Archive for April, 2010

TRAVEL TIME – Around the World with SpinFirst.com!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

MAY 17, 2010 – Travel News

Since I returned from Europe, all airports in the UK have been closed again due to the ongoing Icelandic volcano ash cloud. The Eurostar experienced delays only hours after I completed my trip. As I was planning this round the world itinerary, I paid close attention to developing travel news, and tweeted much of what was concerning me, and seemed of interest to travelers. This attention to international news paid off. The ash cloud knock-on effect made the European train system quite busy, so I booked and reserved seats in advance. I also was very lucky with the returning ash cloud, it politely hovered over Britain as I left from France. The one big change I made in the trip was changing a stop in Bangkok to a stop in Singapore, based on reading into the news of that region. I booked my flights back in January, so the news on potential demonstrations was quite limited. But I did not want to gamble with limited time so I erred on the side of caution, and am quite glad that I did, with a major escalation in the conflicts occurring right when I would have been there.

I guess the resulting advice out of all this is not to let potential issues get in the way of your travel plans, but to monitor the news, and make adjustments where it feels appropriate, and if safety could be an issue, change the plans, it is just not worth it. I am so glad I traveled when I did, it was an off-peak time in most places I visited, and that made every stop so much more pleasant. Follow SpinFirst on Twitter, and make sure you follow the latest in international travel news. I did!

MAY 15, 2010 – Portland, Oregon

Well, the very last flight of this wonderful journey was delayed. After 3 hours on the tarmac in Washington DC, finally made it home to Portland. A trivial delay in the grand scheme of this trip through 10 countries. Rail Europe made the Europe train segment flawless. Azumano Travel made the flying segments a breeze. Expedia.com hotel booking and discounts made that part of the trip not only meet my expectations, but in most cases exceed them. I did all my research at TripAdvisor.com, which is about the most valuable travel reference site out there. I’ve learned a lot about airlines trains, airports and travel essentials, some of which has made it into the individual destination blogs, the rest will be compiled into a more comprehensive travel tips guide coming soon. Thanks for following along on this amazing trip!

MAY 14, 2010 – Paris, Charles du Gaulle Airport

Well, what a trip! Nine countries. Eleven airports. Nine train stations. Sixteen days. Paris, the perfect bookend to a wonderful spin around the world! Read all about it, latest from Paris posted in 96 Hours across Europe by train…

MAY 13, 2010 – To Paris

After an exhilarating stay in London, it’s off to Paris for the final stop of this round the world trip!

MAY 11, 2010 – London

I’m home in a way. I haven’t spent time in London in years, it’s exciting to be back!

MAY 10, 2010 – Zurich – Paris – Bruges

I’m pleased to have posted the latest phase of this trip here: 96 Hours Across Europe by Train. Tonight: Bruges, Tomorrow: London. More pictures and travel notes soon!

MAY 9, 2010 – Venice

After four excellent stops, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Cairo and Istanbul, I touched down at San Marco Airport in Venice this morning to begin the second phase of my SpinFirst.com Around the World Spin! From here, I’m taking the train via Zurich, Bruges/Brussels to London with a final stop in Paris. 96 hours…

This is a different trip style, with less time at each destination, just stopovers along the way. As I’ve already discovered in Venice, you could take a long time to explore this place, but I have to stay focused, I have a train to catch tomorrow!


Venice at night from Ponti d’ Accademia; view from room 301, Hotel American Dinesen.

MAY 5, 2010 – Istanbul.

I think I’m onto a winner here. My hotel’s location (Lady Diana Hotel, Sultanahmet) is in the middle of the oldest part of the town. From the hotel’s rooftop terrace is a perfect panorama over the incredible rooftops and minarets of the old city, reaching the shore of the sea of Marmara, which winds its way eventually to the Mediterranean. I can see the skyscrapers of modern Istanbul over on the Asian side of the Bosphorus River. I’ll take a wander down the shore there tomorrow. The streets all around me are buzzing with markets, shopping and the incredible Grand Bazaar, I just scraped the surface of it today, it’s overwhelming and will take a few visits to find my way around it.

The rooftop terrace view is priceless, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and myriad other mosques as far as the eye can see. I need to pace myself, my legs have been hurting all day, I think the after effects of entering two pyramids yesterday, the steep ascent/descent while crouched over works muscles I never knew I had, and apparently they need work.

