Paris is Not Perfect

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:15 am -

Paris is not perfect. Well, no place is, but Paris is really good. I couldn’t wait for the plane to land. As I came in from the airport, I was so happy to see that some of the streets still had their Christmas lights glowing and, even though it was raining, their twinkling made me feel at home.

I’ve been settled in at home now for a couple of weeks and have already encountered a couple of sneaky taxi drivers who wanted to take me on the scenic route. Their confusing me for a tourist doesn’t bring out my best qualities. My French accent may leave much to be desired, but I must have learned the language (clearly by osmosis) in my sailor incarnation: I can really tell them off, always adding that they’re hurting the tourist industry and giving the French a bad reputation. Please understand that some of the same taxi drivers—well, their cousins—are driving in Washington, but their cabs aren’t as clean.

The six-week redo of my building’s elevator was postponed, which was a blessing because I would have been forced to drag suitcases up to the fourth floor. If I’d done so, it would have made a commotion, especially if I’d had a heart attack after eating way too much when I was on the cruise in Southeast Asia.

Come to think of it, that would have been one way to alert the neighbors I was home. Chances are they were wondering whether or not the apartment had been sold since there were other occupants in residence during my absence. The French do tend to talk, but there are some things that happen in the dead of the night and those include real estate transactions.

The elevator work began this week without an announcement and with a bang.  The building’s occupants had been advised it wouldn’t begin until mid-February. Why did I think such a massive rehab wouldn’t be noisy? And why wasn’t I smart enough to realize it would feel as if I were in a dentist’s chair with an old-fashioned drill? There’s a solution to any and all things, and my Bose noise-cancelling headphones are helping a lot.

The work is forecast to take six weeks because it’s très compliqué—well, what isn’t? Let’s hope it’s not so complicated that the job may become a work in unprogress. Another reason the work may take so long is the mechanics stop at 4 p.m. and take an hour break for lunch and every step or turn of a wrench requires a democratic consultation of the entire crew, with a unanimous vote before proceeding. If this were the building in Washington, D.C. where I stay, you’d better believe the tenants would be ballistic and striking in spite of there being five elevators.

I can’t complain about this building. It’s filled with light and my apartment is big by Parisian standards. Talk about luck. When we rented this apartment twenty years ago, all of the walls were painted hospital green and the apartment was in dire need of TLC. To be polite, the apartment was nothing less than depressing. My dear friend Connie appeared and announced the apartment was triste. How could I live on such a sad street rather than closer to Boulevard Saint-Germain which was/is a far more happening neighborhood?

To be honest, rents there were out of our league and less expensive digs were a necessity. Boy, you’d think we were to hell and gone in the ’burbs rather than a 15-minute walk and/or four stops on the métro from the land of the stuffy—or is it groovy?—germanopatins. Whenever Connie comes to visit, I make her eat her initial words, and she’s gracious enough to do so. When we bought the apartment in 2002 after receiving a “buy or vacate” letter, we stretched to do so.  Happily, it was a good investment even though the dollar-to-euro conversion rate has caused considerable heartburn. It’s a joy to be so close to the Luxembourg Garden.

In France, especially among expats, currency fluctuations and real estate are considered safe subjects. But, getting back into the social swing isn’t always as easy as one would hope, especially when people travel. Their lives go on (including their travels and family obligations) while you seem to up and disappear and reappear. Even with the best of intentions, their busy schedules don’t have a lot of flexibility and who can predict when you’ll take off again?  For that matter, because of my gypsy blood, I’m never 100% certain myself and am already plotting a trip to Berlin.

Why Berlin? Because I’ve never been there and it’s so close that it’s no big travel deal. There are wonderful hotels available at reasonable prices and why not? Plus, one of the joys of living in Paris is its central location and being a hub for airlines. It’s so easy to get from here to there. I’ve had incredible success snagging well-priced plane tickets on momondo. A round-trip Paris/Berlin costs as little as $99.00.

The first thing I did (before the elevator was condemned) was to invite some friends over for drinks. You have to work harder at maintaining social contacts when you’re the one who comes and goes.

