Hurricane Headed For Cabo

August 31, 2009 on 12:57 pm | In Mexico travel, ocean cruising, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Hurricane Jimena, packing 150 mph winds, is headed towards Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. See this article from Bloomberg for more details.

Many speculate that the storm will lose strength as it moves over the cold waters surrounding Cabo, but if it does not, it could be one of the strongest storms ever to hit the region. It is possible that air traffic to this region will be banned over the next day or two and cruises to this area and the Mexican Riviera will be rerouted. If you are getting ready to depart for the area, you should consider postpoing your trip. If you are booked for a cruise, see if they will accommodate a change in schedule, unless you are interested in spending your shore time in Catalina Island or Ensenada instead of the ports listed on the original itinerary.

By the way, settlements in the Cabo San Lucas area were flattened in the 1930s by a major hurricane. Let’s hope Baja fares better this time.

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Amsterdam – A Popular Place

August 30, 2009 on 3:49 pm | In Europe travel, Netherlands travel, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

Amsterdam attracts a lot of visitors and its popularity is reflected at ThereArePlaces by the incredible traffic that we have on our Amsterdam pages. Amsterdam is known to many as a party-town and one which caters to having fun, but if you are going there for tourism, you have to scratch below the surface to find the character of the city.

On our first visit, we thought the city was gray, dismal and continually rainy. Its canals, we thought, were not especially scenic, its numerous bike riders would just as soon run you over as to slow for you, and some of its food high-priced and tourist-bland. Well, on our second trip, we confirmed that it does rain a lot in Amsterdam, so go with the flow. Yes, the city is fairly bland in a visual sense, but very functional. No, the canals are not scenic, but they are a convenient and novel way to get around the city. The food – well you have to search for the places the locals eat, so ask a few and you will find some wonderful places for food, drink and fun.

The crown jewels of Amsterdam’s attractions are the Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh Museum. Just these two attractions make a trip the city worthwhile and when you throw in the Rijksmuseum, the Heineken Experience, the floating Flower Market and several other of the city’s attractions you will find Amsterdam growing on you. Of course, if you are looking for a youth oriented town to party in – this is the one to visit!

Centraal Station in Amsterdam is the transportation hub for the city

We have updated our Amsterdam Guide with some new attractions and created a second section on touring tactics, including shopping, advice on hotels, dining tips and more. Why not take a look? Even if you are not planning on a trip to the Netherlands, Schiphol Airport is one of the major hubs in Europe and you can often arrange your flights to give you enough time for a quick trip into town for some fun sightseeing. In fact, if you are interested in doing this, see our section titled “Just a Day” for information on how to maximize you time.

Just one final thing – those bike riders will run you over! In most streets there is a specific lane reserved for bike traffic – don’t step into it when they are moving or you could become huburger (human hamburger). Before you complain you should know that bikes have the right-of-way over pedestrians in the Netherlands.

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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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Best National Parks in the American Southwest

August 26, 2009 on 8:17 pm | In United States travel, travel news, vacation travel | Comments Off

This evening we published the latest addition to our ThereArePlaces website. We have always enjoyed traveling the National Parks in the American Southwest and decided to share our wanderings and recommendations on the best parks to visit in this unique area. We cover Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park in Utah. We recommend the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest in Arizona and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We think that everyone who has a chance should visit Death Valley National Park on the California-Nevada border. In Colorado, we have always been inspired by the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park and, more recently, by the incredible dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The Grand Canyon National Park is stunning in any season.

If you think you might like to know more about these parks, we suggest you start here. Our guide includes a one-page overview describing each park and why you might want to visit. In addition, we provide detail pages for each park we cover and these pages include some great photography and handy advice for planning a visit.

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Mexico Travel Alert

August 21, 2009 on 12:22 pm | In Mexico travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Yesterday the State Department of the United States released a Travel Alert for travel to Mexico. Since it is getting to be the time of year when we start thinking about Cabo, Cancun, the Riviera Maya and cruises on the Mexican Riviera, we thought it might be useful to share the Travel Alert with you. (By the way, our guide to the Best Places to Visit in Mexico can be found here. Our Mexico Home Page links to all of the destionations mentioned above and even more deligtful places to visit in Mexico. On our website we caution you that travel can be dangerous, so always be alert when traveling away from home!)

