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International Air Travel, My Style.

As I start packing for yet another intercontinental flight, I came to the happy realization that I am now quite good at this. I know not to take more than one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, and save the weight and space for a few extra pair of BVDs.

In the last year I have been in five continents and if you want to get technical,  I could claim two sub continents. India is known as a subcontinent, but the Indian people are fond of telling you that they are their own continent. It is hard to argue with 1.2 billion people. And then there is the Middle East. I live here and I’ll be damned if I know what continent I live in. This aint Asia, nor Europe, nor Africa. I have never heard of anyone calling this area a subcontinent, so what is it? I’ll just go with subcontinent for ease of calculations.

As far as air travel goes, the Middle East is Middle Earth. Both Dubai and Doha bill themselves as the cross roads for the world. In a way that is very true. A person can fly from Dubai or Doha to anywhere important directly. Both cities are home to an excellent airline. Dubai boasts Emirates Air, and Doha is the proud home of Qatar Airlines, subtitled “The World’s Five Star Airline”. There is virtually no major country that is not served by either of them, together they have the globe covered. On top of that Emirates Air just reduced their fares because the price of oil dropped. Name me one other airline that did that!

I live in the UAE, about a half hour away from the Dubai Airport. This being Emirates home base you would think that I would be loyal to the home boys and that at least the majority of my travel would be with them. However, as any of you who know me are thinking right now, not necessarily.  For my trips to Thailand, the third of which  I am packing for right now, and for our trip to Hong Kong last month, I take Qatar. Why? Well, simply put $. Hundreds of $’s less. More $’s to spend on tours and stupid souvenirs. To fly Qatar I must first fly to Doha, which is a very short flight, then change planes at the Doha Airport. Qatar is building a new super airport, but I have no idea when it will be completed. For now, all planes coming and going must park in the next county. Passengers must  ride a bus into the terminal, and then another bus back out. It is a bit annoying and adds at least a couple of hours to my travel time, but it is the price I pay to save the $s.

Now that I have been a steady customer of Qatar, I am starting to climb up the ladder of their frequent flyer program. Soon I will be a Silver Flyer (please do not confuse that with Silver Surfer) and with a little creativity I will enter the ranks of the Golden Ones (please do not confuse that with getting older). As anyone who flies a lot and stays loyal to one carrier knows, stepping up a rank means multiplying  every mile you travel towards the grail of a free ticket. Someday, Qatar will owe me a free trip to somewhere I would never pay to fly to. (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me)  I am considering adding that to my bucket list; “Get a free flight to somewhere, anywhere at all”. It would not be my first time to achieve this, but last time I did it, mining companies were buying my tickets and it did not mean as much to me.

Back to my inspirational moment that led to this posting. Being good at international travel means more than leaving room in your suitcase for underwear (clean and otherwise) and souvenirs.

Let us consider proper travelling clothes. First let me say that anyone who dresses up for a flight is living in the fifties. Today, unless you have to go to a meeting right off the plane, it is ridiculous. Think of flying like taking the bus, it will simplify the journey.

So what to wear?I’ll do this from the bottom up.

Wear flip-flops or sandals. Not all airports make you take off you shoes, but when you have to, it is really nice to just kick off the sandals. In fact, a lot of TSA types will just let you pass if you are wearing nothing but flip-flops. If you are unfortunate enough that your destination is, say, Minnesota in January, you can pack a pair of mukluks and put them on before you leave the terminal.

Pants. Loose and baggy. That way they do not creep up on you and cause a lack of blood flow to sensitive regions. Also, if you can find loose and baggy cargo pants, then you can carry some essential in-transit items on your person, such as a couple of power bars, Ipod and  ear plugs, reading glasses, stuff like that. Yes, it means divesting your gear in one of those little trays before you pass through the security gate, but the trade-off is worth it. If you put all these things in your carry on bag it just causes more work for you once you get to your seat.

Shirt or blouse. Planes are notoriously over air-conditioned. What I find works best is a long sleeve cotton T.

Head gear. Most people do not wear anything. I always wear a ball cap, even when I am not travelling. I have found that this strange custom of mine is great on an airplane when I want to sleep. I can pull it down over my eyes. Combine that with the Ipod and you can drift into another world, while on your way to another world. The hat also keeps your head warm.

These days airlines have started stocking their inventory with planes that have the acronym ER at the end  of the type designator. I.E. B777ER. The ER stands for Extended Range. If you look at international routes available you will find some TRULY Extended Range flights. I think the longest regularly scheduled flight these days is from Atlanta to Johannesburg.  That is something like 19 hours. Dubai to Los Angeles is 16 or so. Just a few years ago either of these flights would have been impossible. You would have had to change planes and probably carriers in London, or Amsterdam. Maybe more than one stop. If you think 16 hours is too damn long to be cooped up in a steel tube at 38,000 feet with recirculated air spreading flu germs, well you are not alone. A lot of people still opt for a lay-over in some city. But the problems with that solution are scarier to me than catching this years flu bug. Let’s take a look at them.

