Sacred rocks and pebbles

If you have ever gone to Australia and you missed visiting Uluru then you need to go back. For me it was the best – people rave about the Opera House – meh! It’s a building – and a pretty nice one at that – but nature is the most amazing architect. It is a hassle getting out to Uluru – or Ayers Rock as it used to be called. You have to fly there because – guess what? – it’s in the middle of nowhere.

You have seen the pictures I am sure – as had I. Nothing prepared me for the “feel” of the place. No wonder the aboriginal people of the area regard it as extremely sacred. I felt like I had to whisper when walking around the base of the mountain. And as you can imagine legends and stories abound about this place. Australians refer to it as “The Rock” – no not Dwayne Johnson, The Rock – this is the real Rock!

I had seen the tourism pictures of Uluru at sunrise and sunset – yes they were pretty impressive but in this day of photoshop do you ever really believe anything you see on a tourism website? Wow – all I can say is it was one of the most amazing sights I had seen – the rock seemed to almost glow. It is definitely magical and spiritual.

It is sometimes reported that those who take rocks from the formation will be cursed and suffer misfortune. There have been many instances where people who removed such rocks attempted to mail them back to various agencies in an attempt to remove the perceived curse.

The rangers at the National Park there receive stones, pebbles, rocks and twigs on a daily basis from tourists who are worried about being cursed. They call them “sorry rocks” and place them back in the area. Some of the letters are fascinating – As reported in an Autralian news site –

“One traveller from Hong Kong posted a 300-gram piece of Uluru with the note: “When I received the rock I was so worried that I want to return it as soon as possible. [In] just one week, my brother broke up with his girlfriend, my father went to hospital and he will do heart surgery on the 20 January. Anyway I just want to return the rock to its rightful place and say good bye to the bad luck!”

The returned rocks are placed in a neutral space and are used to assist in repairing areas of erosion in the park. Some raw material has even been geologically identified as coming from another region and recently the park received a package of seashells. Tourists caught trying to take rocks or sand from the park can face hefty fines of up to $8500.

So those of you out there who have this habit of collecting little rocks, pebbles or shells when they travel – beware! I have to confess guilt here. My daughter loves to have a special stone or shell from anywhere I visit. My favourite one is a stone found on a muddy country road in Co. Cavan, Ireland, outside the now crumbled little farmhouse where my mother was born.

But if I go back to Uluru – I won’t be bringing any rocks or curses home with me!

Snoring on a plane

Being a pretty bad snorer is embarrassing in some situations but on a plane you just know you are going to be embarrassed no end because you are going to fall asleep and you will snore! No escaping that.

One teen took the trouble to make the way easy for her stepfather who is a legendary snorer by making care packages for the other passengers on their flight. What a great idea! You couldn’t really be mad with someone like that now could you?

The story was reported recently in Open Jaw and goes like this –

Alan Tattersall from Victoria, Australia, is a “pretty serious” snorer, according to his stepdaughter, who took pity on fellow passengers flying with him on a 32-hour route to Houston, Texas. She prepared care packages –complete with handwritten notes – for him to hand out on his flight. 

“I’d heard of moms giving out little care packages when they have babies on planes — acknowledging that their infants might be crying,” said 17-year-old Grace.

Together with the help of Tattersall’s wife, Ros, and a friend, Grace purchased chocolates and earplugs, and sealed up 10 tiny care packages for Tattersall to hand out on the plane. The parcels also included notes preemptively apologizing for Tattersall’s snoring.

“Enjoy your trip today,” the note says. “We thought you might be in need of a little assistance if Alan falls asleep — so hope this little care package helps. P.S.: The snoring usually only lasts a short time — while he falls asleep.”

Tattersall himself had no idea Grace and Ros were preparing the packages until they accompanied him to the Melbourne airport for his trip, at which point they handed them over and told him to pass them out.

Ironically, the 62-year-old said most people were too preoccupied listening to their own headphones to really care. The care packages came in handier on the return trip, and said the message made one woman “chuckle.”
Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Just recently I wrote about how Japan Air Lines is using baby emoji’s on seat selection when there is an adult and baby travelling – maybe they could use an emoji for this situation so you can pre-warn everyone around you.

