Happy Holiday wishes to all travelers around the world.
It seems like this is the time of year when many of us start to think about taking a tour to some exotic destination next spring or summer. Perhaps it’s the cold weather and being locked inside, or the end of the year rush to get things done, but we always start dreaming about travel at this time of year and really go nuts with exploring our dreams the week after Christmas. Somewhere about this middle of this process we decide that travel is really hard work. Maybe we could find someone to do it for us, or perhaps we should take a tour. Hmmm, a tour?
For those of you considering a taking a tour might want to read our article on evaluating tour operators. If you are concerned about the financial stability of your potential tour operator (after all you will need to make a deposit to reserve your trip), you might want to see of they are a member of the United States Tour Operators Association, a trade group trying to ensure integrity in tourism. Read our article on the USTOA for more details on why booking with one of their members might be a good idea.
Early today a gunman in Liege, Belgium attacked a bus stop with hand grenades and then began shooting with an automated rifle. The attacker took his own life, ending the terror on the streets of this popular town. Three were killed and 123 wounded or injured during the attack. The attack occurred at the Place St. Lambert, a hub for the city’s public transportation and the gateway for shopping within the city (including its seasonal Christmas Market). More details can be found at Reuters.
There is as of yet, no indication that this was anything other than the action of a deranged man with a history of violence and drug problems. Nevertheless, travelers should remain alert whenever traveling and be especially aware of their surroundings when visiting crowded shopping areas during holiday seasons.
A nationwide strike on Wednesday November 30, 2011 over pension rights will be joined by Immigration officers causing massive snarls for those entering the UK, especially inbound air travelers. The BBC and others are indicating that delays in processing inbound travelers could require as much as 12 hours before a person could enter the country. Airlines are recommending that passengers reschedule their flights to the next week.
Our advice – don’t fly to the UK until the week after the strike. Heathrow and other airports will be in chaos, although smaller airports might fare a little better.
Reuters reported today that a street crime wave has hit Brussels, Belgium, also known as Capital of Europe. There has been a marked increase of window bashing on parked cars to steal interior contents, as well as an uptick of street robberies, with some thieves showing guns during the crime. Note that the crime rate in Brussels is not all that high compared to other locations in Europe and around the world. However, the local police chief may have inflamed the situation when he pointed his finger at immigrants and drug addicts as the main source of the “crime wave.” See Reuters for the complete details.
If you will be traveling in downtown Brussels, exercise caution about where you travel and ask at your hotel about local crime and whether you should walk or have a taxi arranged to take you to your proposed destination.
Well, it is going to be a challenging week for travelers in Europe. Many of the train worker unions in France and other countries will be striking today against new railroad competition rules being addressed by the EU. See this article in the Local for more details on the potential problems in France, which are expected to be especially severe around Paris.
A work stoppage by rail workers in Portugal has stopped most rail travel in that country and will be followed by a nationwide general strike on November 24th. See this article in Euronews for more details.
Meanwhile in London, thousands of students are expected to protest this week in regards to cuts in support for the country’s higher education system. Although the students are usually well-mannered, they have been joined by trouble makers in the past and the same is expected this week. See this article from Sky News for more details.
If you are in France or Portugal, check locally to see the impact of the strikes and the potential for disruption that may follow later this week. If you are going to be in London this week, avoid Trafalgar Square and other city areas that are commonly used for demonstrations. Inquire at your hotel about local conditions before venturing out.
Seemingly unending rains have descended on parts of Europe, with France and Italy being especially hard hit. Many rivers are nearing flood stage and the problem has closed several noted attractions including Pompeii in southern Italy near Naples. Read this account of the action from Euronews for more details. Also, see this article by Reuters for more information on the rains in France.
Travelers in southern France, Italy or northern Spain should exercise extreme caution if visiting the affected areas. If possible, avoid driving in the areas of these countries having problems with flooding. If you are forced to navigate these areas, inquire locally for advice.
On Sunday October 23rd Turkey suffered a devastating earthquake of 7.2 magnitude. The quake was centered in the east of the country near Turkey’s border with Iran with the destruction focused on the towns of Ercis and Van. The death toll from the earthquake is nearing 500 with thousands injured. It is feared that more dead will be discovered as a large number of multi-story dwellings collapsed. Our hearts go out to the people of Turkey who have suffered from this catastrophe.
For more details see this information article from the Voice of America, which includes a map showing the major earthquake faults in the area.
Van and its surrounding areas are off the paths normally taken by tourists, but anyone thinking of traveling in this area should postpone or cancel their trip. The earthquake was particularly devastating and it will take months, if not longer, to restore the infrastructure and allow Turkey to focus on anything other than caring for its citizens.
Ever since Steven Spielberg began working on the movie the Secret of the Unicorn featuring Tintin, Belgium has become one of the focal points of the comic strip world. Visit Brussels, the official website of the city of Brussels has a page devoted to activities that will surround the grand opening of the movie, which premiers in the city. In addition, we were pleased to find that Brussels has a Comic Strip Center with exhibitions on various comic strips and comic characters, including the Smurfs.
If you are a Tintin fan, see our guide to the Best Places to Visit in Belgium, where we detail the Herge Museum (Herge was the creator of TinTin) that is located in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. In addition, you can find more details on the Comic Strip Center in Brussels on our page on the Best Places to Visit in Brussels.
Where to start?
Two of the largest labor unions in Greece have announced a 48 hour nationwide strike for October 19 and 20. Currently, lawyers are on strike, as are customs officers who are on a ten-day strike. See the Belfast Telegraph for details.
The “Occupy Wall Street has gone international with demonstrations in London, Toronto, Mexico City, Madrid, Rome and other locations. Unfortunately, the demonstrations turned violent in Rome. See this article from CNN for a top level overview of the demonstrations.
In Egypt, reform leaders are criticizing Egypt’s Military leadership, while the friction between the Copts (Christians) and some sects of believers in Islam, continues.
All in all, not a good week for travelers, at least those in the centers of major cities around the world. We are unsure what lies ahead for the demonstrations in Europe and the United States, but urge you to search local news sources to see if the activity might interfere with any travel you have planned. Other hotspots such as Greece and Egypt look to be long term problems that might just wind up with you taking these potential travel destinations off your bucket list, at least for a while.
A car bomb exploded in central Ankara , the Turkey capital, on Tuesday September 19th. See this article from the Wall Street Journal Online for details. Although the government of Turkey has indicated that there is, as of yet, no evidence of terrorism, the car bomb is thought by many to be the work of Kurdish militants. Areas supporting the militants near the southeast border of the country and in the Kurdish areas of Iraq have been the focus of bombing and military campaigns by the Turkish Armed Forces. There is concern that the current action by the Turkish military against the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party) may result in the spread of PKK-related terrorism to other cities in Turkey as well as to tourist areas in the country.
If you are planning to visit Turkey exercise caution, avoid political rallies, or celebratory crowds, as these could become targets for the PKK. Also, be sure to monitor local news for any information that could be of use to use in evaluating the PKK threat wherever you will visit in Turkey.