31 December 2012

Camden Town Market

Dec 30, 2012:
Vee and I spent a lovely day in London. We quite enjoy our days out, and often try to see a show. But this time, we decided to go somewhere, where neither of us had been. When you consider how frequently she goes to London, and how many of the touristy things I've done, finding something that neither of us has done is amazing. That something was to visit the Camden Town Markets.
After a lovely lunch with my friends Anca and Doru from Romania, we set off for the markets.

These markets are nothing less than eclectic! Are you a skater, looking for clothes? - done! Are you an educator, looking for school appropriate dresses (Vee and I were!)? - done! Are you a designer, looking for unique pieces of art, bedding and furniture for a house? - done! Are you a Mum, looking for kids clothes and toys? - done! Are you a teenager looking for cool iPhone cases and hoodies? - done! Are you an older woman looking for jewelry? - done! And the list goes on.... if you can think of it, you can probably find it there.

The market was an outdoor market, centered around the locks (they appeared to still be in working order). It wound it's way through the streets and up and down stairs. One might think they had seen it all, but turn a corner and there was so much more to be seen. Some of the shops were big, others were tiny closets under a set of stairs, and yet others were stands out in the open.

It was one of those places, where not only is haggling acceptable, but expected. One should not buy something from the first place they see it, as you might find a better deal at another stand. For example, Vee and I were looking at cotton dresses. We saw some, liked them, and moved on. Then we went to another stand and saw that these dresses were on offer at a 2 for price. But we didn't like those as much as at the first stand. However, armed with that information, we went back to the first place, where they wanted 15 (or was it 18) quid per dress, but we managed to bargain with the seller, 2 for 25. So Vee and I got them for 12.50 each. Another case in point, Vee was looking for a new case for her iPhone and really liked the wooden cases. As she asked around, she heard prices of 25L and 20L, which was really too much. However her persistence paid off, as she ended up with a really lovely wooden case for 15L. (I must admit I considered one for myself). This type of bargaining, looking around, wandering and not immediately buying was enjoyable!

As we arrived at the market, it was already getting dark, and there were lights everywhere. The way it was lit up and the smells of the various foods the market sold made for such a great atmosphere, that one could almost forget they were in the middle of central London!

Inside the market was beautiful as well. One part of the market had carved wood ceilings and stairwells. Another part had seating made from the backs of motorcycles. Unique!

The market itself was not the only area that was decorated and unique. The streets leading up to the actual market were full of shops that did not scrimp on making themselves stand out. Large items (such as shoes and dragons) stuck out from these buildings, beckoning customers to come hither.

Overall, we spent about 1 1/2 to 2 hours at the market and only saw maybe a quarter of it. We decided it was definitely one of those places, where each time you return, you would find something new and that if you found something you really liked, you must get it on that trip, as you might never see it again. We also agreed, that it was a place to which both of us would like to return.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Camden Town Locks, London

30 December 2012

All Admiral Clubs are created equal - right?

I don't usually go into the Admiral Clubs. I don't fly enough to merit paying for a membership and my elite status is not elite enough. But when I fly international business class on American, I get the opportunity to visit the Admiral Clubs and I take advantage of this opportunity.
I've been in the Admiral Clubs at DFW and LHR. I also once managed to talk my way into the British Airways equivalent at Heathrow. So my scope of comparison is very narrow, but compare I will anyways.

For those who are not familiar with the Admiral Clubs, it's basically a private club in an airport that provides food, showers, drinks, comfy chairs, power ports and most importantly free wifi. It also allows the elite travelers to avoid having to rub elbows with the economy class peons. (Ok disclaimer, some people who are in the Admirals Club do fly economy). The specific name Admirals Club, is unique to American Airlines, but regardless of the name, from what I can gather, most of these lounges offer similar amenities.

But not all Admiral Clubs are created equal. I am going to compare features of the two I've been to, however all photos come from the Admirals Club (AC) at DFW Terminal D.

