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Air tickets in India to get costlier

July 21, 2009

Air tickets in India to get costlier as Government proposes User Development Fee (UDF) at nine airports in the country.

“A proposal to impose UDF at Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Amritsar, Varanasi, Vishakhapatanam, Jaipur, Trichy and Mangalore has been received from the AAI (Airports Authority of India), which is under examination,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

Replying to another query, the Minister said around 3,024 flights were operating from 17 international airports in the country and the AAI was taking several measures including construction of new exit taxi-ways, using both the runways simultaneously at Delhi and Mumbai airports and opening of new runways to decongest the pressure at the major airports.

Delta adds $5 to fee for bags checked at airport

July 21, 2009

Following in the fee-laden footsteps of US Airways, Delta Airlines has added a $5 surcharge for paying checked baggage fees at the airport instead of online, matching moves by some other airlines.

Atlanta-based Delta already charges $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second checked bag on domestic flights.

But starting Aug. 4, Delta will start charging those who pay for checked bags at airport ticket counters, kiosks and curbs $20 for the first checked bag and $30 for the second checked bag, for tickets purchased July 15 or later.

The fees for paying for checked bags online remain the same.

US Airways started charging the fee for paying a fee at the airport earlier this year. United Airlines matched the move. Continental Airlines has also just put in place a higher fee for paying for checked bags at the airport for tickets purchased Tuesday or later for flights Aug. 19 or later.

Photo of the day: Dancing Building, Prague

July 21, 2009
Dancing Building, Prague

Dancing Building, Prague

Czech: Tančící dům
Location: Rašínovo nábřeží 80, 120 00 Praha 2
Tram: 17, 21

The Dancing House is the nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building in downtown Prague, Czech Republic. The junction where Resslova meets the river at Rašínovo nábřeží is dominated by the Dancing Building, built in 1996 by architects Yugoslavian-born Czech architect Vlado Milunić and Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The curved lines of the narrow-waisted glass tower clutched against its more upright and formal partner led to it being christened the ‘Fred & Ginger Building’, after legendary dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s surprising how well it fits in with its ageing neighbours.

The very non-traditional design was controversial at the time. Czech president Václav Havel, who lived for decades next to the site, had supported it, hoping that the building would become a center of cultural activity. Originally named Fred and Ginger (after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – the house vaguely resembles a pair of dancers) the house stands out among the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings for which Prague is famous. Others have nicknamed it “Drunk House”.

The La Perle de Prague, housed on the top floor, is a French restaurant with magnificent views of the city and one of Prague’s top restaurants – and one of its most expensive. Locals and expats alike go La Perle de Prague to propose, to celebrate, or to show off. The building’s other tenants include several multinational firms.

Google Maps Link

Airline Passengers BoR and more

July 20, 2009

Tomorrow, a Senate committee will hold a hearing on legislation that grants passengers the right to deplane if their plane is delayed on the runway for more than 3 hours. The legislation will also require that airlines provide water, food, and bathroom facilities during delays.

Recently, the Department of Transportation smacked Delta with a $375,000 fine for ignoring federal laws that require airlines to offer bumped passengers adequate compensation and an explanation of their rights. Inside, a listing of your options if an airline tries to bump you off their flight…

From the Department of Transportation:

Voluntary bumping
Our rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for some compensation before bumping anyone in- voluntarily. Here’s how this works. At the check-in or boarding area, airline employees will look for volunteers when it appears that the flight has been oversold. If you’re not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight.

DOT has not said how much the airline has to give volunteers. This means carriers may negotiate with their passengers for a mutually acceptable amount of money-or maybe a free trip or other benefits. Airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price.

Involuntary bumping

DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:

  • If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $400 maximum.
  • If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (200% of your fare, $800 maximum).
  • You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.

When a flight is oversold and there are not enough volunteers, some airlines bump passengers with the lowest fares first. Once you have purchased your ticket, the most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. For passengers in the same fare class the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline.

Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference. Once you cash the check (or accept the free flight), you will probably lose the right to demand more money from the airline later on. However, if being bumped costs you more money than the airline will pay you at the airport, you can try to negotiate a higher settlement with their complaint department. If this doesn’t work, you usually have 30 days from the date on the check to decide if you want to accept the amount of the check. You are always free to decline the check (e.g., not cash it) and take the airline to court to try to obtain more compensation.

