Browse Category

Travel Tales

Remembering the Marriott Hotel WTC on 9/11

Like many flight attendants and pilots, the place where I spent my layovers in any city became my second home. In the mid-90s, almost 20 years into my flying career, I was lucky enough to have layovers in New York City near the World Trade Center. It actually seemed that the Vista Hotel, which eventually became the Marriott, was part of the World Trade Center. It was wedged so closely between the towers, I felt I could reach out and grab a coffee from the office workers in the building outside my hotel window.

My first layover in New York City was in 1991 and I had close to 20 more in 1995 and ‘96, all of them at the WTC. My last layover at the Marriott World Trade Center, or as it was immortalized in film, The 9/11 Hotel, was in March 2000.

I’m almost embarrassed to say it was the only part of New York City I felt I knew well. It’s easy to get lazy when you’re working all day at altitude and the area around the Marriott provided enough entertainment that I didn’t venture any further. There were great delis and restaurants close by, plus fabulous shopping at Century 21. And of course, the incredible twin towers of the World Trade Center. Regardless of how many times I stood outside and gazed upwards, two things would happen: First, I’d be struck by their incredible height and architectural majesty. And second, I’d be struck by the helpfulness of busy office workers, more than one of whom would always stop to ask me if I was lost. So much for the urban myth of rude New Yorkers.

After 9/11, I felt particularly bereft, having lost not only members of my greater aviation family but a place that had felt very much like home. Watching TV, and seeing my “office,” a Boeing 767, flying into the twin towers was a shock that still reverberates.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news – driving to an appointment shortly after nine in the morning. As the radio broadcast that a small aircraft had accidentally flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, I looked through the windshield of my car to the sky above. It was a perfect September day in Toronto – clear blue sky dotted with a few fluffy clouds. I supposed that the weather in NYC was not much different. As I recalled the New York skyline that I was familiar with, I couldn’t imagine any airplane “accidentally” hitting one of these giant structures. A few hours later, we all knew it had been no accident.  As the days wore on, I thought a lot about the Marriott Hotel and the people who worked both there and in the World Trade Center.

Though many tales have been told about 9/11, you might find it almost uplifting to revisit that day through the film about the Marriott Hotel WTC .

For information on travel safety and security, download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as a crew member.


How I Got My First Oscar

Hollywood, California —  I’m holding my first Oscar and I’m uncharacteristically speechless. The little gold man is heavier than he looks, but part of that sensation may be the short wire that secures him to the podium.  I smile radiantly, my partner Rick snaps two photos and I replace the statuette, ready for the next person in line to take his turn.

It’s pre-Academy Award week in Hollywood and the town is buzzing with construction crews and security guards.  I’ve already tripped over Jay Leno and Sly Stallone, or at least their stars, on the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Blvd.

Now I’m trying to reach Mann’s Chinese Theatre to gawk at celebrity handprints, footprints and autographs captured in the cement courtyard.  Traffic cones, fencing and temporary metal bleachers block the sidewalk.  We lean over the railing to see Kevin Spacey’s star buried under a thick coil of electrical cables and a crushed Starbucks coffee cup.

Mike, a tall, gregarious writer/editor is making a few extra bucks as an Oscar security guard.  We tell him we’re visiting from Toronto, and he dishes some L.A.  observations with a smile. Work here is unpredictable and changeable.  Strikes are a common occurrence. Everyone is very insecure. And yet even unknown actors can earn over $750 a day, plus residuals. Mike says he’s looking for a real job, perhaps in software sales, outside of the Hollywood circus.

He casually directs us to his buddies, who run tours of stars’ homes if we’re into that sort of thing, but we’re not. He points out some celebrity look-alikes ready to pose for a picture with us, if we’re into that sort of thing.  We’re not.  When he mentions we can have our photo taken with a real Oscar, my pulse finally quickens.

