Sunday, December 21, 2008

Free Travel and Leisure subscription from Expedia

As a seasonal present, I got a free subscription to Travel and Leisure magazine yesterday from . Also recently I got a $100 hotel voucher from Expedia when they had problems changing a flight for me. Good customer service :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Newry or Dingle?

CNN has a feature on Dingle, County Kerry, today. I didn't know that National Geographic had said it is "the most beautiful place in the world".

It recommends visiting Dingle now, in the winter. It's always good to visit Dingle, but they don't mention to US readers that Ireland has much shorter days in winter than US visitors will be used to. I prefer to visit the Irish West Coast in March at least, when there is more daylight time.

And right now, if you're traveling to Ireland, I think it makes more sense to go Northeast (Armagh, Antrim) than Southwest (Kerry, Cork). Given the relative weakness of the Pound to the Dollar, compared to the Euro/Dollar situation, I'd swap a visit to the Dingle Peninsula for a visit to the Cooley Peninsula. It works out a lot cheaper. In fact, the New York Times profiled Newry yesterday, saying:

The small city lies at the end of the beautiful Carlingford Lough waterway, dominated on one side by the Mournes, mountains that in a famed ballad “sweep down to the sea.” On the other side rise the Cooley Mountains, central to Celtic legends.

That whole Mourne/Carlingford/Cooley ares is a relatively undiscovered part of Ireland. And, right now, it's a cheaper part of Ireland to visit than somewhere like Dingle in Kerry. Newry in particular is a boomtown, given the weakness of the Pound relative to the Euro. It even draws people from Kerry, according to that New York Times article:

Alan Trainor, 49, a Newry local who works in O’Neill’s, a sporting goods store that sells merchandise of the Gaelic Athletic Association, said some of its best-selling jerseys were from counties like Kerry and Cork, far to the south, not those nearby, like Armagh or Tyrone.

“A lady was telling me last week that she bought a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream that was 9.95 euros in Newry,” the equivalent of $14.24, he said. “She showed me a bottle she had bought in Cork, and it was 35 euros. That speaks for itself. She would have a round trip of 400 to 500 miles. It must be worth her while.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Visiting the Mormon Temple during a layover at Salt Lake City airport

There is a free shuttle bus which will take you from Salt Lake City airport to visit the Mormon Temple in downtown Salt Lake City, providing you have a long enough layover (a few hours).

The Temple is home to the famous Tabernacle Choir, and you can attend their choir practice on Thursday evenings.

I actually routed some travel through SLC a few months ago, thinking I would take this side-trip. But, unfortunately I arrived into SLC after the last bus had departed.

Here is a scan of the shuttle bus brochure:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wall Street Journal reports that Emirates flight attendants are weighed at interview...

... and other interesting titbits (or "tidbits" for American readers) such as the fact that they cannot eat in uniform, and that they must take passengers phone numbers when offered.

The article was in yesterday's print WSJ, and the article is online for subscribers (follow the link above). I used to have a free WSJ subscription thanks to frequent travel with Delta Airlines, but when it came up for renewal I could not justify keeping the subscription because, ironically, I was travelling so much. Articles like this make me miss the WSJ. Nowadays I read it when I am staying at hotels which give it for free (e.g. the Radisson at Washington Reagan Airport) and that is about it.

The article talks about the glamour and youth of Emirates flight attendants. I must be missing something, because when I flew with them, I was taking more notice of the excellent entertainment system on the Dubai-JFK flight (including all Top-10 UK chart songs for the past 20 years!). I think the reason is that, from my European perspective in between the US and the Middle East, the real story is not the youth and glamour of Emirates, but the lack of youth and glamour on US airlines (with a few exceptions: I recently flew the "lucky" Northwest Flight 777 to Las Vegas from Minneapolis, and it had some pretty glamourous female flight attendants, I remember, but that was an exception).

If Michael O'Leary from Ryanair reads that WSJ article, he may take up that "weigh the flight attendants at interview, and put them on a diet if they gain weight" idea as yet another way to keep Ryanair's flight costs down.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Virgin America to fly from Boston Logan to California

The Boston Globe reports today that Virgin America will fly from Logan to California, starting soon.

