Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Taking a break from Blogging

Currently, I have too many important projects going on in my life. While I love blogging, I'm going to have to take a break from it for a while. I don't know how long this break will be, but I don't expect for this to be a permanent change.

Thank you for your loyalty, I hope to be back once things settle down.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'd Rather be Safe Than Dead

On a recent flight home, I ran across some truly ugly behavior. I hope that pointing out this behavior will help others to realize their folly.

I had arrived and checked in with plenty of time to make my flight. I always like to err on the side of being too early rather than slightly late as it really ruins my day when I miss my first flight. At check in, I was gently informed that due to a late arrival the night before, the crew was going to be about 30 minutes late. This was because FAA regulations stipulate that a crew must get a certain amount of rest before serving on another flight the next day.

I've known about this regulation for some time, but the way that it was presented made me suspect that other travelers that had checked in that morning were less than understanding on this point.

Personally, I'd much rather have my flight crew be well rested than to have them be groggy when it comes to air travel. It's amazing that commercial air travel even happens at all, so if I need to be a little late for safety's sake so be it. Sure I might miss my connecting flight and get home a few hours later, but when it comes down to it I'd rather be safe than dead.

Once the 30 minutes came and went, an announcement came over the speakers. It was a courtesy message letting us know that two members of the crew were further delayed due to a taxi not showing up.

I know that anything can happen when you travel, so none of this phased me. I wish I could say the same thing of my fellow travelers. That poor gate agent was bombarded with complaints. Some of these were to his face and others were just audible amongst the travelers in the terminal. People were reacting as if the gate agent had personally delayed the crew, and they wanted to hold him responsible.

"How dare you delay my flight?"
"Don't you know that I've got someplace to be?"
"I bet he made last night's flight late!"

Haven't these people ever heard of not shooting the messenger? Seriously, this guy was just trying to keep us all informed. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a line of people pounding on his desk asking for an update, so he could have easily not said anything and saved himself grief by not updating us.

He did the right thing by giving us an update, and I appreciate that. Honestly, I don't know how this guy does it. I've seen a lot of poor behavior while traveling, but gate agents seem to get the burnt of the wrath of irritated travelers.

I've had to depend on gate agents often when a flight gets canceled or I miss a flight due to delays, and they've always been helpful as long as I am respectful, ask for help nicely and remain reasonable in regards to my expectations. I've met some exceptional gate agents who are able to get their flights down the jetway in an orderly fashion while delivering announcements and changing customer's tickets.

To these gate agents I am eternally grateful, and I will always remember to thank them for the service that they provide me. I hope that you will join me in doing the same the next time you fly.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Philly Pretzel: Ultimate Airport Snack

As you know, I travel a lot. Much has been said about finding great food at your destination, but what about when you are in transit? Airport food has a bad rap (expensive junk food), but every now and then there is a shining star at airports that is worthy of seeking out.

One of my favorite airport treats are available in Philadelphia. I'm not talking about a greasy cheese steak, but rather one of their iconic soft pretzels.

Prior to visiting Philadelphia, I had never heard about these pretzels, but upon exploring a few of the cities food carts I quickly fell in love with these lunchtime staples.

What makes them special? First of all, they are fresh. These aren't pretzels that have been manufactured months before in a factory hundreds of miles away, frozen and then reheated. These are made the day that they are consumed, and the taste is reflected in the freshness.

The second thing that makes these unique is the fact that they aren't the traditional pretzel shape, but rather a squared off figure eight. While this was most likely done for production efficiency, the shape is much more conducive to eating it on the run.

Fortunately for travelers who have frequent connections through PHL, these soft pretzels are readily available in carts within the airport terminal. With such accessibility, I find them hard to resist on even a tight layover. What's harder yet is resisting buying a half dozen to take home with me. At about $1 each, you'll be hard pressed to find a better value for a snack at an airport.

While I can't eat 6 of these before they go stale, they do freeze relatively well. They will loose a little something in the freezing and reheating process, but when I can't get them fresh, a frozen pretzel will do in a pinch.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When Renting a Car- Anything but an HHR

Before I tell you how much I dislike the HHR, let me give you a bit of background. I'll freely admit that I am not the world's best driver, but I do my best to be safe and my driving record shows that. I've only had one minor accident in my driving career and that was years ago. As long as I'm being honest about my driving, I will also admit that I am terrible at parallel parking. There are activities that I dispise more, but parallel parking ranks pretty high on the list.

My work takes me to various places around the world, and occasionally I need to rent a car; usually through Hertz. Hertz is a fine company, but they are not without flaws.

Until recently, they insisted on putting two bulky keys on the keychain for each rental car. Since you are unlikely to need both keys as they are both on the same keychain, I never saw the point in this. When asked about this, they said that they didn't have a way of tracking the second key so they kept them together. I could never figure out why two keys together was better than one, but they have thankfully rectified the situation and my latest rentals from Hertz came with just one key.
The only remaining problem that I have with Hertz has to do with their fleet. I started seeing the Chevrolet HHR show up in their lineup not long ago and I was borderline excited to try it out as it had ample space for my suitcase and my toolkit. I soon realized that this vehicle had potentially fatal blind spots when I nearly merged into someone on a freeway.

Not spotting someone prior to a merge rarely happens to me, but it does happen. I wrote this off as a fluke. When this happened again on that same trip I was convinced that it wasn't me, but rather the HHR. On a trip a month later I rented an HHR again. When they assigned it to me, I rolled my eyes and thought I'd give it one more try. I had the same problems.

From that point on I've made a habit of requesting "anything but an HHR" at the Hertz rental counter. When confronted with this request, the Hertz representative mentioned that mine was the third such request that she had heard in the last 10 minutes. I added that my request was because of the blind spots and she confirmed that this is the most common comment that she hears about the HHR when the "anything but…" requests come in.

Unfortunately, she also commented that the rental location had just received a large shipment of HHRs to add to their fleet and she pondered aloud as to why Hertz would buy cars that seemingly no one wants to rent.

That's a good question. Has Hertz struck a great deal to add HHRs to their fleet? I do not know the answer to this question, but it makes one think.

At any rate, if you are renting a car and are assigned a HHR, I would encourage you to sit in it and evaluate the blind spots for yourself before accepting it as your rental. If you aren't comfortable with it, please let your rental agency know and request a different vehicle.

If you have had similar experiences with the HHR, please let me know. I'm sure I'm not alone here, so let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No post this week, I'll be back next week

I apologize to all of the loyal readers of Graham's Travel Blog that were expecting something exciting and original from me this morning. I've got some personal things to take care of this week so I'll be unable to post this week.

