I used to be Snow White but then I drifted away

“I used to be Snow White but then I drifted away” – Mae West
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I don’t know about you but I am so tired of the snow and wish it would all drift away.  I am sure the only people who want the snow around are those who enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other such sports that require complicated and uncomfortable equipment strapped all over the body.  (You can see that I am not a skier).  However I did start thinking a lot about snow and how it features in quite a few of those “bucket list” destinations.

ANTARCTICA – This is a destination that is not easy to get to from the beginning.  It involves flights through Buenos Aires via one of those dreary US airport hubs before you finally get onto the ship in Ushaia.  Then you have to face the Drake Passage – yes my boys – you have to get your sea legs for that one.  When you finally do get to your destination the preparation for your shore excursion is exhausting.  You need to get into your waterproof trousers, rubber boots, thick sweater, Parker.  It takes half an hour by which time you are a sweating wreck.  Do I speak from experience?  No.  I sent my brother instead (wicked laugh).  As the older sister I am allowed to laugh.  Despite all the blood sweat and tears (not to mention a little sea sickness) he said it was one of the finest trips he has ever been on.  The magnificent scenery was well worth it.
antarctica

 

KILIMANJARO – the tallest mountain in Africa has snow all year at the summit.  The only way to get to the top is on your own two feet.  Quite an achievement which sadly I have not done.  My friends in the business who have done this trip tell me that it is not the climb as such but the altitude which is the most challenging but getting to the top is an amazing experience.  Wow – could I do it?  Not sure.  On the up side of course is the fact that after the climb you can go and pamper yourself in style at one of the fabulous luxury camps in Tanzania.  What an experience – and this I can personally attest to.  One of my top favourite adventures (with no snow).
luxury-camp

 

ICELAND – one of the hottest destinations over the last year or two – but would you go in winter?  What do they have there that we don’t have here in the winter.  More snow.  But – they do have the Northern lights.  Convinced yet?  And they do have hot springs which are fantastic for your skin.  Just look – where could you wear a swimsuit in the winter in Calgary?
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ALASKA – I would be remiss if I did not mention Alaska.  I do understand why people in Alberta might think that they really would not want to go and see more ice but I have to say Alaska was amazing.  From the top deck of our cruise ship we made our way down one of the glacial fjords early in the morning.  The light was crisp and clear and the only sound was the tinkling of the ice floes – sort of like the tinkling of ice in a gin and tonic.  Do go.  It is so close to us and people travel from all over the world to experience this incredible scenery.
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In the meantime, more snow is predicted for the weekend and we do know that in Calgary we can even get snow over Stampede.  So you know they say – if you can’t beat them, join them.  Maybe I should think about digging my old skis out of their hiding place in the basement!

What do you do with a drunken pig?

Yes – that’s what I said – like the old song – What do you do with a drunken sailor? It is not so easy to deal with a drunken pig.  So where would you find a drunken pig?  It seems like some “smart alecs” in the boating community think it is funny to feed the swimming pigs of the Bahamas with alcohol.  I mean really!  It takes very little to entertain a small mind I guess.  I also wonder how things have not gone horribly wrong already with drunken pigs frolicking in the water with local tourists.

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Look at the size of that pig

The sad thing is that this favourite tourist attraction is threatened and word has it that there are very few surviving pigs.  There has been talk of poison but I did read as well that the pigs are regularly fed hot dogs from the boats.  Now that I find a bit hard to stomach.  I hope they are vegan sausages and not pork.

Shame – poor pig has no idea.  Maybe he had a few drinks first and didn’t care what he was eating.

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Apparently this is a chicken hot dog – does this make it better?

So between eating hot dogs (probably full of sodium and preservatives) and drinking alcohol these pigs do not have a very healthy lifestyle and now someone or something has apparently starting poisoning the pigs.  Several dropped dead recently and word has it that there are only 7 or 8 left on the island.

So how did the pigs get there to begin with?  It is said that a couple were left on the island to fatten up and then the owners never returned for them and so the two or three piggies became more and more piggies.

And why do they swim?  The answer probably lies in the fact that people in boats will feed them.  It is a strong motivation.  Why do you think all those stingrays swarm around people at Cayman Islands.  It’s not the smell of suntan lotion – believe me!

So now (drunk or not) the pigs are disappearing and the island of Exuma Bahamas will have to go back to selling itself based on the amazing beaches and crystal clear waters teeming with fish – not pigs.

