Each week, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite unusual travel news stories, along with commentary. This is the first week, so let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Passengers freak out, then complain to the FAA after mishearing a pilot’s greeting to a “mom on board” as “bomb on board.”

 

bomb2The highlight: The airline says the pilot was making a “fun announcement” that the mother of an air traffic controller was on the plane, but Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandi King told WCBS 880 that some of the passengers mistook the phrase “mom on board” for “bomb on board.”

Perhaps he shouldn’t have said his mom is “the bomb.” Especially since it’s not 1993.

Southwest Airlines has now implemented a new chapter in the pilot’s manual instructing them not to use any greetings that might be mistaken by the 99% of passengers who are barely listening to what they say. Also on the list: Do not ever say “Welcome to the nuclear theorists we have on the flight today” or “Oh my god, do mai tais make you as woozy as they do me?”

The full story here:

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/02/25/bomb-scare-on-southwest-flight-to-macarthur-airport-after-passengers-mishear-word/

 

New cruise tops the list of world’s most expensive vacations at $1.5 million.

 

The highlight: The trip begins when passengers are picked up from their home by helicopter, and, en route to a London airport, will sample Beluga Caviar that costs £4000 ($6,320) per kilogram and tea so rare it’s priced at more than £2000 ($3,160) per kilogram.

Dinners include such extravagances as fried yak kidneys, elephant testicles and baby seal tartare. Unfortunately, after 9pm the options for food are still limited to cheese pizza and the frozen yogurt machine on the Lido deck.

The full story here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/most-expensive-cruise-sai_n_1298871.html

 

Another story about the “Travels of the 1%” discusses extravagant amenities at high end hotels.

 

The highlight: The Benjamin Hotel in New York has a sleep concierge who assesses your sleeping habits and helps you choose from an extensive pillow menu.

Pillow menu? Reminds me of the time I dreamed I was eating a giant marshmallow and woke up to find my pillow missing. Yes, that was my favorite joke when I was 7. And the other thing to consider is shut up.

The full story here:

http://travel.usatoday.com/hotels/story/2012-02-19/Hotels-offer-unusual-amenities-to-lure-guests/53158408/1

 

Slovaks May Name Bridge to Austria After Chuck Norris.

 

chuck-norrisThe highlight: You pretty much got it with the headline, but since it bears repeating: Slovaks have been voting overwhelmingly in favor of naming a new pedestrian and cycling bridge near their capital for 1980s action film and TV star Chuck Norris.

How do they not realize this is a bad idea? Anyone who’s seen Lone Wolf McQuade knows that bad things happen when you cross Chuck Norris.

The full story here:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/23/us-slovakia-bridge-chucknorris-idUSTRE81M1KX20120223

 

Thanks for stopping by. Please let me know any thoughts or ideas in the comments, including any travel stories you run across you think may be of interest!

“An Idiot Abroad” could have been the name of my blog, but instead it’s a television program on the UK’s Sky1 that I absolutely loved. It’s a travel show unlike any other.

Ricky Gervais: “You are the strangest man on the planet.”

Karl Pilkington: “You haven’t been to China.”

Overview

In the Sky1 series “An Idiot Abroad,” Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (best known for creation of television shows The Office and Extras) send their friend, Karl Pilkington, on trips around the world to see the “Seven Wonders.” The difference from other travel shows, however, is that Karl is an unsophisticated everyman who hates anything that takes him out of his comfort zone. Added to that, Karl’s unique perspective on the world provides amazing humor that shines through the naiveté and discomfort he has with the places he visits.

From: http://sky1.sky.com/an-idiot-abroad

A telling moment at the start of the series is when they ask Karl if he’s done much traveling and he says “I’ve been to Wales.”

A little bit more about Karl

Several years ago, Pilkington was the producer on a radio show Ricky and Stephen hosted. Then, they started to bring Karl into the conversation on-air and a legend was born.

Karl isn’t stupid, but he’s a utilitarian who condenses the world around him into the simplest components that he can easily relate to. That makes his observations hilarious, though often painful.

True, he says a lot of stupid things. Sometimes he’s working off of poor information, sometimes he draws unwarranted conclusions, but that’s always blended with an unfiltered, uncommon thought process and an odd sort of bizarre logic.

For a way to fill some hours with great comedy, you can check out the Ricky Gervais audiobooks on iTunes. There are some lengthy collections of their past podcasts and radio shows available, but more recently they’ve started doing one hour audio programs exploring Karl’s thoughts on specific topics – Medicine, Philosophy, Law, The Future and several others.

