It’s been a while

So I forgot to set my alarm clock and accidentally overslept… by 4 years. Now I’m wide awake, had a few dozen cups of coffee, visited dozens of new cities and logged about 6 digits of miles.

More to come soon, but for the meantime I’ll leave you with a photo of one of my new favorite cities – Lisbon, Portugal.

View from the Santa Justa Elevator

View from the Santa Justa Elevator

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This Week’s Top 5 Travel News Highlights

Qantas' fleet of A380s are still grounded for inspections (Photo: Tamsin Slater via Flickr)

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the travel news world this week… here are the top 5 stories you might want to know about:

1. Free Wifi This Winter

Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season. The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. This is awesome news for anyone flying home this holiday season!

2. Hotels Are Ditching The Front Desk

You read right – some hotels are cutting costs by removing the front desk. Andaz, a boutique brand owned by Hyatt, now has kiosks to check-into your room. MSNBC reports “Traditional front desks, however, may be destined for a scrap heap teeming with bygone lobby fixtures like key boxes, desk bells and hat racks. Some mid-market chains already are dumping imposing check-in counters for cozy, one-on-one welcomes or for virtual check-ins through kiosks or mobile devices.”

Hotels are saying they want to lure in a “younger, more tech savvy consumer”, like the wonderful readers of ChronicWanderlust. So what do you think about this automation in hotels?

3. National Parks are FREE This Thursday (Nov. 11th)

In honor of Veterans Day, national parks will not be charging any entrance fees on Nov. 11. It’s one of several fee-free days the park system has offered this year. Some outfitters, shops and lodges based in the national parks offer two-for-one deals and other discounts in conjunction with the fee-free program; details at http://www.parkpartners.org/Special-Offers-for-2010.html.

4.  JetBlue Comes to D.C.

Traveling to Washington D.C. just got much easier… JetBlue Airways launched service Monday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport with daily flights to Boston and Florida. Great news for snowbirds, lobbyists and school groups.

5. Qantas A380’s Still Grounded

Qantas has grounded its six Airbus A380s for at least 72 more hours, following a discovery of oil leaks in three engines, says a report by the Associated Press Monday.

Engineers from the Australian carrier conducted tests on the double-decker jets after an engine burst on a flight last week over Indonesia’s Batam island. The Sydney-bound flight returned and made an emergency landing in Singapore. No one was hurt.

Aviation Icon Returns: Fifi Takes Flight

The following article was written and photographed by Chronic Wanderlust contributors James Pritchard and Jacob Pelham in Midland, Texas.

Young child enjoying the Air Show. (Photo: James Pritchard)

The creator of Chronic Wanderlust once said that using the phrase “Hidden Gem” is a cliché. I hate to say it but he’s correct. But sometimes there really is no other way to describe something that truly is unknown to most people. In Midland, Texas, a city known mainly for oil and natural gas production is the hometown of a few people such as Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Spud Webb, George W. Bush, Matthew McConaughey and my personal favorite, “FiFi”.

Boeing B29 Superfortress with bomb doors open, Japan's worst fear. (Photo: James Pritchard)

Nestled at Midland International Airport in Texas is the headquarters to the Commemorative Air Force (formerly known as the Confederate Air Force) which houses the world’s only flying B29 Superfortress, named “FiFi”. I absolutely love this airplane. Each year the CAF holds an annual Air Show on Runway 10 at Midland International and for the most of the show, “FiFi” is a fan favorite. They will usually invite special air teams such as the Navy Blue Angels, Canadian Snowbirds or the Air Force Thunderbirds. The CAF has the only flying B29 in the world.

P-51 Mustang of the famoue Tuskegee Airmen

In 2006, after performing the annual air show the mechanics were performing routine maintenance on the plane and noticed metal shavings in the engine oil. The world once again, had no B29s that were airworthy. These engines are huge piston radial supercharged powerplants, and there are four of them. Immediately the plane was grounded by the CAF and FAA. The CAF contacted Boeing and spent millions of dollars and about four years to restore the plane and had some completely new engines cast, machined and assembled.

