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Today marks my two-year anniversary with Gadling.
And my 2000th post exactly.
Post #1 on January 20, 2006 was a short piece introducing myself to Gadling readers. Post # 2000 is a short piece announcing that I will be stepping down.
This will be my last Gadling post, and one that I pen with both excitement and sadness. Gadling has come a long way in the last two years. We had just three writers at the time I started and a small, but faithful readership. Today, we have 16 writers on staff and daily page views that can stretch into the millions. Gadling is continuing to grow and continuing to improve and it was therefore a very difficult decision to step off this astounding train at such an exciting time.
But as you might imagine, averaging almost three posts a day has had a bothersome way of interfering with other projects I've wanted to tackle. And that's why I've decided to take a break from blogging and concentrate on some of these ideas I've had circulating in my head the last few years.
Last summer, Times journalist Mark Frary decided to find out for himself by purchasing a 1 pence Ryanair ticket from London's Stansted Airport to Berlin. Sounds like a steal, right? Not exactly. Like so many other deal seekers on budget airlines, Frary ended up paying far more than that initial 1 pence. How his final cost netted out at £61.84 ($121.15) provides fascinating insight into an amazing business plan that is succeeding despite naysayers predicting otherwise.
Interestingly enough, the wild price of Frary's final bill did not come from the most common source of increased ticket prices on budget airline: baggage fees. This is where the airlines really clean up. Passengers on Ryanair, for example, can check up to three bags. The first, however, costs £5 ($9.80) while each additional bag is £10 ($19.60). In addition, there is a 15 kg (33 lbs.) checked bag allowance. If a passenger exceeds this weight, they pay £5.50 ($10.78) per kilo--which can add up very quickly. And don't even think of transferring your heavier items to your friend's baggage at the airport either. Ryanair's Terms and Conditions clearly state, "No pooling or sharing of baggage allowances is permitted, even within a party traveling on the same reservation."
I never would have expected a graphic novel to truly capture the sense of a place, but recently, I was pleasantly proven wrong with a nice gift I received for Christmas.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle is a superb snapshot, perhaps the best I've seen, of what it is truly like to visit North Korea.
Delisle is a French Canadian who went to Pyongyang to work with the local animation studio. He was fortunate enough (or, perhaps, unfortunate enough) to spend more time there than I was permitted to during my recent visit since he was there in a professional capacity. This provided him the opportunity to explore Pyongyang a little more in depth than the average tourist does and with a more unique perspective--that of a cartoonist.
Whoa, what!?!? Los Angeles has a river?
Perhaps river is far too generous of a term for the 52 miles of concrete-lined "waterways" which tumble from the foothills of Los Angeles down to the Port of Long Beach. And yet, locals in this water-starved city have clung to this definition of "river" because they've got nothing else that even comes close. No one even thinks it ironic that the number one activity enjoyed on the LA River is not boating or fishing, but rather filming car chases for blockbuster Hollywood films.
And yet, there are sections of the river that are actually river-like, with flowing water, small islands, and even little fish swimming about. But don't expect to find these more bucolic stretches on your own.
Visiting the LA River is pretty much at the bottom of most any tourist itinerary, but if exploring massive concrete public works projects is your thing, you should consider checking out Friends of the LA River, a "non-profit organization founded in 1986 to protect and restore the natural and historic heritage of the Los Angeles River and its riparian habitat through inclusive planning, education and wise stewardship."
And yes, it means exactly what it looks like it means.
Nature-Deficit Disorder is not a clinically diagnosed disease. It is, however, a rather clever name for a disturbing trend towards "denatured childhood" and the alarming affects that can result from such a condition.
The phrase was coined by Richard Louv in his fascinating book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Louv points out that today's children no longer spend long summer afternoons running through the woods, playing in fields, or camping under the stars. Instead, they are at home playing video games, watching movies, surfing the web, or engaging in other indoor activities.
I've witnessed this myself when I go home to my parent's house for Christmas and am surprised every year by the absolute dearth of kids playing in the street with their new toys. Christmas morning is a ghost town--outdoors, at least. If I peer through the neighbor's windows, however, I can see all the kids huddled around TVs or computer screens, bug-eyed and brain dead. Frankly, I find it very depressing.
