Vienna – Best Quality of Life In The World?

May 26, 2010 on 10:25 am | In Europe travel, ThereArePlaces.com, austria travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, vienna travel | Comments Off

Today, we noticed that Vienna was rated the top city in the world for quality of life. Earlier this year, we published our new, online Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Vienna, shortly after completing extensive field research in this delightful city. When we returned to our home base, we wanted to hop on a plane and revisit Vienna, as we found ourselves longing for its historic buildings, musical heritage, fantastic museums, dazzling attractions and, of course, those wonderful coffee shops and pastries.

If you are considering a trip to Europe, Vienna may be just the ticket for you. Read our Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Vienna for all the details on why this city is one of the world’s best.

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More Air Travel Woes – Volcano and Strike

May 10, 2010 on 8:15 am | In Europe travel, Ireland travel, ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, personal travel, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings, volcano travel warning | 1 Comment

Well, the Eyjafjallajokul Volcano is at it again and it is expected that air travel to and in Europe may be disrupted later this week (see this article at CNN). In addition, the cloud of volcanic ash is causing travel disruptions in the UK especially Ireland, as described in this article from the Clare Herald. Finally, it appears that the ash clouds that were causing problems in Europe last week are now over the eastern Mediterranean according to this article in Haaretz.

It appears that there is continued life in Iceland’s volcano and this may spell trouble for air travelers this summer. If you are going to travel to (and around) Europe this summer, this might be the time to consider travel insurance – but be sure that the policy offers protection from acts of nature (most policies do not provide this type of rider).

If all of that wasn’t enough, the cabin crews of British Airways are at it again, announcing four separate five-day strikes in May and June. The strikes are scheduled to begin on May 18 -22, but we can only hope that the matter is settled before then. See the BBC for more details.

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Hotels and Wi-Fi

May 6, 2010 on 11:15 am | In Wi-Fi and travel, international travel, personal travel | 1 Comment

A recent New York Times article indicated that some hotels now consider Wi-Fi availability as standard an offering as a bed.

Well, that seems debatable. First, many hotels seem to overcharge for Wi-Fi connectivity. Second, the bandwidth available at hotels is usually limited and service is slow. Finally, the Wi-Fi service in hotels is often spotty and not available everywhere you need it. If Wi-Fi at hotels were to become standard, the service would be free, available where you needed it (including public areas, patios, swimming pools and restaurants), and serviced by high-bandwidth connections.

While the article referenced above is U.S.-centric in its coverage of Wi-Fi, you may be wondering whether you will find Wi-Fi in your hotel in Europe. The answer is most likely yes, but if this is a critical issue for you, find out before you book your hotel. There may be a little sticker-shock when you look at the charges, as a 24-hour session usually costs in the range of €20, or slightly higher. While plans for using Wi-Fi only for a portion of a day are usually available, they are very high in respect to the daily plans (e.g. €8 for 2 hours or €5 for an hour (if available)).

In hotels in major metropolitan areas of China and Southeast Asia, you will find the daily rates for Wi-Fi from hotels to be around $25. The prices will be similar in the Australia and New Zealand.

During a recent trip to Vienna, we were stunned to see even higher rates for Wi-Fi at our hotel, but as we dug deeper, we realized that these rates were for business users who required higher speeds and the ability to send large files. In very small print at the bottom of the brochure, we discovered that there was an alternative for connecting, if you did not need high data volumes, but that the procedure for connecting to it was slightly different than described in the main brochure. Once we unlocked it, the service was fine and, best of all, free.

We have found the Wi-Fi connection speeds at hotels, in general, to be slow and subject to degradation, especially in the morning when the business travelers awaken and check their email. Highest speeds seem to be available in the mid-afternoon, late at night and very early in the morning.

Of course, there are other options for finding Wi-Fi and there are many free services available almost anywhere you travel. We have found that the free services generally are not accessible from hotels, but if you are willing to walk to a coffee shop or a public access point, you can get your work done there. Usually the public hotspots are slow, but in some areas the provisioning of the systems produces high transmission rates.

It is important to remember that the Wi-Fi connections at hotels, airports, Starbucks, and other publicly available hotspots are not secure. In other words, there is no guarantee that someone is not “sniffing” the packets sent to and from your laptop. What this means is that you should avoid sending any secure information, such as a credit card number, over these connections. In addition, if you need to supply a password for you email account in order to access it, be sure and change it periodically, so if your password was snagged, you can re-secure your account. Of course, it is always possible that they will snag your password and take control of your account, locking you out, so be as careful as you can when using public Wi-Fi.

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Waiting On the Runway, With Water!

March 23, 2010 on 11:55 pm | In air travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel news | Comments Off

On Tuesday of this week, the U.S. Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. While the major focus of the legislation is to promote increased air safety by replacing radar with a GPS-based navigation control system, there was at least one tidbit for the flying public, as a “bone” was tossed in that requires the airlines to provide food, water and other amenities to passengers kept waiting on the runway for takeoff. In addition, the bill requires passengers be given the opportunity to deplane after waiting three hours on a plane that has left the gate but for some reason or another has not yet taken off.