“The Department of State has issued this Travel Alert to update security information for U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico. It supersedes the Travel Alert for Mexico dated February 20, 2009, and expires on February 20, 2010.

While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including tens of thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if one becomes a crime victim. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.

Recent violent attacks have caused the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of Michoacán and Chihuahua (see below for details) and advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution. Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view to be a threat to their organization, regardless of the individuals’ citizenship. These attacks include the abduction and murder of two resident U.S. citizens in Chihuahua in July, 2009.

Violence Along the U.S. Mexico Border

Mexican drug cartels are engaged in violent conflict – both among themselves and with Mexican security services – for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.

Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, but occur mostly in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City, Monterrey and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. The U.S. Mission in Mexico currently restricts non-essential travel within the state of Durango, the northwest quadrant of Chihuahua and an area southeast of Ciudad Juarez, and all parts of the state of Coahuila south of Mexican Highways 25 and 22 and the Alamos River for US Government employees assigned to Mexico. This restriction was implemented in light of the recent increase in assaults, murders, and kidnappings in those three states. The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.

A number of areas along the border are experiencing rapid growth in the rates of many types of crime. Robberies, homicides, petty thefts, and carjackings have all increased over the last year across Mexico generally, with notable spikes in Tijuana and northern Baja California. Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales are among the cities which have experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.

The situation in the state of Chihuahua including Ciudad Juarez is of special concern. The U.S. Consulate General recommends that American citizens defer non-essential travel to the Guadalupe Bravo area southeast of Ciudad Juarez and to the northwest quarter of the state of Chihuahua including the city of Nuevo Casas Grandes and surrounding communities. From the United States, these areas are often reached through the Columbus, NM and Fabens and Fort Hancock, TX ports-of-entry. In both areas, American citizens have been victims of drug related violence.

Mexican authorities report that more than 1,000 people have been killed in Ciudad Juarez in the first six-months of 2009. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings while traveling in Ciudad Juarez, avoid isolated locations during late night and early morning hours, and remain alert to news reports. Visa and other service seekers visiting the Consulate are encouraged to make arrangements to pay for those services using a non-cash method.

U.S. citizens are urged to be alert to safety and security concerns when visiting the border region. Criminals are armed with a wide array of sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles. While most crime victims are Mexican citizens, the uncertain security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well. U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are urged to contact the consular section of the nearest U.S. consulate or Embassy for advice and assistance. Contact information is provided at the end of this message.

Crime and Violence Throughout Mexico

Although the greatest increase in violence has occurred on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country, demonstrating the heightened risk of violence in public places. In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens living in Mexico have been kidnapped and most of their cases remain unsolved. U.S. citizens who believe they are being targeted for kidnapping or other crimes should notify Mexican officials, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, or the nearest American Consulate as soon as possible. Any U.S. visitor who suspects they are a target should consider returning to the United States immediately.

U.S. citizens should make every attempt to travel on main roads during daylight hours, particularly the toll (“cuota”) roads, which generally are more secure. When warranted, the U.S. Embassy and consulates advise their employees as well as private U.S. citizens to avoid certain areas, abstain from driving on certain roads because of dangerous conditions or criminal activity, or recommend driving during daylight hours only. When this happens, the Embassy or the affected consulate will alert the local U.S. citizen Warden network and post the information on their respective websites, indicating the nature of the concern and the expected time period for which the restriction will remain in place.

U.S. citizen visitors are encouraged to stay in the well-known tourist areas. Travelers should leave their itinerary with a friend or family member not traveling with them, avoid traveling alone, and check with their cellular provider prior to departure to confirm that their cell phone is capable of roaming on GSM or 3G international networks. Do not display expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.

Demonstrations and Large Public Gatherings

Demonstrations occur frequently throughout Mexico and usually are peaceful. However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate to violence unexpectedly. Violent demonstrations have resulted in deaths, including that of an American citizen in Oaxaca in 2006. In 2008, a Mexican Independence Day celebration was the target of a violent attack. During demonstrations or law enforcement operations, U.S. citizens are advised to remain in their homes or hotels, avoid large crowds, and avoid the downtown and surrounding areas. Since the timing and routes of scheduled marches and demonstrations are always subject to change, U.S. citizens should monitor local media sources for new developments and exercise extreme caution while within the vicinity of protests.

The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation. U.S. citizens are therefore advised to avoid participating in demonstrations or other activities that might be deemed political by Mexican authorities. As is always the case in any large gathering, U.S. citizens should remain alert to their surroundings.

