Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Future of Travel – Nine Innovations I’d love to see

It's easy to see that the world of traveling changes constantly. Innovations have influenced not only the way we travel, but the way we approach and think about travel. And how quickly our moms can now track us down no matter where we are (it's your choice to friend your parents on Facebook...or not).

Traveling from London to New York City a century ago would have taken weeks or months while costing what most could not afford. Now routes like that can be traveled in less than 12 hours. Travel can be all about time and money, and innovations such as planes, trains and automobiles open up travel to those who a) might not have been able to afford it, or b) didn't have three weeks to lounge around on a boat crossing bodies of water like the Atlantic. 

Even the experience of travel and staying connected to home has changed. Not that long ago, communicating with loved ones used to require a pen, paper, postage and patience as your postcard or letter could take weeks to reach them. Often, you'd arrive home before your correspondence would! Now with texting and social media sites, communication is immediate and visual in ways we never could have imagined before.

Technology in particular has influenced and in most ways improved the way we move from place to place. In addition to what technology is going to do for us in the future, I think there are some changes we could make to not only enhance the traveling experience, but to integrate travel more into our lives, which at least for me, is the continual goal. 

Here are nine ideas of travel innovations and recommendations - some realistic, some not - that I'd love to see come into play during my lifetime:

1. European Model of Work/Holidays

More holiday time = more coordination of bathing
suits to beach chairs.

In North America, our system of holidays, in a word (which I don’t think is in the Oxford Dictionary), sucks. Yes, S-U-C-K-S sucks. A system where you get zero holidays your first year, then two weeks in your second year, then three weeks after 5 years worked should not be the norm. In my mind this is absolutely insane and borders on unhealthy! Rested people are happier people. And as any travel enthusiast knows, people who place a big emphasis on travel tend to be really happy and down to earth people. They’re more balanced. And patient. And tolerant. Plus they’re most likely to have excessively large collections of hotel sized shampoos and conditioners, ready for guests at a moment’s notice. All good.

I believe that our system is one more based on punishment than rewards. This is why over on this side of the pond, we need to study really intelligent and forward thinking countries where it isn’t uncommon to have 6, 8 or 10 weeks of holiday. Discussed in the this study, the point is made that working more days and longer hours doesn’t necessarily make us more productive. And if people had more time off, they’d be happier, likely travel more, which is also great for our economy.

2. Mandatory Student Exchanges

Get ‘em young – isn’t that what McDonalds does? Well, why not take children (say ages 14 to 18) out of the classroom and put them in the real world through school program learning exchanges. Not only will they have an appreciation of another culture and/or language, they might also finally understand just how good they have it at home (to the thunderous applause and ‘woo hoo’s’ of parents everywhere).

It’s not until you travel apart from the comfort of your family that you start paying attention to your surroundings and achieve that ultimate thrill of being able to get around by yourself while interacting with people from other countries and cultures.

3. Teleporting

Scotty (from Star Trek) never knew the brilliance that he brought to the future. Sure he was only acting his part in a science fiction show that often worked in futuristic devices, but even back in the 60’s when Star Trek was first created for television, people were already drooling over the concept of being able to travel from one part of the world to another in a matter of seconds. Was it for convenience and to save time? Sure. Was it to avoid having to sit by some oversized snoring, drooling dude next to you on an overseas flight? Absolutely. When I’m in that situation, I like to imagine we’re both in a Star Trek episode, they’re wearing a red away shirt and Captain Kirk is itching to explore a new planet…

A great way to see what your buddy ate for lunch.

Teleporting, a technology that’s actually in development could revolutionize the travel world. But before anyone gets excited about having the ability to decide to go to Paris for dinner rather than the local pizza joint, two things are likely to happen if this technology comes to life:

It will likely be regulated and the experience would be run like a typical airport with ‘trip costs’ depending on where you’re going, government taxes, long check in counters, passport and security checks as well as stupidly overpriced bottles of water. You'd just be avoiding flight safety demos and those little bags of peanuts. Maybe this is all to ensure somebody makes money off of the technology, but it would be useful to help keep idiots from doing harm to people in other places and getting away quickly. It would also to ensure that when you teleport to Cannes, France, you don’t arrive smack in the middle of a busy road or end up sharing the space that’s being occupied by a beach umbrella - that’s an ouch that won’t soon go away.

