Protests in Budapest on April 9

March 30, 2011 on 10:03 am | In ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, hungary travel, things travelers need to know, travel news | 2 Comments

EUbusiness.com is reporting that trade unions will protest in Budapest, Hungary on April 9, 2011 (see the article for more details). The Saturday protest, which is aimed at the growing wave of austerity measures being enacted by the governments of various member countries of the European Union, will coincide with the meeting of European Union finance ministers in Budapest.

As violence has become something of a hallmark of recent demonstrations of this type in other European countries, we advise any tourist planning to visit Hungary to avoid the demonstration in Budapest on April 9.

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UCLA Advises Against Spring Break Travel To Mexico

March 22, 2011 on 11:28 am | In Mexico travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

We were surprised to see that UCLA has warned its students against travel in Mexico during spring break . Citing the State Department Travel Warning of last fall (described and linked to in our Blog), increasing drug-related violence and more than one thousand homicides during the first two months of 2011, UCLA recommended that its students avoid visiting Mexico during spring break and, “…anytime soon.”

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Protest in Central London This Weekend

March 22, 2011 on 9:33 am | In London, London travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, United Kingdom, things travelers need to know, travel news | 1 Comment

Central London will not be the place to be for tourists hoping to explore London this weekend and we advise you to avoid the area. On Saturday, October 26th, hundreds of thousands of protestors will descend on Central London to protest the cuts related to their governments austerity measures.

Trafalgar Square will be one of the main gathering points, as described by this article in the Guardian.

If you had planned on touring London this weekend, we suggest that you consider changing your plans, unless you are determined to join the protests. Alternatives include taking a day trip, such as one of those described at ThereArePlaces, or simply heading out for a weekend in the country, or maybe touring some of the UK’s fine castles, such those described here.

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ThereArePlaces Launches New York City Travel Guide

March 19, 2011 on 5:29 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, United States travel, new york travel, things travelers need to know, travel guides, travel new york city, travel news | Comments Off

On Saturday,March 19, 2011 ThereArePlaces launched its new, concise but multi-paged guide to the Best Places to Visit in New York. In addition, we are working on guides to Chicago and San Francisco and have another two U.S.city-guides in planning. All will be released in the first half of this year.

Our New York Guide covers our recommendations for the thirty best places to visit in New York City. We provide details on each attraction and link to the official website, when there is one (in case you have an interest in learning additional information). In addition, we show the location of each attraction with a marker on a custom built map utilizing a map base from Google, and have sprinkled the Guide with some excellent photographs showing what you can expect to see when you visit New York.

            The Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbor

New York is a phenomenal place to visit and often produces a wide range of emotions in each visitor. Americans are justifiably proud of the values represented by the Statue of Liberty and immensely saddened the loss of life at nearby Ground-Zero, soon to be the home of the National 9/11 Memorial. Times Square, Central Park and the Empire State Building are just the beginning of an exploration of some of the most famous structures and attractions in the United States, and, perhaps, the world. New York has something for everyone and we think you will find that the ThereArePlaces Guide to New York is a great way to explore the Big Apple in preparation for your next visit.

Let us know what you think of our Guide to the best places to visit in New York. Leave a comment and help us make a better website for you.

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Travel Warning For The United States?

March 15, 2011 on 2:30 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, Transportation Security Administration, Travel Safety, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Those of you who read this blog know that we follow the Transportation Security Administration weekly post called TSA Week At A Glance. We last reported on these reports in October 2010.

During the last three weeks we have noticed several unusual trends. First, for the week ending 2/20/2011 the number of firearms found on passengers or in their luggage at TSA checkpoints increased to 19 from the 7 reported the previous week. Since that time, the results from the weeks ending 2/27, 3/6 and 3/13 have been 25, 23 and 22 firearms intercepted, up from the weekly average of approximately 13 (based on the date we started tracking these number starting in May, 2010).

In addition, items that the TSA describe as “Artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints”, jumped to 9 the week ending 3/06/2011, up from 1 the previous week and well above the weekly average of approximately 3 items confiscated. However, the number declined to 2 the week ending 3/13/2011.

Next, for the week ending 3/13/2011 the action defined by the TSA as “Passengers arrested after investigation of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents” rose to 15 from the 7 recorded for the week before, above the weekly average of approximately 6 passengers arrested .

While taken alone, these numbers are suggestive, it should be noted that around 15 million passengers pass through security every week in the United States. In essence, the numbers in the TSA reports and the variances we noted are not statistically significant, but , at least from our point of view, are troubling. Just who is it that doesn’t know that you not allowed to take firearms aboard an airplane? Since you can buy whatever you need almost anywhere you go, what could you possibly want to smuggle onto an airplane in the United States, except something you wanted to be able to use on the flight that regarded as dangerous to carry in the cabin of an airliner? Finally, is it news to people that they need to have to have bullet-proof credentials to pass through TSA security? Hard to figure, isn’t it?

