Vanuatu Reopens Its Borders


Vanuatu Tourism Slogan

Vanuatu, the South Pacific country long-closed due to COVID-19, as of 1 July, has seen its borders reopening to international travel.

Many countries in Melanesia and Micronesia weren’t taking any chances as soon as word of the pandemic hit, since they have limited infrastructure to deal with significant outbreaks. However, after more than two years of shuttered borders, owing to the introduction of vaccines, and greater scientific awareness of the virus, this tropical Oceania paradise is finally open again.

Or, maybe it’s that’s tourism is a vital part of the Vanuatu economy, accounting for nearly 20% of its GDP. Either way, I’m quite tempted to try Vanuatuan chocolate and lap lap.

Pulled straight from Vanuatu’s government page, here are the new entry rules:

As of July 1st, 2022, all travellers aged to two (2) years and over must provide at the airlines check-in desk for any international flights to Vanuatu evidence of:

  • Negative COVID-19 PCR test done 24 to 72 hours before scheduled departure from travel origin, OR
  • Negative COVID-19 supervised certified RAT done within 24 hours of departureOR
  • Positive COVID-19 RAT or PCR test at least 8 days but no more than 2 months before the date of departure.

Getting a test might be annoying, but actually flying to Vanuatu is quite a bit trickier. Their national carrier, Air Vanuatu — by far the biggest airline at the country’s primary airport in Port Vila, the capital — has but two planes to its name.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking to boat around a crater lake, and/or swim with dugongs, check it out!

Setting a Precedent? Venice, Italy’s Plans for a Tourist Entry Tax

gondola Venice Italy
Black and White Photo of a Gondola, Venice, Italy

If you plan on visiting Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge next year, among countless other Venetian hotspots, be forewarned.

According to CNN, starting on 16 January, 2023, VeniceItaly will be levying a dynamic tourism tax on day-tripper tourists. Prices are said to vary between three and ten euros per person.

The official pricing system will be revealed later this year; currently, it is widely reported that the tourist tax will fluctuate depending on a particular day’s popularity. Presumably, summertime cruise passengers will be paying the highest amount, while low-season visitors won’t be as affected.

Apparently, one goal of this surcharge is to lower taxes for Venetian denizens. Why not just raise the price of cigarettes, too?

On the bright side, those exempt from the proposed charge are Venice residents, disabled folks, children under six, people visiting relatives, medical tourists, overnight guests (who are already paying a tourism tax), and travelers attending sports or cultural events.

That last bit about sports and cultural events is a curious one.

My sole visit to Venice was in August 2007. It was an absolutely scrum throughout the city — and my presence of course didn’t help (i.e. I just added to the crowding) — made even busier due to the Venice Biennale taking place during that time.

In spite of the high costs and throngs of visitors, I at least got to meet one of my favorite actors at the event, Bill Murray. (Embarrassing photo alert)

author and Bill Murray
Noworkandalltravel Meets Actor Bill Murray, Venice Biennale, Italy

If Venice thinks 3-10 euros will discourage people from visiting their unique destination, they’ve got another thing coming. Sure, Italy has alternatives to the tourism hub, and China has its own imitation, but I found it a standout worth visiting.

And if you find yourself in Bologna

window to Venice, Bologna Italy
Finestrella di Via Piella (Window to Venice), Bologna, Italy

Argentina and the Fifty Peso Note

Time to create a word: inflatuation.  Meaning?  (Tourist with a) fondness for countries suffering from superlatively high inflation.  Venezuela might be the reigning regional champ, but this issue isn’t new to Argentina either.  While your country is grappling with excessive inflation, you might as well instruct your state bank to try to instill some nationalist pride in your people.  Enter, the 50 peso note:

50 peso note falklands argentina
Argentina – Cincuenta Pesos (Fifty 50 Pesos) with Las Islas Malvinas aka the Falkland Islands

It was rather cunning of former Argentine president Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner to redo one of her country’s bills with an outline of the Falkland Islands, or Las Islas Malvinas.