Four flights of stairs bring us to the top of the Hollywood and Highland Center.  In the distance, the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign hovers over a smoggy green hilltop. Erected in 1923, the whitewashed 45 foot tall letters originally spelled Hollywoodland and advertised a new housing suburb. Ironically, this historic site is now threatened by real estate development. L.A. Councillors and residents are outraged but may lose their battle to keep the view unobstructed.  I take a few photos and hope the Hollywood sign gets its own Hollywood ending.

After a 15 minute wait in line, we are allowed to enter a darkened foyer.  It’s taken almost four weeks to produce this year’s fifty Oscar statuettes. Sans engraving, they are exhibited inside several glass cases. A display shows how they are created. The base casting of the pewter-like alloy Britannium is electroplated with subsequent layers of copper to prevent corrosion and nickel to improve adhesion. Silver provides additional corrosion resistance as well as a shiny foundation for the 24K gold plating. A top coat of lacquer preserves the finish.

I move from this hushed shrine into a corridor where exuberant fans and screaming paparazzi compete for my attention.  It’s actually a film loop that simulates the red carpet experience but I pause to bask in the adulation.  Rick urges me onward. The long line to hold a real Oscar awaits us.

We pass the time reading lists of this year’s nominees. The family of five ahead of us pushes their stroller and hyper-active child at a snail’s pace.  Some people are photographed in groups, others singly but at least the line is moving.  A photographer will take pictures of you with your camera if you’re alone or don’t trust your companion to adequately capture your moment of faux fame.

As we edge closer, I notice some people actually kissing the Oscar. Not an L.A. style “air kiss,” but a real, full-lipped wet smack.  What I don’t see is anyone wiping Oscar down after this show of passion.

My moment in the spotlight finally arrives.  I take off my jacket and drop my handbag.  If ever I deserved an Academy Award for outstanding performance, it’s now.  I fearlessly grasp the sticky statuette with gusto.   Smile. Flash. Smile. Flash.

Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my hand wash.

This story originally appeared in the Globe & Mail but was subsequently re-edited.

For more information on how to enjoy any trip, download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as a crew member.

Happy travels!


Dildo, Newfoundland Travel Tale

In a province known for wacky monikers like Tickle Cove, Witless Bay and Come by Chance, one place still manages to stand out. Dildo. I had purposely avoided Dildo, not wanting to be another curious tourist stopping by simply because of the name. But as the sun sank lower in the sky, my husband Rick and I began to run out of options.

It’s our last full day in Newfoundland after a 10-day tour. We’re heading back to St. John’s from Bonavista, a 300-kilometre drive. The highways are empty, so we cruise at a leisurely pace, hoping to spend the night outside of the city. But travelling on the fly has its downside. We discover that much of the better accommodation is seasonal, and this is late October – the season is about to end.

Each successive town brings another disappointment, as Rick asks around for suggestions and I dial furiously on my cellphone. “Don’t drive at night,” we are warned. “You’ll hit a moose.”

Moose be damned, I am holding out for four-star lodgings. Unfortunately, the only promising stop on the map is Dildo. Our guide book shows several highly rated establishments that are open year-round, including a four-and-a-half star bed and breakfast overlooking Trinity Bay. My call nets only an answering machine, but we venture in anyway.

Dildo is a small community of about 1,200 people, some 15 kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway. Fishing and whaling initially attracted settlers, though today the main industry is tourism and heritage preservation. The Dildo Interpretation Centre is well-known for its fine collection of Beothuk Indian and Dorset Inuit artifacts excavated from an island in the mouth of the harbour.

Boat tours to see the archeological digs are also available. We catch an exhilarating whiff of fresh sea air as we enter town, and pull into our bed and breakfast at the same time as the owner.

The Inn By The Bay, built in 1888, is one of two establishments run by the same proprietor. It is right across the road from the ocean, while further up the hill sits George House Heritage B&B, with an art gallery and boutique. Close by is Dildo’s Kountry Kravins ‘n’ Krafts, a coffee shop that also offers local souvenirs.

