Honestly, anyone thinking of climbing Everest should watch "Everest: Beyond the Limits." I knew it was a miserable experience where people literally go to die -- I think it's something like one out of every four people who climb the mountain die -- but this documentary really brings home just how truly terrible the experience truly is -- possibly the equivalent of having a severe migraine and associated symptoms, along with below zero temps, fierce winds, and oh yeah, that breathing thing is pretty tough too. I never wanted to climb the mountain, but I did have romantic dreams of hiking to base came (not ABC, but lower down), and holy crap. Not so much anymore. My hat's off to the people who have succeeded, especially those who ascend without bottled oxygen, but you've got to really, really want it and by that I mean want enough to lose appendages and risk death.
CNN has interviewed Gillian Anderson here on her favorite places in Vancouver, where she lived while filming the first five seasons of "The X-Files." I've actually been to all the places she recommended and can heartily second all of her suggestions. The restaurants, don't know about any of them, but I do remember a cafe called "Death by Chocolate" that was just sinful and wonderful. I really enjoyed my Vancouver vacation and really hope to go back one day.
When I stepped off the plane Sunday afternoon, I smelled like I'd been on the road for 30+ hours. I couldn't even stand myself. I actually felt sorry for screeners in Paris who had to frisk me down and search my bags but I didn't know how to apologize for the ultimate fail of deodrant and perfume and the lack of toothpaste/mouthwash. In the end, I followed a combination of adages to assuage my guilt: a) they are probably used to stinky travelers like me by now and b) I'm most probably never going to see the screener in question again.
This past week has been all about recovering from jetlag, which is the most awesome thing when you have to go to work first thing Monday. I was up at an ungodly hour and was actually on time at work. In fact, I do enjoy it a bit -- get up, play a little Civilization, drink a little coffee, do a little dance... you know the drill. I have managed to get through every day pretty soberly but with the edge of irritation slipping into my mood as the evening hours approach. I was told that it takes one day for every hour of difference and so it'll probably be February before I'm completely myself again.
After 30 plus hours of traveling, I'm home! I've been away for 3 weeks -- longest vacation I've had since graduate school. It feels kind of weird coming back to reality, but all good things must come to an end. So I'm back. Where I've been etc., will be chronicled in this blog later on this month or so -- as soon as I sufficiently recover from jetlag and the lingering remnants of various ailments I picked up along the way. Also, need to face the work day tomorrow; going to be tough considering how long I've been gone, and how many hours I'm "out of phase".
Carry On Bag etiquette -- definitely a must-read prior to the holiday traveling season. It will make your life so much easier.
My tips --
1. Leave the laptop at home. It's really, really, really not worth dragging it through security and depending on airport and/or destination, there could be a possible of confistication.
2. Wear shoes that can easily slip on/off. Forget the laces. It takes too long. And oh, wear socks. Your feet will appreciate it.
3. Don't wear anything with metal on it. Seriously. This could include the belt buckle, the hairpin in your hair, the fastenings on your jeans. The list is endless and I've been pulled aside so many times for the rivets on my jeans. So now I go with plain old khakis.
4. Take out your baggy if you're carrying on your bags before you get to the security line. I used to keep my toiletry baggy in th front pocket of my carry-on suitcase, but it took too long to get out, so now I carry the baggy in my purse and it's much quicker to take out.
5. You have to take your jacket off before going through security. If there is anyway you can avoid wearing a jacket, I totally recommend it. The more things you have to take off/take out for security, the longer it's going to take to get through. So minimize.
6. On the plane, if you're carrying on, you're allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item for most airlines. If you have a suitcase, it better fit in lengthwise in the overhead bin or frequent flyers like me will glare at you for taking up more space than you're supposed to. Your personal item should fit in your seat pocket or under the seat in front of you.
7. If you're in an aisle or middle seat, don't buckle up until your entire row is seated. The sooner you can get up and out of the way, the sooner your seatmate can sit down, the better. Plus, on a personal level, I hate getting buckled up and comfortable only to get up every 10 seconds to let someone in.