In fact, an invading battalion of those islands – geographically in South America – in early April 1982 was mercilessly smited by the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s watch.  The invasion of – and counterattack by – respectively, by those countries was meant to earn them support and respect from the public.  That worked for PM Thatcher.  As for Argentina, it gives tourists such as myself a unique souvenir.

Fallen Star “House” at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), U.S.A.

Out of enjoyment of the fish tacos, and the pleasant Mediterranean climate of coastal southern California, today’s post is about the Fallen StarHouse” at the University of California, San Diego (USA):

fallen star ucsd
Fallen Star atop Jacobs Hall, University of California, San Diego

Since 1981, the Stuart Collection of UCSD has amassed and placed on display throughout the campus various works of public art.  Feel free to take a walking tour of the main school grounds to err, catch them all.

In 2012, Fallen House became the eighteenth addition to the Stuart Collection, when it was donated by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh (서도호).  It was created out of Suh’s feeling of cultural displacement after uprooting to the US in 1991, and pays deference to one’s ability to recall memory of a certain space/location.

"street view" fallen star ucsd
Fallen Star, University of California, San Diego

One can visit Fallen House on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 until 14:00, though you’ll have find it first.  Heh, just kidding, it’s located atop Jacobs Hall of the Jacobs School of Engineering.  Although I didn’t get to inspect this monument to domestic architecture, let me know if you have been able to!

Air Astana Reconnects Montenegro and Kazakhstan

As of yesterday, 1 June, Air Astana, the largest airline in Kazakhstan, and one of the biggest in Central Asia, has restarted its flights to Podgorica in the beautiful Balkan country of Montenegro. Air Astana first served this these routes last summer.

From personal experience, Podgorica is merely the hub from where you plan travel to the rest of the country. Bar and Budva are two popular spots for Adriatic cruises, as is Kotor. I spent a few hours in the first two places, and a long weekend in Kotor, taking in the natural beauty for which Montenegro has become popular.

Kotor Montenegro
View of Kotor from the Castle of San Giovanni, Montenegro

Connecting the two largest Kazakh cities, Almaty and Nur-Sultan (also the capital), with Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital, the schedules will be thus:

Days of Service Flight No. Departure Arrival AC Type Duration
Nur-Sultan – Podgorica
Thu, Sun KC 637 08:50 10:55 A321LR 6h 55m
Podgorica – Nur-Sultan
Thu, Sun KC 638 12:00 21:20 A321LR 5h 20m
Days of Service Flight No. Departure Arrival AC Type Duration
Almaty – Podgorica
Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat KC 635 07:30 10:25 A321LR 6h 55m
Podgorica – Almaty
Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat KC 636 11:30 21:25 A321LR 5h 55m

I’ve also visited both of these Kazakh cities (Nur-Sultan while it was still called Astana), though really should try to get to Charyn Canyon next time. Almaty, which means “rich with apples” in Kazakh, is thought to be close to where the first apple originated. If you visit, you might notice an apple theme around the city.

pair apples Almaty Kazakhstan
A Pair of Apples, Almaty, Kazakhstan

As for Nur-Sultan (the city formerly known as Astana, Tselinograd, and Aqmola, and Aqmolinsk), if you’re a fan of bizarre architecture, or what I like to call bizarrchitecture, it’s quite a trip:

Astana Music Hall, Kazakhstan
Astana Music Hall, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
national university arts kazakhstan
Kazakh National University of the Arts, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Perhaps I should write about that architecture-focused trip another time.

Have you been to Montenegro or Kazakhstan?

The Wednesday Who. Airport Names, Part 5: Hamani Diori

For the fifth edition of the Wednesday Who, I’ve got a short biography about Hamani Diori, the first president of Niger, for whom Niamey International Airport was named.

Born on 6 June, 1916 in Soudouré, French West Africa (present-day Niger), Hamani Diori was first a teacher before deciding to join politics after World War II.

Hamani Diori 1968

His foray into government began in 1946 with a decision to co-found the Progressive Party of Niger, itself an offshoot of the African Democratic Rally (in French, Rassemblement Démocratique Africain), itself a growing group of pan-African nationalists who didn’t oppose union with France so much as seek greater autonomy — as well as improved educational systems and labor markets — from them.

