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kottke.org posts about travel

The professor and the bikini model

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2013

Paul Frampton is a 69-year-old theoretical particle physicist who has co-authored papers with Nobel laureates. In late 2011, the absentminded professor met a Czech bikini model online. Over email and Yahoo chat, they became romantically involved and she sent him a plane ticket to come meet her at a photo shoot in Bolivia. Then she asked him to bring a bag of hers with him on his flight.

While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: “I said: ‘Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You’re in big trouble.’ Paul said, ‘I’ll be careful, I’ll make sure there isn’t cocaine in there and if there is, I’ll ask them to remove it.’ I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn’t know he didn’t have money. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?’ And he said, ‘You can contact my brother and my former wife.’ ” Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon’s warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.

On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn’t get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had “sentimental value.” The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.

Crazy story. (via @stevenstrogatz)

Reminder: The Mind of a Chef

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2013

In case you missed it a few months ago on PBS, the excellent The Mind of a Chef is out in downloadable form on iTunes and at Amazon. The first episode is available for free on the PBS site for try-before-you-buy purposes.

Perennial Plate’s A Day in India

posted by Aaron Cohen   Feb 01, 2013

The Perennial Plate videos always make me jealous, and this beautiful cut of a “day” in India is no exception. This is gorgeous and you should watch it on full screen.

Account of a trip to North Korea

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2013

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current Executive Chairman of Google, recently visited North Korea and took his daughter Sophie along. Upon her return, she wrote up a very interesting account of her trip. Her report contained a surprising number of Twitter-length nuggets of goodness1; here are some of them:

Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.

The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.

Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

Most of the buildings they visited — offices, libraries, etc. — were not heated:

They’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath

They weren’t allowed to have mobile phones, there were no alarm clocks, and they were told their rooms were probably bugged:

One person suggested announcing “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.

It’s like The Truman Show, at country scale.

Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting.

You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts.

There is only revolutionary art. There is only revolutionary music.

I was delighted to learn that [Kim Jong Il] and I shared a taste in laptops: 15” Macbook Pro.

No one was actually doing anything.

They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.

It’s a fascinating piece and worth putting up with the weird 2-column layout to read the whole thing.

[1] In fact, almost every sentence is tweet-length. Do young people naturally write in SMS/tweet-length sentences these days?

Sixteen-part PBS travel/food show with David Chang

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2012

How had I not heard about this before now? The Mind of a Chef is a PBS consisting of sixteen half-hour shows that follows David Chang through his world of food. As far as I can tell, this series is basically the TV version of Lucky Peach. Episode one is about ramen:

In the series premiere, David dissects the roots of his passion for ramen dishes and tsukemen on a trip to Japan. Learn the history of this famous noodle as David visits a ramen factory, has a bowl of the original tsukemen, and examines how alkalinity makes noodles chewier and less prone to dissolving in broth.

Check out an excerpt here, in which Chang reveals how he used to eat instant ramen noodles right out of the bag with the pork flavor powder sprinkled on top. The series starts this weekend…check your local listings, as they say. (via ny times)

The Mac tax

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 26, 2012

According to the Wall Street Journal, Orbitz has determined that Mac users spend 30% more per night on lodging. Obviously, this is an opportunity for Orbitz to display more expensive hotel options to Mac users.

The Orbitz effort, which is in its early stages, demonstrates how tracking people’s online activities can use even seemingly innocuous information—in this case, the fact that customers are visiting Orbitz.com from a Mac—to start predicting their tastes and spending habits.

Here’s a fairly concise rundown of shady marketing tactics Orbitz has used in the past. (via @delfuego)

What travel guide books say about the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2012

Max Fisher has a piece at The Atlantic about what travel guidebooks tell foreign visitors to the US.

Politics get heavy treatment in the books, as do the subtleties of discussing them, maybe more so than in any other guidebook I’ve read (what can I say, it’s an addiction). Lonely Planet urges caution when discussing immigration. “This is the issue that makes Americans edgy, especially when it gets politicized,” they write, subtly suggesting that some Americans might approach the issue differently than others. “Age has a lot to do with Americans’ multicultural tolerance.”

Rough Guide doesn’t shy away from the fact that many non-Americans are less-than-crazy about U.S. politics and foreign policy, and encouragingly notes that many Americans are just as “infuriated” about it as visitors might be. Still, it warns that the political culture saturates everything, and that “The combination of shoot-from-the-hip mentality with laissez-faire capitalism and religious fervor can make the U.S. maddening at times, even to its own residents.”

Girls Gone Slightly Less Wholesome: Amish spring break

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2012

Pinecraft, Florida is a popular spring vacation destination for Amish and Mennonites, a place where they can let their hair down by using cellphones and electricity.

Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.

Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the “Amish Las Vegas,” riffing off the clich’e that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.

“When you come down here, you can pitch religion a little bit and let loose,” said Amanda Yoder, 19, from Missouri. “What I’m wearing right now, I wouldn’t at home,” she said, gesturing at sunglasses with sparkly rhinestones and bikini strings peeking out of a tight black tank top. On the outskirts of the village, she boarded public bus No. 11 with six other sunburned teenagers. They were bound for Siesta Key, a quartz-sand beach about eight miles away.

Tips for traveling the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2012

From Jodi at Legal Nomads, a list of 21 practical tips she’s gleaned from traveling the world for the past four years. One tip is to take oranges with you on public transportation:

I started bringing a bag of oranges with me for long bus rides, primarily because they quench thirst and smell delicious. I quickly learned that many Thai and Burmese busgoers sniff the peels to stave off nausea, and that kids love oranges. Really: kids LOVE oranges. So for those who want to bring something for the bus ride but rightfully worry about giving sweets to kids, oranges are your friend. You will win over the parents, make the kids happy, occupy your hours and eventually get fed by everyone on the bus. Trust me. You should always have a bag of oranges on hand, the smaller the orange the better.

She also lists the five things she always carries with her while traveling…one of which, unusually, is a doorstop. I’m guessing that’s for keeping people out of rooms without door locks?

Social media shaming tames Spring Break

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2012

Maybe Facebook *is* good for society: teens aren’t acting as crazy during Spring Break because they don’t want to get caught doing inappropriate things on camera.

They are so afraid everyone is going to take their picture and put it online.

You don’t want to have to defend yourself later, so you don’t do it.

But spring break [in Key West] has been Facebooked into greater respectability.

“At the beach yesterday, I would put my beer can down, out of the picture every time,” Ms. Sawyer said. “I do worry about Facebook. I just know I need a job eventually.”

“Oh, no,” she recoiled. “I’m friends with my mom on Facebook.”

Facebook: Society’s Self-Surveillance Network™. (via @gavinpurcell)

Airport security: “so much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2011

Charles Mann visits the airport with security expert Bruce Schneier and a fake boarding pass. What he finds is a lot of security theater and not much security.

“The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he says, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching” — ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them — “and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

(via df)

Golden rules to live by while travelling the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2011

Lists of travel tips usually suck (get to the aiport early! make sure your passport is up to date!) but this list contains a number of good ideas that I haven’t really seen before.

13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You’ll love it. And I don’t mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day. What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you’re going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers’ market (they’re not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You’ll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.

How to speed up plane boarding

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2011

Physicist Jason Steffen has discovered a possible method for getting passengers onto airplanes twice as fast as the usual method.

The fastest method is one of Steffen’s own design: boarding alternating rows at the same time, starting with the window seats. The secret, he says, is that it leaves passengers elbow room to stow their luggage at the same time.

Even random boarding is faster than the back-to-front boarding the airlines currently use. (via jcn)

Collaborative tourist snaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2011

For her Photo Opportunities project, Corrine Vionnet finds tourist photos of famous landmarks online and layers them to make images like this:

Corinne Vionnet

(thx, reed)

The tragedy of Nepal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2011

Andrew Hyde travels to Nepal and doesn’t find a must-see travel destination.

A deep depression hit me about an hour into my visit to Nepal and lasted for the first two weeks. Nepal, as a travel destination, is nothing short of raved about. “The Himalayan Mountains are majestic and the people are the nicest in the world!” was a common travel tidbit I heard. What I found was a developing nation with deep problems becoming worse by the month with tourism hastening the poisoning of the well. The pollution is the worst I have ever seen. Air, land, sound and water, nothing is spared the careless trash. The people are wonderful and also skillful about exploiting the tourist scene. Everyone you meet has a friend that is in the business of what you want to do, and they have a vested commission in getting you to open up.

Peak transportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2011

Or so says a new study:

A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices.

Airport security: the Dick-Measuring Device or molestation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg on the TSA’s new security theater measures, including pat-downs that are so humiliating and uncomfortable that people won’t mind using the scanning machine that shows them naked.

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The Dick-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin.

A boring drill builds an exciting tunnel

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2010

This is the massive drill that was used to bore a 35-mile-long tunnel underneath the Alps from mid-Switzerland to near the Italian border:

Big drill

Boring operations in the east tunnel were completed on 15 October 2010 in a cut-through ceremony broadcast live on Swiss TV. When it opens for traffic in late 2017, the tunnel will cut the 3.5-hour travel time from Zurich to Milan by an hour and from Zurich to Lugano to 1 hour 40 minutes.

