Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Frankincense in Oman

Whenever I am in Oman, I try to bring frankincense back. I often wonder how frankincense harvested. Turns out the BBC has covered the Omani frankincense harvest this summer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Biking around Ireland

A good piece by Brian McIntyre in the Irish Times today, who biked around Ireland.

I echo his experiences of Irish B&B's. Some excellent, with great breakfasts. Others "trying to emulate hotels, with dining rooms like public spaces, minimal interaction, and a growing sense of formality". And, as with Ireland in general, many are still overpriced. But the good ones are really good:

However, it was an experience in Bunmahon, Co Waterford that reminded me why a good Irish BB beats all. I arrived close to 7pm at Copperfield House BB in the middle of a massive downpour, soaked and mucky. When she answered the door, the look on Margaret Curran’s face said “Come in out of the rain” and not “Oh dear God, my carpets”. Within 10 minutes my bike was in the garage, she had offered to dry all my sports gear, and she and her husband chatted pleasantly with me about my day and the area.

All of this was followed by a knockout breakfast the following morning. And Copperfield House BB was also the cheapest BB I encountered at €35.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hyatt "Three for free"

Hyatt Resorts now has a “Three for Free” offer, where guests receive three free rewards during their stay – a free room night (based upon a minimum length of stay), room upgrade and full American breakfast for two daily at some Hyatt Resorts from September 8th through December 18th (more information available on

The only Hyatt Resort I've stayed at is the Hyatt at Palm Springs - normally I am at more staid Hyatt locations like last week at the Hyatt in Herndon Virginia. I'd highly recommend the Palm Springs Hyatt - nice rooms opening out onto an enclosed courtyard with a piano.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Don't pay to use the US ESTA system

Good piece in the Irish Times about why not to pay third-parties to fill out the US ESTA forms for you. Unfortunately, there is a whole industry centered around charging money to fill out US Government forms which you could easily fill out yourself.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

$599 All-you-can-fly with JetBlue

This may be appealing to many business people who fly a lot, if you can get your company to agree. I know that I've certainly spent over $599 on flights this week alone (including two JetBlue flights) and with this program I would be ahead:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hotel Sofia in San Diego

I stayed at this hotel on a really good Expedia deal. I'd really recommend this hotel - nice rooms with the original warehouse-style windows, coffee-making facilities in the rooms (I'd just stayed in another hotel which did not have this amenity and was twice the price), close to 5th Avenue and the walk down to the waterfront, as well as close to the trams. Complimentary wired Internet connection in the rooms, and free WiFi in the lobby. A good restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Friendly service. All in all, really good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Another hotel rumor - Abandoned wedding rings

Another rumor heard last week - If you work in the hotel trade then it's worthwhile running your hands over the top of furniture and doorways, in order to pick up forgotten wedding bands / rings. Apparently they are near the top of the list of things lost in hotel rooms, but do not appear on lists because people do not want to admit leaving them behind (I wonder why that is? :-) ).

I wonder if this rumor is true?

Yesterday's Rumor: Dollar bills left in hotel bibles.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The rumor of dollar bills hidden in hotel-room bibles

This is a rumor which I heard from an Intercontinental Hotels Group exec last week. The story goes that Christian evangelicals put money into hotel bibles, in the hope that people will open and look through the bible in the hope of finding the money. If there is no money there, well the rumor had the effect that the person has opened the bible and looked through it, and maybe they will read part of it. If the money is there, then they have given someone a gift, and also the person may well read the page in which the money was found (or maybe not).

Is this true, or just a rumor? I guess I am playing a part in promoting the rumor here with this blog post. tracks the history of this particular rumor, which interestingly goes back to the 1950s, and exists in Jewish as well as Christian mythology.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Using the airport moving walkways 'actually slows you down'

Something I've often suspected.

I usually run alongside the moving escalator if I'm really in a hurry. Less risk of being stuck behind a group of people standing motionless.

So I was interested to read this in the Daily Telegraph:

Some interesting facts in the Telegraph story:

Designed specifically to improve the flow of passengers, they often catch out tired and elderly travellers who find it difficult to maintain balance coming off and on the moving pathway.

They can also disorientate drunken passengers and those loaded down with luggage.