I’m in the process of alerting houseguests they’ll be taking the stairs and to pack light. This will be the true test of how many friends I have, but I’m not too worried. A lot of people live in apartments without elevators and are used to it…

…Which may be one of the reasons gyms in Paris aren’t as omnipresent as they are in the U.S. But, that’s another article. All I can say is that it’s good to be back on this side of the Atlantic. It’s really good to be home.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Home Again in Paris

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:15 am -

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Paris, with any luck. Based on the recent disruptions of air traffic, no one could or should take the weather or travel for granted.

As much as I like exploring the world, it will be wonderful to be home and sleeping in my own bed. I love the electric pad that radiates gentle heat under the bottom sheet. No bed feels right to me any longer unless there’s a duvet. It does get cold in Paris and no one seems to be able to predict the weather no matter where and when.

Please, let the plane be on time, let my suitcases appear on the carousel, spare me from strikes and from jetlag and from feeling out of it for too long.

Leaving Washington fills me with mixed feelings and requires preparation. Gee, where did I put those documents, keys, converter plugs? And the list goes on.

The worst part about leaving D.C. is knowing I’m not going to be seeing my granddaughters as often as I should or would like, which holds true even when I’m there because they lead very busy lives, merci.

But this departure was stranger than usual, perhaps because I’d been away from Paris since before Thanksgiving and went to Asia between eating turkey and Santa’s appearance. Winter clothes and summer clothes accompanied me, and without question there were too many of both.

When I go on business trips or travel for less than two weeks, I manage with a carry-on. The fantasy that I’ll be out every night is neither real nor appealing. My idea of a good time is eating dinner someplace where I can hear the conversation, sharing good food and wine and discussing and debating issues with passion, but never anger.

As soon as I took the suitcases out of the closet this time, it was different. I could feel my French side emerging as I started pondering what to pack. In France, I wear layers, since people don’t heat their homes and apartments full-blast. In the D.C. apartment where I stay, electricity is included in the fees. Ergo, few tenants turn off all of their lights or lower the heat since it’s “free.” Well not exactly, but since they don’t see the electricity or gas bills….

When I’m alone in Washington, I usually walk around in a Bonjour Paris tee shirt and slacks and rarely turn on radiators since there’s enough ambient heat radiating from the apartments above, below and the adjoining ones. That’s not the case in Paris where you’ll find me wearing, and working in, three layers of clothing.

I still refuse to admit the winters are as cold in Paris as they are in D.C. or as long. I do confess the month of February can be gray and immediately find myself looking at last-minute cheapo fares to Morocco or Turkey where there’s sun. Looking tends to be where I stop since my energy level escalates as soon as I hit French soil and I can’t seem to get enough of the city.

My first day is spent sorting through mail and hoping there’s nothing waiting for me from the French government or the IRS. Happily, I receive relatively little junk mail and a friend culls through the majority of the envelopes and tosses them.

After I’ve unpacked the necessities, I take a nap, but awaken in time to go to the Luxembourg Garden, because that’s where I get my bearings. It’s not until I see the playground that I really know I’m home. I either grab a café crème at the Café Vavin before entering the garden or as soon as I leave. Continuity is very important, and even though I don’t go there every day, I’m considered a regular.

Before heading back to the apartment, I stop at an always-open grocery store on Bv. Montparnasse and grab some fruit and juice to tide me over until the next day. I rarely go out to dinner the first night because I have the luxury of not being a tourist and don’t have to do and see everything within a finite period.

One of the things that amazes me is that people in the U.S. continually ask me what I’m going to be doing when I’m in Paris as if I’m going to an extraordinarily exotic destination. When I respond that I have no real plans, I’m the recipient of those “what do you mean” looks and why not?

Well, because Paris is home and it’s where I live and work. I have a date to see the Monet Exhibit at the Grand Palais, have some (well, more than some) meetings regarding Bonjour Paris, will go to a couple of readings at The Village Voice Book Store, check out all of the new hotels that opened while I was away and entertain a few house guests. And if I’m bored for a minute, all I have to do is walk out the building’s door and take a short walk. Invariably, I’ll return having discovered something new. That’s one of the reasons I don’t mind leaving Paris. There’s always something new to see upon my return.

