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THE BEST in TRAVEL, JULY 2014

THE BEST IN TRAVEL JULY 2014

The travel news, posts, tips and photos that especially captured my attention in July. July-ish.

BLACK SCORPION, FIRE ANTS, FER-DE-LANCE SNAKES, JAGUARS, WILD PIGS AND BOT FLIES THAT LAY EGGS UNDER YOUR SKIN

PHOTO ESSAYInside the Darien Gap: An exploration in 19 photos by Matthew Karsten

SOURCE: Matador Network

Many of the resources I referenced when researching my trip to Panama basically stated not to even think about going into the Darién Gap, a break in the Pan-American Highway consisting of undeveloped swampland and jungle that straddles Panama and Colombia. Likewise, everything I read when looking into traveling to Colombia warned of the dangers of the Darién Gap. I got the message. I have no desire to get close to the area but taking in a photo essay on it by someone who survived nearly three weeks in there? Yes, please.

Matthew Karsten reveals the perils lurking within the untamed swath of land that is the Darién Gap: creatures that sting, bite and invade; plants that pierce the skin; and smugglers, bandits and paramilitary groups. His photos also capture the personalities of the people who have adapted to the rainforest as well as the beauty that can be found there, including the poisonous flora and deadly fauna.

Scorpion Matthew Karsten

Photo by Matthew Karsten

PLEASE PASS THE FERMENTED HORSE MILK

SLIDESHOW: Adventures in Mongolia featuring the photography of Brian Pineda (Brian’s Instagram)

SOURCE: Condé Nast Traveler

Mongolia. Just typing it gives this world traveler a thrill. No other corner of the globe feels as exotic, mysterious and remote to me.

Brian Pineda traveled across parts of Central Mongolia and the Gobi Desert by horse, camel and Soviet-era van and shared his captivating images, engagements with the local people and most memorable experiences from along the way.

Brian Pineda Mongolia

Photo by Brian Maranan Pineda

GEISHARAZZI

ARTICLE: Geisha hunting in Kyoto: 7 things to know before going to Gion by Karla Cripps

SOURCE: CNN

Having just visited Japan I found all of CNN’s Discover Japan series interesting, but my favorite post of the bunch was this one on “geisha hunting”. My last stop was Kyoto. I admit that I was always attuned to the possibility of encountering a geisha when I wandered the streets and alleyways of Gion, feeling a rush of excitement when I spotted one, and being fooled initially by the Japanese tourists who were only impersonating them.

Karla Cripps describes not only Kyoto’s paparazzi culture and the do’s and don’ts of photographing geisha as the title claims, but also educates readers on how to tell a legitimate geisha from a poseur, how to go about “becoming” a geisha for a day, and reveals the secret to to meeting a geisha if you’ve got the yen to do so. Pun intended.

Geisha Gion

MORE TRAVEL PORN

SLIDESHOW: Travel Porn: Featuring Marcelo Castro by Anna Starostinetskaya

SOURCE: Off Track Planet

Marcelo Castro has visited, and photographed, some of my favorite destinations in the world — Petra, Old Bagan, Istanbul. So why don’t my shots look like his? If I only possessed a better eye, timing, technical skill, knowledge, and equipment I think I would be in his league.

Marcelo Castro Photo

Photo by Marcelo Castro

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THE BEST in TRAVEL, JUNE 2014

INTERESTING.

The travel news, posts, tips and photos that especially captured my attention in June. June-ish.

TOBAGGAN IS A DANGEROUS SPORT

ARTICLE: Beijing Fast Forwards to the Future by Gary Shteyngart

SOURCE: Travel + Leisure

Another enviably well-written article from my favorite writer on travel. No one better captures the subtly humorous idiosyncrasies and absurdities of a destination than Gary Shteyngart.

bronze lion in the forbidden city

YOU GO GIRL

ARTICLE: How I quit my job to travel: the Washington DC lawyer by Sari Zeidler

SOURCE: BBC Travel

Truth is, as much as I like to think of myself as a world traveler I couldn’t handle going non-stop even if I *were* smart enough to figure out how to make it work: I like my pets, my routine, my personal stuff too much. But I still respect the hell out of people like Gina Dowd who have managed to lead a nomadic life. This article details how she turned her working-for-the-man desk job into a self-employed virtual office gig.