The Destinations

In each episode of the television series, Karl heads toward one of the Seven Wonders of the World (depending on what list you’re working off of):  The Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, Petra, Chichen Itza, Christ the Redeemer, The Great Pyramids and Machu Picchu.

Before he gets to those locations, however, he’s put through a series of cultural experiences and challenges that would make a lot of Survivor contestants quit and head home. Often, the struggle is where he stays – a crowded hostel in Rio during Carnaval, a cramped room in India, with a tribe on the Amazon. Other times, it’s physical torture like camel rides or eating sheep testicles.

For a man who whines a lot and hates being away from home, I give him credit for putting up with things that would exhaust even a lot of experienced world travelers.

A few of my favorite bits

In the Amazon: referring to the candiru that live in the Amazon and can swim inside a man’s penis with painful result: “What’s so good about The Amazon? Can’t be that good; there are things in it that would rather live in me knob.”

About jellyfish: “Jellyfish are 97% water or something, so how much are they doing? Just give them another 3% and make them water. It’s more useful.”

On the Great Wall: “You can see it for miles. Like, it goes over the hills and stuff for miles….but so does the M6 and that’s useful.”

On Cairo: “That song Walk Like an Egyptian – no one’s walking, everyone seems to be in a car at all hours. Just beeping.”

On the Taj Mahal: “Anyone who builds something like that for his dead wife, something was going on. ‘Three other wives, I shouldnta done that. I’ll put her in something nice.’”

My take on the show

As with other “reality” shows, it’s obviously been edited heavily. But in this case, it’s for comic effect, which it delivers marvelously. More than once, I’ve been caught laughing uncontrollably while watching.

Some of it’s a bit uneven, with stunts that are clearly staged to evoke a reaction from Karl, like booking him into a horrendous hotel room or the mock abduction by terrorists. Ricky and Stephen’s set-ups are often painful to watch and can come across as mean-spirited, even as practical jokes.

The show is at its best when it’s organic and Karl shares his thoughts about the locations he’s seeing. Those thoughts aren’t always limited to travel. For anyone following the podcasts, you know that Karl has a fascination with two things – insects and human oddities (like the Elephant Man).

He puts an amazing amount of effort into anthropomorphizing everything around him. One of my favorite segments from Peru is when he’s just talking to the camera about “stick insects” and how difficult life is for them because from a distance they can’t tell if it’s a friend of theirs or just a stick so they have to walk all the way over to find out.

He has a uniquely logical, if misinformed, perspective that comes across in a deadpan, matter of fact delivery. His thoughts and opinions are not always politically correct, but it’s apparent that those thoughts come from a lack of understanding and not any form of malice.

How to get it

The show recently concluded its 8 episode run. For the most part, viewing is limited to people in the UK at the moment, though the show was just released on DVD (again, only in the UK). It’s viewable online at http://sky1.sky.com/an-idiot-abroad (ALSO open only to viewers with a UK IP address).

If you’re not in the UK, you can check out fairly lengthy clips on Sky1’s YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/skyonezone or download free podcasts of highlights and cut scenes from iTunes. Otherwise, I’m sure the series will be making its way to other outlets around the world soon.

UPDATE – January 26, 2010: The series has begun broadcasting in the US on Science Channel. It’s also available on iTunes for US based customers.

http://science.discovery.com/tv/an-idiot-abroad/

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. There are a lot of great travel blogs out there. I could do a list of the “top 59 blogs to feature on your own blog to drive more traffic to your site.” But to Hell with that. As is extremely apparent to the 5 people who read this blog, I’m not one to worry too much about site traffic.

But I do like to be entertained, so I’m sharing this little list of sites that keep me laughing in the hopes that you will enjoy them and be inspired to write something clever in the comments below. Or at least tell me about something funny you read once, fer Chrissakes.

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1) Unbrave Girl

What it’s about:

After leaving Buffalo to teach English in Japan for a few years, Sally is now pushing further into Asia. Slowly. After a few adventures and odd jobs, including boat building in Malaysia, she’s settled into Chiang Mai, Thailand with 312 other travel blogging expats. Yes, Sally, you’re crazy. But yes, it’s a good crazy.

Why it’s on the list:

Every post Sally writes makes me laugh. And the bonus is they’re all the length of novellas, so you get more bang for your click-through. Whether it’s her battles with bugs and cats in Thailand or her frequent admission to spending most of her globe-trotting time on the couch eating cookies, she’s my kind of traveler.