Unfortunately, the Senate version of the Reauthorization must be reconciled with a version passed by the House several months ago. There are several major differences between the two versions and the final bill may or may not contain the passenger provision. See this story by the AP for more details

Waiting on the Runway

We suspect you know the drill. The airplane pulls out of the gate and proceeds on the taxi way, but never heads for the active runway. After touring every inch of the airport runways (except those being used for take-off), you pull into a “parking” area and the pilot casually announces that there will be a slight delay due to “weather”, or “traffic”, or some other difficulty that was too garbled to understand. Of course, the pilot ends with the famous “We’ll keep you updated.” When you hear that phrase, go to sleep, because your plane will not be moving for hours.

But, the pilot is not yet done and he restarts the conversation with “We may be given the green light for takeoff at any minute, so keep to your seats with your seatbelt fastened or we might miss our window.” The last statement is probably among the top ten “greatest lies ever told.” Well, maybe almost as great a lie as the next sentence, which usually is “However, because of the possibility of imminent takeoff (right), I’m asking the cabin crew to remain seated and not provide service, since we don’t want to miss our window, do we?”

About two hours into this trial, you will find that you need a bathroom break – but the cabin crew will tackle you and tell you that “You must remain in your seat, we are on an active runway”. Have you ever wondered how that’s possible? How can a plane that has not moved for 120 minutes, be on an active runway? Even better, how do they get so close to the other planes that are sitting on the same runway so that the exhause fumes port right into your flights air conditioning system? Now you need to use the bathroom AND you have a headache. Unfortunately, the crew will not be able to serve you a glass of water, so just chew up those Excedrin, swallow them dry and enjoy the moment!

It seems hard to believe that it would take an act of Congress to convince the airlines that they should provide “water” and other amenities to people held captive on an airplane for three hours. Perhaps more interesting is the notion of what it would take to keep them from losing our luggage. No, that would be impossible.

Something is better than nothing, I suppose.

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Facts on TSA’s New Full-Body Scanners

March 22, 2010 on 10:52 pm | In Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, air travel security, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel restrictions | 1 Comment

As most of you know by now, the Transportation Security Administration has begun deploying full-body scanners throughout an increasing number of airports in the United States and it plans to install an additional 450 advanced imaging units this year.

So far, the reception has been favorable, but adding another layer of checking always increases the time it takes to pass through security. In addition, we find that many travelers have a number of questions about the new technology, its safety, its implications for personal privacy and what does it really do. Well, we have taken a crack at providing that information for you (complete with photos of the devices and the images they can take) in our Information Guide to the TSA’s new Full-Body Scanners

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Still Need Clean Socks To Fly in U.S.

March 10, 2010 on 12:02 pm | In Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, air travel security, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel restrictions | Comments Off

Who would have thought that my mother’s caution to “Wear clean underwear and socks, you never know when you will be in an accident…” would be a catch phrase for air travelers in 2010. Regarldless of the other innovations in science and technology, you still need to take off your shoes to pass airport security. Moreover, the new “advanced imaging technology” used for full-body scanning will undoubtedly prove your mother right about the need for clean underwear.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the Department of Homeland Security has been unable to develop a technology that can see what’s in your shoes short of scanning your shoes once you have removed them.

If we were TSA employees, we would opt to work the early-morning shift, when the odds are better that travelers’ socks are clean. At the end of the day, toe-jam pollution at the security check point must be at critical levels. Are they sure they can’t find leading-edge technology that will allow some of those people keep their shoes on their stinky feet (and you know the travelers to whom we are politely referring)? It seems to us that developing such technology would be worthy of a Nobel Prize

If we did not love travel and the countries we visit so much, we would likely hide at home and hope that no calamity befell as we sheltered under the bed. Of course, even then we would still be wearing clean socks and underwear, so maybe we should just go to airport and explore someplace new.

In a serious note, we believe that travel is one of the elixers that will help make this world a better place and we will continue to do our part. We’d write more but we are off to JC Penney to restock our supply of socks and shorts!

By the way, see our article on Shoe and Foot Care During Travel for some great tips on taking care of your tootsies during travel.

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Proposed New Passport Fees

March 4, 2010 on 9:04 am | In ThereArePlaces.com, US Department of State, passports, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, vacation travel | Comments Off

The State Department has proposed new passport fees. You can read the entire text of the announcement here.

The paragraphs below highlight the price increases being considered.

“The proposed rule for the new passport fees was published in the Federal Register on February 9, 2010 (Public Notice 6887, Federal Register, February 9, 2010, Volume 75, No. 26, beginning at page 6321). Publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register will be followed by a public comment period of at least 30 days. The public will be notified of the date the new fees will go into effect.

View the proposed rule and submit your comment

The proposed schedule of fees for passport application services is as follows:

Total Cost: $135 for a first-time U.S. Passport Book for adults (age 16 and over)
Total Cost: $110 for U.S. Passport Book renewal (age 16 and over only)
Total Cost: $105 for a U.S. Passport Book for minors (under age 16)
Total Cost: $55 for a first-time U.S. Passport Card for adults (age 16 and over)
Total Cost: $30 for a U.S. Passport Card for adults (age 16 and over) who currently hold a fully valid U.S. Passport
Total Cost: $40 for a U.S. Passport Card for minors (under age 16)
Total Cost: $82 for additional visa pages
The fee for expedited service will remain $60.

