Flying Surrounded By Sky

Author: , October 31st, 2014

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Vague, over-wing cloud photos are a staple of vacation albums across the Internet, but a British technology incubator wants to do away with them completely. You’ll still be able to see the sky, though. The Centre for Process Innovation is proposing the elimination of airplane cabin windows to make room for floor to ceiling wraparound screens showing continuous footage from outside the plane.

The goal of the proposal is to reduce how much commercial aircraft bodies, or fuselages, weigh thereby also reducing fuel consumption, costs, and carbon emissions. Windows add weight to aircraft cabins because of both the materials used to make them, and the additional components that must be added to the hull to strengthen and secure it.

Jon Helliwell of CPI told the Guardian, “We had been speaking to people in aerospace and we understood that there was this need to take weight out of aircraft. … Follow the logical thought through. Let’s take all the windows out–that’s what they do in cargo aircraft.”

By Lily Hay Newman – Full Story at Slate

Planes and Trains

Author: , July 14th, 2013

Our dear friend, Bella (Dolly Goolsby) is on the go again, this time in Italy. She has graciously allowed us to republish her travel blogs. Enjoy!

Train TracksHello, Everyone,

Finally, as promised, I will write a blog post about transportation in Europe, as I encountered it.

Driving

First, you must know, I never rent a car….just thinking about driving in Italy scares me to death. I truly admire the Italian drivers, though, as I see them zip in and out of traffic, make a right turn from the far left lane, merge into traffic going so fast you just know they are going to get killed, but they never do.

When they do get in a fender=bender, the drama that unfolds is a sight to behold. Everyone yelling and waving their arms, including the witnesses and a few other motorists that stop just to get involved in the drama. One time we saw a scooter driver get hit by a car in a parking lot. The scooter driver just picked himself up, as well as his bike, dusted himself off and took off again, as did the motorist who hit him. Interesting.

On our trip this last May, we did drive the little Fiats. Not me. I was a passenger, but that trip was led by the owner of 500FiatClub – look up their website. That was fun. However, my experiences with being in an auto in Italy are limited to taxis, or our friends driving us somewhere. I recall one taxi driver who was taking me to the airport. I was trying to talk to him in Italian, and he shook his head…

“Mamma Mia!”, he shouted, and turned around to look at me. “You cannot speak Italian…you don’t use your hands enough!” he said to me, showing me how to use my hands while speaking, all the while looking at me, and occasionally at the road, as we sped to the airport. After I got my heart rate back to normal, and arrived at the airport safe and sound, I thanked him for the language lesson, and gave him a nice tip for not getting me killed on the taxi ride.

Airplanes

Now airplanes are a necessary way to travel between countries while in Europe. I do puzzle over why I must get on a small commuter plane, and fly from Paris, France to Vienna, Austria, then to Florence, Italy, when it would seem, by looking at a map, that Paris to Florence would be much more direct.

OK, I don’t want to get off track here, so I will cover airports a bit later in this blog. Another flight that puzzled me was when I wanted to go from Zurich, Switzerland to Bologna, Italy. Hmm. Again, it would seem Zurich to Bologna would be much more direct than going from Zurich to Barcelona, Spain, then to Bologna.

But that was the route I had to take. It worked out all right, but it is tantalizing to be in the airport in Barcelona, with a four hour wait between planes, but not enough time to get out and see Barcelona. These experiences make me add yet another city to my bucket list of places I want to visit.

Now for the airlines. From Zurich to Bologna we had to fly on a little Spanish-based airline. First, there was a 30 minute delay in our plane leaving Zurich, and the departure gate was changed. It was a good thing there was the 30 minute delay, or we might have missed our flight. However, this airline must have very good pilots, as we arrived in Barcelona right on time.

Then, leaving Barcelona on the same airline, again there was a 20 minute delay, but the pilots made up the time, so we landed in Bologna on time. The airline service, though, was the most disorganized service I have ever encountered. The drink and food carts started at Row 1 as soon as they could, after leaving Zurich.

However, there was nothing free. Not water, coffee, soft drinks, nothing. Not only were passengers charged for everything, one flight attendant handed out the drinks, another one made out a receipt, and the third one handled food, with the second one printing out a receipt again for the food.

We were in Row 7, and had barely been served when the flight attendants had to put everything back, as we were coming into Barcelona for our landing. Trip from Barcelona to Bologna: same procedure. The poor passengers in the back rows never got any food or drink.

