Competitours gets off the ground!

As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Follow along each day this week as Kent documents their progress.

Without much fanfare – well, without any fans and a modicum of fare paid – the 11 teams participating in the inaugural Competitours event have finally met in person at the Newark airport before getting on a Continental 767-200 for the flight to Frankfurt on Sunday night.

Early that morning the challenges and the cities were finally revealed for the competition that starts on Monday, with a rather significant surprise for my wife Linda. We would be traveling to Cologne, with tasks to be completed in Dusseldorf, Bonn, Duisburg and Koblenz.

Of all the places we could have flown to in Europe for this challenge, we ended up in the area where Linda grew up! In fact, she lived just an hour away from Cologne.

Now, you might think this would give us an advantage, but after reading the challenges Steve Belkin, the creator of Competitours and his staff have put together, we’re not so sure.

While we could have poured over the details and researched the challenges all day Sunday we decided instead to meet up with fellow Gadling bloggers Grant Martin, Tom Johansmeyer, Annie Scott and Jeremy Kressmann for brunch at the Manhattan restaurant called Public.

It took an hour to get a seat, but the conversation made up for the delay, even though we were missing out on some valuable Competitours preparation time. Fortunately, this didn’t keep us from enjoying the Sunday brunch.

We’re officially known as “Team Gadling” although we joke with each other that we’ve actually become “Team Crews Control” since we’re both airline crew members (in Linda’s case, a former flight attendant) and we’ve taken a somewhat relaxed attitude about the Competitours journey.

I’ll introduce you to the other teams as we get to know them this week. These frequent flyers come from all over the country, and even Canada to participate in a game that, so far, seems to be very well organized and designed.

After parting with half the Gadling staff at brunch, Linda and I stopped into Paragon Sports to pick up an Arc’Teryx sweater for her before making our way to the airport about 3 hours before our departure time. We used this time to pour over the details and research some of the clues in advance before we met the other teams.

Monday’s tasks will include a scavenger hunt in Cologne worth 10 points, a visit to a church in Dusseldorf where we’re required to video our comments on its most prominent architectural defect and come up with an alternate, and hopefully humorous, explanation.

Other cities such as Koblenz offer challenges such as a go-kart race, with the top 50% of the finishers receiving 15 points and the other participants earning 5 points and a walking tour of the city worth 10 points.

Many of the challenges have two point values like the go-kart challenge above. Judges will award the top 50% of those participating in the challenge the maximum points. Other challenges score a fixed amount of points if they’re accomplished correctly. In all, there are 14 challenges worth a total of 175 points on Monday alone.

Since this is a trial run of the game, changes are to be expected in it’s design. Sure enough, a few days ago we were informed that instead of having a limit of 5 challenges to choose among a list of 9 to 12, we would be allowed to accomplish as many events as possible, at least in the shortened first day.

That’s changed the game considerably, and for the better, I think, emulating the harried pace of the Amazing Race to some extent.

So from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday we will be working our way from task to task, filming the results to be uploaded to the web for judging each night before midnight. We’re required to time stamp our progress with a picture sent via cell phone either by text message or e-mail to the judges. We’re not allowed to post the video from the competition online, but we’ll do our best to film some of the places and challenges we come across.

I’m currently on the flight to Frankfurt as I write this. Everyone else is trying their best to get some sleep, since we’ll be afforded only an hour or two to rest in Cologne before getting started – time which will likely be put to research rather than sleep.

Since it’s nearly impossible for me to sleep on airplanes, I’ll be running around in a mental fog when we get there, I’m sure.

Rumors are spreading through the airplane that one of the team members left a bag in the President’s Lounge. Keep in mind, lounge access was easily obtained for many of these teams which are made up of some very seasoned frequent flyers courtesy of

Linda and I considered working our way over to the Newark pilot operations of my airline, but the thought of sitting around listening to dot matrix printers spit out flight plans while crews came and went didn’t really compare well to the idea of access to a private airline lounge.

Two teams are made up of travelers who only met each other today. We struck up a conversation with Kevin who is on one of those teams and discovered that not only did he retire very early from his job to travel the world for the past 4 years, he has lived in Germany and France for some time, and is fluent in those languages. So we felt our local advantage slipping away rather quickly.

I’m not sure how successful we’ll be, considering that, in addition to uploading photos and video for the day’s challenges each evening and reviewing and researching the revealed challenges for the next day, I’ll be hacking away on my mac, trying to report daily on the week long competition.

Follow along on my twitter account while I solicit your help with some of the clues to the challenges, if you happen to be a twitter user at

We could use all the help we can get!

Read about the rest of the week: Pre-departure, departure, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4 and day 5.

The longest bar in the world: Dusseldorf’s Altstadt

In traveling to Eastern Europe last week, I had a fairly substantial layover in Düsseldorf, Germany. Figuring I could make it into the city and back during those nine hours, I checked a few of my favorite internet resources and discovered that Düsseldorf is home to the self-proclaimed longest bar in the world. Thus being the studious Gadling researcher that I am, I decided to investigate.

Altstadt can be reached with a few train transfers (unless the union is striking) from the airport in about 45 minutes. Once you exit the subway you’ll see a swarm of people walking in one general direction. Follow them — they’re headed towards the beer. “The longest bar in the world” is a series of several blocks of brick pedestrian walkways, connected and curving through the old city. Scattered among them you’ll find your typical food joints, although most of the bars serve standard German fare; I was able to get “barbecued meats” and a huge wheat beer for about 12E (tip: that small fillet of meat that looks like a liver cut in half actually is liver).

Make sure you stop by the Barrique Düsseldorf Altstadt, where you can purchase liquor by the liter out of giant glass globes and peruse the limoncello and grappa collection.

To get to Altstadt from the airport, take a commuter train to the Dusseldorf HBF, then transfer to the Heinrich-Heine-Allee metro stop. You’ll know where to go once you reach the surface.

Fly SMINTair: Smokers International Airline

Last year we reported on a new airline trying to take to the skies called SMINTair. Everyone knows that for an airline to succeed nowadays they need to have some sort of angle: budget, luxury, high-tech, or in the case of SMINTair: cigarette smoke.

Aside from offering to “treat its passengers like the guest of an international Grand Hotel,” SMINTair will allow all paying customers to suck on a smooth, refreshing boomstick while en route to their destination. “Can you imagine the air in that plane after 12 hours? And your bloodshot eyes and stinky clothes?” Neil wrote in our earlier coverage. Turns out SMINTair has already thought of this.

“Non-smokers will find the cabin air more refreshing than on any other flight with any other airline, as SMINTAIR adds fresh outside air to the conditioning system!” their website reads. Not all is peachy, however. “This is more expensive, as it burns more fuel, but it is seen as an additional service to our guests.”

Now they’ve got the anti-smoking advocates and the environmentalists on their back. Not a good move. But according to Globorati, the airline “has now scored daily slots at Dusseldorf airport,” which means, I guess, that they’re at least one step closer to actually flying.