Have you got baggage?

Yes I know you do …. we all do.  But I am not talking about that emotional baggage that has inspired a whole host of websites where you can email in anonymously and unload all your problems….supposedly walking away a whole lot happier.  Really?  Odd thought that.  Maybe it does work..

Nope I am talking about plain old baggage.  Bags that you put your stuff in and take with you on a trip on a plane.  It seems simple doesn’t it.  But it’s not and it’s getting worse.

In the good old days you booked a flight, packed a suitcase, took a big bag as your carry on in which you packed all the stuff you didn’t want to lose (yes sorry airlines and airports but you do suck when it comes to lost baggage) and got on the plane.  Nobody hassled you about your huge tapestry bag bulging at the seams.  My goodness, I remember a flight from Zimbabwe to South Africa.  You should have seen the stuff coming on there as carry on.  I swear there were probably live chickens somewhere there!

Nowadays you get to check in – which of course you have to do yourself because machines are better than people – NOT.  You fiddle around with the machine and it asks you how many bags are you checking and suddenly it’s asking for more money!  What?  Mmm- maybe you didn’t read the fine print but for this class of service (in other words lower priced ticket) you have to pay for your luggage sonny boy!  (Cheap %*&#@@).

Just google fees for checked  baggage and you will bring up pages and pages of law suits against the airlines for this that and the other, related to baggage fees.  It really is strange because it seems that with airlines today it just takes one airline to say “Mmm – what do you think?  Can we get away with charging for checked baggage?”.  They implement this plan and the other airlines sit back and say …..

“WOW – Brilliant”.  Let’s do it!

Soooooo…. long story short.  People want to cut down on the cost of a weekend away so they don’t check their luggage.   They bring everything on board the flight.  Have you ever noticed how people getting on a flight who are maybe sitting at the back of the plane will just casually put their carry on in the bin over the business class seats at the front.  Much easier to have your carry on up there than at the back – and maybe there is no room at the back either.

Next brilliant airline idea – let’s charge for carry on.  The way they are going to charge however will be to ban those people who bought the cheap fares from using the overhead bins and only the people who bought the more expensive fare will be allowed to use the overhead bins.  This probably means a longer boarding process as the flight attendants have to check everyone’s ticket to see the status and whether or not they are allowed to use the over head bins.

What’s next?  An even lower fare basis that will mean you can’t use the overhead bins or the toilets?  Remember to pack the Depends!

When Siri gets on your nerves

It’s bad enough having Siri on your phone or tablet and sometimes even in your car – OK maybe it is not Siri but probably a distant relative.  Now they are installing Siri in hotel rooms so she can deal with instructions like turn on the lights and open the curtains.  That is always assuming of course that she can understand what you are saying.  Siri is not very good with non North American accents.  Voice recognition is so inefficient sometimes that you either end up crying or laughing.  Here’s what can happen when you get two Scotsmen in an elevator using voice recognition.

My friend has voice recognition in her car GPS and told me about the time she took her elderly mother on a doctor’s visit.  Siri didn’t like the route she was taking and kept telling her to do a U-turn.  Eventually my friend lost it and told Siri where to go and that she was a stupid cow.  Her mother was so shocked.  “Don’t speak to the lady like that! She is only trying to help.”

So can you imagine.  You have just got off a long trans-Atlantic flight from your home town of Bradford or Johannesburg or Palermo.  You check into your fancy New York hotel and just want to close the curtains and have a nap.  Can’t find where the curtain cord is.  Oh yes, the lady at the front desk said the controls for the room are voice-activated.  In your best clear voice you say “Close the curtains” …..

“I am sorry – can you repeat your request.”

Oh hell – of course – you are in America and they call them drapes.  Try again.

“Close the drapes”

“Please speak slowly”….. you get the picture.  By this time you have pulled over the dresser and are trying to physically close the curtains so you can dim the room and get some much needed sleep.  Can’t budge them – to hell with it you think. You are just going to switch off the lights and have a nap.

Ummmm – so you want to switch off the lights.  So how are you going to do that smarty pants?  You have to speak to the lady.  You know before even trying that she is not going to understand you so your McGyver instincts come into play.  You notice that there is no central light but just lamps.  You go to each lamp and take out the LED light.  Good.  That’ll show her.  Now finally you are ready to have a nap.  Just one last thing – you need a pee.

So how do you flush the toilet…… Oh Nooooooo!

Is sand better than snow?

Well of course sand must be better than snow.  Think about it – just look outside the window.  Piles of snow on stacked up garden tables, trees laden down with snow, parked cars on the side of the road imprisoned by snow.  Now close your eyes and imagine sand instead …

Aaah – are you feeling better now?  Sand means beach and beach means sand and it is a lovely thought.  But sand isn’t always such a lovely thing because sometimes

  • You get sand in your picnic on the beach
  • The baby gets sand in the diaper
  • The toddler eats sand and – well – gets sand in the diaper
  • You find sand in your clothes six weeks after coming back from vacation
  • Sand hides in the corner of your suitcase and magically appears when you are unpacking for a conference
  • Sand is the home for sand fleas who like to feast on you in the late afternoon when you are snoozing on the beach (I speak from first hand experience)
  • Sand sneaks into places your mother didn’t know you had!