Google now offering travel itineraries

July 20, 2009

Have you taken a Google City Tour? The latest experiment ( from Google Labs suggests multiday travel itineraries using Google maps.

What’s hot: Google is becoming more involved with travel. If you’re making a trip to New York, for instance, you can let City Tours take you from Grand Central Station to Times Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Museum of Modern Art, Central Park, the World Trade Center disaster memorial site and more. You can customize your itinerary by adding or removing popular places to visit from its list, or you can type in your own spot. You can also divide a five-day trip into a day-by-day itinerary. It’s a quick and easy primer for those who are first-time visitors to a city.

What’s not: So far, the service has suggested itineraries for only New York, San Francisco, London and Dublin, Ireland. The author tried to test some cities off the lineup (Las Vegas and San Diego), and it was obvious they were not quite ready for public consumption. Both San Diego and Vegas were heavy on museums. Although the site offered information on walking in Las Vegas, the author hoped no one would ever actually walk — at least, in summer — from near the Strip to the Springs Preserve (about five miles from the Encore hotel), not to mention the Elvis-a-Rama Museum, which might be doable because it’s only about three miles from the Mandalay Bay Hotel, but it closed in 2006. Keep your eye on this site as the product grows.

[Source: LATimes]

Travel apps for iPhone

July 20, 2009

UPDATED- October 1, 2011: Check out reviews of all the travel apps for iOS.

UPDATED- April 11, 2011: Also read our popular post “Free travel apps for iPhone, iPod & iPad” series – Part1, Part 2 and Part 3.

UPDATED- March 28, 2011: Compare free currency converter apps for iOS devices.

When it comes right down to it, these days, my iPhone has become one of my most important travel tools. So, I thought I’d share the apps I use most often while on the road.

FlightTrack Pro ($9.99, This app gets real-time flight itinerary information from around the world, as well as information about airport delays and closures, weather forecasts, and alternate flight schedules. You can even e-mail your flight info to their Tripit site and they monitor your flights and routes and send alerts if there are problems.
Find it in App Store 

Next Flight ($2.99, Should you get bumped from a flight and need to find another one, this app is for you. It provides access to all the flights from all airlines and shows the next flight out to your destination.

Night Stand ($.99, This app turns your iPhone into a glowing clock that is always on when plugged in, giving you a virtual alarm clock, as well as instant read of the time in the dark.

WeatherBug (Free, One of the better weather sites for around the world weather monitoring.

Skype for iPhone (Free and $.02 to $.03/minute for most international calls, Very cheap international calling as well as free P2P calls.

Timezone ($.99, It’s the best custom time zone clock.

Evernote for iPhone (Free, I find this to be one of the more handy sites for me to jot down notes and keep them synched.

World Customs ($.99, This app tells you about the customs from countries around the world, saving you from making any drastic faux pas when in a new country.

HearPlanet ($4.99, Great app that tells you what is nearby, and, once you’re at a location, it tells you about it and serves as your instant local travel guide. Very cool.

Currency (Free, Provides up-to-date currency information and instant conversion.
Find it in App Store 

Urbanspoon (Free, Location-based app that, with the shake of the iPod, delivers a series of local restaurants of varying food styles that are close by.

Language Translator (Free, Translates words and full sentences into local languages. Supports 42 languages.

TripIt (Free, Organize all your travel plans using the TripIt service and iPhone. Access itineraries with flight, hotel, and rental car information, plus local weather.
Find it in App Store 

Tipulator ($1.99, Calculate tip amounts based on bill, level of service, and number of people in your party.
Find it in App Store 

One more thing: If you fly a lot, then you can have one other item stuffed in your bag that is really cool and very practical. It’s called iFlyz ($29.95, It’s a mini-stand for your iPhone (or iTouch, Zune, etc.). There’s a suction cup at one end that connects your device, while an adjustable clip attaches to the tray stand. It will give you a hands-free viewing experience when you fly for watching movies, music videos, etc.

Traveling can be difficult, but the right tech tools can make it tolerable and, in some cases, even pleasurable.

Best Western in Asia launches Buy One Get One promotion

July 16, 2009

Best Western has launched a new campaign that offers guests one free room night for one paid room night at hotels and resorts in eight prime countries across Asia – Bali, China, India, Japan, Macau, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

To qualify, guests must book between July 20 and Aug 2 for travel through Oct 31. The offer is on a first come, first served basis and is dependent upon availability.

