London

Air New Zealand tries to solve the jet lag problem

I spent a few days in London earlier this month courtesy of Air New Zealand.

The airline known for its series of cheeky “bare essentials” ads and in-flight safety videos and, most recently, its Hobbit-themed airplane, invited a small group of travel experts and journalists to fly as a focus group from Los Angeles International Airport to Heathrow.

Hbbit Aircraft

Our assignment for the “#NoLagtoLondon” trip: share our tried-and-true anti-jet lag tips and our “insider secrets” for arriving fresh and perky after a long haul flight.

The work began in the Air New Zealand Koru lounge  before we boarded the flight. Workbooks and white boards were handed out and, among other things, we were asked to make a pie-chart of how we planned to spend the 10 hour flight.

Here’s mine:

Air NEW ZEALAND pie chart

As you can tell, I had big plans for this flight: working, sleeping, chatting with my neighbors, eating, drinking (water only) and visiting the entertaining bathroom, which had both a mural of a chandelier and a real window.

I also planned to watch a few silly, romantic movies that I’d missed in the theaters and I knew I’d end up getting a bit weepy watching them – even though I rarely react that way on the ground.

During the flight the group was asked to read inkblots, write haiku poems and, finally, share our pre-flight rituals and our tips for making it through a long flight.

Here are some of the answers from our group:

Pre-flight rituals: pack (and re-pack), work late/tie up lose ends, create to-do lists and/or music playlists; send out trip details to friends and family members who might like to know what’s up.

I’d prepared by eating extremely light for a few days before the flight and passing up all offers of liquor. I’d planned on getting a good night’s sleep on the ground before the flight so I could work and watch movies during the flight but ended up staying up late in my hotel room working.

Dressing for a flight: most everyone was in favor of comfortable clothes that are casual and a bit dressy, although jeans seemed to be acceptable. I advocate layers that are easy to add or remove and, for ladies, no skirts that might ride up while you’re sleeping.

Shorts on a plane? Pretty much everyone agreed that was a no-no.

Arrival plans: our flight arrived late afternoon and everyone said they’d try to stay up as long a possible and go to sleep at a ‘normal’ time. Some folks did, but for the next two nights several of us were wide awake – and online, tweeting about it – at 2 in the morning.

Jet-lag-wise, I was loser on this trip.

I woke up at 2 am each night of the trip and one night just stayed awake – working and watching a BBC documentary about Tom Jones (!) till 4 in the morning.

Still wide awake, I opened the bottle of red wine that had been left in my room by our hosts at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London , a lovely and very swanky establishment not far from Harrods.

A few sips and I was sleepy, so I put the glass aside and, of course, knocked it over on the cream-colored rug the next morning.

And this is where I learned a lesson about top drawer hotel service.

After spilling the wine, I panicked, grabbed a white towel from the bathroom and tried blotting up the wine.

That did almost nothing except ruin a good towel, so I picked up the phone and called housekeeping to turn myself in.

Within moments a supervisor was at my door and a minute later a man arrived with a machine for a spot cleaning.

He didn’t scold. Instead he told me how smart I’d been for calling right away and not letting the red stain set.

“You’d be surprised how many guests spill or break something and we don’t find it until they leave. But look – your mess is all gone.”

And, seconds later, so was he.

Souvenir Sunday at London Heathrow Airport

London Airport souvenirs

There’s never enough time to do everything I want to do in London, but on my most recent visit I managed to squeeze in quite a lot in just three days.

Activities were wedged in between a meal seasoned with performances by contortionists and flame-embellished dancers at a West End cabaret bar named Circus, Afternoon Tea at The Langham’s Palm Court and whiskey tasting (before and after dinner) with the whiskey sommelier at The Athenaeum Hotel.

Whiskey tasting at The Athenaeum in London

Forks-down highlights included a visit to the funky top floor apartment Jimi Hendrix lived in from 1968-1970 (more about honoring Hendrix here); a Fat Tire Bike Tour past iconic monuments, memorials and palaces (more about that here), and walking tours of upscale, low-key Primrose Hill and East London, which is brimming with hip art galleries and stores chock-full of clothing by up-and-coming designers.

Hendrix fan waiting for tour of Hendrix's flat

Hendrix fan waiting to tour Jimi Hendrix's London flat

I couldn’t afford to buy anything in any in-city shops, so that left souvenir shopping at Heathrow Airport.

London souvenirs

Souvenir Sunday was coming up – the day Stuck at the Airport looks at fun, inexpensive items for sale at airports – so I focused on items selling for under £10, which right now equals about $16.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Souvenir at Heathrow - Princess Di Postcard

Giant Princess Diana postcard

London Souvenir - post box banks

Heathrow Airport Souvenir - post box banks

And of course:

 Beatles tote bag

Meet the (scary-looking) Beatles. That's not really Ringo is it?