The Must Read post:

unbrave girl at the movies: a belated review of eat, pray, love

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2) Bacon Is Magic

What it’s about:

Someone needs to do a 21st century version of the Grease song and call it “Corporate World Drop-out” because there are a lot of people who can identify with Ayngelina’s departure from the world of advertising to travel South America. She is able to keep up with writing a post nearly every day as she goes from country to country in Central and South America. A couple of key features are the “Have you met… x?” – profiles of people she meets on the road and the photos of her traveling companion Mr. Bacon.

Why it’s on the list:

Ayngelina isn’t necessarily writing comedy on a regular basis, but she does have a great wit, she’s one of the nicest bloggers I know and the site’s name alone makes me laugh, even months after I first heard it. Her “12 Things I Hate About Travel” was funny while being a wonderfully cathartic vent, getting an eye-popping 65 comments from people who could identify with having a bad day on the road

Must Read Post:

Have You Met Whatsherface?

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3) The Jetpacker

What it’s about:

Much less of a personal blog than the rest, Bret and Jackie share offbeat travel news, funny lists and unusual things to do while traveling. They also do have the requisite blog entries that provide a wonderfully lighthearted look at their own travels.

Why it’s on the list:

A great daily round-up of what’s going on in the world, with a news of the weird vibe. It’s an entertaining  place to visit for a few laughs and to learn about odd attractions around the world that you won’t generally find in Lonely Planet. This is the blog I’d like to run, if I had the time. And ambition.

Must Read Post:

69 TOWNS AND CITIES WITH FUNNY DIRTY NAMES

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4) The Solitary Panda

What it’s about:

After losing her job in the US last year, Janet hopped off to a volunteer experience in India, then made her way to the Philippines to live with her parents in her childhood home. Her blog chronicles some amazing experiences and things she’s done along the way, always with a refreshing openness and sense of humor.

Why it’s on the list:

Janet never ceases to inspire me. There are a lot of people who claim to “tell it like it is” but I have never in my life read posts from someone who absolutely refuses to filter what’s on her mind, whether it’s masturbation or shaving her head. Her search for direction and adventure has led her to the Philippines where she’s done things most people would never even think of doing – like staying in a Buddhist monastery for four months and then a month later walking 400 miles along Palawan island.

Must Read Post:

I’m All Holy And Shit

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5) The Aussie Nomad

What it’s about:

En route between a little town in Australia and a new job in London, Chris took an extended diversion to travel Europe. In addition to some of the well-known icons, he has also spent a fair amount of time in less-traveled corridors of Eastern Europe, providing information and tales from little known places, always with an Aussie’s wit and penchant for a pint.

Why it’s on the list:

One common thread I’ve found amongst the humorous travel blogs is that they have a palpable love for their lives, which is why the energy and lighthearted mood come through so well. Well, Chris has more personality than the average 10 blogs put together. Somehow, with his “Vegemite Challenge” he has conned a number of people into trying to eat the foul Aussie creation. And sending him videos of it. I think the videos qualify as “torture porn” like Saw 8, but that’s just me.

Must Read Post:

The Vegemite Challenge

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6) Fevered Mutterings

What it’s about:

This is the personal blog of Mike Sowden, who’s left the world of archaeology to become a freelance writer. While Mike writes extensively for travel sites and about places he’s been, his personal blog isn’t exclusively a travel blog, unless you want to invoke a cliché and say that life itself is a journey. But I would never be so lame as to say that.

Why it’s on the list:

In addition to a stunningly wicked sense of humor, Mike is an exceptional writer. He also has a bit broader series of posts than just travel destinations, as he regularly writes about writing, reading and even a bit of science fiction. With how dear all those things are to me, how could I resist reading a site that mocks them?

Must Read Post:

50 Amazingly Achievable Things To Do Before You Die

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7) A Chick With Baggage

What it’s about:

After leaving a computer nerd career to start a perpetual trek around the globe in January of 2010, Abbey stopped a few months later because she fell in love. Not with a man, although those have certainly come into play. Abbey found a home and a job in a tiny town in the south of Spain that felt so right that she halted her world tour for a while. Great stories and great information from someone who’s even raunchier than I am.

Why it’s on the list:

Abbey was once given some blogging advice that her site name might be misinterpreted negatively. When she replied “yeah, that’s the point” I knew I had found a winner. She was a bit too happy living in Spain for so long, so I’m hoping that being back in the US for a while will bring the mean and nasty side back. She also has a fondness for signing off emails by saying “penis” instead of “Best Regards” so how can you not love that?

