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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

June 8, 2006

Internet Itinerary

IT loves the concept of TripHub, a free website for planning and organizing group trips.  First, you create a Trip Home Page (think: MySpace). Second, you send out invitations (think: Evite). Third step(s): Search for hotels, track where everyone in your group is staying, pick up tips for group travel, share itineraries, and, IT's favorite, monitor who owes money. If only we had this when we planned our senior trip to South Beach....


Friendlier Skies

IT is intrigued by business-class-only airliners, probably because we'll never fly on them. So, when freelance writer Andy Isaacson mentioned his recent flight on Eos, we asked him to jot down a few notes. He writes:

"'Can I take your jacket?'
'Would you care for a Kir Royal welcome cocktail?'
'Will you be having the sea bass or the pumpkin gnocchi for the main course?'

"Such was the bombardment of decisions I was confronted with before takeoff on Eos, the all-first-class airline that launched last October with daily, nonstop service from New York JFK to London Stansted. Round-trip tickets start at $2,950. This may seem like a splurge (and it is), but when compared to the first-class fares on, say, British Airways—I was quoted $13,300—it seems like a bargain. This spring Eos ran a buy-one-get-one-free promotion. My father had business in London, so buyer (and freeloader) traveled from New York to London in high style one May morning.

"We were warmly greeted at the JFK check-in counter. An Eos representative—
staff outnumbered passengers four to one—escorted us to the front of the baggage screening line, past dozens of impatient and glaring travelers ('Who are these guys? Are they celebrities?), and lifted up the rope for us to enter. Once through security, we were escorted by another Eos rep to the lounge. 

"Eos 'guests' may arrive at the airport just 45 minutes before departure, allowing business travelers those precious remaining minutes to finish meetings and close deals. My father and I opted to arrive two hours before departure, assuming that the VIP lounge would offer more perks than our living room. 

"We were right: the Emirates lounge, which Eos uses at JFK (it has its own at Stansted), does not disappoint. The spacious digs, lined with windows overlooking planes with exotic names (AeroSvit, Royal Air Maroc) is outfitted for the itinerant sheikh, replete with plush leather chairs, trickling fountains, a buffet of Western and Middle Eastern fare, bars stocked with top-shelf liquor, computers, and showers. We indulged until boarding, a seamless process.

"The interior of an Eos plane looks like a corporate jet crossed with a Japanese capsule hotel. Forty-eight individual "suites" (21 square feet—or two square meters—each) boast fully reclining seats. We are offered champagne, a satchel of toasted cashews, a hot towel, an amenity kit, and a portable entertainment device with Bose noise-canceling headset. A flight attendant hands me a menu outlining a five-course gourmet dinner. The seven-hour Atlantic crossing is thus occupied with dinner, movies, and breakfast in bed.

"After landing and clearing immigration, we are met by green-jacketed hosts—these with British accents—who wait with our luggage at baggage claim. They hand us first-class express train tickets into London, which would have been a chauffeured car, apparently, had we not been flying on a special fare.

"Like the cruise ship industry, which was forced to rebrand itself to counter the unmatchable speed of early air travel, Eos has packaged the journey itself, not the destination, as the travel experience."


From June 6, 2006:

Gifts for the Gobi

This week, IT's tentacles extend deeper into the National Geographic Society to snag a tip from Claire Griffin (whose husband John is the president of NG's magazine group). She sent us the following about the overland trip she and her sister recently took through Mongolia:

"Hospitality is part of Mongolian culture, and needy travelers are never turned away from the traditional round felt tent called a ger. This offering of food and shelter provides an important safety net for all Mongols. Since travel here is unpredictable, everyone, including Westerners, should carry gifts to show appreciation for food, water, or an afternoon's nap on a soft bed waiting for a mechanic to perform mysterious vehicle repairs.

"On our trip, we brought needles, thread, and safety pin necklaces for the women, plus batteries, pliers, and bungee cords for the men. Small plastic horses from my local dollar store were popular with children and old people. One of these two-cent animals would be received in both hands and then held up to the Buddhist 'third eye' in the middle of the forehead, a gesture honoring both the gift and the giver. Gifts are given as you leave, though gifting can sometimes extend your visit. One stop to buy wild strawberries turned into a chance to sample airag, fermented mare's milk, and ended with a cuddle with the new family pet: a baby antelope."

Dreaming of a ger you can call your own? Look no further. Or, if you p
refer armchair to overland travel, read "Among Nomads" in our March 2006 issue.


IT Travels with Jessie Johnston

Ever incapable of staying put, Jessie, just back from Beijing, hopped a plane to Chicago for the Memorial Day weekend. Her visit took in architecture, art, plants, and pizza, but she came back raving about her trip to the future:

"The Neo-Futurarium is a theater unlike any I have ever seen—and with a director for a mother, I've seen plenty. The theater's signature show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, has run weekend nights since 1988 (11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays). The experience begins on the street, where you are handed a colored plastic token by an usher at the door. Token in hand, you climb the stairs and pass through the Hall of Presidents before entering the mural-clad waiting room. Unless you arrive very early (and you should, there are no reservations and the show frequently sells out), you will find it crammed predominantly—but not exclusively—with young hipsters.

"Before allowing entrance to their theater's 'air-conditioned loveliness,' cast members begin the first of two explanations, this one about payment. The ticket price varies, depending on each individual audience member's roll of a six-sided die. Your roll is added to the number seven, resulting in a range of prices from $8 to $13, payable only in cash. 

"Once inside, you are given a humorous name tag (mine said Fermi Lab) and the evening's menu. The menu consists of a list of numbered titles, each designating one of the 30 plays the cast will perform that evening, in the space of 60 minutes. Titles range from the descriptive (Dance of the White Boy) to the baffling (…with his crazy noises about great white bears). Also on the menu, the following announcement: 'When we sell out, we order out… from Konak's.' Not quite all the seats were filled at the performance we attended, but pizza really does get delivered to the stage when the show sells out.

"Once everyone is seated, the next spiel begins. The cast explains that while the plays to be performed have been predetermined, their order has not. Sheets of paper labeled from one to 30 hang from a clothesline across the stage. After each play has finished, the audience orders the next one by calling out numbers as soon as they hear the word 'curtain.' Cast members then leap up, pull down the first number they heard called out, and announce the play by title. This continues until all 30 plays have been performed, or until the 60-minute timer runs out, whichever comes first.

"All the paraphernalia is a blast, but Too Much Light is Chicago's longest-running show because it's good theater. The plays, all by Neo-Futurists, are mostly funny, sometimes sad, often political, and occasionally tasteless, but always well-written and performed with honesty and heart. The unpredictable order and ever changing roster of plays keeps the performances fresh. To tide myself over until my next Windy City jaunt, I plan to try out the two-year-old New York iteration sometime soon."


E-mail your feedback and tips to InsideTraveler@ngs.org.

Bookmark IT!
www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/extras/blog/blog.html

Jessie Johnston, a researcher at Traveler, has crossed international borders 27 times in the last two and a half years. Emily King, assistant to the editor, hasn't crossed a border since 2003. Unless you count Utah as a foreign country (28 crossings).


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