Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art museum at Amsterdam Schipol Airport

This museum is between Gates E and F. The gift shop is probably bigger than the museum! But, that is not a problem for me, I love museum gift shops.

Amsterdam Schipol Airport

Amsterdam Schipol Airport

Monday, January 26, 2009

Xoom for money transfer from US to Europe

I used Bank of America to transfer some money from the US to Ireland last month, and they charged a whopping $35 fee. So, I thought of Xoom, whose ads I often see on the Fox Soccer Channel.

Before I used Xoom, I searched blogs to see if anyone had any recommendations about them. I found nothing useful. So, I'm posting my experiences here. I'm happy to say that they transferred the money safely and successfully, for a $5 fee. If you're only transferring a few hundred dollars, then the difference between Bank of America's $35 and Xoom's $5 is substantial.

And, if Xoom ever let me down, I'll post that here too :-)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Middle Eastern Wine article in Ireland's Sunday Business Post

Good piece by Tomás Clancy in the Sunday Business Post on wine from the Middle East. You have got to love this opening paragraph:

"As the bombing and rocket attacks in Gaza and Israel intensified over the past few weeks, saturating the 24-hour news channels, I found myself turning the sound down and gazing at the horrific images emanaying from the region. Through camera shots panning back and forth across the horizon I noticed that the rural landscape of the area - with its low, inclined slopes, good gravel and southern Rhone-like stoney fields - was ideal wine country".

He goes on to say that the Golan Heights, Gaza, parts of the Negev Desert, and the hillside slopes of Bethlehem, are all "potentially one giant vineyard".

I haven't read Jimmy Carter's new book "We can have peace in the Holy Land: A plan that will work", but Tomás Clancy's idea of turning the place into a giant vineyard sounds good to me. Make wine not war.

[ The Tomás Clancy article is not online yet..]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ross Castle, Ireland

Last year before St Patrick's Day, I rented the tower of Ross Castle for a night for my family. Ross Castle is in a backwoods location near Finea on the Cavan/Westmeath border, near Lough Sheelin. The Website is .

Here is the castle tower. We slept on the top floor.

Ross Castle

The storied history of the castle is written on this plaque:

History of Ross Castle

Here is the view from the tower, looking down to Lough Sheelin.

Lough Sheelin

Locally there is horse-riding and fishing. It really is the stuff dreams are made of. Bizarrely, I grew up about 15 miles from Ross Castle but never knew it existed. It is quite isolated, only accessible via a narrow bog road, so I never even knew it was there. Check it out at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't jinx it again!

Yesterday, I read Stephen Johnson's piece on Boing Boing about how the US had gone seven years without a fatal air crash of a full-size jetliner. He wrote "That is an incredible run, and for some reason it is almost never talked about." I'm sure I was not the only person thinking "I can tell you exactly why it's never talked about: Nobody wants to jinx it!!!". And, sure enough, one day after Stephen Johnson's piece, there was a major US air crash. Thankfully, nobody was killed (so the run continues into its eight year). But, please nobody jinx it again :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What you get extra with Avis and Hertz, versus Enterprise at San Francisco Airport

So, yesterday night I arrive into San Francisco Airport on a much-delayed flight from Chicago. It is after 1.30am when I get to the car rental center. I had a reservation with Enterprise. But the Enterprise desk closed at midnight, and their kiosk closed at 1.30am. So, I rebooked with Avis. Avis and Hertz both had staffed desks.

I was shocked to see that Enterprise didn't have a 24-hour operation in an airport like SFO. Next time I'll just choose Avis. I had been experimenting with Enterprise, and appreciated their friendly service, but in this case I felt let down a bit...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Arabic t-shirts on JetBlue

I've often worn Arabic-lettered t-shirts on US flights but was never given $240,000 :-(

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Building better embassies

Today Newsweek profiles the new US Embassy in Baghdad, painting a very good "pen picture" of it, as we used to say in primary school. But, there are no photos in the article! As it mentions, Baghdad has a tradition of cutting edge architecture (check out this Flickr group devoted to the modern architecture of Baghdad). Some of those buildings are pretty interesting. By contrast, Newsweek reports that the new US Embassy is " a collection of more than 20 boxy buildings in burnt orange and beige, plopped down on about 100 acres of walled land by the Tigris River. One of the largest office buildings has gray, bladelike horizontal metal sunscreens on the top half supported on naked girders. It's like the venting on some industrial furnace or maybe the world's largest, meanest cheese grater. Or a giant, multiedged razor. "

This is a pity, since it must be possible to balance security with design. In fact, Monocle Magazine has an excellent online documentary about this very issue. It profiles the Manser architecture practice in London which designed high-security British embassies in Katmandu and Harare. The video interview talks about how the British embassy in Harare is planted only with indigenous trees, planted so that they provide shelter from the morning and late afternoon sun. The print article also talks about how some countries use embassies as a shop window (e.g. Denmark using embassies to showcase Danish furniture design). A far cry from "the world's largest, meanest cheese grater".

Spending money on embassies is not a waste of money. It promotes the image of a country, something which Britain is good at (the BBC World Service, British Council, etc) but which the US seems to have missed in this case.