(via Slate: see the full article HERE)
If you live in the countryside or on a beach somewhere, you're probably used to the simple life, money being obsolete as you barter goods and services for shiny pebbles and shells, pull fresh food off the tress and out of the ocean and live to as stress-free old age. However, city-dwellers have to live their short and anxious lives making money every minute of the day just to afford to buy enough lattes to forge a rudimentary shelter from. That said, the most expensive cities of last year may not be the ones you're thinking of - Tokyo is suddenly, well, not AFFORDABLE, but not the most brutal place in the world.
(via Slate: see the full article HERE)
I once sat next to Nic Cage on a plane. Well, kind of. He was across the aisle and either slept or did very little parenting while his young son ran riot in the cabin. I don't think that story would quite make the cut in this excellent thread on Quora, where passengers relate who the most interesting person they ever sat next to was. One guy says it's his future wife. Another, er, John Kerry. I'm sure he was great, sir. Anyway, the full thing is right HERE. If you're inspired to write up your favourite (or least favourite) passenger experience, may we direct you to our own review section?
Where: Berlin, Germany
Long story short: A triumph of online marketing.
Short story long: I fancied a luxurious weekend by myself in one of the coolest cities on earth. Where else but to head, then, but a hotel “located in the pulsating heart of Berlin’s Mitte” and “a favourite of Berlin’s creative scene”. I want that, I thought. I am cool. I have a beret. The website showed whites so bright my Sazeroni was getting too warm and I had to turn the screen down. I couldn’t wait.
A few weeks later, after missing my stop and taking a not altogether unpleasant walk through the museum district, I rocked up at the hotel.
Took me a while to find, I’ll be frank. There I was looking for this grand, imposing, white edifice and, silly me, what I should have been looking for was a slightly shabby building that wasn’t quite sure whether it was open or not. After peering through a couple of windows I found a door that looked as unlike its online picture as half of my Facebook friends’ and went inside.
Enter the lobby, however, and all becomes clear. If you couldn’t see it was a hotel you could smell it. Or hear it. The overwhelmingly 90s style pink and black stylings are sound and smell-tracked with an overpowering scent (think Red Bull mixed with celebrity-range perfume) and loud nightclub-style music. Not quite the luxurious entrance I had in mind. In fact the hotel has taken a few liberties with the word “lux”.
The floor in the lobby is a bit grimy, with the wooden desk edges unfinished and behind the reception desk a large photograph displays a glassy-eyed couple whose heydey was at least a good decade ago. However, service was friendly and pleasant, when I eventually got seen (a bit of a wait but not endless) and each time I returned I was met with smiles, if slightly confusing information about the wifi each time.
While the hotel’s lobby and stairs might leave a lot to be desired, the rooms are better. The premier rooms have two balconies, a large and comfortable double bed, a lounge area and kitchenette. One balcony overlooks the busy(ish) street with cafes and boutiques and the other some high-rise residential flats, not pretty but not awful.
My room was clean and smelt of the overpowering scent (which I later learned is part of the hotel’s “offer”) (I could have purchased one of the enormous stinky shampoo or shower gels. I didn’t). Despite the room’s overall cleanliness, I did notice a small Tupperware pot with a pube in it. Naturally I took a picture of it, Tweeted it and ignored it, certain it would be removed during cleaning the following day. It wasn’t. They clearly believed it to be mine. (It was not; mine are longer and curlier).
There were two DVD players, both of which worked but were fairly outdated. The rain shower was great, complete with spotlight, but I would have loved a luxurious bath in a room that size (I tried to make the plug stay in but it either wouldn’t or couldn’t).
Gripes aside, Lux 11 is in a really good location on the edge of Mitte (the main bit of Berlin). It’s very close to the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz U-Bahn, which makes it easy to get pretty much anywhere. It’s also a pleasant walk to the museum district and a hop, skip and a jump from Alexanderplatz. In fact, it’s in an ideal spot. The minibar was well-stocked and not ludicrously priced. A bottle of wine was available on arrival. The kitchenette had plenty of cutlery and crockery and there was a coffee maker and kettle.
Available to purchase are a Hangover Kit (with essential oil and vitamin fixes) and a Love Box, an intimacy kit containing massage oils and sex toys. The latter could be a quirky European touch in the right place but in this seedy, and slightly grubby, location it was just a wee bit stomach-turning. Also, I Didn’t See A Single Soul the whole time I was there, apart from a slightly cross-looking couple when I was checking in.
There is so much room for improvement here. A lick of paint, bringing the lobby away from nineties neon pink club culture would be a start. Turning the incessant loud music down which blares at you on entry would be another. Berlin is so full of amazing hotels with great design sensibilities that it really needs to up its game if it’s going to compete in any way.
However, the really, really weird thing is that, try as I might, on my return from Berlin I couldn’t find a single photograph or review online which truly reflected my experience. If the effort that’s gone into reputation management could only be spent on paint, then this hotel would be a winner.
Champagne tastes: The 73 rooms and suites range in size from 30 to 160 m2 in six categories. The top floor boasts a vast penthouse suite with two bedrooms and a view of the TV Tower. That’ll set you back €795 per night.