Less important to some, but one of my favorite parts about the AC at DFW is the fact that it looks directly out on the airplanes, and runway. I like seeing the planes take off, I like looking at the planes below and watching the ground crew. At Heathrow there is no view, in fact, they have blinds over the windows blocking whatever view might exist. DFW:1 LHR:0

Both DFW and LHR offer free Wifi in the AC. I think it's great - especially in London where it's too expensive to use data on my phone! Also it's worth mentioning that both ACs offer computers for those without their own devices.

At the AC in LHR, one has numerous options from salads, cheeses, pastries, pretzels, bread, yoghurt, fresh fruit and more. It's easy to eat a nice meal there. DFW also has an extensive menu of food, starting at $5.99 to upwards of $15.99. Yes that's right, after paying for AC membership or even paying $50 for a one day pass, people are expected to pay for food. Now there are some free snacks: pretzels, apples, cookies, celery and carrots. In this area, DFW really disappoints.

upon entering the AC at DFW one receives two drink vouchers. They can be redeemed at the bar for non-alcoholic drinks such as juice or soda, or for alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine or cocktails. After two, you must pay. Coffee and water are available for free, and you serve yourself. The AC at LHR does not have a bar. Not one in the traditional sense with a bartender and alcohol behind the counter. At everyone's disposal are pitchers of various fruit juices, fridges of soda, beer and sparkling water, water, coffee, tea (hot), hot cocoa and a small selection of liquors for cocktails. There is no one collecting drink vouchers or requiring you to pay after you've had two drinks.

At the AC in LHR outlets are plentiful and situated by (nearly) every chair. It's not just traditional electric outlets for the UK, but also those that take the flat US plugs and the rounded EU plugs. PLUS they have USB outlets. It's easy to plug in and juice up your electronics. At DFW I saw about 1 outlet for every 3 - 4 chairs and they were ONLY for the standard US plugs.

The chairs are about the same and laid out nicely. Although some of the chairs at DFW had no arms rests or tables nearby. But making up for that, DFW had a lounge for families within the lounge. I have not seen that at LHR.

Both ACs provide the traveler with information such as flight arrivals and departures, as well as access to newspapers and magazines. To maintain a peaceful environment, neither announces flight information. But the differences in information exist. The monitors that show departures / arrivals are found in multiple places Round the LHR lounge, but only near the customer service desk at DFW. At DFW, the Newspapers were limited to local papers (Ft. Worth Star Telegram) and one other (Financial Times perhaps) and the magazines were all American Arlines' publications. At LHR one finds a better selection of world newspapers and some of the magazines have nothing to do with the airline.

This is by and far my most favorite part of the ACs! It's so nice to freshen up between flights or even to feel clean before a flight. The showers are nice, they provide. EVERYTHING you need - body wash, shampoo, conditioner, towels, hair driers, facial wash, lotion etc. both ACs have them and they are fabulous! (on aside note, the British Airways Lounge showers also have a radio feature with stations you can choose from.

As you can see by my tallies, LHR's Admiral Club comes out ahead of the one T DFW,but let that discourage you from checking out the one at DFW. if you have an opportunity - irregardless of the airport or airline - go for it! It's a great way to spend your time waiting for the flight!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:DFW & LHR

25 December 2012

I've got this, do you?

I'm a frequent flyer. Okay for those of you who know me or follow this blog regularly, you know that's an understatement.
This month I'm a really frequent flyer.

My travels between Dec 21st and Jan 21st are as follows:
DFW - IAD (Dec 21)
IAD - DFW (Dec 24)
DFW - SAT (Dec 25)
SAT - DFW (Dec 27)
DFW - LHR (Dec 27)
LHR - IAD (Jan 4)
DCA - DFW (Jan 5)
DFW - IAD (Jan 19)
BWI - DFW (Jan 21)

But I'm not using this post to brag about all the frequent flyer miles I'm getting on American (okay all of these flights except LHR - IAD are on AA, that one is on BA -- and they code share with AA)... I'm using this post to talk about the security check point.