On August 5th, 2010, I was loading my luggage into CW contributor Jacob Pelham’s truck so he could give me a ride to the airport so I could leave for Europe. Above my head I noticed a familiar sound I hadn’t heard in a few years. The rumbling sound of four radial engines on a literal flying piece of history as “FiFi” flew over the driveway on its test flight. The B29 was airworthy and once again cleared by the CAF and FAA for flight. The new engines did not come with the original superchargers from the old engines; therefore, “FiFi” in her current form cannot fly at extremely high altitude. That’s ok though; it is normally used for air shows and doesn’t need to fly at high altitudes.

Taxiing down the tarmac at Midland International Airport for the 2010 Air Show (Photo: James Pritchard)

This year in Midland the CAF held their AirSho for 2010 on October 9th and 10th. The AirSho is usually geared toward reenacting history for enthusiasts, veterans and anyone wanting to learn about history of aerial warfare. The special acts invited this year included a Beech 18 and the world’s only jet powered sail plane (both of which performed night acts) an Extra 300 stunt plane, a pair of F15 Eagles, a pair of F16 Vipers and a B1B Lancer supersonic bomber. Also on display inside the CAF museum is the world’s largest collection of authentic nose art.

Texas (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The AirSho usually follows a schedule in which gates open early in the morning and people are allowed to walk around on the tarmac and In hangars where aircraft is displayed from World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and some modern military aircraft such as a C5 Galaxy, C130, C17, F14, AH64 Apache and a few others. Around Noon the show kicks off with flyovers of World War II aircraft preparing to reenact the bombing of Pearl Harbor using real Japanese Zeros, reenactments of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, and a reenactment of the only time there was aggressive use of nuclear force with the B29 Superfortress. After those acts are performed, the special acts begin including the F15s, F16s, B1B Lancer, The Fina Extra 300s stunt plane piloted by Fina’s Jan Collmer, the Beech 18 and the jet powered sail plane. At 5:00 the CAF held a retro USO style concert featuring patriotic songs reminiscent of World War II. At the end of the concert the sun was nearly set and people started to gather off the taxiway again to view the night show featuring the jet powered Super Salto Sail Plane piloted by Bob Carlton and the Beech 18 as they perform their aerial acrobatics.

Low altitude fly-over (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The City of Midland and the CAF are proud to have the only flying B29 in the world. Rides in “FiFi” can be purchased for $595 for a thirty minute flight around Midland in the cargo/bomb area or for $995 in the front of the plane with pilots and bomb specialist. Everyone can appreciate this plane whether you are an aircraft enthusiast or not. My favorite thing about it is when I hear the rumble of it flying on the horizon, or when I see it take to the skies from Midland International I know that I am witnessing something truly great. I tip my hat to Boeing, the CAF and the people who spent countless hours working hard to make this once again, the world’s only Flying B29.

2010 Air Show at Night (Photo: James Pritchard)

The Hipster Express: U Street to Brooklyn Bus!

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You’ve seen the Tweets and heard the Google Buzz if you live in the northeast corridor… there is a new bus line in town and they’re here to do battle with the Chinatown busses. This new line is focusing on the hipster crowds in the U Street and Park Slope neighborhoods…  Introducing the KnowIt Express – a cheap and easy way for hipsters to get their Chuck Taylor wearin’ selves to and from NYC without having to ride their fixies up I-95.

Click the image to go to their site...

Here’s the rundown so far… Services start October 22nd (or so their website says). the stops will be at the U Street/Cardoza Metro Station in Washington, and at Flatbush & 4th in Park Slope. According to their website, their busses have free wifi, plug-ins and more legroom.

– $25 One-Way
– $45 Round Trip
– $40 Student Discount
– $30 Walk-up fee (DC location only)

Photo of the week: Lonesome Hunter

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Even when he’s out hunting in the middle of the Texas brush, ChronicWanderlust contributor Jacob Pelham somehow finds time to take awesome pictures. If you’ve never been in the middle of the desert at night, you haven’t truly seen the stars.

"The Night Shift" by Jacob Pelham

Climber’s Paradise: Hueco Tanks State Park

This article was written and photographed by ChronicWanderlust contributor Jacob Pelham.

View from the Hueco Tanks

Hueco Tanks State Park is a place that travelers have used for hundreds of years, from the ancient Paleo Native Americans to being a stop on the Butterfield stage route, travelers have used this area as a lifeline in the desert. Travelers of today flock to this area for many reasons including bouldering, birding, hiking, camping, and to just escape the pace of the city. 

