21 September 2014

Awesome Inflight Travel Hack

Inflight entertainment, it's lame. I'm not sure why airlines even provide it. I mean, everyone on the plane has their tablet or whatever nowadays and you bring along what entertainment you need.

You know what really puts me off inflight entertainment? Those shit awful headphones they give you. And then they have the weird connector so you can't even use your own. I don't travel with medium range noise filtering headphones so I can exchange them for shitty crap the airlines provides.

Total digression here - I did decide to watch an inflight movie on my Air China flight to save on battery power with my tablet. Halfway through my watching of 47 Ronin, the shit headphones stopped working. That movie is so awful, I never even bothered trying to get the headphones replaced. Has anyone seen it? If not, don't bother. They took the 47 Ronin story, which is a shit awful story and add in most of the elements of The Last Samurai. Shit on shit. Don't watch it. Ever.

Anyway, this is not about Hollywood interpretations of Japan but how to have the best entertainment experience on your flight.

Watching your own stuff on your tablet is definitely the way to go but there's one drawback. What do you do with your tablet?

If you have one of those handy cases that convert to a stand, you can put it on your tray table but that sucks. You don't want to have your tray table for long periods of time. It's not comfortable. And you don't want to hold your tablet in your hand either. That's also not good.

Then I saw this clever travel hack online - you put your tablet in a ziplock bag and mush it under the turny knob thing for the tray tablet so it hangs in front of you. Huzzah! Hands free tablet watching.

Except that wasn't good enough for me.

My flight had those annoying back of the seat screens with the tray tablet underneath so my tablet hung down too low.

Not to worry. I posted a few days ago about handy things to pack when you travel but I didn't mention two of the most important items: ziplock bags and clips.

Everyone knows to take ziplock bags, right? They are super handy for many things. Clips are also important. The ones that have the metal bits that you push back (is there a name for those kinds of clips?). I always have them on me because the cord on my headphones is insanely long, so I wind it up and then clip it - it's much better than the contraption I got with them because that thing constantly gets caught on shit in my bag.

So I got out the clips and clipped the ziplock bag to the back of the seat at a height and angle that suited me. Then sat back and smugly watched stuff, in awe of my own cleverness.

Shitty inflight entertainment begone! You are replaced by Arashi! Note the handy clips.
I was surprised at how well this worked. I thought the crumpled plastic of the bag would interfere with my viewing pleasure but the weight of my tablet smoothed it out.

There is one big caution here though. Your tablet is in a plastic bag and it will get very hot. Do not start watching something epic like say all three Lord of the Rings movies without a break. Your tablet may not survive! Actually, you shouldn't be sitting that long without a break either. You put yourself at risk of DVT and all that kind of thing. I found about 30 minutes was enough.

Next time I fly, I might hole punch my ziplock bag to improve air flow and see if that stops it heating up so much.

Do you have a clever flight hack?

17 September 2014

Herculaneum and Capri

After lazily keeping close to where I was staying in Naples, I figured I should actually get out and see a bit more of area on my last day.

I decided to go to Herculaneum instead of the much more popular Pompeii because less popular means less people. Also, the tourist info said it had much more shade from the intense sun. The plan was to get up early and go in when the ticket gate opened to get the maximum sun avoidance but my own laziness and dithering meant that didn't happen.


I got to the train station - which was a feat in itself since you don't catch the train from the main part of the station but some other bit (I think it's a private line) and had a massive line to buy tickets. When I got to the platform, according to the board, the train been due about an hour before I got there! Aha, so that's what they mean about Italian trains.


Do not use the English name, Herculaneum, but the Italian one, Ercolano, or the dude won't sell you a ticket. Even if he knows exactly what you mean.


I didn't realise until I got there that, unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum is just buildings. There are no preserved people on display. That was disappointing. I did get to see some skulls though.

Also, I had a guide map explaining the sites using a numbering system. I didn't realise until I got halfway around that there were TWO numbering systems! I think one for the audio guide and one for the paper map. WTF! So everything I'd learned was a lie. I did think that the explanations were weird.