8. If you're locking your bag, use a TSA-approved lock. Those are locks that have a specific marking on them and can be opened by the TSA if they need to look in your bag. If you use any other kind of lock, such as a pre-9/11 lock, they'll cut it off to look inside.
9. If you do persist on bringing your laptop on the airplane, I would suggest NOT working on anything related to your job. As someone who traveled a lot to areas where my industry had major operations, I can't even tell you how many times I looked over at a computer screen and saw confidential details on a company's workings. So if you're going to bring the laptop, at least watch a DVD or play games, and don't work on confidential things.
10. Carry some snacks in your purse. Continental will serve a snack, but it's usually not vegetarian. Other airlines will either give you peanuts or charge you. All of which is fine as long as you don't get delayed or re-routed due to weather. I've been stuck on the tarmac for hours and having a couple of granola bars helped. This is especially helpful if you are flying to any part of the country that might experience a weather delay (read: Northeast, Midwest), but in winter you can never tell.
Back from another business trip and came across this article on how airline fares might be leveling off soon. I've been appreciating the lower fares lately. Even with the 2-week advance purchase for today's plane fare, it still came in under $200 and that was insane, especially on a sold-out flight. I was anticipating having to pay $400 to $500 for the ticket, but no -- paid $178 round trip two weeks out. So I guess the message here is, if you're going to go on a vacation and need airfare, buy soon!
The Washington Post has an insider's view of last year's attacks in Mumbai here.
I arrived in Mumbai on the Sunday evening before these attacks and Monday mid-morning, we stood outside of the Taj Hotel and looked out across the sea from where the attackers arrived on Wednesday afternoon. It was chilling to download my photos several weeks later, in the safety of my home in Sweat Sock City, and the first two or three pictures were of the Taj Hotel -- royal, majestic, and without blemish, and no indication either of what was to come.
After that day of pictures, the only images of the Taj Hotel from then on were of smoke billowing out of the windows. The horror of what was happening inside could only be imagined; the WaPo article referenced above tells one out of what must have been hundreds of stories of those terrible days.
Another trip coming up and I'm nervous about it for any number of reasons. I'm just not feeling it. Usually I'm super excited about going to a place I've never been to before, but this time, I just get the... I don't know. There's something that doesn't feel right to me. However, the next trip, I'm completely cool with. It's just this one that feels a little off. I think maybe if I do some research about my destination, find a guided tour that I can take over the weekend when I'm not working, I think I'll be fine. Just have to keep the anxiety to a dull roar.
So as I promised threatened a couple of posts ago, a critique of hotels. I've stayed in a lot of hotels over the last couple of years, ranging in price from about $140/night to a high of $289/night. I've had single rooms, two-bedroom suites, one bedroom suites, breakfast included and breakfast not included. The following I have found are crucial for the business traveler:
I must be able to find the cable jack for my laptop. Telling me you have internet access in the room and then making it impossible to find is just crazy. And by the same token, wherever that jack exists, having a desk nearby is preferable. It does me no good to have the jack on one side of the room and the desk on the other. Also, when you're charging $289/night for a room, charging an additional $10/day for Internet access just feels petty.
A shuttle from the airport would be welcome, especially in times like this when travel budgets are tight and car rentals/cab fares are discouraged.
I love that there are ironing boards in every room, but again, like the cable jack, why is it so hard to put a plug somewhere convenient to an ironing board? I don't think I should have to contort myself in order to iron a pair of slacks. Maybe hotels should be considered a venue for extreme ironing?
Breakfast included is wonderful. Again, you simplify the expense report and your guest doesn't feel nickle and dimed. And also? $26 is a lot for eggs and toast and coffee. I'm just saying. For $26, I want to see my breakfast on a gold plate and my coffee served in fine bone China. Also, I'd want white gloved butler service*.
I don't read the USA Today. I feel sad every time I open my hotel door and I see the newspaper sitting there. But I'm also forgetful and don't remember to tell the front desk to take it off my account. And it's like 75 cents a day, and after the $26 for breakfast and the $10 for the internet, you're like, eh, maybe I'll read it on the plane or maybe I'll leave it behind for the housekeeper because maybe she wants to read it. Right.