Since the TSA does not reveal details on their website related to the “TSA Week At A Glance” reporting categories, it may be that the modest fluctuations reported by ThereArePlaces in this blog are related to wild and crazy college students departing for “Spring Break”. Or, it could be an early start to summer travel. It could be a lot of things, but it could also be terrorists probing our security systems.

We are not excited about the security surrounding today’s air travel, but we would rather have than not . Yes, the TSA might be able to improve the security process, but as the numbers show, some folks just don’t seem to get the message, while others might have ulterior motives. Such is the price of vigilance.

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Japan Earthquake Halts Tourism

March 11, 2011 on 10:01 am | In Japan travel, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

On March 11, at 2:46 local time in Japan, a massive magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off of the eastern shores of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, resulting in a significant number of deaths and incredible destruction of property/infrastructure. The earthquake, which was centered 234 miles (376 km.) to the northeast of Tokyo, generated a 23-foot high tsunami that devastated the city and port of Sendai and surrounding areas (Sendai is approximately 86 miles from the epicenter). Tokyo sustained damage during the main earthquake and its port was struck by the tsunami waters. Miyagi Prefecture, which is part of the Tohoku region encompassing northern Honshu, received the brunt of the damage from this large earthquake.

The State Department of the United States has issued a travel alert asking citizens to avoid travel to Japan. The alert expires on April 1, 2011.

Seismic aftershocks continue to rock the area (over 50 earthquakes have occurred since the initial shock with numerous temblors above 6.0 on the seismic intensity scale). At present major airports in northern Honshu are closed, including Tokyo’s Narita Airport.

Travelers with tickets for air travel to any airport in this area over the next two weeks should check with their airlines about re-booking at some future date. We can assure you that vacation or “natural disaster travel” would not be appreciate by the authorities or people of Japan at this time.

We extend our sympathies to the people of Japan.

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Germany Train Driver Strike Starts Tonight

March 9, 2011 on 8:59 am | In Germany travel, ThereArePlaces.com, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel restrictions, travel warnings | Comments Off

According to ForexLive drivers of Germany’s freight trains will go on strike this evening at 19:00 GMT. Drivers of some passenger trains will join the action early tomorrow morning, although the strike action is scheduled to end at 09:00 GMT Thursday. Although this action may have only modest consequences for passenger traffic, potential extension of the strike or new instances of the strike action could be bad news for travelers, as well as the German economy.

Travelers in Germany should examine local sources for up-to-the-minute news on the strike and plan accordingly.

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Strike in Belgium for EU Summit on March 24?

March 5, 2011 on 10:02 am | In Belgium travel, ThereArePlaces.com, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The EUobserver is reporting that trade unions in Belgium are considering blocking all access to Brussels (roads and train stations) during the March 24th European summit of the European Union. The summit will be held in the building of the council of the European Union at the Rue del la Loi. See this article at the City of Brussels website for more details about the Safety Zone that will surround this area during the summit.

The plan for the strike has not been formalized and it may not occur. However, if you will be traveling in Belgium on or near the date mentioned, we urge you to pay close attention to local news sources and to avoid the area of the strike does take place.

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Rant – Google, ThereArePlaces and Our Own Kobayashi Maru

March 4, 2011 on 12:50 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

This is a long rant about Google and the trouble they have caused ThereArePlaces. You really do not need to read the whole, sordid tale, but it made us feel much better writing it.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks here at ThereArePlaces. Last week Google rejiggered its search index to get rid of low quality, content houses that were masquerading as high quality content websites with the intent on capitalizing on advertising that their high index positions brought them. For some reason, unknown to us, ThereArePlaces was a casualty in the process and several of our listings dropped on Google’s search engine results pages for our most popular destinations, including Italy – one of our finest sections that rivals anything available anyplace else on the web.

We hope you know, that we spend a great deal of effort creating quality content for ThereArePlaces and spend a great deal of time and money field researching our destinations and our travel advice. Hopefully, over time, we will be able to reclaim our former top rankings, but with Google, you never know what will happen.

Since our site traffic was down significantly due to the Google rejiggering, we decided it was a good time to solve another problem that was related to Google and no other search engine.
Sometime after we launched ThereArePlaces in 2004 we learned that we would need to create a sitemap for Google and were told that it was an important component of Google’s site referencing. A sitemap is a document that includes the URL to every item on your website, indicating its location in the file structure, as well as the date it was last modified.

At the time, we did not have the software to create a sitemap, but learned that our web host did and asked them to create one for us. They did and we submitted it. About a week later, we began to see odd errors in our web logs. Apparently the software from our web host was improperly quality assured and had an error in it. We notified them and they immediately fixed the problem and generated a new, correct site map that we resubmitted to Google. Unfortunately, that began a multiple year game of Whack-A-Mole.

