Come Fly with Me: Tips for a Somewhat Comfortable Flight

Sometimes getting going just isn’t that easy.

How many people usually spend their time in the check in line reminiscing about the latest airport nightmare? For anyone who has flown in the past 10 years, they have probably been subject to unsolicited chaos. I’m going to add some spice to my regular posts about where I have been and share some of my hard won advice, some of it may be common sense, hopefully some of it will make your life easier.

1) Treat all airport staff like gold-they have can break your experience. This may be the most important advice I can give. Not only do they determine whether you can get an upgrade, but if they like you, a flight attendant can share insider information like the best restaurants and shops for your destination. If you are stressed out because of a delay or cancellation, remember that you are likely one of many and treating people like crap will not win you any favors.

2) Drink the complimentary wine on your international flight. You already have to sit uncomfortably close to a stranger. Airplane seats don’t go back far enough to sleep (or even sit like a normal person). Soften the edges. The wine is your consolation prize. It may not be good quality but as said by someone in the show Weeds “If it’s free, It’s me”.

3) Bring earplugs. In fact, bring three pairs. Teething babies and belligerent adults both have a right to ride the airplane, but you are not required to suffer with them. The first pair of earplugs is for you. The second and third are for your neighbors on either side of you (everybody needs allies).

4) Negotiate. You got bumped from your flight in Amsterdam and they airline only wants to give you $500 for your inconvenience? Try and negotiate for some perks like an upgrade on your next flight out, extra meal vouchers, access to the nap room,or some extra miles on your account. Some of these things are more fluid than an airline would like you to think.

5) Your carry on is for the unexpected. Pack what you would need for 24 hours of delays. This includes medication (both daily meds and things like aspirin to help with small issues), chargers, converter, a change of clothes and toiletries. You will thank me when you are checking into a hotel room in Denver at 2am after 7 missed standby flights.

6) Think outside your final destination. Sometimes it is cheaper to fly from Europe to New York City and then buy a separate ticket home, rather than buying a complete ticket. This comes with risks of missed flights that are not reimbursable (buying insurance might fix that). When considering if time or money is more valuable to you, if money wins, getting stuck in New York isn’t that bad, you can always Couchsurf.

7) Keep your most prized possessions in your carry on. This applies most to international travel. Have you ever seen suitcases coming in from Ukraine completely wrapped in plastic film? That’s because some airport security might like the sweater or watch you have in your suitcase. You have some level or control over what is taken out of your carry on. The other option is to wrap your suitcase in a thick layer of plastic wrap. 

One Night in Paris

Paris. Just walking the streets and peeking into shop windows is an adventure. Home to world class art, melt in your mouth baked goods and top notch lingerie.The city is enveloped in romance and history. While I was there, it was overcast and raining. The. Entire. Time. But I had less than 24 hours to soak up The City of Lights, so rain or shine it was going to be a busy day.  I made the most of it by taking a long walk, enjoying some macaroons from Laduree, and visiting the Eiffel Tower for some pictures. 

The Eiffel Tower is the most wonderful at night.
The Love Bridge

How do you prove your love to the person you want to spend your life with? A sparkling ring? A joint bank account? Some people prepare a padlock by engraving the initials of their significant other adding sometimes a message or date, then they bring the love of their life to a particular bridge in Paris, attach the padlock to the bridge and then throw the key into the Seine. The Love Bridge did not actually begin on Pont de l’Archevêché, it was traditionally on Pont des Arts, but in 2010 most people agree that city officials disposed of most of the locks in the middle of the night, soon after they made complaints about the bridge destroying historic architecture. Paris boasts many beautiful bridges, but my favorite has a long history with love and romance. Nobody knows for sure if this tradition, which can be found in other international cities like Rome and Moscow, truly began in Paris but the citizens and visitors cling to the tradition. After the disappearance of the locks from Pont des Arts, new locks began appearing on a different bridge, Pont de l’Archevêché, which is where my pictures are taken.

If you look closely, there is a silhouette of a pregnant woman above the entrance to a lovely maternity shop.

Autolib cars were parked near the Louvre, lots of tourists were stopping to gawk.

I am a huge fan of Zipcar at home. On the other side of the pond I was introduced to Autolib, an even greener option. This article details how the fee schedule is structured to be tourist and local friendly.

Another transportation adventure was getting from Rennes to Paris. We used a rideshare program called covoiturage. The website is set up sort of like an Amazon or maybe Ebay for people looking to catch a ride to different places. A car owning person will create a profile of a bit about them, their car qualities, and the trip they are planning to make (example: Rennes to Paris) and the price. We shared a car with two middle aged women and a younger man. I wish I could tell you I exchanged stories of culture and learned some of the top secret Parisian places to eat, but the truth is I slept most of the way to Paris.