Maybe because Paris is home, I’m more relaxed and am willing to let things happen rather than spending a lot of time planning. C’est la vie and I’m so lucky it’s mine.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Another Year – It’s Hard to Believe

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:14 am -

It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone in the life of Bonjour Paris. It’s getting to the point I can hardly remember when I wasn’t singing the praises (and frustrations) of living in Paris and in France. Things that used to make me want to scream are normale now. I can’t say that my French accent is any better than it was when I first moved to Paris. But most people understand me, and more Parisians insist on speaking English even when I protest.

Paris has changed so radically that it’s like many other big cities, albeit with its own special charm and its architecture that makes my heart sing. I’ve changed (as has my life) and nothing stays the same same. If I could and it did, we wouldn’t be growing—we’d be dead.

So many people have been subscribers since Bonjour Paris’s inception that we’ve lived through a lot of good and bad together. Many of us have had the pleasure of meeting and let’s hope we can have many more get-togethers in 2011.

It’s amazing how we’ve remained a cohesive community. Some people miss the chat rooms and others bemoan the closure of our message boards. Count me among them. But, we do have Question & Answer Section. Please register and ask and answer away. People always have questions and our readers possess a wealth of information that we’d wish you’d share.

This website was launched in 1995 when the Internet was still news to most people. The French were still tied by the umbilical cord to the Minitel, and no one believed people would be communicating by “mail” meant anything other than “la poste.” Gone (well nearly) are the days of dial-up modems that took forever and invariably crashed just when you were making a point. More than 96% of our readers are connecting to the site via T1, cable or DSL connections. I’d really like to meet the 4% who access the site via dial-up and send them special thanks since it must take an incredibly long time to access the more than 6789 articles that are housed on the site.

People in more than 140 countries and territories read Bonjour Paris.  I suspect it’s because of the advent of Google translation software and more people reading English. When I think about it, there’s no question it’s a whole new world, and ponder what advances there will be in the future.  It’s really mind-boggling and how I’d love to have a full-time IT person on staff.

I shouldn’t go there, but I remember when I had the first answering machine on the block, bought a fax, which burned and died when I plugged it into a French electrical line, and when I bought my first computer. I held off buying a cell phone and the thought of the iPad was science fiction. My granddaughters (ages 4 and 7) are capable of doing more things with electronics than I’d ever imagined; such is life and progress. As most grandparents say, these children are simply being exposed to more things than we were.

But, the most pronounced change has been the emergence of bloggers, social networking and social media. When Joe Brancatelli of Joe Sent Me advised his readers to check the Twitter posts of airlines for the most current travel information, you know it’s a whole new world.  If anyone had told me I’d be “tweeting” even three years ago, I would have told him or her something else.

Little did I even imagine we’d have a Bonjour Paris Facebook Site that requires a lot up upkeep, but is another way readers can express themselves. We currently have 1800 FB friends and hope the number will increase.

I should admit there are times when I contemplate selling or closing the site. It’s not as if it’s a moneymaker, writers aren’t paid, the “staff” works for pennies. I work for zero plus my out-of-pocket costs. Readers believe content on the Internet should be free. Ideally, it should be, which is why I’m especially appreciative to our Bonjour Paris premium members and for each and any of you who rents a car, books a hotel or buys something from the Bonjour Paris Marketplace or any of our affiliates.

As I write this, I can’t help pondering what I want for 2011, because I know emphatically that I want health, happiness and peace for all Bonjour Paris readers.

My wish list would include more input from you, more interactivity and suggestions as to how to make Bonjour Paris better. For that matter, if any faithfuls would like to contribute time and/or expertise, we wouldn’t say no.

