The Angel Falls are the world's highest uninterrupted waterfalls, and I took a small plane to fly past them. The plane landed in the Canaima National Park, and a small group of us walked a trail that took us past and behind some of the smaller falls (it's a UNESCO Heritage Site). I was at the front and turned back to see the group, soaked and happy to be in this kind of magical environment behind the water and under this huge outcrop. The power of the water was deafening.
We've heard of some borderline shifty scams before - from obsessive sir mile runs to keeping hold of hotel room keys to get into gyms to sneaking free breakfasts at places that don't check room numbers (we would obviously never condone such practices), but this one takes...well...all the foods.
A crafty airline passenger bought a first class ticket and then changed it EVERY DAY for a year so that he could access the lounge and tuck into their free food. Story is, he even got a full refund on the ticket when he was discovered.
Now THAT is devotion to saving money. And it's also a little too much devotion to eating airport food. More on this at Travelers Today.
There's nothing wrong with romanticising travel. We all do it to some extent, whether it's reminiscing over a Flickr folder of holiday snaps, or persuading ourselves that our upcoming mini-break in Helsinki is DEFINITELY going to save our flagging relationship. Travel has inspired novels, poetry and song.
And now. A musical.
Only THIS musical is romaticising the BOOKING PROCESS. Which we're not sure brings along quite the same emotional, er, baggage. Can we really wax lyrical about price comparison websites or negotiating cancellation fees? Jim Strong, president of Strong Travel Services in (of course) America believes we can. So much so that he has commissioned a one-act musical set in the offices of a travel agency.
Titled 'Craving For Travel', Strong had Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg whip up a show designed to re-energise the image of lowly travel agents - for too long now squashed under the might of online booking sites. The show "features the characters Gary and Joanne, rival travel agents and former spouses, competing to outdo each other by fulfilling ever more outlandish requests from their demanding clients."
It's - predictably? - Off Broadway for now. Whether it will be (artistically) Going Anywhere Nice in the future remains to be seen. You can read more HERE.
"I would rank them right up there near the top of my all-time list of back-seat kissing fools.”
NYC taxi driver Gene Salomon doesn't, as well you might expect, suffer idio gladly. Hey, it's part of the reason we all go to New York, isn't it? To be addressed like a putz by disgruntled service industry workers?
Anyway, Salomon has been keeping notes on his most interesting customers for decades, from the sex-crazed to the fame-touting to the general wackos that make up any single day in the enormous fruity metropolis we call the Big Apple. And now he's published his observations in a book, "Confessions of a Taxi Driver", which may sound like a soft porn film from 1973, but is a fascinating catalogue of his vehicular encounters.
You can find out more about Mr Salomon and his best stories HERE.
"Is that a Fossil watch? You obviously have good taste!" Er, yes, this is a vaguely ordinary UK brand of watch, receptionist at the Belagio OH WAIT you're trained to pick something out about the guest and comment on it to make them feel special, RIGHT? I pride myself on picking out subliminal work practices. BUT it goes to show how crazy focused on customer service hotels in Vegas have to be. You're not just getting a guest, after all, you're likely getting a show audience member, a consumer of 15 dollar nuts in the hotel room and a dupe at the craps table - you're damn right that in-room internet is free and the staff all know your inside leg measurement because you're spending ten times more than the cost of your room while you're here.
Compared to New Orleans, Vegas touts its hedonism loudly – “Come and do shots as you throw a seven at the craps table and walk off into the night, pockets bulging with banknotes, legions of exotic strangers vying to be invited back to your hotel room,” it says, waving at you while wearing a weird shiny suit and gesturing suggestively with matchplay casino chips.
But in this city, the fast living involves every choice being to some extent choreographed, tightly controlled and charged to your room at buttock-clenchingly high prices. The experience – as exhilarating as it may be in parts – is a generic one (this trip is partly about getting away from that). It’s a prescribed Las Vegas Experience, queue on the right to buy tickets and yes, that’ll be 19 dollars for your frozen margarita, don’t touch anything and thanks for playing.
If Las Vegas is a theme park of indulgence, New Orleans is more like a national park, where hedonism can be seen in its natural habitat, gratification is allowed to develop organically, extravagance enjoys a healthy conservation programme and eccentricity is not an endangered species. You know...Free Range hedonism.
That said, some of the prescribed experiences are pretty damn impressive. Last night I shared a liquid nitrogen cocktail before going to see Cirque du Soleil's LOVE at The Mirage, which is the most emotionally charged circus show I've ever seen. Just beautiful and mind-bafflingly complicated but at the centre there's just a dumb clown trying to give someone a bunch of flowers. Immense. Vegas, you do generic hedonism incredibly well.
I really like taking photos of people who are posing for a photo for someone else. I passed a wedding party in downtown Havana, and the bride and her friend were just coming out of the church, smiling for the first of presumably many photos that day. This was just an instant before the photo they were posing for was taken - they're still comporting themselves, still candid before the more formal poses being.
We were recently very flattered to be approached by the excellent 101 Holidays to take part in a survey of the tastes of 100 top UK travel writers. If 101 Holidays could just inform my accountant and mum respectively that I'm somewhere in this heady mix, I'd appreciate the favour.
The survey was the most comprehensive of its kind, as Editor Mark Hodson notes: "We have conducted the biggest ever survey of the UK’s travel journalists to find their favourite cities, countries, beach resorts and airlines. We asked them where they would go if they could have a free airline ticket anywhere in the world, and where they would travel if they paid for their own holiday. And we asked them which destination they would never want to visit again."
Some results were more surprising than others: France (yawn) is our favourite country but second is India, which is kind of amazing. New York is our favourite city (zzzzzz) but Istanbul makes the top 10 (I approve). My most beloved beach resort (Krabi, Thailand) topped that poll, but the most rewarding thing for me was the most divisive question of all.
What one destination would you never return to?
OK, Vegas topped out. I can see that. I WOULD go back, and in fact I'm going back next week. I can only guess the other wirters got stuck on the strip and didn't make it to the excellent Double Down Saloon or Frankie's Tiki Room. HOWEVER, the next (and only other) answers warmed my cockles: Qatar and Dubai. I have loathed Dubai since I ill-advisedly went about 8 years ago - brash consumerism coupled with a disregard for human rights and an ecological disaster zone (cooled sand, ski resorts and golf courses in the desert, anyone? And Qatar, desperately trying to barge its way into the global scene with all the class of a redneck lottery winner, and equally suspect in the slavery department. Made me proud to be part of something.
Anyway, sniping aside, it's a really great survey and you should check out the full results HERE.
And so the Polar Vortex (we think Paula Vortex would be a pretty good drag name, or name for the actual weather system itself come to think of it) plays havoc with the United States. People here in New Orleans are bracing themselves for 19-degree weather, wondering if there are layers enough in the world to protect them from PV. As we hunker down and bundle up, here's a story from the Shandy Pockets archives to warm your cockles:
LAPP OF THE GODS.