How Did So Much Cocaine Wind Up On This Flight?

A couple of passengers departing Caracas, Venezuela for Paris, France checked 31 articles of luggage on the flight, all of which were tagged under false names. Upon investigation, authorities discovered that the bags were filled with 2,866 pounds of pure cocaine. Suspicions were apparently only raised when the passengers who checked the bags didn’t actually board the plane. The flight date was on 9/11 no less, a date we all know for extra precautions at airports, at least in the United States. The unaccompanied bags of cocaine were eventually detained at the Charles De Gaulle airport.Several people have been arrested in France regarding the incident — three are Italian and three are British. Venezuelan authorities have arrested three officers of the National Guard and have said that they expect more arrests to come. According to Minister Miguel Rodriguez, Venezuelan authorities are also suspicious of the airline workers involved in this flight. While we don’t have any further details regarding just how this much cocaine wound up on this plane, it’s pretty clear that with National Guard members and possibly airline workers aiding in the transport of the drugs, a massive coverup and/or coercion may have been present. Most drug rings wouldn’t risk this much cocaine on a single flight unless they felt success was inevitable, a presumption that is contingent on corruption.

$270 Million Worth of Cocaine Found on France Flight

Avoiding Scams And Thieves While Traveling Abroad

Flickr user Modenadude

My wife and I had just left the Musee D’Orsay when a young woman came running up to us clutching a ring.

The pretty brunette spoke in halting English, saying she saw it drop to the ground as we walked by. After a quick scan of our fingers, we told her we weren’t missing any rings, but she placed the ring in my hand and insisted we take it for friendship. Before my heart could swell with the joy of international love and brotherhood, she then asked for money for a cup of coffee. At that point, I realized it was a scam and handed her back the ring, which she no doubt tried to foist onto another hapless tourist couple.

While our stay in Paris was overall a wonderful experience, criminals threatened to put a damper on our trip. Before our flight out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, we would be accosted by other scam artists several more times, and my wife was pick-pocketed on the Paris Metro. Luckily the hipster shorts I bought in a Parisian boutique were so tight, I could barely get my fingers into my pockets, let alone a common thief do the same.

Unfortunately, theft and scams are all too prevalent in most major metropolitan areas. Staff members at the Louvre actually went on strike for a day earlier this year, protesting the unsafe working conditions caused by thieves and scam artists. Bob Arno, co-author of Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Crime While Traveling, estimates about 70 percent of Barcelona tourists will be approached by a street criminal; of those incidents, about 33 percent result in the loss of valuables.

According to the US government, Paris, Barcelona, London, Rome, Amsterdam and Naples have the highest number of scam artists looking to take advantage of naïve or distracted tourists.

Travel expert Rick Steves recently noted some of the most common international travel scams and ways tourists can avoid them. Other advice to consider:

  • Forgo purses or strapped bags in favor of body wallets or buttoned pockets.
  • Leave fancy jewelry or expensive watches at home. Don’t flash expensive electronic equipment –- particularly iPhones, thieves love them –- around. Have the number for the local police department saved in your phone.
  • Keep your passport and other important documents in the hotel safe, after you’ve scanned or photographed them and saved them in a file-sharing app or program like Evernote or Dropbox.
  • Stay alert. While you might be tempted to buy that second bottle of wine after dinner, realize drunk tourists are easy targets.

What are your tips for staying safe abroad?

Gummy Bear Art Car Takes Grand Tour

gummy bear car in New York
Courtesy of Alex Leuchte

Sometimes an “only in New York” moment has a more global story. On a rainy afternoon this week in Manhattan, my friend visiting from Germany was excited to spot a Mercedes with Munich plates. The car had a distinctive pattern covering its exterior, we debated whether it was metal, fabric or beads, but the actual decoration is much sweeter: gummy bears.