I had a recent revelation and it was when I took a dream cruise and the trip of a lifetime. Please don’t get me wrong; if the Wi-Fi connection had been stable, I would have enjoyed it more. But one thing I learned was more about me.  Our readers may have different beliefs, but we all have one thing in common.  And that’s a love of France.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we go all go on a cruise together, if only down the Seine?  Now there’s a thought.

January 2011

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Around the World

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:13 am -

My body is in Washington while my mind is… well, trying to figure out where it actually is. There’s no question where my laundry is: transitioning between a suitcase, the washer and dryer, and a closet. Next week, I’ll start packing again for Paris. Have I come full circle or lost my mind for good?

The reality is I’ve traveled nearly halfway around the world since the week before Thanksgiving. Yes, my body is tired, but my mind is spinning while I’m trying to absorb all I’ve seen and learned. This isn’t only about the destinations, but what I’ve realized about who and what I am.

My mantra has always been that travel enriches people’s minds as well as their perspectives. Seeing other cultures can only be a positive. You may not like them or want to live among them… but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll have a more profound understanding of what takes place in the world.

When people used to ask where I live, I wasn’t always certain of the answer. Now I know. It’s Paris. As is the case with many expatriates, when traveling and moving, they lose a sense of being. They call home where they have family. But family moves, dies and life changes, and nothing is forever. People can’t help taking themselves with them, no matter their age, height or weight and how it fluctuates.  If I could sing, I’d belt out a chorus or two of “Anywhere I Hang My Hat is Home,” but that’s the idea—and I think it’s a good one. My most recent home, or home-away, was a ship.

My time spent on the Seabourn Pride cruise was a real eye-opener. The crew and passengers aboard the ship were from many countries. No, I didn’t do a count, but wish I had. The crew was primarily British, Australian, and Irish, with many people from Eastern Europe and a few from South America.

Many of the less-visible employees who made the ship work (in the galleys and those who were responsible for non-stop maintenance) were from the Philippines. The Executive Chef is from India. But he’s been cooking “Continental” for so long that he steers away from curries and spicy food because he no longer has the palate. Talk about finding a new home.

The majority of the passengers were Americans, British, and Australian with a smattering from Turkey, France, Germany and… well, I’m not sure from where. Not only were there cultural differences among the different nationalities, but also there were numerous people from the U.S. who were enigmas to me. I’ve lost touch with “real” Americans and came to the conclusion that the majority of the people with whom I come into contact share a common denominator: an appreciation (or more) of France.

Because the weather on the cruise wasn’t ideal, there were “sea” days when there was no point in rising and shining and racing to the decks for sun and calm seas. I don’t do sun. and even though I did frequent the gym, unfortunately (according to the scales) not enough. I ran up and down the stairs, rather than taking the elevator, hoping I could work off a few calories, but clearly that wasn’t the solution.

This might have been my chance to learn how to play bridge, but I decided not to. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t read enough because I was so busy asking questions and trying to get online. Nor are after-dinner shows my thing. Most of the passengers attended them, but if I did, I only stuck my head in and usually made a fast exit. What happened to my days of being a party girl?

Maybe something different happened. I’m not going to say, or even assume, it’s because I’ve been living abroad for so long, but some things that once were enticing just seem like ways of passing the time, not using it—and not really enjoying it.

On the ship, there were some very interesting things, including incredible lectures about Southeast Asia by Denise Heywood, who clarified so much about the history and culture of the area. But Denise only spoke four times, and I wanted her to be my mentor. One day, I’d love to tour the area with her and a very small group of people who want to learn about this part of the world.  It’s more complex than I had ever imagined and I’m not a newbie to the area.

I learned what I don’t do well. First, not having reliable access to the Internet is a nightmare. I’m an addict and realize that Bonjour Paris is my baby and an extremely demanding one. My computer and I visited numerous cyber cafés on the docks and in places with free Wi-Fi. One night, I even bailed and pulled a near all-nighter at the Four Seasons in Bangkok. If you love Thai food, Spice’s Market is a must-eat restaurant located in the hotel.

As for my spending a night in the city, many people would say, “How crazy is that?”  But, I needed a Skype fix so I could “talk and see” some friends, family and Bonjour Paris contributors.