However, I do have several interesting posts in the works so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Becoming a Beer Ambassador

In Traveling With Beer, I discussed the logistics of traveling with beer and why you would want to bring beer back with you from your travels. Today I'd like to discuss why you should consider taking beer from your area with you on trips that extend beyond your local area.

When you go someplace new, everything is a little different. Sure there are public transportation systems, but they might take a different fare or have nonsensical routes. Things are different without being completely foreign. The same is true with beer. Beer styles can transcend regions, yet ingredient choices and interpretation make each beer unique. Traveling gives you the advantage of trying beer from different areas. Wouldn't it be nice to share a favorite brew from your local area with someone where you are visiting?

Upon visiting a local bottle shop at your destination, you may find many beers that you've never seen before or maybe have only heard about on the internet. You'll also notice that many of your favorite beers are missing since they are not local to the area. Like minded individuals will most likely be thrilled to receive a beer from your area as they normally don't have access to them, so why not make this happen?

Beer that isn't widely distributed is referred to as "never beer" on a podcast that I listen to called Beer School. This term came about because when they mentioned certain beers on their show, many of the listeners could never find them locally. Bringing a "never beer" with you on your adventures is a great ice breaker, and for me this has facilitated interesting conversations with several people that I would have otherwise not spoken to at length.

The beer that you bring with you doesn't have to be expensive, but it shouldn't be readily available in the area to which you are visiting. You can check a given brewery's distribution by visiting their website; if your destination state (or country) isn't listed then you are ready to go.

I'm still learning the ins and outs of beer ambassadorship, but I've found that 22ounce bottles tend to work well and they are reasonably priced for a gift (generally $3-$7), and they pack well. What bottle I bring may depend on availability, but if I'm visiting a brewery or someone that is not a complete stranger I might track down a limited release from my local brewery (Harpoon).

So you have your "never beer" ready, now where do you take it? Breweries and brew pubs are a natural as the gift may very well get you a free pass to talk to the brew master if they are available. Another option would be to find a well respected beer store, this acts as a great ice breaker and can open up a great conversation about local beers. You can find good beer stores by checking the Beer Fly section of Beer Advocate. You'll need a user name and a password, but registering is free.

In theory, you could join a beer forum and ask to see if anyone wants to meet you at a pub to trade local beers, but I haven't tried this.

Remember that when you travel and find things that are interesting, there are those out there that would find your every day encounters just as intriguing. Do them a favor and share what you have ready access to.

One last thought on the topic. Being a beer ambassador should be done freely and without any reward expected other than a good conversation. Keep this in mind and you'll be surprised at how rewarding being a beer ambassador can be.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weighing Passengers Before Travel

When you think about it, getting a plane to actually take off and fly across countries and oceans is absolutely amazing. An incredible amount of energy is consumed, expelled and transformed into movement and, thanks to Bernoulli's principle, lift.

Taking off is a balance between gravity, the total mass of the plane and the amount of lift that is available. Too much mass aboard and you aren't going anywhere.

If you are like me then you never thought about how all this weight is calculated. The base weight of the plane as well as the weight of the fuel onboard is known, and checked bags are weighed before every flight. What about the passengers and carry-on luggage. We don't get weighed before each flight so how do they do it? They use an average traveler weight.

This makes sense, but where does this average come from? They weigh people with their carry-ons. Since the average weight of people will fluctuate based on the population traveling and why they are traveling, there is a shift in this average passenger weight every now and then.

Even airline policy can affect this average weight. While increased baggage fees reduced the number of checked bags, you can be sure that it increased the weight of passenger's carry-on bags as passengers try and avoid additional travel costs.

This weighing is done regularly in order to ensure that the average remains accurate, but I've never actually taken part in one. Traveling quite a bit for 7 years you would have thought that I would have run into this before, but travel still surprises me every now and then.

On a recent trip on Air Canada from Toronto, ON to Boston, MA I heard the following message (more or less):

In order to calculate the amount of weight that is on the plane, we need to know the total weight of the passengers and the carry-ons aboard. To spare you from the embarrassment of being weighed before each flight, we use and average weight for each passenger with their carry-ons. In order to ensure the accuracy of this average, we routinely need to take new weight measurements. Today we are conducting just such a measurement.

As you board, you will be asked to step on a scale with all of your carry-on bags. The weighing only takes a few seconds and it is completely anonymous. Thank you for your cooperation.

In front of the boarding gate, two men with small metal scales attached to laptops set up their weigh station. Just like the announcement said, the weighing only took a few seconds and it was minimally intrusive. It was completely anonymous and no one was taken aside or denied boarding for exceeding a weight limit.

To all of those who read this article looking for a rant about how each passenger should be allowed a total combined luggage and body weight allowance, I apologize, but I hope that you learned something regardless.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Beer Store- Demystified

I have to admit that the beer distribution systems of other countries usually don't interest me, but I have made an exception to Canada for two reasons:

1. I've visited Canada more than any other country.
2. The cult classic Strange Brew.

In this pivotal scene the McKinsie brothers, who are on a quest to replace their father's beer, visit a Beer Store in search of free beer. Here I saw my first glimpse of a magical store that sells nothing but beer. The scene shows that the Beer Store is a place with it's own ritual, language and quirks.

According to the movie, beer is not out for display rather you relay your order (a case of 24 beers can be called a two-four) to a clerk who calls out the order into a microphone. Moments later a case of beer flies through a hole in the wall down a belt of rollers to the clerk.

With such a strange system I was certain that such a place was merely a concoction of Hollywood fancy. This was so ingrained in my mind as the Myth of The Beer Store that I almost didn't believe my eyes on my first trip to Canada when I saw a truck bearing the iconic store's name.

I ended up not following up that first truck siting with a visit as I wasn't a beer drinker at the time. As my loyal readers know, this status has recently changed so when I walked by a The Beer Store not too long ago I popped in. Much like that scene in Strange Brew, I saw empty beer bottles adorning the wall and a magical hole in the wall through which the beer traveled once it was ordered.

Days later I realized that there were others like myself who knew next to nothing about The Beer Store and I should have learned what I could and reported it here. After I realized my folly, I promised myself that I'd make up for the mistake on my next visit to Canada.

Prior to my trip, I contacted The Beer Store and they not only agreed to let me take pictures, but they offered to take me on a tour of one of their newer stores in Waterloo, Ontario. On my visit, I learned much more about The Beer Store than I ever expected.