The most interesting part of this story, for me is that it says that Generation X-ers and Y-ers have no airline loyalty. I guess that means they are not interested in frequent flyer programs? Is that really true? I guess that frequent flyer programs have become more and more "corporate", and often seem largely just a way to try to sell affiliate credit cards, but I dunno....

Personally, I will almost certainly continue to fly United or American to California in order to pick up miles. Although, you know, those touch-screen entertainment systems are nice on Virgin Atlantic, so that is a draw for me to go to Virgin America...

[Crossposted to Boston Irish]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Connecting through Detroit Airport

I connected recently through Detroit airport, which is impressively clean and modern, reminding me of a smaller version of Munich airport. You've got to love an airport with trains which run indoors up on top of the boarding gates:

There goes another train:

The GM store was empty though. And those $14.99 GM t-shirts were too large, boringly designed, and overpriced. Two for $25? Bah...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Garlord National hotel near Washington DC

I first saw this large hotel when flying in over the Potomac into Washington Reagan/National airport. A couple of weeks ago I visited it.

Having watched Ali G, it is hard to look at a magazine called "Gaylord" without sniggering (or, indeed, "snickering" as Americans say). I could not resist photographing the magazine. Unfortunately there were no t-shirts on sale which said "Gaylord".

Here is the front of the hotel, on a gray November morning:

Here is the part of the hotel which faces the Potomac, and provides a distant view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol:

Inside the glass enclosure, there is a recreation of some wooden houses, containing shops selling coffee and (yep) pajamas:

DC itself is across that bridge which you can see out the window.

I can't help thinking that the hotel is here so that conferences and weekend trippers can make a trip to Washington DC without staying in DC itself (the Gaylord National is actually in Maryland). There are some new restaurants under construction nearby, which offers dining and some nightlife. But, really, I can imagine personally I would find it frustrating to be so close to Washington DC but not in Washington DC itself (e.g. Georgetown, or the more edgy Adams Morgan with its great Ethiopian restaurants).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's behind this door?

This is a door into the National Archives in Washington DC. As you can see, it is a large heavy wooden locked door, behind a high gate, behind a car barrier. They are not taking any chances here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bypassing US Customs at Boston Logan Airport

No, this is not a post about some crafty way to sneak goods past the authorities at Logan Airport. But rather, it's about the new agreement between Ireland and the US which will allow transatlantic travelers to clear US immigration and customs in Ireland, prior to actually crossing the Atlantic. Right now, you clear US immigration in Ireland, but not customs.

At present, the situations for Dublin-to-Boston is:

- Go through US Immigration in Ireland, get your passport stamped.
- Fly to Boston
- Sometimes wait on the plane because "another plane arrived the same time as us"
- A brisk walk to the baggage hall, bypassing US Immigration (as we already went through that in Ireland)
- A long wait at the baggage carousel
- Then a long queue, along with planeloads of people from Frankfurt and Paris and the Caribbean, to then be processed by US Customs staff.

This change means that flights from Ireland could land at a domestic terminal, e.g. the underused Terminal A, which is preferable to dealing with Terminal E with its delayed baggage carousels and long customs lines.

Full details in the Irish Times.

[Crossposted to Boston Irish]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

This museum is close to the center of Santiago, beside the river roughly in between the hills of Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal.

When I've stayed in the Providencia area of Santiago, I've walked along by the river up to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Here is a view of the outside:


Entering the museum, you pass a gift shop on your right (where I bought a print of the architectural drawings of the museum building). Then you are in a large atrium area:

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

Inside there are, of course, many paintings and sculptures. It is interesting to look at the paintings from Chilean history, such as this one of Bernardo O'Higgins the Irish/Chilean independence hero:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flight Simulators at the Washington DC National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space museum has some flight simulators which, for a fee of $8 a person, allow you to pilot your own plane place which can turn upside-down. The objective in the game is to shoot at other planes (within each game, not between the simulators, sadly).

Well worth trying out. Amazingly, for something I would have killed for as a kid, there was little or no line for the flight simulators when I was there (on a Saturday afternoon too!).

Each simulator seats two people (a pilot and a gunner).

