Authors Posts by Fly Brother

Fly Brother

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“I don’t care where we go.
I don’t care what we do.
I don’t care, pretty baby,
Just take me with u.”

Ever since Prince first whisked Apollonia off on his motorcycle to get purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka in the 1984 rock film Purple Rain, The Artist has been an unlikely source of travel inspiration. Not only was his music daring, provocative, and unlike anything else played on urban contemporary radio in the ’80s and ’90s, Prince pushed the boundaries of identity and cultural expectation in a way that I could relate to even before realizing it.

Prince—music incarnate—came to represent the absolute expansiveness of blackness by hailing from a geographic and cultural region not traditionally associated with black culture. But he also opened up the possibilities of language and experience to me well before I even understood what was happening. I was ten years old when the goofy but sumptuous Under the Cherry Moon first aired on cable TV. Ridiculous script and laughable acting aside, it’s the brilliant cinematography, exotic setting (Nice, n’est-ce pas?), and lush, phenomenal score that still makes me want to―just for a moment―run off and be a gigolo on the Riviera. Indeed, half of the songs on Parade, the film’s masterpiece of a companion album, feature the sensuous vowels of French, with “Vous êtes très belle” joining that other soulful French refrain, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?,” on the list of half-baked French phrases that every American of a certain age knows.

But beyond the language,  Prince made it okay to think differently, to desire a life beyond your own immediate borders, and to go after that life. In flamboyantly seducing every socialite and debutante on the Côte d’Azur, he made it okay to travel abroad and to live, unabashedly. And in heels, too.

Thank you, sweet Prince.
__________

Let Prince take you on a trip to the Moon:

 

Image by Robert Whitman

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In the filtered sunlight of the bus window, the little boy’s straight, yellow hair streamed from the top of his head like a sparkler. He peeked over at me, again, and this time, I gave him the most sour grimace I could muster. “What are you looking at?” I thought, again, but didn’t say because he was, after all, a child. But so was I, really: a 16-year-old spending the summer between his junior and senior years of high school in the northernmost province of Sweden, a hair south of the Arctic Circle.

I must have been the last foreign exchange student placed with a host family because, of all the American students placed in Sweden that summer, I was the farthest north and the furthest away from the capital city of Stockholm, where I had requested to be placed. The hamlet of Råneå was an hour outside of Luleå, itself not even topping 50,000 people and whose most famous export was ‘70s model and Bond girl Maud Adams. A bus that ran three or four times a day connected the town to the city, and neither town nor city was very racially diverse in 1994.

In fact, aside from a brown-skinned Sri Lankan girl adopted by Swedish parents in Råneå, it seemed I was the only other person of color in that section of the province, a flat, swampy expanse with Mesozoic-sized mosquitos and a sun that never set in summer. Not so very different from Florida, after all. The adults and other teenagers I was around—mostly, my host sisters’ friends—didn’t seem too scandalized by the skin tone difference: The Oprah Winfrey Show aired on Swedish television and two of the star players on Sweden’s World Cup soccer team were half-black.

But the little boy on the bus couldn’t stop looking. And finally, I stopped grimacing and smiled. He smiled, too, then I got off the bus.

 

Image by Daniel Glifberg via Flickr.

TheCanJam isn’t just a musical group, it’s really the spirit of the music. What the music does for people.” Germaine Thomas, American chanteuse and long-time resident of Stockholm is one of the featured performers of TheCanJam, a musical experience inspired and nurtured by magician and performing artist Christiano Can. “Performing with the Jam puts you in a different dimension of music, circling around all genres. It’s specific but non-specific, stepping out of boxes and touching souls,” says Thomas. “It’s music for the soul, not just soul music.

Currently cycling through music-savvy Stockholm, TheCanJam offers performers, musicians, and the surprisingly game audience a space to tap into their souls as they tap their feet. The core group of jammers—including Thomas and an internationally groovy crew of funk and soul musicians—unites rhythms from around the world under the mesmerizing strains of Christiano’s impactful, conscious lyrics and arrangements.