Must Read Post:

The Biggest Tomato Fight IN. THE. WORLD.

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8 ) Johnny Vagabond

What it’s about:

One of the few independent world travel bloggers who’s in my age range, Wes Nations shows off gorgeous photography and an outstanding ability to tell a tale everywhere he goes. In his hands, the most random encounter turns into a fascinating and laugh-out-loud anecdote. He’s left on a one year (or more) trip on the slow road, making his plans up as he goes, but always taking time to see the less traveled destinations and meet the locals.

Why it’s on the list:

A great wit, but more importantly, Wes has an uncanny ability to step into the most bizarre, off-the-wall situations imaginable. From con men to crazies, he doesn’t shy away from encounters even when any sane person would. Instead, he dives in further and has been mostly unscathed for it. As in the post noted below, he’s also a bit of an “over-sharer” which is always great comedy.

Must Read Post:

Three Mistakes on a Hot Day in Bangkok

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9) Candice Does The World

What it’s about:

Candice. The World. Candice’s writing background ranges from children’s books to technical manuals for deep sea equipment, and she’s also an associate editor at Matador Network, one of the best known travel resources on the web. In her blog, Candice chronicles her life in Newfoundland Canada and travels as often as she can, tracking down nightclubs and trouble like a shark tracks a wounded seal.

Why it’s on the list:

It’s her role as a trouble-magnet that makes Candice a joy to read. When she’s off on road trips with friends, it’s like Lucy and Ethel Go To Cabo. When all the buzz was about Chatroulette a few months ago, Candice braved the perils most people feared and wrote about the experience. In excruciating and disturbing detail.

Must Read Post:

P-Mates, for the Girl Who Has Always Wanted to Pee Her Name in the Snow

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And there you have it. My favorite travel blogs when I need a dose of humor. If any of you comment that I only listed 9 blogs, you’re missing the obvious one. And screw you for that.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a practitioner of “shiny object tourism.” If I see something that looks interesting, I wander in that direction – sometimes at the expense of more famous sites and attractions. But the discoveries are usually worth it and this was a day that was no exception.

P1010938

I wasn’t up for riding the bike 110 miles in one day, so I made a stop in St. Nazaire, France on the way to Nantes. I’d never heard of the town before landing in Bretagne, but it’s a beautiful beach community. With a few hours to fill before dinner, I explored, wandering until I saw a sign that said “La Plage de M. Hulot.”

That struck a familiar but distant chord with me so I took a left turn and went to take a look. Sure enough, I quickly ended up on the beach where Monsieur Hulot’s adventures began with “M. Hulot’s Holiday” or “Les Vacances de M. Hulot” if you’d like to revert to the French title.

I saw this movie in a college film class and remembered some key points that made it a classic, notably the unique style of the director and star, Jaques Tati. One download later and I was able to check it out again, refreshing my memory with how wonderfully funny it is.

P1010940

The film centers on Monsieur Hulot, a goofy, clumsy everyman, and the challenges he faces while trying to enjoy a holiday at the beach. While Hulot is the main character, the supporting cast is gloriously highlighted because the film is organized as a series of vignettes with scarcely any plot.

- Created and portrayed by Tati, M. Hulot went on to be a primary character in several other renowned French films (also directed by Tati), including Mon Oncle (Academy Award winner for best foreign language film) and Playtime.

- The comedy is steeped in sight gags and slapstick, owing more than a little to the silent era, but that only scratches the surface of how the movie operates. In his films, Tati intermingles social critique with the comedy, blending the two in a unique way. Often the modern lifestyle is the target and in “Holiday,” that’s no exception.

- An array of vacationers is skewered over the course of the film – from the student who continually attempts to talk politics with disinterested vacationers to the old man who follows his wife around the beach, silently but painfully resigned to her fascination with every mundane thing she sees along the shore. Even in 1953, Tati mocked the American businessman who couldn’t stop taking phone calls, ignoring his wife and son’s pleas to relax.

- Though the film was made in 1953, M. Hulot’s Holiday verges on being a silent film, but with a twist. While there is nearly no dialogue, the atmospheric sound is a cornerstone of the film – music, bits of conversation and various sounds you find at a beach resort.

- One of the things that made Tati an acclaimed auteur was his use of multiple planes of action in his films. Rather than the story taking place in the foreground, Tati frequently focuses on a blasé bit of business in the foreground, while the real action and much of the comedy is taking place deep in the frame.

It’s not an easy film to find, but if you can grab it on Netflix, it’s definitely worth checking out. There are French and English versions, but most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

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