Also important to remember: dinnertime where you are isn’t necessarily dinnertime everywhere else. Any Swiss restaurants likely will have an issue with you teleporting into their establishment at 3 am local time. Then again, so would any Swiss bank with a nicely stocked vault.

4. Time Travel

The more serious you are, the further you can travel back in time.

So it’s not necessarily where you travel to, but when you travel to. How cool would it be to go back to Rome in the days of Cesar Augustus? Or why not travel to Mauritius, east of Madagascar, to see a real live Dodo bird? Or maybe you want to see Elvis playing at a small bar before he became a big sensation (if you do go, maybe tell him to go a little lighter on the buffets in Vegas…).

An alternative way to travel - the Hot Tube Time Traveler.
Speedos not included.

Whatever your fancy, you could dial in a specific date, get all dressed up, and head off to witness history live in real time 3D. With this kind of travel possible, I’d imagine that this whole mess around the assassination of President Kennedy might finally be solved, which does bring to mind the implications of messing with our past. A good book of fiction that demonstrates this best is 11/22/63 by Stephen King. But this is just a list of ideal travel innovations, so at this time we’ll just choose to ignore the negative effects and hope it all gets ironed out by the time it could/might happen.

5. Virtual Reality Excursions

This is already starting to happen with the efforts of Google to map out historic landmarks, museums and natural areas. From the comfort of your home computer (and whatever superhero underwear you’re lounging in), you can begin to tour parts of the world without the usual expense and time. No line-ups, no rainy days or massive time changes, and no admission charges – yet. Why not create virtual tours not only of historic or notable places, but of whole cities or countries? Want to see the Stones in Prague? Maybe visit hosted city sites before ‘walking’ into a sold out stadium, followed up by a virtual beer at a local pub afterwards? Or why not take a guided Sunday afternoon ‘walk’ through the Louvre?

If lycra is the material of choice in the future,
we're all in big trouble.

The better the technology gets, the more you’ll feel like your there, and that’s what will be marketable in the years to come as virtual reality devices get better and better. In my mind this will never replace the thrill of actually visiting another city or country, but for many people who have circumstances, financial or other, that limit where they can go and for how long, this may be the ticket to seeing the world.

6. Ensuring Authentic Experience

So people are talking about Google Glasses and what they can offer you. Walk down the street and you can see what restaurants there are, what their ratings are and if their chef has ever served time in prison (that’s an extra feature I hear). Or they can find the nearest Starbucks for you or the nearest park for a quiet picnic.

I know what I like to find while exploring a city, and I also know what I don’t want to find. I dislike arriving in a foreign city and being bombarded by chain restaurants or stores we have back in Canada or in the US. This is not why I travel and I don’t want to be walking in downtown Sydney, Australia and be reminded of walking in downtown Minneapolis, USA.

I know it’s only going to get worse as our ‘world becomes smaller’, so I’d like to see someone develop a pair of glasses that filters out all this crap. When I travel, I want new experiences and I don’t mind leaving the ‘comforts of home’ at home. I don’t want The Gap or Burger King to photo bomb my snapshots of my friends or family on the Champs-Élysées. There’s something to be said for keeping the experience authentic and experiences what makes a place unique.

7. Virtual Travel Companions

If you’ve ever traveled alone, you know that even in a piazza filled with 5,000 people, one can easily get that lonely feeling that even an Italian espresso won't make go away. Traveling with someone else can make visiting another country even that much richer. And having common interests can lead to a great trip when you’re both interested in seeing the same things, going to the same kinds of restaurants, and when you’re both comfortable staying in that luxury resort rather than the $20 hostel (really, who isn’t though?).

