In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
‘Gangnam Style’ puts Seoul on the travel map
As the shiny black party van glides down Teheranno Boulevard past Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton windows, the driver hits the remote, releasing a soft rain of colored LED lights. A familiar pulsing beat fills the air, unleashing images of a galloping dance move in the minds of everyone in earshot.
“Heeeyyyy, sexy laaaaady!”
Seoul resident Han-Ji Jeong sighs and leans back into the leather seat. “I am so sick of that song,” she says.
For better or worse, hundreds of millions of listeners still can’t get enough of Gangnam Style, an exuberant dance video that reached 826 million Internet hits this week, becoming YouTube’s most-watched video ever. (Take that, Justin Bieber.)
The Korean rap artist behind the sensation, Psy (short for Psycho), made the rounds of New York A-list TV shows earlier this fall. The video has inspired hundreds of parodies by entities as varied as the Oregon Ducks and the U.S. Naval Academy. And it has boosted the “cool” quotient of a nation many Americans associate only with electronic gadgets and its erratic neighbor to the north.
Seoul may be the gateway to Asia, but most international passengers touching down at Incheon airport simply proceed to the next outbound gate. Now, interest in Korea as a destination, which has never been an easy sell to American travelers, is on the rise. Still, of the 9.78 million foreign tourists who visited in 2011, a scant 660,000 were American, many of them business travelers.
“Korea is not well-known as a destination,” says Korea Tourism Organization executive Jaekyong Lee. “But the image is slowly changing.”
Not that he believes a music video — even a hugely popular one — can drive a sustained increase in visitation. Positive word of mouth about commercial and cultural venues, superior service, safety and other attributes will accomplish that, he says. But the current buzz doesn’t hurt.
Cáceres, an intact survivor from the Middle Ages
Where the conquistadors spent the money they plundered from the New World, and where Montezuma’s grandson built a palace. Alan Sykes, the Northerner’s ambassador to inland Spain, reports from his 1000km trek.
Cáceres is the next major stop on the pilgrim camino to Santiago, a couple of days walk north of Mérida. Leaving Mérida you pass a huge Roman acqueduct that brought water into the city, and a few miles later the reservoir the Romans created to supply that water.
Shortly afterwards the landscape becomes mildly less fertile, but a consolation was the pleasant surprise of seeing several lapwings tumbling in the sky overhead. They normally arrive in the North Pennine fells in April, and their slightly plaintive cry is one of the harbingers of spring. The area is also very underpopulated, with 10km and more between villages. And it was clearly once much wilder – one wayside cross is called “La Cruz de la nina muerta”, after a shepherd who was apparently killed there by a wolf.
Although almost always walking alone through this lovely countryside, one fairly constant companion was my shadow. He pops up shortly after breakfast, stretching far out into the distance to the north west, shortens and rises to meet you straight in front as noon approaches, and then lengthens again to the east through the afternoon, usually stooping and limping a little by now.
long the way the Roman road was occasionally marked by “miliarios”, or huge milestones. Whoever made these clearly intended that they should last, and they have – although one or two have been incorporated into drystone boundary walls. Several more Roman bridges have also survived.
Briton completes land leg of triple round-the-world challenge
A 20-year-old Londoner attempting to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by land, sea and air has completed the second leg of his journey – leaving just the flying to do.
Mike Perham, who is originally from Potters Bar and now studies at Southampton Solent University, completed the land circumnavigation yesterday when he arrived at the RAF museum in Hendon in north London.
The drive – which he undertook in a ‘Spaceship’ campervan adapted from a Toyota Previa – took him through 20 countries. After starting in Britain, he drove through Europe, Russia, China, Laos, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, before crossing the USA and returning to British soil.
Shortly before his arrival Mr Perham said: “I’m really pleased to be on my way home and I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends – and to having a cup of English tea.”
He described the journey – which meant he used his vehicle as a home for 155 days – as “amazing” but “at times challenging”. He cited the “tricky terrain” of the roads of southern China, as a particular challenge.
Mr Perham’s 27,500-mile trip included several stops in disaster-affected regions such as Thailand, China and New Zealand, which he did to raise awareness of Shelterbox, the charity he is supporting in his travels. He is hoping to raise £1 for every mile he travels.
Air NZ testicle ‘joke’ hits a bum note
Air New Zealand’s latest promotion has bombed, with the airline accused of transphobia over a “joke” suggesting disgraced female Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk has testicles.
The company launched a Christmas Cracker promotion on its Grabaseat site on Monday, giving people the chance to win prizes.
Those who don’t win a prize get a consolation joke instead – with one reading: “What large heavy ball was responsible for Valerie Adams’ gold medal? The Belarusian’s left testicle.”
The so-called joke is a reference to Ostapchuk winning – and later being stripped of – the shotput gold medal at the Olympics earlier this year after testing positive for a banned steroid.
The medal was later awarded to Kiwi shotputter Adams.
Air NZ has taken a hammering on social media, with Twitter users calling on it to apologise for the “unbelievably offensive” joke, and pledging to boycott its services.
Rather than apologise, Air NZ responded by tweeting: “not everyone likes our xmas cracker jokes so tell us your tacky kiwi jokes & we’ll add our favourites into the cracker”.
Air NZ is not the first company to face a backlash over mocking Ostapchuk’s gender and fall from grace.
Sandwich chain Habitual Fix took a hammering in August after creating a poster with a picture of Ostapchuk to sell its “manwich”, featuring the catchlines “no added hormones or steroids” and “no hidden a-genders”.
The latest Air NZ blunder comes just a month after the airline made headlines by giving spooky names to its domestic destinations for Halloween, with the South Island’s Blenheim becoming Beastheim’.