For International travel, Lufthansa is still my favorite. That airline has it together… efficiency from ticketing to passenger service. Of course, they are a German airline, so one should expect efficiency. Plus, the drinks are free. The only other airline that gave us free stuff was Quantas, coming back from Australia – they gave us free ice cream – Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars, as many as we wanted.

(I have only had the great experience of traveling business class a few times, so these comments do involve the economy class)

Airports

Airports: Oh, boy, this could get ugly. I absolutely hate flying into Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, or having to fly out of it. The airport is scattered all over the place. There are 3 terminals, all miles apart from each other. One has to take either a taxi, a bus or a train to get from one terminal to another.

On one trip, I arrived at CDG with 3 hours to go before my outbound flight, and I arrived at my gate 20 minutes before my scheduled flight. Managing transfers from one terminal to another is an experience, for sure, but one I avoid if I can possibly do so. Another airport that makes me crazy, is Frankfurt, Germany. Again, it is huge, and it takes a while to get from Point A to Point B, but not as bad as in Paris.

Frankfurt is one of the busiest airports in the world, though, in their defense. One always has to go through passport control in Frankfurt, no matter where you are going. These are the only 2 airports that travel agents know a passenger has to have at least 3 hours between flights, or the passenger will never make it. (CDG and Frankfurt.) If one is going to fly (and I don’t know how to get from the United States to Europe, Asia, Australia or any other far-away place without flying), one must be brave, and flexible.

My favorite airport is the one in Zurich, Switzerland. Now those Swiss have things down to a science. This airport is also very big, but organized. It is quiet, signage to direct one to where he needs to be, is very good. While waiting in line to go through security, the lines started getting a bit long, so the TSA opened another security area up one flight by escalator, so things moved very swiftly and smoothly.

My next=favorite airport is the one in Barcelona. We had a four hour wait between flights. The Barcelona airport has huge areas, both inside and outside, where one can relax, have a coffee, a drink, a meal, do some shopping. I found 2 of these areas, and I believe there are more. Then eventually one must go to the assigned gate. We had such a relaxing wait, the four hours were up before we knew it.

Trains

Now let’s discuss trains. When I am in Europe, I travel more by train than any other means of transportation. Once again, the Swiss have train travel down to an exact science. They have the most efficient train service in the world.

We were fortunate enough this last spring to travel not just on the regular trains, but on two trains that had the most scenic routes, the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. The Swiss also operate the little cogwheel trains that can take passengers up into the Alps and the great hiking and biking found there. The trains are always on time, are neat and clean, and fun to ride.

Since most of my train travel is in Italy, I rely on Trenitalia. Maybe too much. The trains are usually on time. The high speed trains are very comfortable.

But travel between little villages and sometimes into the cities, is on the Regional trains. They are not always comfortable, but they usually get you to where you need to be, within a reasonable time frame of when you expected to be at your destination. The Regional trains are seldom air-conditioned, are not always comfortable.

However, for me, it is a necessary method of traveling. But if you use the Regional trains, don’t forget to validate your ticket by stamping it in one of the machines near the tracks. Fail to do this, and you could be fined up to 500 Euro. From Florence, if I am traveling to another large city, I always take the high speed train. The tickets cost a bit more, but are worth it, in comfort and reliability.

One thing about Italian train travel everyone who uses the trains should know: Train strikes occur rather frequently. Occasionally, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the train system goes on strike for 24 hours.

To make the least amount of disruption to the passengers, the train system does put up notices the day before the strike that this is going to occur, and the hours this will happen. Of course, if you don’t happen to be in the train station the day before the strike, it might be an unpleasant interruption to your journey.

I have had this happen to me a couple of times. The first time, several years ago, I had a reservation for a wine tasting tour out of Siena..But I couldn’t get there, so I lost my reservation and the money I had paid for it. I was bummed. There are usually some trains running, but one has to be at the station to know which ones will run, and at what time…another challenge.

This year, we were in Bologna, arrived at the train station to go to Forli, a little over an hour away from Bologna. We wondered why the station was so crowded, and then noted the sign that the train system was on strike. Fortunately, the train we wanted was still going to go, but there was a delay, but eventually we got to Forli.

Returning to Bologna in the afternoon, the strike was still in effect, so the train we got on was packed. This was on a Sunday, and people were returning from the beach and holidays. We were packed into a train car like vertical sardines.