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

How cool would it be to pull into the Berlin train station, walk up to a vending machine and select a virtual traveling companion for the day? Real, hologram or robot, it really doesn’t matter. And if you don’t get along or if it’s the end of the day, just press a button and poof! - they vanish into thin air.

Depending on where you are, avatars could be customized. How cool would it be to spend an afternoon in Rome with a twenty-something year old Audrey Hepburn? Or how about wandering through New York with the likes of Yoda (Take the road less traveled you must!)? The possibilities (and fun) are absolutely endless.

8. Configurable Hotels

Fitting guests into a hotel for staff must at times be a nightmare. What about those families of 5 or 6 who all want to share a room, where do you fit them all? My needs always vary, depending on what kind of trip I’m taking – business trips, family trips, trips as a couple, or guys trips to Vegas.

How fun would it be to have rooms that could be set up and customized to a guest’s needs in just a few minutes? With moveable walls and beds and tables and chairs, space can be maximized and kept as flexible as possible to cater to specific needs. Or even let the guests do their own arranging.

9. Out of This World

The older I get, the more realistic it seems that my dream of flying to or near the moon is not likely to happen. A big ‘boo’ to this and I’d just like to say how disappointed I am in those scientists who back in the 1970s said that by the year 2000 we’d regularly be making trips to the moon. Bad form guys, bad form. Just a side note, they also claimed there’d be really cool flying cars by now, and unless they have them in Dubai and they’re just not telling us, that’s also created a huge measure of disappointment in my life.

I like to believe though that interplanetary travel is a reality for the near future. With Virgin Galactic’s plans to bring (high-paying) customers to the outer reaches of our planet, you know bigger things will come next

What's Next?

Whatever innovations come our way, I believe the best approach to the future of travel would be this: "expect the unexpected". And then add on a fuel surcharge. Then you're all set.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy Campers

Summer has arrived, and the best weekends of the outdoor season are now on our doorsteps. For those of you who’ve never traveled to Winnipeg or Manitoba before, you have to believe me when I proclaim that we can have the most amazing summers with daylight that never seems to end. Yes, it's true, we have mosquitoes, and sometimes they can be plentiful. And no, they are not our national bird and no, they don’t work together to carry off small children or purse-sized dogs (usually, and at times, unfortunately). You do get used to them if you think of it as a long-term blood donation, you'll do just fine.

So as summertime fun goes, this is what I like to be doing:

Burning things, yes, but mostly firewood and marshmallows (and the occasional smokey). This is what the outdoors and camping is all about - the fire at the end of the day - the place to gather, tell stories, have a drink, and relax.
Summer in the 'upper' part of the world is more precious to us than Justin Bieber is to a 10 year old screaming school girl. So how do we make the best use of our time? Every Friday the roads leading out of town are packed with those who are off to embrace the nature that surrounds us. But the question is not only where to go, as we have so many beautiful parks and lakes barely an hour's drive away, but what's the best way to get in touch with nature when you're there?

As a family, we tend to either tent it (a rare occurrence as I’m the only one who believes that successfully getting back to nature can be judged by how close you sleep to the ground) or we stay at the in-law’s cabin. My true love of nature though will always be connected to my childhood experiences of camping in a trailer. Trailers are great. No, burritos are great - trailers are bloody fantastic. In fact, they might even be the best invention since naps or cup holders at movie theaters. Trailers, even with their limited space, are good for sleeping/eating/reading/applying suntan lotion/weathering stormy nights/playing cards and devouring freshly picked blueberries set into freshly made pancakes. It’s your world on wheels.

This (pictured above) is what we grew up with - the Corsair Summer Travel special. It slept up to 6 people (comfortably), and with its design, blocked as much wind on the highways as any object ever could. As a kid, I loved it. It was spacious and well designed, but even at the age of 6, I could see that it lacked what every pre-teenaged kid is interested in, style.
Curious to see what new innovations there are in the world of mobile living, I recently found some amazing designs and innovations applied to the modernus-station-wagonus-pull-behinderous species.

This particular one, the Tear Drop trailer, is beyond cool. Comparatively, in high school, this would be the leader of the in-crowd, the one ALL the girls want to date, the football quarterback, the guy with the six pack abs.

