TripAdvisor Poll Has It Wrong

May 5, 2009 on 3:27 pm | In Copenhagen travel, Europe travel, France Travel, Germany travel, Ireland travel, Italy travel, London travel, Paris Travel,, TripAdvisor, Uncategorized, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

Today, we saw the results of a poll by the website TripAdvisor representing the sentiments of their members on travel in Europe. (We have attached links to each city mentioned here in case you want to take a look at our recommendations on these destinations.) 

According to the 2,376 people surveyed, London is the most expensive, has the worst-dressed citizens and is the dirtiest city in Europe.  The headline of the article claimed that London had the worst cuisine in Europe, but in the poll it was voted second behind Paris (by one percentage point), and ahead of Rome (by four percentage points). How London could be the worst, when it was not voted the worst seems like editorial malpractice.    Somewhat curiously, in a poll by TripAdvisor held on March 13, 2008, London was voted as the best European city to visit, although it was cited as being the most expensive and the dirtiestParis was evaluated as overrated and expensive. 

Brussels and Zurich were rated as among the most boring European cities, while Venice was crowned the most romantic, although also very expensive. 

Apparently there is a silver lining to every dark cloud as the voters loved London for its numerous free attractions (most of its major museums for instance), while Paris was cited for having the best food and best-dressed people.  Dublin fared well as a friendly place, as did Amsterdam and Prague (the best bargain). Copenhagen was voted as Europe’s cleanest city.  Barcelona was rated as having the best architecture, while Warsaw was rated as having the ugliest.

We don’t know about you, but if we had the chance to hop on a flight today for any of these cities, we would happily do so.   In large part, the quality of your travel experience depends on your doing the research to find the place that is right for you.  If you do not like art, fashion, history and great food, or the French, you will hate Paris.  Most of us find it a joy to visit the City of Light and would recommend it to others.  London, too, is a fantastic place to visit and we have never had a bad time while exploring the complex entity that is London.  We have found that street food in London is greasy and poorly prepared.  However, if you are willing to pay the price, London has some of the best restaurants in Europe. 

One final observation – we tend to fill out review forms when we have had a bad experience.  If the restuarant’s service was poor, we let them know.  If the flight was delayed and the service was cruddy, we let them know.  Conversely, when things go well we also let them know, but would likely not fill out a form to tell that that our experience was just as it should have been.  In other words, we take polls for what they are worth – very little.  But, they do make life interesting. As does travel.

Pasted below is the data from the TripAdvisor Poll, in case you do not want to read the release.

    Best Free  
    Attractions:             1. London (35%)    2. Rome (9%)       3. Barcelona (9%)
    Most Over-Rated:     1. Paris (25%)     2. London (12%)    3. Dublin (6%)
    Most Under-Rated:   1. Krakow (7%)     2. Bruges (6%)     3. Edinburgh (5%)
    Locals:                     1. Dublin (15%)    2. Amsterdam (14%) 3. Edinburgh (8%)
    Least Friendly:          1. Paris (36%)     2. London (17%)    3. Moscow (6%)
    Most Boring:            1. Brussels (14%)  2. Zurich (9%)     3. Dublin (6%)
    Most Tourist   
    Traps:                     1. London (30%)    2. Paris (15%)     3. Rome (10%)
    Most Romantic:        1. Venice (29%)    2. Paris (21%)     3. Rome (11%)
    Most Expensive:       1. London (23%)    2. Paris (19%)     3. Venice (8%)
    Best Bargain:           1. Prague (16%)    2. Amsterdam (9%)  3. Istanbul (8%)
    Best Nightlife:          1. London (27%)    2. Amsterdam (17%) 3. Barcelona(11%)
    Cleanest:                 1. Copenhagen (9%) 2. Zurich (8%)     3. Stockholm (7%)
    Dirtiest:                   1. London (36%)    2. Paris (9%)      3. Athens (7%)
    Best cuisine:            1. Paris (18%)     2. London (17%)    3. Rome (13%)
    Worst cuisine:          1. London (10%)    2. Moscow (7%)     3. Warsaw (6%)
    Architecture:            1. Barcelona (15%) 2. Rome (14%)      3. London (12%)
    Architecture:            1. Warsaw (8%)     2. Berlin (7%)     3. Brussels (6%)
    Best Public 
    Parks:                     1. London (50%)    2. Paris (7%)      3. Barcelona (6%)
    Best Dressed:          1. Paris (26%)     2. Rome (23%)      3. Madrid (8%)
    Worst Dressed:       1. London (20%)    2. Dublin (6%)     3. Moscow (6%)

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Cruise Lines Begin Cancelling Port Calls in Mexico

April 30, 2009 on 12:18 pm | In Caribbean travel, Mexico travel, Swine flu outbreak,, Uncategorized, things travelers need to know, travel, travel warnings | Comments Off

We forgot to include this is our earlier blog, but thought you might be interested. Reuters has reported that major cruise lines have begun to cancel ports of call in Mexico. 

