine destinations" like Greece, Austria and Slovenia (pictured: Cassie trying the latter). We also tried "Pyrat" rum from Anguilla while we waited (in vain) to see if we won a free trip.

The last seminar of the day—and of the show—took us to colonial Mexico. We looked forward to this one, because we're planning a trip to Oaxaca and Mexico City for this fall. And after learning more about the other colonial cities of Mexico, we're going to have to plan a follow-up trip to Guanajuato, Zacatecas and San Miguel de Allende.

The show is over, and it's Sunday night, which means tomorrow is another workday spent dreaming about my next travel experience!

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Travel Show: Day One

Day One of the Travel Show was even better than I expected. We spent eight hours there today, and don't feel the slightest bit burned out—just a wee bit tired, considering how late we stayed up last night hosting a wine and cheese fondue party. The show kept our interest all day long, though, with just the right mix of seminars, exhibitor booths and food tastings.

I enjoyed the first seminar the best. Rick Steves talked about his latest Europe travel tips, such as noting that ruined castles are hard to find because they're free, and therefore not promoted; that Dublin is a great destination for families with teenagers; and that there's a great system of trails in the Swiss Alps with mountaineering huts spaced at intervals of a day's hike. Most enjoyable were the many excellent travel photos that accompanied his comments.

Old-timer Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline named the latest bargain destinations, which include China, Vietnam, Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras. They also named some bargain places in countries that are otherwise not bargains: Molokai in Hawaii, and Apulia in Italy, for example. And while it's often impractical to use for getting a cheap air fare, they recommended trying it for getting really cheap 5-star hotel rooms.

Cassie's favorite part of the day (and my second-favorite, after Rick Steves' seminar) was a presentation by celebrity chef Rick Bayless. He talked about his specialty (Mexico and its cuisine) and prepared an amazing green mole shrimp dish (camarones en pipián, recipe here), which we all got to sample. Yum!

More travel fun tomorrow, including more from Rick Steves, and food tasting from Puerto Rico!

Labels: ,