When you want to pull into a campground in absolute style, just hook up one of these. Sleek, slick, and so absolutely cool, the Tear Drop trailer conveniently puts your daily happy hour top of mind - just back it into your site, pop up the mobile outdoor kitchen in the back, and you'll have your mojitos (chilled in the built-in-fridge) ready in minutes. Even if it is only ten o'clock in the morning.

What I love about this trailer is that it keeps you outside where you should be, and all the inside is for is getting some sleep, ducking out of the rain or for when you need to avoid the rug rats at the campsite next to you. You can also get a tent that fits right over the door to help keep the pests away, and I've seen people up their cool factor even more by mounting their bikes and kayaks right on top using a customized rack system.

Just as sexy, this model, called the Sylvansport Miniature Trailer. It starts off as you see on the right - super small, aerodynamic and easy to pull. Basically it's a tent that sets up on a platform frame.
Surprisingly spacious inside, life is grand, as long as you don't keep anything sharp in your pockets or introduce any kind of flame to the walls.
Even the interior eating space is cool - eating is done nearly Japanese style - not that sushi would be regular camping food, but things have changed dramatically since my days of hot dogs, slightly soggy buns, and tang.

In the category of 'i can't believe it' - you knew this would happen at some point. Reminiscent of the old colourful mac computers, this 'iCamp' trailer should be relatively comfortable - and virus free and likely over-priced.
More in line with something created in someone's back yard, I can't help but thinking that this doesn't really fall into the 'this is so cool I must have one' category.

And if you can't afford a trailer, or don't have something to pull it with? Break out the tent.
Some still like to keep their wildness experience as natural as possible, but still want to ramp up the comfort level and have a nice flat stable surface to get their espresso going early in the morning. So if you have to tent it, this just might be the way to go. It might not be appropriate for packing into your backpack for long hikes, but you'll certainly be the envy of every other camper.

Outside of the potential for the world's largest paper cuts, for the bookworm in you, what could be better? How cool would it be to customize your tent to your favourite book or magazine cover.

And finally, the tent for those into reverse voyerism or possibly world domination - this seems like the kind of tent Dr. Evil would likely use. This is the ultimate in a natural nature experience, without the threat of any type of bug bites or poking yourself on any sharp corners. Wherever you set this up though, you might want to try a shady spot first and avoid direct sunlight. That is unless you're thinking of naming your tent as 'the incubator' and sweating off a few dozen pounds.

Whatever you choice, whatever your budget, the important thing is to get outdoors and get reacquainted with nature.With so many choices as to how to get out there, who can really lose?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Austria Again (now with pictures!)

When you leave some time unscheduled, funny things can happen and you can end up doing things and meeting people you’d never expect. For instance, the Friday evening when I came back to my hotel after a day of wandering, instead of being greeted by the usual wall of smoke from the business men puffing away with their drinks in the lounge (part of the entrance and reception area), I was greeted by no less than 100 twelve to twenty-year-old girls. All of them were sporting pony-tails and the same blue track suits, while pulling along the same metallic silver suitcases. Chatting away in German, it was a refreshing scene that didn’t quite make sense compared to what I was used to seeing in the lobby. Turns out that there was an international competition for synchronized skating in town, and our hotel was one of the hosts. Ironically enough, Canada was participating as well, and as I’d find out a couple of hours later, they too were staying at the Hotel Castellini in Salzburg. The next few days you couldn’t throw a stick in the hotel without hitting a figure skater (not that we were doing that – that’s only legal in Vegas and some parts of south-west Texas). We made quick friends with some of the Skate Canada coaches and parents, and we even took in part of  the competition on the Sunday eve. Sadly we didn’t get to see the Canadians compete, but we did see teams from Australia, Austria, the United States. Watching them skate was absolutely memorizing. It was like watching fish swim all in unison in a small tank, but with lively music and much more glitter and spandex.

