Posts from Travel

It’s A Wrap

The six week break I took from work is ending. The trip through Europe is over. We landed back in the US on friday night and drove up to our kids’ college yesterday for homecoming/parents weekend. It was great to see our kids (two of them) and we’ll see our oldest this afternoon. I’ve missed them terribly and I’ve missed NYC, our dog Ollie, and our bed, shower, kitchen, local coffee shop, etc, etc, etc.

Many people have asked me what the highlight of the trip was. I always give the same answer – spending every waking (and sleeping) hour with Joanne for an entire month. It’s been a long time since we did that. I think the last time was the summer after we graduated from college thirty one years ago. We are the same people who made that trip around the country, just a bit older, wiser, wealthier, and with three wonderful young adults to show for it. It’s good to know that, even if you already knew it.

The trip through Europe was fantastic. We started in Rome and finished in Paris and stopped in a bunch of places along the way. This Foursquare map/list shows the itinerary:

fall trip map

The list has 131 places on it. We visited many more than that, but I only listed the places in Foursquare that I want to remember and let others know about. I wrote a tip on every single one of them.

As you can see our major stops were Lake Como, Cote D’Azur, Provence, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bordeaux, and Paris. Of those, I would say Provence and San Sebastian were probably my favorites. I also loved the Piedmont wine region in Italy (Alba) and the city of Bordeaux and the wine region surrounding it. The best food was in Provence and in the tapas bars in Barcelona and San Sebastian.

The most beautiful place we found ourselves in was on a boat in the middle of Lake Como and staring out into the mediterranean sea from the tip of Cap Ferrat. We mangled three languages along the way and found that english is spoken almost everywhere, particularly if you are nice about it. If you want to learn more about the trip and the places we stayed along the way, the past thirty days of blog posts on GothamGal.com will deliver all of that to you.

I turned off my out of office responder yesterday. It gave me great trepidation to do that. If you ever want to give me a gift, the thing I would most appreciate is a filter from incoming email. I was able to manage all of my email in less than 15-20 minutes a day on this entire trip. I just archived everything that came in that wasn’t from someone that I knew I needed to respond to. The out of office responder sets up that expectation and so I feel absolutely fine doing that. Now that the responder if off, I am back to drinking from a firehose and I am terrified of how that is going to feel.

I’ve never taken an extended vacation or sabbatical from my work before. So all of this is new territory for me. I believe you should take the time away from work to get some distance from it, read, learn, relax. I did all of that and feel like I got what I was looking for from the time off. But it won’t be until I’m back at work that the new perspectives will totally reveal themselves to me. I’m looking forward to that too. Then I will know for sure what this time off taught me and I am eager to find that out.

And, as always, when I figure something out, I will share it with all of you here at AVC.

Being Pampered

My daughter Jessica gave me David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again for my birthday and I've been reading the essay that gives the title to the book this week. This bit has been rattling around in my head since I read it a few days ago:

… so I come out and spot my duffel among the luggage, and I start to grab and haul it out of the towering pile of leather and nylon, with the idea that I can just whisk the bag back to 1009 myself and root through it and find my good old ZnO and one of the porters sees me starting to grab the bag, and he dumps all four of the massive pieces of luggage he’s staggering with and leaps to intercept me. At first I’m afraid he thinks I’m some kind of baggage thief and wants to see my claim-check or something. But it turns out that what he wants is my duffel: he wants to carry it to 1009 for me. And I, who am about half again this poor herniated little guy’s size (as is the duffel bag itself), protest politely, trying to be considerate, saying Don’t Fret, Not a Big Deal, Just Need My Good Old ZnO. I indicate to the porter that I can see they have some sort of incredibly organized ordinal luggage-dispersal system under way here and that I don’t mean to disrupt it or make him carry a Lot #7 bag before a Lot #2 bag or anything, and no I’ll just get the big old heavy weather stained sucker out of here myself and give the little guy that much less work to do.

And then now a very strange argument indeed ensues, me v. the Lebanese porter, because it turns out I am putting this guy, who barely speaks English, in a terrible kind of sedulous-service double-bind, a paradox of pampering: viz. the The-Passenger’s-Always-Right-versus-Never-Let-A-Passenger-Carry-His-Own-Bag paradox. Clueless at the time about what this poor little Lebanese man is going through, I wave off both his high-pitched protests and his agonized expression as mere servile courtesy, and I extract the duffel and lug it up the hall to 1009 and slather the old beak with ZnO and go outside to watch the coast of Florida recede cinematically à la F. Conroy.

Only later did I understand what I’d done. Only later did I learn that that little Lebanese Deck 10 porter had his head just about chewed off by the (also Lebanese) Deck 10 Head Porter, who’d had his own head chewed off by the Austrian Chief Steward, who’d received confirmed reports that a Deck 10 passenger had been seen carrying his own luggage up the Port hallway of Deck 10 and now demanded rolling Lebanese heads for this clear indication of porterly dereliction, and had reported (the Austrian Chief Steward did) the incident (as is apparently SOP) to an officer in the Guest Relations Dept., a Greek officer with Revo shades and a walkie-talkie and officerial epaulets so complex I never did figure out what his rank was; and this high-ranking Greek guy actually came around to 1009 after Saturday’s supper to apologize on behalf of practically the entire Chandris shipping line and to assure me that ragged-necked Lebanese heads were even at that moment rolling down various corridors in piacular recompense for my having had to carry my own bag. And even though this Greek officer’s English was in lots of ways better than mine, it took me no less than ten minutes to express my own horror and to claim responsibility and to detail the double-bind I’d put the porter in—brandishing at relevant moments the actual tube of ZnO that had caused the whole snafu—ten or more minutes before I could get enough of a promise from the Greek officer that various chewed-off heads would be reattached and employee records unbesmirched to feel comfortable enough to allow the officer to leave and the whole incident was incredibly frazzling and angst-fraught and filled almost a whole Mead notebook and is here recounted in only its barest psychoskeletal outline.