The inn is welcoming, decorated in a palette of muted earth tones and furnished with tasteful antiques. There is also the odd curiosity thrown in, like a stuffed baby seal. Our room is stylishly elegant, with nary a doily in sight. An overstuffed club chair from the 1940s provides a comfortable spot to relax and the queen bed is dressed in a plush, down-filled duvet. Now assured of a fabulous place to sleep, we go to watch the sun set.

The harbour is sheltered and picturesque. Gentle waves lap against a pebbly beach. Clusters of frame houses perch on the dusky hillside. Half a dozen pricey fishing boats are moored at the docks and beside them, a couple of fishermen sit on a wooden bench, smoking. One of them reminds me of the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. We stop and chat about real estate, the fishing industry, the weather… just about everything but the town’s name.

It’s not that anyone seems to be shy about using it; there is also South Dildo, Dildo Pond and Dildo Island. The name may have had its origins in the Spanish port of Bilbao, or it may come from the Portuguese, or the native Indians. But no one really knows and no one really cares. I’m sure the locals have heard it all. A while back, a proposal to change the town’s name was strongly voted down.

We meander along the shore, admiring the final pink and orange efforts of the setting sun. Later on, we’ll savour a home-cooked meal at a nearby diner. I’ll enjoy a delicious macaroni and cheese casserole while Rick tucks into a hot turkey sandwich. But right now, as the sun sets over Trinity Bay, the moon is rising over Dildo. And the next time we hear the word, we’ll think of this pretty fishing village instead of, well, the other thing.

This article and illustration was featured in the Globe and Mail.

For more information on how to enjoy any trip, download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as a crew member.

Happy travels!


A Shopping Trip to the Markets of New Delhi, India

Flight attendants love to shop for bargains, and the markets of New Delhi are the best places to find them.

It’s 110 degrees in the shade, if you can find any, and I’m haggling with an immovable merchant.  As my jet lag temporarily lifts, I realize I’m arguing over 60 cents.  I hand over 150 rupees (about $4.50), grab the brightly embroidered bag and slink away.

Welcome to New Delhi, the jumping-off point to the legendary Taj Mahal. But I’ve already done my compulsory tour of Agra.  Today, I’m enjoying another of India’s exotic treasures – extreme shopping at some of the city’s fabulous markets with my flight attendant friends.

Our first stop is Janpath.  Along the alleys, stalls are bursting with cheap and fashionable clothes. We grab long cotton skirts with ruffles down the front or along the hem, for about $9.00 each.  Paired with a sleeveless embroidered top, it’s a great summer look.  Another shop catches our attention with tie-dyed mirror-work tops, an updated hippie look in vibrant hues.  There’s one in each of our favourite colours – orange, fuchsia and turquoise, and we strike a better deal for buying in bulk – $4.50 each.

It’s hot and dusty so no one wants to try anything on.  Friends gauge fit and suitability as we hold tops and skirts up for approval or occasionally squeeze items on over clothing.  This mostly open market requires #60 sunscreen and closed-toed shoes are essential, as pathways are uneven and often piled with unidentifiable debris.  My head spins as I scan the stalls, the ground and the touts pushing postcards, chess sets and palm readings.  I look like I’m auditioning for a role in the Exorcist.

Turning the corner out of Janpath, we reach the Tibetan Market and meet with a friend in Tribal Arts.  A puff of incense and cool air curls out of the tiny dim shop.  Did someone say “Open Sesame?”  It seems we’ve entered a virtual Ali Baba’s cave of beads, bangles and glitter. There is hardly enough room for four of us in front of the brimming counter. Walls are draped with faux silver necklaces strung with mock coral, turquoise and lapis. We jostle for position in front of the sole mirror clasping aqua and amber glass drop earrings.  Many items are priced from two to three dollars. A few doors down, at Satish Fine Arts, we make a refreshing purchase of bracelets that resemble slender ice cubes.