In 2006, London Underground estimated they were the most common cause of accidents across the network, and reported 933 injuries from their use.

There is also a problem with people wearing bifocal glasses as when they look down everything is out of focus. They cannot see their feet and trip over.

At Rome’s Tiburtina station, York University professor Sally Baldwin was crushed to death in 2003 after a travelator collapsed and she was pulled into the cog wheels.

And in Boston, USA, drunken sushi chef Francisco Portillo died after getting his head stuck in a subway escalator in 2005.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stay on a boat in San Diego harbor

Cheaper than a hotel in many cases, plus free wifi :-)

Search under "San Diego Harbor Vacations Club" on the left-hand side of this page:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Skip (Dumpster) diving in London

I grew up calling those big metal rubbish containers "skips", though in the US they are called "dumpsters". The BBC today has a handy guide to skip-diving in London. Although skips are relatively new, any reader of London history books like "The Ghost Map" will be aware that scavenging in London are nothing new, in fact one of David Beckham's ancestors in London was a scavenger by trade.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Royal Oman Police

I've done some work with the Royal Oman Police (ROP) over the past few years. A great bunch of people. I was really impressed by how genuinely they cared about the big flooding in Muscat a few years ago (compared to the indifference I saw in the US to the flooding of New Orleans).

The ROP also had a certain wry Gulf Arab humour, with a lot of meaning being expressed in short remarks and smiles. "Suburban" on the Other Oman blog records some recent interactions with the ROP. For example:

ROP Guy: Nice car! V8?
Me: Yeah, I love it
ROP Guy: Where are you from?
Me: Mostly America
Rop Guy: I like Bacon!
Me: Good to know...?

For the record, as an Irish person in the US, I can say that the US is not the Land of Bacon. Ireland and the UK (and Canada) consume a lot more bacon. In the US I've had to put up with beef sausages and "turkey bacon". It brings to mind the bit in the hilarious "East is East" movie where the Pakistani/British kids crave bacon, so they cook up bacon and sausages while their father is out, and then spray the air with deodorant to mask the smell. Hmm.... Bacon....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Handy artist differentiation guide for Coachella

The Coachella music festival was a few months ago now (God knows how hot it must be there now), but in the intervening time I've been mentally writing a handy guide to distinguish between two artists who played Coachella at around the same time this year - Leonard Cohen and Girl Talk. Over the past few months I've been racking my brains thinking of differences between these two artists. It is difficult, given their broad similarities, but here are some I've come up with:

- High point of the show was the opening of "Hallelujah" - "I heard there was a secret chord/ That David played and it pleased the Lord" : Leonard Cohen

- High point of the show was the opening of "Play your part (Part 1)" - "my bitch a choosey lover, never f**k without a rubber / never in the sheets, like it on top of the cover /money on the dresser, drive a compressor /top notch hoes get the most, not the lesser": Girl Talk

- The artist takes off his hat and holds it over his heart when his band play solos, as a mark of respect: Leonard Cohen

- The artist throws his t-shirt into the crowd while teeing up Kelly Clarkson's "Since you've been gone" on his cellophane-covered laptop: Girl Talk

- The artist ends his set with a tip of a black fedora hat to the crowd : Leonard Cohen

- The artist ends his set by being carried over the shoulders of the crowd riding on a flashing holographic life raft, wearing only bright sparkling silver pants, batting away beach balls which are thrown at him: Leonard Cohen Girl Talk

So there you go: No excuses for mistaking these two artists with each other anymore...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The "black cab cabal" in London

The independent has a piece today about breaking the "Black Cab Cabal" in London. Satellite Navigation has enabled minicab drivers to provide cheaper fares.

I occasionally take black cabs in London and, despite the occasional unwanted racist comments from a minority of drivers, they have known exactly where to go and got there fast. Would I take a black cab over a long distance? No - too expensive. Would I take a black cab instead of a minicab? Yes - but that's because of a residual feeling I'd have that the minicab driver may not know the route as well as a black cab driver (though GPS softens that difference).

Interesting to see how this plays out...

