Europe Not This Week – Part 2

December 22, 2009 on 10:30 pm | In Europe travel, ThereArePlaces.com, country travel information, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news, travel restrictions, travel warnings | Comments Off

Well, its been travel hell in Europe this week and its does not look like the situation will markedly improve until next week at the earliest. Seems like it’s a Dickens’ Christmas for travelers on the continent and in the UK – “Bah, Humbug!”

If you have a choice, delay travel to Europe until after Christmas. If you do not have a choice, be prepared for delays, lines and the usual travel problems that pop-up when the weather “breaks” transportation systems.

There was some good news as the Eurostar is, once again, running the Channel Tunnel, although the backlog of passengers is so large that the company is not accepting new reservations until after Christmas. Here are three stories on the weather troubles from the BBC, Wall Street Journal, and Deutshce Welle.

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British Airways Christmas Strike?

December 14, 2009 on 9:25 am | In air travel, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel warnings | Comments Off

The cabin crew union members servicing British Airways flights have indicated that they will initiate a series of strikes between December 22 and January 2.

Those of you who have tickets on a BA during this period will be glad to know that the spokesperson for the union taking the strike action said that they did so with a “heavy heart”. We are sure that this will be great consolation when the flight you purchased months ago, in good faith, does not fly during the Christmas Holidays. For more information see this article from the BBC.

Our advice is to see if you can rebook with another carrier, but BA will probably not know which flights will be influenced by the action until the day of flight. If this is the case, we suspect that BA will not be inclined to provide refunds in advance or switch your tickets to another flight. What a shame.

While both sides seem at fault here, we hope the airline industry (owners and workers) will realize that these are not the situations that attract the type of loyalty in their customer base that ensures job stability for the workers and the potential of profits for the companies.

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Back Again

November 24, 2009 on 8:18 am | In things travelers need to know, travel | Comments Off

We apologize for the lack of “news” recently, but we have been out scouring the world to update ThereArePlaces and our Best Places to Visit. We are working on a comprehensive guide to Vienna and hope to have it out in a week or two.

One issue that continues to “shock” us when we travel is the cost of Internet Access in Europe. Hotels routinely charge 20 to 28 Euros for a day of connectivity. Those hotels that provide services for less, usually limit both the time and the bandwidth available, forcing you to connect at a higher cost if you want to send photos and other high volume data (and we average 300 to 500 photos a day – not to mention video).

Atlhough you might be tempted to think of the Europe as the EU, it is not federated in terms of roaming charges for phones. If you buy a voice and data plan for Germany, you will need another from France and another for Spain or be prepared to spend huge sums of money. Seems like telephone signals can freely travel across borders, but taking your phone across borders will cause you an arm and a leg, if you use it.

While on that topic, our iPhone was useless in Europe, since data roaming outside of our home territory in the U.S. is something that only Steve Jobs can afford. In order to travel with your iPhone and avoid huge charges, you need to set data roaming to off, use Airplane mode continuously and only dare to use your phone when you are near WiFi that you can use (since this can be used without charge from AT&T – but cannot be found free in most of Europe).

In other words, regardless of the device used, unless you have gazillions of dollars, you will find it hard to be connected on a constant basis in Europe. While you can hook-up at Internet cafes, these are good only for checking email and not for large scale file transfers or other operations that require secure connections.

Yep, you could solve all this problems with bundles of cash, but we travel the same way you do. We watch our spending and avoid activities that result in excessive charges. The end result, we were out of contact.

On the other hand, it was good to be traveling, as we are usually stuck in the office on administrative details. Autumn is often a great time to travel and this year was no exception. Yes, we ran into rain and some cold weather, but we did not run into large crowds at the more well-known attractions and had many of the less-popular attractions to ourselves.

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Bats and Bat Caves

August 30, 2009 on 11:35 am | In United States travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

As many of you know, ThereArePlaces recently added a new section to its website on the Best National Parks in the American Southwest. One of the parks mentioned is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. In our coverage we noted that there is a Bat Program at Carlsbad Caverns as over a million bats make the caverns their home.

Today we were cruising the news and saw an excellent piece from CNN (video) on the Bracken Bat Cave in Texas. Approximately 20 million Mexican fre-tailed bats make this cave their home and when they exit the cave for their nightly hunting it is an astounding sight. Take a look at the CNN Video of Bracken Bat Cave.

