Airline loses 5,017,212 people in one month!

23 06 2009


Every time you check in a bag before a flight you wonder whether you’ll see it again. Although a relatively small amount of baggage actually does get lost given the number of travellers worldwide, it’s everyone’s worst nightmare to arrive at a staid conference wearing only a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, to lie on a tropical beach in a heavy wool sweater and fur-lined boots, or to attend a funeral in your finest Monty Python “I’m not dead yet” t-shirt.


The Air Transport Users Council reported that in 2007, airlines mishandled 42 million pieces of luggage and irretrievably lost 1 million.  Knock on wood, I have only had my bag lost once, and it was returned late the following day. Although I know people who haven’t been quite so fortunate, airlines are forever striving to eliminate these losses completely. But one airline recently lost more than just a few dozen suitcases.


The Italian airline Alitalia has apologised after ‘misplacing’ the island of Siciliy on the maps in their in-flight magazine. Although other islands like Sardinia were there, Sicily was missing…and presumably along with it, its population of over five million people. Alitalia assured concerned travellers – and even more concerned Sicilians – that the island was indeed still there and that it was just an oversight that would be rectified in the next edition.


Rumours that the airline diverted flights from Cairo to Rome to overfly the island and visually verify its existence have proven unfounded.



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009


Breakfast of Champions

8 06 2009

Oxpecker mw

“Can’t we go somewhere else for breakfast? I always feel someone’s watching me here.” (Masai Mara)

My Mum has always said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, although we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on just what constituted a good breakfast. For the record, I see nothing wrong with twiglets and Coke.

Many travellers would certainly agree that breakfast is extremely important. It is the fuel that keeps legs pumping during sightseeing, and a great way to avoid expensive lunches – or at least eat less at mid-day. There’s also a certain magic to breakfast that’s possibly due to the excitement of anticipating what wonders the rest of the day holds in store, or of finding yourself in beautiful surroundings so far removed from a quick stale muffin devoured on a cramped subway train on your way to work.

There are many breakfasts that stick in my memory as being nigh on idyllic. Anything on a sun-dappled terrace, patio or balcony overlooking the ocean always qualifies for instant consideration as a Top Ten spot. The daily ritual of a large platter of fresh fruit and miniature oven-warm pastries in Fiji still brings a smile to my face. Daily breakfast in the garden of the Pink Baobab in Victoria Falls accompanied by the roar of the water – and a nearby fence crushed by a wayward elephant during the night – will always be remembered fondly. And for a touch of civility, who could ever challenge a vast spread of cheeses, meats, jams and croissants in a palazzo overlooking a quiet canal in Venice with enormous French windows ushering in the fresh morning air and the sound of church bells?

But the most memorable breakfast ever was simple picnic fare in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

As anyone who has ever been on safari knows, the best wildlife viewing takes place in early morning and late afternoon. The higher the sun, the lower the animals stay trying to avoid the oppressive heat and conserve their own energy. Morning game drives generally set off in the dark, just as the orange glow of dawn seeps along the horizon. At such ungodly hours, a full breakfast is generally out of the question and a simple plate of biscuits and cup of tea is more customarily followed by a hearty brunch upon return. Occasionally though, there is an opportunity for a picnic along the way. Not only does it provide sustenance to quell growling stomachs that might otherwise scare away particularly nervous wildlife, but it also provides some of the most unique and memorable breakfast spots on earth!

After several hours of exploring the Mara’s savannah and being captivated by prides of lions and herds of elephant, we pulled to a stop in the shade of a large acacia tree. The engine was turned off and a large picnic basket removed from the back of the Landcruiser and placed on the hood. From within were withdrawn foil-wrapped cold sausages and hardboiled eggs, bread and jams, bananas and pastries, juices and flasks of tea. No champagne, no gourmet omelettes – but who needed luxuries with such a view?

All around us the great African plains rolled to rocky outcrops and thickets of trees. With naked eyes we could see elephant and buffalo, giraffe and impala, zebra and Tommies. Apart from the metronomic ticking of our cooling engine, the only other sounds were the lonesome song of African mourning doves and our silent devouring of breakfast. Even now, I can still taste those cold sausages and remember the wonder of that perfect morning.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

A Chip Off The Old Block

19 05 2009

Stonehenge mwIt was recently reported that two U.S. tourists have returned a small piece of Rome’s Colosseum that they chipped off 25 years ago. The fragment of stone, small enough to fit into a pocket, arrived in Italy in a package from California and was accompanied by an apology that explained they “…should have done this sooner.” The couple said that every time they looked at their little souvenir they felt guilty and realised that if every visitor chipped off a piece of the Colosseum as they had done, there would be nothing left.

I was reminded of visiting the pyramids and crouching down beside the great structures to tie my bootlaces. The shade of the massive limestone blocks provided a wonderful respite from the blazing sun and as I pulled my laces taut, I realised I was kneeling on a treasure-trove of tiny fragments of the ancient monuments that were far superior souvenirs to the mass-produced papyrus sold around the corner. It would have been easy to casually pick up a particularly appetising fragment and slip it inside my boot for transport home –until I noticed the heavily-armed Tourism and Antiquities Police officer standing a few feet away smoking a cigarette.

Even if I hadn’t spotted the machine-gun glistening in the sun and the nicotine-stained finger idly caressing the trigger, I am pleased to say that I actually wouldn’t have slipped away with a morsel of ancient Egypt. Partly out of respect for the site and future visitors, and partly out of fear for being caught with my illicit souvenir at the airport and spending 20 years in a Cairo prison. But I can appreciate the temptation and understand the Colosseum tourists’ actions – except for the bit about actually carving off a chunk: that goes beyond souvenir-collecting and headlong into sheer vandalism.

