Where to start?
Two of the largest labor unions in Greece have announced a 48 hour nationwide strike for October 19 and 20. Currently, lawyers are on strike, as are customs officers who are on a ten-day strike. See the Belfast Telegraph for details.
The “Occupy Wall Street has gone international with demonstrations in London, Toronto, Mexico City, Madrid, Rome and other locations. Unfortunately, the demonstrations turned violent in Rome. See this article from CNN for a top level overview of the demonstrations.
In Egypt, reform leaders are criticizing Egypt’s Military leadership, while the friction between the Copts (Christians) and some sects of believers in Islam, continues.
All in all, not a good week for travelers, at least those in the centers of major cities around the world. We are unsure what lies ahead for the demonstrations in Europe and the United States, but urge you to search local news sources to see if the activity might interfere with any travel you have planned. Other hotspots such as Greece and Egypt look to be long term problems that might just wind up with you taking these potential travel destinations off your bucket list, at least for a while.
As noted in our last blog, we were headed out on a great adventure in Egypt and Jordan, when the current political and social turmoil hit.
We were interested in adding coverage of Egypt and Jordan to ThereArePlaces, as well as to research tour packages and their providers. Although our team’s travel is usually independent (so that we can wander the places we want to research and spend the time we judge necessary to explore them), we realize that many travelers are more comfortable on tours. Honestly, none of us had never taken a formal tour and thought that this might be a great opportunity to do so and report on the results to our audience at ThereArePlaces. In addition, river cruises have been growing in popularity and we thought that combining Nile River and Lake Nasser Cruises would give us the opportunity to both see a great deal of Egypt and investigate and report about the river cruise scene.
Once we began to review companies providing tours that included Egypt + Nile River Cruises + Jordan, we noticed Viking River Cruises. Although well known for their numerous Europe cruises, they are less well-known for their cruises in Egypt. However, their itinerary in Egypt covered many of the attractions on our list and their add-on for Jordan, though much shorter, provided what we thought was a good overview of the country. So, we booked a reservation for tour starting February 17 in Cairo.
As long as we were traveling out of our usual comfort zone as independent travelers, we decided to see if we could use some of the gazillion miles we had built-up on American Airlines during our other travels for ThereArePlaces. We asked and they came up with some choice seats on short notice. However, we would be arriving in Cairo before the tour started, so we booked an advanced reservation at the Sofitel El Gezirah, close to the city Center in Cairo, which was also the hotel selected by Viking River Cruise and at which we would be staying when the tour started.
As you know, things in Egypt turned dangerous and we were uncertain that traveling in Egypt would be safe. Although we had purchased trip insurance (it was an expensive trip, at least to us), we did not want to exercise it, presuming that Viking would cancel the cruise if the tour would possibly endanger its subscribers. In fact, Viking did cancel the tour and offered to refund our total fee (including insurance) or rebook us on the same tour at a future date without penalties of any sort. Although it is our understanding that most travelers asked for the refund, we decided to try again and booked a reservation for same trip early next year. Our opinion is that Viking River Cruises reacted in an exemplary manner, putting the safety of its guests ahead of other corporate goals. In addition, the agent at Viking was great fun to work with through this situation.
American Airlines was very helpful. They cancelled the ticket on learning of the problem, deposited the miles back in our mileage bank and promptly reversed the credit card fee for the taxes on the tickets. American Airlines reacted in an exemplary manner to the situation in Egypt.
Our advanced reservation with the Sofitel El Gezirah was the least expensive and most contentious of the problems. As you can imagine, the management of the Sofitel in Cairo likely had more to worry about than our reservation during this period of turmoil. At least that is what we thought, so we contacted Sofitel’s corporate offices through their website. The first email we received from them was full of typos and misspellings and not impressive (from a high-end hotel chain), while indicating that we had purchased an Internet “special” and a refund would not be forthcoming. We wrote a second time, asking for our note to be redirected to their marketing division, indicating that we would agree that the no refund penalty should be exacted if we willingly decided not to stay at the hotel, but that in this case, there was a revolution going on in Cairo and our tour had been cancelled. The email from the corporate offices was not much better, indicating that this was a problem our own making (purchasing a non-refundable reservation), but that we should contact the management of the hotel in Cairo to see if they would be willing to provide a refund.
We have to admit that we were ashamed for the Sofitel management. They wanted us to call the management of the hotel in Cairo in the middle of a democratic revolution in order to hassle these people about a room fee! Well, we chose not do so, but did write an email to the Sofitel El Gezirah in Cairo, explaining the situation and requesting a refund. Honestly, we did not expect to hear from them and would not have been disappointed if we had not. However, one of the staff at the hotel responded to our request and promptly had the funds for the ticket returned to us. In our book, the Sofitel Hotel chain failed the test, but the Sofitel El Gezirah management in Cairo, passed it with flying colors.
We are still out of sorts about missing out on our Egypt and Jordan tour, but traveling during February would have been dicey. While we thought about going sooner rather than later, we decided that by the time the situation in Egypt might calm down, that it would be too warm to enjoy some of the attractions in southern Egypt. We thought about next fall, but decided avoid the period around the election and other travel scheduled for ThereArePlaces blew the rest of the year. Here’s to next year in Egypt and Jordan, although we really wish it could have been this one.
Ouch, just remembered that we paid for visas to Egypt and Jordan, which will expire soon. Oh well!
Those of you planning travel to Greece or Australia need to be aware of problems in these countries that could impact travel in the next week or two.
In Greece, pharmacists, doctors and bus drivers are on strike and if you are planning travel to Greece, you should read this article.
In Australia, Queensland has once again suffered from flooding, this time related to Cyclone Yasi. Read this article if you are currently visiting Australia, or plan to travel there this week.
For the two weeks, we have been transfixed with the plight of the Egyptian people in their brave battle for a government that would respond to their needs for freedom from repression and improved economic conditions.
As a side note, we had reservations for a trip to Egypt and Jordan starting next week. We were heading up a research effort that we hoped would enable us to add Egypt and Jordan to the list of countries that we cover at ThereArePlaces. I guess our team just had the wrong timing and note that the cancellation of our trip was a minor disappointment and pales in comparison to the travails and problems of the Egyptian people. In our next blog, we will describe our experience with the tour providers, hotels and airlines that we had chosen for our adventure. A couple performed very well, but one failed quite miserably. More on that next time.