Cheap Drinks With Ice In Europe – What A Treat!

February 28, 2009 on 9:10 am | In Europe travel,, UK Travel, things travelers need to know, vacation travel | Comments Off

We created ThereArePlaces to help convey to you the “ins and outs” of how to travel with comfort and convenience when you are away from home.  In the “travel well” context, you may wonder why we mention U.S. fast food eateries.  The answer is simple:  sometimes they are good places to seek respite when you are traveling internationally.

When you think about world travel, you generally do not visualize touring a world famous attraction and, then, stopping off at McDonalds or Burger King for a snack.  Conversely, our experience tells us that sometime during your trip abroad, you will run across “good old American fast food” and we recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity.

One of the customs you will need to get used to in the UK and Europe is that drinks are usually served without ice.  If you ask for ice, you will either be met with a blank stare or provided one or two of the smallest ice cubes that you have ever seen.  We are sure that some of the cubes we have been offered in Europe were frozen during the last Ice Age (and taste like it).  If you like ice with your soft drink, the easiest way to find this treat while traveling in Europe is to head for the Golden Arches or Burger Whopper.

Next, consider that the most reasonably priced soft drinks that you can find in Europe will be served at McDonald’s or Burger King.  Be prepared to pay more than you do in the U.S., but less than you will pay down the street at a local eatery.

In addition, consider having breakfast at either Mickey Ds or BK, if one is near your hotel.  During a recent trip to Germany, the hotel we were at was charging 26 Euros per person for breakfast.  We motored over to McDonalds and had a good breakfast for two for less than seven Euros.  Make no mistake, it did not include all the yummy things we could have had at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, but on that day, the switch was worth it.

While we are at it, an additional, attractive aspect of McDonalds and Burger King Restaurants in Europe and the UK, that is relatively rare in other shops in these areas, is air conditioning.  If you are overheated from touring during those hot European summers, head for the American junk food oases. 

During a trip to Milan last summer, we were boiling in the afternoon heat and had quite a distance to go before the next stop on our itinerary.  (We like to walk cities, so we can see as much as possible.)  It was a miserably hot and humid afternoon and we were dragging.  Just then, we saw a Burger King on the next corner.  Not only did their soft drink with ice pep us up, but the air conditioning was just the refresher we needed to revive us for a few more stops in glamorous Milan.
Note: in many countries, the pricing is different for food or drinks you take-away from food shop and food you consume in the shop.  If you pay for take-away (less than eating-in), don’t try to eat the food in the shop, as you may be asked to leave.  The difference in price has to do with the Value Added Tax being applied to food eaten at the restaurant but not on “take away” food.

For more Things Travelers Need to Know, visit  our section on Travel Advice at There ArePlaces.

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New Travel Document Requirement for U.S. Citizens (and others) traveling in the Western Hemisphere

February 25, 2009 on 11:31 am | In Canada travel, Caribbean travel, Mexico travel,, WHTI, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, things travelers need to know, travel news | Comments Off

Writing this article has been like sculpting molasses.  Trying to find authoritative information about the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is an example of dealing with bureaucracy at its best.

For the last couple of years the U.S. government has been implementing changes to the rules for the use of passports for travel between the United States and other countries in what is being called the Western Hemisphere.  At this time, the WHTI covers travel to and from the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region (17 nations).
We thought it a good time to update you on the latest proposals on the WHTI.  Our article examines when you will need a U.S. passport  (or other official document verifying your citizenship and identify) for travel to and from the areas covered in the WHTI.


The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required that by January 1, 2008, travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada have a passport or other secure, accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States. However, the plans for implementing the WHTI changed on September 29, 2006.  The rules also changed again in the summer of 2007.  Next, the rules changed again in March of 2008.  Now it appears we have some clarity about the final rules.  Note that the rules for entry to the U.S. by air (and now in effect) were implemented on a different schedule than the rules for re-entering the U.S. by sea or land.
New Rules and Dates of Enforcement

1.  The WHTI requires that all air travelers (including US citizens) entering the United States from the Caribbean, Canada, Bermuda or Mexico must present a valid passport.  Due to the government’s inability to issue passports in a timely fashion, the passport requirement for air travelers was delayed and not implemented until January of 2008.