If you find a great souvenir while Stuck at the Airport, please take a photo and send it along. Your souvenir may be featured on a future edition of Souvenir Sunday.

[Note, my trip to London was part of a research trip for several articles in progress unrelated to whiskey, cabarets and shopping and was hosted by Air New Zealand, Visit London and The Athanaeum.  Thank-you.]

Tidbits for travelers: airport taxi sharing, Austin art, and marvelous maps

Even with all the free deals you can find on NYCGO.com, a trip to New York City can be quite spendy. So it’s welcome news that the Wall Street Journal reports that New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commissioner is thinking of expanding a popular, cost-saving taxi sharing program to LaGuardia Airport (and possibly JFK) and he Port Authority bus terminal.  Good idea!

Art at Austin Airport


(Collin Scott’s clay bust titled, “Neolithic Cuneiform Subconscious.”)

The Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has rolled out yet another intriguing art exhibit. This one features work from the Lost Pines Artisan Alliance (LPAA), including a wide variety of three dimensional media ranging from ceramics and cast bronze, to wood and fabric fibers.  The exhibit is on display through July 14, 2010, post-security in the concourse glass pylons located between Gates 7 – 11.

Grab a map for London

And there are two exhibitions about maps in London right now that have me checking airfares and flight schedules.

Drawing from a collection of more than four million maps and loaned specimens, Magnificant Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art, at the British Library, shows off “80 of the largest, most impressive and beautiful maps ever made, from 200 AD to the present day.”

Among the treasures on display are the 17th-century Klencke Atlas (above), which is said to be the world’s largest book, and the world’s smallest atlas, which was created for Queen Mary’s dolls-house.

And in Creative Compass, at the Royal Geographical Society, artists Agnes Poitevin-Navarre and Susan Stockwell take inspiration from the society’s collection of more than one million maps, three thousand atlases and half a million photographs to create a map of Afghanistan made from US dollars, a map of Londoner’s aspirations and achievements,  a Victorian dress recreated with 19th century maps and other art pieces.

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art is at the British Library through September 19th, 2010. Admission: free. Creative Compass opens May 6th and runs through July 2nd at the Royal Geographical Society.  Also free.

Free in-flight Wi-Fi and a chance to win free trips

Free_stuff

I’m a big fan of free. Free wireless Internet at airports.  Free admission to cool museums. Free samples.  And free travel.  And while I’m personally one of those “I never win anything” people, I keep that line (I think I saw it on a lottery commercial)  in mind – “Some lucky dog’s gonna’ win it” – and enter contests for the really fun stuff anyway.

So here are a few freebies you might enjoy and contests I’m sure I’m not going to win:

There’s free in-flight Wi-Fi for everyone November 15- January 15, 2009 on all Virgin America flights, courtesy of Google.

Eiffel-Tower-2

www.FlyPittsburgh.com and Delta.com are giving away two round trip tickets to Paris to one lucky person who signs up for the Discount Fares E-Newsletter from Pittsburgh International Airport.  The prize includes lunch before the flight,  free airport parking at Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh International Airport but, alas, no hotel stay in Paris.

The contest runs thru midnight, Wednesday, November 4. and the winner will be selected on Thursday, November 5.  You’ll need register to receive the airport’s Discount Fares E-Newsletter.  Enter here.

Still want to get to Paris for free, but have a place to sleep after eating all those croissants?  Try entering this contest for a New Year’s Eve trip to London that includes a Eurostar train ticket to Paris.

VL353091247

VisitLondon.com has a New Year’s Eve contest that includes airfare, 5 nights hotel accommodations, a New Year’s Eve dinner cruise, a day-trip on the Eurostar train to Paris, a VIP tour of Wembley Stadium and heaps of other fun stuff.  Enter here by November 19th.

Good luck! And if you win – bring home some fun souvenirs.

Cheap air fares to London: then what?

london-eye-introstandard

There are plenty of worthwhile things to spend money on in London, including theater tickets, fine meals, shopping and a ride on the London Eye or in an iconic black cab. But there are also loads of attractions, museums and special sights that are very inexpensive and many where admission doesn’t cost a penny.

Two, totally-free hidden gems I recently discovered: The Wellcome Collection and the Grant Museum of Zoology, pretty much around the corner from each other.

The Wellcome Collection has oodles of offbeat health and medicine-related objects on display, including shrunken heads, a brass corset, antique artificial limbs and Napoleon Bonaparte’s toothbrush.

wellcome-collection - napoleon's toothbrush

The Grant Museum of Zoology is jam-packed with skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens ranging from tiny fish to giant reptiles, and all manner of taxidermied animals, including this cute elephant shrew.

grant-museum-elephant_shrew_taxidermyhmedium

For more cheap, cool places to spend your time in London, see my article posted today on MSNBC.com.