I did get to see lots of interesting ancient stuff and the site does make it easy to get an idea of life in Ancient Roman times as well as the scale of the volcanic eruption that destroyed the town. Because the site is near the beach, a lot of people ran for the ocean,thinking that would save them but couldn't make it in time.

When I was a kid, I always feared volcanic eruptions and not being able to escape from them - even though I lived in Australia and we have no volcanoes! 

It was insanely hot though and, by the time I finished walking around, I had a very bad stomach. It took me a while to get that sorted. I'm sure you don't want the details.

I headed back to the station and decided to stop for lunch. Most of the places near the site are very touristy. How bad can they be? I thought. Let me tell you, bad restaurants in Italy are really bad.

I ordered a Caprese salad, thinking that couldn't go wrong. Oh boy, did it ever go wrong! Unripe, tasteless tomatoes with a hunk of cheese in the middle of the plate wrong.

Worst salad ever

Then, halfway through eating, the waitress came over and asked me to move tables so they could fit in a larger group. I should've told her to fuck off but I was kinda shocked that she even asked. She moved my food inside to a table already occupied by a guy on his own. Fuck you, shitty tourist place.

After a lot more dithering - I have no idea what I do on holidays but I really lose huge chunks of time - I decided to walk to the ferry place and head out to one of the islands. I wasn't really struck on Capri but it was the next ferry leaving.

I thought I had 10 minutes until I had to catch the ferry but I got confused and it was actually an hour and 10 minutes. Oops. Then I got to the island and found out I had less than an hour before I had to catch the last ferry back to Naples. I think there was one other but that meant spending about 4 hours on the island. It'd already bought a beer that cost about $200 so I figured I couldn't afford to spend much time on Capri.

Not that it mattered because the ferry ride was much better than the actual island. Maybe there are some nice parts but it seemed like Capri was just full of annoying rich people with really noisy, badly behaved children. I'd have probably killed someone if I'd stayed much longer.


The best thing on Capri was the funicular that takes you up the hill to see the view. It's really fun as it clunks its way up.

On the way back down, I'd seen a girl have a massive fight with her boyfriend (or maybe father, he was a lot older than her) and storm off. Then later she got on the funicular and sat beside me and kept sobbing. That was a lot less fun and kinda awkward.


I didn't do any of the really touristy Capri stuff like go to the Blue Grotto because it costs a fortune and apparently you have to get on a tiny boat (I hate tiny boats) and sail out then wait in a boat queue for like an hour until you get your 5 minutes in the cave. Screw that shit.



I did have heart attacks that I'd not get back to the ferry place in time to get the last ferry back. I didnt have that much cash on me either (due to the $200 beer) so headed back to the port area and hung out. It had a pretty nice view anyway.


On the ferry on the way back, I stood outside and enjoyed the cold ocean breeze. Being cold is awesome. Capri is much nicer from the sea than it is when you are there. I watched the sunset from the deck of the boat then the lights of the coast around Naples as we came back to land.

Fireworks went off over Naples, not high enough to be obvious in the night sky. I looked around and realised no one else had even seen them and it'd been my own secret fireworks display.

15 September 2014

Free Food - What Would You Do?

There's a website here we use sometimes to order food, probably more than we should. On Friday night we put in an order.

Saturday night we got a knock at the door. Gemma went nuts barking as she always does when someone comes to the door. My sister talked to the guy for a while then asked me if I'd ordered food because there was a delivery guy at the door.

Of course I hadn't ordered food, food orders always being a time of mutual consolation.

She told the guy it wasn't ours and he left. We did laugh about how we should've kept the food but figured some other poor bugger would be waiting for it and we'd get charged for food we didn't want.

Not long later, my sister got a phone call saying the driver had tried to deliver her food. She told the restaurant it wasn't ours and they argued with her.

Then the driver turned back up with the delivery, insisting that we take it and getting quite stroppy about the situation.

We took the bag of food and looked at it for a while, expecting the driver to come.

Finally I said we might as well eat it. If it was someone else's food, they'd probably just make them a fresh order.  It'd been half an hour since he first showed up so they probably just wanted the driver to come back and deliver some of the banked up orders.

When we opened the bag, it was our exact same order from the Friday night. It looked like something had gone awry in the system and they'd sent our order out again. At least it was food we liked.

