Travel

In case you ever wondered…

…now you know what the meat market in Vilnius looks like.

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Geese and ash

Learning from my travel-related cancellations and delays over the past couple of years, I reckon it is time to rewrite Murphy’s Law:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong

to something slightly more appropriate, Toennesen’s Paradox:

Anything that cannot go wrong will go wrong.

I hardly even travel enough to fall under the wannabe jet-setter category, yet I have been disproportionately affected by the unlikeliest events when trying to go somewhere. These include a blizzard, a burst tire on a Sudan Airways plane, a goose in a jet engine, fog and now a friggin’ Icelandic volcano in combination with ‘ideal’ jet winds…

My travel life is turning into a Murakami novel. In retrospect, I should never have included “spewing” in the title line of the previous post…

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Blood Falls in Antarctica

There are places I would like to see and there are places I would die to see. This one clearly falls in the latter category:

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Norwegian Wood

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A central perk of joining the corporate tribe is that you get to go places. I am currently finding my way back from the most impressive wooden building I have come across for a long time. Beautifully situated between mountains, lakes and fjords, the all new Preikestolen Fjellstue is one of the tangible outcomes of the sustainable architecture project, Norwegian Wood, and Stavanger’s status as the 2008 European Capital of Culture.

Impressive as it is, the lodge is made entirely without nails, and boasts so many innovative features that it would be impossible to list all of them here. The place is well worth a visit, not least because of the superb food. Both the cod and the reindeer were to die for.

In addition to this, there is of course Preikestolen itself – the Pulpit Rock – which is Norway’s best known natural site, and for good reasons (do click here to get a sense of the beauty of the place). Unfortunately I did not make it there due the first serious snowfall of the season – that did not prevent me from going up the mountain with the other partners, though.

Pictures and further descriptions available here as soon as I reach home, sweet home.

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Notes from my commute 3

You may be led to believe that this blog has taken a permanent detour into the topic of commuting. And you are not completely off.

The crux of the matter is this: taking the train to London, which is by far the fastest and most convenient way to go there, is horribly expensive. However, if you travel after 9am and return after 7pm, it costs only a fraction of the rush-hour tickets and it is still very fast.

On the other hand, taking the coach is convenient – wifi, free breakfast and reasonably priced – but it is painfully slow. Watching pedestrians overtake the coach on the last quarter of the journey through greater London, which accounts for half the trip time-wise, is like sitting in a pool of simmering water being brought to a boil.

Having reached London, the next step is getting to the office in Covent Garden from Paddington (train) or Baker Street (coach), both of which require one change on the Tube. I hope to make this final leg of the daily commute by means of a folding bike, whenever I find the time to buy one. (The UK government operates a very generous cycle-to-work scheme, allowing for a huge discount on the acquisition of this mighty fine piece of technology). Alas, this one has yet to reach the consumer market.

In line with the JMI mantra of tailoring clumsy solutions to wicked problems, I keep all options open, i.e. I aim to have multi-travel cards for both coach services (apparently the most frequent service in Europe), an Oyster card for the Tube, a folding bike for the first and last leg of the journey, and reservations for some of the off-peak trains.

The short story is this: I spend somewhere in between four and six hours commuting every day, four days a week. Depending on how I do it, it costs me anywhere between £7 and £50 per day. Add to this a full-time job, an unfinished thesis, and a little run coming up, and you know why my garden looks a bit messy at the moment.

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Notes from my commute 2

train handle

One thing that continues to puzzle me has to do with operating the doors on First Great Western trains to and from London Paddington. For reasons I have yet to fathom, doors can only be opened by lowering the window, putting your hand outside the train carriage and then cranking the handle. If only this could be explained away as a design flaw I would be happy, but the trains are fairly modern and otherwise pretty well designed.