More tomorrow.


MAY 5, 2010 – En Route to Istanbul.

Cairo is fantastic. It’s an amazing change, from the glitz and sophistication of Asia, but it is unique and incredible. You can read the full article 48 hours in Cairo here. Next stop Istanbul. I really hope I don’t buy a carpet, it’s not in my budget!

Bit of a flights hiccup at the airport, had to buy a new ticket. Odd, but not entirely surprising. Nice to be able to call your travel agent and friends late at night where they are and get help (Thanks Steve!). What would I do without the iPhone?! See you in Istanbul.


MAY 2, 2010 – En Route to Cairo.

With such an exciting itinerary, I am obviously looking forward to my next stop, Cairo. But Singapore has grabbed me. My time here, while short, has been just about perfect, and I am sorry to leave it behind.


MAY 1, 2010 – Singapore.

Coming to Singapore after Hong Kong is like arriving at Disneyland after driving through Los Angeles — it’s clean, precise, perfect and a breath of fresh, if humid, air. That’s not really a fair comparison, it’s just such a dramatic contrast from the incredible scale and concentration of humanity in Hong Kong to the bright and colorful, serenely laid out beautiful Singapore.

Singapore is an Asian treasure with surprising diversity. I mention surprising because, as stated earlier, I arrived here from Hong Kong, and if there was ever a metaphor for diversity, Hong Kong is it. But within a few minutes of walking through Singapore City, I came across more variety of international cuisines than anywhere I’ve experienced before. Pan-Asian, European, American, British, Turkish, Arabic and countless more… Read the full article: ’48 hours in Singapore.’


View from the 17th floor, Marina Mandarin, Singapore


ON THE GROUND IN HONG KONG: Wednesday April 28, 10:00 P.M.

Read the ’48 Hours in Hong Kong’ article here…

I lost a day somewhere there. There’s a number of good inexpensive options to get from the airport to central Hong Kong, I opted for the MTL Airport Express train, efficient, costs $100 HKD and comfortable. I also opted to walk from Hong Kong Central Station, see a bit of the city en-route to my hotel (Courtyard Marriott, Connaught Road West). It was a bit of a hike in hot humid conditions, but the hotel is excellent, exactly what I needed. Hong Kong-style Seafood Curry for dinner. Turning in early for a big day of sightseeing tomorrow. Hong Kong is busy, a bit dirty, but magic. The sheer scale of this place — and I’ve only seen limited views from the Western section so far — is awesome. Hope I can find all the fun views I’m looking for!


View from 28th Floor, Courtyard Marriott, Hong Kong.


APRIL 27 7:00 P.M. Mid-Flight.

Pacific Time. Not far from Japan, about 5 hours out of Hong Kong. It just dawned on me mid-flight, with 4229 miles flown, that I have over 25,000 further miles on this trip. Really glad I got this long flight out of the way! Looks like we have a decent tailwind, so getting in a bit early. I could use it, I want at least two chances at photographing sunset from Victoria Peak, so hoping to head up there right after I dump the heavy bag in the hotel. How the heck is it 8:54 pm pacific time?! Well, I guess time flies when you’re having fun. I’ll conserve my batteries so I can watch Zombieland – I’ve been saving it for this trip! It’s raining in Portland, it’s raining in Hong Kong. I’m hopeful for a window of brilliant light for photography when I get there. I arrive about 6 pm… wonder if that gives me time to head up to Victoria Peak for sunset? Plan is to maximise photo opportunities in case weather closes in the view, may have to visit the peak a few times to get the shots I want.


APRIL 27 10:44 A.M. – SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Right, we’re off then. Just polishing off a few work items while waiting in SFO (San Francisco) for the Hong Kong-bound flight. It’s stormy here, and it’s stormy in Hong Kong – I love an adventure! So far so good, flights on time, and comfortable enough. Will let you know how I feel after 14 hours on the next one! Seriously, I promised myself I’d try to stay under 10 hours max. for flights, but you just can’t do it direct from West Coast U.S. to Asia. It’s a long time, but I’ve got fully charged batteries (me and the laptop and iPhone), and plenty to do — really hoping to grab some sleep, though! Last year I purchased a lounge pass, good for a year. It’s a really good idea when you have a lot of traveling to do, takes the edge off, allows access to free snacks and plentiful plug-ins to keep things charged. Well worth the investment, taking advantage of it right now. More soone enough, from Hong Kong…


APRIL 27 – 6:30 A.M. PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

It’s Travel Time! Waiting at PDX (Portland, Oregon) airport for flight to SFO (San Francisco) with connection to HKK (Hong Kong). Weather in Portland: Raining. Weather in Hong Kong: Raining with chance of Thunderstorms. As a Travel Photographer, that doesn’t sound too bad at all! On-time departure from PDX, expected on-time arrival in SFO. Weather system — assuming fog — causing some delays in SFO, though not too worried, got work I can do!