Pets can relieve themselves before American flights at JFK

July 16, 2009
Pets Relieve Ground at JFK (Photo: American Airlines)

Pets Relieve Ground at JFK (Photo: American Airlines)

American Airlines has added a creature comfort outside its terminal at JFK International Airport. According to the press release, the new “Pet Relief Area at the terminal’s departure level” is for “passengers with pets [to] give their canine or feline friends a final chance to relieve themselves before packing them away in their kennels for the flight.” American’s Facilities Maintenance Manager at JFK, Joseph Daly, explained, “American Airlines is sensitive to the needs of passengers who travel with their pets. Pets that travel have comfort needs, too, so we wanted to provide a way for them to be comfortable before boarding their flight, just like the rest of us.” Here’s AA’s traveling with pets policy.

The Pet Relief Area is in a 30-foot by 50-foot enclosure, “including a 1,000-square-foot patch of natural grass….five-foot wide entrance gate, a walkway and two benches” plus a ‘Mutt Mitt’ dispenser, trash barrel, and bright red fire hydrant. This was announced yesterday—the same day that Pet Airways, the all-pet airline, launched.

Newsday reports the turboprop plane, which was modified to carry 50 dogs or cats, “took off from Republic Airport in East Farmingdale Tuesday” and stopped in “Washington, Chicago and Denver on the way to Los Angeles, with mandatory potty breaks to ensure passengers’ comfort.” An attendant checks up on the pets every 15 minutes during the flight. Pet Airways’ founder explained, “We’re for pet lovers, obviously, and for people who are relocating, going on vacation and dropping the pet off with Grandma, for pets going to shows and for pet rescue and adoption.”

United Airlines launches sale on miles required to buy Saver Award tickets

July 16, 2009

United Airlines announced on Wednesday that it is reducing the amount of miles necessary for Saver Award travel to several international and domestic destinations.

Mileage Plus members can now purchase Save Award tickets with at least 20% off the number of miles required until 24 July for travel between 18 August and 18 November 2009.

Mileage levels have been reduced as follows: travel to North America (excluding Hawaii) reduced from 25,000 to 20,000 miles; travel to Hawaii reduced from 40,000 to 30,000 miles; travel to Central America and the Caribbean reduced from 35,000 to 25,000 miles; travel to South America reduced from 55,000 to 44,000 miles; travel to Europe reduced from 55,000 to 44,000 miles; travel to Australia reduced from 80,000 to 64,000 miles; travel to the Middle East reduced from 75,000 to 60,000 miles; and travel to Asia reduced from 65,000 to 50,000 miles.

Free federal parks and recreation Access Pass

July 16, 2009

NOTE: This article is relevant to travel for people with disabilities

How to Travel With A Free Federal Parks And Recreation Access Pass
When traveling, and you are legally disabled, remember to get a free, lifetime Access Pass to gain free admission at all Federal Parks across the United States. Along with this discount individuals, who are disabled, may use the Access Pass to enjoy many other discounts including camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours. When taking your vacation, or going on a road trip, do not leave home without your Access Pass.

Vacation with A Disability Access Pass
The Access Pass is a lifetime pass to enter National Parks at no charge as you travel around the U.S. You must be medically disabled and will need one of the following as proof.

  1. Statement by a licensed physician
  2. Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income
  3. Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

Disability National Access Pass – Where To Obtain an Access Pass To Take On Your Vacation
You can not order a National Parks Access Pass online since you need to provide documentation about your disability and residency. Go in person to one of these offices to obtain your Access Pass

  1. National Park Service
  2. Fish & Wildlife Service
  3. Bureau of Land Management
  4. USDA Forest Service
  5. Bureau of Reclamation

If you are already traveling purchase your Pass at the entrance of any Federal Park.

Use your Access Pass, for the Disabled, When Vacationing
This lifetime pass, for those who are disabled, will admit one vehicle into National Parks where there is an admission fee. The disabled person must provide a picture identification to verify they are the pass owner. As you determine your travel or vacation itinerary it is suggested that you contact the site they plan to visit to see if the Access Pass is accepted. The Forest Service, the National Park Service, Federal Recreation lands, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation honor the Access Pass. Be sure to inquire before you leave for your trip.