The store that I visited wasn't of the older style with the hole in the wall, but rather of a newer style which actually allows you to see the beer before you commit to buying it. Since I've only ever purchased beer that I could see and touch, this appealed to me greatly even though part of the magic of The Beer Store seemed to be lost with the absence of this hole.

The main portion of the store was dedicated to showcasing and storing a huge variety of Canadian beers along with some prerequisite imports. While you will find the large American brands such as Budweiser, the floor is dominated by major Canadian brands such as Molson, Labatt and Sleeman who happen to own The Beer Store. The American brands are rightly delegated to the sidelines here.

Unfortunately you won't find any craft beer from the States at The Beer Store. However, there are some Canadian craft beers available though they can be easy to miss if you aren't looking for them as the major brands get more shelf space with their mighty stacks of two-fours. The single beer selection, which I prefer to bring home with me, are almost entirely in cans and there are no ciders to speak of though I did spot a few meads. Still, if you are looking for some every day beer brewed right in Canada, there really isn't a better choice.

The Beer Store's main rival is the government, that is, the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). While The Beer Store has locally brewed beers covered, the LCBO imports quite a few specially brews, mostly from Europe. Here's where you'll find more ciders than you can shake a stick at as well as more microbrews from Canada. What you won't find is a lot of the mass produced Canadian beer as The Beer Store has that market cornered.

Since I had visited both the LCBO and The Beer Store before none of this was completely unexpected, but what came next was. The Beer Store is a leader when it comes to recycling. For all of Ontario, The Beer Store handles the customer level returns of all alcohol containers, and I do mean all. Bottles and cans for beer are a given, but they also handle liquor bottles, wine bottles and even the bags that come in box wine.

It has always bugged me that the United States doesn't have deposits on wine and liquor bottles, but it looks like Ontario has this figured out. With all of these containers only redeemable at one place, it forces anyone wanting their deposit back to visit The Beer Store wether they got their beer at the LCBO or even at a local brewery. This is a brilliant marketing plan.

In Massachusetts you must return your empties to a store that sells that particular brand. Believe me when I tell you that this is beyond annoying. Heaven help you if someone gives you a 6 pack of something that you've never seen before.

Another thing that grinds my gears about our recycling program stateside is that we automatically crush and reprocess bottles when it's much more energy efficient to give glass a good wash and reuse them again. In many countries, including Canada, they return glass bottles to the breweries who wash and reuse them. The rings around the bottles are a testament to how many times they've been reused. Ultimately they do get melted down, but not before they've seen between 12 and 15 trips through a brewery.

I went to The Beer Store wanting to find out more about that mysterious hole in the wall, but I walked away jealous of a provinces recycling program. It's funny how these things turn out. The mystery isn't all gone though. They tell me that after a while The Beer Stores gain a smell that is all their own thanks to all of the bottle returns. I guess I'll have something forward to on my next visit to Canada.

Special thanks go out to Catherine, Dave and Craig of The Beer Store for taking time out of their schedules to talk to me, give me a tour and answer all of my endless questions- no, there is not an Elsinore brewery and yes, you have to go to the brewery if you want free beer.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vending Machine Roundup #4

The months have gone by and I keep traveling. Being such, I keep running into new and interesting vending machines. This group contains some specialized machines that don't try to do everything, but rather just try to do one thing very well.

The MooBella machine is quite interesting. I found this one at the Logan Airport in Boston, MA. I've featured ice cream machines before, but this one is different as it makes the ice cream while you wait. All of the needed ingredients are handy in the machine. You select your base flavor and your mix in and the machine goes to work, freezing and churning the ice-cream while you wait. You can't get much more freshly made than this.

I didn't try this machine as I found it at 6AM. I hope to be going through Logan at a more reasonable hour soon so that I can give this ice cream a try.

Large vending machines that carry a variety of snacks are often branded by one of the major brands such as Coca Cola or M&M. This makes it difficult for smaller brands to take advantage of the visibility of vending machines. The solution- specialized machines like this one. All Pringles, all the time. Found in a Comfort Inn in Waterloo, Ontario

With vending machines branching out to sell expensive things, it was nice to see this new variant of the classic gum ball machine. Found in a Holiday Inn in Minot, ND.

Here's a machine that I haven't seen before. Found in a brewpub in Waterloo, Ontario, it's just a nice looking design for a bathroom.

Behold the future of vending machines. Currently residing in the gift shop at the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, GA, this is the most advanced vending machine I've seen for a long time. Like most new technologies it was broken by the time I got to see it.

The front of the machine features a large screen which displays commercials on the top and bottom while the center of the screen is supposed to be an interactive menu. This wasn't working. The only thing active in the center section was a tab instructing me to insert money.

This looks like it could be the future of drink vending machines, but until they get the bugs worked out you probably won't see one of machines any time soon. I did try to get a video of this machine for you, but I was not granted permission to do so. A few pictures aren't a problem, but a video was forbidden, go figure.

That's it for this vending machine roundup. Until next time, keep your quarters and crisp one dollar bills handy because you never know what you might find.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Traveling With Beer

Beer is not a topic that I've given a lot of thought to until recently. For 30 years I avoided beer, but ever since I went to the Tour at the Harpoon Brewery I've changed my tune. Now I take most opportunities to try a new beer and to find out more about what I like and what I don't like about one of the world's oldest and most popular alcoholic beverages.

Since beer is inherently a regional product with the local water affecting its ultimate taste, making the decision to try local beer while you travel is easy. The fact that the taste of beer is so linked to the location in which it was produced also makes bringing home beer while traveling attractive. With beer from a far off location stashed away safely in your fridge, you can easily relive the moments that surrounded your first sips of that brew.

I have to say that it is quite a special feeling being able to offer a guest to my home a beer that they have likely never seen before. So you like IPAs eh, well let's see…how about we open this Belgian IPA from Oklahoma that was a collaboration between two breweries and only made for one year? Yeah, it's that cool.

As with everything worth doing, research is key. Trying out different beers prior to making your selections for bringing home is nearly always a good idea as doing so can help you avoid lugging home a beer that you really don't care for. You could keep to a style that you know you like, but the chances are that you may find something amazing in the area that is well out of your comfort zone.

Take me for example. As a rule I don't like lagers, but I find myself in Waterloo, Ontario where most of the local breweries specialize in lagers. Guess what I'll be drinking on this trip? That's right, lagers. I don't know that I'll be converted to a lager lover, but I have a hard time believing that they aren't doing something right with lagers here.

Even if you don't like beer, you can still bring some back for your beer loving friends. Does your brother like beer? Going on vacation in September? Christmas present solved. Just bring some decent beer back from your vacation, and he'll love you forever provided that you store the beer in a suitably cool place before giving it to him (lower than 70F).