Spin.First Facebook feed:

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Spin First

Create Your Badge

2 Days to go – Clouds clear over Europe!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

First flight: SFO – HKK – San Francisco to Hong Kong, saved the longest one for first! Seemed like a good starting point. Weather doesn’t seem to be too good there at the moment, hope I’ll find a break for photo panoramas. #ashtag volcano chaos in Europe seems to me mostly cleared up at the moment, so hopefully my planning will have paid off.

I’ve completed booking on all hotels, planes and trains. Hong Kong, Singapore, Cairo, Istanbul, Venice, Zurich, Bruges, London, Paris here I come! Feels good to have put aside the procrastination and commit to each location. Train tickets are in the mail, as, apparently, is the camera connection kit for my iPad. Weight is critical on this trip and I am really trying to avoid bringing the laptop, but, if the camera connect kit doesn’t arrive, my photographs must be saved, organized and posted as I go, and the laptop will have to come along for the ride.This is a big commitment for me, to not bring a full horse-power laptop on a trip. I do need to work, and to post blog items, upload images galleries, but 2lb is a big weight difference, and I like traveling light! — Update on this one, apparently the Camera Connection Kits are now shipping. I’ll believe it when I see it and, hopefully, be traveling light! UPDATE: No camera connect kit, and I have to keep up with committments while traveling so this laptop is going instead. I was looking forward to road-testing the iPad, but just can’t afford to a: not have somewhere to download and organize my photos, and b: just can’t make it work. It was worth a try. Maybe next Spin, I’ll have everythingI need to road test it.

I am looking forward to revisiting places I’ve spent time before (London and Zurich) and very excited about discovering all the new places (everywhere else!). I owe a lot to the good people at Lonely Planet for their in-depth travel information, as well as the many travelers who have taken the time to post reviews at tripadvisor.com and also at Expedia.com — these reviews, matched with price needs and location desires, have really helped me sort out what was at first an overwhelming choice of places to stay and see. I will be posting my hotel and travel experiences here as well as at the above links, because, as travelers, I feel a responsiblity to share the good and the bad of travel in the hope that others can take advantage of what I experience. That’s what this trip is all about!

SpinFirst.com has started to receive thousands of mailing list sign ups — did you know we’re giving away the world?! Just sign up to join our mailing list (include your mailing address) and we’ll send 20 lucky Spinners their own inflatable beach-ball globe every month! Offer is limited by supplies, we’ll be getting more soon, please be patient. I’m taking a bunch of these with me on the Round the World Trip, looking forward to giving them away along the way. More soon…

Flight Delays? Cancellations? Share your tips!

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Well, SpinFirst’s Travel Plans do include Europe but we’ll be passing through, hopefully, after the cloud has settled. Meanwhile, Got tips for when stuck at airports, delayed or cancelled flights? Share them with us! Use our Contact Form and let us know.

Our philosophy has always been ‘know before you go’ – but the best laid travel plans are often affected by bad weather or environmental problems you just can’t predict. Last time we got stuck in Chicago, it did take an hour or two to get our hotel voucher, but queueing for an hour or so was well worth it because Airlines generally won’t compensate after the fact, you have to go with their vouchers, their hotel arrangements.

While it is probably impossible to figure out every airport’s travel desk for every airline, we’ve become quite familiar with those desks at most U.S. hub cities (Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas) and getting there as soon as you discover an issue always pays off in getting sorted out quickly. If you’re traveling as a group, send ‘scouts’ to locate the travel desk for your airline and have the rest hang near the gate for the latest announcements. Our investment in a Star Alliance Executive Lounge Pass has more than paid for itself in the much quieter, and much friendlier service you get addressing the same issues, whether hotel arrangement, standyby or re-booking, as at the travel desk. Highly recommended if within your budget!