“At TheCanJam, the individual takes a back seat to the music, which leads to a collective consciousness, a letting go of self. You end up in a state of euphoria and heightened awareness,” says Simon Teng, a percussionist originally from Malaysia who joined the Jam in its second season. Participants and audience members alike speak to the spirit of TheCanJam as being about much more than music. “I had just moved to Stockholm after 15 years in Switzerland, but had no friends here when I walked in on a Jam one cold, rainy day,” recalls Teng. “I walked out with a family.”

Get TheCanJam’s recorded project, Money Can’t Kill Music by the Neverland Collective, “a multifaceted fine art project composed of sonic vibrations, voices, instruments, illustrations, animations, dinner table discussions, and hippie-fire-side-chats.”

And listen to TheCanJam live, plus other aural delights at Candid Radio.

 

Image by Petra Rolinec.

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Read Cash Money in Havana  — Part One.

The Malecón lines the northern shore of Havana, holding back the waters of the Florida Straits about as effectively as it holds back dreamers from taking to those waters in rickety vessels bound for the Sunshine State. Before night falls, families with children, elderly couples, and tourists stroll the promenade under the tropical sun. After dark, lovers—clandestine or otherwise—promise each other eternity or just one night in the shadows between each wave.

I wandered down into the sticky, salty air of the Malecón needing $60 to change my plane ticket and, as a writer, open to considering any and all possibilities. Amid the scores of lusty young men looking for release, I met a slim, sinewy, dark-skinned brother just a bit taller than me and wearing a black tank top and khaki shorts. We exchanged smiles and lingering eye contact, inching closer to one another with pleasantries in Spanish. But as the space between us narrowed, we both noticed a tall, pinkish older man with receding blond hair and swollen muscles squeezed into a tight German soccer jersey. He was looking at both of us with pointed interest, his nod conveying an unequivocal proposal of transactional sex. This was the standard arrangement between most foreigners and Cubans on the Malecón at night. I say most, because that was not the implied arrangement between the slim, sinewy, dark-skinned brother and me.

He looked at me with questioning eyebrows and a forward posture indicating that I should accompany him over to the pinkish German. I thought about the $60, the brother’s smile (and privates), the epic story that the scenario would make, and potentially great sex; the German wasn’t exactly bad-looking, just sunburned. In the end, though, my ingrained American prudery won out, and I slowly shook my head no. “Vayas, tú.”

“Okey,” he said, “gracias.” He put his hand around my waist and pulled me closer, his lips brushing against my neck just below the ear. He slowly, slowly dragged his hand across my lower back as we unfurled, then winked and smiled before walking over to the German. I turned back towards town and my casa particular, knowing that I needed to wake up early if I hoped to sell anything for cash down at the souvenir market.

 

Image by truebacarlos via Flickr.

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DO YOU WANT TO GO TO BRAZIL? LET ME SHOW YOU HOW!

Oi gente! Let tell you about an exciting, comprehensive web course I’ve developed to give you everything you need to know about traveling to Brazil. Not only do I visit often, but I lived in Brazil for three years, working as an editor at Time Out magazine and spending my weekends on the beaches, in the clubs, and falling in love with this magnificent place. And I want to share all the tricks and tips—the jeitinhos—I’ve learned about traveling to Brazil, with you!

 

WITH THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR, YOU’LL LEARN:
✓ About the history, culture, and beauty of Brazil

✓ How to get to Carnival in Rio, Salvador, and other party capitals

✓ How to get your Brazilian tourist visa

✓ Where to go for beaches, city breaks, or outdoor adventures

✓ How to find affordable accommodations

✓ How to enjoy yourself and stay safe while in Brazil

✓ How to say “please,” “thank you,” and “Where’s the bathroom?” in Portuguese

 

THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR INCLUDES…

SIX 20-MINUTE VIDEO SEGMENTS:

  • Introduction and Country Overview, which describes the infinite wonders of Brazil: the culture, the people, the sights and sounds and magic of the place, and why you’ll end up returning again and again.
  • Visas and Documentation, which is all about securing your Brazilian tourist visa and navigating the process.
  • Where to Go: Rio de Janeiro? Salvador da Bahia? Florianopolis? Sao Paulo? The Amazon? Iguazu? It’s all in there.
  • Finding Accommodations: hotels, hostels, bed-and-breakfasts, CouchSurfing, apartment rentals.
  • Staying Safe and Having Fun: How to maintain your belongings and your sanity, and also how not to be an entitled foreign douchebag while traveling.
  • Introduction to Brazilian Portuguese, where I teach you the basic phrases for fun, safety, and even hook-ups.