Access Pass Travel Amenities
General discounts are available at many other venues while traveling and sightseeing. They include:

  1. Individual campsite the card owner is occupying.
  2. Utility fees at campsites when that fee is included in the cost of the campsite.
  3. Guided Tours: Present your Access Pass to see is they honor it and only the owner of the pass qualifies for the discount. Some local amenities include Transportation Systems and Special Use Permit Fees. Anything local needs to be inquired on locally.

The Access Pass provides a ‘perk’ for disabled travelers. Take advantage of the opportunity to take a road trip, go on a vacation, or sight see all of the beautiful National Parks in the United States. Check out the participating Federal recreation sites at for more information about Federal recreation sites.

Access Pass FAQs

Nek Chand Sani Rock Garden, Chandigarh

July 14, 2009
Rock Garden

Rock Garden

The Rock Garden is a sculpture garden in Chandigarh, India, also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, after its founder, Nek Chand, a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. Today it is spread over an area of forty-acre (160,000 m²), it is completely built of industrial & home waste and thrown-away items.

While graffiti artists boast over colorful pieces dashed off in the night, they have nothing on Nek Chand, a humble transport official. Working illegally and in secret for over 18 years, Nek Chand created a gigantic 12 acre series of palaces, pavilions, courtyards all filled with his unique rock sculptures. He began to clear a little patch of jungle to make himself a small garden area. He set stones around the little clearing and before long had sculpted a few figures recycled from materials he found at hand. In 1975, when authorities in Chandigarh found the astounding creation in the heart of a nature conserve, they were flabbergasted. The entire complex came very close to being destroyed, but after the public began visiting the site and an agricultural scientist spoke out about the value of this “enchanted kingdom” the garden was saved.

When they did discover the garden, local government officials were thrown into turmoil. The creation was completely illegal – a development in a forbidden area. However, rather than demolishing the garden, they decided to give Nek Chand a salary so that he could concentrate full-time on his work, plus a workforce of fifty labourers.

Hours: Open Daily: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Summer
Cost: Entry prices are Rs. 5 for adults and Rs. 3 for children
Address: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh, Sector No.1, Chandigarh, India

Getting There
The Shatabdi Express runs two or three times daily from New Delhi to Chandigarh. The journey lasts approximately three hours. The Rock Garden is situated in the north of Chandigarh, Sector 1, and is known by everyone in the city.

Other sights to see
Sukhna Lake
Located in Sector 1, the Sukhna Lake is an artificial reservoir. A popular place to hang out, one can expect to find residents of the city jogging or strolling along the banks. There is a walking path, a cafeteria, shops and a mini-amusement park and paddleboats. The Sukhna Lake was created in 1958 by damming the Sukhna Choe, a seasonal stream that flows down from the Shivaliks. Storks and cranes make migratory stops at the lake. The lake, incidentally, has Asia’s longest water channel for rowing and yachting.

Rose Garden
The city houses the largest rose garden in Asia. It also hosts annual rose festival which is quite popular among local population.

The Capitol
Most of the capitol complex is fenced off due to tight security, the open hand is accessible and from there you can see the main buildings, albeit in the distance. If you want a closer look at the Capitol, you need permission from the Tourist Bureau, in the ‘Deluxe Administration building’ in Sector 9. Please note the capitol and bureau are only open on M-F. The tourist bureau is not well signed, you’ll need to ask. It’s in the single story building out the back. Bring your passport and prepare for the beginning of the most amazing experience in Indian bureaucracy. All in all I spent three hours in total of which 50 minutes was spent looking at architecture. The tourist bureau gives you three letters giving you permission to visit the three main buildings of the Capitol complex, The Secretariat, the High Court and the Assembly.

The High Court
The letter is fine for looking around the High Court just show to security at the entrance, around the back, but if you want to take photos you need to surrender your camera, and head in to fill out some more forms in the protocol office, and the take the forms back to security to get your camera back. It’s worth it as the building is amazing, and extremely photogenic. You can’t take any photos indoors.

The Secretariat
To check out the Secretariat, it’s a little harder. First you need to find ‘reception’, which is just a small building out the back and show them your letter to get a visitor permit, then you need to see security who will let you in, then you need to see the main security officer inside, who will send you up to the registrar who will then send you back to the main security office. Thankfully you are escorted through most of this confusing, overly complex procedure, usually by a junior soldier with large machine gun. Whole process takes about 30 min. to an hour. Once it’s all clear you can go up to the roof, check out the geranium gardens, and take in an expansive view of all of Chandigarh. Then they’ll let you have a look out the front, which is more interesting.