There is also another simulator which is not controlled by the passengers. It simulates a kind of space roller coaster, or a selection of fighter planes, depending on which one you choose. This one is $7 a pop.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Washington DC kids attractions tips

From experience, I recommend booking early for:

- IMAX movies at the Air and Space Museum (the venerable "To Fly", and the new "Fighter Pilot"
- Trips up to the top of the Washington Monument

And, forget about getting to the new Udvar-Hazy Center site for the Air and Space Museum by public transport. Unless you are flying in or out of Dulles Airport, you will spend more time on buses and trains than at the museum itself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting at the Chancellor Hotel in San Francisco

Here at the Chancellor Hotel in San Francisco there is a long line of people who are voting, since the hotel lobby is a polling place:

Monday, November 3, 2008

St Pancras station in London

St Pancras station is now the terminal for the high-speed train from London over to France. Here is a view of the station, walking over from Kings Cross station:


The high ceiling, clock and lighting, creates an awe-inspiring effect:

It is somewhat weird to see bilingual French/English signs at the St Pancras underground station. I am used to seeing bilingual Irish/English signs in Ireland, or English/Spanish signs in the US, but seeing French/English signs in London was a bit strange.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A sign you'll only ever see in Britain

With all due respect to British people, I don't think you'll see a sign like this anywhere else in the world :-)

(Photographed in Soho, London last month)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

High heels on a wooden floor

Seen in a hotel in Reading, England last week. I don't wear high heels for my nightly Irish step-dancing rehearsals, nor do I wear high heels while I practice basketball dribbling techniques in the early hours of the morning, so this sign doesn't apply to me :-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Corpus Clock in Cambridge, UK

The new Corpus Clock was unveiled last month on the corner of the new library building of Corpus Christi college in Cambridge. As the clock's YouTube page explains, the clock operates through the motions of a mechanical "chronophage" creature (a "time eater") which sits atop the clock. Very clever, and expensive (it cost 1 million pounds, and features a gold-plated dial).

At night, it is lit up in blue, which was when I saw it and photographed it. Well worth seeing if you're in Cambridge.

The chronophage:

And the entire clock:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station

Photographed today at King's Cross Station in London, the Platform 9 3/4 sign from the Harry Potter books. This sign is round the back of the large station announcement board, near platforms 9 and 10.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A good use of a cameraphone

I use my cameraphone to take (blurry) pictures of car park location identifiers. That way, I usually find my car again. Much easier than writing the information on a piece of paper.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Halal car insurance

Spotted near London, a bus shelter advertisement for Halal car insurance from Salaam Halal Insurance.

From their website: "Salaam Halal insurance is the UK’s first dedicated Islamic insurance provider set up to provide Islamic insurance based on the Shariah principle of Takaful. So now you can have great value insurance, without compromising the principles of your faith."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cat packing

I think my cat is trying to tell me something here. I wouldn't advise her to sit in the bag like that at 4am when I'm hastily throwing together some clothes for an early morning flight, though.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world

The Burj Dubai is the world's tallest building, located just inland from Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. It is still under construction, but will include offices, apartments, and a Giorgio Armani hotel.

Burj Dubai, world's tallest building

Just to show that the Burj Dubai is by no means the only tall building in Dubai, here is a video of a drive down Sheikh Zayed Road, ending looking right at the Burj Dubai. You can see the new railway under construction (on the white concrete platforms, by large yellow track-laying machines which you see intermittently):

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Antlers or horns are accepted as checked baggage only"

I flew with Air Canada today, and was surprised when their check-in terminal asked was I carrying any antlers or horns.

It turns out that Air Canada has all sorts of regulations for transporting antlers, horns, "bounty", and guns.

I note that "Latitude and Executive fare customers are entitled to check their antlers or horns (one piece per passenger) at no charge for travel within Canada and the 50 United States."

I guess that Air Canada Latitude and Executive fare passengers must really stand out from the crowd in an airport (unless they have checked their antlers or horns, that is).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum

Last week, I learned the hard way that it's better to buy tickets online for the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum. When I went over to the ticket desk, in the bottom right of the photo below, all the tickets for the day were sold out.

So, I didn't see the exhibition which I'd read so much about, and which is housed in this building in the great hall of the museum.

