April Fool’s Travel Digest

1 04 2009



I don’t consider myself particularly naïve, but when it comes to travel, if something sounds too good to be true…I’ll usually buy two! Whether it’s an incredible deal or an unbelievable adventure, I am generally the first in the queue and the first to slump away with a red face. Besides, whenever she dressed me for school, my Mum always told me that public humiliation and a lifetime of ridicule was good for my character.


One of the following travel stories is true…the rest are just wishful thinking. Spot the real one: 


Hotelicopter to take flight

A Russian-made MiL V-12 helicopter has been converted into the world’s first flying five-star hotel. The 137 ft hotelicopter has 18 luxurious rooms complete with queen beds, jacuzzis and mini-bars “for adrenalin junkies seeking a truly unique and memorable travel experience.” The first scheduled flight is set to take place on June 26th from New York.


Playboy mansion in Rotorua

The sulphuric scents that emanate from the town of Rotorua in New Zealand’s South Island are such a powerful aphrodisiac that Hugh Hefner plans to build his next Playboy mansion there.


Europcar launches ‘pay as you go’ cars

Europcar is launching “pay as you go” rental cars to help Britons survive the financial downturn. The cars will be fitted with meters that take £1 coins allowing customers to pay by the mile.


Hotel to sell bottled Thames water

The Park Plaza in Westminster has unveiled plans to offer guests natural drinking water from the River Thames as part of an eco-friendly initiative. The hotel, due to open in early 2010, claims that tests showed that 75 per cent of people preferred Thames water to two of the best-selling mineral water brands.


Haggle for fares on Air Asia flights

Passengers can now negotiate the price of their air tickets with the Asia airline. The airline offers advice such as hiding your luggage and “acting like you don’t need a flight’’ to have the best chance of getting a discount.


Concorde to fly again

France’s Museum of Air and Space has announced that Concorde will return to the skies in June for a special flight from Paris on June 16.


Tourism Returns to Iraq

A British adventure travel operator has just completed its first 17-day tour of Iraq. Five British tourists, two Americans and a Canadian participated in the trip, believed to be the first such visit to the country in more than five years. Travelling from Irbil in the north to Basra in the south, highlights included a visit to Babylon, the site of Ur of the Chaldees, the Arch of Ctesiphon and the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala before ending at the Sheraton in Baghdad. Later this month the same company is taking a group to Afghanistan.




Post by: Simon Vaughan

Photo by: www.hotelicopter.com

True story: Next stop Kabul.

Tourists in Space

27 03 2009



Forty years ago this July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin donned bulky white spacesuits and became the first to set foot on a Styrofoam set in a California movie studio designed to look like the moon. Incredibly, there are conspiracy theorists out there who actually believe that the two astronauts really walked on the moon, and ignore the overwhelming evidence that it was just shot on a back-lot using grainy 8mm film and beamed to televisions around the world.


Although tourists can follow in Armstrong and Aldrin’s footsteps and visit Hollywood, it’s not yet possible for them to spend Spring Break on the moon. Several years ago Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic to give those so inclined the opportunity to join the select group of almost 500 people who have flown in space by trying a sub-orbital hop beginning next year…for a mere $200,000 a ride. But there are less expensive ways to reach the edge of space…slightly less expensive, anyway.


Since the retirement of Concorde, the only way for civilians and non-astronauts to see the curvature of the earth and the darkness of space without doing heavy-duty drugs is to pay hefty sums to fly in a fighter jet. In Cape Town, South Africa a sound-barrier breaking flight in a Cold War vintage English Electric Lightning sets you back the price of a second-hand minivan, while in Moscow there’s the opportunity to sample a whirl in an aircraft that was amongst the most highly classified and sophisticated in the world: the MiG 31 Foxhound.


The Foxhound was until recently a top secret Soviet aircraft and flies at almost three times the speed of sound and 60,000 feet altitude – or 8,470 Shaquille O’Neals. When little more than a rumour and the focus of western intelligence attention, it was laughable to think that one day western tourists would be allowed to take one for a spin to the edge of space. Yet 20 years later there’s no shortage of adventure seekers heading to an airfield near Moscow on a day-trip with a price-tag almost as lofty as the dizzying heights the double-engined jet itself attains.