CAPTIVATING

POST: Faces of Afghanistan by Steve McCurry

SOURCE: Steve McCurry blog

The man behind THAT ICONIC NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO OF THE GIRL WITH THE HYPNOTIC GREEN EYES (you know the one) is still at it. Steve McCurry recently posted his captivating Faces of Afghanistan series on his blog and once again the images are indelible.

Steve McCurry

A new photo of a girl with hypnotic green eyes by Steve McCurry.

CHUNKY STEW

POST: Why Americans never call themselves just Americans by Matt Hershberger

SOURCE: Matador Network

Another funny travel writer (why aren’t there more?), Matt Hershberger delves into Americans’ compulsion to apply genealogical math to define our identity (and points-out Europeans’ understandable annoyance at us when we do so). Interesting map (especially my home state, “Norwegian” Minnesota).

MIND, BODY AND WORLD ALIGNMENT

POST: The Ultimate Digital Detox: Walking by Robert Reid

SOURCE: National Geographic intelligent travel

Travel writer Robert Reid (a good-looking guy beneath that ridiculous green hat) elucidates the relationship between walking, disconnecting from the digital world and connecting to the present. I get him. The best way to lose yourself and find a destination is step by step.

Below: One of my favorite urban walks, Bondi Beach to Coogee in Sydney.

Urban Walking Trail Bondi Beach to Coogee Sydney

DOWN WITH DOCKERS

POST: We Rank Flight Attendant Uniforms from Worst to Sexiest by Sophie-Claire Hoeller

SOURCE: Thrillist

Maybe not the most highbrow article, but interesting nonetheless. What straight woman/gay man hasn’t mentally critiqued the flight attendants’ uniforms in between endless episodes of The Big Bang Theory while gnawing on stale pretzels from the discomfort of their seat? Pleated Dockers? They author makes a valid point. And I agree, Air France wins, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always admired the exotic sassiness of those Emirates hats paired with the matching red lipstick. It’s a fabulous look.

Emirates Uniforms

LIBATIONS IN LISBON

POSTSardines, Sex and Cocktails in Lisbon by Guru4Travel

SOURCE: Unusual Hotels of the World

My go-to website for unique hotels showcases three unusual bars in Lisbon, including one that’s a fishing tackle shop by day. Why not?

Pensao Amor

Pensao Amor

FLOOD PRONE AREA

POSTHaunting Photos Of New Orleans Homes Reveal Louisiana’s Architectural Ghosts by Katherine Brooks

SOURCE: The Huffington Post

I dream about houses. Literally. A couple nights of the week domiciles I’ve never seen loom in my reveries. What it all means, I don’t know. But maybe it kinda sorta explains why I Cannot. Stop. Looking at. These Photos. of houses from New Orleans. And what dramatic accessories: a red El Camino, a fallen telephone pole, a “flood prone area” sign. This guy Frank Relle is a genius.

Brainard Relle Frank

Photo by Frank Relle.

PLANE FUN

GALLERYPlane hotels: five aircrafts you can spend the night in

SOURCE: The Telegraph Travel

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m a SUCKER for any sort of kitschy theme hotel, an easy mark for properties that bill themselves as unique. So of course I’m helpless to resist aircraft-turned-accommodations. I WILL stay in one of these jet pads sooner or later.

Airplane Suite

The Airplane Suite from HotelSuites.NL boasts a jacuzzi, sauna and three flat-screen tvs.

HIGH CULTURE, GRAND CRU

ARTICLEIn Argentina, Wine, Art and Altitude by Alessandra Stanley

SOURCE: The New York Times Travel section

Alessandra Stanley transports readers to Colomé, a winery and contemporary art museum in northwest Argentina. She writes good.