 

TEN SINGLE-PAGE, DOWNLOADABLE PDFs

  • Fly Guide to Brazil General Overview
  • Flybrary: Brazil Primer
  • Flybrary: Brazilian Music
  • Flybrary: Brazilian Film
  • Fly Guide to Rio de Janeiro
  • Fly Guide to São Paulo
  • Fly Guide to Salvador da Bahia
  • Fly Guide to the Amazon
  • Fly Guide to Florianópolis
  • BONUS: Fly Guide to Carnival in Brazil

AND a 20-MINUTE SKYPE CALL with me to answer your specific questions about traveling to Brazil.

 

ALL THIS:
6 videos
10 downloadable PDFs
AND a 20-minute Skype session for only $149!

ORDER THE FLY GUIDE TO BRAZIL WEBINAR ON UDEMY TODAY!

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Once, I ran out of money in Cuba. It was 2009, and I had returned to Havana after two previous trips with the purpose of experiencing the place before Fidel Castro officially kicked the bucket and KFC brought in theirs. Alas, I had miscalculated my finances, as friends and family can attest that I am wont to do, but decided to go on the trip anyway, as I am also wont to do.

Five days into my eleven-day sojourn in Cuba’s crumbling, captivating capital city, I found myself with less than $10 and no way to borrow money from the U.S., with the embargo and all. I had paid up for the next few nights at my casa particular, so I at least had lodging for a couple of days, and my Cuban friends would make sure I was properly fed and had some floor space somewhere, should it come down to that. I knew that, in Cuba of all places, I’d be all right. But I would still need cash.

I went to the Cubana office to talk with a ticket agent about taking an earlier flight back to Bogotá, where I was living at the time. The agent said it would cost me $60: a $50 change fee and a $10 typing fee. I was not mad at her hustle in the least; in fact, I appreciated her directness.

The task, then, was to figure out how I could earn the money. Previously, I’d brought basic goods—tube socks, deodorant, toothpaste, cans of chunk light tuna, packets of hair weave—to barter in exchange for Cuban souvenirs. This time, I only had the clothes I brought with me to wear, a clunky digital camera, my early-model laptop, and zero interest in or need for specially carved maracas or a linen guayabera.

I only had two places to find cash money in Havana: the souvenir market near the cruise ship terminal during the day, and the seafront promenade called the Malecón at night.

To be continued…

 

Read about my previous experiences in Cuba here.
Image by helenedancer via Flickr.

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One of the major joys of international travel, for me, is to take what I call an exotic flight. For some people, that might be the short hop from Honolulu to Hilo or Madrid to Barcelona. True, those destinations can be exotic for people who aren’t from those climate or cultural zones, but my type of exotic tends to mean flights connecting unexpected city pairs or crossing thinly-traversed parts of the planet. I get excited even at the mere idea of these flights, and even more so when one is booked, boarded, and finally plotted on my Flight Memory map. Here are five of my favorite exotic flights, straight from the annals of Fly History:

map

Copenhagen to San Francisco
Connecting two of the world’s most expensive destinations, SAS—the collective airline of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—flies between the Danish capital and America’s most beautiful city every day. I was mercifully upgraded to business class for the 11-hour-long flight over some of the northernmost reaches of the globe. That’s exotic for a raised-in-the-sunshine Florida boy like me.

Johannesburg to São Paulo
South Africa and Brazil are probably my two most favorite countries on the planet, and flying between the two megacities of the Southern Hemisphere had always been on my to-do list. Also, South African Airways’ 11 weekly flights linking the countries’ financial capitals ply one of the scant few routes across the South Atlantic Ocean. Arriving at sunset over the exhilarating sprawl of São Paulo while finishing up a bag of beef biltong is an underrated joy.