 

 

The Great Escape

Life is all about escaping – which is pretty sad if you think of it.  There are even rooms that you can pay to be locked inside just so you can escape.  This is a booming business in Calgary now.  If you have ever tried this as a team building exercise you will know that different people behave in different ways.  Some relish the thrill of solving the puzzle that will open the lock – others (like me) get a little more impatient and if given the option of solving the puzzle or getting hold of a hacksaw I would probably choose the latter.
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For those of you who are still working (yes we do envy the retirees) then you will be very familiar with that feeling on a Friday night at 6 pm when you say – OK – that’s fine.  I did it! Let me out.  I am not sure why we wish our lives into fast forward like this.  We only have a certain amount of time in this world to enjoy so we should stretch out every single day.

Which brings me to my favourite type of escape – travel.  The thing about travel is that the escape is not just when you climb on that plane.  The escape is every time you even think about travelling.   The research that goes into a trip is half of the fun – if not more.  The anticipation of seeing the places you read about is quite delicious.  I usually like to try to read a novel that gives the historical background of the area.  It’s a great way to get a sense of history without having to read a boring guide book – and oh my goodness some of these guide books can be really boring.  Depending on your destination there are some really good reads that will give you a reliable rendering of the history of the area. You can even suggest one of these books to your book club…. if you are a member of one.

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Then there is the shopping.  This is another form of escape which is essential when travelling.  It is so much more fun shopping for travel stuff than shopping for groceries. You know how you need those new walking shoes because the itinerary mentioned “join your guide for a walking tour of ….” and of course you need a new swimsuit and maybe one of those anti-theft back-packs.  Shopping is such a fun escape and it is even more fun when you can justify it.

One of the best escapes is during your flight.  It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of Big Deal Corporation, you just cannot be reached while in mid-flight and please please people – let’s keep it that way.  I do NOT want to receive phone calls or emails during my flight.  I love flying.  This to me is a wonderful escape.

Then – before you know it – you have escaped completely into a different world.  That was how I felt when I arrived in New Delhi.  The traffic, the colours, the food, the people – amazing.  Funnily enough I felt the same way when I arrived in Hanoi.  The amazing ability of whole families to ride on one small motorbike is incredible.  Then again, nothing can quite beat the experience of being on the plains of the Serengeti during Earth Hour with just the brilliant stars and a few candles to light our table under the trees and – Oh Yes –  it is hard to describe the atmosphere of that brooding red rock they call Uluru.

So many beautiful places.  So many memories.  So many escapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tots on flights

Poor kids – everyone (sometimes even their parents) hate having kids on a flight.  They can’t help it.  It’s boring and their ears hurt.  Having said that there is nothing worse than sitting next to a crying fidgeting child.  Moms hate it too.  They just want to have a decent flight like anybody else and usually feel really bad if their child can’t get to sleep on a flight.

So this idea is really brilliant – it’s called the Fly Tot – and the idea is so basic.  A blow up cube that turns the kid’s seat into a bed.

Fly Tot

What a clever idea – parents have been reviewing this product and raving about how amazing it is – especially for long haul flights.  How cute are these two
flytot-1

It got me thinking….(always a dangerous thing).  As a short person (vertically challenged) maybe I could make use of a device like this.  It would certainly be a lot better than some of the other devices that have been invented to help you sleep on a flight.  This lady did not need a device but just made use of the seat cover

Very smart!  Unlike this guy who resorted to the old blow up neck pillow.  Everyone uses them and they just don’t work – at least not for me and certainly not for him.

Ouch – sore neck in the morning.

I don’t get this one at all….

But maybe that’s just me.  This one seems to be rather dangerous.
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Looks like it could double up for a toilet seat ???
Then there is the travel pillow on a pole (I am not kidding)

and this weird one
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or this – try not to laugh – honestly!
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I think I will just continue to fall asleep on flights in the old fashioned way!
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I just have a quick question

Every travel agent dreads this.  If you are planning that trip of a lifetime or a much needed escape to somewhere amazing (doesn’t have to be a bucket list place) why would you only have a quick question ???   Very strange.  Usually when planning a trip you want to be able to sit down with a specialist.  You want to have a long conversation about what your expectations are, your past experiences, your likes and dislikes and what sort of budget and level of accommodation you want.  This is how we work out what best to recommend so when someone pops into the agency with “I just have a quick question” frankly the alarm bells ring.

Generally the quick question would be –

  1. What sort of visa do I need to go to ……, or
  2. How much luggage can I take on my flight to ….., or
  3. What time do I need to be at the airport for my flight to Cancun (not booked with us)
  4. How would I get to Madrid airport from Seville?
  5. (I could go on but I won’t).