Paris is known for it’s sidewalk cafe’s. It is one of the most wonderful things, to spend an afternoon sharing a drink and watching people.

This Bakery is near the Louvre, and if you look closely at the menu, you will notice that it is in English-welcoming tourists that flock to the area.
In New York City, you can see young girls taking pictures in front of the Tiffany & Co. Shop, after pressing my nose against the windows of the Louboutin shop I wondered if this could be the Parisian equivalent?

Farm Fresh in France

While in France, my boyfriend and I stayed at his aunt and uncle’s farm in Brittany. Let me tell you, I had no idea what to expect. I am the kind of girl who will forego renting an apartment if I have to mow the lawn. The farm specializes in dairy cows, but there are other animals who are part of the family. One of the untold benefits of living on a farm is the food, which is insanely fresh. All of the food I ate was of quality that Kroger couldn’t dream of. I had the pleasure of putting on my boots and finding eggs in the coop that were still warm and knowing I would get to eat them the following morning for breakfast. Another part of local life was the farmer’s market, which could supply anything from fresh fish to clothing. The family supplemented the food provided by the farm with food from the farmer’s market and big box stores.

Cows munch on food before and after being milked.
Baby cows are kept away from the rest of the herd for the first part of their life.
I was told that the pigs are not as friendly as the cows.
The chicken lay eggs in a coop, sometimes a laying hen will sit on eggs that have already been given by another hen.

This is the family dog harassing some kittens.
This is a view of the farmer’s market.

The ancient Village of Becherel, France

I spent two weeks in the French Countryside, in Brittany. One day we went to Becherel, which is an ancient town with gorgeous stone buildings and luscious hydrangeas tucked in the corners of buildings. The village (according to Wikipedia) has only about 700 residents but is home to more than a dozen book stores! I really spent the afternoon marveling at how picturesque the village is. You can’t go wrong with two of my favorite things – books and hydrangeas! Also notice how the village is surrounded by meadows that glow with life. I really love the French ability to seamlessly blend old buildings with modern life. Life is pretty quiet in the countryside, and I wanted so badly to use their beautiful town centers as an example to what Wal-Mart does to American society. But don’t hold your breath! They have big box stores here too, even the French can participate in fluorescent light, high fructose corn syrup induced consumerism. What do you think of when imagining the French countryside?

This is actually an ancient mill, an old man and his wife showed me the structure which still runs.

This is where village women used to wash their clothes before modern technology.

Dusseldorf Germany

I spent two days in Dusseldorf. It was my first time in Germany, which I found to be absolutely charming. My immediate reaction of Dusseldorf is that it is quiet, clean and orderly. There was almost no garbage on the street. More people seem to use a bike as their main mode of transportation. And of course, the other thing that comes to mind when I think of Germany is beer. In addition to it’s beer, Germany is known for it’s education system; in fact, I met an American student who is studying engineering in Berlin on the bus I took to France.

We stayed in a hostel downtown within walking distance of everything. It was a young crowd, I was jet lagged so I stayed up until 4am talking global politics in the common room a Colombian, a guy from France and a fellow American. It is the first time in a hostel I have gotten to indulge in hearing such a diversity of opinion in a relatively unguarded atmosphere.

bikes in Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf city park

Dusseldorf city park

Dusseldorf city centre

Dusseldorf restaurants

Dusseldorf bier garten

Pictured above is a classic German bier garten. Or, at least, it resembles the one I worked at in Atlanta a couple of years ago. Personally, I am not really a beer drinker, but I am a huge fan of some of the Reisling wine that I have had from Germany. I can thank Trader Joe’s for introducing it to me, but I especially enjoyed being able to have it in Germany.

Dusseldorf riverside cafes

Dusseldorf river

To Market! To Market! Detroit’s Eastern Market

Detroit’s Eastern Market if one of my favorite places to visit in Michigan, having been a staple in Detroit life since 1861. It had been a handful of years since I had last visited and what a change! I remembered what was essentially a dark, cold, mega sized pole barn with people that could be from anywhere in the world. There were live chickens for five dollars in the same establishment where you could buy fresh cut flowers for wonderful prices and other surprises. This time around, the Eastern Market was sunny and suburban family friendly. It was exponentially larger, with several outdoor roofed shelters, including maybe three enclosed buildings. And even though I will always feel a deep love for the grit of Detroit, I think the newer, cleaner version is a gem worth a lifetime of visits.

I have a soft spot for urban markets, this New York Times article eloquently brings to light the vital role they play in our cities. In Philadelphia, I shopped at Reading Terminal. In Atlanta, I shopped at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market. And in Detroit, my first stop for fresh produce (and ten other items I didn’t plan on) is the Eastern Market. Food and people are how I put my ear to the ground to hear the heartbeat of each city.

