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Night Layover in Nanning

When I first booked my flight to Cambodia, a scheduled 10 hour layover in Nanning, China gave me some pause. I knew nothing about the city nor what I might encounter during my flight change.  Guidebooks and internet resources describe this “small city” of 2 million people as a train stop en-route to Vietnam and tout waterfalls and historic areas outside of town.  As I was due to arrive after midnight, none of this was very informative for me.

My domestic Shanghai Airlines flight was the last arrival of the day.  The small, mostly regional airport closed soon after, with all the lights shutting down and the only staff a cleaning person or two. The doors were propped open, and people were stay inside near the baggage claim, but the heating was turned off and the metal benches were separated by armrests. I took a deep breath and decided to head into town. In the daytime there is a bus you can take to the train station near downtown, but after 11p it’s taxi only.

entrance to the Nanning night market

The taxi driver who flagged me spoke no English (and I speak no Mandarin), but we did manage to communicate through a translation app on his mobile phone, which we passed back and forth. He named an over-priced night rate of 160 CNY, which I accepted (note – next time, haggle!). The 45 minute trip from the airport seemed to fly as he sped around lorries with no regard to speed limit signs or lanes in the road. I had previously read about the Night Market in downtown and decided that could be a place to explore a bit. By the time I got there at 2am on a Thursday morning, the market was about 1/3 open. Restaurants were sweeping trash into piles in the middle of the street and a few locals were stumbling out to catch a ride home.  I walked around the few remaining stalls with seafood on sticks, tofu noodle bowls, and fruits before deciding to venture a little further.  A few blocks through tall, modern concrete buildings leads you to the Yongjiang river. Along the side is a lovely, clean, well manicured park.  Everything was silent and empty.

NNG from the taxi

By 4am I gave up and took a taxi back to the airport, the return trip costing night rate of 116 CNY. This driver didn’t have a translation app, but thankfully I had written down the word “airport” on a post-it note, which did the trick (after he corrected my pronunciation). The first domestic flight out of Nanning is around 7am.  Using my western standards, I assumed the airport would officially re-open 2 hours before. Instead, I walked in circled in the dark airport until the lights turned on at 5:45am and the first check-in counter opened at 6.  My international flight to Phnom Penh at 10am didn’t open for check-in until 9. (side note: I’ve never been so happy to be traveling with only my backpack.)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to have a layover in Nanning, aim for the daytime. The city looked lovely and I hope I get a chance to see it in full glory in the future.

 

bridge across the Yongjiang river

 

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Navigating Atlanta Airport

If you travel, you’ve probably experienced  Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Int’l Airport at least once.  The world’s busiest airport sees 90 million passengers a year and I’m one of them.   The surrounding area is a maze of parking lots and there’s a pick-up/drop-off area on both the North and South side of the domestic check-in to keep the traffic flowing. If you’re going to or coming from the city, I recommend considering taking MARTA. The local transit train has a terminating point at the airport and fares start at $2.50 one way. It doesn’t go everywhere, in town but will get you closer.

The layout of the terminals is linear, starting from domestic check-in and  then moving alphabetically towards the international terminal. Each lettered terminal is connected by the “Plane Train” as well as walkable corridors. While its fairly easy to navigate, there are a million stories of running down the long walk ways to catch connecting flights in other terminals. Once I  ran from the far right of Terminal D to the far left of Terminal A and barely made the connection! The gate agent closed the boarding door behind me, the flight attendant announced to the airplane that “the prodigal daughter” had arrived,  and I proceeded to have a small asthma attack in my seat.  All in all a memorable way to start a journey!

If you have a long enough lay-over or have arrived at the airport early, take some time looking at the guide. Each terminal as some unique shops or restaurants, and you can probably find something you have a taste for. There’s also a few different vegetarian options to be had!  I recommend walking between terminals instead of taking the train, if you have the time.  Each one has a different art exhibit and they do change occasionally. New this year is an immersive forrest experience between Terminals A and B.

If you’re traveling with your dog, like I do with Hondo, there’s a pet relief area outside the baggage claim on the far end of the South Terminal. Its double gate makes it secure for an off-leash moment and the astroturf provides a space for year-round doggie relief. The metal sculptures are probably better enjoyed by pet-parents who can sit on the provided benches while the hairy ones are having a good sniff.  There are currently no dog relief areas in terminal, but signs in Terminal C announced their intention for this in fall 2016. As of November, they are not open yet.

Update 12/13/16: the Atlanta airport kindly tweeted me to let me know that animal relief areas are now open by gates B33 and C21! I must have missed them my last time through. I blame the massive cold I had. 

