Friday, July 20, 2012

United offers deal of the decade: 4 miles to Hong Kong

Idiots!  Apparently some bad code in United's award travel reservation  system caused users to easily book flights to Hong Kong for only 4 miles.  Normally, such a trip would cost about 60,000 miles, but for some lucky customers this weekend, they were able to use just 4 simple miles.  That is a 99.993% discount!

Word spread across the internet about "the glitch" and many customers grabbed the incredible deal.  United is attempting to cancel the tickets.  The DOT is saying not so fast and may require United to uphold the deals.  Regardless of what happens, United appears to be in a serious free fall since merging with Continental, and perhaps this Hong Kong fare deal will mark the humorous bottom to their struggles. But, probably not.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

World's top airlines

Skytrax has released their airlines ranking for 2012, and it is no surprise that no U.S. based carrier is anywhere to be found in the top 20.  This list is similar to what you would expect with a few surprises.  Garuda almost inches into the top 10 despite being banned from flying in Europe just three years ago.  SpiceJet ranks higher than American Airlines.  Virgin Australia jumped 20 spots.  Royal Jordanian and  EgyptAir rank higher than Aerlingus - I have flown all three and would never have guessed that.

Kristin and I have flown over 30 of these carriers and I am left scratching my head more often than not. So how does this happen?  What is the methodology?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Malls of Dubai

 Dubai Malls

Every country has its own culture of shopping. Italy has the pedigree, with worn estate leather goods from Tuscany and glittering catwalks fueling Milan's couture. America boasts 5th Avenue, the biggest week in fashion, and the cookie-cutter malls of middle-America. Shopping in Paris is as elegant as it is expensive, where visiting the temples of Chanel, Dior, and Hermes is like a Hajj for fashionistas. Getting fitted for a suit on Savile Row in London is a gentlemanly apex, one that is best achieved while gently pulling on a cherry-wood pipe and commenting on cheeky matters from a pink-tinged page of the Financial Times.

In Dubai, The malls are king. Vast expanses of high end extravagance, these oases from the draping emirate heat are stocked with Gucci, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, and any other brand that peddles four-figure handbags to the jet set. Just as America brought the shopping mall to retail prominence, Dubai has perfected the art, blown it up, and put it all back together with megatons of glitter, pomp, and reckless luxury. But more so than brands and shine, the malls of Dubai also have other extraordinary features. A skating rink and a movie theater? That is so 20th century. How about scuba diving, snow skiing, and visiting the tallest building in the world? Welcome to the malls of Dubai.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

St. Lucia drifting between the Pitons

St.  Lucia is a wild breast of green land hunkered down on a line that extends across the Caribbean down to South America, an ancient mountain chain that just peaks above the water line to say hello.   Virgin forests overgrow the quiet asphalt roads that lead to black sand beaches and quiet jungle trails. Steaming collapsed calderas lurk inland, and Afro-Caribbean dancehalls fill the humid nights with the thumping jams of reggaeton.  The oft-used dancehall air horn blasts across the tear shaped island and out towards the Atlantic from decaying colonial outposts like Soufriere.  It feels like a unifying blast of something, though I never pinpointed what that something was.  It is perhaps a revelry that has taken many forms since the colonial overlords left centuries ago, shape-shifting the island into a post-colonial sliver of decay.  Or more likely, it is simply a blast that accompanies a great time at a crowded club next to a beach, under the gaze of the pitons, where tomorrow will be hot and freedom is cheap.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Zurich: the world's most expensive city?

It was 2:00pm at Delta HQ when my phone rang.  It was Kristin. "We have to make the 4:30 to Zurich, Bermuda is completely booked up for tomorrow."  It was Memorial Day weekend, and we needed to use the extra day off as extravagantly as possible.  I asked no questions.  Within minutes, I scrambled to close up my work.  I cleaned out my teapot, saved my excel files, and raced home to pick up Kristin.  Within two hours, we were boarding a flight for Zurich.  Working for an airline has its benefits, the contours of which I am just beginning to explore.

Zurich is the top city on the Economist cost of living index, but we found it easy to stay there on the cheap.  We booked our 4 star hotel through Priceline "pick a price" for about $140 after tax, we dined on Bratwursts and pretzel rolls (a personal favorite), and used Zurich's superb train and subway system to get around when foot travel was not in option.  

I did not find it prohibitively expensive at all. In fact, I was not nearly as fatigued from sticker shock as I have been in the past in places like Singapore, London, or the Kathmandu International Airport - where I once bought a Kit Kat bar for something like $5.

Anyways, here are some pictures from our spectacular trip to Zurich:

Monday, June 18, 2012

The sun never really sets

When it all began, I was just another passenger, chasing the sun across the pacific.