Lost luggage. Every time you switch planes in transit you give overworked underpaid luggage handlers another chance to send your bag to Shanghai when your destination is Topeka. Don’t even bother wondering how they do it, but misdirected luggage is still a significant problem even though the world’s airlines are getting much better about getting your bag on the same plane you are on. That being said, it has never happened to me (knock knock) .

Another disadvantage of a lay over is the extra costs. An overnight in say London could just about double your airfare, considering hotel, taxis, meals and a night on the town.

Maybe all you want to do is get out of the flying tube and walk around an airport for 4 hours between flights, like the good old days. Consider this, count meals, that trip to the book store, some time in the bar, the cute souvenir refrigerator magnet at the gift shop that you would not have bought if you had not made the trip to the bar  and before you know it your travel budget has taken a hit. Plus, that gives the luggage handlers four extra hours to choose which plane to put your bag on.

I always opt for the non stop on the ER. Just remember, you get on the plane, and sooner or later, you get off the plane.

Now about that recirculated air. Well, other than looking like a Tokyo traffic cop and wear a surgical mask, there just is not anything you can do. However, the air up there is not the only source of exotic diseases in an airplane. The plastic tray and the arms on your seat can hold and transmit all sorts of maladies. And then there is the toilet. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and I use it before and after I touch anything. I think of it as preventing others from catching what I have, so I don’t feel like a paranoid. I also wipe down the food tray and the arm rests. Why risk it? Catching one of the worlds staphylococci can really ruin a nice vacation.

If the person sitting next to you is coughing, hacking, sneezing or bleeding uncontrollably, ask to be moved. Same thing if they stink, or especially if they are so fat they should have been made to buy two seats. If there are any empty seats, the cabin crew will try to help you, if you ask nicely. If you are not nice to them, about anything at all, they will not be nice to you, about anything at all. Frankly I think it is pretty shitty job which I would never do. Nobody tips you and some passengers can be real jerks.

Always carry a pen with you because you will need to fill out one of those immigration forms before you stand in the long line to have your passport inspected. Borrowing a pen from another (read: better prepared) passenger is embarrassing and brands you as a novice.

Many people will go to the trouble of finding the local currency exchange and buying Rupees  (whatever) before they leave home. I wonder if they have ever heard of an ATM machine?  Also, I just can’t understand why anyone uses travelers checks these days. These must be the same people who dress up for the flight. Hello? Eisenhower is not President anymore.

Thats it for today. I am off for Thailand now. All packed in my style, which means I probably forgot some stuff. My next blog will be from Chiang Mai. Stay tuned, tell a friend and please make a comment. Even if you do not know me, just tell me what you think about this post, even if you think it stinks like the guy who sat next to you on your last flight.

Using the Worlds Highest Urinal

Dubai is a city of extremes. Just about everywhere you go you can find the biggest, the fastest, the tallest.

My mother came to visit my wife and I last week, and we decided to be tourists in our own town. Technically we live in Sharjah, which is next door to Dubai. While being a rather sleepy town (Emirate actually) it is lovely, but without the superlatives you encounter in Dubai. Dubai seems to be working towards the Guinness Book of World Records for the most entries by a municipality in the Guinness Book of World Records.

We visited, in order;

The worlds largest indoor aquarium. This is located in the Dubai Mall, one of if not the largest mall in the world. It is 4 stories tall, each floor the size of five football fields, and this aquarium goes all the way up. There were an incredible number of fish, even sharks in this thing.

Attached to this mall is the new icon of Dubai

The world's tallest building and free standing structure, the Burj Khalifa

On the top of the Burj we visited

The worlds highest observation deck. Those little buildings below are really big skyscrapers.

The elevator to this observation tower is the worlds fastest elevator, 124 floors in 45 seconds. Yes, your ears pop.

All along we were met with plaques put in place by the Guinness book people. However, I just know that when I went to the gents room in this observation toiwer I was using the world’s highest urinal. Even though there was no plaque. I did not have a magic marker or I would have written graffiti to let people know what an honor it was to urinate there.

We also visited

The world's largest hanging gardens. This is my mom standing next to the Guinness sign

These beautiful gardens went on and on for acres.

To top it off my mom flew round trip on the 4th longest regularly scheduled air rout. LAX/Dubai/LAX. It is a 15 hour flight one way. Way to go mom!

Dubai is like the land of Oz. It is becoming a big tourist destination, for cause. The tourists are mostly European and Asian. Americans watch too much Fox news. I just feel lucky to live here.

Thats is it for this post. Next week I am off to Chiang Mai and the first week of June…KENYA! Stay tuned. Tell a friend, and please make a comment.

Ramblings

This will be a pointless set of ramblings, without theme or purpose. I just feel like writing y’all and telling you some tidbits about life here on the Arabian side of the coconut that might otherwise go unstated. Bear with me, don’t look for a thread here, I am just jumping from branch to branch.