Don’t know about you, but taking a cruise without ports of call is just not in the cards for us.  Of course, it would be a great way to “get away” from it all.

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More Swine Flu News

April 30, 2009 on 11:04 am | In Mexico travel, Swine flu outbreak,, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel | Comments Off

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a health warning advising US citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico.  The EU is considering a ban of all air travel to Mexico in response to their current belief that all cases of Swine flu in Europe have originated in Mexico.

This page at the CDC site provides a good overview of what travelers need to know about the Swine Flu.

We will keep you updated on any information we come across on Swine Flu and travel.

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Web Problems – Broken Links in Search Engines

April 8, 2009 on 7:28 pm | In, Uncategorized, web publishing, website link maintenance | Comments Off

Today was one of those heartbreaking days for the staff at ThereArePlaces.

We work hard trying to create a great website with travel information that just might help you take your best trip ever.   As you may know, we support the site based on advertising and advertising requires that we deliver quality content when you come to visit ThereArePlaces.

Yesterday, we started noticing 404 errors in our logs.  404 errors mean that the files that people were expecting to see, were not delivered when they should have been displayed.  We checked our pages and determined that the problems was not with our site, but somewhere else. 

After a numerous hours looking at the problem we discovered that the source of the errors was in the Google Search Index.  When you search Google for something like “best places to visit in Madrid”, it may return a link to our site.  Usually that is just great and we are pleased to see you.  Usually the link from Google works just fine, but for some reason, Google is now publishing links to various of our pages and the links are malformed and breaking our code.

In our case, the way the link is malformed in Google results in the images not displaying and many of the links on the pages not working correctly. 

Although we can see the problems when we click on some of the links  in the Google index, we do not experience the same problems when the pages are linked to from our own site.  In other words, if you started out at ThereArePlaces all of the pages, photos and links will display correctly.  If you enter from Google, some of the links will not work correctly, while other will be OK.

When you arrive at one of these pages via a malformed link in the Google index, the images do not show and most of the links on the page do not work correctly.

The broken links were not supplied by us, as we provide Google and other search engines with a Sitemap.XML file that contains the correct form for all of the pages and images on our site.  What is frustrating is that we cannot tell when another broken link is going to appear in their index or even determine how it got there.  The only response we can make is to either redirect you, or to put a note on the page indicating that if you cannot see the images, click the link we supply to solve the problem.

We apologize for this problem, but when things go wrong with Google there is no immediate or apparent way to resolve the problem.  We appreciate your patience and will work to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

By the way, we are not blaming Google for the broken links, as we are not sure what is causing the malformed links.  As we noted, some of the links in Google are correct, while others are wrong.

For those of you who are gear-heads, the problem in the Google Search Engine is that it sometimes shows a link to our site  with a  “%5C” inserted somewhere in the URL.  The “%5C” is the code for a backslash or   “\”.  The proper form in a URL  is a  forward slash or “/”.  The backslash breaks the URL.

Thanks and our apologies.


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Istanbul – The Trip Of A Lifetime

March 28, 2009 on 10:51 pm | In Istanbul travel,, Turkey, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travels in Turkey | Comments Off

For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about Istanbul, one of my favorite cities.  In fact, it was one of my favorite cities before I had the opportunity to visit Turkey.

When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, my family rarely traveled outside of the city and never outside of the state.  Travel outside of the country was inconceivable!

My Dad had died in a car accident when I was very young and my Mom never quite recovered from his loss.  And since he died returning from a fishing trip in Mexico, well, for her, travel just didn’t have its allure anymore. I guessed there was no way I was going to travel for a few years, so, I did the next best thing and started to read about all of the places that I hoped to see whenever travel was going to enter my life.

After all that reading, at 10 years of age, I had somehow decided my life list.  It was short, my horizons had not yet expanded.  Of course, there was the matter of money for traveling and I did not have any nor any prospect of getting any.  Fortunately, lack of funds was never a reason not to plan, at least for me, so I decided  I needed to do some homework and planwhere I really wanted to explore, just in case some unknown relative bequeathed me with a fortune.   