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, referring to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, and refers to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders that make up this unique area .These holes collect water during rain and tend to retain much of the water within crevices and caves hiding the water from the hot sun. Many types of grasses, cacti, succulents, and trees have sprouted up in the areas adjacent to the massive rock formations which in turn attracts wildlife to this area. Native Americans used this area for many different purposes including hunting, gathering and collecting water, some believe this a a very spiritual place, and in certain areas you can find huge collections of pictographs and petroglyphs telling unknown stories on the rock.

A climber bouldering over his crash pads

From October to approximately February, the population of this remote location explodes with climbers from all over the country and even other parts of the world. Most of the climbing that goes on here is bouldering in which you do not use ropes but portable crash pads in case you fall. The usual maximum height of these boulders that are climbed is around 30 feet and even with the use of crash pads this extreme sport is dangerous. There are hundreds of possible climbing routes throughout the park some of  which are very technical and challenging, but possible. As you walk through the park you notice white marks along the rock where climbers climbed using chalk for grip. Some of the routes seem impossible for anyone to climb and about the time you start thinking that, a climber will come along and climb the impossible.

Freedom to climb wherever you want...

During the last of February this unique area hosts the Rock Rodeo, a multiple day competition where some of the best climbers in the word come to compete. This is a great time to visit and climb on the rocks, even if you are just starting in bouldering someone will come along and give you a few pointers or even let you tag along in their group.

The Hueco Rock Ranch's welcome sign...

The Rock Ranch is a camping area just outside of the park that host to climbers but anyone is welcome. For 5 dollars a night you can have your own personal patch of dirt to set your stuff up and all the stars you care to sleep under. During the Rock Rodeo this camp area is packed with campers, tents, and even a few hammocks (reservations mandatory). At night at the Rock Ranch expect to be invited to join everyone around one of their monstrous bon fires where stories are told and the beer flows freely.

Beautiful rock formations

At Hueco Tanks, it doesn’t matter your background, where you are from, or what your political beliefs are, you are guaranteed to meet friendly interesting people wandering the desert just as you are, and just as the people who came before you were.

Western Europe: Bastion of Terrorism?

If you haven’t yet been reminded by the mainstream media, the State Department has issued a travel advisory for western Europe. In an official statement, the State Department alerted all Americans about a potential for terrorist attacks, saying,”Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks.  European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.”… Just like any announcement in this country involving terrorism, a bandwagon has been built and people are jumping on the fright train to staycation-ville.

Armed Military Police under the Eiffel Tower (Photo: Commonorgarden via Flickr)

Reporters have started digging up every worry wort in the travel industry to give them a few lines about the grave dangers faced by overweight, fanny-packed, white New Balance wearing Americans snapping photos of the Eiffel Tour.

Perhaps the biggest fear mongerer of them all is Bob Diener, president of GetARoom.com, an online travel agency which specializes in auctioning off discounted hotel rooms. This “travel expert”, who has no background in national security or terrorism, warned a Washington DC radio station that Americans should be avoiding embassies, glamorous hotels and public transportation during rush hours.

“Most people don’t realize this, but most Europeans wear shoes as they’re walking around Europe,” he added,”[Europeans] usually only wear sneakers to ballgames.”… I guess he also thinks we don’t realize that Americans never leave the house without a Dallas Cowboys hat and a belt buckle. You can see the entire moronic interview on WTOP’s website. I’m sure Mr. Deiner would rather us make the safe decision and purchase a discount hotel room in Witchita from his website.

French Military outside the Louvre in Paris (Photo: Jean Francois Gornet via Flickr)

In the 3rd paragraph, I ripped on Mr. Deiner for having no experience in national security or terrorism… well I don’t have a background in it either, but I’ll go ahead and make a statement as a travel writer, pilot and big city hotelier; “Go to Europe.” The media is making this warning out to be just as grave as the DoS’s urge for Americans to stay away from the Mexican border, which it isn’t (but still stay away from the border).

Don’t sneak around Paris dressed in a striped shirt, black jeans and baguette under your arm – just stay alert like you would in any city around the world.

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