Please don’t worry, I managed to take the incredible Sky-train, do a wee bit of shopping and visit the flower market, then spend a few hours on a river cruise. It was déjà vu from the times I’ve spent in Bangkok during numerous visits in the past fifteen years. The city is shifting away from the river area to a more urban center. The traffic isn’t any better and even the night market has moved. The seedier parts of Bangkok weren’t a must-see for me because I’ve seen them and—here’s something else I don’t do well—I hate watching young girls being forced to sell their bodies and souls in order to send money home to support their families in the countryside.

Still, if you are a lover of Buddhist temples, you’ll be in heaven, have the chance to meditate and take photos that will make people understand why you’ve chosen to spend time in a city that never sleeps.

Since this was my first cruise, I was fascinated by how the ship worked, people’s motivations for being there and choosing that specific cruise and what they learned in addition to what they saw. Some passengers rarely left the ship and used it as a floating five-star hotel. Others went on every excursion and couldn’t get enough. Some opted to hire private tour guides so they could see what they wanted to see at their own pace rather than having to wait for others.

I generally hopped in a cab (yes, I was subjected to being taken for the scenic ride… or route) even though I knew well enough to have the destination written out in the local language and carried a map with X marks the spot.

I did make it to Washington to celebrate the holidays with my son, his wife and my grandchildren. I’ll spend some time having the girls over for a sleepover or two and tell them all about my travels. To them, I’m the grandparent who lives in Paris but goes to exotic places. For that matter, all of their grandparents do, and I hope they will as well. In the meantime, I can’t wait for them and their parents to come to Paris this summer.

I want them to be part of my home, after all.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Berlin — Getting an overview of this massive German capital

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:26 pm -

Traveling from Paris to Berlin on no-frills Easy Jet Airlines was perfectly fine. The planes were clean, the flight attendants professional. One flight steward even had the courtesy to laugh when someone asked if there were a charge for a glass of water. In his very British accent he replied no, but there was one for coffee. Best of all, the flight was cheaper than cheap and, once in the air, it took only 90 minutes.

We decided to train it to the hotel rather than spend money on a cab. That was possibly a mistake since it was a 15-minute-long walk to the airport station and a subsequent 30-minute wait for the next train, which was the slow train into the central station. No RER that whisks by the outskirts of the city and we immediately spotted the considerable graffiti that’s considered an art form there.

By the time we arrived at The Westin Grand Berlin (thank goodness for Starwood points), we weren’t feeling so perky. But, that wasn’t going to deter us, come hell or high water. Nor was the bone-chilling cold weather that had us wearing so many layers that I felt like Charlie Brown. A friend, who lives there, says there’s a reason the city is called Buuurrrrrlin. And the summers tend to be hot. OK, one doesn’t travel for the weather unless you’re off on a beach vacation and then, you can only hope.

The hotel was very, but very nice, albeit without free WiFi, one of my pet peeves on my hotel list, but I won’t go there. Its location is ideal if you want to get around by public transport. The Welcome Pass is a real bargain for tourists. My friend and I spent hours on the hop-on-and-hop-off City Tour bus and were impressed by how much we were able to see and how comprehensive the narration was and in impeccable English, thanks to earphones.

Our M.O. was to do a complete tour and then decide where we wanted to spend time. Berlin has incredible museums and there’s no way you can see a fraction of them and do them justice. The Jewish Museum consists of three buildings and is more than 3000 square meters in size or about 32,000 square feet.

We were forced to make an executive decision. Were we going to see the city, which is known for being the hip and happening place in the EU, or spend all of our time in a museum or two? We opted for the former, vowing we’d return and do only culture.

Contrasted with Paris, it’s huge and the German capital takes a lot of exploring in addition to a more than superficial knowledge of history. The more we saw of Berlin, the more we realized people can spend weeks sightseeing and only get a glimpse of the city and its many layers. It still has the feeling of an Eastern Bloc city where so much was leveled during WWII. Its architecture is a tribute to those who rebuilt the city after the WWII and after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, when there was another massive wave of construction.