The problem is that travel has changed so much over the years with the growth of online agencies that travel agents have become travel consultants, therefore we are not really “retail” any more in the sense of walk in, buy a ticket, walk out.  The public today is very knowledgeable about many destinations and most of our customers have a pretty good idea of where they want to go.  Having done some research on their upcoming vacation they will fall  into one of three groups –

I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE – This person has done tons of research online and has become totally overwhelmed with different websites for airline tickets, hotels, tours, transfers etc. that they throw their hands up in the air and just want an expert to take care of them and their arrangements.  That’s cool.  That’s what we do.

I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS ON MY OWN – This person is confident and willing to take a risk booking an AirBnB.  In fact they love making all their own arrangements and feel that by doing this they have more control over their travel plans than if they assigned this to a third party such as a travel consultant.  That’s cool too.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN BUT NEED AN EXPERT SECOND OPINION FIRST – This person is not so confident and always needs to double check with an expert so they will do the rounds of travel agencies with “quick questions”.  This is not cool at all.

Get a bunch of travel agents together and the stories come fast and hard and the fact that we can laugh at them shows that we love what we do and we much prefer to deal with people than be locked in a cubicle doing boring paperwork.  Here are a few stories that made us chuckle – Jeez we love this business!

“A woman called to make reservations. “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York.” The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent asked, “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.” The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?” “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal.”  

“A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!”

And here is a whole list of those “quick questions” collected from travel agents around North America.

  1. Can you guarantee weather?
  2. What is the safest seat on a plane if it crashes?
  3. What would the cost be for a car rental to drive to Australia?
  4. How much does the bus cost to get from here to Africa?
  5. do you have cruises from toronto to china pls?
  6. Is this Tim Hortons?
  7. Is it safe to drink the bath water in Mexico?
  8. Can you watch my groceries while I do some more shopping in the mall?
  9. Can I take my cats on the cruiseship?
  10. Are there sharks in that ocean?
  11. Does the sun set there?
  12. How far do planes go?
  13. How do planes fly at night when it’s so dark?
  14. Am I speaking to a live agent?
  15. Do I have to bring my own bedding?
  16. Does the ship have lifeboats?
  17. Are there icebergs in the Caribbean?
  18. Can I get a refund if it rains?
  19. Is food included in an all-inclusive?
  20. Does “ocean-view” mean I’ll have a view of the ocean?
  21. Are there kids at the adult-only resort?
  22. Do I have to use my real name to buy the ticket?
  23. Is there a walking tour on the cruise?
  24. Do you have any resorts with a pool?
  25. Can you get me tickets for the Picadilly circus?
  26. Can I carry weapons on the plane?
  27. Does the time difference mean we’ll get there faster?
  28. Will there be noisy guests at the hotel?
  29. Is it windy on the beach?
  30. What time does the sun come up in Australia?
  31. What language do they speak in Spain?
  32. Can you give me a list of all the ATMs in Paris?
  33. Can we pet the lions on an African safari?

 

Dung beetles and insect cocktails

Now before you freak out let me say that no self-respecting dung beetle is going to find itself inside a cocktail.  Dung beetles are far too important for that.  Their job is to get rid of all the nasty bugs in dung and therefore cut down on the spread of disease in the local animals.  They are industrious and hard-working and have even been imported into New Zealand to help cut down on the bugs that spread disease among sheep and cattle.

Dung beetles have been around for ever and have been appropriately honoured for their role in nature.

Just watching a dung beetle at work is fascinating.  As they roll the ball of dung it gets bigger and bigger and they just keep going.

When you do your next African safari you will get the chance to observe them “in the wild” and participate in a fun game with your game ranger seeing how far you can spit out a ball of rolled dung – usually Impala as their poop is small like marbles.  You certainly wouldn’t want to try to spit out elephant dung!!  It’s not obligatory but it will make you feel closer to the dung beetle.

So there! Maybe after this you need a drink.  Well you won’t find a dung beetle in a cocktail any time soon.  However you may find other insects in cocktails that are becoming more popular.  Strangely.

Not sure how you would feel if you were presented with this cocktail –

This is an Aztec-themed drink served in a skull-shaped mug and garnished with a paper cone stuffed to the brim with buffalo worms.  Apparently Grey Goose vodka goes very well with worms or crickets.

Or how about this one from Thailand?
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Or this one from who knows where….
snake-drinks

It’s part of the fun people – watching dung beetles, spitting out impala poop and drinking weird drinks.  Watch out insects …. here we come.

 

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!