Friday, April 29, 2011

How To Find The Cheapest Airfares

It depends partly on whether you're willing to fly anywhere, or whether you want to fly somewhere. It's easiest to find fare bargains if you're willing to fly anywhere anytime, and most challenging to find bargains if you're wanting to fly to a specific place on a specific date. D'oh!

If you're looking for a specific destination, sign up for one of the available fare alerts, for example Travelocity's. There's no substitute for research and it's one of the reasons Kathy scans a multitude of travel e-mails in her inbox daily and spends a lot of time on the computer when trolling for trips. Another basic strategy is to check alternative departure and arrival airports whenever possible. Looking for fare bargains is easier when flying to places served by low-cost and profitable Southwest or upstarts such as Allegiant.

What inspired those general thoughts is a recent WSJ Middle Seat column by the excellent Scott McCartney, Why Online Fares Change Faster Than a 747. He specifically discusses the frustrating situation when, after all that research, you think you've found that cheap fare, only to have it switch to a higher one when you click on it. Confusion of this and other kinds abounds on the website of our preferred carrier, United, referred to less than affectionately by members of FlyerTalk as Dot Bomb.

His suggestions to "minimize the fare switcheroo" include

* Check multiple travel websites, including the airlines', before locking in a fare.
* Double-check prices by clicking through to book even if you don't want to book yet. That way you know the price is real. (Just don't enter a credit card number.)
* Be careful with close-to-departure shopping; prices fluctuate the most around two weeks before the flight.
* Be wary of monthly calendar views, which often contain estimated fares. They are basically guides, not real quotes.
* If you see prices jump, you might wait. Inventory management can bring the fare lower if there's no buying at higher prices.

You can read the entire column here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kathy's Bird Diary

April 21

We return from Seoul to find 4 new bird’s nests on a ledge outside our living room window. Two have birds sitting in them. One bird flew away and has not returned, leaving quite a well-formed nest.

The other bird has a less impressive nest, but returned after a while, making me think that there might be eggs.

A closer inspection after she again flew off shows two eggs.

April 22, 2011

This morning the bird would fly off any time she saw us. After a while, she tolerated my working in the kitchen, but not entering the living room. Tonight I was able to get a picture of her from the living room, only about 8 feet or so from her:

Another picture after she flew away shows a third egg.

April 23

Our bird seems to have rearranged the eggs a little overnight.

April 24

This morning the robin stayed in her nest, shaking her tail for a length of time. We thought she might be laying another egg. A bit later when she flew to the strawberry patch (looking for worms?) I took another peek. Now there are four eggs! While I was taking the picture, she watched me intently and squawked loudly. As soon as I left, she returned to the nest. She is now much more comfortable with my watching, as long as I don’t go near the nest.

April 26
The robin stayed on the nest nearly all day yesterday, perhaps because it was cold and rainy. She seems to rearrange the eggs on a regular basis. (Note the position of the eggs in the two pictures below, one taken yesterday afternoon, and the other taken this morning.) I wish she had moved to the adjacent well-built nest. I am afraid the eggs could easily roll out of this ring of straw. (If you look closely at the above picture and the one below, you can see that the eggs are sitting directly on the grey shelf – no padding at all under them.)

April 28

I hope the eggs survived the 35 degree weather and strong wind we had yesterday and last night. At one point it looked as if nest, bird and all were going to blow away.

Still no new eggs. Since the last egg was laid April 24 and eggs are usually laid at 48 hour intervals, it is probably safe to assume that we are now in the hatching stage. That process takes 12-14 days meaning the first eggs could hatch as early as the 6th or 7th of April.

82 Since You Ask - But Who's Counting

Since we can add the Canary Islands, and both South Korea and North Korea (no, we didn't officially enter North Korea through immigration but still...) to our February 2011 update of the "countries" we've visited according to the Travelers' Century Club list, it seems that we've visited - or at least dropped into - 82.

As we always ask rhetorically, who's counting?