So what's the harm in spending less and less time outdoors in nature?
Louv argues that the exposure to nature is necessary for cognitive development and without a heavy dosage of it, children are more prone to suffer from depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stress, and, of course, obesity.
Last month when I was in Seoul, I made sure to visit the city's Noryangjin Fish Market. I wasn't quite sure where it was when I exited the Noryangjin subway station, but a quick sniff of the air told me exactly the direction I should go.
This massive warehouse is a completely surreal experience. Hundreds of water-filled bins contain some of the most bizarre aquatic creatures I've ever seen. And every single one is there to be eaten.
I spent more than an hour watching the fish mongers hawking their trade, slicing up their catch, and even wrestling with octopi. I never quite got used to the smell and, in fact, it lingered in my nasal passages for pretty much the rest of the day, long enough to completely eliminate the possibility of eating fish for dinner.
Nonetheless, the fish market remained one of my personal favorite highlights in Seoul. Sure, there are plenty of cultural sights and fascinating museums throughout the South Korean capital, but nothing, in my opinion, was quite as mesmerizing as an afternoon spent with the oddball denizens of the deep.
Gallery: South Korea: Fish Market
For whatever reason, doing absolutely nothing on the other side of the word is always more enjoyable than doing absolutely nothing at home.
But of course, I exaggerate when I say that my girlfriend and I did absolutely nothing on the French Polynesian island of Moorea during our recent vacation. It was actually quite the opposite. We kept our days very busy eating, sleeping, and swimming. There was hardly any time to do anything else.
Dining in Moorea
Food in the South Pacific always seems to be a challenge--as we first discovered in the Cook Islands two years ago. The biggest complaint is that everything is always so horrifically expensive. We spent $100 for pizza and beer one afternoon, which was pretty much the average for every meal we ate on Moorea. Ouch!
What's wonderful about the restaurant scene on Moorea, however, is that most restaurants will pick guests up from their resort for free--a very welcome surprise that helped to keep the already expensive cost of meals slightly lower by not having to pay for a taxi.
Ironically, our favorite restaurant that we frequented the most often was also the closest. Le Sud was just a five-minute walk from our resort. This quaint little eatery wraps around the outside porch of a small house where geckos scampered about on the walls in search of insects while we dined.
Congratulations to Nuva and Oddsocks for correctly identifying this week's Where on Earth.
It took a bit of wandering myself before I was able to find the monument featured in the above photograph, for the simple reason that government officials in post-communist Vilnius, Lithuania were hesitant to erect a bust of Frank Zappa in the center of town.
In fact, one must certainly wonder how a monument to singer Frank Zappa ever ended up in a city with which he had no connection and never even visited.
A few years ago, I had the good fortune to share some beers with one of the students responsible for this very odd monument. He explained to me in a dark Vilnius pub how he and his friends, caught up in the early 1990s euphoria of post-communist freedom, decided to honor one of their favorite American singers whom they clandestinely listened to during communism because authorities banned his decadent western music.
Appropriately titled "Smiley," this wonderful shot by Fiznatty perfectly captures that spontaneous grin that occasionally greets travelers in remote lands where simply catching sight of a foreigner is enough to trigger a child's irrepressible smile.
What makes this shot even more amazing is that it was taken in northern Rwanda--a place more commonly associated with horror than with our smiley friend above. It's certainly a testament that no matter how bad a place might be, a child's resiliency will always shine through.
The intent of my recent vacation to Moorea was to do absolutely nothing. And, I lived up to these lofty goals admirably.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Christmas holidays are my time to relax and catch up on life. The first time I tried doing this a number of years ago I somehow ended up at a Club Med. I thought it would be the perfect escape, but instead there was non-stop pressure to drink, party, dance, play volleyball, shoot hoops, water ski, jet ski, kayak, dive, and participate in countless other activities. One couldn't even relax at poolside with out some sun-damaged Bozo coaxing everyone up on their feet to sing some cultish song about the sun.
Sure, there is a time and place for Club Med, but not for me and my winter vacation.
And so, my girlfriend and I opted for a far mellower option and headed to the Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa in French Polynesia where my only obligation was to indulge in the total lack of any obligation whatsoever. I could do absolutely nothing, and not feel guilty about it at all.