When we told Mum she said we shouldn't have taken the food but, after half hour or more of arguing with people who wanted us to take it -- and intensive dog barking, we figured we'd done all we could to NOT take the order. We decided to enjoy our noodle soup and pork dumplings instead.

What would you do? Send the food back or look at it as a gift from the gods of computer malfunctions?

13 September 2014

Naples


Naples is a city that overwhelms the senses. It's such a travel cliché but so apt and not in a completely positive way.

One of the huge contradicts that floored me about Italy in general, and Naples in particular, is that people will wear I love Italy or I love clothing, they'll fly flags and proudly proclaim their civic pride but have no qualms about filling their streets with trash. Is that love for your city?

Maybe I've been completely indoctrinated by the "Keep Australia Beautiful" campaigns I grew up.

Naples is a city that isn't so much as a destination for many travellers but a place to pass through on their way to Capri or Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast. Being the middle of the peak season for travellers, I decided to skip the overcrowded places (about from two side trips I'll post about later) and stick to Naples.

The overwhelming of the senses, well for starters the humidity was so intense even the host at my BnB and his girlfriend were complaining. I hit the city in prime shitful heat season. Seriously, everywhere I went, people would say the weather had been wonderful up until when I got there then it either turned rainy or too hot. I think I'm a weather jinx.

Then there's the smells. The piles of trash in the streets are part of it but also the pizza and all the good foods.




And noise. People in this city do NOT shut up. Screaming, laughing, stereos blaring, yelling from your balcony to the person across the square or the kids playing on the street. I woke up one morning at 4am to blissful silence only for it start up again about 20 minutes later.

Just a walk down the street means dodging scooters parked on the narrow footpath and displays spilling out from shops and the locals who don't move out of your way. Step onto the road to avoid them and you may as well have a target on your back for traffic. Just crossing the road is an ordeal in Naples. Best to tag along beside a local, even better if they're a nun.




All this crazy street life mixes in religion from huge churches to tiny street shrines. One of the side streets in the historical district is famous for it's nativities that sell blonde haired, blue eyes baby Jesuses, the standard range of nativity farm animals and even popular soccer players decked out nativity style.

Everywhere you look, street art covers ancient walls with messages beyond my Italian comprehension (not that difficult to do).


But mostly, Naples is about food. I arrived with the intention of eating all the pizza but the heat left me with little appetite. In Australia and in Japan, I find I can only eat inside where it's air conditioned but, in Italy, if there is air conditioning, it's not much cooler than the temperature outside.

Then there is the problem of where to eat. The best and most famous pizza places in Naples have huge queues. Being alone, I didn't relish the thought of an hour wait amongst rowdy customers on the street. Luckily, the pizza places sell croquettes and other premade snacks to go (or to stay your stomach until you get your pizza).



I did find one sit down place that wasn't the best pizza in Naples, not even second best but even fair to middling pizza in Naples is still amazing. It also introduced me to Italian style service. I waited forever to get a menu then forever to have my order taken. I got paranoid that they didn't want solo diners at their restaurant until I noticed it happening to everyone. Then the waiter apologised because he had to service TEN tables on his own! That was just taking orders, the food came directly from the kitchen. I laughed.

The heat meant passing up on the awesome looking pastries too but luckily I didn't have to skip the gelato. 

I stayed slap-bang in the middle of the historical district, which meant slap-bang in the middle of the intensity. My BnB was a really old building with thick stone walls that adjoined the Duomo so did provide a respite. It also meant climbing four huge flights of stairs so I felt justified in the pizza and gelato I did eat.


The view from my window at night - my camera skills aren't the best but what an amazing view of the statue on a pole in the middle of the square.
I spend most of my time wandering the streets, taking it all in, then stopping for a wine or a snack and continuing on. I did try to hit a tourist attractions but they were closed (I really need to start checking opening hours for things). After three nights in Naples, I was weary but glad I went there. It's a city so full of energy and life. I have absolutely no idea how people manage to live there though.

Note: a lot of tourist information about Naples makes it sound dangerous, like every second local is a pickpocket or bag snatcher. I had absolutely no problems at all, taking normal, sensible precautions. It's no better or worse than any other city in that regard. 

