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January 2009

Follow in Obama’s Footsteps on Your Next Holidays

Posted January 25, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Obama Unlike his predecessor, the brand new President of the United States is a man of the world and has travelled to and lived in many different places. It's not even been a week since he moved into the White House, but Obama themed tours and travel deals seem to be popping up in every country and city he has ties with. So if you are an Obamaniac, why not check out one of the following destinations next time you go on holidays?

When in Hawaii, forget about surfing the high waves of the North Shore of Oahu and hop on The President Obama Tour run by Polynesian Adventure Tours.  From the comfort of a luxurious coach you will be whizzed by his birthplace, his primary school, the Baskin Robbins where he got his first job and many many more cool Obama locations. 

In Jakarta a Mr Bart Bartele has tracked down the house where Obama lived with his mother, stepfather and half-sister. This clever Dutchman is planning on turning it into a cafe called the ‘Sweet Home Obama Bar’, where you can buy Obama paraphernalia and enjoy Kenyan or Javanese coffee with Dutch Stroopwafels (syrup waffles). Not sure if the latter has any link with Obama, but believe me, they are delicious anyways.

Going to the Windy City? Then log on to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau website and print out the list of the First Family’s favourite restaurants, shops and cafes. You can wander through the city while checking out the hot spots where the Obama's used to hang out. If walking doesn’t do it for you then hop on the ‘Obama’s Chicago bus tour’ run by ‘About tours’ which takes you pretty much to the same spots.

The Kenya-based tour company Terminal Tours offers six-day safaris that also make a stop at the village of Kogelo, where you can hang out with Barack’s grandmother. I am not sure how the poor woman is going to cope with all this extra attention though. Before her grandson got elected, Sarah Obama was already shaking around 300 to 500 hands every day. Imagine what it will be like now that he is president.  If I were her, I would seriously think of hopping on a Kenya Airways flight and emigrating to, say Washington, D.C.

All these far-off destinations might be a bit expensive, so if you’re strapped for cash there is always Madame Tussauds here in London. For £22.50 you can have your picture taken hugging a wax version of Barry. (And stick your tongue out at ‘W’.)

(Photo: Treehugger.com)

Qatar Airways Offers Onboard Yoga

Posted January 21, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Airplane Yoga Uma Thurman may have gotten some raised eyebrows when doing yoga exercises on a flight to New York City recently, but it seems like she started a new trend. Last week Qatar Airways announced  they are offering their long-haul passengers a 'fly healthy, fly fit’ guide with yoga exercises. This sounds like a great way to beat the risk of getting deep vein thrombosis and to reduce the effects of jet lag.

However I just can’t seem to get my head around how in the world they want to use an aircraft with 350 passengers as a holistic exercise room. How is the crew going to work the bar service while slaloming their trolleys around the downward-facing dogs and proud warriors spread out in the aisle? And there will be no room for them to prepare meals in the pantry if passengers are scattered around on the floor in child’s poses and lotus positions. To quench my curiosity I downloaded the guide off the Qatar Airways website and then it all made sense. It features some relaxing breathing techniques as well as easy yoga exercises put together with the help of Deepak Chopra, the famous author and co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California. And the good news is that you can do them all from the comfort of your seat. So no need to pack your yoga mat next time you fly Qatar Airways.

Here is one exercise you can easily do in between naps and movies:

1. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and observe the inflow and outflow of your breath for a few minutes.

2. Now take a slow, deep breath through your nose, silently repeating the word ‘So’.

3. Slowly exhale through your nose, while silently repeating the word ‘Hum’. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating ‘So... Hum... ’ with each inflow and outflow of the breath.

4. Do this process for 20 to 30 minutes. Just breathe easily and effortlessly, without trying to concentrate.

I feel relaxed already, although I wonder if the crew can keep a straight face with all the passengers ‘so humming’ during the flight.

(Photo: CBS News)

Electronic Cigarette Producer in Talks With Airline

Posted January 16, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Supersmoker Remember the days when you could still light up mid-flight? It is hard to imagine this now that smoking is banned in so many public places, but yes, cigarettes used to be allowed on planes. For the nonsmoker this was pure torture; trying to get some shut-eye while the passenger in the row behind you was happily puffing away. Or having to hold your breath while the guy across the aisle was sucking on a cigar. Sure, there were smoking and nonsmoking sections, but when does smoke ever stay where it should?

But what about those nicotine junkies who have to chain-smoke right before boarding a flight and then wait for up to 18 hours for the next fag. (For the airline nerds among you: Yes, this would have been on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to JFK.) Some people are willing to risk the embarrassment of being fined and arrested. I mean, just recently, Amy Winehouse couldn’t even refrain from smoking on a flight that lasted only one hour and felt the need to sneak off to the lavatory three times. However, I've got some good news for all you ciggie addicts out there.