If you are a snorer it is embarrassing to end up like this on a flight – so what to do? One health site says it is your position –

Position: If you’re sitting upright on the flight, even when reclining at a modest angle, you will be aided by gravity in reducing your snoring. The tongue often falls back and blocks the airway, but this is less likely to occur if you are sitting up. Therefore, even your position may reduce your chance of snoring.

So for all those who recline their seats immediately the plane takes off then maybe you shouldn’t if you snore. There are ways to keep your head upright without compromising your nap. One of the best options I have come across is the GoSleep eye mask. Here’s a description

If you’re literally nodding as you attempt to nod off, the GoSleep Pillow Travel Kit will ensure your head stays cradled securely in place. The eye mask attaches to the back of your headrest with an adjustable elastic cord, but keep in mind this feature may only be useful when there’s not a screen on your seat back.

So I guess this would keep you in the upright position and therefore less chance of those embarrassing snores when you drift off to sleep. I really like this mask – not that I snore! At least I have never heard myself snore. But I have to admit that on a weekend away in Vancouver my sister said I was not snoring – but purring. Yes – I like purring much better.

Line ups in the sky

Has this happened to you? You are on a flight and are anxiously waiting for the drinks trolley to be rolled away so you can go to the washroom. But by the time you struggle out of your window seat with “sorry” “thank you” etc etc to the two people you have to climb over – lo and behold – there is a line up from here to Nagasaki – all waiting for the washroom. 😦

But now there is a plan underway. At least a plan to monitor these line ups so that the airlines can analyse the data and improve things. So how is this going to work? How about cameras outside the toilet.

Hang on – I said OUTSIDE …. not inside – so calm down!

But yes – the plan is to have cameras posted outside the toilets so that the airline can see how many people are lined up during a flight and at what time during the flight. They say that the camera will be visible and will not be positioned in such a way it can see your face. Not sure how they are going to accomplish that. If you don’t like the idea and are worried about facial recognition then I guess you could always use a face mask like those brave demonstrators in Hong Kong …. but hang on – I have become distracted. Let’s get back to the fact that airlines are looking at using technology to monitor our behaviour on flights – including line ups for the toilet.

But it gets worse!

They are also goint to collect data as to how long we spend in that tiny little cubbyhole once we finally get to slide that bolt across the inside of the door and all the lights come on. Hmmm – it will all be anonymous of course (of course!) but thinking in terms of a Brave New World thing imagine if that popped up on your frequent flyer profile – seen only by the airlines.

Look, it’s not all bad. They are also going to monitor how much toilet paper we use !!!! YIKES as well as soap (you did wash your hands didn’t you???)

No really – it’s not that bad. They are also talking about some sort of sign so that the flight attendant can easily see if someone has their belt fastened or not. Well I think that is a really good thing. How many times haven’t you fallen asleep on a long overseas flight with your blankie all tucked up around you only to go through turbulence and the flight attendant has to wake you up to check if your belt is fastened. I always try to put my belt over the blanket so she can see. But this does sound like a good option. While we are on the subject of seat belts why ON EARTH would you not have your seat belt fastened the whole duration of the flight (except of course when you are in the line up for the loo). You never know when you are going to hit that turbulence – just makes sense to me.

None of this has happened yet….. but Airbus VP Marketing at a recent industry conference in LA said that this not a concept. It is not a dream. It will happen.

Better go out and buy your face mask now!

Who’s a crybaby?

Have you ever sat next to a crying baby on a flight?  I think we can all say yes to that question.  After all, as at 2018 Canadian travelers had taken over 20M trips – there must have been a few babies on those flights.  So getting a seat next to a crying baby is probably the bottom of the wish list for most travelers and generally it just seems to depend on how lucky (or unlucky) you might be getting that seat.

Now Japan Airlines is trying to take the guess work out of picking your seat away from the babies.  So now when you go onto the Japan Airlines website to select your seat, if you are travelling with a baby it will mark that seat as taken with a baby face image – so others know that the seat next to this might not be the most desirable.

It’s not foolproof because if you book through a partner airline you might not necessarily be able to pull up the seat map in the same way – or perhaps you book your seat in advance on the basis that there is no baby nearby and then a mom and baby book the seat behind you…..  But this brings me to a bigger question – isn’t this discriminatory?