The proposed passport “Schedule of Fees” is based on a Cost of Service Study conducted in June 2009. It’s the most detailed study the Department of State has ever conducted of its for-fee services, and represents a cost correction from the last update of the Schedule of Fees four years ago. ”

For a more informative statement on these fees, see this article from CNN.

We are not sure that CNN is correct in their analysis, as they indicate that the current fee for a first time applicant’s Passport Book is $100. However, the current fee for a U.S. Passport Book is $95 plus a $25 execution fee for a total cost of $120. The statement from the State Department on the proposed fees indicates a “Total cost” for a Passport Book under the proposed fee structure would be $135, so the increase could be $15 (over the present total cost), if the definition for “Total Cost”, as used by the State Department, includes the execution fee. We will clafify this for you when more detail is available.

There are other aspects of the proposed price increases that are draconian. As you might suspect, some of our team are among the small group who from time to time need to have pages added to their passports, since we travel a lot. In the past, we could have these pages added for free. Under the new rules is will cost $82 for this service. Wouldn’t it be easier to provide the option of a larger number of pages when the passport is issued? Oh, well, we are sure that is an argument we will not win.

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The Troubles…again?

March 3, 2010 on 11:10 am | In Ireland travel, Northern Ireland travel, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

The Republic of Ireland’s Justice Minister indicated that the threat of attacks by dissident Republicans in Northern Ireland is now as high as at any time during the thirty years of the “The Troubles”. See this story for more details.

For those of you unfamililar with the situation, there are many factions in Northern Ireland that are not in favor of reconciliation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Religion and political persuasion are cited as the major differences causing “The Troubles”.

The attacks by various dissident groups increased dramatically in 2009, although the actions have been confined to Northern Ireland. Those of you planning travel in the Republic of Ireland should experience no difficulty with “The Troubles. However, if you are going to travel in the north of the Republic and want cross into Northern Ireland to explore Belfast, the Giants’s Causeway or the Bushmill’s distillery, you should exercise caution in the portion of your travels inside of the borders of Northern Ireland. Check local news, avoid towns where there has been recent activity and avoid any area planning a parade.

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Natural Catastrophes and Travel

February 28, 2010 on 8:47 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, international travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel warnings, vacation travel | Comments Off

As many of you may have read, Chile was struck with a massive earthquake late last week, while severe storms struck Europe this weekend, both natural events causing significant deaths and destruction. Our hearts go out to the residents of Chile and those of the European countries who are suffering from these natural disasters.

All travelers should have a mental checklist prepared for those circumstances where an event beyond your control occurs in an area in which are are traveling. Many catastrophes, such as storms, are often predictable and when you are “on the road” you should check the local weather on a daily basis. Doing so will let you know whether your plans are advisable or if you should stay put for a day or two. While most of you travel by schedule, there is no sense heading to an area that is predicted to have severe weather. Instead, cancel the reservation for your next night and find one where you currently are lodged, if you regard it as a safe destination. Always ask locals for advice – they likely have seen this problem before.

In the case of earthquakes, there is simply nothing you can do to avoid being in an earthquake. Instead, be sure to read the evacuation notices and plans posted in most hotel rooms. In addition, be sure to travel with a small flashlight for use in emergencies. Next, stick the flashlight and your room key in a pocket in your pants, along with your wallet and keep them near your bed while sleeping and the same goes for your shoes. If you need to evacuate during the night, just slip on our pants, shoes and a jacket and head out, knowing you have your money and identification, as well as a light. Many recommend keeping a bottle of water in your other pocket, backpack or purse. In other words, the Boy Scouts had it right with their “Be Prepared” motto and travelers should do the same.

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Paris and The Parisians

February 6, 2010 on 11:46 am | In France, France Travel, Paris Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, personal travel, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

Paris is many things to many people. Tourists consider it one of the most popular cities on earth. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter and other sights make visiting Paris a chance to see some the best attractions the world has to offer. However, many travelers (and, indeed, the French outside of Paris) consider the Parisians to be haughty, impolite and cold.

We have found difficult people around the world and do not think that there are more of them in Paris than elsewhere. However, Parisians are matter of fact, reserved and choose not to participate in small talk. In addition, when they think you have made a bad decision, they are likely to tell you. However, they do not discriminate against travelers; they will tell anyone when they have made a bad decision.

Once, when coming from Orly Airport to the city, we took the Airport Transport Bus to its station in Paris and planned to take a cab to our hotel from that location. When the cab driver eyed our bags, he raised his voice and seemed to be berating me. It took me a second to translate and realize that he was telling me that I had wasted my money on the bus, since I had to buy two tickets and now a cab fare and that I could have traveled from Orly to the hotel by cab for less. He was right and I was not offended at his response, since I had learned something.

Some travelers feel differently about the Parisians and there is an excellent article on the topic of “service” in Paris published by the BBC.

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