The errors in the original software resulted in an erroneous URL in the sitemap for a critical folder in our website structure where we store most of our destination guides. Part of the URL should have appeared as “/Guidebook/pdest/” , but, due to the error it appeared as “/Guidebook%5Cpdest/”. This form of the URL, which was used in Google’s search index, would show the correct page on our site, but the links to images and photos on it were broken, that is, they did not appear on the page. In addition, the links on the page to any other page in our website were also broken, in the sense that any pages linked to by a broken page would not show the photos designed to be displayed. Note that the broken URLS did not appear on our website, or on any page in our website, but only in the sitemap that was public only for a week or so, many years ago. Since that time, using new sitemap software that we validated as working correctly, we have submitted several hundred updated versions of our sitemap (each time we add or edit a part of our website) and all of the URLs (over 10,000 of them) have been correct for this period of time.

Those of you who are not web publishers probably do not know this, but there is no way for us to directly contact Google about problems such as these. The best you can do is leave a message at the public help forum for webmasters and hope that someone from Google might see it and take pity on you. We left many messages on the Google webmasters forum, but to no avail. Eventually the problem cleared up – or so we thought. However, several months later it reappeared, then disappeared and reappeared and has gone through this cycle for the last several years.

How is this possible?

We do not actually know. But we suspect that some other website (or search engine) copied the broken listing from Google and used it in their directory. Google then “discovered” it (again) when they spidered this directory on the other website and used this “newly discovered” broken link to identify the page in our website in the Google search listings. You would think they would use our sitemap, but no, apparently that was not authoritative enough for them; they preferred to use something they found on the Internet.

We recently viewed a video featuring Matt Cutts, one of Google’s Search engine experts, telling us that the sitemap was used a tie-breaker in situations where Google was not sure of the validity of the results it was evaluating. Sorry Matt, not is our case! Our sitemap and website consistently lost to the competition for the correct URL form to any place Google found any results about our website. Nope, the actual website and its verified sitemap specifically conveyed to Google were not enough to win the war.

As noted, the problems of the reappearance of the broken URLs happened on and off over the last several years. Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011 all of our listings on Google were in this incorrect form, and Google, apparently, was unwilling to accept our sitemap as the truth. As you might guess, this impacted our traffic because the URL Google was providing was broken. This led us to put an ugly yellow text box on each page of our website with a note “Can’t See the Photos?” and a link that would correct the problem.

Often, people would see the broken images on the page, not read our yellow sign and use the back tab to return to Google’s index to select another website. In the end, we suspect that this backtabbing is what caused Google to reduce our ranking, even though they perpetuated the problem over the last several years when all they had to do to fix it was look at the sitemaps we had and continue to submit to them.

Other than referring to the sitemap, the next best way to solve this problem is to use what is called a 301 redirect, which works at the server-side of web hosting to intercept a request for a web page and send it to a new location where that page has been moved. Unfortunately, at least for a short time, this action further depresses your web rankings with Google and other search providers. However, since Google had reduced our rankings already, we decided it was the time to take the secondary hit and we redirected most of our destination guides from the “oldfolder” to a “newfolder”. Changing our folder structure from “Guidebook” to “newguidebook” seems to have resolved the broken image and link problem, but it may make it harder for you to find us for a while. Generally we can be found in the search engines by typing “best places to visit in COUNTRY NAME/CITY NAME”, but that really depends on Google. Well, if you want to find us without delay, just go to http://www.thereareplaces.com.

Now that we have that off our chest, we want you to know that we continue to develop new content and hope to push it out to you over the next few months, whether Google thinks it has value or not. We suspect we know more about travel than anyone at Google, how sad that they are our judge.

Thanks for reading this rant; it is just heartbreaking to spend so much time producing quality content that then gets trapped in your own, special Kobayashi Maru. We just had to tell someone about the insanity of trying to coexist with Google.

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France and its Burqa Ban

March 4, 2011 on 11:29 am | In France Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, things travelers need to know, travel alert | Comments Off

Last year, the government of France enacted a law banning face coverings, such as the burqa, worn by some Muslim women. After a six month period for conveying information concerning the ban, the law will go into effect on 11 April. CNN has a detailed story about the law and the fines for violating it. Apparently the law bans only face coverings, although there appears to be some confusion about whether it mandates bare heads. A primer on the types of Muslim veils including helpful illustrations can be found in this article at the BBC.

Our interest in this article is to point out that the week of April 11, 2011 may be a touchy time to travel in France, due to the reaction to the ban by various parties. While we have not yet heard of plans for demonstrations, we suspect that these may occur in major cities, although only a small portion of the Muslim population in France wears the burqa. In addition, The North Africa branch of al Qaeda has weighed in indicating that this ban in France and other like it being considered in Spain and Belgium will bring revenge attacks on the countries involved.

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