I imagine that Rome and Egypt aren’t the only places that have this problem. In fact, every famous site in the world likely has similar difficulties. It is likely only perimeter ropes, security and pangs of conscience that have prevented Stonehenge from being whittled down to a ring of miniscule stone-teeth over the years. There was a similar dilemma in Israel with the mountain-top fortress of Masada. I once read that the problem of visitors collecting rocks and pebbles from this ancient site became so great that the authorities began trucking in a load of gravel every week to top-up the ground on which the visitors walked. This not only helped preserve the site – and stopped Masada being turned from a mountain into a molehill – but also means that there are likely thousands of tourists around the world who treasure shards of rock from some anonymous southern Israeli quarry!


Photograph and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Spot The Photographer

27 08 2008

“How much for the painting at the back?”                          (Ponte Vecchio, Florence)




Spot the photographer.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Welcome to the Hippodrome

1 04 2008


Post-race wallowing




 Recent archaeological discoveries in Italy have revealed that among the first events staged at Rome’s Colosseum were hippopotamus races. Efforts are now being made to resurrect the ancient sport later this summer. 


The hippo is generally regarded as the most dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for more human deaths each year than lions, crocodiles or elephants. Despite their enormous size, they can out-run a human on land and are even more formidable in water.

In ancient times, young hippos would be captured along the banks of Egypt’s upper Nile and transported to Rome, evidence shows. Here, they would be raised by surrogate mothers and trained for competition in the Colosseum. Murals depict vervet monkeys as jockeys with colourful saddles created not only to keep them on their rides, but also to identify them to spectators. A track was laid around the center of the arena and races generally lasted 5 or 8 laps. At its peak, hippo racing was even more popular than chariot racing and was a particular favourite of Emperor Titus. It was only an outbreak of trypanosomiasis – or sleeping sickness – in 80AD that wiped out the hippos and brought an end to the spectacle.

Although this summer’s organisers had originally planned on erecting a temporary track within the Colosseum, it has now been decided that July’s hippo races will instead be held at the open-air Circus Maximus. Hippos are being trained at a ranch in South Africa and in place of jockeys, small remote-controlled robots will be used. 

Photo and April Fool’s Day Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

The following contains content of a graphic meaty and carnivorous nature. Vegetarian and bovine discretion is advised.

26 03 2008

Florence 2

You ate what?



As a child, I was not a particularly intrepid eater. My list of dislikes included everything outside the categories of bland, safe or chocolate. On the rare occasions when I managed to hit all five food groups in a single sitting it was usually more due to luck and ketchup-flavoured potato chips than any concerted effort. Fortunately, my palate broadened before I began to travel and it’s been years since I felt compelled to pack my own supply of baked beans. 

Dining is one of the great pleasures of adventure travel. Sampling the local delicacies and never washing dishes are always among the highlights of my trips. I tend to be pretty adventurous as long as the dish is not twitching, writhing or squirming. For the latter, I usually think twice before saying “I’ll have two…and bring me another beer.” I have tried grubs and worms, crocodile and piranha, larvae and congealed blood and I can honestly say that none were as bad as I thought they’d be…except for the crocodile which was considerably worse.

If I find myself somewhere that has a particularly famous dish, I will generally give it a whirl even if I may later regret it. It was for this reason that I ordered the legendary bistecca a la fiorentina, or Steak Florentine.

Florence is generally not considered an adventure destination unless you choose to rappel from the top of the duomo, bungee from the campanile or drink the Arno, but partaking of the infamous steak is definitely the stuff of a true adventurer…or packs of hyenas.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what Steak Florentine was before I ordered it.  I knew it was steak and it was native to Tuscany and when in Rome, or Florence, well…

When the steak arrived I initially thought it was a wooden carving block. It was only when it was placed before me that I realised it was my steak. Approximately two inches thick and the size of a bedside table. it would have required its own seat on most airlines. It was devoid of all accompaniment except for the side-order of roast potatoes I had naively requested thinking that the meat itself would be insufficient.

Every head in the restaurant turned to stare at me. The Italians looked at me with a knowing respect. My fellow tourists looked aghast. Vegetarians glared with contempt. Someone at the next table turned his chair towards me and said he was going to stay until I finished the whole thing.

I picked up a steak knife worthy of Crocodile Dundee and plunged my fork into the mass. It quivered and rolled like a bowl of jelly before relenting. The knife sliced in to reveal an interior that was not so much rare as raw, not so much blue as pale plaid. I cut as small a piece as its girth would permit and put it in my mouth. Although barely seared let alone cooked, it just dissolved on my tongue. It was a rich flavour of olive oil, lemon juice and perfect Chianina beef. I would have been in heaven if I wasn’t facing another 23lbs or so.


After what felt like several hours, I waddled from the restaurant wondering if I would actually make it through Florence’s narrow cobbled streets without greasing my sides. I rolled once around the duomo to try and burn off some of my half-a-cow and by the following morning had managed to climb the stairs to my room…just in time to head back down for breakfast and a gigantic cornetto and frothing cappuccino


Post and photo by: Simon Vaughan © 2008 

Question of the Week

20 03 2008

Arsoli 2

What are the residents of this small Italian town known as?

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

Photo by: Marguerite & Fabrizio Urbani © 2008