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LA is for the Dogs!

When you think of experiencing Los Angeles with a dog, just think of Paris Hilton. The originator of the “pooch purse” knew that the city of Angels is better with your bestie beastie. My little furry man and I second that, having explored the city together now three times.

IMG_2379Most of the coffee shops in the city offer pet-friendly patios, but our favorite is Echo Park’s FIX. Local roast beans and unique whole leaf tea blends offer a good cuppa while enjoying the low slung chairs shaded by umbrellas. If you’re already hiking pet-friendly Griffith Park, try Trails for vast picnic table seating and a vegan-friendly menu.

There are great parks and outdoor shopping all over the city where you can relax with your dog. Hondo loves to watch the ducks at Echo Park Lake and we had a great time exploring the Americana with friends. We don’t often go to the beach (he’s NOT a fan of water, especially when it chases him) but Huntington Beach and Long Beach both have areas where dogs can run in the waves.

enjoying a soft serve at HoneyMee
enjoying a soft serve with a friend at HoneyMee
The great number of restaurants with patios or sidewalk seating means that Hondo gets to come along, and maybe get a sweet potato fry. Guisados for fresh tortillas and amazing tacos, ELF for vegetarian friendly small plates with a mediterranean flair, or Chego for Korean influenced rice bowls. We got an extra treat this time and shared a soft-serve with honeycomb from HoneyMee in Koreatown.

Later in the day when I’m craving a brew of a different kind, we opt for Golden Road in Glendale.  The dog friendly patio is a great place to meet friends and have a snack (vegan friendly offerings here, too). We didn’t get a change to visit Angel City, but locals like it for allowing dogs inside as well as out.

dog "bathroom" at LAX
dog “bathroom” at LAX
LAX is the most dog-friendly airport. Period. As part of a major renovation they have incorporated dog “bathrooms” post-security in every terminal. Set back near the people facilities these quiet, private rooms have synthetic grass and disposal bags, as well as a sink for the human companions. Hondo insisted he didn’t need to go, but it’s always good to have the option – especially after a delayed flight.

Note: Laws in Los Angeles County leave the decision to allow dogs up to the individual companies, so its always recommended to check before visiting.

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JetBlue Serves Up Hugs!

While today’s airlines don’t typically claim to offer the ultimate in luxury, every airline has an opportunity to deliver great service. On August 3, 2016, JetBlue’s team made my day! At Charleston International Airport, Lucia and Caroline were so kind that my second – and final – check-in experience included hugs. My send-off on this International trip to generate work is stellar, yet I’m still in my home city with my first flight delayed nearly two hours.

During my initial check-in Lucia attempted many avenues to grab me a primo seat on my connecting red-eye on LATAM Airlines. She tried her best to ensure I am not seated in the middle on my midnight to 6am flight. Although she was unable to grab me seats, this kind, funny, and engaging professional was fabulous. With a grin, Caroline watched. I told Lucia how awesome she was and rolled my carry-on through to the TSA pre-check line.

Selection for pre-check status is a blessing. How I’ve managed to sail through security the last couple of times is a mystery. Laptop stays in bag, clothing and shoes stay on, and my feet remain germless. But today, even in the premium line, my bag was pulled for closer inspection. Two TSA agents transfer my too-heavy carry-on to the inspection table. Is it the four pounds of Toll House chocolate chips? Did the agent have a problem with the block of Smoked Gouda cheese or the frozen Tasso Ham in my bag? Charleston stone ground grits are certainly not the issue. Yes, Charleston shrimp and grits and Toll House cookies are on the menu for this weekend. Turns out this seasoned traveler tucked a padded bottle of Cave Ridge Port wine in the wrong suitcase.

Do not pass go. Do not proceed to the gate. The choices are slim: Drink the whole bottle of high test wine and stagger back through security. Or re-visit Lucia and Caroline to determine whether I can slip the bottle into my already checked bag. While the first was tempting, I chose the latter option.

Caroline-LuciaLucia not only welcomed me back, but also remembered my name and destination. Caroline laughed with us during the ensuing comedic episode. Had they been two different individuals, would they have been annoyed that I expected them to help me save a bottle of wine? They could have rolled their eyes. Instead, they hugged me, wished me an awesome trip, and allowed me to snap a quick photo of their gracious smiles.

 

WineAndBagAs I begin this particular journey, they remind me of the importance of not just the places you see and the moments you experience, but also the people you meet along the way. Travel never goes exactly as planned. So laugh at your mistakes and enjoy the journey!