2.  The passport requirement for land or sea re-entry to the United States, which was to occur on January 31, 2008, was postponed until June 1, 2009.  As it now stands, on and after June 1 2009, those entering or re-entering the US from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Bermuda, by land or ship must present either a passport or other documents deemed acceptable by the Department of Homeland Security.  The best way of crossing the U.S. border and then re-entering the country is to have a passport and take it with you when you depart the United States.  Two other official documents are recognized.  The first is the new Passport Card, which we cover here.  The alternative form is a State or Provincial (Canada) issued enhanced driver’s license, a secure document that denotes both identity and citizenship).

• In February of 2007, the U.S. Government proposed that when the land and ship portion of the initiative goes into effect, U.S. citizen children aged 16 and younger, who have parental consent, would be allowed to cross land and sea entry stations with certified copies of their birth certificates in lieu of a valid passport.  This plan will now be implemented on June 1, 2009.

• U.S. citizen children, ages 16 to 18, traveling in official, supervised groups, will be allowed to cross border with a certified copy of their birth certificate.

• The exemption described here does not apply to air travel.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is a significant change from prior travel requirements and will affect all United States citizens above the age of 18, who do not currently possess valid passports.  This new requirements will also affect certain foreign nationals who currently are not required to present a passport to travel to the United States.
Most Canadian citizens, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and to a lesser degree, Mexican citizens (due to the potential use of a proposed Border Crossing Card) will be affected by the implementation.  Information for citizens and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean can find more information at this U.S. government website .

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does not and will not affect travel between the United States and its territories.  U.S. citizens traveling between the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa will continue to be able to use established forms of identification to board flights and for entry.

If you are a U.S. citizen and want to know more about applying for a passport, see our article on the process.

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Venice Goes Good With Coca Cola?

February 23, 2009 on 6:42 pm | In Europe travel, Italy travel, Venice, things travelers need to know, travel news, vacation travel | Comments Off

In a rather disquieting story that hit the wires today, the BBC has reported that the city fathers of Venice, Italy have accepted a two-million Euro sponsorship deal with soft drink beverage king Coca Cola.  Apparently, the deal allows Coke to place over 60 vending machines around the city, possibly in Saint Mark’s Square (even though tourists are not allowed to picnic there). 

In defense of the city, over twenty-million tourists visited in 2008 and the city claims that the Italian govenment is not doing enough to help repair and refurbish the city – hence the commercial agreements with Coke and others to help offset some of these costs.  The full story can be found here.

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U.S. State Department Travel Alert on Travel In Mexico

February 23, 2009 on 6:32 pm | In Mexico travel, personal travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The U. S. State Department has issued a travel alert regarding travel in Mexico.  While State sometimes seems to be overly conservative in issuing alerts, this one might be good advice. 

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More Problems in “Tourist” Mexico

February 22, 2009 on 2:01 pm | In Mexico travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa are often paired in most travel guides. Indeed, we feature these two towns in our Guide to the Mexican Riviera.  While Ixtapa is a purpose-built resort area, nearby Zihuatanejo is a typical Mexican city/village that is often regarded as the quintessential town from Old Mexico. 

Unfortunately, drug gangs have decided to stake out territory in Zihuatanejo and yesterday used hand grenades to enforce their will, wounding a police officer and four civilians.  See this article in the Houston Chronicle from AP for more information.  The last sentence in the article is an eye opener.  Last week we saw a report that members of a drug gangs used a bazooka against the police in one of the country’s border towns.