Monday, July 13, 2009

The smart way to Europe

For a while now, the cheapest way to most destinations in Europe from the US is to fly to Dublin or London and then catch a cheap Ryanair of Aer Lingus flight to the destination. Like this blogger did:

FYI, my trip recently was Boston-London, cross London by bus to Stansted airport, fly by cheapo Ryan Air (bought on their site) to Brittany (Dinan), pick up car there, drive to apartment with wifi. This was because I got a much better deal on a ticket to London at the time, and it saved me 2 train rides and a lot of time to go via Ryan Air direct to Brittany rather than travel via Paris.

This is a great way to get to somewhere like Brittany. The problem, though, is getting over to Stansted (you can take a bus, as she did, or the train into London and then up to Stansted from Liverpool Street tube station). Connecting with Aer Lingus in Dublin is easier, but there are only so many US cities which fly to Dublin (compared to London). The landing fees in Dublin are way lower than Heathrow so it can be very cost-effective to connect through Dublin to go to (let's say) Nice or Krakow.

Not many people do this type of two-stage journey to Europe because you can't book it all in one itinerary on Expedia or Orbitz. So, it requires some out-of-the-box thinking to get these kinds of good travel deals. Just the thing for the recession.... I wonder why Ryanair does not publicize this technique by advertising more in the US and on US travel sites...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Heathrow Express

I wonder is this still the most expensive train in the world, based on ticket cost and distance traveled?

It doesn't make sense for tourists, but I've used it plenty of times to get to and from central London (albeit the wrong side of central London for me usually - I then have to connect by Tube to get where I want to go) .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Two views from the same street corner in New York City

Look right and you see the Chrysler Building. Look straight ahead and you see the Empire State Building.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Travels with the Minotaur

One of the benefits of living in the US is the availability of cheap subscriptions to good magazines. But my travel schedule means that copies of the New Yorker and Economist often pile up. But travel also helps, because I read through the magazines on airlines. Last week I read the story "Ziggurat" by Stephen O'Connor in the New Yorker.

It's an adaptation of the story of the Minotaur, a story which used to terrify me as a child. In "Ziggurat", the Minotaur wanders a labyrinth of empty spaces. Some are empty because he has eaten the people who he encountered there. But others are just empty. He encounters, "in the pine-panelled section of the Labyrinth", a girl playing computer games.

The description of wandering, dislocation, events out-of-kilter, furnished places - all this hit home with me as I read it on a twice-canceled flight over a thunderstorm over New York City.

"The central aisle of an airliner, the back seat of a car (stale popcorn crammed into cushion cracks), a coal mine, a hospital waiting room, a long tunnel in which a hot breeze blew first in one direction and then the other. So many varieties of emptiness. For centuries. Millennia."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Marine Terminal at La Guardia airport in New York

What a nice, quiet, relaxed place to wait for a plane. Even though the Delta shuttle flight was delayed (due to problems in Boston).

This is the only original air terminal from the first generation of passenger air travel in the US.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Problems at Boston Logan Airport to last all summer?

When I flew into Boston from New York on the shuttle from La Guardia last week, the Continental pilot told us that the instrument-landing system at Boston was not working, and that was slowing down the rate of landings there.

Last night the Boston Globe reported that the "instrument-landing system at Runway 4R failed Tuesday for reasons that are still under investigation". Well, I'd understood it had failed last week, when the Continental pilot announced it. But in any case, this meant that I had two different flights into Boston canceled yesterday, and only just about managed to get onto the last flight out of Washington Dulles to Boston around midnight.

Apparently this landing problem will last all summer :-( . I have no way to avoid using Boston Logan airport, so this will not be fun...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Duty Free hut on the New York / Quebec border

I drove up to Canada recently through Vermont, and took the route over the islands in Lake Champlain, past farms and boating jetties. This linked me up with I-87 in New York State. I then crossed the border into Quebec, and was surprised at the small rural roads and this tiny Duty Free store:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sitting out in Times Square

Part of Times Square is now set aside for walking and sitting around on chairs. A nice way to spend a summer evening in New York City:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Just what we needed - new TSA rules

News from United:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced the implementation of the Secure Flight program. This program is intended to enhance the security of domestic and international air travel for all passengers through the use of improved TSA watch-list matching, as well as reduce the instances of passenger misidentification.

In accordance with this new policy, United® will be making changes to its reservation process that you, as a valued member of Mileage Plus®, should become familiar with.

How will Secure Flight affect you?