SuperSmoker, the company that introduced the electronic cigarette in the U.K. last year, is now in talks with an unnamed airline to allow its handy-dandy devices on flights. The fake fag is battery operated and apparently looks like a real cigarette, even tastes like a real cigarette, but without the smelly smoke. It contains a cylinder with a nicotine liquid that evaporates when the cigarette is lit. Even the tip lights up when you take a drag. Just like the real deal. So no more elbowing your way out of the plane and out of the terminal to suck in that precious fix of tar and nicotine after landing, because you could be smoking the SuperSmoker onboard soon. If you don’t mind looking just a tad bit ridiculous sucking on a plastic stick, that is.

(Photo: Primera Riecker)

Crowne Plaza Hotels Test the ‘Switch off Call’

Posted January 15, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Sleeping-beauty I never really get a good night’s sleep in a hotel. The bed is too bouncy or too springy, the pillow is too hard or too soft, the room is either too hot or too cold. Unwelcome noises keep me awake:  lift going up, lift going down, neighbours who argue, neighbours who make up. I toss and turn only to fall asleep an hour before I am brutally awakened by my wake-up call.

Not a problem when all that’s on my agenda is lounging on the beach, but not good if I have to spend my day running from one meeting to the next followed by an evening of ploughing through my inbox back at the hotel. After which I am guaranteed to spend another night tossing and turning.  Apparently I am not the only person who goes through the same ordeal while travelling for work. Research done by Crowne Plaza hotels shows that many business travellers have sleeping problems and that this is mainly caused by working late nights. It turns out that checking emails right before going to sleep has the same effect as drinking a double espresso. Yikes!  Now that will keep you up all night.

So to make sure their guests sleep like babies, Crowne Plaza offer the Sleep Advantage Program. This means that at check-in you get an airline-style amenity kit with earplugs, eye mask, relaxing lavender spray, a night-light and a CD with music that makes you sleepy. As part of this program, the hotel chain is trialling the ‘switch off call’ in a number of U.K. locations. This means you let reception know what time you want to go to sleep and they will give you a call an hour beforehand to tell you to let go of the Blackberry. Then room service will bring you a calming fresh mint or camomile tea to unwind before you turn in.

It all sounds super relaxing, but I wonder if this will actually work. At least in my case a call might not be enough and someone will actually have to come up to my room and pry the Blackberry out of my hands. I doubt that will be part of the service.

(Photo: Promo Veritas)

Big January Travel Sales Worldwide

Posted January 9, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Sale_tag I am a sucker for sales, so I really love this time of year. You can imagine how excited I was when I found out that many airlines are slashing their prices to get more bums on their seats. British Airways just started their Worldwide Sale with extremely low fares to North America. And bmi has not only dropped that not-so-popular fuel surcharge for flights within Europe, but they also slashed their fares in their "Better for Business Sale".

As we well know, if one airline starts dropping prices, the others will follow. And it's not just the airlines, but many tour operators—such as Thomson and lastminute.com—that are having clearance sales. Not to mention some well-known hotel chains like Hilton and Accor, which are offering very interesting discounts this month.

All great news for me! Not only am I a sucker for sales, but also for travelling to far away and exotic places. And at the top of my long list of New Year’s resolutions, it just happens to say that I need to get more pins on my map of the world. So let’s start booking! Here’s a little preview of my shopping list:

  • Jan:  Surfing in Oahu
  • Feb:  Carnival in Rio
  • Mar: Cherry blossoms in Tokyo
  • Apr: Looking for Easter eggs in the Easter Islands
  • May: Jazz festival in New Orleans
  • June: Yoga holiday in Kerala, India
  • July: Running with the bulls in Pamplona
  • Aug: Snowboarding in Chile
  • Sep: Elephant trek in Thailand
  • Oct: Octoberfest in Munich
  • Nov: Thanksgiving Day parade in New York -  Find cheap flights to New York
  • Dec: Hogmanay in Edinburgh- Find cheap flights to Edinburgh

Let’s hope I'm still this excited when I get my next credit card statement.

(Photo: The Sun)

Air New Zealand Tests Biofuelled Flight

Posted January 6, 2009 by Jaklien van Melick

Biofuel You might not have noticed it but fighting global warming is still hot. The credit crunch has pretty much taken over the news these days, but airlines are still under pressure to fly green. After Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand has now also successfully tested a flight using biofuel.

I didn’t expect anything less from the national carrier of the Land of the Long White Cloud. I mean Kiwi equals clean and green. At least in my eyes. So on 30 December, NZ filled one of the engines of a Boeing 747-40 with a mix of traditional Jet A1 fuel and jathropa oil. Say what? Yes, jathropa oil. I admit that I looked it up in Wikipedia, so here goes: ‘Jatropha oil is vegetable oil produced from the seeds of the Jatropha curcas, a plant that can grow in marginal lands and common lands. Jatropha curcas grows almost anywhere, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can also thrive on the poorest stony soil and grow in the crevices of rocks.’

Hmm, a plane that flies on plant oil? What's next, olive oil? Anyway, the test was successful so I was wondering whether this will be the end of taking the train instead the plane? Well, apparently this is only the first step towards operating green flights and there are still plenty of tests to be done before they can actually start to produce the green fuel. This means that it will probably take another 30 years. Maybe even more.

I guess that means we still have to ease our guilty conscience and buy carbon offsets for a little bit longer.

(Photo: EQ.tv)

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