What We Did:

After the city bus tour, we took a boat trip on the Spree. Because it was before the season began, we couldn’t find a barge with English narration. We followed a map noting where we were and drinking hot chocolate laced with rum. It was an eye-opener that there are approximately as many canals in Berlin as there are in Venice.

On the banks, there is nothing but restaurants and even though it was frigid, people were eating outside, bundled in blankets the restaurants supply. If you spy a red or bright yellow fleece blanket with fringe, chances are people have helped themselves.

Residents of Berlin so love the sun they’ll seize every opportunity to sit outside. Rumor has it that there are more convertibles there than in any other European city. This may reflect the fundamentally optimistic nature of Berliners, who concludes that putting down the top means the weather must really be nice and warm and sunny, even if they’re wearing clothes appropriate to hit the ski slopes.

We walked throughout the city, not always precisely certain where we were going. Always a believer in leaving time for serendipity, we explored streets and came to one conclusion: living in Berlin costs substantially less than it does in Paris. That gave me pause and more of an understanding as to why Berlin has become a center for artists and writers. Before going any further, I am NOT moving there for so many reasons including that fewer people speak English and there’s no way I’m ever going to learn another language even if I took total immersion classes. At my age, life is too short.

Photo by http2007 Flickr Creative Common

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What to do and not to do when setting out on a nine-hour-long drive

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:24 pm -

It’s school vacation in France and the time when some families pile into cars and go to ski resorts or to grandmother’s house. For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’re a family of four — two adults and two children. I’ll skip infants, who require diaper changes and more.

Would you stop overnight if the drive were nine hours long?

Most people say no: They’d go for it in one shot. Others claim that breaking up at trip into two days is part of the adventure. Plus, it saves wear and tear on vocal chords and on nerves from requesting the younger set (or driving partner) to behave.

One person said he leaves around 7 p.m. (after rush hour) and he and his partner drive for four hours to a pre-reserved hotel on the highway. Their children generally sleep part of the way and remain asleep after arriving at the hotel. Jean-Luc qualifies that one of their secrets is having their children wear outfits that can double as PJ’s so the need to change clothes is negated. The family stokes up on breakfast the following morning and is at their destination in time for lunch. The hotel room may cost  but Jean-Luc feels it’s worth it.

What to bring on these trips:

• Books for the children

• Electronic gadgets that preferably don’t make noise

• DVD players with ear-phones

• Paper and colored pencils – skip crayons since they can stain upholstery

• Children’s own pillows and blankets

• Food and drinks:  some people are adamant children are allowed only to drink water inside of the car.  Others are more liberal regarding what’s consumed.

• Granola bars, fruit and bags of potato chips are up for discussion. Some drivers allowed them to be eaten in the car, while others insist they’re eater at rest stops.

What to do:

Stop every two hours to stretch, use rest rooms, avoid fatigues and factor in a few minutes to breathe. If the children are young, it’s a plus if there’s a playground at the rest stop.

Some people say children should not be stuck in the back seat but the passengers should rotate places.  It may be a chance to have some quality time with your seat partner.

Have pre-set games such as spot the red Ferrari.

Must haves:

• Tissues

• Trash bags

• Hand wipes

• Socks

E.A., a UK resident wrote:

“I don’t have children, so I have no idea of what it is like traveling with children in the back, I can imagine it must be a nightmare.”

Absolutely Don’ts in my car:

No smoking
No food or any drinks at any time. (exception bottled water only to be consumed outside the vehicle at a pre-scheduled stop).
No sat navs or any devices that will leave marks on the windscreen, be a distraction, cause unnecessary light pollution or any cables cluttering the interior.
No mobile phones (only allowed it securely switched off)
No clutter
No muddy shoes

Things to have in my car:
Enough petrol in the tank
First aid kit
Warning triangle
Hi-visibility vest
Spare bulbs and spare fuses.
Tools to change a wheel
Battery starter cables
Torch (flashlight)
Glass cleaner, quick detailer and microfibre cloths to keep windscreen, windows and headlight clear.
Plastic bag to put any rubbish

If traveling to Europe:
passport, international driving license, insurance certificate with European coverage and road assistance.