If you don't like beer, then how are you supposed to find a good one amongst the sea of choices that are available? Believe it or not, talking is a good standby. Most decent beer stores will generally be staffed by people that enjoy beer. Talk to them and ask them what is good and local.

If you aren't one to strike up random conversations with people, then try visiting There you will find a section called beerfly, just type in the name of the city in which you are visiting and you'll get a list of local breweries and places to drink beer. Click on one of the breweries to get a list of all their beers that they have ever made. I look for breweries with averages in the B to A range. If I can track down a few B+ beers in a style that I enjoy on a trip then I call it a win.

When it comes to actually buying beer, I try to stick to larger sized single bottles. Generally you'll find these in 22oz sizes (bombers), but you'll find some breweries that use 750ml wine bottles as well. Either of these are my preferred vessel for transporting beer in my suitcase as they offer a good volume to weight to strength balance.

There are other container options available such as cans and growlers, but I have yet to travel with either of these containers. I'll try transporting cans soon, but I worry that they will not hold up well to the punishment that baggage handlers can dish out. It should be known that I'll be double bagging all cans in freezer bags prior to packing them.

OK, so you've got our beer, now what? Well, you need to pack it up in your suitcase and hope that it makes it home intact. In order to stack the odds in my favor, I've employed several methods of packing including using bubble wrap secured with saran wrap (I wouldn't use the saran wrap again), but there is a much simpler option available. Roll a bottle up in an article of clothing, such as a pair of jeans or a sweater, and secure it with a rubber band.

This sort of packaging is easily undone and redone in event that baggage inspectors need to look at your haul. Use your remaining clothing (if any) to create a base layer and then pack your beer. If you can keep your precious cargo in the center of your luggage then the odds that you'll have a break will be reduced.

If you pack well and your bottles don't have much room to shift around then you most likely won't have a problem. I've transported 17 bottles from as far away as Germany and I have yet to have an issue. I'm not pulling back on my packing mind you, but I haven't had any leakers yet.

Since I've started traveling with beer, I've more consistently hit the maximum limit of 50 lbs on my checked bag. It's never fun to find out that you are just a little bit over the limit at the check in counter, so you should know your limit and know how much weight you have to work with. I need to track down a decent portable scale (any suggestions?), but until then I'm using an alternate method.

When I traveled this morning, my bag weighed 40 pounds. The average bomber weighs 2.5 pounds so I can bring 4 bombers back with me on this trip. Not quite as good as having my own scale, but it will do for now.

That's really all there is to it. The next time that you travel, I encourage you to seek out local beer, bring it back home and share it with your friends.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Revisiting Sleeping at the Frankfurt Airport

Long time fans of Graham's Travel Blog may recall that I once spent a memorable night Sleeping in the Frankfurt Airport. Since it was written, this article has become one of my most frequently read articles. It turns out that there are a large number of people out there that have overnight layovers through Frankfurt, who knew?

Not long ago I received a message from one of my readers, Ronnie, who had heard a rumor that the authorities at the Frankfurt airport were no longer allowing people to sleep in the terminal, and he asked if I knew anything about this.

This type of policy struck me as odd, but I know better than to assume that I understand the logic behind airport security measures. I thought about this, and the only justification that I could come up with for such a policy was that once asleep, the German government recognizes humans as an unattended bag. Unattended bags are always promptly addressed, so using this logic it is clear that sleeping in an airport would pose a serious security threat.

Not being able to tell wether or not this policy was after real visiting the Frankfurt airport website, I promised my new friend that I'd look into the situation the following week as I had a trip planned that would take me through Frankfurt.

Upon arriving in Germany, I found a telephone hooked into the airport information hotline. The man on the other end of the line was very confused, but he assured me that no policy exists that would prevent anyone with a layover from spending the night in the terminal.

I had my immediate answer, but I was left with more questions than answers. Where had such a rumor originated and why? Upon delivering the good news to Ronnie I inquired as to the origin of the rumor. It turns out that his friend's travel agent had informed him of the "policy" and encouraged him to book a hotel room at the airport in order to avoid being kicked out onto the street.

This seemed a little fishy so I asked my travel agent if there would be any financial incentive to spreading such a rumor and it turns out that there is. Travel agent usually receive a 10% commission on booking hotels.

I'm not saying that this particular travel agent was doing anything immoral, but it would appear that the travel agent may have been trying to boost their commission check. There's no way to tell for sure, but if my agent ever tried anything like this then I would be looking for a new agent.

During my layover in Frankfurt, I took a few minutes to visit the area where I had spent my restless night. To my surprise I found that much had changed in my absence. The moving sidewalk that woke me countless times was gone, walls that had been in place had been replaced by glass walls and most noticeably the stone slab on which I had rested was gone!

Airports don't stand still so I shouldn't have been been surprised, but I couldn't help but be saddened by the disappearance of my slab. Taking a closer look in the surrounding area resulted in uncovering another significant change. The soft and cushy benches in front of the McDonalds had been modified by adding a "speed bump" to prevent weary travelers from sleeping on them.

While you can still sleep in the Frankfurt Airport, they aren't making it any easier with usable cushioned benches and stone slabs being even harder to find. If you are planning on sleeping in the Frankfurt airport then you will need to be a little more clever than I was.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Class for our Fighting Force

We are a country at war. I know that this is something that is easy to forget or to push into the back of our minds, but the fact that we are at war remains. Most of us are in a position that we aren't constantly reminded of this, and we can go about our days thinking that it is somebody else's problem.

That the current conflict is far from home doesn't change that men and women are dying on behalf of ourselves and our country.

If you've traveled by air recently, the reminders that we are at war are fairly frequent from the uniformed soldiers moving about the country to the posters and PA announcements spreading the word about the USO.

Whenever I see an soldier in uniform, I get the urge to walk over to them, thank them for their service and shake their, but I never do. I usually don't have a problem walking up to someone and talking to them, but this situation is somehow different.

Suppose that I do thank someone for their service and shake their hand; then what? Anything beyond that would feel somehow shallow. They are going to war, what could I possibly say? I suppose that I could offer to buy them a beer, but then the uncomfortable conversation would just move to a different location. Don't get me wrong, I am genuinely grateful, but I just don't know how to handle the situation so I end up avoiding it.

Years of watching television commercials dictates that I handle this situation by sending over a small child bearing an ice cold Coca Cola. I see two big problems with this solution. First of all, not everyone likes Coke. There are a large number of Pepsi fans out there along with a growing number of people that don't drink soda at all. The second problem is that I don't travel with a small child. I suppose that I could borrow one, but attempting to borrow someone's child at an airport could prove somewhat problematic.