Also in 1946, Diori was elected to the French National Assembly as a representative from Guinea; he would serve on-and-off in this role until 1957, when he became vice president of the legislature. However, that same year his political rival, the significantly more anti-colonialist Djibo Bakary became Niger’s first African leader; with Diori’s much wider support from France and tribal chiefs, he was able to greatly dilute Bakary’s influence, becoming Prime Minister of still French-controlled Niger in 1958, and banning Bakary’s Sawaba political party from any official capacity the following year, per Britannica. Tellingly, the Sawaba party would continue to plague Diori’s political life throughout the 1960s.

Niger finally gained independence from France on 3 August, 1960; soon thereafter, Diori was elected as the first president of the country. But, as founder of the Niger Progressive Party, which had the backing of the French government, he was almost a shoe-in, as the French had banned other political parties from participating.

At first, Diori was considered a statesman and good negotiator, solidifying ties with France, and even helping to discuss ending the fierce Biafran War happening in Nigeria from 1967-1970. That’s right about where the compliments end.

Upon independence, Niger was the poorest of the former French colonies, consisting of a highly agriculture-focused economy subject to frequent droughts and inefficient soil. Corruption was rampant — there are reports that members of his administration stole drought relief supplies and sold them to the highest bidders — and assassination attempts were made on Diori and his family; his wife was killed in one such attack in 1974. 

With a single party system of control, successive droughts, widespread graft, and a swiftly increasing population, Diori was overthrown on 15 April 1974 by his army Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché, and subsequently imprisoned in the city of Zinder until 1980.

Starting in 1980, Diori was on parole in the capital Niamey; Ali Seibou, then-president of the country, granted him freedom in 1987. Hamani Diori relocated to Morocco, where he died in Rabat on 23 April, 1989.

Add Swoop to the List of Canadian Carriers Serving Chicago

There’s a new Canadian airline in town. The town in question? Chicago. The airline? Swoop.

Swoop logo | (CNW Group/Swoop Inc.)

Per PR Newswire, As of today, 31 May, Swoop, the “low-cost Canadian carrier,” has inaugurated flights to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) from Toronto Pearson (YYZ).

Twice a week, that is on Mondays and Thursday, flight WO746 is scheduled to leave Toronto at 06:30, and arrive in Chicago at 07:20; for the return, WO747 is slated to leave Chicago at 08:10, and land in Toronto at 10:50.
Recall that there’s an hour time difference between the two.

Although Swoop prefers to call itself a ULCC — in other words, an ultra low-cost carrier — if you had a glance at those fees much of Canada charges, you might be confused by the terminology. An open secret in the world of travel hacks is that many Canadians, when flying to a U.S. destination, would cross the border to take a likely cheaper domestic flight. That’s why, at least pre-pandemic, airports like Buffalo BUF, Burlington BTV, and Bellingham BLI had brisk seasonal business to places such as Arizona and Florida.

Doing that is a chore, yes, but it might have saved some families quite a bit of scratch in the long-run. Now we’ll get to see if Swoop can, you know, swoop up that ambitious business.

To Celebrate its 15th Birthday, Google Maps Street View Has a Little Gift for Us

When I first this piece of news, I was confused. I was thinking what’s the big deal, Google Earth already has this.


For years, Google Earth has allowed you to look at aerial historical photography, in other words, how neighborhoods have changed over the decades (naturally, this depends on which photos they have in stock for a particular city or area). But this cool feature has nothing to do with the recent news.

In honor of its 15th birthday, Google Maps street view is now letting users scope out what a specific street looked like, dating back to 2007 (in other words, when street view first started).

To test it out:
-Type in address,
-Drag the yellow “person” in the lower right to one of the blue lines indicating “street view”
-Click the upper left part of the map where it says Street View, if there’s a clock symbol next to it.
-Scroll to the past!

This temporary ability to travel back in time sounds neat, but it also reminds me of how dull many cities skylines have become (New York City, I’m looking at you). On the other hand, I wish this feature were allowed on Google Maps for places like China– no matter, check out Baidu Maps for their version (for instance, Chongqing is possibly my favorite skyline in the world, with its monorails, hills, and confluence of different rivers).

Want to play a little game with this new Google Maps feature?