Although they don’t serve meals or show movies on the flight and the experience lasts less time than the average hunt for a car in an airport parking garage, at least your luggage won’t get lost this time…and you won’t have to drink Tang!



Photo and post by:   Simon Vaughan

Living the Dream

21 07 2008

Concorde 2

The view from Cloud 9.

We all have our dreams.


A recurring one of mine has me in pyjamas on the subway at rush hour. I am barefoot, rather uncomfortable and being chased by either a tiger, a bear or an enormous Cornish pastie. I have never subjected this dream to professional analysis as I fear what other murky mysteries that might unearth, but I do often wake up rather hungry.


When it comes to travel, everyone seems to have their dream trip. For some it is an African safari, for others a luxury bure on a remote Tahitian beach. It could be snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, the solstice at Machu Picchu or Venice during Carnival. In fact, many of these things are not only possible but often even affordable. If you forgo your week in the Dominican Republic this year you just might be able to fulfil a life-long dream next.


It is said that life is short and as we take our first bitter taste of mortality we appreciate the veracity of this statement. Life can change in an instant as we fall victim to health, mobility or financial difficulties. Our ability to travel can be curtailed by job or family commitments, or the inaccessibility of our dream destination. Not that I would advocate financial irresponsibility unless you’re selecting a gift for my birthday, but I do believe that we should never give ourselves cause to look back and say “I wish I had…”


When I was in school I saw an advertisement for Concorde. It was a 3 hour flight that would break the sound barrier and see the curvature of the earth. Although expensive, it was a fraction of the cost of a scheduled flight on the world’s most famous airliner and I was hooked. I had always been interested in aviation and loved flying. Concorde was the ultimate for me at the time. Breaking the sound barrier and being on the edge of space were beyond my dreams and yet here was a chance within my grasp.


Remarkably, my parents were supportive of the idea. They knew how much this would mean and how it really did qualify for that oft over-used title of “Once in a lifetime opportunity.” I raided my hard-earned savings account and booked my seat. I barely slept over the coming days and read and re-read every single scrap of information I had on the sleek record setter.


I’m not sure if I was the youngest person on board, but I was certainly a contender as we boarded the aircraft and filed through its narrow fuselage. We strapped ourselves in and began to taxi towards the end of the runway. Although Concorde had then been in regular service for more than a decade it still turned heads and attracted attention: the airport buildings, taxiways and secure areas were packed with spectators and airport workers there to catch a glimpse of the legendary aircraft.


The pilot provided a running commentary for his plane-load of enthusiasts and kept us informed of all the happenings. The take-off was more dramatic than any I had previously experienced and we found ourselves pinned to our seats as we soared into the September sky.


Once airborne, the cabin crew attentively treated us as though we were their usual compliment of the rich and famous. We dined on the finest food and sipped on champagne, all the while watching the Machometer at the front of the cabin climb towards the speed of sound. Finally, with an announcement from the captain, we slipped through the sound barrier. It was hard to imagine that 40 years earlier when Chuck Yeager had become the first to do so, there was fear that the rigours of Mach 1 would rip his Bell XS-1 apart. Now, we sat in the lap of luxury sipping Bollinger while reclining in comfortable leather seats.


One by one we were taken onto the flight deck to meet the crew and gaze out through the sloping windows that graced the needle nose. During my visit, I watched us reach Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. The earth curved majestically beneath while the sky above eased from a dark blue into the cobalt and jet black of space.

Concorde 1

84,268,800 inches per hour at 600,300 inches altitude


The landing was even more dramatic than take-off as the reverse thrusters and carbon brakes slowed our impressive speed. We were each handed our flight certificates and assorted memorabilia and although back on the ground, I was most definitely on Cloud 9!


It was a day I have never forgotten and still ranks amongst my greatest of experiences. My savings account was gradually restored to some semblance of respectability and not once since have I ever regretted the expenditure. Concorde no longer flies and today the few opportunities to break the sound barrier and flirt with the edge of space cost as much as a new car.


We all have our dreams and some of us are graced with the opportunity to live them. If you have that chance, investigate it, take it and don’t ever allow yourself to say “I wish I had…”


Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008