As I contemplated this problem, I stared down at my boarding pass that had unexpectedly been upgraded to first class thanks to my frequent flier status. The solution suddenly hit me; switch seats with one of the uniformed soldiers. After all, they are willing to die for our country so shouldn't they get an extra bag of peanuts, a comfy chair and a couple of free drinks?

I spoke with the gate agent to see if I could switch seats anonymously, but he said that any seat switching would have to be mutually acceptable to both passengers. The switch couldn't be an anonymous surprise, but by this time I was determined to follow through with my plan.

I approached a nearby man in uniform who was sitting by himself. After confirming that he was on my same flight, I asked him if he'd like to fly first class; oddly enough he said yes. We approached the gate agent and informed him that we wanted to switch seats. I figured that we would have needed to have new boarding passes issued, but to my surprise we were instructed to simply switch boarding passes.

I thanked the soldier for his service, shook his hand and that was it. The whole exchange lasted less than a minute, but I felt good about it all day long. I hadn't been expecting the upgrade, and it was nice to do something nice for someone that truly deserved it.

On the rare occasions that I am upgraded in the future, I plan to swap boarding passes with those in uniform whenever possible. I would like to encourage other frequent fliers to follow my lead and do likewise.

If you are considering switching your first class seat with someone in uniform, I have a couple of tips for you:

1. Always check with the gate agent in order to determine the correct procedure for swapping seats. This may vary from one airline to another, and it's best not to surprise anyone when it comes to boarding a plane.

2. Have your frequent flier card handy. When you switch boarding passes with someone, you not only get their seat, but their boarding zone as well. With your frequent flier card in hand, you can board sooner and you might even find a spot for your carry-on bags.

If you've swapped seats with a soldier before, please let me know how it went in the comments section below. If you're with me in swapping seats with those that are serving our country, please let me know that as well.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

3 (Other) Things to Do on a Plane at Least Once

Article by Leslie W.

I’m gonna go ahead and get the obvious out of the way here. I know of a club and you find it some 5,000 feet or so in the air. And if we were making a list of things to do on a plane, I’d say joining this “club” is probably a universal choice. Moving past the obvious top-spot-getter, I can think of 3 other things that are on my list of things that everyone should aspire to do on a plane, at least once in their lives.

Fly 1st Class
Ah the good life. Who hasn’t looked longingly beyond the cotton curtain that separates the well-to-do from the rest of us poor schmucks? We fall into a restless sleep under a felt blanket with dreams of the lobster and leg room being bestowed upon the passengers in Business Class. For most of us, Coach is the norm. There’s no shame in it, flying is expensive, and the majority us are lucky to have raised enough funds to board the plane at all. But at least once, everyone should treat themselves to a little in-flight luxury. Personal attention, free booze and the chance to stretch out; it would be a nice change wouldn’t it? There’s something about riding in a limo that makes everyone feel like a rock star. Flying first class can definitely have the same effect. Sitting with the power players, can make you feel like one too. Everyone occasionally deserves a glass of fine wine, a gourmet meal, an expensive pair of shoes and a big cushy airplane seat. And when you arrive at your destination you’ll feel relaxed and maybe even empowered. Which is a hell of a lot better than you would have felt squeezed into a seat between a toddler and a creepy dude sleeping on your shoulder.

Make a friend
Normally I’m the first one to pass out, or at least pretend to, in order to avoid chit-chatting with the stranger I am now uncomfortably close to. But every once in a while, it’s fun to pretend I’m not completely anti-social and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me. I can see this being far more intriguing when the person in question happens to be attractive, but let’s not limit ourselves to chemically driven motives. Sometimes, it’s cool to talk to someone just to get their story. I know people who feel somehow compelled to extract a full bio from any poor traveler seated near them. But I don’t think that’s the norm. In fact I think most of us would feel more at ease Tweeting the stranger next to us rather than breaking the ice with a “Traveling for business or vacation?”. But before you jam in your ear buds and hide your face behind a Sky Mall. (Do you really need the silver plated tooth brush carrier?) Glance over at your seat partner and give a thought to extending a hello. Who knows, once you start talking you may look up to discover that your plane has landed and you’ve got a new friend.

Spend 12 hours
This is weird right? I know. But I don’t mean just sit there for 12 hours delayed in a terrible rainstorm. That would suck. No I mean fly for 12 hours. I know it still sounds crazy and I don’t think it’s the length of the flight itself that is the exciting part. It’s what flying for that long means. It means you’ve flown far, far form home. You’ve gone someplace that is not easy to get to for you. I think everybody ought to travel to a distant land at some point. If the idea scares you, that’s even more reason to go. Half a day on a plane is no joke either, it’s tough. And I think getting through that kind of extended travel makes you a little tougher too. Although ya know, if you’re gonna be flying 12 hours maybe that’s a good time to think about going first class.

Leslie is a writer for, a company that specializes in renting private jets. Unfortunately, she still spends most of her time eating peanuts in coach.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quite Possibly The Best Airport for Pinball

Being both a frequent traveler and a fan of pinball puts me in an interesting position. Logic would dictate that I have access to a wide variety of venues in which pinball machines should be present. Unfortunately, when I travel I don't have time to explore all of the local bars and bowling alleys for pinball.

However, on travel days I do spend a lot of time walking through airports, so I'm always on the lookout for arcades and any bar that might have a pinball machine. Most of the time I come up empty, but occasionally I am pleasantly surprised by what I find.

Such was the case when I flew out of the Minneapolis airport (MSP) about a year ago. At that time I found a small arcade that had three machines. I remember being impressed at finding three machines in an airport and I wished that I had more time before my flight.

Just recently I had a connection through the MSP and as soon as I landed I remembered the three pinball machines, and I knew that I had to play a little pinball while I was there. On my way to my departure gate I found a small arcade near gate G8 which had three machines (Elvis, NASCAR and Lord of the Rings). I was pretty sure that this wasn't the arcade that I had visited previously so I decided that a little investigation was warranted.

Checking the airport map wasn't helpful as arcades were listed. I made a stop at an information booth where I met met the very helpful Nancy who informed me of the locations of all of the arcades in the airport- all three of them!

It turns out that there were also arcades at F12 and one near C1. Thanks to a 2 1/2 hour layover I had time to visit all of the arcades, so I began my tour of MSP pinball. In total, I found 7 pinball machines distributed over 3 locations. The condition of the games varied from very playable to completely non-functioning. Below is a list of the games that I found along with their locations. The links will take you to the Internet Pinball Database for the machine.