Next time I'm in London, I'll book ahead.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cheap London City hotels at the weekend

Last weekend I stayed at the Crowne Plaza London City, near Blackfriar's Station, on a cheap rate from Many business-focused hotels in the City are very cheap on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. These hotels are a cheaper (and nicer) option than tourist hotels in places like Bayswater or South Kensington. The Crowne Plaza London City has a good basement bar, which serves Hoegaarden beer and surely the smallest serving of nachos you will ever see this side of Lilliput. St Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, and the new Millenium Bridge are all close by.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Don't get ripped off by taxi drivers at Heathrow

Last week I attended a conference in the Heathrow area. Two separate Americans told me of being ripped off by taxi drivers:

1) Two women were charged 35 pounds to travel the 4 miles from Heathrow Airport to the Quality Hotel. They were not pleased to find out that they could have taken the Hotel Hoppa bus for 4 pounds each.

2) A guy was charged 55 pounds to travel to the Slough/Windsor Marriot hotel, which also is on a Hotel Hoppa route.

I can kinda see the reason why this happens. Taxi drivers wait in a line at Heathrow and expect passengers to be headed into London (which would cost 35 pounds or more). But, when they are asked to drive a few miles to a local hotel, an unscrupulous taxi driver may then try to get the same amount of money, except without the drive into London.

Note I'm not talking here about the "black cab" London Taxi drivers, who use meters and are (I find) generally very honest. But the drivers at Heathrow who do this seem to be locals, not using meters, as far as I can tell by listening to these stories from people who were ripped off.

The lesson seems to be to either (a) just use the Hotel Hoppa bus if you're going to an airport hotel, or (b) negotiate a fare up-front. Paying the equivalent of 100 dollars for a 3 mile taxi ride really is just crazy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ditton Park, Buckinghamshire, England

Ditton Park is a manor house near Heathrow Airport. It was owned by the crown at one point, but now is owned by an IT company. I've sometimes noticed it on the approach into Heathrow. Here it is up close:

The wet English summer has been good for the lawn and pond:

If you walk through the guard-house here, you walk over a bridge over a moat.

Picturesque. You could forget you are so close to Heathrow airport (though maybe the low-flying planes are a clue).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mark Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern in London

For me, the "Rothko Room" at the Tate Modern is a must-see for any trip to London. Although it is a cliche to say it, the paintings do have a spiritual element, and to me are more spiritual than, for example, St Paul's Cathedral across the Thames. In the darkened Rothko Room, the paintings seem to shimmer.

Enjoying the September sunshine in London last Saturday, I walked over the Millennium Bridge across the Thames to the Tate Modern to see the Rothko Room. Here we see the Tate Modern silhouetted behind the glaring sun.

Once at the Tate Modern, I is hard to avoid noticing that the Tate is now running an exhibition around the Rothko paintings. This means that I pay 13 pounds to see the same paintings as usual (chiefly the famous 4 Seasons / Seagram Building paintings intended for New York). But, of course, there are more Rothko pieces than usual. And, this being the Tate Modern, more Rothko merchandise than usual to buy.

Tickets for the exhibition can be purchased in the cavernous Turbine Hall (is it possible to describe the Turbine Hall without using the word "Cavernous"?). The tickets are timed, as with "Fastpass" tickets at Disneyworld, so you have a set time to enter the exhibition itself.

The entrance is on the fourth floor. The quote from Rothko alludes to the "sacred experiences" which his works evoke, but also "profane experiences" too (you can also see in the paintings a womb-like evocation).

Looking down from the Fourth Floor to the Turbine Hall, we see people queuing up to get tickets for the exhibition:

I have not attempted to do the paintings justice with my mobile phone camera. Instead, here is
a video of Achim Borchardt-Hume, curator of the Rothko exhibition, describing the show.

Exiting the exhibition and looking back over the Millenium Bridge, we see the shadow of the Tate Modern stretching out halfway over the Thames towards St Paul's, connecting one modern, secular, representation of the spiritual with an older, religious, representation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The land of the $46 breakfast

I just booked a hotel in London on Expedia. I notice that the breakfast option adds $46 (29 pounds, if you look at

You may think "For $46, it must be a great breakfast". But, this is a London hotel, so the breakfast most likely barely qualifies as a snack by American standards, and the coffee will taste like it was made on a frying pan.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vonage Call forwarding to international mobiles

When I travel in Ireland, I forward my Boston number to an Irish mobile. This means that people in the US can continue to phone a US number, but it is my mobile in Ireland which rings.