It seems that when people check their luggage, they also check their brains and then they totally hold us all up at security. Sooo for that reason I have my list of 5 things not to forget to make your journey through security faster and less painful. (Now if only you could convince the people in front of you to do this as well).

1. It's not a secret, that you will have to show your boarding pass and government issued ID at the checkpoint. Get them out and get them ready! When you reach the agent is not the time to look through your bag for them. And no, your library card, credit card, school ID and/or Costco card does not count as a government issued ID for these purposes!

2. One is always advised to wear their bulkiest clothes on the flight because it frees up space in your suitcase. Those boots are cute, but lets face it, you have to take them off in the US (disclaimer - not all international checkpoints will make you take off your boots). Loafers or sneakers (trainers for you Brits) slip on and off much easier. AS for taking other things off....don't forget: outer layer jacket/sweater (jumper), belt, jewelry, hats, metal hair clips and well just about anything! Plus once you've stripped down, check your pockets!

3. The rule is 3-1-1. That's 3oz (okay 100ml or 3.4oz) in a 1 quart bag at a ratio of 1 per person. If it can be poured, smeared, sloshed or spread it needs to follow these rules. The 1 quart bag should be transparent. Sometimes in the US they aren't so picky about that, but once I was held up in Ireland because my bag was translucent with a very thin gridding. And in the US, as well as UK that baggie needs to be taken OUT of your carry on and put into the plastic bucket where it can be visually examined if they wish.

4. Laptops, iPads.... they need to be out! Unless it's a TSA approved case, it needs to be out of the case. In the US they take it a step further and usually want you to put it in it's own separate plastic bin for scanning. That being said, cameras, ipods, kindles etc don't have to be out. I don't know about other brand tablets, but I'd say treat it like an iPad. Or ask - it's better to ask than to have to be rescanned.

5. Drinks in the airport cost an arm and a leg. But even if you have only a few sips left of your 20oz coke, you can't take it through. In fact, in some countries you can't even take the empty bottles through. However, that being said, you CAN take your own food. Disclaimer: if the food is cheese, they may want to see it up close because it looks like explosive 'cheese' under x-ray. Disclaimer 2: Cut up fruit often produces it's own juice and that may not be allowed!

So if we can all learn these things and be prepared, it would make security easier - wouldn't it?!?

A few other pointers that may make things easier for you and those around you:

a. Try to avoid getting behind a family in the security line. They just take longer.
b. Are you under the age of 12 or over the age of 75? You don't need to take off your shoes!
c. Are you a snow globe fan? As of just last week, you may now bring in a snow globe up to the size of a tennis ball. (you might want to bring your own tennis ball to prove size comparison!)
d. Smile and say thank you to the agents. They get treated with disrespect all day. They do appreciate the random friendliness and kindness.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


03 December 2012

New York New York

Start spreading the news.....
Well by now it's old news. Troy and I spent Thanksgiving weekend in New York with my cousin and her wife - my Aunt, Uncle and other cousin also flew in for the holiday.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and the opportunity to spend it traveling could not be missed! Although I was last in NYC back in August, the last time I was there as a tourist was about 10 years ago.
New York ten years later, the good, the bad and the ugly:

The good-
Landing in Newark, the sky was clear and the weather was brisk. It felt so appropriate for November.

Trains, subways ... When it comes to public transport, here in Texas, we just don't have it together. New York on the other hand has got it all and Troy and I love it!

New York is beautifully decorated at the holidays. Walking around in Manhattan, we saw the store windows, heard the Salvation Army dingalings (oh but here they were talented!) and enjoyed the season.

Troy and I were able to meet up with our friend Rosalinda and go ice skating in Central Park. I had so much fun once I got my skating balance back. I loved the crisp air, greenery of the park and city scape behind me.

The bad -
Well not everything when one travels is perfect. We had some problems with our subway tickets and they were rendered unusable. Together they had about $10 on them. The agents were not very helpful, but we did get forms to fill out and mailed them in. Now we are waiting on the city of NY to refund our money.