#1 Try to pinpoint when the Heydar Aliyev statue was removed from the Azerbaijan Monument in Mexico City:

azerbaijan monument mexico city
Azerbaijan Monument, Mexico City, Mexico

#2 Take a guess as to when this photo of One Vanderbilt, currently Manhattan’s 4th tallest skyscraper, was taken:

one vanderbilt new york city
One Vanderbilt, New York City, United States

#3 Finally, is the following view still possible?

nakagin capsule tower tokyo japan
Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo, Japan

Hope you enjoyed the little quiz, because as a lover of maps, I’m digging this Google Maps bonus … even if their interface could use a lot of work.

Mill Ends Park, Portland, Oregon: the Smallest Park in the World?

Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is home to a number of attractions. It’s the “City of Roses,” so you’ve got the International Rose Test Garden. Donuts and craft breweries are popular, as is the Japanese Garden. And for a bit of U.S. trivia, did you know that Portland houses the second-largest copper statue in the country, after the Statue of Liberty?

The Pacific Northwest city also has a most unusual superlative claim to fame–  Mill Ends Park.  Located by the junction of SW Naito Parkway and SW Taylor Street, it is considered to be world’s smallest park.

The evolution to park status was the brainchild of Mr Dick Fagan, an Irishman who was also probably a bit too familiar with grass. In 1946,  his office overlooked the busy street (now SW Naito Parkway), and the plot where the park is now was at the time, bereft of a light pole.  He took pity on the inanimate space and planted flowers, and, owing to his roots, claimed a leprechaun lived near it. On St. Patrick’s Day 1948, it was officially named Mill Ends (a name owing to humble Portland beginnings at lumber yards), and in 1976, it became a city park.  Over the years, citizens have temporarily added flowers, rocks and plastic trinkets; and let’s not forget, since it is Portland, someone even planted cannabis a few years ago.

Can’t wait to see the place? Here ya go:

Mills End Park Portland Oregon
Mill Ends Park, Smallest Park in the World, Portland, Oregon

Mills End Park was moved a full six inches earlier this year, so the photo above is slightly outdated. Outdated yes, but the scale and is the same.

Have you visited Portland, Oregon?

Singapore Changi Terminal 2 Reopening in Stages

As many COVID-19 travel restrictions are being lifted, especially in Southeast Asia, Singapore Changi Airport is slowly blowing off the pandemic dust.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s compare what has became the modern icon of the Singaporean transfer hub, the Jewel shopping center waterfall.

May 2019:

jewel waterfallpre-pandemic singapore changi airport
Pre-Pandemic Jewel Waterfall, Singapore Changi Airport

April 2022:

pandemic era jewel waterfall singapore changi airport
Pandemic-Era Jewel Waterfall, Singapore Changi Airport

From 29 May, what some consider the world’s best airport will start a phased reopening of Terminal 2. Terminal 2 had been closed since the start of the pandemic, and will only full reopen by 2024, by which point it will be the most modern passenger terminal at the airport. Not only that, but its capacity will substantially increase, from five million passengers to nearly 28 millions passengers per year.

As for now, all that will be available is a handful of baggage claim belts, contact gates — in other words, gates that have direct access to aircraft, and arrival immigration. This will be done in part, to relieve the busier traffic seen at Terminal 3; during peak hours, some flights that have been using Terminal 3 will now process passengers at Terminal 2.

Furthermore, a SIN airport train will again connect airside passengers — those who have already passed immigration –from Terminal 3 to the southern section of Terminal 2; in other words, the other airport train serving the northern section of Terminal 2, and the Jewel shopping complex, will remain closed.

And one more thing, if your flight is leaving from Terminal 2, grab a snack first! Expect nothing more than bathrooms and smoking rooms to be available. What a combination… I suppose it’s because you don’t need much staff to join you while taking a puff.

I used to consider Singapore Changi one of my favorite airports, and I suppose it still is high on the list. Although I never liked the public transit options to it — taking the MRT (metro train) means you must transfer at least once, and having gate-side security doesn’t always work out well if you’re trying to take a drink onboard, being able to make a last-minute supermarket sweep for souvenirs is quite nifty.

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