As a traveler, I decided not to stop. The odyssey continued as I finally abandoned my past for opportunities and plied my trade as a writer or student or analyst or whatever else could get me in the position to smell jet fuel and know that on the other side of the jetdoor was a world and a world away.  Travel is the journey and the destination, and I do whatever I can to keep the trip alive.

So fast forward, and here I sit.  Twice removed from my home, the hour is late and a dog slumbers at my feet.  I am tired, sure, but is that not the point?  To see so much of the world that you collapse in exhaustion from the beauty of it all?  To know what you have seen and to know that the only thing keeping you awake is the bright shining suns in your past, and the possibility to share that beauty with the world, one way or the other...

The question was never when will it stop.  The question remains, how long is now?   

I ask myself this question when everything is right, and the sun is setting behind a beautiful city to dance its way across the Pacific.  There is a moment, just before the sun relinquishes its control to the night, and that moment is my 'now.'  I can't capture it with my lens, and I can't capture it with my words, but I will always chase it with my life. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Liechtenstein - a tiny rich country

Nestled between Switzerland, Germany, and Austria is the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.  It is one of the smallest countries in the world but has the world's highest per capita GDP's at over $140,000 per year. The country is filled with art and flanked by the alps.  It is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.  In the hills, above the capital city of Vaduz, is a castle where a ruling royal family still lives to this day.

Here are some pictures from this wonderful place.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Top 10 Venice Travel Guide

Top 10 Venice Travel Guide

Visiting Venice is a lot like living in a painting. The colors and reflections feel ephemeral. You blink and the picture changes. The size of Venice ceases to exceed its usefulness as no corner, road, bridge, or shop seems wasted or useless. Each thing plays a part in defining her character. The peeling paint reflects glories of the past, with the new layers an homage to the upkeep of a starstung legacy. The beauty is so effervescent that even a blind man could make a career as a photographer here. While people may come and go, none forget. Hemingway hunted, Napoleon conquered, Monet painted, Leonardo invented, and millions more have gasped and gawked in the shadows of this most storied settlement. It is to be savored like some early morning dream that surreptitiously impacts the remains of the day.

In Venice, the ambiance alone is so beautiful and otherworldly that just wandering aimlessly provides fantastic results. Beyond errant exploration though, Venice provides many gorgeous sights and enchanting islands for travelers to explore. Here are 10 things to do in Venice and around the lagoon.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Top 10 Florence Travel Guide

top 10 florence

Florence is so much more than a city. The past of this small community on the banks of the Arno is forever intertwined with invention and progress. The Renaissance began here, advancing all forms of intellectual inquiry and creation. The Medici, essentially the world's first modern bankers, built a Florentine empire with a strong patronage for the arts. Once the center of the banking and art world, it now exists simply as a quiet city in the Tuscan hills. Florence has come down gracefully from its apogee unapologetic and ready to just be. It forges on ahead with shops full of artisans; architecture that has shaped our conception of beauty, and an art scene that may never be eclipsed. The Florence experience serves a welcome respite from the supercenter and highway lifestyle. Florence is more than a city. It is an ideal from which every other beautiful city should be measured.

Once you have arrived in Florence, the beauty can be overwhelming. I do not have a cure for Stendhal Syndrome, but I do have some experiences for you to enjoy while exploring this old town.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Top 10 Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong is all about balance. Nature and steel. Silt and sparkle. Yin and Yang. This masterpiece of divergences is a Feng shui city bereft of boring angles or a predictable head turn. Spicy aromas billow from a flaming street wok. An animated hawker peddles jade from a humble stoop, his wispy beard blowing in a gust from a passing double-decker. In a corner office sixty floors up, a suited banker creates eastern wealth like a modern day alchemist. Each plays a part in defining the complexities of character forged in this balancing act of humanity. Vertically, Hong Kong is man's answer to the California redwoods - thousands of spires erupting out of the earth like a civilization on steroids. If ever mankind had something to prove, they proved it here on the banks of the South China Sea.

After the Opium Wars in the 19th century, Hong Kong became a British colony. This colonial conquest fostered Hong Kong's character in amazing ways. Compromises were made, the city was built, and the unlikely union created a hybrid society where east met west. The Brits and the Chinese built towards the sun and created a hulking civilization. The end result is Hong Kong - a city lavished in sublime food and breathtaking vistas. It is near impossible to yawn with boredom in this extraordinary city, and these ten experiences are a great foundation to any stay in Hong Kong.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A strange Guatemalan furmonster

Any idea what this creature is?  I saw an entire troupe of them foraging around the ruins of Tikal.