Summer Getaways: Gora Kadan

Gora Kadan walk to onsen (hotspring)

It’s been a bit on the stuffy side in Tokyo lately, as you might have noticed. In addition, every corner in Shibuya has filled up with pr-people from Johnny’s, spreading the word on SMAPs latest release “We are SMAP!”. And finally, the queues for tonkatsu at Maisen have become so long that you are forced to sit on the staircase while waiting. All in all, it’s time for another summer getaway.

We packed up our Porter weekender and took the Romancecar train to Hakone to indulge in one of the loveliest little ryokans around, Gora Kadan. Hakone itself is a little pearl in the Kanagawa Prefecture, but Gora Kadan is the sparkle that makes it worth while. With Mount Fuji overlooking our every move, we popped our socks off and headed out the to outside onsen. Nothing clears the mind like a spot of geothermal heat. Cleared in mind and spirit, we sat down at the Kaiseki which serves local favourites in a beautiful and distinguished manner.

Before belting back to dysfunctional air conditioners and the like, we stopped by the Open Air Museum for sculpture by Henry Moore and the usual suspects. Some final bubbles at the champagne bar, and then leaping on the Odawara line home.

Summer Getaways: Schloß Hubertushöhe

happy nightmares

It’s heating up in London, and you may be wondering where your assistant should book you in next weekend. Look no further friends, for we have put together an itinerary for you this summer.

Starting off, we’ve just come back from a charming little stay just south of Berlin where our new-found friends at Schloß Hubertushöhe took lovely care of us. Assuming a quick stop at Deutsche Bank at Unter den Linden in Mitte first, the easiest way to get to Hubertushöhe is getting their driver to pick you up. A neat black little Porsche Panamera in our case – most delightful. The driver is a bit short on English, but Lingua Franca and a sturdy German GPS will get you there. With just a drop of Stau you’ll be there within the hour. If that doesn’t take your fancy, they have a great Wasserlandeplatz too.

The castle itself is a marvel of German ostentation. Enormous towers, and a terrace looking over Großer Storkower See. We recommend taking a seat on the latter and enjoying the Dorade with a glass of Grüner Veltliner. But don’t loiter too long – the Marina is waiting. All in all, a perfect little getaway when the Med is becoming a chore.

What SAS has to do to clean up its act

The Nordic capitals, as always, rank high in the annual livability listing. Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo all fit the bill of a manageable size and a seamless infrastructural travel experience.

While we adore the lovely little Kastrup extension to the Copenhagen’s driver-less Metro, we feel that the seamlessness for Scandinavia starts and ends just there. As soon as we embark on the A319s of Scandinavian Airlines it all starts going downhill. We felt it was our responsibility to give them a few additional pointers, since our last comment regarding inflight glassware remains unaddressed.

There are three main flaws with Scandinavian Airlines today:

1. Headwear
As we got settled in at 2A on a transatlantic trip the other day, we were surprised to see a woman in sportswear distributing drinks. Clearly she had gotten lost from economy, and was looking for the rest of her baseball team. Learn from our surprise when we realised that her attire seemed to be considered apt for cabin purposes, and that she was part of the crew. We suggest CEO Mats Jansson takes a swift visit to Doha to learn more about appropriate inflight headwear in order to avoid more millinery confusion.

2. Route Map
Getting in and out of Scandinavia long haul is anything but a pleasurable experience, mainly due to a lacking route map with ample nonstop flights. Is it really reasonable that there are no nonstop options to places like Abu Dhabi, Vancouver, Bern or Bilbao? We think not.

3. Beverages
Continuing on the thread above – the strange woman in the cap offered us 2002 Henriot champagne that had apparently was the result of “developing close relationship” with the winery. Euphemisms will never excuse inferior bubbly. A simple Krug would suffice. After all, what are we – farmers?

On the importance of doors

Red Door in the Cotswolds

Architecture in the Northern hemisphere is another great addition to the overall Scandinavian experience. Less is to be said about New York’s ditto.
From the man himself:

“I think there, we went through, obviously, an era of loss of architects doing these mega projects, doing mega towers in New York. But then sort of the middle is just a lot of mediocre rubbish, drywall, flimsy doors, uninspiring finishes. I think that’s a lot of the American design vernacular.”

We couldn’t agree more. When evaluating the livability of a country, always look to the sturdiness of the doors.

(Photo: UGArdener @ Flickr)

Inbox zero


Take a sip of the chilled Pol Roger and a snack of the freshly baked Baklava. Done? Good. Enjoy.

In the not too distant future, I expect one of the world’s respected medical journals, perhaps The Lancet or the Harvard Medical Review, will release a document on public health and the workplace that will show a direct relationship between the overzealous use of out-of-office replies and a fondness for wearing sweatpants.

The article will prove that people who like to post elaborate out-of-office replies not only dislike their jobs but also tend to be less entrepreneurial, poor team-players and, in many cases, lazy. At the same time, it will also reveal that OOORs frequently end up making elasticated stretch trousers (Fast Lane’s international symbol for having given up on life) a wardrobe staple, and that these tend to be closely associated with an unhealthy appetite for daytime TV, eating biscuits from the packet and, ultimately, unemployment.