In the coming months, United will begin to request the following information from all customers when making a reservation:
  • Full name (first and last, as it appears on the non-expired, government-issued photo ID you will present at the airport)
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Redress number (if one exists)*
If you use a travel agency or an online booking agent to purchase a ticket, you may be asked to provide all of the above information; including your full legal name, as it appears on your non-expired, government-issued photo ID.

Please note the importance of the name on your ticket matching exactly the name on the ID you will present at the airport.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Monolith Festival in Colorado in September

Isn't it ironic that this oh-so-indie boutique music festival is so overtly sponsored by Esurance?

That said, the line-up is pretty good:

And it's good to see boutique music festivals springing up in the US. If it takes insurance companies to make that happen, I guess it's good.

Mother and daughter flight attendant team on JetBlue

I flew JetBlue down from Boston to Virginia last night. Great service as usual, and the flight was only $76 [I'm paying 4 times that to fly back to up to Boston from Newark tomorrow on Continental].

The flight attendant (or "air hostess" as I would say) team was a mum and daughter. Never seen that before. Funny to hear "and in the back of the cabin, my mom".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seen in Vermont - a sign telling you not to drink from the toilet

Seen in a Vermont Welcome Center off I-89 yesterday.

For most of us it is not necessary to put a "non-potable" sign beside a toilet. The only visitors to Vermont who I can see benefiting from this sign are literate cats.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Guy lives on Airtran planes for a month

You know that guy who got a job blogging from Hamilton Island near the Great Barrier Reef?. Well, this might be the opposite of that: a guy is spending a month flying AirTran flights around the US, blogging and (ugh) tweeting as he goes.

Now, I have spent about a week of my life on Hamilton Island, and probably also about a week on AirTran flights. I can safely say that even though AirTran has friendly staff (once an AirTran pilot let my son sit in the pilot seat after the plane landed) and low fares (especially from Boston to BWI), flying for a month is not something I'd be blogging happily about.

And these have to be the most unconvicing Twitter posts ever:

"Got up at 4:30am. I thankfully feel great."

"Having an incredible time. "

and the clincher:
"Just did "Fox & Friends" on Fox News. Lots of fun"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Security bags for sale at Dublin Airport

The bags are on sale in a coin-operated dispenser. At the security line, there is a recycling bin for the "capsules" which contain the bags.

Maybe they should have used one of those grab-claw games, so you could pay your couple of euros, then attempt to pick up one of the bags using a mechanical claw. That would add a bit more of a challenge to the whole process. Or maybe I should not suggest that, in case anyone from Dublin Airport is reading this....

Monday, June 1, 2009


In French there is a single word, "foudroyé", for what takes three words in English: "struck by lightning". is, right now, streaming its French language coverage of the missing Airbus 330, en route from Brazil, which may have been foudroyé somewhere between Brazil and the coast of French West Africa.

Friday, May 15, 2009

American Airlines now offers one-way trips for miles

You can now book one-way trips using AAdvantage miles (that name always bothered me, like "Hilton HHonors").

USA Today says "It's hard to know how many people would use miles for a one-way trip — parents driving a child to college and flying home might — and American officials didn't offer any estimates." (

Well, I can provide a personal example. I would use the miles to book a transatlantic flight, using half the miles which I would normally use, and book a cheap one-way return trip with Aer Lingus (through Dublin) to get me back. Hey presto, a cheap way to get to Nice, or Rome, or London. With so many airlines now effectively "one way airlines", it makes sense for them all to move to "one way mileage rewards".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Big Ben in the rain

Worth stepping out of Westminster Tube Station to get a quick Blackberry snap of Big Ben reflected off the wet pavement.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Porter Air to add flights from Boston to Toronto

It is usually crazy expensive to fly from Boston to Toronto, or to Canada in general. But Porter Air, with their Tyler Brûlé designed site and uniform, may change that.....


Where it flies: The Toronto-based carrier services six Canadian cities, Chicago-Midway, and Newark. In 2009, it plans to add flights between Toronto and Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dublin airport to charge for those little clear plastic bags used to bring toiletries through security

"A spokeswoman for DAA last night said .... “We’ve been giving the clear bags out free of charge for 2.5 years, and we’re probably the only airport left in Europe still doing so,” she said. “Passengers don’t have to purchase the bags if they plan ahead.”"

