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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EU Health Chief – Restrict Travel to Mexico and U.S.

April 27, 2009 on 7:34 am | In Mexico travel,, United States travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Just a quick note following-up on our blog of yesterday regarding the deadly outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico and a related, but not yet deadly, outbreak of the Swine Flu in the United States.  Today Androulla Vassiliou, the Health Commissioner for the EU recommended that all travelers postpone non-essential travel to Mexico and the United States   For more information, see this AP article at, or this more detailed article by the BBC.

The acting director fo the Centers for Disease Control in the US felt that the inclusion of the US in the travel warning was unreasonable, since only 20 cases had surfaced in the US and only one of those required hospitalization.  See this article in the New York Times for more detail

A case of the Swine Flu has been detected in Spain, while others are being tested in New Zealand, Brazil, the UK and Israel, all of whom had traveled to Mexico.

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Human Swine Flu – A Pandemic?

April 25, 2009 on 11:21 pm | In Mexico travel, country travel information, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Last Tuesday we wrote about the possibility that the Avian Flu was still lurking and the potential problems that it could cause for travelers.  It appears we were focused on both the wrong geography and the wrong “carrier”. 

Late last week it was revealed that there appears to be a previously unknown variation of the swine flu that has combined into a form that can be communicated to humans.  In Mexico, mainly  in Mexico City, it appears that 81 have died of the flu and over 1300 may be infected.  In addition, according to the CDC 8 cases of swine influenza have surfaced in the western and southern US, although, as of this date, no fatalities have been recorded.

International organizations are worried the this particular strain of the flu could become a pandemic.  A pandemic is a flu that can 1) infect humans, 2) be easily spread between people and 3) for which there is no immunity.   The last pandemic in 1968 (the Hong Kong Flu) resulted in over a million deaths, while the two other 20th century pandemics resulted in over 50 million deaths. 

See this article from the BBC for more information on the flu.

Until the threat situation in Mexico becomes clear, we receommend avoiding travel to Mexico City.  Until more details are known, it might be prudent to reconsider any immediate travel anywhere in Mexico.  Of course, these are issues that all travelers must decide for themselves. 

If you must travel to Mexico, wash your hands frequently during travel, avoid groups of people (hard to avoid when flying) and contact with people (hand shakes, etc.).  Finally, wear a mask.  Yes, it looks silly but is very effective in thwarting the influenza.

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Avian Flu Still Lurking

April 21, 2009 on 9:14 am | In, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Because the Avian flu has not yet mutated into a strain that might cause the next pandemic (and it may never), the travel world seems to have lost interest in tracking it.  Unfortunately, the Avian flu continues to cause serious problems in Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia and remote parts of China (of this group, China is the only country covered by a travel guide at ThereArePlaces).

A recent article in the New York Times summarizes the current areas of concern, but several other sources believe that the depressed condition of the world’s economy may mean less money and effort is spent tracking and combating potential outbreaks of Avian flu. In its current form, the virus does not infect humans, although the concern is that this is a rapidly mutating virus and if a lethal form does mutate to humans, it may create the conditions for a disasterous pandemic.

If you are planning to travel in any of the countries mentioned and especially if you are planning on touring the countryside or rural, agricultural areas where fowl are raised, be sure to avoid touching poultry or other wild birds.  Make sure that any poultry-based dish you consume is thoroughly cooked or, better yet, simply avoid meals with poultry.  If you come into contact with people you suspect have touched birds (farmers, etc.) wash your hands thoroughly as soon as possible and use a hand sanitizer when water is not available.

While the presence of Avian flu is not a reason to cancel travel plans (some form of it exists in many of the world’s agricultural areas) it is wise to monitor local health news for information about local conditions, especially if you are going to wander off the “beaten track”.

If you are going to be traveling in developed areas, there appears little reason, at present, to be concerned with Avian flu, but the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, certainly applies to travel planning regardless of the destination.  We provide a section called Tourism Information for all of the countries that we cover.  Any national health threats that we become aware of will be covered there. See this link for an example of our coverage on China.

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The Surprising Voice of Susan Boyle is Like Travel – Exciting and Emotional

April 17, 2009 on 10:38 pm | In, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel | Comments Off

Susan Boyle surprised her audience with a stunning rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.  Apparently she stunned the world too, as the video of her triumph has been viewed over 25 million times on YouTube.   I doubt that there were many who viewed her performance without tears beginning to form. 