In this way, I get the best of both worlds: No roaming charges in Ireland, and no international charges for family and friends calling me from the US, and no international charges for people in Ireland calling me when I am in Ireland.

I pay for the connection from the US to Ireland, through Vonage.

I use my Vonage number as my primary phone number. I do not give out my mobile number, even though I use my mobile phone a lot. When I am in the US, my Vonage number also rings my US mobile (what they call "Simulring") and I pick up whichever phone is closest to me. When I am not in the US, my Vonage number rings my mobile in that country (e.g. Ireland), and I simply do not use my US mobile (the SIM card is in my wallet now).

I recommend this approach to anyone spending any significant time in another country.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Flying to Ireland from Heathrow Terminal 1

For years, the Terminal 1 experience when flying from Heathrow to Dublin meant:

1) Security
2) A small Duty Free shop
3) A long walk through corrugated metal tubes to the Ireland gates (80 to 90), punctuated by an uninspiring cafe and a basic Duty Free shop.

Now, when you fly from Terminal 1 to Ireland, you can wander around the many shops and restaurants which previously had been off-limits to Ireland-bound travelers.

This means that now the Terminal 1 experience is:

1) Security
2) Many shops and pleasant places to eat (such as Giraffe, who do tasty breakfasts).
3) A long walk through corrugated metal tubes to the Ireland gates (80 to 90), punctuated by an uninspiring cafe and a basic Duty Free shop.

There is still no getting away from (1) and (3) unfortunately. But, it is pleasant to have much more space to roam, and shop, when flying from London to Ireland.

The map below does not show the corrugated metal tubes leading to the Ireland gates. If it did, the map would be twice as wide, with a long thin line stretching out to the left.

Image from

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cadbury's Chocolate in the US

One lesson I've learned from frequent travel between the US and Europe is that if I take a lot of trouble to bring a hard-to-find item across the Atlantic, upon arrival I will find it in a convenience store and think "why did I go to so much trouble to bring it over with me?".

So it is with Cadbury's chocolate. I've often brought Cadbury's chocolate over with me to the US from Ireland. I have brought over bars, and in the Spring I've brought Easter Eggs (which, inexplicably, are not generally available in the US).

And, of course, I then find that Cadbury's chocolate is available in CVS. The package reports that it is made by Hershey's, not a good sign to someone like me who is used to UK and Irish chocolate (milk chocolate) and finds most Hershey products unpalatable. But, I tried the Hershey's Cadbury's chocolate and it is not bad. This means less chocolate being transported across the Atlantic by me, and less chocolate business for Tesco in Dublin, in favour of CVS in Boston. Another consequence of globalization.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Trinity College Dublin, Front Square

Back when I was a lad, I studied at Trinity College Dublin. Here are a couple of photos and a video of it. Trinity is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Dublin.

Here is the Front Gate of Trinity. It is locked at night, but when I lived in college I could come and go as I pleased. It was nice to have a place right in the center of Dublin.

When I see the front of Trinity, I always think of the James Joyce line: "The grey block of Trinity on his left, set heavily in the city's ignorance like a great dull stone set in a cumbrous ring, pulled his mind downward" (from "A Portrail of the Artist"). Joyce went to UCD, Trinity's rival.


Front Gate is always capitalized, and never called "the Front Gate" except by tourists or townies.

Walk through Front Gate, turn around, and you can see the Front Gate from inside Front Square. When I was a student there, the upper floors were taken over in a student protest by socialist students, but they were persuaded to end the occupation when it was pointed out that if they were arrested then the US Government would not give them J1 visas for summer work in the US.

Trinity College Dublin

Looking into Front Square from Front Gate, after rain:


The Chapel is on the left, and the Dining Hall / Commons on the right.


The Campanile and the Graduate Memorial Building (seen of many lively debates by Trinity's two debating societies, the Hist and the Phil):


The College Chapel:
Trinity College Dublin

It is, of course, free to stroll around Trinity's Front Square. If you want to visit the Book of Kells, an old copy of an illustrated bible housed in Trinity's Old Library, then you pay for that.