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New ThereArePlaces Guide to Rome, Italy

June 16, 2009 on 11:07 pm | In Europe travel, Italy, Italy travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

The famous Pantheon in Rome, Italy
 
We’ve just published our new, Rome Guide and hope you like it. We have new photographs, new attractions, new maps and a new design.

We have provided several themes for exploring the Eternal City that include: Ancient Rome, Rome’s Glorious Piazzas, Rome’s Museums, Rome’s Churches, Rome’s Vatican City, Touring Tactics, Shopping and DayTrips.

To make it easier for those of you who want to learn more about specific attractions, we have created an index to all of the attractions that we cover in Rome.

We’ve added several new maps in addition to our best places to visit in Rome map. Now included are the following maps – Roman Forums, Rome’s Museums, Rome’s Churches, Shopping and Day Trips.

A small section of our Rome Shopping Map

For the most popular attractions we have created detailed coverage in the form of one-page, illustrated guides that provide additional information on the spectacular sights at the locations in this category. Take our new Rome Guide for a spin, we think you will find it helpful in planning your trip to Rome.

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Western Hemisphere Travel Rules Complete for U.S.

June 1, 2009 on 7:30 pm | In Mexico travel, ThereArePlaces.com, WHTI, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, air travel, passports, things travelers need to know, travel | Comments Off

Well, we finally hit June 1, 2009 and that means that all aspects of the United States’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) are now in place. If you need to know the details, check our article on the WHTI. In addition, if you have heard about the new Passport Card for use under the WHTI, see this ThereArePlaces article.

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Windstar Still Afloat?

May 26, 2009 on 5:00 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, cruise travel, things travelers need to know, travel | Comments Off

I apologize for the delay in posting this story.  When I attempted to post it over a week ago, I found that our Wordpress installation was dysfunctional.  It took several days to repair, but now we are back up and the blog is operating thanks to the help of our friends at HostMySite.com.  The reference to dates in the text is off, but I think you will understand my message.

One of the saddest stories in the travel provider world surrounds the problems that Ambassadors International is having maintaining the Windstar line of ocean cruisers.  Windstar is our favorite small-ship cruise line, as we like the ship-size, the itineraries and the type and level of service that Windstar provides.  Although the cruises are not “cheap”, neither are they pretentious.  You generally get great, though unobtrusive service and mix with a crowd of people small enough to make meaningful friends and life-long acquaintances.

A few years ago, Ambassadors, which then  ran an travel-based event management company, purchased Windstar to accompany its venture of US river cruising called the Majestic Line (now defunct).  Unfortunately, Ambassadors appears not to have had the wherewithal to manage a complex business and began shedding units to continue its operations.  It now appears to be solely focused on Windstar.

Today, Travel Weekly  posted an article that confirmed industry rumors -  Ambassadors may need more cash to stay afloat, I guess that’s the industry phrasing for avoiding bankruptcy, which for many companies is a prelude to financial default and ceasing operations.  A few weeks ago we saw another report that indicated that Ambassador’s accounting firm believed that the company was close to no longer being a “going concern”.

In turn, we have noticed that Windstar is really reducing fees for some of their current cruises and have a suggestion for you.  If you are booked on a future Windstar cruise, be sure to purchase trip insurance that covers a company ceasing operations during your travels.  Some travel insurance companies cover default but not bankruptcy.  What you need to do is explain the situation to your agent and ask them to arrange coverage that will get you home if the cruise line is unable to operate due to financial problems.

Windstar provides a great vacation experience.  We hope they make it.

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You People Are Sick!

May 26, 2009 on 4:52 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

With all apologies to the Comedian George Wallace (now appearing at the Flamingo in Las Vegas) , who has made the title line of this blog famous, I could not help but think of him when I read the results of survey conducted for Hewlett Packard by American Airlines.  The survey found that among frequent business travelers having a dead notebook battery and no place to charge it was their most frequent travel-related complaint.  (See the entire story at Internet News.)  How about pilot fatigue, stressed airframes and an inefficient and potentially unsafe air travel control system?

Twenty-four percent of those surveyed, responded that access to a power socket was the most important technological amenity aboard an airplane.  I still consider a flush-toilet that operates at 40,000 feet to be a fairly important technology, but that may be because my travel is mostly long distance. I found it amusing that, forty-seven percent of those surveyed felt that having Wi-Fi connectivity was the most important amenity at airline terminals, outscoring food by thirty percent in the ratings. 