11 September 2014

The handiest things to pack for a holiday

In case you hadn't worked it out yet, I hate lugging shit around when I travel. I took a tiny suitcase to Europe and, while people kept asking 'is this all the luggage you have?', I bitched about having packed too much. While everyone's idea of handy differs, these are definitely some things I would not leave home without.

International USB Adapter

These things are fantastic. Before, I've taken clunky power adapters with me when I travel but then I realised everything I need to charge uses a USB cable.


The beauty of this little gadget is that you can charge 4 things at once. I've either had to travel with multiple chargers before or make the decision of what device I needed to use most - the camera, the tablet, etc. On the down side, charging four devices takes four times as long. You get the same amount of power it just gets split (I'm sure there is a techie way to explain that but I have no idea).  If I needed something charged urgently, I put on by itself otherwise just chucked everything on to charge while I slept.

Since I needed a Chinese adapter for in transit as well as a European one, I could pack the extra plug with not much extra bulk. Win!

I'll definitely be taking this guy along on all my future travels.

Power Pack/Battery Back Up

I don't know why I've waited so long to get one of these guys since I am one of those people who always has a flat battery on my phone. The one I bought was tiny, only giving the equivalent of one power recharge but that made it small enough to chuck in my tiny handbag. It has a built-in little cord thing with one of those trapezium shaped plugs that works with my phone and camera but I had to have my own cord for tablet charging. 

Too damn handy. 

Chamois Towel

Not something I'd normally pack since it seems a bit too hard-core backpacker but, after getting saturated in a rain storm, I really needed this guy. The one I got was in a tiny little triangle pack with one of those metal clips which meant double convenience because I could hang it off my handbag and use the clip for my umbrella on rainy days.

Before I headed off overseas, I swore I wouldn't hand wash knickers. I hate that shit. But, I got to Rome and it was either look for a Laundromat and waste a couple of hours to waste a few pairs of underwear or hand wash.  I decided to hand wash then I rolled the knickers in my handy little chamois towel and stomped the fuck out of them. They ended up drier than they would've been out of the washing machine.

Just about everywhere I stayed in Italy had dodgy showers that leaked all over the bathroom floor. A few places, I only got a bath towel, not even a bath mat. This guy came in handy for moping up the floor after a shower.

Hot Chocolate Design Shoes



Probably not so essential for you're a guy but these shoes are the best. Forget about your Crocs and your Birkenstocks and other ugly shoes, these shoes rock and they're cute. I wore them about 90% of my holiday. I would've worn them but my feet were too swollen for the first few days.

Trust me, I have the worst feet for getting blisters and having shoes rub and hurt. I have stacks of shoes I never wear because they aren't comfortable. These shoes, despite their girlie appearance, are the most comfortable and practical shoes ever.

I got them absolutely saturated a few times and they dried off quickly. I got them filthy and mud-caked in Naples and thought they were wrecked but they cleaned up easily.  They take up hardly any space in your luggage. You can squish them down so they are no bigger than a pair of thongs/flip-flops.

The best thing - wearing cute shoes makes you happier than any pair of ugly "comfort" shoes ever will.

The only negative is that, if you are walking all day, they don't give much arch support. I'd definitely pack them again but maybe throw in an inner sole.

Since I planned my entire travel wardrobe around red and light blue, the cherry ones worked a treat but I'm getting the ladybug design for my birthday next week. I can see a few more of these shoes in my future too.

I got the cherry ones from my awesome friend, Sharnee, but you can buy them in Aus from Pimpos (that's where I ordered my ladybug ones. They are also available on Amazon if you live elsewhere.

Note: totally unsponsored endorsement.. but I'd endorse the fuck out of these shoes for a free pair.

What not to pack?

Shapewear - For winter, it's good to give an extra layer of warmth but in summer it's a waste of space. I packed it because I had the wedding to go to. I really wished I'd just got an outfit that didn't need scaffolding underneath.


10 September 2014

Belgium

I pretty much did zero sightseeing in Belgium because I was there for my friend's wedding. I had planned on leaving for Brussels early on the Friday and having the afternoon to look around but, instead, had a nightmare trip on the trains.