Hotel remote controls are way too complicated to operate. Seriously. What's up with the 80 million options, 95 percent of which you have to pay for? By the time I get to the hotel, I'm so frazzled due to planes, trains, and automobiles that all I want to do is kick off my shoes and rest my aching feet and watch television and half the time I can't get past the main Menu screen.
A listing of available channels and their corresponding numbers would make life easier. I'm just saying.
Room service is always good. And desirable.
Thank you for never messing up a wake-up call.
Those boarding pass kiosks I'm starting to see in hotel lobbies? AWESOME. Few people try to travel with a printer (those lightweight printers are trouble) and half the time, the business center in the hotel is a) completely full up or b) the printers don't work. The kiosks solve that problem. Very awesome and great innovation. Now if we could just get that electric plug and internet jack problem solved...
I seriously have the world's largest collection of shampoos, lotions, soaps, conditioners, and other "stuff" from hotels. Hyatt Place has a nice white ginger shampoo/conditioner in easy to squeeze bottles and they aren't stingy about the amount of shampoo either. The Doubletree provides Neutrogena shampoos and conditioners, and they even provide face lotion with SPF in it. One Marriott has orange ginger lotion, which smells very nice, while another Marriott went with Lemongrass. The Ramada provided citrus ginger body lotion, but I have no idea which hotel is responsible for the mint thyme shampoo, but the bottle is really nice. Spa Select is another bottle of lotion from a hotel I can't remember but it contains comfrey, orange peel, althea, yarrow, fennel and licorice root. I only know what one of those things are.
The International Hotel in Calgary deviated from the ginger theme and went with almond, but god only knows who is responsible for the very sleek Physique brand. There's a hotel that provides Pantene, which doesn't claim any vegetable, flower or root for an ingredient. I also have several bottles of lavender-scented linen spray, courtesy of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The sorriest looking bar of soap came from the Best Western. The Sheraton shuns all manner of exotic organic ingredients and went with Vaseline brand lotion. I also have a bottle of shampoo called Golden Door; this one contains cedarwood and Spanish borage oil; no, I don't know what those ingredients are either.
This is just one shoebox; I've got a second one in the bathroom closet, also filled with toiletries from various hotels. I'm kind of scared to open it since it was closed some time ago as the bottles, soaps and tubes kept spilling over the top of the box and "escaping" in the closet. I never use them, so yes, it's kind of weird that I keep collecting these various bottles of "stuff" to bring home, but there is just something irresistible about the witch brew of exotic flavors that make it impossible for me to leave them behind; who knows when I'll run into borage oil shampoo again? Or what if there's a shortage of ginger or lavender or mint? Then what, grasshopper?
Tomorrow, I'll talk about the hotel rooms themselves as those are almost as important as the toiletries.
I'm back! I've been traveling a lot in the last month and so clearly, was not blogging. But I'm back now. I was in India for about 2 1/2 weeks and before that was in the Northeast. I'm now back for at least the near future -- no travel plans forthcoming. It is nice to put away my suitcases for at least a month and not have to worry about them. What's funny is that I've come back and realized that the holidays are here. I didn't even THINK about the holidays when I was in India, so now I'm feeling a little anxious. I guess there's always next year.
I will blog about the India trip shortly as there is much to say.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In general, I found people in Bratislava to be extremely friendly and helpful. The old town was charming and easy to get around, and the food was delicious. The city sits right on the Danube and the bridges are architecturally interesting and modern. Overlooking the Danube is the medieval castle of Bratislava. I took this photo of the castle from the New Bridge. It's really quite lovely, and the hike up to the top of the hill is definitely worth it for the wonderful views.
So I'm home again, and while it's nice to be sleeping in my own bed again after being away for 10 days, it's also a little bit of a letdown, because I had a super marvelous vacation. For those of you not in the know, in the past week or so, I visited Budapest, Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna. All three cities were amazing and I had a great time. Bratislava, especially, was a very pleasant surprise -- not at all crowded, relatively inexpensive (given the plunging dollar, which made Vienna and London really painful), and the people there were extremely friendly, and more importantly, lots of vegetarian food!