The train stopped at every little village along the way. A few people would get off, but more people got on. By the time we got back to Bologna, I needed a shower in the worst way…so did most of the people on that train car. It was not pleasant.

Is the Train Coming or Not?

The most unique experience with trains, though, was in Bari, Italy, down south on the Adriatic coast. There we found that there were 4 different train companies, each with their own set of tracks, each going into another area of southern Italy.

I had to do my research to find which train to take to which destination. We arrived by train to Bari from Monopoli on Trenitalia. I did know we had to take The Ferrovia Apulo Lucane train to go to Matera, but I did not know where the station was located. We looked, found another train station, and I finally I had to ask a very nice policeman where the station was.

He took us there, walking, which was a very good thing, as the entrance to the FAL station had construction going on, and was covered with plywood. The policeman took us around the construction and up the stairs to the station.

Then we tried to communicate with the agent on duty. He did explain, with a lot of hand waving, and a few Italian words I did understand, that we had to buy our tickets from a machine that only took coins, and the train was due to leave within 10 minutes. We could not get the machine to cooperate, neither could this agent.

He called over 2 of his fellow agents, and between the 3 of them, we finally got our tickets out of the machine, stamped them appropriately, got on the train for the over 2 hour ride to Matera. It was a very nice train, but the air conditioning was not operating and it was a very hot day.

We enjoyed our visit to Matera, then we got on the train to return to Bari, at about 5:30 p.m. This time the train was air conditioned, thank goodness! But we stopped at every village along the way: the train driver then would consult with someone from the station, fill out some papers, have a long conversation, then we continued, only to have this procedure repeated at every station.

We finally got back to Bari, about an hour later than planned. Then we had to go back to the Trenitalia station for our trip back to Monopoli. Well, the signage was not good, it was dark, but my watch said it was time for our arrival in Monopoli.

Therefore, we got off the train. As the train pulled away again, I noticed that we were not in Monopoli at all. So into the station we go. There were no agents here. we just had to look at the printed schedule, and hope the next train would take us the 5 kilometers on to Monopoli.

And indeed it did. Another lesson learned the hard way… make certain you are at your destination before exiting the train.

The next train trip was to Alberobello, to see the Trulli houses. Now this little town is not far from Monopoli, where we were staying. But to get there, we had to go back to Bari and take another train, this one the Ferrovia Sud-Est to Alberobello. We found that train station and made it to the Trulli houses. Just another experience in train travel.

So now you have it. I hope this has been eduational, and fun…perhaps you have learned from my errors what NOT to do.

Will these experiences prevent me from traveling? Absolutely not! If nothing else, these little out-of-the-ordinary anectodes give me something to write about in a blog post.

Unless something more exciting happens in the next few days, my next post will be about food.

Want to Follow Bella’s Latest Adventure Directly? Check Out Dolly Travels

Gay Friendly Italy Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals

Booking Air Travel

Author: , January 31st, 2013

AirplaneOne of the most frustrating things about visiting far-off places – such as South Africa, where I’m currently traveling – is figuring out how to get around.

Unless you have months and months to travel overland at a relaxed pace, you move primarily by air, which requires you to learn a lot about local airlines, i.e. which are cheapest, which fly nonstop and which are most reliable.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my extensive travels, it’s that technology is your best friend in situations like these. Specifically, tools like Skyscanner are indispensable for finding cheap flights, without having to do a lot of logistical legwork.

Authored By Robert Schrader – See the Full Story at Leave Your Daily Hell

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Want to Take Your Pet on a Plane?

Author: , January 17th, 2013

dogsMy best friend Bianca and her fiance Anthony are getting ready to move to Bianca’s home country of Switzerland, where they plan to marry this August.

Everything is slowly falling into place: They’ve found an apartment; Bianca will resume work at her awesome old job; and they’ve even booked tickets on Lufthansa, an airline that allows them to bring their dog Brutus, a pit bull, on board. This is the good news.

The bad news? Unless his owners get some pet training supplies from Pets at Home, Brutus might not make it over the Atlantic without getting tossed out of the plane. Figuratively speaking, of course – this obviously wouldn’t happen.

At Gay Realty Watch, we look for news to share with you about the gay real estate market – both lgbt real estate news and news specific to gay and lesbian real estate meccas.

See the Full Story at Leave Your Daily Hell

Click here for gay travel resources.