On a warm summer morning one of the greatest parts of the Eastern Market is the street artists who provide side entertainment.

The Eastern Market always provides a “first” for me; today I ate my first sunflower sprouts from Rising Pheasant Farms. The farm is a bicycle powered farm on Detroit’s Eastside. I also picked up some granola from Simply Suzanne, also made in Detroit. My sweet tooth also found a rosy cheeked man selling delicious cookie’s 5 for a dollar (!). They were so good that they didn’t actually make it the whole way home before being devoured.

Seeing the Potential in Things: Detroit’s Michigan Central Station

To be honest, seeing the Michigan Central Station was complete serendipity. In search of some good coffee, we took a detour in Corktown for lunch at Astro Coffee. Astro just turned a year old (yesterday!); it has a great environment, and even better food. They serve a curated selection of natural and organic food, sometimes local. Besides the homey sound of people typing away on their laptops and quiet conversation, the highlight for me was the view out the window of Michigan Central station (pictured below). For a daydreamer such as myself, I love thinking of all the potential of this beauty. I could get lost in my head thinking of the glamorous “old days” of Detroit. Above is a view of Michigan Avenue, just across the street from Central Station. I just had to share some pictures of one of Michigan’s most famous architectural gems.

Michigan Central Station was designed by the same architects, Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore, who also were the masterminds behind New York City’s Grand Central Station. A few year’s back, the oft loathed Detroit City Council voted to demolish the monument to Detroit’s more prosperous days, but successful work on behalf of organizations like the Michigan Central Station Preservation Society called this to the attention of the public, leading to far reaching outcry. The station is currently owned by someone and is slated for some progress, but I could not dig up any specifics. Currently, there is a website, Talk to the Station, which is a sort of forum to generate ideas for future use (as the sign in the picture here says). Can you dream up any good uses for the Station?

The rail station, at one time, was the tallest in the world. Today it remains a symbol of Detroit’s opulence and grit.

Using Urban Blight to Create Art: Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

Let’s be honest, Detroit has been in decline for a long time. Roughly 20% of its houses are vacant. That’s what I like about Detroit, the visibility of the working class that used to populate it, the grit. At the same time, it would not be Detroit without the soul and bristle of the people that live there. Just as Rome must fall, Detroit must eventually hit the bottom and begin climbing back to the ranks of respected cities one day. It seems that the natural process to respectability, according to both the masses and the media, will be through art. Many years ahead of that curve is the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor multiple block art installation. The Heidelberg Project is now in it’s 26th year in Detroit’s East Side, standing out against its competitors. It is so much more than some stuff haphazardly grouped next to graffiti covered abandoned houses, the items you see in the pictures below are all reclaimed items found in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project is a major force in the local art community hosting programs for children and adults alike, literally making itself a must-see tourist destination in the process. While I was there, multiple families milled around discussing the art on a weekday afternoon! I am certainly no expert on art or even qualified to make judgments on it, but the value I find in what I saw is that it is pulled from the community and literally represents the community, while being thought provoking to those who may not know Detroit intimately.

While admiring the houses of the Heidelberg Project, a man in a large carpenter’s van stopped and asked us what we thought, “Its really cool, who did all this?” we said. With his arm on the drivers window, he squinted into the sun and said “I did” before continuing his conversation with the woman weeding her garden on the sidewalk nearby. Tyree Guyton is an internationally renowned artist and world traveler who is down to earth enough to bypass a very clear opportunity to talk about himself with some camera ready tourists and stroke his own ego in favor of having an everyday conversation with his neighbor. After reading press from his website, I would dare to say that this is an embodiment of him, Mr. Guyton is most interested in participating in his community than trying to gain something from it.

In the spirit of disclosure, I want to be honest: I am not sure I fully understand the depth of some of the art, maybe most of it. But the picture of the sunken car that is led by a bike emerging I can confidently point to the decimated auto industry which used to be such a Motor City stronghold. My favorite photo (below) is of the auto mobile that uses syringes as part of the auto body; it was so bold because the red coiling of the auto body also could be veins within the body, calling to mind the rampant drug problems in Detroit. What is your favorite photo?