If you ever plan to travel from Amsterdam to Brussels, it's so worth paying the extra fare and going with Eurostar. Sure, it'll cost you double but it might just save your sanity. I thought the cheaper option meant a direct but less fancy train. NO! It meant having multiple train changes, time wasted because of train delays and a ton of frustration too boring to go into.

I've have put it down to bad luck but my friend (the groom) and his family left on an earlier train and had the same problems.


I did get to explore the lovely town of Aalst which I'd have never gone to if it wasn't where the wedding was held. I got off the train and headed to my hotel across the square, thinking the town was entirely charm-free (a square with old men sitting outside cafes watching everything - not charming but it did prepare me for Italy) but later headed to my meet up with everyone for dinner later in the evening and saw another side to the town.


After dinner, a bunch of us hit the local gay bar. Well, we think it was the gay bar. I got incredibly lost on the way back to my hotel. Everyone else stayed at the same hotel where the reception was to be held. I was a cheapskate and stayed at the place for a quarter of the price near the station.

If it wasn't for a lovely girl riding by on her bike, I'd still be wandering around that town now. Medieval towns have no logic to their layout. Or maybe it is a logic designed around using confusion as a line of defense?

Of course these seats caught my eye!

I wish I'd taken more photos of the weird hotel - when I checked in, the guy hold me to take the lift up to my room from the bar. Well, I tried to find a lift with no lucky, until he pointed out the random fire door was actual the lift! It was just a door with no connection to the lift mechanics at all - if you opened it when the lift wasn't there, you'd just walk into the lift shaft!


The morning after the wedding, we were supposed to meet up for brunch then a walking tour of Ghent. I was too hungover for a walking tour. I was almost too hungover to get to brunch.  I didn't think I'd make it out of bed. Finally, got up and dressed just as the young guy from reception came up to tell me to check out.

I was going to bail on everything but figured I wanted the chance to say goodbye to old friends and new so made brunch then headed to Brussels to the Pantone Hotel.





Again, I'd planned some sightseeing but in my hungover, confused state, couldn't find the hotel. I did have adventures in walking around Brussels in the rain looking for wifi though, including going to the world's slowest fast food place (which only had wifi via phone confirmation) and a hipster cafe.

/As soon as I saw the Pantone Hotel in my holiday research, I knew I had to stay there. It's a pretty cool hotel.

Apart from leaving the hotel to find dinner, I did pretty much nothing in Brussels though. I didn't even get to try waffles except for the prepackaged ones with breakfast. I guess that means another trip to Belgium might be on the cards one day.

I won't link up my Belgium album because, other than the photos I've posted, they are all private wedding pics and not of much interest. I will leave you with a photo of me dolled up all fancy. My smile might give you nightmares though. I suck at selfies!


09 September 2014

Gyspy Caravan

While in The Netherlands, I wanted to get out of the cities and see some of the countryside. I had no idea where I wanted to go though. When I found a gypsy caravan on the AirBnB listings, it was like a childhood dream come true.


I did have a couple of worries though. The area was pretty remote which made transport a bit tricky and I can get a bit jumpy at night. All ended well though. I had to change from the train to a bus in a little town called Goes (pronounced nothing like you'd think) with about 2 minutes to spare. I'm sure that's possible if you're a local and know what you are doing but I decided to take my time and wait the hour for the next bus.

Nice spot to kill time

The bus ended up being a tiny mini bus and the driver took me right to the door (didn't even charge me for a ticket either).


The caravan was gorgeous and all the tiny details just perfect. My hosts were the best too - lovely, warm people who made sure I was looked after without being intrusive.


I slept like a cosy little log curled up in the cocoon-like bed. The local cows could've been a bit quieter though.




I had an undercover terrace outside the caravan so it didn't get too claustrophobic plus my own bathroom attached and the breakfast the next morning was epic. Definitely worth the travel.


The town itself was charming. Of course, there wasn't a lot to do except walk (or bike ride) along the dikes but sometimes nothing to do is the best thing of all.

I had to leave fairly early to get back to Amsterdam to meet my friends but I wish I'd stayed longer.