I’ve spent all my money and we’ve only visited one market.  Bank machines are scarce and credit cards aren’t widely accepted. Even a large bill sends a runner scurrying for change.  Fortunately, my friends are still flush, and their cry of “I still have some cash,” rallies us on.

We’re on a mission, and head to another popular market, Sarojini.  It has mainly household goods but it holds other treasures.  We discover a shop with earrings for only 30 cents a pair.  And they are gorgeous – mostly drop style “silver” with glass beads and imitation stones.   As if the $1.20 earrings at the Tibetan Market weren’t cheap enough, we descend like locusts and scoop up ten to twenty pairs each, including all the cobalt blue and aqua ones in sight.  I snag a chic pair with a black pea-sized bead wrapped in wire, dangling from a slim silver matchstick.

We bypass stalls packed with napkins, tablecloths and cushion covers in favour of an air-conditioned shoe store. By the time we leave, we have each bought at least one pair of shoes, ranging from elegant black sandals to beaded ballet slippers. At $20 – $30 apiece, compared to $90 -$120 at home, this could be the deal of the day.

In the evening, we reward ourselves with a cocktail at the stately Imperial Hotel. Glasses and bracelets clink in the cool serenity of the Atrium lounge as we toast our shopping savvy.   When the bill arrives, we finally get a chance to use our credit cards.  One large gin and tonic is a jaw-dropping $32.00.  Welcome to the other side of New Delhi.

For more information on how to enjoy any trip, download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as a crew member.

Happy travels!


The Most Interesting Flight Attendant in the World?

For a while now, I’ve been entertained by the Dos Equis beer marketing campaign, featuring actor Jonathan Goldsmith as the Most Interesting Man in the World.  The character is the sort of passenger you’d love to see on your flight.  Of course, he’d sit in first class, but wouldn’t act pompous. If there was a decompression, he wouldn’t need an oxygen mask.  And if you didn’t have any Dos Equis onboard, it wouldn’t matter as he doesn’t always drink beer. His rich, brown, suede-like hands would be quite happy holding a snifter of cognac or a tumbler of scotch.

I began to wonder, if there was a Most Interesting Flight Attendant in the World, how would you describe her*?

  • She once water skied behind an A320 on the Hudson River
  • A three-star Michelin chef prepares her crew meals
  • The lights turn off early at the Eiffel Tower when she needs her crew rest in Paris
  • Her airline repainted their planes in her favourite color
  • Her  flights always arrive on time, even when they depart late
  • She  can close any overhead bin using one finger
  • She pours coffee and tea from the same pot
  • Hotels  always gives her an ocean view suite, even when she has a layover in the
    prairies, but she never has layovers in the prairies.
  • Passengers  ask if she would like something to drink
  • She  can disarm any door just by looking at it
  • She de-ices the aircraft’s wings by blowing them a kiss
  • Her PA announcements reach the top 10 on the Billboard charts
  • When she asks passengers to fasten their seatbelts, you hear one loud click
  • She quit her job as a pilot because it was boring to only fly on one aircraft
  • First-class passengers want to move to economy when she’s working there, but she
    never works there
  • She doesn’t need fatigue shoes
  • Pilots pay for her meals on the layover
  • She once turned down a date with George Clooney because she promised to have dinner with her crew
  • Every passenger earns double air miles on her flights
  • Sky marshals ask her for security advice
  • There’s never any turbulence on her flights, unless she feels like sitting down for a while
  • She buys real designer handbags in Hong Kong for the price of a knockoff
  • Her meal carts are never out of beef or chicken
  • She speaks every route language, but finds mind reading is much easier
  • Her flights are never oversold, though passengers try
  • She had jet lag once, just to see what it was like

How would you describe the Most Interesting Flight Attendant in the World?

(*Okay, I know that men are flight attendants too.)

Download my eBook Travel Like a Flight Attendant. It’s filled with money-saving travel tips and advice I learned from my thirty years (and twenty million air miles) as the most interesting flight attendant in the world.

Happy travels!