Mexico is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, but the government’s inability to cope with drug gangs, is likely to cause potential visitors to defer travel to Mexico’s famous tourist areas.  While there are no guarantees on the safety of travel anywhere (even down a block in your neighborhood), Mexicos’ problems with drug gangs is something that you should think about before signing up for that Mexico vacation.

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187 Countries And Trying For More!

February 19, 2009 on 4:59 pm | In, travel, web publishing | Comments Off

ThereArePlaces will celebrate its fifth anniversary in October of this year and we have been pleased with how visits to our site have increased each year.  Growth has been slow, but sure and we are very pleased to be able to provide information on Things Travelers Need To Know to an ever increasing audience.

We spend a great deal of time looking through analytics – reports that help us understand more about our user base and what they might find interesting about ThereArePlaces.  The information we see is aggregated over weeks or months and anonymous, that means that we do not see data for individuals.
We hope this does not sound cavalier, but we are not interested in data at the microscopic level.  Instead, we are looking for broad audience, viewing trends over lengthy periods (say a month or a quarter).  We do this to find out which pages on our site attract the most visitors, how long visitors stay on site, what pages they look at, what they ignore and how often they get to us and immediately leave (Ouch).
Looking at this information is often humbling, especially when a section you think is great doesn’t get much traffic and one you think needs improvement is one of your most popular pages.  Looking at these data, for us, is like taking ThereArePlaces’ temperature.  We want to find out how to serve your needs better than we do now.  So, once we have looked over the reports, we design a remedy for the things we think need “fixing”.

One of the items we rarely look at popped out of a report we generated for January 2009.  The analytics package we use to munge our data will create a map of the spatial distribution website visitors, in this case over the last month.   To be honest, the results were well beyond our expectations and we decided to share it with you.  The map is shown below. 

We had visitors from all of the countries shown in shades of green (darker = more visitors and the pale shades = less visitors).  The countries shown in pale yellow did not generate any visit to ThereArePlaces.


Distribution of ThereArePlaces users around the world

The only important observation to be gleaned from this map is that we had visitors to ThereArePlaces from 187 countries around the world. 

In case you are wondering, the tool we use allows us to see the distribution of users by country for the entire world and, if we choose, by state for the United States, so this is a very generalized report.  However, it’s nice to know that we may be helping people from around the world on the way to their best vacations ever.

By the way, this is one of those map projections that extends the northern and southern hemispheres to an exaggerated size (bet you did not realize that Greenland was so large).  So, don’t let the darker shades of greens in the US and Canada overly impress you, about half of our traffic comes from outside of North America.  In addition, map data was not adjusted for population differences between countries so you can’t draw any inferences about how popular we are here and there.  The map is really just binary – people here looked, people there did not.  However, we celebrate the little victories in life and for us, this was worth celebrating.

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Lost Luggage – Packing Strategies

February 18, 2009 on 9:52 am | In lost luggage, luggage and packing, things travelers need to know, travel, vacation travel | Comments Off

A recent report on Airline Performance by the the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the U.S. Government included this information:

Mishandled Baggage

“The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 6.96 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, an improvement over December 2007’s rate of 9.05 but higher than November 2008’s 3.75 rate.  For all of last year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 5.26 per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over 2007’s rate of 7.05.”

Whew. That is a relief.  Only 5.26 people per thousand have their luggage lost by the airlines.

We are glad to see that the service is improving, but wonder why everyone we know has been among the reported miniscule portion that have suffered from lost luggage.  Perhaps it is because we frequently travel to foreign destinations?  Perhaps, luggage lost at foreign destination is not accounted for in the reports of the U.S.based agency?  What really matters is that this could happen to you on your next vacation.  When it does, it is a major inconvenience.

Here is simple remedy to this problem. if you are going to be flying either domestically or internationally, and you will be traveling with a companion, you should try “cross-packing”!  That’s right, pack an outfit or two for each of you in the same suitcase.  Simple idea, but not used very often.  We guess it is the “Not in my suitcase” mentality, but doing could save you some discomfort when traveling far away from home. 

For more tips like this and other useful Things Travelers Need To Know see our travel planning guide on Luggage and Packing at

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Normandy Invasion Battlefield Guide

February 16, 2009 on 12:01 pm | In Europe travel, France, France Travel, Normandy, World War II travel, travel books, travel news | 2 Comments

Recenly we received an email from Major Tonie Holt complimenting our site and noting that  due to our  interest in Normandy, France and the World War II Invasion Beaches, we might might benefit from reading his works on the topic.  Well, we ordered a copy of Major and Mrs. Holt’s Normandy Landing Beaches (2006, 5th edition. rerpinted by LEO COOPER, a division of Pen & Sword Books Ltd). 

The book is a soft cover and ships with a companion folding map (Major and Mrs. Holt’s Battle Map of the Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches) that is highly detailed and an excellent reference to the area’s extensive invasion and battlefield sites.

Major and Mrs. Holt have clearly spent a great deal of time investigating the Normandy Invasion and touring this complex area.  Their book is not a description of the strategy behind each and every battle, although the book does provide an excellent historical background to the invasion.  Instead, the work is a detailed, comprehensive guide to the battlefields, monuments, markers, cemetaries, and just about any notable person, unit, action or object that was part of the the Normady Invasion.

Although we had toured Normandy previously, we found new places to visit and a renewed interest in touring the area again as a result of reading this guide.  The Holt’s book is a masterful, though sometimes dry, accounting of what there is to see, where the sites are located, how to get there and why you might be interested in visiting a particular destination.  The book is lavisly illustrated with photographs and detailed maps showing the locations of battles, the units involved and additional information that will help you understand the complexity and boldness of the Allied Invasion.

If you plan on touring the Normandy Beaches, you should consider reading this book to plan your trip.  Be sure to take it with you when you travel, as it will be your most useful field resource.  In addition, you will find the included map to be of great value in understanding the Normandy Invasion.  It shows the locations of battlefields, the position of the forces at the end of June 6, where they had planned to be at the end of the first day of the invasion, the memorials, monuments, bunkers/blockhouses, cemeteries and more, all overlaid on a detailed road map of the area.

At first, you might find the book a bit slow, but as you continue to read, you will come to appreciate the detail and the mix of contributions from soldiers who were on the ground at these epic battlefields.  We plan on carrying our Holt’s Guide to Normandy on our next trip to the area.

The current edition of the book can be ordered from its distributor in the UK, although the shipping expense can be significant, depending on your location.  However, you can request a signed copy for free and you will receive your choice of  a free, second battlefield map from the Holt’s collection of Battlefield Maps.

The Holt’s book on the Normandy Invasion (as well as other battlefield studies) is available from Amazon, although the edition they are currently advertising does not appear to be the most current.   Note, Amazon also indicates that there will be a new Holt’s Pocket Battlefield Guide to Normandy published later this year and you might choose to wait for that if you prefer to tote smaller books.  Click on  Maj and Mrs. Holt’s /Normandy   to  order from Amazon or to see other reviewers’ thoughts on this book.


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ThereArePlaces News Release on Best Places To Visit in Mexico

February 13, 2009 on 1:36 pm | In Mexico travel, country travel information, travel news, vacation travel | Comments Off

Attached is our latest press release from that was published yesterday.

Cancun and the Riviera Maya or Cabo and the Mexican Riviera?

Popular Travel Website Highlights Mexico’s Best Places To Visit

Laguna Hills, CA 2/12/2009 09:43 PM GMT (TransWorldNews)

ThereArePlaces announced today the launch of the 2009 edition of its online travel guide to the best places to visit in Mexico, a county that is widely considered one of the leading travel destinations in the world.  The Mexico Guide is focused on describing the leading destinations along the country’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts.  It provides details for visiting  Mexico’s Caribbean coast including  detailed coverage of Cancun, Chichen Itza, Cozumel, the Riviera Maya and the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Coba.  On the Pacific coast, the coverage is focused on the breathtaking Mexican Riviera, including, Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa – Zihuatanejo and Acapulco. The lavishly illustrated guide includes detailed, purpose-built maps to help explore Mexico’s coasts.