I managed to do the entire week in about $1500*, which was my budget. I was concerned given the weakness of the dollar, but managed to mitigate the damage by eating pretty cheaply, buying few souveniers, taking public transport instead of private tours as I have in the past, and only going inside of a couple of castles, and skipping museums and churches entirely (many churches now charge admission to go inside -- anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on the church). I bought a 3-day pass for metro in Budapest and that worked great, especially given how freakish Control is about checking tickets there. In Vienna and Bratislava, I mostly walked, though I did buy the occasional metro ticket when the cold or my feet defeated me.
I actually stayed in a couple of four star hotels in Budapest and Vienna, courtesy of Priceline. I highly recommend using Priceline for booking your hotels. I was absolutely stymied while making my hotel bookings because I couldn't quite figure out where to stay, how much to pay, currency conversions etc, etc., and ended up on Priceline. The result was getting two Marriotts for $120/night each, when the going rate in Vienna was $250 a night and in Budapest, $400. Both hotels were located in the city centers, and in Budapest, the hotel was sitting right on the Danube, with a gorgeous view of the Castle and Citadel. There is no way I would have been able to stay in such hotels without Priceline.
As for Bratislava, I stayed in the Hotel Kjev, which to put it kindly, was a dump (the ceiling in the bathroom was literally falling, the sheets and pillows were frayed, there was no shower curtain on the tub, and I had some doubts on when it had last been cleaned, and the whole place reeked a little bit of Nair). However, the Hotel Kjev was right next to the Old Town and had a great breakfast included, so that helped a little bit. Plus, after staying at the Kjev, I really, really appreciated the Marriotts. :-)
All in all, this was one of my favorite vacations of all time. It was very relaxing, lots of fun, and I consumed lots and lots of chocolate, including the famous Sacher Torte at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. I didn't think about work once, and that was really good for the trip, but rather discombobulating when I came home because it was like, "Okay, now where did I leave off again?"
My camera died during the Bratislava leg of the trip, so I'm not sure when I'll have pictures to post. I'm hoping it's just a question of having the wrong batteries for the camera and all will be resolved when I get the correct ones. That probably won't happen until this coming weekend when I'm more awake. I'll post some of the highlights of the trip tomorrow.
* Includes hotels, airfare, all transportation including trains, boats, taxis, buses and trams, food and drink, admissions, and souvenier shopping
I have this crazy idea that you ought to be able to fly anywhere in the country for $250 or less. More than a few times, I've managed to head east for under $200 and once even got to Boston for $150 round trip. One of my favorite tools is on My Yahoo! which allows you to track flights to your favorite destinations and gives you a good idea of what the going rate is for a flight.
I've also started using farecast.com, which is essentially a forecast for airfares. It's a good guide since it shows you a trend, but I have yet to make a decision based on what farecast.com says. I also like checking what Southwest offers to a particular market because they tend to be the low-cost leaders in some, but not all markets. If you live in a hub city for an airline, chances are that airline will be the cheapest and most likely non-stop service to whereever it is you want to go.
I've also been using kayak and sidestep.com to get an idea. These are aggregate search engines that pull results from a variety of sources including the big guys at Travelocity, Expedia, Hot Wire, and a whole host of others. The good thing is, you put in one search and you get a whole lot of answers back. It saves you time and money.
Other tricks: * Try to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday * For international travel, book 6 to 8 weeks out * For domestic travel, book 4-6 weeks out * Try other nearby airports (within a 90-minute radius from your location, otherwise I'm not sure the savings are worth the hassle).
Airfares can change on a day to day basis. When I went to Philadelphia recently, the ticket price on a Friday was $350 and the following Saturday, the same flight had dropped to $176. I checked back on Tuesday and it was at $212 and four days later, it was at $165. So you never know. Just keep checking as your trip comes closer and when you see something you're willing to pay, just take it. The airfare may go up and it may come down. The key is to do your research ahead of time to make sure you're getting the best possible deal.