Miami to Berlin
For a while, I spent several months each year in Berlin, arguably the most dynamic city in Europe at the moment, and the polar opposite of a place like Miami, where I also spend several months each year. Airberlin, much like me, has an on-again-off-again relationship with Florida’s sun-slash-sin city, flying to the German capital a few times a week every winter. This time, I was shoehorned into a middle seat for a cramped 11-hour transatlantic schlep.

Mumbai to Johannesburg
Culturally, this now-defunct route isn’t as strange as it might seem: South Africa is home to the largest population of Indian-descended people outside of India. Unfortunately, South African Airways dropped the route after 20 years of service, just a few months after I had flown it in early 2015. While travelers can still connect easily through the Gulf or East Africa, I think it’s a shame that these two incredible places lack a direct air link.

Santiago to Auckland
Not only is this one of the few routes to cross the South Pacific—and approach the South Pole—but it’s also flown by one of the world’s newest jets, the Boeing 787. LAN (soon to be LATAM) jaunts from from Chile to New Zealand, then on to Australia, twice daily. LAN’s reliably good service and the newness of the planes offset the 13-hour flight time.

What are your favorite exotic routes?

 

Image by David Spinks via Flickr.

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The beauty of Stockholm is most vivid in the city’s quiet interstices: the shush of an electric blue pendeltåg as it shoots down the railroad track and into a tunnel, the muted hum of designer baby stroller wheels on concrete, the hush of smoke wafting from a cup of coffee caressed in slender, pale fingers. Yes, train horns wail, babies cry, and coffee drinkers chat, but the quietness that permeates the noise in the Swedish capital wraps around you like a blanket against the Nordic air, something warm and sustaining, not stifling.

I experienced this quiet riot first hand, going into a local supermarket for a few grocery items—mjölk for my tea and coffee, and smör with which to cook the eggs and spread on the Wasa multigrain crackers I was also buying. Sweden has several different thicknesses of milk, the least desirable of which, in my opinion, having the consistency of Elmer’s Glue. But I’d learned the names of milk with acceptable levels of viscosity years ago and asked the tall, fashion-forward stockboy where I could find some in the well-stocked but shoebox-sized store. I prefaced my question with a humble, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Swedish,” and he prefaced his response a quiet, reassuring smile completely unexpected from a person under 30. I sensed a combination of pride in his own English proficiency and the surprise of an encounter with a wayward American with a voice vaguely reminiscent of Will Smith’s (so I’ve been told).

Once I scored the right milk, the stockboy peeked around the corner to ask if I’d found everything I needed, his calm, bright solicitousness another example of the quiet beauty that undergirds life in the north. He made me feel welcome in his store, his city, his country, as did the many other newsstand cashiers, coffee baristas, restaurant waiters, postal clerks, and airport bus service reps with whom I interacted in the city. Those quiet spaces between words are when the welcome is warmest.

That is the beauty of Stockholm.

 

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
Fly | Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) | nonstops from the USA on Delta, Norwegian, SAS, United
Eat | The Hairy Pig or Stockholms Gastabud (Swedish) | Chili Masala (Indian) | Farang (East Asian)
Stay | First – Nobis Hotel | Biz – Lydmar Hotel | Econ – Ånedin Hostel
See | Gamla Stan, Djurgården, Fotografiska, Historiska Museet, the Stockholm Archipelago
Play | Summer: Trädgården and Patricia for clubbing | Year-round: music and/or dancing at Södra Teatern, Stampen, Fasching, Marie Laveau, Bambaataa Bambaataa at Le Bon Palais, The Can Jam at the Hard Rock Café

 

Image by Thomas Fabian via Flickr.

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An hour south of Geneva, where the Swiss Alps meet the French Alps, lies the splendid little city of Annecy. In winter, Annecy’s lake—opaque and unfrozen—reflects snowy peaks down which the begoggled and besweatered whoosh on skis, powered by adrenaline and hot chocolate. But in summer, Annecy itself is the attraction, its lake sparkling and turquoise in the bright Alpine sun, its winding streets humming with tourists from Lyon or Paris, yes, but also with first-year university students from Metz, middle-aged café owners who au paired in New York, pensioners who remember the end of the war, young professionals who commute to day jobs in Switzerland.