Aurora Borealis - Start of the C gates.
Indiana Jones (2008)
Wheel of Fortune (2007)

Lucky Lindy's- Near Gate F 12
Spiderman (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2006)

Unnamed Arcade- Near Gate F 8
Elvis (2004)
Lord of The Rings (2003)
NASCAR (2005)

All in all, the games weren't in the condition that I'd like them to be in, but most of them were playable. Pinball machines are maintenance intensive devices and they can be frustrating to play if not properly maintained. If the machines were a little better maintained, MSP could become a viable pinball destination. This may sound like a bit of an overstatement, but living in Pinball starved New England has given me a new outlook on this topic. Now I get really excited when I see more than one pinball machine in a single location.

I have contacted the vendor that maintains the machines (Theisen Vending Company) to let them know about the condition of their games. When booking flights in the future, I won't cringe when I see a long layover at MSP.

If you know of any airports that also have pinball machines, please let me know. The airport in Akron, Ohio had one pinball machine the last time I was there, but beyond that I don't know of any specific "pinball airports".

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Curse of Hollow Hotels

As a frequent traveler, I have learned a few things about what I like and what I don't like in a hotel. In addition to being safe and comfortable, I must have relative quiet in order to relax and fall asleep.

I'm not exactly a light sleeper, but things like a chirping smoke detector or chatter outside my room will prevent me from falling asleep. While I do carry ear plugs with me, sometimes they don't muffle enough sound for a restful night's sleep.

Assuming that a quiet hotel is universally desired, the design of some hotels surprise me. The design that irritates me most is one in which there is a large open area with the rooms arranged around this open area. This creates a sort of tube of rooms where sound and light can freely access the external door of each room.

While such a layout creates an impressive lobby, this first impression becomes irrelevant when you try to sleep in such a hotel. This is especially true if a restaurant, or worse a bar, is on the ground floor. The quality of sleep that you can obtain in such a hotel is dependent on both the behavior of the restaurant/bar patrons and the floor on which you are staying.

A recent trip had me in a hotel with such a design, and I was placed on the second floor after having asked for a quiet room. In the lobby of the hotel was a bar and the hotel was the host to a convention. To top it off, each guest received a coupon for a 2 for 1 drink at the bar. All of these factors converged on my second night at the hotel, which happened to be the last night of the convention. Convention goers were tired after the convention and ready to relax so the coupons came out and they stayed up late. Unfortunately, I had to stay up late with them.

Fortunately, I rarely encounter such hotel designs. In my seven years of business travel, I've only seen two other examples of this type; surprisingly enough, both of those were fairly fancy hotels. If such a hotel design is desired, some sort of sound dampening threshold should be employed on all of the guest room doors.

I pose the following question to my readers. Am I being fair in my critique of this type of hotel layout or should I just buy some better earplugs? If the latter, do you have any good earplug recommendations?

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where Would Graham Like to Travel?

In social situations, the fact that I maintain a travel blog often comes up. It's not that I'm trying to push my blog on anyone, but this blog is one of my hobbies so I bring it up. Upon learning that I'm fairly well traveled, two questions invariably pop up.

1. Where have you been?
2. Where would you like to travel to?

In answering the first question, I have plenty to say. Traveling for work for over 7 years will give you a plethora of material to talk about on this topic; I tend to dominate this part of the conversation.

When the second question comes up, I slink into the background and listen to others as they fantasize about their dream vacations. Since I travel for work, I get burnt out on being someplace else. I miss my home, family and eating well. When I explain this, I get strange looks from my conversational companions which seem to say, "You're crazy! You need a vacation."

It may be true that I do indeed need a vacation, but what is a vacation if not a break from your routine. When your routine is being on the road, then being home is a vacation. While this is a truthful response, it dances around the original question. Where would I like to travel to?

In order to have a more constructive response in such situations, I've given this topic a fair amount of thought and I've come up with two destinations that I'd like to visit.

The first is Hawaii. I've never been and I'd like to see volcanoes, some of the old Tikis and enjoy a nice cocktail while watching the sun set. Of course I'll need to do plenty of research in order to find out where to get a decent cocktail, but that's another story.

The second place I'd like to visit is Cuba. I don't smoke cigars so I wouldn't be going to smuggle some back, but I would like to visit a rum distillery or two. Unfortunately bringing rum, or anything for that matter, back from Cuba is forbidden. I think the forbidden nature of Cuba is the main reason that I want to go.

If you tell someone that they can't have something, they want it even more. Cuba is so close, yet it is also exotic and unattainable for most law abiding citizens. This makes Cuba as a destination appealing. I'd just like to spend a week wandering around and exploring Cuba: seeing pre-embargo cars, trying local rum and talking to people about how they feel about the embargo.

If the embargo ended tomorrow, I'm not sure that I'd have the same desire to go to Cuba that I have today. Sure I'd track down a couple bottles of newly available Cuban rum along with some Coke made with cane sugar in order to have a real Cuba Libre (rum and coke with lime juice), but the magical allure of the not so distant island would most likely be gone.

The inevitable influx of American tourists would cinch the removal of Cuba from my list, leaving only the more logistically attainable Hawaii. That's one trip that I'm really looking forward to.

I now turn the question to you. Where would you like to go? Please answer in the comments section below.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm Just Plain Tired

Dear Loyal Readers of Graham's Travel Blog,

This week I will not be posting an article about travel. In fact, I won't be posting much of anything at all. I could go on and make up some sort of excuse or post a half composed article, but I won't do either of those things.

Instead, you get the truth. I'm hot and I'm tired. We're in the middle of a heat wave here in the Boston area, and just staying hydrated has been a challenge. Combine that with the move and taking care of the few things that needed to get sorted right away with the house and I'm just pooped.

I hope to be back up and running soon, but for now I'm taking a nap.

Thank you,

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Long Awaited Experience With Poutine

You may not be familiar with poutine, and until recently neither was I. I first heard of poutine from my wife. She described poutine, a regional dish originating in Quebec, as french fries with cheese curds covered in gravy. I had been to Quebec prior to learning of this dish, but I had completely missed poutine. I have to admit that I was a little irritated that I missed out on trying such a healthy regional delicacy. From that point on poutine was on my list of "must try" foods.

I waited for my travels to take me back to Quebec, but time went by and I began to wonder if I would ever taste poutine. I had all but forgotten about this culinary aspiration when I made my way to Sudbury, Ontario. Since Sudbury is not Quebec I didn't have poutine on the mind. What I didn't know was that while poutine originated in Quebec it has spread to much of Canada. It wasn't until I came across a chip wagon that I learned of this fact.

