Fly Favorites: October 2012

Tahiti image by Rémi Jouan.

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Next up: Copenhagen

As mentioned in a previous post extolling the virtues of having a hub in Europe, you can get everywhere for a decent price. My round-trip plane ticket from Berlin to Copenhagen two weeks out? 59 Euro (US$76)! Granted, the flight’s only an hour long, but it’s to a whole different country!

That said, I’m looking forward to celebrating the big 3-5 with one of my best friends from Brazil who’s studying (and freezing her tassels off) in the Danish capital. We’ll geek out at a few museums, take pics of The Little Mermaid, catch a couple of screenings at the documentary film festival, maybe hit the Meatpacking District (tee-hee!) for a li’l two-step or whatnot.

We won’t be going to see J.Lo in concert (sorry, Lo…we can stream reruns of In Living Color online for free!). But hopefully, I will get to meet Black Girl on Mars!

I head up to Denmark from November 2-5, so stay tuned for trip details. I’m excited to see what kind of welcome I get from the good people of “Wonderful Copenhagen.”

Image by Alatryste

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Happy 85th Birthday, Pan Am!

On October 19, 1927, a tiny seaplane flew mail for the U.S. Postal Service a quick 90 miles, from Key West to Havana, in a little over an hour. Within the next few decades, the company that sent that air mail to Cuba would be the first to launch commercial airline service across the Pacific Ocean, the first American carrier to fly jet aircraft, the first airline to use a custom-built computerized reservation system, and the first airline to fly the Boeing 747. This company founded the internationally renowned InterContinental hotel chain, built the world’s largest commercial office building when it opened in 1963, and connected 86 countries on 6 continents by 1968. This company transported Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery and The Beatles. Towards the end of its life, this company facilitated economical air travel for the common man. But for the first half of its life, this company—Pan American World Airways—ushered in the Jet Age, created the Jet Set, and epitomized the glamour, sophistication, and absolute magic of intercontinental air travel.

Pan Am, sadly, ceased operations in 1991, after 64 years. And like a screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood, all we have left to remember her by are a few well-preserved artifacts, fading memories from previous generations who experienced her at her most vivacious, and flickering images that captured her at her peak—bittersweet reminders that the Golden Age of Travel, or at least the one we choose to imagine, is an era long passed.

For more colorful history, read about Pan Am’s first black pilot, Marvin Jones, and one of Pan Am’s “Black Birds,” Dr. Sheila Nutt, both part of a select group of black flight crew members hired after 1965. And if you’ve got an hour, take a gander at this phenomenal BBC documentary about Pan Am, which tells the story of the company’s rise and fall, the stringent physical standards for stewardesses, salacious tales of flight crew sex lives, and includes commentary by the pilot impostor who wrote Catch Me If You Can:

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Fahrvergnügen mit der Mitfahrgelegenheit

Need to get around Germany but don’t want to cough up a hundred Euros for a one-way plane or train ticket? Get Mitfahrgelegenheit! Meaning “carpool” in German, Mitfahrgelegenheit (roughly pronounced meet-far-guh-LEG-gun-hite) is popular and simple to use, thanks to the website (and Google Translate, considering I have no clue what I’m reading in German 90% of the time). It’s just a matter of searching for a ride between two places at a time that best suits you, comparing options based on the driver’s bio and rating as a reliable user (or not), then meeting at the designated point with cash in-hand and hitting the road. Yes, some measure of blind faith is required, and who knows how likely I’d be to use the system if I were a solo female traveler, but since you usually meet your driver and fellow passengers in a public place, you can address any immediate trepidation by just deciding not to get into the vehicle.

Last week, I mitfahred from Frankfurt to Berlin in a dusty, grey Mercedes minivan with driver and five college students (They looked college age, anyway. We barely spoke beyond initial pleasantries as we were all plugged up to our individual MP3 players). Dude hauled-ass down the autobahn, clocking in at five hours for a normally six-hour drive, with a ten-minute pee/cigarette break. We drove through leafy forests, underneath monstrous industrial windmills, and past Russian-built cargo planes at the Leipzig Airport. We plowed through fog banks and down steep hills and almost sideswiped an 18-wheeler. Halfway to Berlin, the driver stuck his hand back towards us and said in accented English, “Give me my money now, please.” I’m thinking, “Naw, potna. Not until I see a ‘Wilkommen in Berlin’ sign.”