In Winter:
Snow boots

The above is an extensive list.  Clearly, there are many things that aren’t  included that would make your drive easier. Please feel free to add items and ideas, which have been omitted. I know I’d need a GPS system to help me get to my destination. Not that the directions are always right or the shortest distance between two places. But, that’s another article.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Egyptian tourist sites to reopen next week — but will you go?

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:23 pm -

The newly appointed Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Affairs  Zahi Hawass, has announced that Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern sites will reopen on  Sunday, February 20th. This is considered one of the more important steps in bringing the country back to normal and getting the economic engine running.

Egypt’s economy has been greatly impacted by the halt in tourism due to the country’s civil unrest that included 18 days of protests and ultimately, the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Zahi Hawass says he hopes tourists from around the world will return, in spite of the fact the many of Egypt’s antiquities were damaged or looted during the upheaval. After a break-in at the nation’s Egyptian Museum in Cairo, 18 artifacts are missing. However, many of the museum’s major masterpieces, such as the Golden Mask of Tutankhamun were unharmed.

There has been substantial damage and looting from other historical sites including the tomb of Hetep-Ka, in Saqqar and also in Abusir, where a portion of a false door was stolen from the tomb of Re-Hotep. The full extent of the damage is still unknown. But, undoubtedly there’s been extensive destruction done; including to some royal pyramids and burial sites.

It’s hoped  many of the artifacts will be returned since they cannot be sold on the open market. Extensive restoration will be necessary for the  many pieces that were vandalized.

The real question is if whether or not you would feel safe traveling to a country where there was violence, mass demonstrations and a change of government (not yet formalized) so recently?

What are government officials going to need to do make you feel confident enough to book a ticket to Egypt? Without a doubt, there will be some real travel bargains. But, will they be enough?

Some people will go because they love Egypt and feel a sense of solidarity.  But, will you be one of them?

Photo: wilhelmja, Flickr creative commons

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What you should do if you are in or traveling to Egypt

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:22 pm -

The current political situation in Egypt is going to have an impact on tourism as well as travel. U.S. carriers have already ceased flights to Cairo and other parts of the country.

Tourists in Cairo are being advised to remain in their hotels and not get involved in the demonstrations. Stay away from the U.S. Embassy since it’s situated where many of the protests are taking place. The American government announced this morning it will arrange flights to Europe for U.S. citizens who are currently in Egypt.

Communications are difficult. Government officials have banned internet usage, cell phone coverage is uneven and frequently does not operate. Ironically, much of the news that’s being dispersed has been via social media, especially Twitter.

If friends and relatives are there, contact their tours operators and employers and see what information they’re able to convey to you and to people there.

Many government Foreign Affairs Ministries have  facilities for travelers to all foreign destinations, including Egypt  where they can and should register  their contact details. This is essential in the  event travelers need to be evacuated from Egypt.

If you plan or need to go to Egypt right now, be sure you’re covered by  appropriate travel insurance.

The situation in Egypt is fluid. Keep yourself updated on the political situation as often as possible during these uncertain times. Don’t  travel to Egypt unless it’s essential. Even though areas of Egypt are safe, other regions should be avoided. Egypt a not a no-go zone but this may not be the time to head for a beach vacation.

Most important, let’s hope this civil and political unrest is resolved quickly and does not spread to other areas of the middle-East.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City — call it what you want but it’s not what you remember

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:21 pm -

I was in Saigon just twelve months ago and now I’m back. Based on my visit , you’d think my previous trip had been a decade before. My, how a city changes when the powers in charge decide to allow people the freedom to be capitalists. Granted, Vietnam may have a Communist government but the population is definitely out to make money.

While  I was living the life of luxury aboard a Seabourn Cruise, I couldn’t wait to jump ship and spend some time on land. We were docked within ten minutes of the center of town and if you negotiated the fare before hopping into the taxi, you could be in the center of town within a matter of minutes and for less than two U.S. dollars.