The Legislative Assembly (both for Punjab and Haryana)
Ran out of time, so make sure you have a whole clear weekday to appreciate all the capitol buildings.

Pinjore Gardens
Also called Yadavindra Gardens are 20 km (12 mi) from Chandigarh, 15 km (9 mi) from Panchkula, on the Chandigarh Shimla road. Taxis and buses ply regularly between Pinjore and Chandigarh. Pinjore lies on the foothills of the lower Shivalik ranges. The fascinating Mughal Gardens one of the most popular picnic spots. A mini zoo, plants nursery, a Japanese garden, historic palaces and picnic lawns await tourists.

Museum and Art Gallery
Located in Sector 11, the museum and the combined art gallery is an interestin palce to go to. Artefacts range form the Harrapan Period relics to the paintings and coins from different areas and time periods. Fossils of the local dinosaurs found in the region.

The Chandigarh Museum, which is just next door, provides an interesting aspect on how Chandigarh was founded. It begins with the principles on which Chandigrh was built, selection of the Architects, the design for the people etc.

Getting into Chandigarh
Kingfisher Airlines, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, GoAir and MDLR Airlines connect to the city. Indian Airlines, Kingfisher Airlines, GoAir and Jet Airways offer a direct flight from Mumbai and Delhi. Tickets cost around Rs 3,000 (ex Delhi, including taxes) for most of the airlines while MDLR is usually the lowest. Recently MDLR Airlines began to offer connections to Ranchi and Kolkata via Delhi. Kingfisher Airlines offers direct flight to Jammu, Srinagar (Via Jammu), Delhi (twice daily) and further connects to Kolkata via Delhi. GoAir has recently started a connecting flight to Goa. Chandigarh has a Domestic Airport about 8 km (5 mi) from city centre. The Airport shall be upgraded to an International Airport and work on that front has commenced since January 2008.

There is frequent service to and from New Delhi. The popular trains connecting New Delhi include ‘Kalka (Chandigarh) Shatabdi Express’ (twice daily) and the economical Chandigarh Jan Shatabdi Express (Una (H.P) to Delhi). Shatabdi Express is quite popular and it is better to have an advanced reservation at least 2-3 days prior to the journey.

Popular long distance trains include:
Paschim Express (daily) to Mumbai
Kalka Mail (daily) to Howrah
Dehradun-Chandigarh Madras Express (Monday) to Chennai
Kerala Sampark Kranti (Wednesday) to Kochuveli ( Kerala)
Chandigarh Lucknow Express (daily) to Lucknow.
Chandigarh-Jaipur Garib Rath has been announced in the 2008 Railway Budget.
Also a high speed rail line will be built from Amritsar-Delhi via Chandigarh. The train is to run 350 km/h and will get passengers from Chandigarh to Delhi in 50 min and Amritsar in 1 hour and 50 mins.

Chandigarh has an equally good connectivity via road. It is a 4-5 hour drive from Delhi, the road comprising mainly of NH 1 is quite good. Chandigarh serves as a gateway to the state of Himachal Pradesh.

Important Distances :
New Delhi – 260 km (160 mi)
Shimla – 110 km (68 mi)
Manali- 320 km (200 mi)
Dehradun – 175 km (110 mi)
Amritsar – 250 km (155 mi)

Chandigarh is served by two bus terminals. The Inter State Bus Terminus in Sector 43 ,provides connectivity to all major destinations in the neighbouring states Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Jammu, and Delhi. Delhi is extensively connected with bus service every 15 minutes offered by Chandigarh Transport Undertaking, Haryana Roadways, Punjab Roadways and Himachal Roadways. Volvo A/C buses are also run on Chandigarh-Delhi section and offer connection to the Airport and towns like Gurgaon. The fares of Volvo buses are usually comparable with the Shatabdi Express. The Inter State Bus Terminus at Sector 17 offers connectivity to all major towns of Haryana and Delhi.

Avis offers in-car satellite TV and audio service for Florida travelers

July 13, 2009

Avis Rent A Car and RaySat Broadcasting (RBC) announced that Avis renters at select locations can now enjoy the ride with AT&T CruiseCast service, a new satellite TV technology that delivers 22 video satellite channels as well as 20 audio channels to a mobile unit in automobiles. Beginning today, Avis renters at airport locations in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach can rent AT&T CruiseCast for $8.95 per day or $62.65 per week.