Needless to say, we made it safely, and I’m open to giving Mitfahrgelegenheit another whirl. I just need to memorize the German phrase for “slow the hell down, mannn!” Or am I just getting old?

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Berlin vs. São Paulo: The Power of Two

Often in my travels, people ask me which of my two home bases I prefer—Berlin or São Paulo. Like any place, each has its pros and cons and sometimes, at different times, I might need more of what one has to offer than the other. No two cities could be more unalike or more enthralling to my sensibilities as a lover of urban spaces, and I’ve identified three factors about each place that speak to why I spend much of my year there.

Berlin

  • History at the heart of Europe: Having been the biggest prize to be won during World War II, a pawn between superpowers during the Cold War, and the capital of a centuries-old nation, Berlin’s history is vivid and palpable on every street. All the museums help, too. And with all the convenient air and rail links to the rest of Europe—Madrid, Istanbul, or London in two hours or less—Berlin’s my undisputed access point to the Continent, past and present.
  • Cheap and easy culture: On any given afternoon, you can hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring played by buck nekkid musicians, then grab a doner kebab en route to an exhibition about Pac Man at the Video Game Museum before dancing under a bridge until the sun comes up. And all for about five euro or less.
  • My circle of black American expat friends: Whereas in São Paulo, I know maybe two black Americans, I know a rack of ‘em in Berlin. We get together at restaurants where people give us funny looks for being loud and raucous, and we just ignore them, loudly and raucously reenacting scenes from Coming to America like we were at some Saturday afternoon barbecue in Atlanta. There’s no place like “home.”

São Paulo

  • My friends, period: Brazilian, non-Brazilian, wherever they come from, I’ve been blessed with some of the coolest, warmest, most open-hearted, dynamic, interesting friends on the planet, all in São Paulo. Whenever I’m in town, even if schedules don’t allow for a lengthy reunion, I still get a hearty welcome and the humbling feeling of being appreciated and loved. That’s what friends are for!
  • Brazilian affability: São Paulo might be the “New York of Brazil,” but paulistanos have all the friendliness and affability of the rest of the country, easily offering directions and assistance when needed, quick to smile and generally polite. In a metro area of 20 million people, it’s shocking that anyone’s nice at all, but here, I just feel at home. Included.
  • The skyline: New York’s skyline is iconic but finite. Hong Kong’s skyline is dramatic but hemmed-in. São Paulo’s skyline is forever—forever expanding, forever changing, forever mesmerizing me for hours on end, regardless of the angle or point of view.

Are you torn between two cities? If so, which ones?

 

Images by Robby van Moor and cjggbella.

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Life on the Road

Since July, I’ve been to nine countries on five continents, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than five nights in any one location, with the exception of a 7-day cruise with my family where my movement was essentially limited to the Lido Deck.

During these past two months, I’ve had immovable work deadlines and perilously-late paychecks, last-minute press trips and schmooze-soaked travel conferences, a sobering near-breakup and a sobering death in the family. I’ve juggled professional, personal, and social spheres, seeing friends and family whenever I could and taking on writing assignments as frequently as possible. I have pressures to maintain a positive cash flow, maintain a long-distance relationship, maintain personal relationships, maintain professional growth, maintain a blog and a social media presence, maintain my physical health, maintain my sanity. My fingernails are bitten down to the bloody cuticle. ‘Taint no vacation we’re talking about here.

Life on the road is still life—uncut and unadulterated life, with bills, headaches, disappointments, and unrealized goals. At the end of the day, uncompleted items remain on each to-do list, and at the end of the month, a few days on the bank statement inevitably glow red (for now). But it’s the hope for a fulfilling life that keeps me advancing through air and uncertainty instead of coasting on autopilot through a manufactured existence in service to someone who isn’t me but who profits from my talents and resources. It’s the hope that I’ll eventually get as close to “figuring it all out” as I can, that the effort and striving and leaps of faith will turn into something materially-tangible, yes, but more than that—something soul-calming. Something fulfilling. With as few regrets as possible.

Because there’s nowhere any of us can go to escape uncut and unadulterated life, no country or continent where real life won’t intrude suddenly and without warning. The key to hope—and fulfillment—is to embrace, then face the challenges, tackling each one like a wave on the ocean of adventure.

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