I made you all wade through that classicly dense DFW prose not to convert you to Wallace (which you should consider doing on your own terms), but because it tees up the conversation I want to have here today so perfectly.

You see, I hate to be pampered. When I check into a hotel, I want to take my bags to my room. I want to carry my golf clubs out to the range. I want to open my own yogurt (which they would not let me do in the Mandarin Oriental in Chiang Mai, Thailand). I want to get my own beach towels at the pool, etc. etc.

So why is that? I asked Jessica this morning. What causes this discomfort with being pampered (which is all about creating comfort)? She replied "guilt?". To which I nodded, "I guess so". But it's more than that. I can do these things. I can take care of myself. I don't want or need someone doing them for me.

But as Wallace points out, the people whose job it is to pamper you want to do their job and want to do it well. Which creates a challenge for people like me who don't want to be pampered. The older I get and the more set in my ways and the more pampering I encounter, the worse it gets. I suppose I should just learn to love it. I will work on that. 

Pocket Wifis for the Global Traveler

We've got two girls traveling around the world this summer. One has a pocket wifi from Xcom Global (asia) and the other has a pocket wifi from Tep Wireless (europe).

I've become a convert to the pocket wifi in the past year. I used to be a fan of swapping sim cards but these pocket wifis have gotten better recently. The cost has come down and the coverage has gone up.

I don't have a complete report from the girls yet. I will get a full download when they are back and write up something with the pros and cons of both. The one thing I know for sure from our trip to Japan is that battery life is the big issue with pocket wifis. If you get four hours, you are doing well. I always charge up two batteries so I have a backup when I'm out and about.

I am curious if there are other vendors out there that I should know about. I'm getting ready to head to europe for a week of business in four countries and I am planning to get a Tep unless there is something better out there I should know about.

Fun Friday: Foursquare Time Machine

Those of you who use Foursquare to database your life can have some fun today. Foursquare launched a cool interactive visualization tool called Time Machine yesterday.

Go there, login, and watch Foursquare go back in time and show you all of your movements around your city and the world. For me it was the past four years. Trips I'd almost forgotten came back to life. And at the end, I got this. You can get one too.

Foursquare-the-next-big-thing

A few things about that infographic. The placed I've checked into the most, The Coffee Shop, is a place I will never go to again. Sometime in early 2012, I was treated badly by a hostess, and on the way out I vowed never to return. I haven't and won't.

I've been using Foursquare for about four years and have checked in almost 5,000 times. That's an average of 3.4x a day. No wonder Foursquare is so good at making recommendations for me when I am in places I don't know much about.

While we are on the topic of Foursquare, I want to address some tweets I saw yesterday that mangled some things I said about the company. I spoke at two events yesterday and at both I was asked about Foursquare. I said the same thing at both events, which is that Foursquare has pivoted the product from being primarily about checkins to being primarily about maps with people in them. They've done a fantastic job at that. But the market doesn't know that Foursquare is about maps and map search with people in it. They could do a better job in getting that word out. And I am happy to help them do that.

Fun Friday: Favorite Airline

I'm going to fly to LA today. I would normally fly United because of miles/upgrades but the Gotham Gal booked this flight and we are going Virgin. I find flying on Virgin like going to a nightclub because of the lighting and I avoid it as a result.

It got me thinking about airlines in general. You hear people complain all the time about airlines but you don't hear that many folks talk about airlines they love. As I have some long flights to asia and other far flung parts of the world in my future, I figured it would be fun to talk about the best airlines in the world, instead of the worst.

The best airlines I've flown on regularly are British Airways and Lufthansa. If it were up to me, I would fly the international airlines over the US airlines every day of the week.

How about you?

Foursquare Lists

I had an epiphany today. I was in Storm, a cool store in Copenhagen, and I checked into Foursquare. In the result screen of that checkin, I saw a tip that there was another design store right around the corner called Hay. And that my friend Naveen had recommended Hay on his Copenhagen list.

I immediately saved Naveen's list to my phone and then saved a few other Copenhagen lists that were recommended to me.

Now every time I checkin somewhere in Copenhagen, I get a tip for another place that is nearby on one of the lists that I saved. No more thinking about where to go next. Foursquare will tell me based on suggestions from my friends and the lists I've saved.

I've tried every kind of travel guide out there. Some are great, like the Luxe guides and the Wallpaper guides. But an interactive, real time, geolocated travel guide built by my friends and likeminded travelers is way better.

So I'm going to create lists on Foursquare from now on so that others can benefit the same way that I am right now. Here's my list so far from a day or so in Copenhagen.