Now send the next person that answers back with An out of office reply a couple of Juicy sweatpants, a Ryanair ticket and a map to the door. People.

Top 3 Designer Defence Systems

The M198 Howitzer

As we touched down with the Embraer EMB 120 in Geneva the other day, the lot was filled with sparsely coloured twin-turboprops of varying decent. The odd FlyBaboo Dash-8 and Swiss A320 were idling at the regular gates, but this is clearly not an airport made for regular passenger travel. It seems unfitting, somehow.

We were in this western Canton to discuss one of the most pressing challenges facing modern nation building today – the design of land-based artillery systems. Building a modern army is not simply a matter of heading down to IDEX in Abu Dhabi and buying the first armoured mortar system in sight. It takes commitment to the real issues involved in creating a sustainable defence system. Design being the primary concern, of course.

Our dinner discussions were long and infused by the local grapes from Domaine de Champlong, but we thought we’d summarize where the state of elegantly designed defence equipment stands, as of May 2010.

1. General Dynamics ASCOD2
Originally released back in 1992, this marvellous little collaboration between Santa Bárbara Sistemas and Steyr Daimler Puch in Austria got an update in 2003. We especially have our eyes on the Advanced Surveillance Vehicle, VCOAV.

Sometimes, it’s all about the accessories. Add this turret to anything terrain-driven, and you’ve got yourself a handsome fighting machine.

3. M198 Howitzer
A classic that must be mentioned in these circumstances. 70’s designs are generally speaking nothing to write home about, but this field artillery unit has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that refuses to fade.

The 777 Ambience


In the last Fast Lane column the man himself writes:

I explained that I had a special metabolism that agreed very well with the air quality and white noise of a Boeing 777.

Hear hear. We couldn’t agree more. This is the reason we have installed The 777 Ambience sound in our homes. We sleep like small babies at a karaoke bar in Shibuya to it.

The 777 Ambience by Beingtylerbrule

Photo cred:

Umshini wami. Or How Aviation Was Saved

Flight mode

As we suffered from a week of European flight hopping we finally got a chance to sit back and relax a bit. Unfortunately this was accompanied by a rather crude safety instruction by aviation waitresses who apparently hadn’t enjoyed the charmingly breakfast buffet at Hotel de la Paix in Geneva as we had that morning. But we digress. To the sound of a monotone voice, it became painfully obvious what’s lacking in current aviation services. The signature tune.

Although we might have chosen a different tune than the post-modern choice made by Jacob Zuma, Awuleth Umshini wami (Bring Me My Machine Gun), a signature tune is a natural branding tool. It’s sad to see that it’s so seldom used as a branding opportunity by the aviation industry.

So you might ask what a proper signature tune would be. Would Lufthansa be brave enough to spray a little sunshine from the sandy beaches and beautiful bums of Rio with The Choro. Or could Swiss see the opportunity of R.Kellys sexy joddling in “Echo” everytime you touched ground with one of their A340’s? We would certainly hope so. However, we’re perplexed by Qatar Airways choice of tune that makes you cry like a dalmatian in a London penthouse everytime you board a flight to Doha.

Whatever choice it will add much need brand quality to aviation outfits everywhere. That goes beyond the a well stitched bow-tie or neatly matched scarf and hat. A strong and chippy signature tune will be an essential part of aviation recovery. We will be keeping our ears to the speakers.

By all means necessary

Pilgrimage of Korea[n] lady

A week ago, we were idly enjoying some farm-fresh edamame in a small bar in Nakasu, Fukuoka when Alex texted that there was some trouble brewing in the Northern part of the Atlantic. We dashed back down Sumiyoshi Hakata-ku to our hotel concierge to see if we could possibly get the first Continental non-stop flight to Guam. From there we could speed around the globe on the reverse instead (Guam may seem like a strange choice, but however cosmopolitan Fukuoka has become, this is their only non-domestic flight hub). The kind and service-minded concierge made energetic phone calls to this second-rate carrier but unfortunately could not help. It looked like a prolonged stay due to our sub-pole friends.

However, a volcano or two should not dampen any true traveller´s spirit. Instead, we reflected on the more underrated means of transportation – Airbus 330s aside – that somehow seems to have been left behind. We are of course referring to the palanquin. In times where aircraft and high-speed rail aren’t available or sufficient, alternate means of transport need to be considered. And what better way to catch up on both sunshine and the finishing touches on next weeks column than being carried in style?

Although the palanquin would not have resolved our troublesome Fukuoka-Tokyo-Zürich-Bern route, we could at least have made it to Shikanoshima Island. In a sophisticated fashion.

Don’t call it a comeback

EVA Airways Economy Class Cabin

When we thought nothing could get better, we read this:

3. Who has the best economy?

– Pass.

So we’re back again.