We are all getting very sensitive these days – Gender, race, sexual identity, weight and size are all very sensitive topics …. So what about those baby haters???

People we are talking about a baby here – someone who doesn’t realise whether or not you are uncomfortable with their crying.  And that’s the problem because the baby haters don’t make the baby uncomfortable – they make the mom uncomfortable.  Trust me – I have been there.  Your baby starts niggling and you go through all the soothing motions you can think of – rocking them back and forth, trying the pacifier (we call it a dummy but that doesn’t seem to be the name here) and all the while anxiously glancing around at your fellow passengers – just waiting for that LOOK … you know the one I’m talking about.

In fact a real life incident for you – Tracy in my office had to fly to Vancouver when her little one was a baby. On the way there the baby slept all the way through. When she was getting off the flight everyone kept saying “Oh what a wonderful baby”. Different story on the way back – the baby cried and cried the whole way. When she got off the flight no one said a word to her! She just got the looks!

So I really think that Japan Airlines has made a mistake with this so called promotional tool – unless they take it all the way.  Now there’s a thought.

So when you select a seat you will be obliged to identify your own bad habit so as to warn other people maybe not to select a seat next to you.  And c’mon people – you got to be truthful here – just like the mom who books a seat with an infant and gets called out!

You talkers out there – you could be labeled on the seat plan like this

And if you are a fidget – someone who constantly digs in the seat pocket in front of you or kicks the back of the seat in front of you or has to endless jab the screen in front of you then you can be this one

And if you are one of those people with legs up to their armpits then this one

Image result for tall man cartoon images

But beware – because you never know where this might lead. All this Artificial Intelligence – access to previous passenger complaints or flight attendant notes. Remember that time you shouted at the aeroplan lady on the phone because she couldn’t find you the flight you wanted …… beware! This could be your seat selection icon

Check your weight before you fly

If someone wanted to check your weight when you checked in for your flight would you be mad? embarrassed? annoyed? I am sure there would be a whole myriad of emotions at this very personal intrusion.

Now before you get too mad there is a good reason for this – at least according to Fuel Matrix, a company who is looking into making airlines more fuel efficient. They say that at the moment airlines are working on an average weight for men, women and children. The company proposing the weighing system, Fuel Matrix, said airlines burn between 0.3 and 0.5 percent more fuel due to the extra weight of carrying the unnecessary fuel. By reducing the cost, carriers could save as much as $1.35 billion worldwide.

Mmm – so how will this happen? At check in? It is embarrasing enough going through those scanning machines. A lot of people did not like that very much when they first brought them into operation and no wonder – the near naked images they circulated were quite shocking. They are much more discreet now as USA Today reported –

The full-body scanners used in all airports since May 2013 are called “millimeter wave” machines, which bounce electromagnetic waves off the traveler to provide an animated image where a suspicious item might be located. The TSA no longer uses the backscatter scanners that produced near-naked images of travelers.Mar 2, 2016

OK – so we can rest a bit easy about the scanners now that there are not a bunch of TSA agents ogling (or not) over our body parts – but now they want to weigh us???

Hold on to your horses – Fuel Matrix says this will be discreetly done via some sort of pressure pad. Something that you stand on and then the information is “discreetly” passed on to someone working on the logistics of the overall weight of passengers, crew and luggage.

So what do the airlines consider the average weight for us all? Well us women should weigh in at 154 pounds and the guys at 189 pounds. Mmmm – how do y’all feel now? Of course height plays a part – right? The woman’s weight is based on being 5ft 3 tall.

Whichever way you look at it weight is a sensitive issue but before you get too wound up bear in mind that if you do a helicopter flightseeing trip or a hot air balloon or a flight over the Nazca Lines – you are going to have to disclose your weight.

Thank goodness the days of Twiggy are long gone and now it is all about booty!

What to eat when you cruise

OK so we have all heard the jokes about cruising.  Plan to put on at least a pound a day.  Can you imagine how overweight you would be if you did the latest and longest world cruise.  Viking Cruises is pushing hard to beat the world record for the number of days in a world cruise and I think they might just do that at 245 days.  Wow – imagine putting on 245 pounds.  We would all be rolling off the ship at the end and would not be admitted back to Canada because our passports would bear no similarity to our new pudgy post cruise figures!