My good friend Helene recently advised another friend to take a step back to view a stressful situation as a sitcom episode. Is this season 5, episode 17? A chick lugging a fifty-pound carry-on bag and a forty-pound “personal item” gets ousted from the TSA fast lane for attempting to smuggle a bottle of special Port. Next scene? Upon returning to the fast lane, sans bottle, the TSA passport dude asks why she’s back. She explains. He offers to drink the wine with her when he gets off work. Her luck? It’s already in her checked bag!

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The Barking Carry-on Bag

I’m currently packing for a solo trip. Well, not exactly solo – I’m bringing my dog, Hondo. He’s a fairly seasoned traveler now, having joined me for both road trips and flights to seven different states. This time around, it’ll be a flight to California to visit friends.

Hondo peeks out at the other airline passengers

Preparing to fly with Hondo takes a little extra shuffling of my regular packing procedures. Normally my “personal item” would be my purse, fully equipped with books, snacks, and charged iPhone; this time it’ll contain a 14 pound hairball that barks. Most US domestic airlines allow you to take a small pet on board as a carry-on in exchange for one of your regular bags plus a fee (check with your airline for their policies).  In addition to having Hondo be my baggage (rim shot), I need to pack everything he’ll need along with my own items (see 1 week, 1 carry-on) in my remaining carry-on bag.  For a week in summer, here’s what I pack for him:

  • portioned food for 7 days, plus one extra day just in case
  • treats (bribery will get you everywhere)
  • 2 full rolls of poo bags
  • 2 travel bowls, one for food and one for water
  • any necessary medications
  • small toy and blanket with his sent on it
  • supply of puppy pads (for emergencies)
  • a few bandanas for style

Once we’re in the airport, he’s pretty much confined to his case. The one real test is going through security. Just as I have to empty my pockets and take off my belt, Hondo has to have his collar off before going through the metal detector in my arms. This isn’t the hard part; it’s getting him back into his collar and carrier at the end of the conveyor belt without him impersonating an eel and escaping my arms that’s the challenge.

Hawksbill mountain, Shenandoah National Park

To me, its worth the extra effort and worry to have Hondo traveling at my side. Just having him there soothes anxiety while pushing me to explore our surroundings. He might not understand the importance of the giant redwoods, the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, or the history of Olvera Street, but I know he enjoys being there with me.

If you’re looking to learn more about traveling with your small dog, check out Dog Jaunt.

 

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Meltdown at SJO

I try to be a very careful and organized individual who keeps the drama level low. So its with great embarrassment I admit a total meltdown during our departure from Mexico.

img_1632-smimg_1635-2-smAfter an uneventful taxi ride, being the first through security, and a boring 90 minute wait with all the shops closed, Mum and I were the first in line to board our flight at Juan Sanatamaría International Airport. As I held out my passport and ticket to the gate agent, we both noticed that my departure paperwork wasn’t there (you know, that other half of the customs slip that you fill out when you arrive in a new country).  I stepped out of line and dug through my backpack, emptying it onto the floor. Nothing. The gate agent said I had to go back through security and to the Customs office to purchase a replacement. We had 10 minutes.

early morning in SJO
early morning in SJO

Mum and I ran back past security, down the stairs, to the Customs door… to find that it didn’t open for another 15 minutes. I literally crumbled. I was so embarrassed to have made a mistake that would affect my Mum that the closed door was enough to send me to my knees. As I muttered “I can’t believe it” and emptied my bag on the floor again, Mum went into action and found someone to open the office early. Inside, we were told that a replacement would cost $30 US in exact change. Between us we had $28.

I ran across  the airport to the other end of the floor to the ATM, which wouldn’t dispense in US dollars. Next, on to the money exchange. I would need my passport, which the Customs officer had. Run back across to Customs. Run back to exchange. Run back to Customs. Get new paper. Run back up stairs. Through security. Run to gate…

IMG_3295Just in time to see our airplane pulling back from the gate. We were too late. The stress of running, the embarrassment of being on the floor downstairs, and the thought that my mistake had affected my Mum was overwhelming to me. I started crying, dropped my bag, and kept saying to Mum “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Of course everything was fine in the end. We got a flight to the US that afternoon, arranged to meet up with some friends in Houston for the evening, and then home the next day. Mum wasn’t upset at all – it was just me.

Mistakes happen. Things go wrong. That’s part of life and part of travel. Its what creates adventure. And its ok to have a little drama. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there is no such thing as failure, its just an opportunity for a new experience.