Here’s a shot of one of the synchronized skating teams competing at the Red Bull Arena.
After the competition, back at the hotel, hours before the Canadian team had to catch their bus to Munich, some Canadian pride celebrating with some pizza and drinks.
From the department of ‘Not on the Top 10 Things You're Most Likely to NOT Discover in Salzburg’: on the same day as when I met our new hotel guests, I had been wandering down a path along the Salzach River, just soaking in the sights as well as the sounds, when I heard this one particular noise. It was definitely the call of a bird, but after a few moments of stretching my brain to understand what exactly I was hearing, it unmistakably was the sound of one of the birds from the gaming phenomenon Angry Birds! I found the tree where the sound was coming from, camera ready and hoping to see a collection of rather large, round red birds, with big eyes and thick black eyebrows looking down at me (or maybe at some nuisance swine off in the distance), but was sadly disappointed to see just a regular looking song bird. It did make me wonder though, having never heard this bird before, if possibly the creator of the game came from Austria? After some research, sadly it turns out that he’s from Espoo, Findland. I’m sure though that he’s either visited Salzburg before and heard the exact same bird, or they possibly have them in Espoo (I’m making a mental note here to one day visit Espoo, just to see if somehow their name is reflective of their town). It’s funny to come across something that you just assumed was totally made up that you then see in real life.

The riverbank where I heard the unmistakable call of the Angry Birds.
What I had hoped to see up in the trees calling out. I'm scared to think of what the poop would look like.
Since I couldn’t post any images on my previous Austria blogs, here are some of my favourites from the trip. Sadly most are lacking people, but that’s what you get when you travel for a few days on your own.

Me, standing on one of the many bridges that cross the Salzach River.
My brother Brian - now a Californian who has trouble handling the cold and anyone who says 'eh' too much. eh.

Of course, one of the main reasons for tourism in Salzburg, the infamous and digitally talented, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Here's the house he grew up in (3rd floor) on the main tourist street. Sadly, there's a grocery in the space on the main floor, and I'm guessing that it's not quite authentic from the period. Especially since I could buy pre-mixed iced-mochas there.
Of course everyone tries to capitalize on his image to make some tourist bucks.
Being Canadian, I nearly said 'sorry, excuse me' as I nearly bumped into this cut out of Mozart on the sidewalk. The big ticket item with his name on it in nearly every tourist shop are 'Mozart Balls'. They even left them on the pillows in the hotel. I'm not sure if that's the most appropriate 'item' one would want to be famous for, but as far as I could see, and maybe sadly, no one was making fun of it. Or them.
A view of the old town of Salzburg from the fortress.
In the fortress museum, they had some interesting relics. This is a mask they used to make people wear when they were convicted of certain crimes. It was meant to bring shame and people were to mock them. It's today's equivalent of being caught with a 'Boys-2-Men' concert shirt on.
Never call Austrians inefficient. Not sure what to say about this one, other than who wouldn't take a picture of this if they walked by it?
I've never ever ever been in favour of graffiti, yet I find myself drawn to it in other countries. This one was actually quite brilliant, and it makes me wonder if it was based on a specific character.
There's a huge selection of rubber ducks you can buy in Salzburg. Some look like Mozart, some look like traditional Austrians (outside of the duck-like features). Others are just your regular rubber ducks.
Another shop sells decorated eggs, depending on what holiday is coming up. I guess I missed the Christmas display as they were already focusing on Easter. There had to have been at least 4 or 5 thousand eggs on display, all locally produced.
On one of my day tours, I came across a life-sized Nativity display in one of the small villages about 50 kms away from Salzburg. Although the characters were kind of cartoony, they still had an interesting presence that made you feel like you had just interrupted some kind of special moment. The 'snow hats' from a recent snow fall added to the charm.

And on an end note, when traveling in a country with a language foreign to you, I'd always suggest to learn as much as you can - and that means paying attention to and trying to read signs, directions, and even the occasional poster. It's always interesting to see how our language differs.
This one falls into the 'snicker' category for sure. Gotta love foreign languages.
Salzburg is a great place for any kind of visit, with so much to do from general tourist wandering to some of the best outdoor adventuring in the world. Now I understand what good ol' Arnie means - capped off with great culture and wonderful food, who, even as a local, wouldn't declare that they'll be back?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Austria - an inside perspective

Salzburg - the next days.