Tips for travelling with kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2010

A great list of tips, tricks, and advice for travelling with kids.

18. Don’t do too much BUT don’t do too little either. I think the biggest mistake parents traveling with kids make is doing too little not too much. Get out there. Enjoy. Experience. Wear the kids out and get them tired.

(thx, meg)

Rough seas

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2010

This is footage from a camera on board a cruise ship from when some rough weather hit.

On August 1, the Pacific Sun ran into a heavy storm 400 miles north of New Zealand, hitting 25-foot-tall waves and 50-knot winds. Its 1732 passengers weren’t prepared to endure the madness that ensued. Absolutely crazy.

(via clusterflock)

A talk by Khoi Vinh on design and the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2010

Khoi also has an interesting travel packing tip to share. (via swissmiss)

Transatlantic

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2010

For his excellent NY Times blog, Christoph Niemann visually documents his flight from New York to Berlin.

Niemann Red Eye

I am ashamed to admit just how many hours of my life I have spent “contemplating the little hole in [the] airplane window”. And that’s not even a euphemism! Seriously, what is that thing for?!

Airport contraband

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2010

Taryn Simon spent five days photographing items confiscated from people flying into New York’s JFK airport. This one is “mystery meat”:

Airport contraband

These images are from a set of 1,075 photographs — shot over five days last year for the book and exhibition, “Contraband” — of items detained or seized from passengers or express mail entering the United States from abroad at the New York airport. The miscellany of prohibited objects — from the everyday to the illegal to the just plain odd — attests to a growing worldwide traffic in counterfeit goods and natural exotica and offers a snapshot of the United States as seen through its illicit material needs and desires.

Here’s more about the project, which will be released in book form and also put on display in galleries in LA and NYC.

Pre-paid plan options for smartphone travellers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2010

If you’re going on an overseas trip and want to use your phone (with data) while you’re there, check out this new wiki on what plans are available in several countries. I hope this develops into a solid resource…I never know where to look for this stuff before I go. (via dj)

I’ve got $400. Where can I go?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2010

Kayak’s Explore feature is a fantastic tool for flexible vacationers on a budget. You enter your home airport, ticket price range, roughly when you want to travel, and it shows you a map of where you can fly for that much money. You can optionally specific your destination’s average temperature, spoken languages, available activities, and flight time.

OffMaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2010

If you’re travelling abroad with the iPhone and understandably wish to avoid AT&T’s ridiculously high data roaming charges when trying to find the train station in a new city, I would highly recommend OffMaps.

OffMaps lets you take your maps offline. It is the ideal companion for any iPhone and iPod Touch user, who wants to access maps when travelling abroad (and avoid data roaming charges) and who wants to have fast access to maps at all times. This app (and the icon) just has to be on the right hand side of Apple’s built-in maps app.

OffMaps uses OpenStreetMap that include a lot more information than simple road maps: from ATMs and train stations to restaurants and pubs! You choose which areas to download instead of buying a new app for every city you want to visit.

I used it for a week in Paris and it worked great; the GPS and compass both still work when data is off so locating yourself isn’t a problem. Just download the proper maps before you leave for your trip and you’re good to go.

The dangers of travel writing to the self

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2010

David Farley wrote a travel article for the New York Times about the eccentric small town of Calcata, Italy. When he went back, he found that the article had changed the character of the town for him.

The problem went beyond some of the local artists’ anger about not making it into the article. Some were angry that I included their arch-enemies. Others were angry that they were in it but not quoted. I had once loved living in Calcata, a fortress town where dinner parties on the square would often erupt in singing and joint smoking; where you could walk 50 feet and eat at an amazing restaurant; where you could make the intimate square your living room. But now, after the article came out, I felt like a persona non grata for at least half of the place. I hated that I was hated.

Oyster Hotel Reviews

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2010

Oyster is a hotel review site. By far the best feature is that they take their own photos of the hotel rooms and facilities; the photos taken by the hotels make everything look bigger (wide-angle lenses) and brighter (professional lighting) than they usually are. (via svn)

Schrute Farms on TripAdvisor

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2010

One of the many places reviewed on TripAdvisor is a small Pennsylvania B&B called Schrute Farms…which you might recall is from The Office. From the NY Times:

Carla Harrington of Fredricksburg, Va., was surprised to find 82 percent of reviews recommended Schrute Farms. “I thought about what it would feel like not to know them as TV characters but to really go to this B & B,” she said in an interview. Her one-star slam called Dwight “an overbearing survivalist who appears to have escaped from the local mental asylum.”

(via mrod)

Danish tourism ads by Lars Von Trier

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2010

Lars Von Trier has directed a bunch of tourism ads for Denmark; here’s a sneak peek.