Colome Argentina

ILLEGAL BACON

And the punches continue to fly over at the comment section of the Brunei post at Adventurous Kate…

POST: Brunei: Perplexing, Infuriating, Unforgettable by Kate McCulley

SOURCE: Adventurous Kate

Brunei

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BULK LINT: WHY BLAH AIRLINES IS MY NEW FAVORITE AIRLINE

I am in marketing, fly a lot and have a skewed sense of humor. So of course Virgin America’s new campaign cracks me up. The sarcastic creatives behind it have perfectly satired the bland flying experience and lousy customer service that’s pervasive in the uninspired airline industry and have delivered it in the boring package that is BLAH Airlines.

You will get there. — BLAH Airlines

The name says it all. — Connie C., 54. Payallup, Washington

BLAH AIRLINES DESIGN

BLAH Airlines logoThe brilliance of the BLAH Airlines design (hell, the whole campaign) is not that it’s so bad, but that’s it’s so believably bad.

Of course beige is the brand’s color scheme: that’s a no-brainer. But that font selection is pure genius — awful enough to offend, but it’s not overly offensive. I’ll bet valuable BLAH Airlines miles (that can be redeemed for earphones that work) that the marketers behind this graphic travesty debated long and hard over the just-right so-wrong-it’s-right typography.

And about the layout of the logo. It’s not good. Again, the team successfully managed to balance off-putting with not quite over-the-top-off-putting that would trespass beyond the realm of belief.

it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever. — David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, Spinal Tap

And a lot of thought went into creating a website that looks like not a lot of thought went into creating the website. With BLAHairlines.com’s grid paper background, mixed fonts (some with shadows — always a good look), amateur graphics and grainy photos it succeeds in exemplifying the company’s commitment to mediocrity while simultaneously calling out the cookie cutter website design of nearly every airline.

BLAH AIRLINES AMENITIES

BLAH Airlines peanutsBLAH Airlines provides an array of amenities (proudly identified by #travelperks on Twitter) including (but not limited to): rear-mounted magazine pouches; complimentary peanuts (which come free, they add); drinks, sodas, and other liquids; and “entertainment” (their quotes, not mine). One might think that the marketers are going a tad bit overboard here, except I had the misfortune to fly not only Ryanair but EasyJet recently, and neither offered the luxury of rear-mounted magazine pouches; complimentary peanuts (provided free); drinks, sodas or other liquids (at no cost); nor “entertainment”.

The (BLAH Airlines) windows can be opened or closed. — Gwen G., 68. Phoenix, Arizona

BLAH AIRLINES PERKS

Blah Airlines Bulk lint

Has BLAH Airlines got perks? You bet!

For one, BLAH Airlines passengers are afforded the opportunity to buy Air Junk™ from the Air Junk™ catalogue, which offers such practical must-haves as bulk lint, a rubber band, a red brick and a paper cup. Some loyal passengers are appreciative, yet more hard-to-please flyers have expressed (through social media outlets) an unfilled need for hair picks, executive beige bricks, and bags of cat hair.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. — Abraham Lincoln

And speaking of fiber, per a Facebook announcement yesterday: you can also buy Stool on BLAH Airlines. A wooden stool that is, for passengers who want to take the comfort of their seat home with them.

I envision the Virgin America popular kids (the Marketing department) behind this campaign collapsed over a conference table in a hip, glass-walled room laughing themselves to tears over the mundacity of “bulk lint”. They’ve got a fun job, those marketers.

You might be thinking to yourself that those very marketers have finally jumped the shark with their ridiculous Air Junk™ offerings until, like me, you are forced to rifle through a stained SkyMall magazine between O’Hare and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and discover that this real-world shopping magazine makes available items as ordinary as 7-Watt Replacement Bulbs, Toilet Locks, Compression Socks, Gutter Zap Cleaning Spray and Night Bunion Regulators (great name for a band, though). Suddenly “bulk lint” doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

BLAH Airlines coffee and bev nap

Shopping aside, other BLAH Airlines perks include free cups with every decaffeinated coffee order (limit one per customer, per flight), the BLAH Airlines Beige Credit Card ($450 quarterly fee) and pay phones at their terminals. The psuedoperks are funny because they’re grounded in reality. At the risk of sounding like Jerry Seinfeld, what’s with airlines no longer offering free meals on domestic flights, having to book award travel 331 days in advance, and the lack of in-seat power outlets on most major carriers (except, ahem, Virgin America)?