I spotted my first chip wagon, a food truck specializing in all things deep fried, from across a busy street. It was white with the offerings contained within plastered on the side. These offerings included chips (fries), pogos and poutine. I was excited by the sudden and unexpected availability of poutine, but I was confused by the term pogo.

Sadly this chip wagon was closed when I walked by, but I decided to make some inquiries the following day. Upon discussing the topic with the group with which I was working, they informed me that a pogo was actually a corn dog and that we could surely go out for poutine if I was interested. The only catch was that the weather had to be nice because chip wagons only have outdoor seating. Two days of rain followed.

On the last day of my visit, the sun was shining and I was ready for my poutine. At lunchtime we drove to one of the more reputable chip wagons in town. It turns out that not all poutine is created equal. Since cheese curds are expensive, some chip wagons substitute a mild grated cheddar to reduce costs. If this was going to be my first poutine, my hosts wanted me to have the real thing.

As we approached our destination, the Poutine Xpress chip wagon shone a glistening silver which acted as a beacon to all those looking to clog their arteries. At once I could tell that this was a special place.

While placing my order, I mentioned that I was from the States and that this would be my first poutine. The register worker smiled and the person that I believe to be the owner of Poutine Xpress, Edgar, came over. I told him that I was also a travel blogger and he invited me into the wagon to take pictures of my poutine being made. I instantly accepted the invitation and got the grand tour.

The wagon was tight on space, but it was also clean and efficient. Everything needed to make poutine was was close at hand with fries frying on one side of the wagon while hot gravy was cooking away in a large pot on the other. When the fries were up, Edgar filled a styrofoam container with hot fries and then some gravy followed by cheese curds before being topped with more hot gravy.

The gravy is key here. It needs to be hot enough to melt the curds and it must be the correct kind of gravy. When asked what kind of gravy was used, Edgar gave me a strange look and informed me that it was poutine gravy. Upon inspecting a large bucket of gravy mix, I found that it was indeed labeled "Poutine Gravy". This gravy mix is also available at grocery stores in small packets so that you can make poutine at home.

What exactly poutine gravy should be is widely discussed and depending on who you ask, it can be chicken gravy, beef gravy or a mixture of the two. I don't really like the idea of the gravy coming from a mix, but if it goes well with curds and fries then I'm reluctantly OK with it.

Getting to see my poutine as it was being constructed within the bowels of Poutine Xpress made the experience of my first poutine somehow more complete. Too often are we just consumers in the world; consuming one thing and then the next while we don't take time to appreciate the work that went into creating them. Watching my food being cooked and assembled may have made it taste better as I had seen where it was made and met the person who made it.

Outside on the picnic table I dug my faithful spork into the heart clogging concoction, and as I took my first bite a smile crossed my face. I've often been disappointed with food that I had looked forward to trying for such a long time, but there was no such disappointment with poutine, there was only pleasure.

The crispness of the fries melded perfectly with the creaminess of the curds and the richness of the gravy. Heat coming up from the fries and down from the gravy caused the curds to melt so that I wasn't consuming fries, gravy and curds. I was enjoying a wonderful marriage of all three where I couldn't tell, or didn't care, where one ended and the next began.

For me, having poutine for the first time was one of those wonderful experiences that makes travel worth some of the pain. There are some things that you have to travel to in order to experience them, and that's what makes the world wonderful.

With fries made from scratch and cheese curds that were made just the day before, it is easy to see why Poutine Xpress is a local favorite. I will forgive them for using a gravy mix, but if I ever find poutine with real gravy I'l definitely give it a try.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Extreme Packing- I'm Moving Again

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Well, I've been living in the Boston area for around a year now so it's time to pack up all of my belongings and move once again. Faithful readers of Graham's Travel Blog will remember how much of an adventure it was for my wife, our cat and myself when we moved from Oregon. If you missed that, you may enjoy Flying With a Cat.

This time the move is just a few miles, but everything must still get packed. Over the past few weeks we've been busy packing and the cat has been busy trying to figure out what's going on. She really doesn't like it when we start packing everything up in boxes, but considering what we put her through last time I can't blame her.

I hope that you will forgive me for this departure from my normal travel writing. If all goes as planned, I'll be back next week to tell you all about poutine. Until then, safe travels.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Traveling With Duct Tape

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Much has been said on the topic of duct tape, but I believe that there is still more to be said about this wonderful invention. While traveling, I have made it a habit to carry duct tape because I find it an incredibly useful and flexible item that coexists well with my philosophies on travel. When I travel I must be flexible and ready for what life throws at me. The endless possibilities of duct tape fit right into this philosophy.

There are several sights such as Delicious Baby and Go Budget Travel that list some of the possible uses when you travel with with duct tape, but I'm going to try something different.

I much prefer having duct tape with me and seeing what it can do rather than having some predetermined ideas in my back pocket. The value of the lists lie in their ability to get the uninitiated thinking about the endless possibilities of duct tape.

Instead of a list, I will share my favorite duct tape travel story with you along with my technique for traveling with duct tape without carrying a bulky roll with me.

While checking in for a flight to Australia, I noticed a group of what appeared to be musicians checking in as well. One of the members was busy wrapping the instruments in duct tape for security and safety. At the worst possible moment, his roll ran out. He dug through his bag for a spare roll but found none. Fear and panic invaded him briefly.

He evaluated the situation and figured that he only needed a few more feet to secure the precious gear. How could he run out of tape? After all, he was the designated tape master!

Knowing exactly how I would have felt had I been in the same situation, I dug into my carry-on and pulled out my travel pack of duct tape. I approached the slightly flustered traveler and handed him his silver savior. Relief overtook panic as he gratefully accepted the tape. Upon completion of the task, he returned the tape and thanked me. I never did find out what band that was, but I'm guessing that the duct tape-less band member remembers the exchange as vividly as I do.

The utility of carrying duct tape is clear, but how to do it is a little more tricky. Duct tape traditionally comes in large (read: heavy) rolls which are not at all suitable for travel. Unless you have specific duct tape needs, you are very unlikely to go through an entire roll. A small roll/pack of duct tape can provide the same utility without weighing you down.

Several companies offer travel sized rolls, but since you probably already have a large roll of duct tape at home it is much more cost effective to make your own travel roll/pack.

Various methods may be employed to start a travel roll. Starting on a golf pencil is popular, but I prefer to carry a flat "roll" with me. This "roll" is started on a business or similar card, is flat and easy to pack. There's no big secret on how to do this, but I've created a video to show you exactly how I make these travel duct tape rolls.