Pacific Ocean
French Polynesia (Tahiti,Tuamotu, Austral, Gambier)
Hawaiian Islands
New Zealand
North America
U.S. (continental)
Central America
Costa Rica
South America
Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
Cayman Islands
Dominican Republic
Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
Turks and Caicos Islands
Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)
Atlantic Ocean
Azores Islands
Canary Islands
Cape Verde Islands
Europe and Mediterranean
Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Minorca)
Czech Republic
Ireland (Eire)
Ireland, Northern (Ulster)
Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
Vatican City
Senegal (plane refueling)
South Africa
Middle East
Indian Ocean
China, People's Rep.
Hong Kong
Korea, North
Korea, South
Turkey in Asia

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thai Dining Chez Nous

Did we take this photo of our dinner while in Bangkok or Chiang Mai? No, Kathy prepared Tom Yum Goong soup and Thai Spring Rolls at home tonight. As Yui would say, Yum!

Who's Yui? She's the owner of A Lot of Thai Home Cooking Class in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we learned a lot more than we'd ever known about preparing Thai cuisine.

There are more memories from our two days of classes with Yui here, here, here, and here.

Brian says "Khob-Kun-Krub, Yui." Kathy says "Khob-Kun-Ka, Yui." Thank you! Yum!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Seoul's Renewed Stream: Cheonggyecheon

All good things supposedly must come to an end and there's time only for one last stroll Wednesday, April 20 before catching the airport bus to ICN for our 5:00 p.m. flight after five nights on the ground in Seoul.

We decide to go looking for Cheonggyecheon, the stream that was recreated and opened as public recreation space in 2005 at a cost of several hundred million dollars.

To some, it's a tremendous example of urban renewal, as this NYT article outlines. Even now, some Korean environmental groups criticize it as inauthentic and merely symbolic.

For us it's a pleasant walk in a very urban city and a fine way to spend some of our final moments in Seoul on another beautiful day.

A visual feature of this project stretches a long way on the wall, a ceramic tile mural of an ancient king and queen in a grand procession.

We also glimpse yet another giant advertising TV screen on the side of a building, a very common sight in Seoul.

We continue our stroll upstream...

We end up at the beginning and Tom is already up at street level, eager for one final round of shopping.

Luckily for Tom, we find an outdoor sale. If any loved ones recognize their presents from Korea, they can appreciate how hard some of us are working to pick through the merchandise while jostling with fellow shoppers.

It's clear from the photos that Tom tries to hide the fact that he enjoys shopping as least as much as Ellyn and Kathy do, while Brian prefers to take photos from a distance rather than getting involved.

Yes, we've seen a lot of smiles in Korea, as this tourism ad encourages, we've met a lot of genuinely friendly and helpful people, seen some interesting sights, eaten good food, and thoroughly enjoyed our first trip here.

It's always great fun to travel with Tom and Ellyn, as we have in Thailand, South Africa, and now Korea, and we're already looking forward to future expeditions with them.

A Button To Summon Your Waiter

Here's something new to us that we ran across in Seoul. In two of the restaurants we visited, a cordless call button was placed on our table to be used to summon the waiter.

A little research reveals that it's actually manufactured by a South African company, Vellux Wireless Call System.

Brian suggested it as a Mother's Day present but Kathy isn't that interested.

McDonalds McDelivers In Seoul

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Seoul Street Scenes

Motorcycles and three-wheelers are common delivery vehicles here.

Helping a student with her project about tourists (about silly American tourists?)...

A short break after the excitement...

Time to watch a polite protest of pushcart vendors (we try to avoid the violent ones) - Insadong is the area not too far from the Westin in which we're wandering...

After the protest the pushcart vendors push their way back to work.

Tight working quarters for some shopkeepers...

We close off this sightseeing session with beer and snacks.

More Seoul Strolling

For our final two night we move from the pleasant Holiday Inn (although we wish their rooms weren't so warm) to the sumptuous Westin Chosun in the heart of downtown.

Brian and Kathy are upgraded to a suite, enjoying their Starwood Platinum status whenever they can.

A room with a view or two...

Our suite is also a great place to play some Spades, during which Tom and Ellyn defeat Kathy and Brian soundly...

It's also a great spot from which to explore the area on foot, although we also used the subway.

The Seoul Tower in the distance reminds us that, while far taller versions of Seattle's 1962 Space Needle have been built around the world, nobody's ever built one as beautiful.

Gazing at the sights in childlike wonder? Actually, we're looking for a place to eat.