The back window detailed the “grand tour” of this visionary art, starting in Munich, traveling to Paris and London, and finally New York. The project is the third installment of artist Guenther Siraky‘s Mercedes Trilogy, which also took him and the car through Europe in 2007. The plan was to take the gummy bear car to each of the city’s major art museums, including the Louvre, Tate and Guggenheim, exhibiting the work of art in front of each museum. Over a million people have seen the car, and reactions range from disbelief and amazement to tears of joy. NYPD officers have even allowed him to park in forbidden places to display his work. While the car should be covered in rain and extreme heat, the slightly melted gummy bears just add to the vehicle’s charm. Siraky intended to sell the vehicle once he completed his tour last month, but he has extended his time in New York, and can be found driving it all over the five boroughs through the end of September.

See a slideshow of the gummy bear car in NYC below, and check in with the art car’s adventures through the artist’s Facebook page.

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Forget Cronuts. Try These 6 International Food Combinations.

hirotomo t, Flickr

Everyone loves a good food trend or weird restaurant. In fact some people even travel for them. But sometimes trends quickly turn to obsession. This year that has been the cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid bred in New York and quickly copied around the world. For example, north of the border in Canada, you can get your hands on a bacon jam cronut burger.

Maybe it’s because it’s a weird combination. Maybe it’s because we all have a secret desire to eat trashy baked goods. But whatever it is, odd food combinations make people go wild. Here are six other food creations from around the world that are right up there with the cronut, and may just be worth traveling for if you’re in search of an odd eating experience.

1. Animal Doughnuts

Japanese animal doughnuts (also know as “doubutsu doonatsu” in Japanese) are a weird/sort of cute combination of a love of anime and fried dough. They’re exactly like they sound: doughnuts with animal ears and faces that are sort of reminiscent of Hello Kitty. If Hello Kitty was made by a pastry chef.

ManEatManila, Flickr

2. Ramen Burger

Why go for a regular bun when you could make one out of ramen noodles? Created by ramen lover Keizo Shimamoto in Brooklyn, the ramen burger is an attempt at combining everyone’s two favorite things: burgers and noodles. A classic example of an uptown/downtown trend, it’s a hipster dish with a classier layer. If you can call a pan-fried ramen bun classy.

3. Crookie

In Canada, you can get your hands on a croissant stuffed with an Oreo. Because nothing says classy like a double stuffed cook sandwich in a French patisserie.

4. Doughnut Burgers

If you thought the French would be offended that their national pastry of choice would be combined with the American fried classic, think again. Turns out, they’re all about doughnuts. Well at least that’s what we can assume from the latest campaign from French fast food chain Quick: the Homer Menu. Inspired by none other than Homer Simpson, it’s a burger in the shape of a doughnut. And if that’s not enough for you, they also have a cheesy doughnut offering; a classic doughnut filled with melted cheese. And no, it’s not brie.

5. Nutella Fries

Nope, it’s not brought to you by the Europeans. Nutella fries are all thanks to the Canucks, who are debuting the dish at this years Canadian National Exhibition. I see no reason why this won’t take off in food trucks across North America.

6. Birizza

Ever eaten biryani? It’s a rice-based dish popular across Asia and the Middle East, but in Sri Lanka, thanks to the local Pizza Hut, you can get it in a pizza version. Curry spiced rice with chicken or paneer in a dough wrapper? You didn’t think you’d be eating calzones on your next trip to Southeast Asia did you?

Was This The Real Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa
Wikimedia Commons

Scientists in Florence are examining the bones of a 16th century nun they think served as the model for the Mona Lisa.

Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo was the wife of a wealthy merchant and is rumored to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait. She was a famed beauty in her time and lived across the street from the famous artist and inventor. When her husband died she became a nun at the convent of San Orsula in Florence, where she died and was buried in 1542.

A team of scientists went looking for her in a crypt under the convent. DNA in the bones they found is now being compared with samples taken from the Gherardini family tomb in hopes of finding a match. The next step will be facial reconstruction to see what the woman looked like in life. Perhaps they’ll find the mystery to her enigmatic smile.

Facial reconstruction and DNA analysis have already been done for the remains of King Richard III, found last year under an English parking lot. Researchers are also examining the possible remains of King Alfred the Great.