The AT&T CruiseCast service offers a variety of channels, including Cartoon Network Mobile, Disney Channel, DisneyXD, Discovery Kids, USA Network, Discovery, Animal Planet, SCI FI, Lifetime Television, Adult Swim Mobile, ESPN Mobile, NFL Network, CBS College Sports Network, FOX News, CNN Mobile, MSNBC and AccuWeather.

The portable unit provides TV screens that attach to the back of the vehicle’s headrests, and come with headphones, for easy viewing and listening by passengers. A 12-volt jack plugs into the car’s power outlets and the unit’s receiver is housed inside a small bag attached to the seatback.

Outside the vehicle, a compact antenna is mounted to the roof. The antenna, installed by an Avis representative prior to rental pickup, receives the satellite TV signals, provides them to the receiver and displays the program on the TV screen. The AT&T CruiseCast service utilizes video buffering technology to automatically store two minutes of content so viewing is not interrupted by satellite obstructions such as overpasses or tall buildings.

Advance rental reservations are required for AT&T CruiseCast service.

American Airlines announces Notification Center at

July 13, 2009

American Airlines has introduced another convenient way to make the travel experience even better for its customers. The new Notification Center – which can be easily accessed from – enables customers to set their flight status notification preferences just one time and then automatically receive messages for all their future flights, instead of having to request notifications for each different flight. The Notification Center also makes sharing these updates easier by allowing AAdvantage(R) members to save up to 10 contacts in their account, and can then automatically notify select contacts with the elected flight information.

Additionally, lets customers easily manage many of their preferences all in one spot. The new page, referred to as “Connect,” provides customers one-click access to instantly:

  • manage their AAdvantage account
  • manage their American Airlines e-mail subscriptions
  • register and select options for the “Remember Me” tool to personalize their phone calls with American Airlines
  • access their flight itineraries to e-mail, print, or save to their calendar

By grouping all of these features in one place, has made it even easier for customers to manage their preferences.

To learn more about the Notification Center and Connect, and to view an online demo, visit

Sunshine insurance offered by travel agency

July 13, 2009

Sun-seekers whose holidays are spoiled by bad weather could be reimbursed after French travel agencies launched insurance cover for unwanted interruptions to the sunshine.

The insurance policy, launched by holiday groups Pierre et Vacances and FranceLoc, will allow holiday-makers to claim back part of the cost of their trip if they suffer at least four days of rain in any one week.

“Aon France allows Pierre & Vacances to propose its clients with automatic reimbursement for part of their stay…if weather conditions don’t meet expectations,” the holiday group said in a statement.

Aon France will use satellite photos obtained by the French weather bureau to calculate how much money subcribers should receive.

Rain-spoilt holidays can now be worth up to 400 euros ($556) and holiday-makers would be informed by telephone text message or email if they are liable for compensation. They would receive a cheque a few days after returning home.

The man behind the idea, Herv Kayser, told French daily Le Figaro that in a trial run last year, 10 percent of those interested in the insurance policy witnessed sufficient rain to receive money back on their holiday.

Skull Tower of Serbia

July 13, 2009
Skull Tower - Ćele Kula

Skull Tower - Ćele Kula (Source: Wikipedia)

The Skull Tower is a monument to 19th century Serbian rebels. It is situated in Niš, on Carigradski drum, on the old Constantinople road leading to Sofia.

The year 1809 marked the turning point in the course of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804-1813). The outnumbered rebel army faced a 36,000 strong force of Turkish imperial guards near the strategically important southern city of Niš. Rather then surrender or flee they decided to put up a desperate last stand at Čegar hill. Faced with imminent annihilation, the rebel commander Stevan Sinđelić in an act of desperation fired a shot into a gunpowder keg at the fully stocked gun powder room, blowing up as a result his own entire army as well as wiping out enemy soldiers who were already flooding the rebel trenches.

Deeply ashamed by the rebel force’s bravery, the Turkish commander Hurshid Pasha decided to teach a grim lesson to the freedom loving Serbian nation. The bodies of the dead rebels were mutilated. Their skins were pealed off their decapitated heads, stuffed up with straw, and sent to the Imperial court in Istanbul as proof of Turkish victory. The skulls were used as building blocks for a tower built by the main road at the entrance of the city. A warning to the local populace of an impending fate to any potential future rebels.

