Destination: Everywhere

UntitledAre you ready for my second awesome flight search discovery in two weeks? It’s another one that is gobsmackingly useful, and so obvious that in retrospect I feel a little dumb for not having thought of it sooner: there is a way to search for flights with only a departure location and travel dates.

Both Google Flights and Skyscanner allow you to opt out of providing an arrival city (for Google Flights you leave that field blank; for Skyscanner you type in “Everywhere”). You can then filter the flight results by price and choose your destination based on what you can afford.

I happened upon this travel hack last week after I decided to plan a girls’ getaway for my birthday in October. My high school friends had all intended to whisk us away to exotic locales for their big 4-0’s but never ended up following through. As the youngest, I’m the only one still staring down 40, and therefore the last best hope that we will go on a group trip before we all turn 50. So, after my college friend mentioned that she is planning a trip to Eastern Europe for her own birthday this spring, I started toying with the idea of turning my fantasy of a Martinique-Guadeloupe solo trip into a shorter 4-day birthday weekend with friends. Having heard that Norwegian Air now flies to Martinique for under $250 roundtrip, I figured it would be both a fun and affordable destination.

Then I searched for flights and saw that Norwegian Air doesn’t go to Martinique or Guadalupe in October, and the cheapest alternative flight at that time is something like $950. But now that I had gotten the idea of a birthday getaway into my head, I asked myself, “Where else could we go for $250?” A short Google search later, I found the Google Flights and Skyscanner tools and discovered that:

• for under $300 roundtrip, we could fly nonstop to Iceland – where I’ve never been and where the Ring Road is a highly scenic option for a 3-day excursion.
• for under $400 we could fly direct to Ireland – where I spent four months of my 20th year studying abroad, and where it would be lovely to return exactly half a lifetime later.
• for about $410, we could fly to Barcelona and drive from there to either Andorra or the French Pyrenees to hang out in beautiful house nestled in jaw-dropping mountains for a few days.

Those are three pretty awesome options. So, thank you to Google Flights and Skyscanner for helping me to get the 40th birthday festivities train rolling. (Why do I keep using non-aerial travel metaphors when I have every intention of flying??)

P.S. An addendum to my last post: Less than 24 hours after writing about how the Dakar of 2019 remains largely unchanged from the Dakar of 2016, I attempted to check the schedule for my favorite live music venue in the city, Just4U – and found it was closed for good!

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Waaaaaaahhhhh. A TRAGIC LOSS. Clearly I should have waited more than a couple of weeks before making any grand claims about this city…

A new museum – side by side with an old, beautiful station

IMG_6838When I flew into Dakar three years ago, the city held so much mystique. I had spent almost 25 years imagining what the sights and sounds and feeling of Dakar might be without having any clue how close my ideas were to reality.

Then I spent a year living here and exploring the city’s ins and outs. One of the things I love most about Dakar is its scale – in just over thirteen months I was able to visit practically every neighborhood and knock off almost every item on my list of interesting places to see and things to do.

When I flew back into the city at the beginning of this year, aside from the fact that there was a whole new airport (!), everything felt very familiar. All of my old favorite places were still there, standing the test of time. Another thing I love about Dakar is its creeping pace of change in comparison to New York. There is sprawl and gentrification and crazy over-construction for sure, and it brings upheaval, displacement, and inequality with it. But – again, only as compared to New York, where every time you blink another community institution disappears – it feels much slower and more manageable.

And… some of the development is very welcome.

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Case in point: the new Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in January. I visited last week and it has some stunning art and artifacts inside.

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Smithsonian Magazine writes:

A little over half a century ago, Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of post-independence Senegal, announced his plans to build a major museum of African culture in the country’s capital of Dakar. Senghor, who died in 2001, did not live to see his dream fulfilled. Now, at long last, his vision is coming to fruition… Senegal has opened a sprawling museum that celebrates black civilizations from across the globe—and experts are hailing the institution as an important step forward in the effort to reclaim African artifacts plundered during the colonial period.

It both saddens and infuriates me to know that I have had better access in New York (and London, and Paris) to West African artwork and cultural objects than most West Africans do in their home countries. So, it was heartening to visit the new museum last week and to see the beautiful exhibits of ancient and contemporary work – as well as all of the as-of-yet unoccupied space that can be used for, among other things, items returned from abroad. (Restitution efforts were kicked up a notch in November with publication of a French-commissioned report recommending full repatriation of looted cultural heritage to any African nation that requests it.)