Can that really be true? I know that Heathrow gives them away for free...

The purpose of the bag is just to group the toiletries together. The bag itself is not seen in the X-Ray. I just simply group the toiletries together and forget about the bag. This has never caused me any problems, in Ireland or anywhere else. Skip the bag and help the environment, and also save a couple of Euro in Dublin Airport.

From the Irish Times

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Showers at Stansted Airport

I find this sign funny: They must be worried about people saving money by taking showers together.

Friday, April 10, 2009

No stuffed animals at Coachella

OK I get the other ones, but no stuffed animals allowed at the Coachella music festival? What is up with that?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Connect by Hertz and its fuzzy New York geography

I was checking out the Zipcar competition, in this case "Connect by Hertz".

I'd be a bit wary of their geography knowledge, though, if they think that East 65th Street (a land of high-end strollers and fancy apartments) is in Kyrgyzstan (check out

[ Update - After a few days, they removed the Kyrgyzstani location from their site ]

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Signed up for Zipcar....

I've finally signed up for Zipcar. I was worried that the fact that I have not driven under a US license for 3 years would make sign-up more difficult, but it didn't.

Good article this month in the New York Times on Zipcar, the company and the service.

I should get the card in a few days, and then I'll check out the service. In actual fact I rarely need a car except for business trips (which almost invariably I fly to anyway). But, it will be nice to have the option of driving somewhere, especially in the summer.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Accidental Stowaway?

A 21-year-old JetBlue employee rode from New York to Boston Saturday in an airplane’s cargo compartment, officials said today. “Even after talking to him we were a little uncertain as to how it happened,” said David Procopio, a state police spokesman. “This may have been accidental.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009



"A Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before crash-landing his plane, killing 16 people, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by an Italian court along with his co-pilot."

From the Irish Times:

Monday, March 16, 2009

The road less traveled in Ireland

Today Show feature on exploring "less traveled" parts of Ireland.

I can certainly relate to the driving style - in Ireland that is how I drive on rural roads (bothereens, in the Irish language - "little roads") - 50 miles an hour and "assuming that another car is not coming in the other direction".

Friday, March 13, 2009

United's Door to Door Baggage

United offers a door-to-door baggage delivery service in conjunction with Fedex. The cost, $79, is still a lot higher than any airline's baggage fee (well, for a first or second bag anyway). I've always wondered who is the target customer for this? Certainly, people who are worried about losing bags would use it. Or maybe people who have difficulty carrying their bags. I'd love to see some statistics about how many people actually use this...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Continental's Mileage Calculateor

I've often wondered does Continental's Mileage Calculator encourage people to take more convoluted, longer routings in order to amass more miles? Hmm....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Coachella Radio on Pandora

If you're going to the Coachella music festival in California next month, check out Pandora's Coachella Radio station. It's a good way to hear some of the bands playing there:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alain de Botton "On going to the airport"

It's just a 5 page essay in a slim book called "On seeing and noticing", but "On going to the airport" by Alain de Botton has to be the most beautiful thing I've ever read about travel. Has anything more lovely ever been written about a 747:

"On a grey day from the edge of the runway at Heathrow, a 747 appears at first as a small brilliant white light, a star dropping towards earth. It has been in the air for some twelve hours. It took off from Bangkok at dawn. It flew over the Bay of Bengal, Delhi, the Afghan desert and the Caspian Sea. It traced a course over Romania, the Czech Republic and began its descent, so gently that few passengers would have noticed a change of tone in the engines, above the coast of Normandy. From the ground, the white light gradually takes shape as a vast two-storied body with four engines suspended like earrings beneath implausable long wings. In the light rain, clouds of water form a veil behind the plane on its matronly progress towards the airfield. The plane is a symbol of worldliness, carrying within itself a trace of all the lands it has crossed; its eternal mobility offering an imaginative counterweight to feelings of stagnation and confinement. This morning the plane was over the Malay Peninsula, a phrase in which there lingers the smells of guava and sandalwood. And now, a few metres above the earth which it has avoided for so long, the plane appears motionless, its nose raised upwards, seeming to pause before its sixteen rear wheels meet the tarmac with a blast of smoke that makes manifest its speed and weight".