Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spring 2017

Flowers of Keukenhof
Finally the spring is here and the trees and weeds are full of flowers in Louvan-la-Neuve. Paid a visit to Keukenhof to witness more flowers.

We bought the 10 train pass ticket  for 77 Euros. It covers the journey inside Belgium, Louvain-la-Nueve to Essen. The remaining international train journey (Essen -> Leiden) is separately bought. There was no need to get down at Essen though. The journey was Louvain-la-Neuve -> Ottignies -> Brussels Nord -> Rotterdam -> Leiden.

From Leiden, the combination ticket costs 24 Euro, which covers the return bus journey from Leiden to/from Lisse (Keukenhof), in the bus 854. It takes 32 mins each way. If you just buy the entrance pass to Keukenhof without the bus pass, it would cost 16 Euro/person. The combination ticket can be bought from the AKO bookstore in Leiden train station.

Leiden is a beautiful university town, located conveniently on the way to Keukenhof. The bus stop is just in front of the train station. So it is best to stay close to the train station.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why I would not give up my seat for 800 $

A weekend trip to NYC.
It might sound reasonable for someone to assume that 800 $ or the advertised maximum (of United) 1350 $, a reasonable deal for someone to voluntarily give up their flight seat. If you think about it, 800 $ is way too little to even consider that.

I am trying to recall voluntary reboarding of passengers by United Airways in the recent past. If I remember correct, they started with 400 $ and increased to 800 $ to find volunteers to give up their seat in a flight bound to Newark from Atlanta. They managed to find volunteers. 

I would not give up my seat for 800$ for many reasons. First, that trip was a long-weekend trip to NYC. Any delay would make us lose one day out of our 3 days in NYC. We have a hotel booked. If our flight is delayed by a day, they are not going to return the money we paid (400 $ / day). If the delay is beyond 2 days, the 800$ is already below the mark, and we would basically have to cancel our long-planned vacation.

Now the second situation. Mostly I travel for conferences. Many times I had to present a paper on the arrival day (or the day following that if arrived on a Sunday evening). If I am delayed (unless by a few hours), I would lose the chance to present my paper. As a PhD student, presenting my research is very important for me. I am not going to give up this opportunity even if I do not lose anything monetary if I am delayed. Don't expect me to give up even for a very high bribe.

Third, on my way back home, I often have other important tasks to handle. For example, after I returned from Croatia to Lisboa in 2015 summer, I immediately had to go to San Jose for OpenDaylight Conference. If my flight is delayed, my onward travel plans will be affected. Cannot volunteer. I may give up my seat in fear of United Airways style cop-violence though.

Conch Salad in the Bahamas
Usually flights define a crucial point in most of our lives. We don't fly every day. When we fly, it is usually for an important event - a conference, a long-planned vacation, or meeting family after a long time. Our days during the flights are usually more valuable than the other days. It is childish to assume 800 $ for the delay is sufficient for the distress caused to the economy class passenger (since it is highly unlikely someone who earns more than 800$ ends up in the economy class, which is also fondly called "cattle class").

It does not mean I would not give up my seat for 800 $ at all. There are certain situations that I would be more than happy to volunteer. We were in our way back home from Nassau after a long weekend in the Bahamas. It was a Delta flight. It was not overbooked. So no one was asked to give up their seat. But think of it. If they give us 400 or 800 $ each for the inconvenience caused by the travel plan change and give us a hotel stay for the delayed day with vouchers for the dinner, why not? We would be happy to extend our holiday by one more day. But it did not happen, of course.

I will be more willing to volunteer if I am returning home from a week-long trip. But if I am on my way to my destination, unlikely that I give up. It will screw up my travel plans - conferences, booked hotels, and important vacation time. Airlines need to come up with better compensation packages than the involuntary inhumane "re-accommodating" process. 

You should also read the cruel response from the CEO of United, Oscar Munoz. I hope justice will be served eventually.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Long Transits in Dubai with Emirates

Trying to capture this tallest building inside the frame
I used to be a frequent traveler of Emirates when Colombo was my central airport. After a long time, we were back to Emirates. This time we had a transit of 12 hours and 40 minutes. Emirates offer free visa (otherwise would cost ~120 AED), free accommodation with meals and transport to/free the accommodation in Dubai, as long as certain conditions are met. The transit should be long (more than 9 hours, if I remember correct), and should be the shortest possible transit in the route (means, you cannot choose to book a latter flight just to be eligible to this offer, when an earlier option is available).