So now that my brother Brian is in town and that there are also some Red Bull colleagues of his also from the US, I've been having full non hand waving English conversations. It's good for the brain, as well as the hands. German is a difficult language to pick up. Having worked at a German design agency years ago and having to work with their language without being able to speak it, I always admired the sheer length of some of their words which I swear could be as long as 9,436 characters! As well, I admired any person who could not only pronounce these words, but could use them in a proper sentence, all in one breath without passing out. This makes me think that I should check the Guiness World Book of Records to see if the person who holds the record for the longest time without taking a fresh breath only did so because they were speaking one of these words.

One really should admire the opportunities that the people of Salzburg have. Within a few hours by train or car, you have cities to travel to such as Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, and even Venice. Compare this to the choices we have on the prairies, and you can see why at least some jealousy comes into play. If I had the choice of heading to Brandon, Manitoba or to Vienna, Austria, my guess is that I'd more likely choose Vienna. Nothing against Brandon, it is beautiful in its own way, but it's not Vienna and judging from my last visit, never will be. Not only do you get a spectacular change in scenery, you get a change in culture as well. Funny thing though is that not all Europeans travel as much as we think they would with these opportunities. Talking to some locals, I've likely been to Paris far more times than the average person who lives here. To me, that's just crazy! Too much shnitzel in the brain if you ask me, but it's just different.

I've always seen such an importance placed on family in most of the places I've traveled to in Europe, and family does tend to stick together. My brother has taken me to a restaurant here that he regularly visits (he travels here at least 10 times each year for business), and on our first visit after he landed on Saturday, he was greeted by the owner like he was family. We went back today for lunch, and again, he was greeted just as well, and this time, so was I. There are restaurants I visit frequently back at home, and I can't say I've ever felt that welcomed. People here seem to come first.

My adventures the past couple of days have kept me within the downtown area of Salzburg, but tomorrow, while my brother and the rest of his Red Bull crew are all heading to work, I'll be breaking out of the city via a bus and then a gondola and heading up to see a glacier up close. Funny thing, being from Canada, spending some good money and a full day to go see some snow and ice, but hey, this is Austrian ice! Plus it'll be good to see some country side. It's sadly my last full day of tourism before heading back to Winnipeg, so I'll have to make it count.

Cheers, until later.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Austria - days 2 and 3

Salzburg, part 2

There's been a bit of a delay in my blogging (technology again grrrr), but the exploring of an amazing cultural centre has certainly continued. It's Saturday morning, my brother just arrived from Los Angeles (via meetings in New York), and he's just crashed for a couple hours after not much sleep on his flight over. Somehow he was in first class on Luthansa Airlines, versus my no class on Air Canada, yet I managed to get more sleep than he did. While he sleeps, I'll catch up on my writing. I will be writing more in depth later as I've been taking lots of pictures, and some things are best explained with visual examples.

It's always a little strange exploring a city on your own, particularly when you don't have a decent grasp of the local language. My German isn't too bad - I can order food in quantities up to ten, and I'm pretty good at saying 'hello' and saying 'good-bye' and saying 'really? My drink cost that much?'. Well, maybe not exactly that last one. But the Red Bull Cola I'm drinking so that I can have the priviledge of sitting in the hotel lounge did just cost more than yesterday's seafood lunch. In Salzburg, particularly this time of year, you don't hear many English conversations taking place. I always trust a destination that the locals (in this case Austrians and Germans) like to visit. It's like walking into an ethnic restaurant and seeing people of that ethnicity eating there. It's just a feel good situation.