Given that duct tape is at once one of the most useful inventions of the modern age and easy to carry, it would be silly not to travel with some in your pack, bag or suitcase.

If you have any good duct tape travel stories, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Regional Cookie Highlight: The Oreo

Photographs by Nicole Holt

I know what you are thinking- how can Oreos be regional? I was thinking the same thing when I stumbled upon this story a couple of months ago. I now know more about the differences between Canadian and American Oreos than I ever thought possible.

Prior to leaving for a trip to Sudbury, ON, I asked my contact there if I could bring her anything from the States. I was surprised when she replied that the only thing that she wanted was a box of Oreos. She explained that while they are available in Canada the Oreos there are different than the ones in the States and that her partner prefers the US made Oreos.

Her partner was raised in Bermuda where, amongst other things, the Oreos come from the United States. When she moved to Canada, she was surprised and disheartened to find that her beloved cookie had been transformed into something that, while having the outward appearances, was not the cookie with which she had grown up.

I have to admit that I was suspicious of the claims that there was a noticeable difference, but since I am fond of cookies of all sorts I decided that I had to get to the bottom of this Oreo mystery. After delivering the promised cookies, I headed to a local grocer store to purchase some Canadian made Oreos. My initial inspection of the package revealed that the Oreos were made by a company named Christie and not by Nabisco.

I returned to the United States with an unopened package of Canadian Oreos, and I did a side by side comparison with a fresh package of US Oreos. While the package colors and basic cookie concept were basically the same, there were indeed some significant differences between the two cookies. The following information was obtained by inspecting the packaging, measuring and making careful observations.

US Oreos are darker than Canadian Oreos.
US Oreos are slightly over 1 3/4 inches in diameter, and Canadian Oreos are slightly under 1 3/4 inches in diameter.
The frosting (AKA: white stuff) in US Oreos is softer in comparison to the Canadian frosting.
A US Oreo weighs approximately 11.6 grams, and a Canadian Oreo weighs approximately 12.2 grams.
There are 3 Oreos to a suggested serving in the US while there are 2 Oreos to a suggested serving in Canada.
US Oreos contain corn syrup while the Canadian Oreos do not.

The serving differences are interesting, and they probably say more about the differences in eating culture between the two countries than anything else. It's interesting to note that while US Oreos are bigger in diameter, they weigh less. I didn't measure height, but the comparative heights are probably similar. The difference here likely comes into play with the filling. I noticed that the Canadian white stuff was denser; this is most likely because of the absence of corn syrup which can lighten and soften a frosting

With a well known product like the Oreo, why are there such big differences in the offerings of two neighboring countries? Companies often adjust their formulas to take advantage of locally available ingredients and to appeal to regional tastes. With all of the energy that goes into building a successful brand, companies are loath to throw away all of that brand recognition, which is especially true for a product as recognizable and iconic as the Oreo.

Another famous example of a company regionally changing the formula of a product can be found in Coca-Cola. In the United States, this soda is sweetened with corn syrup while in Mexico it is sweetened with cane sugar. I much prefer the Mexican product, but it is only sporadically available in the United States, so I hoard what I can find. My wife and I do the same thing with Mallomars which are only available seasonally.

So, which Oreo is better? That's a fine question, but it's one that is impossible to answer because it is a matter of personal taste. In a very unscientific taste test, I found that people have a strong preference for the cookie with which they grew up. Generally speaking, Canadians prefer the Christie cookie while Americans prefer the Nabisco cookie.

My experience investigating the regional differences in Oreos has showed me that if you keep your eyes open, you might just find something unexpected in a product that you thought you thought you knew all of your life.

If you have any other examples of products in which the formula changes from region to region, please let me know in the comments section below.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two Years of Graham's Travel Blog

Photograph by Nicole Holt

At midnight on May 26th, 2010, something of note happened on the internet. No one took notice, and I have to admit that I slept right though it, but it was something that I had been anticipating for quite some time. On that date and time, Graham's Travel Blog became 2 years old.

This is quite an achievement in a world where the attention span of the collective population seems to be measured in hours. In today's day and age, anything lasting for two years on the internet seems like an increment on the geological timescale.

For me, it's been quite a journey. When I started, I had a rough idea of what I wanted to accomplish and an understanding of the English language that is best described as "functional", but I had no idea what I would learn or how far my writing would reach.

In the past two years, I've not only written over 100 articles but I've also improved my writing skills and made some new friends along the way. I've found that maintaining this blog has been a rewarding experience, and I am glad that I've continued to keep it up.

One of the unexpected and rewarding things of writing a blog has finding out who regularly reads what I've been writing. Not surprisingly, people that know in real life make up the majority of my regulars, but there are a few that I've never even met . This brings me a smile every time I think about it. After all, my mom has to read my blog, but there's not reason for anyone else to read my musings.

Not all of the articles that I've written have been great, but I've stuck with it and published something every week without fail. I'd take a few minutes and reflect upon a few of my articles that continue to be popular long after the publish button had been clicked.

Walking Across the George Washington Bridge
Going for a walk over the George Washington Bridge was something that I'd wanted to do for a long time and it turns out that it's been on many other people's list of things to do as well.

Not a day goes by where someone, somewhere in the world doesn't read this article. That any one particular piece of writing has been read by so many people pleases me to no end. One reader even mentioned that they had always wanted to walk across the bridge, but had put it off for years. After reading my article, they commented that they were inspired to finally do it. I hope that that reader finally made the walk.

What Airplane Ear is and How to Avoid It
Airplane ear was something that I had never heard of until I was stricken by it, and it was terrible. Getting the chance to educate people on a potentially serious yet little known medical condition was a nice change of pace from my normal lighthearted articles.

Oddly enough, this article did much better than my article about pinball wrist, go figure.

Sleeping in the Frankfurt Airport
When I wrote about my rough night in Frankfurt, I had no idea how many people sleep in the Frankfurt airport every day. Being an international airport, Frankfurt has flights coming in all the time with overnight layovers being common. One reader even contacted me about a rumor that was being spread around that you could no longer sleep in the Frankfurt airport. Thankfully this isn't true, but that's a story for another day.

Aside from these few popular pages, Graham's Travel Blog continues to have a small, but loyal, following.

I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me along the way, especially my wife, Nicole, who regularly contributes her photography and editing skills to this blog.

It's been a great two years of writing for me, and I hope that it's been good for you. If you have a favorite article that I have written, please let me know in the comment selection below.

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