It was also the most amazing surprise to pass my favorite place in town – the old colonial railroad station just next door to the museum – and see that rather than being torn down and reconstructed over the past two years, it has instead been given new life in the form of a cleaning, a paint job, and some new glass.IMG_6808

It is now even more stunning than it used to be. I took these photos from the car as we drove past, and I’ll try to get down there to check out the space on foot soon.

IMG_6809The station serves as the terminus of the just-finished rail line between the new airport and Dakar. I haven’t really kept up on those developments so I have no idea if the line is considered a good thing, a bad thing, or a little of both. But the rehabilitation of a gorgeous decaying train station seems 100% wonderful.

 

Oh, the places I have gone!

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The trip I’ve just returned from, which took me through Benin, Togo and Ghana, was one of the best of my life thanks entirely to the Benin portion. I feel that my new life’s calling is to work for the Benin Tourism Board. People should be flooding into the country every January for the awe-inspiring Vodoun Festival and to visit Abomey, capital of the fascinating Dahomey kingdom. On the other hand, considering that I was horrified by the bad behavior I witnessed on the part of many tourists during my trip, maybe it’s not the best idea to encourage more to come.

I’ll fill in the details when I post photos and videos over the next few weeks. There is so much ground to cover, both literally and figuratively, that I’ll split things up into manageable pieces.

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flight connections

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I’d just like to point out the existence of a website I just discovered, Flight Connections, which features an interactive map with every flight path that exists. Choose a departure city and the map populates with all available flight paths, then choose your arrival city and a sidebar populates with airlines and possible travel days. Type in your dates and with one click, a SkyScanner window opens with airfares and booking information. It’s pretty magical – and so obvious, I don’t know why it never occurred to me to search for a site like this before today.

Whenever I’ve needed this service in the past, like when I was trying to game the airline miles system, I’ve always just Googled individual cities, i.e. “City X direct flights,” and then triangulated as needed. I could have saved so much time – and had so much more fun – using this little tool. On the other hand, I’ve just spent an hour looking at random departure-arrival combinations (Cairo to Addis, Addis to Nairobi, Nairobi to Lamu…) and fantasizing about future vacations there, so maybe on the balance it is actually a time-waster.

Anchors aweigh! (Or more appropriately, wheels up!)

de retour

retour a dakar

I’m writing from Dakar, where I have once again taken up residence with La Famille Lo. The eldest son and his four year-old are now living here; it’s become quite a full house and I love being reunited with all of them.

The passage of two years has brought lots of changes. Mamie (Cécile) learned how to drive and bought a car. She regularly attends Toastmasters in both French and English and when her sister, Tantie (Armande), isn’t available, she pitches Tantie’s organic juice company to potential vendors and investors. She’s also busy dreaming up business ideas of her own. All of this blows my mind since during the year I lived with Mamie, she consistently and continually expressed fear – even panic – at the idea of both driving and public speaking. Her confidence seems to have grown by leaps and bounds and it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

Tantie, meanwhile, graduated from university and did an apprenticeship of sorts with an organic farm in the countryside. Then she launched her company, which in addition to selling homemade juices, also connects organic farmers in Senegal with produce markets in Dakar. She recently won two separate incubator grants and went to Egypt as part of one of the programs. It was her first time on a plane as well as her first time out of the country, and she loved every minute of it.

Third-born Andre graduated from his master’s program and started working at a fancy downtown hotel, in their human resources department. I now see him in suits more often than not. The eldest son, meanwhile, was working in the IT department of a bank when I was here last time; now he’s with a government ministry, which sounds like a big step up.

And Mr. And Mrs. Lo are plugging along as usual. The only big difference in their lives seems to be the addition of a mischievous child keeping their hands full. I guess less changes when you’re in your 60s and 80s than when you’re in your 20s and 30s.

I got into town on the 4th of January but left before dawn on the 6th for my Benin-Togo-Ghana adventure and only returned on the 17th. That means I haven’t actually spent much time in Dakar yet. I’m looking forward to settling in, and to sharing pictures from my trip as soon as I get myself situated.

A bientôt, alors…