In total, 952 skulls were used. In its original form, the tower was stood 15 feet high with a width of 13 feet. Skulls were arranged in 56 rows, with 17 skulls in each row, at each side of the tower. The skull of Stevan Sinđelić was placed at the top. This gruesome edifice, left a deep scar in the Serbian national psyche. However, it failed at its purpose. Serbs rebelled again in 1815, this time successfully, driving off the Turks and winning independence in 1830.

The tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a graceful chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including Sinđelić’s one.

In front of the chapel stands the monument to Sinđelić, and a small relief depicting the battle, both from 1937. The monument commemorating the battle in the form of a guard tower was built in 1927 on Čegar Hill by Julian Djupon. The lower part is made out of stone from the Niš fortress.

In the years immediately following the building of the tower, the families of deceased rebels chiseled away some of the skulls in order to give them proper funerals. Today 58 skulls in total remain in the tower.

The authorities of Serbia in 1892 built a chapel around the tower to preserve this unique monument representing the nations bravery and sufferings. The skull of Stevan Sinđelić is also on display at the chapel.

Ćele Kula (Tower of Skulls)
Address: Brače Tankosić bb, Niš, Serbia
Admission: 100 dinar
Hours: 9am-4pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun Nov-Apr, 8am-8pm May-Oct
Parking available. The admission ticket also includes a visit to Mediana.

Getting there
The bus station, located at Kneginje Ljubice has services to Belgrade (640 dinar, three hours, 10 buses), Brus for Kopaonik (380 dinar, 1.5 hours, at 10am and 3pm), Novi Pazar (700 dinar, 4 hours, at 10am, 3.15pm and 7pm), Užice for Zlatibor (700din, five hours, at 7.25am, 12.05pm and 6.05pm) and Sarajevo (1380din, 10 hours, at 6.10am and 9pm).

Eight trains go to Belgrade (640 dinar, 4.5 hours).

Montenegro Airlines and JAT Airlines fly to Zurich from Niš airport (IATA Code: INI;

Information on Niš
The mighty Tvrđava Citadel dominates the north side of the Nišava River. Nearby is the market and the bus station, while the train station is to the west on Dimitrija Tucovića. The city centre is south of the river. It is in Niš that the trunk road running from the north down the Morava River valley forks into two major lines: – the south one, leading to Thessalonica and Athens, – and the east one, leading towards Sofia and Istanbul, and further on, towards the Near East.

Attractions nearby:
Hours: 9am-4pm Tue-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun
Mediana is the remains of a 4th-century Roman palace complex, possibly that of Constantine. Archaeological digging has revealed a palace, forum and an extensive grain-storage area with some sizable, almost intact, pottery vessels. The museum shelters some important mosaics and a collection of artefacts.

Thermae are situated northwest of the villa with peristyle and were probably connected to it. The entrance to the bath is from the south side. The thermae of Mediana were probably used by the owners of the villa, who could reach them directly from their rooms. The corridor on the way to the thermae is decorated by floor mosaics, with geometric patterns of the same quality as the mosaics in the peristyle. The vestibule and apodyterium are covered by brick and the middle room is partly covered with brick and partly with mosaic made here of larger white marble tessarae. 

Niš Fortress – Tvrđava


The Niš Fortress complex includes the remaining parts of the Early Byzantine road and the remnants of the Settlement (5th and 6th century) in the central part of the fortress near the Bali Bey’s Mosque; the old Turkish bath (15th century) near the Stambol Gate at the entrance to the fortress, which was built of brick and stone; the Bali Bey’s Mosque (beginning of 16th century) in the central part of the fortress, which was turned into a gallery after the restoration works in 1972; the Turkish Powder Magazine – the complex of four edifices, the ground floor rectangular structures along the southern ramparts of the fortress; the Turkish Arsenal near the Stambol Gate – after the restoration it became a gallery of modern arts, whereas in the vaulted rooms – once reserved for the guards – smaller galleries and a souvenir shop were housed; the building of the Historical Archives on the north-western side of the fortress, an elongated ground floor edifice; the remains of a Roman building with mosaics (2nd – 4th century) at the northern side of the fortress.

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