Yes – cruising – It’s all about the food – that never-ending buffet that we religiously visit each day.  As the ships get bigger so do the buffet areas and it just takes that much longer to get yourself organized.   

So here’s the plan.

Out of the elevator and join the line up for the obligatory hand washing ceremony.  It seems that with the outbreaks of noro virus on the cruise ships have encouraged many cruise lines to install sinks with taps and soap so you can properly wash your hands before getting anywhere NEAR the food.

Now with clean hands carefully approach the buffet being mindful of the traffic flow as those exiting with full plates make their way to a table with determination and fierce concentration.  Then a quick squiz of the area.

SQUIZ ….. “a look or glance, esp an inquisitive one. Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers. Word origin of ‘squiz‘ C20: perhaps a blend of squint and quiz.”

Check out the salads – no need to do the desserts as I won’t be partaking – then on to the warming pans.  Usually the dish is written on a sign on the front of the pan but that doesn’t mean anything.  You have to look so that means easing the top off and taking a look at what “braised beef and vegetables” really is.  Sometimes you might be surprised – or disappointed.

Look, food is pretty important and can make or break your cruise – but one man’s meat is another man’s poison and you will find wildly differing views on cruise food.  Some reviews are so passionately angry they are almost funny.  Like this one ….

The XXXXXXX cafe offered cheap food. Lots of pasta & mac & cheese. Hot dog tempura??? Seriously? I asked a server what time the cafe closes, & she said 930pm. Along with a quip of “we have to sleep sometime”. At 930pm sharp, the lights go off & you are left with nothing.  Food tables are roped off. No kidding.

Oh dear – he or she sounds really hangry.  Maybe this review was written in the dead of night in an inside cabin somewhere on the high seas.

Others describe meals on the cruise ship as being akin to “school dinners”.    Honestly, growing up in England I loved school dinners so I can’t really see that as an insult.  However when you consider the thousands of meals that are prepared daily on the cruise ships of the world, spare a thought for the poor chefs down in the galley – it can’t be easy!

When dog poop spoils your sightseeing

Has this happened to you before? You find yourself in this beautiful medieval town with narrow cobblestone streets, terracotta tiles on the houses, church bells ringing in the square – and right in front of you on the path dog poop. Yuck.

Some cities get a bad name for this. Paris for example became known for the dog poop in the streets – not to mention cigarette butts and more. But back in 2017 the authorities realised that this was doing nothing to encourage tourists and in fact made life pretty miserable for the locals too. They set up a board (some call it the “incivility brigade” ) to look into this and charge hefty fines.

There are some cities in Europe that have found a way to deal with dog poop and I think that this has also been adopted by some cities in North America. Nerja, Spain is a good example.

Once a sleepy fishing village, Nerja is one of the few places to have kept its traditional charm, with whitewashed houses, narrow streets and all the modern amenities you could hope for.    WikiTravel describes it well –

It is a quiet town with a central historical area that still feels like a village, and the tourist mix is not exclusively northern European as many Spanish people use this resort for holidays, together with French and Italians.

“The town is built on a hillside with a not too steep gradient and the sprawling centre itself consists of an older part with white streets partly pedestrianized mainly to the east of the Balcon de Europa, the natural focus of the town and the venue for fiestas, but beyond the 17th century church and the Plaza Cavana more modern development takes over and it is in these areas that the town seems like any other recently developed Spanish Costa resort.”

So this beautiful little town started to have a problem not only with stray dogs but also with dog owners not cleaning up the poop. Now in order to get a dog licence you need to register your dog’s dna and if they find a dog poop on the street and identify the dna then you, the owner, are in for a hefty fine. Apparently this has worked quite well so far and dog poop sightings are down.

Which is a good thing…. because we, as tourists, like to visit these medieval cities and want it to look just like it was in medieval times – as if we were on a film set of Game of Thrones. We don’t want to see McDonalds or Starbucks or ATMS or anything else that might spoil the illusion. Mmmm…isn’t that why Disney is so successful???