Honestly, I can't think of anything else to fall under the 'bad' category, however I was disappointed that I was a few days too early for the full Rockefeller holiday decorations.

The Ugly -
While we were ice skating, Rosalinda fell and hit her head. She had a fair sized lump afterwards, but she iced it (no not on the rink!) and we went to a pharmacy for painkillers. Despite all this, she was in great spirits.

The trip to New York was a fun long weekend and I was so glad to have had the opportunity to go.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

26 August 2012

My secrets to flying more

My wonderful Pololo Troy wrote the following rhyme after I texted him that I was on a later flight, and every bit of it rings true:

"She who flies with a slight delay, gets to fly on the cheap another day."

I am often asked how I can afford to fly so often - it's all about playing the game well. I am about to share my secrets.

1. Be loyal to an airline that serves your needs. Why be loyal? It adds up to miles, plus more miles increases your status. Status is important in the world of airlines. Status can lead to perks such as:
- priority boarding
- no fees for checked luggage
- upgrades
- access to lounges
- quicker lines at security
- free standby access
- free drinks on board
- access to exit and bulkhead seats
And more!

2. Book on Tuesday. Midnight that is. Generally airlines release new fares at midnight on Tuesday. These go fast.

3. I love internet fares, but phone agents are super helpful. I often spend time with an agent on the phone discussing what I need, they may find the best flights for me - but then because of fees for using phone agents to book, once I have all the details, I book it online.

4. Airline websites are good. I'm a fan of Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia etc - but lately I have found that their prices differ very little from the actual airlines website. When that is the case, I book directly from the airline. Why is this better you may wonder?
- the airline will be more efficient about notifying you of changes, cancellations etc than one of these ticket clearing houses.
- if you need to make a change you get to work with the airline directly and avoid extra fees from the websites.
- if you have the airline credit card you might get extra points / miles for booking directly with them.

5. Speaking of credit cards, once you have decided which airline you wish to be loyal to, see if they have a way to gain miles associated with a credit card. I have two such credit cards - one for American, one for Lufthansa. With the AA one, I earned 75,000 bonus miles and got a free companion ticket for signing up. With Lufthansa I get 3x miles on any purchases I make directly through them. So say I buy a $1500 ticket to Germany, I get 4500 miles for purchasing the ticket and another 5000 for flying. Not bad.
If you get the credit cards, find out what other mileage bonus exist. American for example has a VIP Diner program. I registered my credit card (actually I registered both my CC's) and when I eat at a restaurant in the program, I gain extra miles. So ironically enough if I eat at one of the participating restaurants and pay with my Lufthansa card, I get miles on Lufthansa AND American. I don't have to save receipts, mail in forms or anything. All I had to do was register the card.
(Disclaimer: these cards usually have an annual fee, but I've decided it's worth it.)

6. Be flexible! If you are flexible with days and times, you might be able to fly cheaper. I would also like to add that fares are cheaper off-peak....but as a teacher I really don't have the luxury to take advantage of that.

7. Fly to the further out airport. Sometimes these smaller airports or airports in nearby cities have better fares. BUT do your homework first - it may be cheaper to fly there, but you may find that transport to/from is expensive or takes a lot of time - then it may not be worth it.

8. Take the bump. If the airlines needs a volunteer to take a later flight - DO IT! Usually you will be put on a flight within 3 hours and you are nicely compensated. Once I was compensated 800 € and put up in a hotel and given meal vouchers -- plus I got an extra day in Europe. Once I paid $1.26 for a round trip ticket because a voucher I had covered the rest. Today I took a bump. I received a $300 voucher and waited about 3 hours til the next flight. Think of it as earning $100/hour. Not shabby!
It's important to let it be known you will take a bump - don't be afraid to let a gate agent know you are willing to even before they ask. Today when they asked, I jumped up and yelled " I'll do it" - they saw me and I got it!

