Layover

Greetings from Brussels – and all the city maps

Greetings from Brussels – looking forward to touring the airport, but first trying to see as much of the city as I can.

That task is made easy with these handy themed maps Visit Brussels puts out. Starting with these two today – surrealism and comics – but also moving through the city with all of these, which are themed to food, shopping, jazz, kid-focused adventures and more.

Too hard to decide, so taking them all – and my new souvenir hat (it is super hot here) – along.

 

Love the layover: Iceland

[My story about Iceland tourism first appeared on NBC News)

You’re not imagining it if it seems like everyone you know is either planning a trip to Iceland – or just got back.

The Nordic island nation – population 350,000 – has seen tourism numbers explode from under 500,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2016, with more than 2.4 million tourists expected to visit this year.

Iceland’s stunning glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, lava fields, geothermal pools and geysers have always been there, of course. But it took global news coverage of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, cameo TV and film roles for Iceland’s scenery and some quirky tourism campaigns to really grab the world’s attention.

“At first it was crisis communications,” said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, Director of Visit Iceland and Creative Industries at Promote Iceland, “Our tourism industry was having difficult times after the 2008 recession and in 2010 things were just beginning to pick up. Then the volcano starting erupting right before the peak summer tourism season.”

Iceland’s tourism industry and the government banded together to try to save the summer season, eking out a tiny 0.1 increase that year. They continued to work together, with a focusing on raising Iceland’s profile as a year-round destination and getting tourists to venture outside of Reykjavik.

“Before Airbnb was even booming, we had locals invite tourists to their homes. Then we asked tourists to rename Iceland, because the country really doesn’t have that much ice,” said Palsdottir, “Now we have the Iceland Academy,” which is a series of short, offbeat videos on everything from “How to Eat Like an Icelander,” to the essential “How to Avoid Hot Tub Awkwardness.”

Now music fans want to see where Björk, Of Monsters of Men and Sigur Rós came from. TV and film aficionados want to see for themselves the Icelandic scenery that appears in hits such as HBO’s fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones,’ and the movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’

And going somewhere where there’s a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights is on the bucket list of almost every traveler.

Foreign and local tour operators have greatly expanded schedules and itineraries throughout Iceland and the inventory of hotel rooms and vacation rentals have grown.

Courtesy Promote Iceland

Helping to fuel in the influx of visitors from North America is the increase in air service to Iceland, especially by Wow Air and Icelandair, two Reykjavik-based airlines that route their flights through Iceland and offer passengers the option of an Iceland stopover for no additional airfare charge.

Wow Air flies to Iceland from ten North American cities, while Icelandair serves 13 U.S. airports (Philadelphia services starts May 30; Tampa services kicks off September 7) and five in Canada.

“Who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal?” said Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommer’s guidebooks and Frommers.com, “Most travelers are jazzed by the idea of getting to see an additional destination on their way to Europe – and one that hugely popular right now.”

Icelandair, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has been promoting its stopover option since perhaps the early 1950s or mid-60s, said airline spokesman Michael Raucheisen, “We’ve always encouraged passengers to come experience Iceland for a few days, fall in love with it and come back for a full trip. And that model has worked well over the years.”

For passengers who don’t choose to stopover, Icelandair has two planes offering flyers a taste – or a tease – of the Iceland experience.

The carrier’s northern lights-themed plane was introduced in 2015 and earlier this month the airline launched a glacier-themed plane (named for Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier) that has images of the glacier hand-painted on the exterior and, inside, ice-blue lighting and headrests, cups, napkins, lavatory décor and even airsickness bags with a glacier motif.

Transit tour program at Narita Int’l Airport

Narita Airport

If you’ve got a long layover at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

In addition to shopping and dining, the airport has a Japanese culture program of craft projects and performances, a hospitality program that offers discount coupons for use of the shower rooms, two observation decks , and a kabuki gate that has mannequins wearing Kabuki costumes and wigs, a shop selling products associated with Kabuki and a Kabuki Face Photo Booth where passengers can email themselves a photo of their face with Kabuki make-up superimposed on it.

Narita Kabuki

If that’s not enough to keep you occupied inside the airport, Narita has also put together a series of guided and self-guided tours in Narita – the town – for passengers with long layovers.

Various guided tours in the Narita Transit Program visit a temple and a park in Narita, the nearby countryside or the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences. The tours are free, except for transportation costs and admissions.

The self-guided tours direct travelers to nearby shopping areas and offer some discounts.

Schiphol Airport’s floating bus tour

Where I live, it’s called Ride the Ducks and, corny as is it when a bus/boat of quacking tourists drives by – which is fairly often now that summer season is in high gear – this does seem like a really fun and unusual way to check out a town.

In Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Branson, MO and the other U.S. cities where these amphibious adventures are offered, the tours start in town.

But for anyone who might find themselves stuck at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport there’s now a Dutch version of the ducks designed specifically for people like you.

Powered by 198 batteries, the carbon-neutral Floating Dutchman bus boat picks up its passengers right at Schiphol Plaza, drives into town and then drives into the water for a tour through the city’s canals. When the tour is over, the bus emerges from the water and drives back to the airport.

The time in the water is about 45 minutes, but the entire tour will take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. So if you’re thinking of doing this on a layover tour operators suggest you choose this as an option only if you’ve got at least four hours to spare.

Sound like fun? Here’s more information about Schiphol’s Floating Dutchman.

(Tip: Book online and you’ll get a 10% discount)

And if you don’t have quite enough time to take the tour, there’s plenty to keep you entertained at Schiphol.

The airport recently opened a lovely indoor/outdoor park and not too long ago, the airport opened a library.

Souvenir Sunday: treats from Narita Int’l Airport

It’s Souvenir Sunday: the day we take a look at some of the fun, inexpensive, “of” a city items for sale at airports.

This week’s treats come from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

This sumo wrestler doll caught my eye –

Narita Airport doll

As did these dainty containers filled with face cream:

Narita Airport Face Cream

But my pick for Souvenir Sunday this week is this timeless gag gift.

Proof – in any language – that corny is universal.

Narita Airport "pull my finger" gag gift