Further Information

For more detailed information on staying safe in Mexico, please see the Mexico Country Specific Information. Information on security and travel to popular tourist destinations is also provided in the publication: “Spring Break in Mexico- Know Before You Go!!”.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s internet web site at http://travel.state.gov/ where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers from Mexico, a regular toll line at 001-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). American citizens traveling or residing overseas are encouraged to register with the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate on the State Department’s travel registration website.

For any emergencies involving U.S. citizens in Mexico, please contact the U.S. Embassy or the closest U.S. Consulate. The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc, telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may also contact the Embassy by e-mail at: ACSMexicoCity@state.gov The Embassy’s internet address is http://www.usembassy-mexico.gov/ .

Consulates:

Ciudad Juarez: Paseo de la Victoria 3650, tel. (52)(656) 227-3000. http://ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/ .
Guadalajara: Progreso 175, telephone (52)(333) 268-2100. http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/ .
Hermosillo: Avenida Monterrey 141, telephone (52)(662) 289-3500. http://hermosillo.usconsulate.gov/ .
Matamoros: Avenida Primera 2002, telephone (52)(868) 812-4402. http://matamoros.usconsulate.gov/ .
Merida: Calle 60 no. 338-K x 29 y 31, Col. Alcala Martin, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico 97050, telephone (52)(999) 942-5700 or 202-250-3711 (U.S. number). http://merida.usconsulate.gov/ .
Monterrey: Avenida Constitucion 411 Poniente, telephone (52)(818) 047-3100. http://monterrey.usconsulate.gov/ .
Nogales: Calle San Jose, Nogales, Sonora, telephone (52)(631) 311-8150. http://nogales.usconsulate.gov/ .
Nuevo Laredo: Calle Allende 3330, col. Jardin, telephone (52)(867) 714-0512. http://nuevolaredo.usconsulate.gov/ .
Tijuana: Tapachula 96, telephone (52)(664) 622-7400. http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/service.html .

Consular Agencies:

Acapulco: Hotel Continental Emporio, Costera Miguel Aleman 121 – local 14, telephone (52)(744) 484-0300 or (52)(744) 469-0556.
Cabo San Lucas: Blvd. Marina local c-4, Plaza Nautica, col. Centro, telephone (52)(624) 143-3566.
Cancún: Plaza Caracol two, second level, no. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulcan, km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera, telephone (52)(998) 883-0272 or, from the U.S., 202-640-2511.
Ciudad Acuña: Closed until further notice.
Cozumel: Plaza Villa Mar en el Centro, Plaza Principal, (Parque Juárez between Melgar and 5th ave.) 2nd floor, locales #8 and 9, telephone (52)(987) 872-4574 or, from the U.S., 202-459-4661.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Hotel Fontan, Blvd. Ixtapa, telephone (52)(755) 553-2100.
Mazatlán: Playa Gaviotas #202, Zona Dorada, telephone (52)(669) 916-5889.
Oaxaca: Macedonio Alcalá no. 407, interior 20, telephone (52)(951) 514-3054 (52)(951) 516-2853.
Piedras Negras: Abasolo #211, Zona Centro, Piedras Negras, Coah., Tel. (878) 782-5586.
Playa del Carmen: “The Palapa,” Calle 1 Sur, between Avenida 15 and Avenida 20, telephone (52)(984) 873-0303 or, from the U.S., 202-370-6708.
Puerto Vallarta: Paradise Plaza, Paseo de los Cocoteros #1, Local #4, Interior #17, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, telephone (52)(322) 222-0069.
Reynosa: Calle Monterrey #390, Esq. Sinaloa, Colonia Rodríguez, telephone: (52)(899) 923 – 9331
San Luis Potosí: Edificio “Las Terrazas”, Avenida Venustiano Carranza 2076-41, Col. Polanco, telephone: (52)(444) 811-7802/7803.
San Miguel de Allende: Dr. Hernandez Macias #72, telephone (52)(415) 152-2357 or (52)(415) 152-0068.”

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Landslides in Portugal and Colorado

August 21, 2009 on 9:51 am | In portugal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

When sitting on a sunny beach, the last thing we think about is safety, at least as long as we are not in the water. Similarly, when we are on vacation and driving a car, we drive defensively, but rarely worry about anything other than the drivers on the road. During this last week, we learned that we need to be a little more “”aware” when on vacation.