9. Book in advance. BUT not too far in advance. If you plan a trip, don't ever book more than 6 mos out. More than 6 months in advance, airlines rarely feel pressure to sell the seats, and thus the cheapest fares have not been issued yet. I've found that for international flights, about 4mos in advance is ideal. Domestic ideal is about 3 mos. that being said, don't wait too long either - once you hit 1 month the cheaper fares are dwindling, at two weeks they tend to be few and far between, at 7 days or less they are non-existent. All that aside, if you are traveling for a major event such as The Olympics or World Cup, you should probably ignore my advice about waiting until 6 mos beforehand!

10. Be aware of new routes. If an airline begins to offer a new route, your favorite airline may lower their fare on that route to compete. This could work greatly to your advantage.

11. Stay aware. Sign up for email notifications of fare decreases - especially for routes you travel often. Even if you don't plan to travel that route for a while, it keeps you aware of fare trends. Also sign up for newsletters and e-alerts. Like your favorite airline on Facebook, follow them on Twitter etc. you will find they often announce specials via these mediums.

My last bit of advice won't help you get a better fare, but it may make your flight more comfortable. On long haul flights I often bring chocolate for the flight attendants. A bag of Hershey miniatures is perfect. They appreciate it, and I tend to find they are nicer to me (ie free drinks or such) PLUS I usually give them any magazines / books I finish. Also I make a point of thanking them beforehand AND when I disembark. A little kindness goes a long way - I've even heard of people who have been upgraded onboard when they gave the flight attendants some treats - but it's never happened to me.

Don't forget to buckle your seatbelts when seating and in the words of Moses Beacon from "Come Fly with Me" .... Happy Flighting!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:In air: LGA to DFW

26 July 2012

In a jam!

{Note, this is a joint post., and it will appear on both the blogs of:
Laura Boyle - http://koffervoll.blogspot.com
Ruth Lewendon - http://atnumber29.wordpress.com
We hope that ALL of our readers enjoy it}

Before Laura returned to England, Ruth suggested that we go to Tulley's Farm and pick our own strawberries. Laura immediately agreed, asking if we might make jam with the berries we picked. Thus the plan was born.

With Oz and Emily in tow, we headed out to pick strawberries. As its near the end of strawberry season, we worried the pickings might be slim, but we managed to find a number of them anyways.

Once home,we cleaned the berries and prepared to make jam. Apples are added to the jam to help it set.

Our recipe calls for equal parts apple, berries and double sugar. We used 1lb 6oz of each berry and 2lb 12oz of sugar. You also need the juice of two fresh lemons.

Step 1: Wash and cut fruit.

Step 2: Add apples to a pot with some water (maybe 2 cups?) - Basically about half of them were covered. Put the berries in a separate pot, with no added water - although the bottom should be damp. Add the lemon juice to each pot (one lemon per pot). The lemons are high in pectin and help the jam set.

Step 3: Cook berries and apples until they are soft and can be further mashed. We used a potato masher. You should probably mash them a bit better than we did!

Step 4: Pour berries into apples and then once the mixture is boiling, add sugar. Continue cooking.

Step 5: While the fruit-sugar mixture is cooking, soak your jars in HOT BOILING water. The jars MUST be extremely hot in order to seal properly. A dish towel should also soak in the water as well.

Step 6: When the mixture thickens and a "skin" begins to form, it is time to pour the jam. Pour the jam into jars and put the lids on them. You need to fill them to the very top, otherwise you risk it molding before you use it. Plus this helps it seal better.
(Disclaimer: We cannot be held responsible if you burn yourself during this process.)

Step 7: Cover the jars with the dish towel that was soaking in the hot water, and let sit for 24 hours.

Step 8: Check that your jam has set. If not, you can pour it back into the pot, re-boil and try again.

Step 9: Enjoy!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Haywards Heath, England

24 July 2012

Wordless Warwick

Vee and I visited Warwick on Sunday. It was a perfect day for visiting a castle in the lovely English countryside. See for yourself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Warwick Castle, Warwick, England