Laced with narrow canals, flower-lined palisades, sidewalk cafés, and arcaded boutiques, Annecy’s old quarter looks picture perfect. The preserved, ship-like island prison, the wrought-iron balconies above the pavement, and the commanding Château d’Annecy seem almost Disneyfied in their perfection. But that appearance is only because of the pride the residents take in making sure their town is attractive to visitors and residents alike, a pride which seeps into pleasant, warm interactions that feel downright quaint when held against Parisian aloofness: Anneciens are glad you’re here.

With the opulent L’Impérial Palace hotel and casino crowning its northern extremity, the lake of Annecy becomes the town’s locus of activity during the daytime, especially when the sun is shining: renting a bike or a kayak is the only way to soak in the vibrant energy of the lake, if you don’t know anyone with a catamaran or motorboat. In the evenings, regional French and international cuisines entice hungry diners into intimate eateries and a mix of cocktail lounges, wine bars, and sports bars keep the libations pouring and the interaction lively. Don’t worry if your French is rusty or non-existent; Annecy’s a great place to pick up a few French kisses, I mean, phrases. 😉 And before you go, stop by Chez Apo for a tasty kebab—owners Beatrice and Apo will take good care of you.

Annecy (pronounced ‘an-SEE’), France, is located 22 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland. Fly into GVA non-stop from North America via Air Canada, Swiss International Air Lines, or United Airlines, then take the bus or popular rideshare service to Annecy.

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motox810/Flickr

Did you know that you can fly on a double-decker plane from five cities in North America?

No, the iconic 747, with its distinctive hump and short business-class cabin towards the front isn’t the double-decker plane I’m referring to. I mean the world’s largest airplane, the Airbus A380, which can seat between 525 (typical 3-class configuration) and 850 passengers (all-coach configuration) on two levels that run the length of the aircraft. Ten airlines currently operate this behemoth worldwide, eight of which fly routes to the United States and Canada, and ten additional airlines have ordered the type.

Despite appearances, the Lufthansa A380 is bigger than that Air France Boeing 777. Kohei Kanno/Flickr
The Lufthansa A380 is actually bigger than the Air France Boeing 777. Kohei Kanno/Flickr

Dubai-based Emirates owns the largest number of A380s—64 in all—and is awaiting another 76 on order from European manufacturer Airbus. The other operators of the type include Air France, Korea’s Asiana Airlines, British Airways, Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Germany’s Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Australia’s Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways International, all of whom have decked out their premium cabins (read: not economy) with such wonders as shower stalls and bedroom suites with minibars and vanity lights.

Inside the Emirates A380 shower spa. PYONKO OMEYAMA/Flickr
Inside the Emirates A380 shower spa. PYONKO OMEYAMA/Flickr

Even if you’re typically fly economy class, the seat width and pitch (how far you can lean back) on this great whale are a couple of inches greater than that of a typical 747, especially on the Singapore Airlines A380, which offers coach passengers two full meals and a snack, with menus and real cutlery, on their transatlantic flights.

If you fancy a ride on the world’s largest passenger aircraft, don’t fret about cost. Coach fares for transatlantic flights from North America start at about $550 round-trip and transpacifics from $650, depending on the season, and there is no price differential among aircraft types. Just make sure you choose the route with 388 listed as the aircraft, and you’ll be in for an amazing ride.

The A380 currently plies 22 routes from eight North American gateways:
Air France: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to Paris
Asiana Airlines: New York and Los Angeles to Seoul
British Airways: Los Angeles and Washington to London
China Southern: Los Angeles to Guangzhou
Emirates: Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto to Dubai; New York to Milan
Korean Air: New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta to Seoul
Lufthansa: Houston, Miami, and San Francisco to Frankfurt
Qantas: Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne
Singapore Airlines: New York to Singapore via Frankfurt and Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo

a380