Yesterday (Friday) I started off exploring along the river bank - my trusty tourist map showed a couple of areas where it appeared that I could get a good view of the river, the old town and the fortress up top of the mountain using explanding red lines. So it was either going to be a good view, or the map was indicating areas of high radiation. Not knowing which, I took my chances. And boy o boy was I rewarded! Of course it ended up being some tremendous gains in elevation, but for that view, it was worth it (pictures to come in a later blog). For an area that should have been completely over run with tourists, it was absolutely quiet. I came across what I was excited to think was Mozart's grave - there was a monument that was very headstone like, a description of when he was born and when he died, so I figured heck, this must be it! Research later on at the hotel sadly proved me wrong - turns out no one actually knows where he's buried as he was originally, after a sadly short life, buried like a commoner, and the thought is that his remains were later dug up, crushed, and moved aside for someone else. His skull though possibly was spared, though that's not completely proven. Anyway, moving on from the monument I climbed up and up and up, losing a layer every 100 meters or so of elevation, eventually reaching my destination of the Franziskischlossl Castle. I should note here that when I originally lived in northern Germany, I went on a 'Castle tour' with my friend Heike and 30 of her closest tourism classmates. Excited by the thought of visiting castle after castle, it was not until I reached the first one and thought to myself 'this? This is a Castle? It's just a large home!' did I get educated on the fact that in this part of the world, a Castle is really just a large house. Not even that large, in fact. No moat or draw-bridge or even a turret were ever present. So this is what I stumbled upon yesterday, but what it lacked in size, it more than made up for this with the view.

My other gain in elevation took place the day before, when I went to visit the most visable and famous structure, the Festung Hohensalzburg. This was the old residence of the church, which is more like a fort than anything else. There are two ways of getting there - walking (I think there's a gain of at least 200 meters from the old town), or taking the FestungsBahn, a railroad type device to carry people up the side of the mountain, sparing them them hardship and sweat of climbing it on their own. My plan was to walk up, tour the buildings, take in the sites, then take it down so I could see the city from top to bottom. Turns out it closes for major maintenance only one day of the year, and that happened to be the day. It did add to the fun of the day though watching some pretty out of shape tourists making the challenging journey up, not looking nearly as festive as they would have been taking a ride.

Again, what a view, a full 360 degree panorama that just took your breath away (if you had it back after the climb). I have to say, the church certainly knew what it was doing when they developed that space over a thousand years ago. Ruling the lands and basically being able to get what you want, where you want it, who wouldn't have chosen the highest and most easily defended space? Of course those who actually built it lived below in it's shadows where they were more vulnerable to attacks from any hostile group.

With all of this climbing and continual walking, I usually have to find creative ways of keeping myself energized. Some days, after 4 or 6 or even 8 hours of exploring, my energy does fail. Years ago when traveling with my wife in Sydney, Australia, not being a coffee drinker, I discovered chocolate covered espresso beans. Believe me, being 10 time zones over, sometimes it's nice to have something to aid you. This habit though evolved - it's now iced-mochas that keep me going. The only problem is that that's a heck of a lot of liquid to take in, and anyone who's traveled throughout Europe can confirm that here, particularly in tourist areas, there is only one washroom per 10,000 people. The ratio in Paris is even worse! So maybe it's good that a) I have not found one single Starbucks here, and b) any decent coffee shop here does NOT make any espresso drinks iced. That, or the combination of my minimal German and general hand gestures is not as effective as I'd hope them to be when it comes to communicating. So that's where Red Bull comes in. Not something I'd usually drink, I justify this in two regards - it's keeping me energized (gives you wings, hey?) and it's a local specialty. Just like Weinersnitzel. As they say, go local, or just go home.

And that I don't intend to do, at least not yet. There are still more adventures to be had! Now they'll include my brother. We're not completely the same. In fact, we're probably quite opposite in many ways, so we'll see how the adventure continues.

My comfy blogging spot 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Twenty some hours later

The Canadian has landed. Actually, three times. First in Montreal, then in Frankfurt, finally in Salzburg. Being someone who loves travel and thankfully still likes flying, it was a good adventure overall. There are always lessons to be learned - such as, if someone's checking your passport and boarding pass, there's a good chance you're walking into an area that you're not going to be let out of - at least not easily. That's what happened to me in Montreal not realizing that their International departures area was like this. What it meant was that the GOOD restaurants were on the side I just came from. The BAD ones were the only ones I could access. Thankfully I was rewarded soon after with a very empty flight and four seats to myself!