Of course people can have fun in the sand with no beach in sight like those who go sand-boarding in Dubai or Namibia or any handy desert – even in Colorado I believe.

Now although the experts say that when you fall it doesn’t hurt because it’s sand – they do recommend to keep your mouth closed unlike the lady in the picture here.  The sand spray that is whipped up goes straight into your mouth – so remember to shut it!  Although the experts say you don’t get hurt when you fall others will tell you that it is not that easy and the sand gets absolutely everywhere.    http://monkeysandmountains.com/sandboarding-namibia

Rolling in the sand in Dorob National Park.

So maybe snow is a whole lot easier to deal with – it’s just that unless you are a snow-boarder or a skier it is a giant pain in the ass and right now I would gladly trade the winter outside my front door for a sandy beach somewhere even if it did mean sand where you least want it!

Under the sea and under the ground

Competition is fierce out there in the hotel and cruise business.  Who can provide the most unique experience?  Who offers a product that nobody else has?  With this end in mind hotels and cruise lines are coming up with ideas that some might think are just plain bizarre.  But I guess if you have been everywhere and done everything maybe you do want to explore new horizons under the sea and under the ground.

UNDER THE SEA

Well, over-water bungalows are just old hat.  Now you can have an under water bungalow. The Manta Resort in Zanzibar offers this room category.  It really beats hands down the glass floor or coffee table in the over-water bungalow where you can see the fish below.  Now you can see them swimming around your bed.
Not too sure about this myself – but it will probably be on someone’s bucket list.  I think I would be checking the windows for leaks.  Not to mention being spied upon while you sleep.

Creepy

Not sure how room service works

Want something a little simpler?  How about this underwater cottage in Sweden?

It comes complete with a fully stocked kitchen and seeing as you are not floating over a coral reef the under water view is not nearly as stunning.

Mmm – pass on this one, thanks.

UNDER THE GROUND

Spend the night in an old silver mine in Sweden.  Looks kinda spooky.
Sala Silvergruva, Sala, SwedenI will have to pass on this one too – sorry!

Now this is more like it – Cappadocia in Turkey – very cozy!

Argos in Cappadocia, Turkey

Grand Canyon in Arizona – a room 200 ft below ground – need to bring the warm winter woolies as it is very cool down here.  One comment on the website was that you get a really quiet night’s sleep – mmm – I am sure you would sleep like the dead here so far under the ground.  OK – that’s it.  Rule this one out too.
Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona

So what’s next?  Let me have your thoughts or ideas.  If you were an entrepreneur and wanted to come up with a unique place to sell as a hotel what would you try?  What about an airborne hotel – one that is maybe supported by a giant blimp and gently floats around 100 foot off the ground.  Would that work?

Or how about a zero-gravity hotel – that might be a problem for someone with motion sickness.  But it would be unique.  Might be a bit problematic as far as liability for health problems.  After all not everyone can be a space man.

 

Have you done time?

Have you done any time?

Time-share that is.  You know, it starts out as a good idea and ends up like a prison sentence.  You have that week in Timbuktu (or wherever) that you bought on an impulse and now it hangs over your head like a dark cloud reminding you of how much you hate Timbuktu (or wherever).

You start to wonder why the heck you even went to that stupid time share seminar.  They told you no pressure and then – PRESSURE!   And it seemed like such a good idea at the time.  You could go on vacation every year for Nothing!  So when that time comes around – you have to go and do your time.  Well – you could swap your time share with another time share – after all RCI has over 8000 different properties. Problem is that the good ones at the good times are going to be used by the owners and the crappy ones are ….well, they are crappy.

Now there are a lot of very clever financial people out there who do the math much better than I could showing how having a time share is “A fancy term for flushing money down the toilet” Read the whole article very well put together by Hull Financing.  I just know that there is too much world out there to see for me to pin myself down to one destination every year.  I also don’t want to spend hours researching how I can get some value from the time share investment.  There are a lot of comments out there on Tripadvisor about the difficulties encountered with time share – especially when large resort hotels get taken over by other resort hotels.  Also it seems that the program has changed a lot since the days of my time share in South Africa 20 years ago.  You can now buy points instead of weeks.  I did try to read through the numerous articles on the differences between the two but eventually it got too much.  Wow you would have to be a lawyer to work your way through that.

That’s probably why there are numerous companies offering to buy your time share.  You hear them on the radio, they advertise online and no doubt now that I have googled them I will have them popping up in my feed the whole time.  *sigh*

 

Strange countries and strange food

Are you brave when it comes to trying new foods when you travel?  Personally I am not.  I think it is because of too many years spent at Convent lunches with Sister Michael Joseph standing behind me while I struggled to keep down that bowl of tapioca pudding.  Yuck.