BLAH AIRLINES CUSTOMER SERVICE

Like marketing, retail sales, and running a public aviation company, customer service isn’t BLAH Airlines’ strong suit.

We don’t care. We don’t have to. — The Phone Company

Customers are advised to contact BLAH Airlines over the telephone, via fax machine (they’re very fond of faxing over there at BLAH) or by sending them an email.

We may not respond, but you can always contact us via fax, phone, or email. — BLAH Airlines on Twitter

Customers calling BLAH will reach a robotic sounding, slightly-garbled and inarticulate automated attendant:

Thank you for calling BLAH Airlines. To ensure that we are best able to serve you, we will give you some options for you to pick. Please listen closely to our menu of options as they may have shifted even though they probably have not changed in years.

Customers seeking arrival or departure status information are told that their flight is delayed, those wanting nutrition information on BLAH peanuts will hear a detailed dietary breakdown for both the salted and unsalted varieties, and anyone curious as to the in-flight entertainment will learn that Gary Giggles (a baby who can talk) will be shown on longer legs. Anyone hoping to reach a human is SOL.

Not big on phones myself, I e-mailed BLAH Airlines requesting use of their photos in this post. My inquiry was met with the following reply:

Hello Individual,

You are receiving this automated electronic mail because you contacted BLAH Airlines with a comment, question, or suggestion. We acknowledge your input but are not responding to individual communications at this time. For a more personalized experience, please refer to our Response Matrix below.

Yours in transit,

BLAH Airlines, Consumer Interaction Division

“You will get there”

The Response Matrix displayed a chart offering canned replies depending on whether the email is a comment, question or suggestion and is positive neutral or negative.

If all else fails, customers are invited to chat live with Sheri, who suspiciously resembles a mannequin (with bad teeth and lockjaw).

Sheri: Welcome to BLAH, sir or ma’am!

Me: Hi, Sheri

Sheri: I didn’t realize that is how you felt about that.

Me: Sheri, I forgot my diamond tiara on the plane

Sheri: Okay, let’s go back.

Me: Back where?

Sheri: You’re going to love our peanuts.

This parody is not that far off-the-mark from the real thing. Gary Giggles sounds execrable but a quick search of current online entertainment offerings on major airlines includes such Oscar contenders as the Sandler/Barrymore hit (to use the word loosely) BlendedGodzilla (yes, there’s a 2014 version) and endless episodes of The Big Bang Theory, which is admittedly entertaining. Until the fourth consecutive episode.

And we’ve all been sucked into a hellish automated attendant vortex in which our punched-in responses deliver us to an endless loop of repeating options, our pointer finger eventually bruised from stabbing wildly at the keypad through a film of tears. Who among us has not flipped-off our phone as an automated attendant failed to recognize our verbal “DE – PAR – TURES” directive after multiple, clearly enunciated attempts? Then hated ourself afterwards for being reduced to profaning a computer.

Should a person have the good fortune of reaching a live, breathing, agent, good luck booking flights with Miles (you’d reserve them online if you could, but the options are neither visible nor bookable on the airline’s website). Just as often as not you will be rushed through your award flight inquiries by an impatient agent who clearly can’t wait to discontinue the conversation. Only to then engage in a similar conversation and another and another ad infinitum. If customer service isn’t a person’s “thing” I can respect that, but maybe in that case don’t go into customer service?

AND IN CONCLUSION

And in conclusion… Despite all my complaining I still love to fly. I’m STILL thrilled every time I pull down the window shade, pop my Ambien, recline the seat, and position my leopard-print eye pillow knowing that in sixteen hours I’ll land on the other side of the world. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD. How fortunate I am to be living in an era where continent hopping is possible, and to possess the means to do so. Crappy peanuts, blasé service, and bulk lint? It could be worse. 

Thanks, BLAH Airlines, for taking from the place where I was to the place I am going. I know I will get there!

P.S

If you haven’t flown for awhile and have forgotten just how luxurious and sexy air travel can be, fly BLAH Airlines virtually here.

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