I read the Gulf News every day. I read all of it. I even read the want ads and classifieds. Primarily of course I read the front section, but I also always read the business section. I NEVER read the business section of the LA times, so I either have a lot of time on my hands, or I find entertainment in it. Both actually. I will dispense with the want ads and classifieds to say I now know that I could never get a job here, and I also know what a used Bentley costs. (Yes, I am enamored with Bentleys)

Lets look at premium Dubai realty first. The tallest building in the world is named the Burj Khalifa. Burj translates into tower. I forget how many floors this tower has,but I know if you took the world trade center buildings and stood them on top of each other, they would not be as tall as the Khalifa. The tower has hotels, restuarants, businesses and yes apartments. Wanna move to deluxe apartment in the sky? Well Armani, the  Italian designer, just opened a hotel in the Burj, and he also designed and is selling apartments. A 2 bedroom, 2237 sq ft apartment (so high you probably cannot hear the call to prayer) will run you a mere AED 21,000,000. The AED (dirham) exchanges with the US$ at a fixed rate of 3.655 Aeds to the $  You do the math.

There are also a wide range of Villas available in Dubai. Some of them are huge. In fact, a student of one of Mary Ann’s colleagues lamented that she had to call her father because she had not seen him in 5 days. The prof asked “is your father travelling?” She said “no, he is home, but the house is so big I just don’t see him for days sometimes.”

OK, you are all wondering what a Bentley will cost me when I talk Mary Ann into it (Hiya babe, just kidding) In todays classifieds, a 2005 Bentley can be had for a mere AUD 349,000. Or, a Porsche 911 Gembala can be had for 319,000. A new Range Rover for 289,000, a 2005 Lamborghini for 319,000. Of course there are the less expensive Mercedes, and then for us plebeians, Fords.

Bored yet? Don’t go away unhappy, read on.

The business section is somehow always interesting. It seems that luxury is the main attraction here, surprise. Every once in a while there is a story about the UAE based Emirates Airlines having survived the worldwide economic down turn by offering more and better first class services (you can take a shower on a long haul Emirates Air flight in first class, yes a shower) Dubai luxury hotel units increased by 16% this year, and occupancy went up by more than that.

Now, the fun news. I will grant you this, the papers cannot be critical of the rulers. That is forbidden. Say what you want.

Every time a ruler type appears in a photo in the paper, which is multiple times a day, especially the ruler of Dubai, his entire name and title appear in the caption. So, a typical caption might read “Sheik Mohammed al Quatani al Aid Minister of finance, Supreme Commander of the armed forces and ruler of Dubai, cuts the ribbon to open a new office building”.  Under that is another photo, same guy, with this caption “Sheik Mohammed al Quatani al Aid Minister of finance, Supreme Commander of the armed forces and ruler of Dubai, meets the President of Somewhere”  It gets old, and you just learn to skip titles.

This guy, the Ruler of Dubai impresses me. He is always out doing something to promote his Emirate and the UAE in general. This week he is hosting a worldwide confab of sports big shots. Dubai, as I posted earlier, already has the best race track for horses. They host very fine golf tournaments as well as tennis. They also host many other sporting events of worldwide stature. The ruler is now talking about a possible bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. He was quoted as saying that if they bid, they will bid to win. He talked about Dubai’s “can do” ethics. He is serious about promoting sports because he says that the UAE culture has gone soft due to the luxury they enjoy now. He is worried that over 40% of UAE children have diabetes, and he thinks strong sports programs are a good step towards lowering that problem. Good for him.

Now summer in Dubai can be brutal. However, they can most assuredly build air-conditioned facilities for just about anything. I don’t know about the equestrian events, and I truly wonder about the Marathon, but the rest can all be done indoors. Remember, this is the desert country that put a ski slope in a shopping mall!

Weird news that my sensibilities cannot grok include the following:

A man from India (maybe Pakistan, I can’t tell them apart) was arrested for wearing a Sarong on the street. (Hey KIWI, you reading this ?  I’d love it if you came to visit, but you would need to wear pants)

A school bus was stopped by the police and told to remove the curtains it had up over the windows. There is a law against curtains and tinted windows on school buses, I do not know why.

A Brit was arrested for flipping the rigid didget on the road at another driver who angered him. The “victim” called in the brit’s license number and the police came and arrested him. The accuser does not need to appear in court. The Brit faces a fine, incarceration, then deportation. I have a bad habit of using my middle finger demonstratively at times, I might tape it to my palm.

And finally, a Brit expat working here, brought a paramour down from Britain for a luxury vacation in Dubai. They were staying in a very expensive hotel in a ritzy resort area. They were seen embracing each other. They say it was a peck on the cheek. The woman who reported them said that her children were subjected to a amorous display of lust. The real story is somewhere between the two I am sure, but the short end is that this couple faces four years in prison, and then of course deportation.  I have stopped kissing Mary Ann anywhere outside of our hotel room.

Well, that is enough for now. Sorry to bore you if you read this far, thanks, and tell a friend. By the way, on a good day, I am getting 30 to 34 hits on my blog. I am hungry for attention and want more MORE!

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