Above is the Detroit Industrial Gallery

A Westside Story: Michigan’s Sand Dunes

Have you ever sat through those “Pure Michigan” ads you might hear on the radio or see on the internet? They wax about wearing your swimming trunks under your suit on a Friday or summer nights around the campfire. Those signature summer nights they are talking about are real. Before I flew home, I asked my Mom if we could please make a quick trip to the Sand Dunes. I am pretty lucky to have her because what she agreed to was a 3.58 mile hike continuously up or down hill. On sand. The brochure cautions people that the duration of the hike is 4 hours, we scoffed that the estimate is for families with children. How wrong we were! I love a challenge and this is certainly yoga for toddlers. The sand dunes and Lake Michigan are one of my favorite ways to appreciate the diversity of Michigan’s nature. Even though you are breathing heavily the whole time, your lungs are filling with fresh air and wind comes off the lake to cool you down. At the bottom of the sand dunes, it becomes so quiet—no cars, no shopping carts, no slamming doors, just you and your thoughts.  The big reward at the halfway point is Lake Michigan, you can swim after hiking for two miles. Everywhere you turn there is beautiful nature scenery which is ageless. The following morning, when you wake up to brush your teeth, I promise you will feel it in your legs. I hope you enjoy the pictures below!

You may think that looks like two small hills, but in reality this was the one mile marker. The promise of Lake Michigan keeps us going.
A view of the smaller lake inland that begins the hike.
The coming storm.

Lake Michigan Shoreline.

A Chilean History and a Tragedy

Chilean political and social history is fraught with extremes in political regimes. Chile suffered the violent overthrow of the democratically elected Marxist, Salvador Allende in 1973; the junta ushered in a nearly three decades long dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.

To consider the mind frame of the military junta and the struggles that Chilean people have felt in their struggle to prosper, one could look at the Chilean Coat of Arms (1834). The Coat of Arms reads “Por La Razon o La Fuerza” or “By Reason or Force”. My professor, Dr. Allende, asked what does it mean? I understand that there is no room for compromise in that phrase. It is the imminent threat of violence. It is also sewing machista culture onto the Coat of Arms, immortalizing it.

While in Santiago, we visited the very burial places of Chilean political leaders and elite. I asked myself “What effect do these powerful people, embodying “By reason or force” have on everyday people? La Cementerio General de Santiago (General Cemetery of Santiago) could be an analogy for Chilean inequality of wealth. It is home to more than 1.5 million burials. The entrance is full of grandiose monuments to Chile’s elite families, mausoleums in rows like ancient granite mansions, so that the presumed wealth and power of the deceased will live on. This is the part of the cemetery that makes Chile proud of its heritage and machista heroes. Only a short walk away the proud shrines to upper class families clear to reveal the middle class amenities for loved ones who have passed. The space looks more a cemetery version of the projects in America, or maybe Soviet style apartments—crowded, nondescript and somewhat run down. Each tomb has a name engraved and a small space for flowers or ribbons. Walking deeper into Cementerio General de Santiago reveals the pauper’s plots and children’s graves. Gone are gleaming granite stones proclaiming the legitimacy of this person’s life. In its place are black crosses, often nameless.

To break it down into hard numbers, Chile is home to 4 billionaires and around 4,000 millionaires. The Gross National Income (GNI) for 2011 was $13,329. The GNI is only a whisper of the whole financial story of Chile’s citizens. According to Andrew Zahler Torres, barely 20% of Chileans meet the income standards for a developed country. 60% of Chileans live with incomes worse than Angola, which has a GNI of $3,960. There are approximately 2.7% of Chileans living on less than $2 per day or around 348,000 people living in extreme poverty. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Chile’s wealth inequality is the greatest within the OECD. I firmly believe that poverty is a form of violence, it is a drawn out process of deprivation and humiliation, much like the promise of violence from the Coat of Arms or the military dictatorship.

The numbers paint a picture of insurmountable obstacles for those who are not a part of the 4,000 ruling families in Chile. What those numbers cannot show is the grace and dignity the Chilean people hold themselves with. While sitting in the meeting room (sometimes doubling as a hostel dining room) of various organization leaders, I was floored by their understanding of the size of their obstacles and their unrelenting courage to reach for justice. The international media coverage of last year’s student movement led by Camilla Vallejo is an example of the will of Chile’s citizens. The student movement might be seen as an internalization of the inscription on the Chilean Coat of Arms “By Reason or Force”, masses of students  demanding reform and equity within the educational system. While the government has imposed its will on its citizenry repeadtedly, the people have responded with articulate fervor. Maybe this aged threat is still a relevant part of the conversation.

The Presidential Palace La Moneda, which was bombed with President Salvador Allende inside during the military overthrow on September 11, 1973.
Tower where political prisoners were tortured.  Another technique was for soldiers to run prisoners’s over with a car.
Cell where 5-6 people were housed during political imprisonment. Prisoners would take turn standing so that the most recently tortured person could have a chance to rest.

Memorial Garden of women of the Pinochet Junta
Upper class section of Cementario General de Santiago.
Example of upper class mausoleums.
The tombstone of President Salvador Allende.
Grave of President Frei.
Middle class tomb sites.
The pauper’s cemetery. Where those who cannot afford a more dignified grave are placed.
Memorial to the disappeared.