We had a nice sleep, and felt refreshed for our onward journey. Also the hotel had a package tour for 2 hours where they took us around the city and dropped us back for 30 USD/person. It was a good experience. Emirates actually do not advertise this free stay during transits in their web site. The entire thing is kind of obfuscated. Probably they do not want this to be an advertising/marketing point. Everything was smooth. Thanks Emirates. Impressed again.

Beware of Robbers in the Public Transport

Colombo, feels just like a very familiar city. Deja vu.
So I was in this bus during a recent visit to Sri Lanka. This conductor guy was standing next to me when I was about to get down. I felt he was too close and some touches in the backside of my backpack. I assumed he mistakenly was touching as the bus was moving. As I got down, my glass box fell down from the small front pocket of my bag. Now it all made sense to me. He assumed that was my wallet in the small pocket. He thought I was easy prey. Because of his stupidity, the box broke falling down. He kept staring at me as the bus moved on - he probably did that involuntarily as he noticed me taking the box from the ground, or probably he wanted to see whether I identify his trick and react (how? by chasing the moving bus? or by shouting? I did not react except giving an angry face at our failed system). He managed to wide open the bag though nothing valuable was there for him to steal. It is a sad state - the conductors are expected to serve the passengers, not to rob them. Next time when you are in Sri Lanka, beware of these bus conductors. From my overall experience, most of these guys are unpleasant. Based on the last experience, some can be robbers too!

A similar incident happened in Brussels Nord train station too. We were boarding the train, tired after a long flight. One middle-aged woman (~35) presumably of east European origin based on her looks, jumped the queue. Then another 2 of her friends, jumped in front of me, making a distance between me and my girl. We were with luggage. One woman, inside the train, was pulling my girl's big luggage talking something in a language that sounded new and strange, as if she was helping her (but actually she was merely dragging. not helping). In the mean time, the 3rd woman in front of me, was pretending to help me drag luggage too. I was kinda annoyed by that time. No one jumps queues in Europe usually. At least in the west. These were women. So I tend to let them pass. However, we were with luggage. No reason to make us suffer. But when I got in, I noticed my girl's front bag (where she had her cash, mobile, and all other valuable items) was wide open. 

While one woman managed to distract her by pulling her big luggage, and other doing the same trick on me, the other one in the middle managed to wide open her small front bag (that usually is for passport, documents, and cash during the flights). Luckily for us, as soon as I boarded the train, I noticed the bag open. I loudly announced, "Your bag is open. We have robbers in this bus". I looked at the women. Not because I immediately guessed they were the robbers. But they were the ones interacting with us. It took me a second to realize what is going on. By this time, sensing a retaliation, one of those robbers told me quick, "Oh, we are going to airport. Wrong train", and all 3 robbers jumped the train and disappeared in a second!

My girl confirmed she did not lose anything. The robbers almost rob us. So it can be decent looking women too. Don't assume the robbers are usually ugly men. The sad part of the entire story - no one in the train was bothered to listen, interfere, or react while we were having these conversations or when I announced that we were almost robbed. Probably they are used to all these dramas. Or probably they thought we all belong to a same team, giving a performance to rob someone else? Who knows.

This is the second scam we encountered in Brussels. To read more about the first one: How to Overcome an Uber Scam.

Back to my EMJD-DC busy life.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Luxembourg by Public Transport

Louvain-la-Neuve, the village of the second (current) university of my PhD sleeps during the Sundays. Almost everything shuts down, as students disappear from the village to their hometowns during Friday evenings to reappear only on Sunday nights. Since it was getting a bit boring during the weekends in this small village, we decided to visit the nearest country, Luxembourg. We first have to go to Ottignies and transit there to take a train to Luxembourg, that originates from Brussels - Midi station.

Usually, this costs 51.60 Euro/person to go to Luxembourg by train from the village. However, on weekends, the local public transport has a 50% discount in Belgium. This leads to the final price of 35.40 Euro/person in the weekends. One ticket from Louvain-la-Neuve to Arlon (Belgium) that costs 23 Euro for a return trip, and the next from Arlon to Luxembourg for return trip for 12.40 Euro. The transit remains the same though the tickets are broken as the above to separate the local trip from the international part of the journey.

For 4 euros, you may purchase a daily pass that you can use to travel anywhere in the country by bus or train. Hop on Hop off buses and toy trains were not available during our visit, as they start only from April. Many shops were closed on Sundays. Some were closed as it is still off-season. However, tourists were already there. Luxembourg city was quite boring compared to other cities. Even Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, scored better in my opinion. But Luxembourg is still worth visiting once. If you ask me, any country is worth a visit at least once, anyway.