People keep asking why Asia is my destination of choice—after Paris. It’s a long trip no matter whether I’m flying from the U.S. or from Europe. As many time as I’ve visited the region, it becomes increasing evident I’ve only scratched the surface. Perhaps I inherited my love of the orient from my great-grandfather who lived in Shanghai and started the China Export Company.

All places change. But, Asia is changing at a full gallop. If you blink, there will be a new building. Saigon was a real shocker. A new building is scheduled to open in a couple of months with a heliport. It will be 68-stories high and will house offices, luxury apartments and a hotel. So much for low-rise and low-income.

Yes, there are still old-time markets where people can haggle with vendors. But don’t expect to walk away with something for pennies unless it’s worth pennies. When Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci open stores in a city, that’s an indication Vietnam has become consumer and brand conscious, and they are buying. Passengers on the ship were transported in Mercedes vans on excursions and there’s a newly opened Mercedes dealership.

I wanted to see “old” Saigon that’s disappearing with each visit. I hired a scooter driver (yes, I was wearing a helmet) and we went into neighborhoods that were essentially alleys. Unfortunately, the chauffeur and I had a communication problem and he didn’t understand my asking him to stop so I could take photos. Perhaps it was healthier since the pollution in Saigon is terrible and I wished I’d bought a facemask.

We sped by the Basilica of Notre Dame, the railway station, the Opera House, the post office and other remnants of architecture constructed by the French. Don’t expect to speak French should you visit Saigon. Children are now taught minimal English unless they’re in tourist-or  business-related industries.

We took a day trip on the Mekong Delta. That’s where you see old Vietnam. There’s something so beautiful and serene about the area that it touched my soul. People are by no means living anything other than hard and basic lives. But, they’re renowned for being the friendliest in the country and few would opt to move to a city.

I can never spend enough time in Vietnam but I wonder whether or not I’m the only person who suffers from acute culture shock after every visit. Is there such a think as too much progress too fast? I guess only time will tell. For me, the change in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, from one year to the next was positively jarring.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about what might be too much change.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 reasons you may decide not to board a plane

Written by admin on April 13, 2011 – 2:20 pm -

You’re at the airport and ticketed. You’ve gone through security and your flight has been announced. What could cause you not to board or to bail?

Some people call it intuition. Other travelers state they don’t like how others passengers look or appear. There are myriad motives. But, they may not be ones you think.

Ten reasons:

1 – Change of equipment: You expected a larger plane only to find that older and smaller equipment had been substituted. Some people are leery of prop planes rather than jets.

2 – Weather you perceive as threatening even though the flight was departing.

3 – Boarding the plane, feeling sick and not wanting to proceed with the trip.

4 –Discovering the plane had originated from a country where there had been an outbreak of  a communicable disease.

5 – Some people have bailed from budget planes that looked as if they hadn’t been well maintained. This is especially true during inclement weather.

6 – One person boarded a flight to be greeted by other passengers, who were intoxicated and decided not to proceed. The take-off was delayed since the airline had to unload her luggage. She didn’t care in spite of being chastised by airline personnel.

7 – Believing the flight might not be safe. One person reported passengers had been deplaned because there were technical and engine problems that included overheating. After the third false start, he decided to cancel and booked another flight. The plane took off without him.

8 – Being alerted of sudden illness at home that necessitated not traveling. Or, being seated next to a sick passenger and not being change seats?

9 – Seeing the pilot and perceiving he or she might have been drinking and/or was not in condition to be in charge of your life and/or well-being.

10 – One person reported he deplaned when there was an announcement that the majority of the WC’s on the plane weren’t operative and there was a shortage of water. He attributed it to shoddy maintenance.

I’d want to avoid a long-haul flight where the caterer was unable to stock any food or drinks. I suspect I’m not alone.

Please add any and all reasons you’d decide not to take a specific flight. The above ones must be the tip if the iceberg. And, how would a $150 or $250 change fee affect your actions?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |