Its Snowing…On The Mediterranean Coast of Spain and France

March 9, 2010 on 11:58 am | In Europe travel, France, France Travel, Spain Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel weather warning | Comments Off

It continues to be a rough winter in Europe and it appears that “Old Man Winter” wants to extend his reach. Today, there was snow in Barcelona. In addition, there was snow in southern France , including Nimes (the link is to a video on the BBC that shows snow and palm trees, something you do not see every day).

Well, spring is on its way and it will be another glorious summer along the Mediterranean Coast of Europe. In fact, with all of the precipitation, it should be a colorful spring as well.

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TSA Expanding Use of Explosive Trace Detection

March 5, 2010 on 1:17 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel industry, travel news | Comments Off

Today, the TSA announced an expansion of its use of Explosive Trace Detection (ETD). The text of their press release follows.

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today that it is expanding the random use of Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) technology at airports nationwide as an additional layer of security.

“Explosive Trace Detection technology is a critical tool in our ability to stay ahead of evolving threats to aviation security,” said TSA Acting Administrator Gale Rossides. “Expanding the use of this technology at checkpoints and at departure gates greatly enhances security to keep the traveling public safe.”

Since the Christmas Day failed attack TSA has increased its random use of ETD technology within security checkpoints to screen passengers’ hands and carry-on luggage. In addition, TSA piloted the use of ETD technology in both the checkpoint queue and boarding areas for two weeks at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Orlando International Airport, and Pitt-Greenville and Coastal Carolina Regional Airports in North Carolina.

Passengers can now expect to see the increased random use of ETD technology in areas where TSA currently conducts screening such as the security checkpoint, as well as in the checkpoint queue, and boarding areas. Officers may swab a piece of luggage or passengers’ hands, then use ETD technology to test for explosives. The swab is placed inside the ETD unit which analyzes the content for the presence of potential explosive residue. To ensure the health of travelers, screening swabs are disposed of after each use. Since it will be used on a random basis, passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport or each time they travel.

To date, the Department has awarded $15 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for 400 fixed ETD units. Additionally, President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget prioritizes key investments in aviation security, including $39 million to purchase approximately 800 portable ETD machines.

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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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Amsterdam Is Calling You

March 3, 2010 on 11:31 am | In Amsterdam travel, Netherlands travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel news | Comments Off

Amsterdam is one of the fun places to visit in Europe. While many focus on Amsterdam for its food, fun and active nightlife, it has several fantastic attractions and others that are relatively unique in Europe.

The Van Gogh Museum is an incredible treasure, displaying a vast array of some of Van Gogh’s most impressive works. Across town, but not far away, the Anne Frank Huis contains poignant displays chronicling the tragic, secret life of Anne Frank during her “captivity” during World War II in Amsterdam.

If you are looking for something lighter, there is the “new” Heineken Experience, one of the most popular attractions in Venice of the North.

We have expanded, reformatted and reorganized the ThereArePlaces Guide to Amsterdam to help you explore this wonderful city. Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations with visitors at theThereArePlaces website.

We’ve added a new section on Amsterdam Touring Tips that covers what you will need to know to visit Amsterdam. Most travelers plan to stay a couple of days, but often extend their visit. One of the most common comments of those departing is “I had to leave; it was just too much fun!” Maybe you should see for yourself?

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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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