London, of course, was a must – just on the basis of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street, the Tower of London and Paddington Station (you bear fans will know what I mean).  Unfortunatelly for London, I had two posters of other, more desirable places tacked to the wall of my bedroom.

One old, cracked, poster was a drawing of Mont St. Michel, while the other was a stylized graphic of Istanbul, complete with minarets.  Mont St. Michel was there because I had read some great kid’s mystery that involved Mont. St. Michel, the mysterious, medieval abbey somewhere along the coast of France.  Istanbul deserved its place in my small room, because of its history and its role as the place where “East meets West”, although I wasn’t quite sure what that really meant – I was sure that it was important!  Of course, the stylized, garish poster adorning my wall was labeled both with Istanbul and Constantinople, making this ancient city even more mysterious.

Fast forward a few years and my travel list was growing.  I really enjoyed visiting London and was thrilled when I was able to explore Mont Mt. St, Michel, but for some reason Istanbul left me with a deep need to return again and again.  The attraction is so strong that it makes me want to stop-in anytime I am reasonably (or unreasonably) near. 

I first saw Istanbul from the deck of a Windstar ship, at the end of glorious cruise of the Greek Islands and parts of the Turkish coast.  I had never been a fan of cruises, so it came as a surprise to me that the Windstar experience was so enjoyable.  Maybe it was the small-sized ship, perhaps it was the customized itinerary – but even the considerable enjoyment I had on the cruise paled in comparison to the jolt that I received when I saw Istanbul from the Golden Horn.

Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and Hagia Sophia  seemed to dominate the horizon and I knew that I had finally arrived at the edge of my boyhood dream, exploring the city where East meets West.  I guess there are places like that for every traveler, but it was love at first sight for me.

The historic monuments were stunning, the Turkish Classic Architecture of the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque were exceptional in their complexity and superb in their execution.  The Spice Market was smaller and more aromatic that I had expected, while the covered Bazaar was larger and less mysterious than I had hoped. Hagia Sophia was breathtaking and I spent much time thinking about the Emperor Justinian, his dome and the earlier Byzantine era. The Topkapi Palace was excellent, but too large and complex to take in during a single visit.   The Bosporus proved to be an exciting, energetic highway to Asia and beyond, always beckoning and always delivering a new treat just just ahead.

However, the greatest treasure of Istanbul for me was its people and their important culture.  While there are many notable thing about Istanbul, it is a small memory that might help you understand my romance with this timeless city.

I remember especially their flat bread. called lavash.  One night we were eating at a particularly good restaurant and I was consuming massive quanities of lavash.  The owner laughed with me as I asked for more and then, he asked if I would like to tour their bakery.  Off we went into the depths of the restaurant to a  large and spotless room equipped with a large ceramic kiln, being fed by a crew of five who were as proud as could be to welcome us to their workplace.  Istanbul was a continual series of meetings between old friends I had never known before, but who became important to me the minute I walked into their store or restaurant.

I guess it’s time to go back – I need some Istanbul.  If you can’t get there now, take a look at our guide to Istanbul.  After all, thinking about travel is the next best thing to doing it.

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Europe And Hawaii – In The News

March 24, 2009 on 11:15 am | In Europe travel, Hawaii travel,, Uncategorized, air travel, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

Eurocontrol, the agency responsible for air-traffic control in Europe has introduced a new air traffic control system designed to double the number of planes in European airspace, while cutting flight time and enhancing flow-control at European airports.  The AP article can be found here.

We thought the article was interesting since it indicated a growing role for GPS and a diminished one for radio beacons to guide planes.  We wondered, however, how air traffic is going to double in Europe in terms of the finanicial difficulties being experienced by most airlines (not to mention their passengers).  However, we learned a new take on the word “Optimism” when it was mentioned at the very bottom of the article that the new air traffic control system “…should be fully operational by 2025.  Gee, only 16 years to wait for improved air-control.

On the other side of the world, the Supreme Court of Hawaii decided that the Hawaii Superferry, a car ferry that was running between Oahu and Maui (with plans to include Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii), was operating without a full environmental impact statement and would be closed down until one was filed and approved.  We suspect that the ruling will end the ferry’s emerging role as a popular, alternative mode of inter-island travel and the owners of the service have said as much.  We suspect that the island small field of air carriers are doing the Hula in celebration.   See our Hawaii Guide for more details von the best places to visit in Hawaii.