I can see all sort of problems with this, primarily pertaining to how difficult it must be for disabled and elderly people to perform such acrobatic exercises upon leaving the train, as well as the safety hazard posed by having a window, through which you can easily throw three grown-ups simultaneously, open or openable (this word does not exist, I know) at all times. In fact, you can stick not only your head but your entire (upper) body out while the train is moving. In a country pathologically obsessed with compliance and safety, this is odd.

Does anyone know the reason behind this obscure design?

PS. I know my mobile phone takes pictures as grainy as corn flakes. Now that I have become a shallow corporate raider, I might invest in some new hardware.

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Notes from my commute

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So much has happened recently; a bit of time off in Denmark and Italy, a conference in Rotterdam, an unfinished thesis and, most recently, starting on my new job in London. Speaking of the latter, I would have preferred to submit my thesis beforehand, but as the situation turns out, I can no longer afford to live off nothing, and my viva voce is scheduled no sooner than January 2009, anyway.

Future blogposts will probably originate from my daily commute, from where I am writing right now (I just passed a burning truck – the heat was so intense I could feel it through the window).

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On not flying

It is often assumed that flying is far superior to any other means of transportation in terms of getting conveniently from A to B. I sometimes wonder, though, if railway, coach and shipping companies have actually started believing in this nonsense and just stopped bothering when it comes to developing and refining their product/service portfolio.

As a potential customer of any ground services that will take me from London to mainland Europe, I find myself sizzling with anger every time I try to book a ticket. Most of the time I just give up because I end up spending too much time navigating the jungle of websites that must be traversed in order to travel across borders. A few examples will illustrate what I am talking about:

London – Berlin: While the Eurostar seems to be the only company that has learned anything from the smooth interaction design of most airlines’ online sales points, the Deutsche Bahn website – which I have to visit, too – keeps presenting me with an internal server error.

London – Rotterdam: Same story. Getting to Brussels is easy peasy, but if you want to avoid paying a exorbitant amount of money for the Thalys, you will soon find yourself nicknamed “Dances with train service providers.” In addition, “Around the World in 80 Days” reads like the CV of the Danish Minister for the Environment compared to the one time I attempted to go there by train/ferry.

The world is full of good travel portals, e.g. Momondo, Late Rooms, and Last Minute, so why is there no central resource for booking European travel by train, coach, ferry or any combination of the three?

While all the giants are sleeping in a newly/soon-to-be/trying-to-avoid-to-be privatised sort of way, I sincerely hope that my colleague, Alistair Hann, will be successful in developing his prize-winning idea further.

This brings me on to another rant: one of the reasons why I am so excited about CSR and similar issues is that it is really about innovating and thinking through alternative scenarios for the future, not ‘giving up’ or ‘returning’ to some form of imaginary state of things that used to be. Problems have always been the best providers of the stuff that gives rise to profound strategic renewal.

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Thought of the day

Would it be possible to donate Saudi Arabia to a galaxy far, far away?

Posted in Politics, Travel 2 Comments »

The hot springs of Esalen

If you happen to be in the process of writing a 10-things-I-want-to-do-before-I-turn-90ish list, I have an entry for you; the hot baths at Big Sur’s Esalen Institute.

Arriving at a remote location at 1am in the morning – 1am to 3am is the only window for outside visitors, – Maja and I, along with a small group of strangers, were picked up by a guy strangely resembling Killer Bob from Twin peaks (do not click this link if you are still traumatised, like me). In a scene not unlike Bill Harford’s arrival at the, um, weird place in Eyes Wide Shut, Bob escorted the group down to the spa, where everyone showered and then resorted to the various tubs and pools.

And this is where the magic begins. Sitting in your own pool of hot, thermal water, which you can ‘tap’ straight from the source, listening to the waves of the Pacific smashing against the rocky walls of the Californian coast a few metres away from you, in pitch black darkness, with a sea breeze in your face, is nothing less than divine.

For the lucky few going during day hours, you might be lucky to watch whales migrating up north, but I was happy just watching the stars (cheesy harp music kicks in here).

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