Earlier this morning a portion of a cliff above the beach in eastern Albufeira ( a coastal town southern Portugal between Portimao to the west and Faro to the east) collapsed and two people, who were sunbathing, were killed by the landslide. The cliff area apparently was well-signed indicating that it was unstable. See the BBC for more details and a video.

We have hiked along beaches with signs warning that the cliffs were “dangerous”, but we had always considered that this was a warning not to climb or hike up them. While cliffs certainly add to the beauty of a beach, we now realize that we had better pay more attention to those warning signs.

Last Saturday, near Aspen, Colorado a man driving his family home from vacation was killed when a briefcase-sized boulder fell off a mountain and through the windshield of his car (see KansasCity.com for more information). At the time, the vehicle he was driving was on a steep downhill and his wife, from the passenger seat, managed to stop the vehicle before injury to her and her family. We’ve driven mountain roads numerous times and read the signs warning about the possiblity of falling rocks, but for some reason always visualized them as something that we could see and combatting them would require defensive driving, swerving and braking. For some reason we had never thought that perhaps we would not even see the rock that might threaten our car.

So, when you are on the road or at the beach, be prepared for the unexpected. It’s probably not what you want to hear, but it is a safety practice that you should think about when you travel.

Our heart goes out the the families of those who lost thier lives in these terrible accidents.

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Second Tokyo Earthquake Shakes Things Up

August 11, 2009 on 8:31 am | In Japan travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Early Tuesday morning Tokyo suffered its second big quake (6.5) in three days. Some damage was recorded and a few serious injuries, although this was not the “Big One” predicted to hit Tokyo. See this article in the New York Times for more info.

Tokyo and all of Japan are located in an active seismic zone. Travelers to the region should be prepared for earthquakes and know the evacuation procedures for their hotel (locations of emergency exits, stairwells, etc.). Tip: Consider keeping your wallet, room key, passport and moneybelt in the clothes worn that day when you turn in for the night and lay the apparel on a chair near the bed. If you need to evacuate during the night, just grab the outfit and put it on when it is safe to do so.

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Toxic Seaweed in Brittany, France

August 11, 2009 on 8:14 am | In France, France Travel, Health and travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Brittany, France is suffering from an incursion of toxic seaweed that is capable of causing breathing problems and death in humans and animals. See this article from the BBC for more information. Apparently, the toxic seaweed is related to nitrogen levels and farming in this famous agricultural area.

Although Brittany is a delightful area to tour and one that is popular for its beaches, we recommend that you avoid the shore in this area. Inquire with the local authorities about the extent of the toxic seaweed problem if you are planning a vacation in Brittany.

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ETA Bombs Mallorca (Majorca) Again

August 9, 2009 on 11:02 am | In Spain Travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The ETA was resonsible for three bombings in Mallorca today. Unlike recent ETA targets, the three Mallorcan locations were in places often visited by tourists, although there were no injuries reported. The bombs were pre-announced by the ETA, perhaps to avoid casualities, but still show the public that their demands for a Basque homeland must be considered.

Two bombs were placed in restaurants and the third was detonated (in a controlled detonation by the police) in Plaza Mayor, the popular central square in Palma. Three of the Balearic Islands, (Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza) are very popular tourist destinations with Europeans and the ETA may be trying to show its strength by damaging Spain’s lucrative travel industry.

The ETA is apparently flexing its power during August, the 50th anniversary of its founding. During the last year a number of the terrorist organization’s senior operatives have been arrested and it is thought that a new, brasher group of young basques are responsible for the latest attacks.

Here is a detailed article on the bombings from the New York Times and another from the BBC.

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Abbey Road and the Beatles Turn 40

August 7, 2009 on 7:34 am | In London, London travel, ThereArePlaces.com, UK Travel, United Kingdom, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

If you are a Beatles fan, take a look at this article from the BBC on the 40th anniversary (this Saturday) of the Abbey Road Album and its endearing cover.

Abbey Road and the “zebra” crossing continue to attract large numbers of visitors, who queue-up and parade across the cross walk as was done by the Beatles for the cover of the Abbey Road album, their last. The street is very busy, so if you do this make sure there is a break in the traffic.

For more information on Abbey Road, see the ThereArePlaces London Guide for a map and other information.

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