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Oh Those Bargains

March 10, 2009 on 6:06 pm | In Dunhill Vacations, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, vacation travel | Comments Off

In a response to the economic downturn, major airlines, cruise lines, river cruise companies, hotels, spas and just about everyone in the travel business is offering discounts that are producing a mini-boom in travel.  We doubt that you will see bargains like this in the future and if you have the time and money, you should take a good look at what is being offered.  We have seen “unimaginable” prices and suspect that they will not last for long.  Until then, you might consider making hay while the sun is shining.

See Dunhill Vacations for some great travel discounts.  If interested, you can sign-up for their newsletter here.

We know it is a difficult decision to spend money in hard times, but the economy is a fact of life.  In turn, you probably only get one major vacation a year and we don’t think you should skip one if you can afford it.  Our view is that travel is one of the best things in life and if someone wants to throw travel bargains your way – Well, take the opportunity. You may never see prices this good again.

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More Violence in Northern Ireland

March 10, 2009 on 5:53 pm | In Northern Ireland travel, The Troubles, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Well, it took just two days for a splinter group of the IRA to cause more trouble for Northern Ireland.  A police officer responding to a call in Craigavon, County Armagh was shot through the rear window of his car as he arrived to provide help to a woman who had called for assistance.  He died of his injuries and the killing was claimed by the Continuity IRA.  For more information, including a map of the location, see this article by the BBC.

The IRA splinter groups are unhappy with the progress of the Peace Process and seem intent on causing more trouble in the future.  Visitors to Northern Ireland should exercise caution.

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More on Ryanair’s “Pee Fee”. Is There A “Bowel Bond” In Your Future?

March 6, 2009 on 1:57 pm | In Europe travel,, Uncategorized, air travel, pee fee, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

There was an article today in Canada’s The Globe and Mail about Ryanair’s CEO and the “pee fee” being contemplated by the Dublin-based low cost air carrier.  I guess we were not paying attention the first time this hit the wires, but the airline is considering installing credit card scanners on the doors of the toilets of their fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft.  What’s more, the fee will be one British Pound.

Just imagine, if you are a foreign traveler, not only will you have the pay to use the toilet, but it is likely that your credit card company will charge you a foreign currency transaction fee.  In combination these two fees will be called the “wesua fee” (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi Users fee) by the airline.  Yes, the WESUA (WE Screwed yoU Again) fee is a product of our imagination, but as long as we are imagining what could be, why not read some more of this good fun?

Do you suppose Ryanair will try to segment the fees?  There could be a “pee fee”, a “crap trap” (also known as the “bowel bond”), a fee for toilet paper, one for washing your hands and another for the paper towels to dry them.  Since no one will pay to wash their hands, the airlines could make a bundle by installing a credit card-based hand sanitizer dispenser somewhere on the plane.

The mind runs wild at the possible ways to wring even more money from the traveling public.  Perhaps, the airlines could charge more for the ticket based on pilot seniority? If a pilot relatively unqualifed on the aircraft used was going to fly, then you would be charged less than if a more senior pilot was scheduled to fly.  Perhaps they could charge more for tickets on airplanes they actually maintain, as opposed to most of the ones that fly, for which the records are maintained, but not the aircraft.

How about charging for ‘barf bags”?  Or, lifevests?  Imagine – boarding a plane could become a cafeteria plan where you get to opt-in or out of seats, toilets, flight announcements, safety announcements, etc.  Ah those airlines – always thinking about the best interest of their passengers!

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Avis Europe to Raise Rates Significantly

March 5, 2009 on 11:54 am | In Europe travel, Uncategorized, car rental, travel industry, travel news | Comments Off

While many travel service providers are discounting their rates to entice travelers to use their services in these trying economic times, some companies just do not seem to appreciate the consumer dynamics in this market.  Today, we read that Avis Europe is planning on raising car rental prices 10%.  Avis Europe’s Chief Executive, Pascal Bazin, said the company “…would lead the industry….”  I had  never thought of “racing” to be the first to announce price increases that would decrease my competitiveness and lead to less people using the serivces provided by my company.  If you would like to read more about Avis Europe and its plans, you can find the article in the Financial Times.

We rented from Avis during a recent research trip in Germany and the service was great.  The car included GPS at no extra charge and was an upgraded model.  It ran well, was a pleasure to drive and was well maintained inside and out.  In addition, the rates then charged by Avis were competitive. 

I am sure other reputable car rental companies will increase their rates and follow the lead of Avis.  There will be some that don’t – and those will be the ones we will examine when considering our next European car rental.

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