Shandy Pockets: The rooms have kitchenettes so if you want to nip to Aldi and stock up on cheap soup then you can live like a pauper in comfort.
Fly from Manchester to Berlin with Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) from £43.
Review by Hazel Davis.
We all like to think we're taking that once in a lifetime shot as we approach the world's famous sights, but it turns out we all pretty much just snap the same thing. Instagram film maker (that's a job now?) Thomas Jullien has patched together a short mash up of the world's great landmarks using photos from 852 photographers. They show a world documented somewhat uniformly, but the result is captivating.
“Sir, could you open your bag, please?”
I wasn’t worried, just more embarrassed as I passed through security in New York. My bag, which I’d packed with electronics from digital cameras to hard drives to sound recording equipment, was the lair of the spaghetti monster. Open it up and it looked like a robot had vomited up its circuit board.
We spent some minutes untangling everything so that the various bits of equipment could be run through the line again in a way so that the x-ray machine operator could tell them apart.
Everyone travels with electronics and we do like to keep them with us, jamming them into our take on luggage. But how to store them in a dignified manner?
I’ve seen various hacks for the wires and leads that come as the obvious by-product of our gadget love. I’ve even used some – to whit, hair curlers to sort my USB leads, which I felt all great and recycle-y about but they’re not the most stylish and I’d probably still wince if John Q Security wanted a closer look.
That’s why this little nugget of simplicity could be just the ticket. Just slightly larger than a credit card, the Global Plug & Wire Tidy (from wrapwire.co.uk) is a tough slice of plastic, moulded and carved to accommodate just about any lead or charger from just about any country.
There are slots for all the main plug variations, and the wires just twist around the body, keeping things in order in your hand luggage. There’s a label so you can identify your camera USB in a hurry and without unravelling everything. And…er, that’s it.
It’s the kind of thing you’re kicking yourself for not inventing. I imagine it’s what it was like when wheels on a suitcase came along and people must just have thought…how come we didn’t think of this sooner?
I live in the marshy metropolis of New Orleans, and there’s some division as to how healthy or otherwise the Mississippi swamp water that comes out of the taps here really is. To be honest, most locals are fine with drinking it straight from the tap, but I’ve seen an awful lot of water filters in homes. Also, when you think about the brain eating amoeba that were found in local water systems this year, you kind of get on board with the filtration set.
The Western world is obsessed with filtered water. You only need be overwhelmed by the choice of brands in your local store to realise this. The other things you quickly realise about store-bought water though: it’s chronically wasteful and there’s all those plastic garbage islands floating around in the ocean. Also: you’re being aquatically mugged every time you buy a bottle if they’re charging you more than a dollar.
That agreed upon, it’s obvious that even the most urbane, soy-latte-chugging city dweller who consumes water that isn’t coming out of their own private spring could use and save wads of money with this little black bottle, going by the name of Water-to-Go.
It’s a water bottle, yes, but in its cap is a space-programme-endorsed filtration system that nixes 99.9% of impurities and contaminants. We’re assuming brain-eating amoeba fall into that number. The everyday pollutants that sneak into tap water, even in developed nations, are easy meat. You can treat 200 litres of water, which by my reckoning is about three or four month’s worth unless you’re a particularly Thirsty Theo.
Now imagine how useful this could be if you’re going to places where you can’t actually drink the local water, which to us sensitive westerners is just about anywhere they have to overdub The Big Bang Theory. If you’re heading to, say, Africa, then shoving this into your hand luggage could save you hours of dehydration and almost eliminate the worries you’d have about your digestive system holding up.
Your health. Your bank balance. Your liberal guilt about landfills. All could be assuaged with one water bottle. If you’re science-minded, you can find out more at www.watertogo.eu and there’s lots of info for none-scientists, too.
Prices start at £25 for bottle plus filter, with filters costing £14.95 for two. See website for stockists.
Thank you to everyone who sent Shandy Pockets the story of Elan Gale and the now infamous 'Diane', whose universes collided rather testily on a plane over the Thanksgiving holidays. In case it didn't make its way into your timeline, feed or email inbox, you can acquaint yourself with the story right here:
THE BALLAD OF DIANE AND ELAN
Shandy Pockets admires the initial tomfoolery of Mr Gale, and Diane does sound like she needed to be put in her place, though perhaps using 'eat my dick' as an insult does undermine the cry for civility a little bit. Mr Gale's response seemed to divide the public, from hearty 'bravos' to accusations of sexist bullying. If you missed his reaction to the reactions, there's a piece on his blog right here:
ALL THE HATE MAIL: DIANE
Sadly, additional information about Diane made her case seem more sympathetic, her family rallying round her as it was revealed she is terminally ill:
BULLYING AT 35,000 ft.
All we'll say is we wish Mr Gale had known about our Passenger Review pages, where he could have ranted in relative safety, but we're looking forward to joining him in promoting polite travel behaviour and respect for our fellow travelers no matter where and when our journeys might be. And just a thought, Mr Gale, but retaining the moral high ground in a case like this does kind of require you to not descend into insults as well. No one ever taught good manners by being rude. Just saying.