The reason that I find this amusing is that I am normally surrounded by more technology and connectivity than most.  For some unexplained reason I have six computers (four desk tops, two notebooks, a SONY PlayStation III,  a SONY PSP, three printers, numerous PDAs, a couple of PNDs and numerous other processor-based boxes all in my office.  I’d like to be able to tell you that I share an office, but there is no truthful phrase that I could write that would lead you to believe that I am not the sole occupant of the space. 

When I travel, I am loaded with gear.  I carry a Blackberry, PND, PDA, notebook, camera, digital voice recorder and other electronic stuff that I am convinced I will need to cover the assignment.   However, I rarely take this stuff out at the airport or on the plane.  In fact, the airport and plane are usually the only places where I get to to think  really deep thoughts when I travel.   I guess I am among the group that flies in the cheap seats and doesn’t really have the room to do any work other than that which naturally occurs in the space between my ears.

Usually, after I arrive at the airport, I stop at the Kiosk or the Admiral’s Club and snap up a Wall Street Journal and the local newspaper to see what’s new around the world.  After all, if I was in a hotel the night before, I spent most of my evening online doing email, sending reports and preparing for the next day.  So, when I get to an airport, I want real amenities – not WiFi and not electrical plugs (though they do come in handy for recharging).  So let’s keeps those news kiosks and the shops with the incredibly expensive and unreasonably bland food – for some reason I have developed an addiction to them – or maybe it’s just that MasterCard has convinced me that these opportunities are “Priceless”.

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Observation, Louis Pasteur and Travel

May 14, 2009 on 9:21 am | In personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel books | Comments Off

Recently, we saw a quote attributed to Louis Pasteur, the noted French scientist.  In addition to inventing pasteurization, he is reputed to have said “In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.”  As curious as this may seem, it reinforced for us the role our website ThereArePlaces plays for you.

All of us are busy (it seems as if we get busier every year) and often dislike having to spend time in advance to prepare for a vacation.  After all, a vacation is a period when you do not have to work and can relax and enjoy life without the complications of your everyday job.  On the other hand, since we have so little vacation time, Pasteur’s quote seems to make sense related to travel – Only by preparing can you know what to see, why it’s important and what attractions might be less interesting to you.

Traveling can be done in one of two ways.  First, you could just make a decision to visit a country for the first time.  You could, then pack your bags, arrive at your destination’s  airport and?  Hmmmm.  Or, you could prepare for your travel by thinking about Pasteur’s quote and prepare your mind.  The best way to prepare for what you will see during your travels is to do the homework before you go, by looking up the critical details at a website like ThereArePlaces, or buying a travel guide at your local bookstore.

Most people who buy travel guides, delay reading them until on the plane and most fall asleep before they get through more than a few pages (of course, maybe the “sleep-time” is worth the purchase price). Some try to read these giant tomes the night before they visit the attraction, but after a day’s  touring and a big night out, few of us have the stamina to read an action packed travel guide.

As an alternative, we suggest you take a quick trip to ThereArePlaces before you go and then buy a guide if you really want to know more information than we present on a location.

Well, that’s one of the main reasons we created ThereArePlaces.  We give you a concise review of the best places to visit in the countries, regions and cities that we cover.  We provided additional detail when it is called for, a limited detail when it is not.  We provide photos of leading attractions to let you “prepare your mind” and optimize your “observation” time.  Finally, we provide detailed maps to help you find how to string attractions together into beads on a vacation-chain.  Try us.  We think you will like our approach.

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Under the Hood of Online Travel Companies

May 11, 2009 on 10:37 am | In online travel companies, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel industry, travel news | Comments Off

Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity are well-known Online Travel Companies (OTCs) that have revolutionized the travel industry.   These companies have created a new travel services purchasing environment  by providing the consumer with greater access to reduced rate ticketing, based on their ability to apply the practices of yield management and harvest the unused inventories of airlines and hotels, as well as those of other travel services providers. 

The profit of an OTC, in part,  is based on the difference between the rate they are charged by the property owner and the rate that the consumer is charged for the service.  In turn, the consumer purchases are also burdened with taxes and the taxes have now become a bone of contention between local municipalities and the OTCs.  It appears that the OTCs have paid taxes based on the price they are charged for the room – not the price they charge you.  Well, municipalities feel that they are shortchanged by the practice. 

Of course, there is a class action lawsuit at the heart of this issue.  Read this article from Fortune for more details.  And when you read the article, you may conclude, at least based on the example provided, that consumers are paying the full, local tax, while the differential appears to be pocketed by the OTCs.  Hmmmm.  More lawsuits?

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