But don’t let me put you off.  If you enjoy watching shows like Anthony Bourdain you will know that there are some out there who will try just about anything and maybe that is all part of the whole “travel the world” experience.  Bourdain believes that when you travel you should never ever refuse a local dish which has been prepared for you.  So what’s out there that’s strange and different?

How about a fried Tarantula in Cambodia?  Apparently they are very popular and taste a bit like crab.

Guinea Pig in Peru?  Yes guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru and you can even order a guinea pig pizza if you feel so inclined.  Growing up we had guinea pigs as pets.  I just can’t figure out eating one which I suppose is a bit hypocritical because I am not a vegetarian and eat beef and I reckon cows are some of the most intelligent creatures out there.

Here’s a dish from Mousehole in Cornwall, England.  Now although I grew up very near to Mousehole I have never heard of this dish so I will have to check with my Cornish friends.

“A pie with fish that stare at the sky: Stargazey originates from the Cornish village of Mousehole in England, and is served on Tom Bawcock’s Eve (23rd December). According to legend, this heroic sixteenth-century sailor rowed out one December evening in high storms and returned with a catch big enough to feed the starving residents.”

If you are in Israel you might like to try some chocolate covered locusts – it’s the only thing to do really when you have plague after plague and apparently the locust is the only insect that is considered kosher.

In Ukraine it is popular to cut the meat off and just eat the fat.  It’s called Salo and the fat is smoked and then left in a cellar for about a year and then eaten with rye bread.   Not sure how healthy this is but I do recall a South African cardiologist telling me once that it would be very healthy – bypasses the esophagus and goes straight for the coronary artery!

Which brings me to Canada – boy you have some pretty strange food here too!  As a Brit the idea of putting gravy on your fries (or chips as I would call them) is really odd – and then to sprinkle them with cheese curds.  I haven’t tried Poutine yet but I promise one day I will, but I definitely am going to pass on the stuffed Moose heart.  Sorry!

 

Short vacation vs long vacation

How much time do you want to spend on your vacation?  Many tell me a week is not enough – especially when you spend two days getting there and getting home.  Some people are happy with a weekend somewhere like Vegas.  Others go for longer sojourns.  Then there are those who go for months and months and months.  So let’s look at these vacations ….

The weekend – in Vegas?  Well on the plus side the flying time to Vegas is quite reasonable at just under three hours and the really nice thing about Vegas is that the airport is pretty much right in the middle of the city.  It seems to be that Sin City is not such an attraction these days for the gambling side of things but more as an entertainment centre where the big names appear and the hotel rooms are abundant.  Not a bad getaway on the whole. Personally I am not a casino fan and a guess I am not alone as new hotels are springing up in Vegas with no casino at all.  So for shopping, great shows and top restaurants Vegas makes sense for a quick break.

A week all inclusive?  Well hey – most working people get two – maybe three – weeks of vacation a year so a week is a convenient chunk of time to commit to a vacation.  The only problem is the time these days it takes to get there and get back.  Getting down to Mexico for example will take anything from 4 and a half to 6 hours.  Add to that the time getting to the airport in Calgary in good time for security, check in etc. and then the travel time from the airport to your hotel at the other end.  Some transfer times can be horrendously long – like 90 minutes in a shuttle bus, sometimes stopping at several hotels along the way.  The ideal is 10 days but this can be problematic depending upon the availability of direct flights and remember that pre-packaged tours for 10 day durations often come at a premium price. Still, in the middle of a Calgary winter a week on the beach can be a very attractive prospect.

A month – in one place? – Now we’re talking.  The popularity of our long stay packages to Spain, Portugal, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Thailand have shown us that people really like the idea of having three to four weeks in one destination.  Time to absorb the local atmosphere, find out which restaurants are your favourites, join the local bike club on their rides, learn the language.  Taking into account that these packages are usually over the “off season” means that not only do they come at a great price (always a good thing) but they also take advantage of less crowds, lower prices at local shops and restaurants and of course escaping Calgary’s winters.

Six months on a cruise?  Now some might shudder at this idea.  They might think that the first few weeks would be fine but then you would get tired of living on a cruise ship and start yearning for your own house.  Ummm – NO.  The clients I have sent on extended cruises like this tell me they love the idea of travelling around the world without having to pack and unpack – also without having to cook, shop for groceries, make the bed, water the plants … yes I could go on and on.  In fact I have heard stories of new friends made and tears and hugs at the end of the cruise, not only with these new friends but with the cruise staff who have looked after them during their six months world cruise.

For those of us not yet retired then time is of the essence and we have to make do with two to three weeks, if we are lucky, or the one week or even the weekend jaunt.  One thing I do know – time is the most precious commodity we have …. the clock is ticking!