“Vacationing along Mexico’s shorelines is an increasingly popular choice with travelers from around the world,” said Mike Dobson, President of ThereArePlaces.  “The coastal areas of Mexico feature great weather, fantastic beaches, good diving, almost unlimited water sports, game fishing, interesting sightseeing and lodging to suit the needs of those looking for luxury or an eco-friendly approach to vacationing.”

About ThereArePlaces
ThereArePlaces  is a fast growing website that offers two distinctive sections: Vacation Destination Guides and a section on travel advice called “Things Travelers Need To Know.”  The Destination Guide section covers top destinations in forty of the world’s most popular countries for vacation travel. As put by the Company president Mike Dobson, “Our commitment is to provide travel advice that might help you take the journey of a lifetime.”

ThereArePlaces is a property of TeleMapics, LLC, a business focused on Geospatial Information, including travel, tourism, and other location based services (

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Links – Schminks – We Need Your Help to Lick Broken Links

February 13, 2009 on 9:45 am | In, web publishing, website link maintenance | Comments Off

During the last couple of days, our team has focused on trying to make sure that the hyperlinks in the ThereArePlaces site work and are not broken.  We are not looking for sympathy here, since links should always work, but sometimes do not.  We thought we would give you some insights on why that may be and what a difficult problem it is to keep hyperlinks up-to-date.

ThereArePlaces has 50,042 hyperlinks, split between 36,712 internal (linking to some place within the website itself) and 13,330 external links connecting to other websites.  In order to test our links, we are forced to use automated tools.  Yes, when we create a new page, we research all of the links, insert them on the page and manually test them.  We do a complete retest when we edit or augment a page and that happens frequently.  In between, we periodically test all of the links on the site using our automatic tools.

Do links change that often?

Generally, links are stable, but most changes result from companies going out of business or redesigning their sites.  The worst sources of links, unfortunately, are ones that we focus on – the “official” websites.  Yes, the websites from governments, tourist authorities and tourist attractions are the hardest ones to keep current. 

We are not sure why this should be so (it defies logic) but after four years of doing this we are experts of sorts.  It we were the “authoritative” website for specific information, such as opening times and dates for an attraction, we would not want to “break” the URLs that users use to connect with this information.

The urge to redesign websites is always great, but once Google, MSN Yahoo and other search engines have indexed you, most websites really do not want to move a page to a new location and start over as this creates dead links in the search engines and potential users cannot find your information.  Many companies will redesign their website and keep the URLs originally used to link to the information. 

Governments and official tourism groups think nothing of completely changing their entire structure, often throwing out valuable information in the process.  They do not provide “redirects” to the new location when they move something; they just move it and let the link become inoperative.

As an example, about ten days ago we published a new section on the Best Castles in the United Kingdom, which had links to the website of the British Royals for additional information on Windsor Castle and Mary Queen of Scots.  Not a week later, we see a note in our news feeds from the UK that the “Queen has launched here new website”.  Yes, our links, which worked last week, were now broken.  If we had not seen the news release, we would not have thought to look.  We fixed these broken links and others yesterday, but shudder to think that from time to time our users are clicking broken links on our site.

Fixing links is like a game of  Whack-A-Mole. Just when you beat the last one down, a new one pops up. You can never do enough to make your links perfect and we need your help.  We finished changing links at 3AM today (we try to work on the site when traffic is low) and know that somewhere in our 1400 pages, some link has probably already been broken by a third party changing their site or by us making a linking mistake on ours.  We apologize, for either situation, and ask you to send us an email about the offending link and we will fix it.  Our address is shown below.

 Email address


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