I suppose everyone takes something different away from something like this, but I have learned that what’s on the outside and the inside are not necessarily the same and this paradox applies as much to places as it does to people.  I suspect that is one of the main reason I travel and enjoy it so much.

Every time I visit a new location or revisit a familiar place I find that my expectations are trumped by my experiences. In fact, I think that is why we travel.  No one can define your experience.  Our website, ThereArePlaces, does a great job of letting you know what you will find in a location, but cannot inform you on what it will mean to you, or how it will touch you.  So many times I have visited places the some travel writers call tourist traps ( gems like Bruges, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Montemartre in Paris, etc.) and found them incredibly attractive and meaningful to me.  Yes, many places are “touristy”, but sometimes that is merely a reflection that there is something universal about the location that seems to “speak” to everyone. 

Perhaps the lesson from Susan Boyle is that it is worth looking around every corner, examining all of the opportunities and deciding for yourself whether this is a place for you.  Travel is enriching, rewarding, education and an emotional treasure.  Later in your life you will look back on your travel as one of the most meaningful activities in your life.  Why?  Simple.   It is your values that provide the context for the places you remember. 

We realize the poor condition of the world economy may convince many of you to stay at home this year and forgo your vacation.  We suppose you could, but then you might miss that place that is just like Susan Boyle, so much more than it appears to be.  Remember, it just might not wait for you!

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French Fishing Strike Cancelled

April 16, 2009 on 7:30 am | In Europe travel, France Travel, London travel, Normandy, UK Travel, strikes, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

The French Fishermen whose strike had closed the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne earlier this week have called off their strike action effective immediately.  Ferry service from Dover to these port has resumed and is slowly returning to normal. The proposed strike action against the Eurostar  has also been cancelled.

While this is good news for travelers, it appears that “negotiations” between the fishmermen and the government of France are ongoing.  It is a time honored tradition in France to strike when the government does not come through with the goods and many expect the situation with the fishermen to be a potential hotspot for some time to come (at least, until a settlement is agreed).  For now, however, you can take the ferry to or from the Continent.

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Dover Ferry Halted by French Fishing Fleet Strike

April 15, 2009 on 7:32 am | In Europe travel, France, France Travel, London travel, Normandy, UK Travel, strikes and travel | Comments Off

The P&O ferry from Dover to Calais, a popular route between the UK and  Europe, has cancelled its scheduled runs due a blockade by French fishing boats at the port of Calais.   In addition, the strike has now closed the ports of Boulogne and Dunkirk. The French fishermen are locked in a dispute with the EU over fishing quotas, which have been implemented to prevent overfishing.  The strikers have announced their intention to block the Eurostar and Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) on Thursday of this week.

The backup on trucks trying to reach Dover and the continent from the UK side has been so massive that sections of the M20 (Motorway) in southeast England have been closed.

It is unclear how long the French fishermen will keep at this action.  For detailed information, see this article at the BBC.  For additional information, read this AFP article at Google News.

Neither Dover nor Calais are places that a traveler wants to be stuck for any length of time.  If you are considering a Channel crossing, flying might be the best bet during the strike by the French fishermen.  The Chunnel is another alternative, but as noted above, the fishermen seem to have targetted it, as well.

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Europe’s Strike Season Begins

April 9, 2009 on 12:37 pm | In Paris Travel,, things travelers need to know, travel, vacation travel | Comments Off

Today, we noticed an AP article that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was closed today due to a strike.  It is the beginning of the spring and summer “strike season” in Europe and you should expect to be incovenienced by a wildcat strike or two, if you are lucky enough to visit.  Due to the worldwide economic downturn, we expect that there will be more strikes (and service disruptions) this season than in past years. 

What to do?

Take any strike you meet in stride.  While we recommend that you stay away from the strikers and wherever they are gathering, there is always something else to do that will be just as much fun. In fact, the most difficult thing to change will probably be your attitude.  Finding another worthwhile attraction will be easy.

The start of the “strike seaon” just means that you should have a flexible itinerary and be prepared to adjust it when you need to do so.  No Eiffel Tower today?  Substitute the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Invalides or any of the wonderful places to see and things to do in Paris

Sure it’s irritating when things don’t go like you planned, but being angry about them isn’t going to call off the strike or have any result other than you wasting your precious vacation time being angry when you could be doing something else that is a lot of fun.

Our advice is simple – “Go with the flow” and have a flexible plan for where you want to go and what you want to see.   By the way, you won’t run into strikes in Europe in August, since it  is the month when most European workers take their vacation, but you will run into crowds.  Ahh, the more the merrier!

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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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