So now here I am, sitting in my hotel room, working on what I still intend to be a daily blog (if the frustrations of wifi don't eventually bring me down), snacking away. I could be out wandering the quiet streets of Salzburg - it is a beautiful town, and don't get me wrong, but I already did that in a half-dazed state earlier today while waiting for my hotel room to be prepared. Keeping me company are a Stiegl 500 ml beer, a bag of paprika chips, and a bar of one of my favourite chocolates in the world, Ritter Sport Mousse au Chocolat. This was all acquired at the Shell station 100 meters from my hotel. Now this isn't the fanciest dinner in the fanciest of places, but after 3 long flights and sleeping and eating with everyone else around, it's nice to have a little bit of quiet and privacy (and no seat belt signs). Plus I'm not worried about what the attendant is going to think when I take my time nursing this beer. And I have to say, what a huge disappointment Air Canada has turned out to be for flying over seas. The planes and the seats were more than fine, but talk about poor (and grumpy) service, and about the worst airplane food I've ever had. Plus, on the Montreal-Frankfurt flight, they might have done us all the favour of letting us know before we boarded exactly how miniscule the dinner would be! Plus, breakfast was a plastic-wrapped day old (at least) muffin with a choice of beverage. I won't even ask what ever happened to the hot towels.

The first day in Europe is always the most challenging - with the multiple time changes, not sleeping, eating breakfast at your usual dinner time and eating your dinner at your usual breakfast time, things tend to get a little messed up. But I love it - it shakes things up, as it 're-sets' your days and takes away the normal routine.

So as my adventure begins, I'm again reminded of how different Europe is. I guess it's fair to say, especially looking at my choice of dinner tonight, sometimes you just make different decisions and live life a little bit differently here. My first trip to Europe, back with my buddy Jamie after finishing university, was a budget based trip, and I find I've never lose that sensibility when traveling here. Jamie and I shared some amazingly cheap wines on that trip that I'd never even cook with let alone drink today, but sometimes that's just the way it is - and it all works out fine. Except for that period of 24 hours in Greece where Jamie, after some cheap drinks completely lost his memory, lost his way back to our hotel, and supposedly had an hour long conversation with a Pelican (see previous blog entry for details).

I have two full days to explore Salzburg before my brother arrives Saturday morning. Two days to adjust to the time zone, two days to work on my German, two days to explore and see what I can discover on my own. And two days to figure out why my bluetooth keyboard keeps disconnecting from my Blackberry Playbook as I'm typing. Otherwise, my entries will be becoming VERY short, and a certain un-named keyboard (you know who you are...) is going to go for a short swim in the river!

Cheers for now!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Off to Austria! The typical winter holiday...

While most Canadians are packing up their short and sunscreen and heading south, here I am, heading East. Way East. Not the far-East East, but the Europe kind of East. I'm off to Salzburg, Austria. The only chance of me wearing shorts might be on the way to the hotel gym and the only chance of me getting a sunburn might be on my nose if I manage to get above 3,000 meters on the nearby slopes (sadly as a sightseer rather than a skier).

Winter this year has been pretty easy, as winter goes. Usually our winters are long and they can be difficult to manage, like a long lost relative who drops in to live with you for 5 or 6 months. This year  it's been more like just an annoying week or so. I haven't felt that usual burning desire to escape to somewhere where bars come in two types: outdoors, and swim-up. When my brother tempted me to meet up with him before some meetings at the Red Bull European offices, I made the rash decision to join up and keep him company (brothers are supposed to do this for each other - it's part of the bro code). 

So I'll be blogging, hopefully daily during this journey. If there are gaps in my posts, I blame it either on my bluetooth keyboard acting up (which it's already doing), or on too much Austrian beer the night before. Or maybe both...

Blogging station number 1. Airport comfort at it's best.