Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roman Lunch

Rome is full of the unexpected. The Eternal City, known for exquisite cuisine, smooth fashion and crazy drivers, can also boast that it’s people, at times fiery and flamboyant, are capable of being completely above the influence of trend or vogue.

This stylish and well-groomed man, crisply attired in a tan suit, has chosen not a swank café on the Via Venetto, but the solitude of some rubble, no doubt the remnants of a structure that fell down, or was brought down in a clash of legionnaires, hundreds maybe thousands of years ago. The location affords ample sunlight, providing warmth and light for reading his paper, as well as a handy place for his orange.

In the United States, these ancient pieces of architecture would have been hauled off to a landfill or ground up into cement long ago, instead of being left alone in some quiet green patch of the city, where someone can sit on them and enjoy a sunny lunch.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pouch It - Simple Passport Safety

Anytime you travel with your passport, you should take extra care to safeguard it. The simplest way to keep it safe, yet readily available, is with a pouch worn under your shirt. It doesn’t have to be elaborate with a bunch of compartments, just something lightweight to hold your passport, maybe some paper money, tickets or a credit/debit card.

There are dozens of styles of pouches available and most are way over-designed. The best kind is a pouch that is made of soft cotton with a plastic zipper and a flat cloth strap that is adjustable and long enough to wear over your shoulder and around your neck Wearing it over your shoulder is much more comfortable than hanging from your neck and won’t show the strap in the collar area, so it’s better hidden. Ideally, the adjusting rings will also be plastic, to avoid setting off and metal detectors.

A pouch with a plastic zipper or a small button closure is preferable to Velcro. Nothing turns heads in a public area like the ripping sound of opening a Velcro flap. You want to be able to get in and out of your pouch as quickly and quietly as possible. A size of about six inches deep and ten inches wide, give or take and inch or two, should be adequate. If you can’t find one as described, it’s easy enough to make one yourself. A light color fabric will be less noticeable, even under light colored shirts.

You might also consider making a photocopy of your passport and other form of identification and using that to avoid having to take out your passport whenever possible. And, never let anyone take your passport out of your sight for even a minute. You should also make a copy of your passport to keep with your other important papers like your birth certificate, etc. A happy trip is one where you, your luggage and your passport all make it back home together. Bon voyage.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Magic Phrases

When traveling abroad, Americans often come home with the impression that Europeans are rude. This is especially true of those who have gone to France. Actually, the problems occur when visitors act like they do at home.

In New York, if someone says, “Hey Mack! Got the time?” The time will probably be forthcoming. Things are different in Europe. Before you address a stranger, you must first ask their pardon, for interrupting them, and wait for an acknowledgment that they recognize your presence, and that they are willing to interact with you. In France, you would say, “Bonjour, pardon moi.” Then wait for them to speak. You don’t have to ask if they speak English, everyone in Europe learns to speak English in school. Most Europeans speak better English than many Americans. After they’ve answered, go ahead and ask them what you need to know. And, no, speaking slower and louder is not necessary.

Before you go, buy a phrase book for the language of whatever country or countries you plan to visit and learn the five magic phrases - Hello. Excuse me (Pardon me). Please (If you please). Thank you. Can you help me? Learn these, if nothing else. Of course the more of their language you can speak, the better off you’ll be. The main thing is to learn enough to show them you’re at least making an attempt to speak their language. That and a smile will make your trip much more enjoyable. Bon voyage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Amsterdam - Early Spring

Early spring is one of the best times to visit Amsterdam. Shoulder season fares and hotel rates make for quite a bargain. Yes, it’s colder. And yes, you might see some ice in the canals. And yes, the trees are still bare. But there are no long lines and there are plenty of hotel rooms.

You’ll find warmth in Amsterdam’s cafes and restaurants, where you can sample cuisine of Indonesian and Indian influence as well as Continental fare. Pork is a staple and can be seen on glowing rotisseries in windows all over town.

Eating and drinking in Amsterdam can be even more enjoyable if you like cats. Every establishment has a cat or two or three that will roam freely. It’s common to see a cat stretched out on the bar or to have one hop up and inspect your lunch. They’re working cats, and do a great job of keeping the mice away. Cozy pubs offer brews from all over the world and travelers with a certain taste can order a puff of something that probably isn't legally available back home.

All in all, Amsterdam is both interesting and entertaining any time of year. But early spring has a certain color and atmosphere that allows the tourist to get a little closer to the Dutch people and the rhythm of Amsterdam. Bon voyage.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dress For First Class

Whenever you fly, you should dress up. Wear the nicest clothes you have that you can still feel comfortable in. Gentlemen, that means jacket and tie; ladies, a suit or dress. Why? Glad you asked.

A long time ago, a travel agent told me, "Be sure and dress up when you fly." I wasn't opposed to the idea. In fact, the words "clothes horse" had been directed toward me on occasion. I took his advice and from then on, whenever I got on a plane, I always wore at least a jacket and tie, but usually a suit. Turns out, the agent was right.

More times than I can count on fingers I have been pulled aside while the rest of the passengers boarded. And after those commonly clad travelers had disappeared down the jet way, I was escorted to a first class seat. Yes, that's right. The plane was either overbooked or, for one reason or another, there was an empty first class seat. And because I was dressed like I could have been a first class passenger, that's where they put me. This has happened on both domestic and overseas flights and included all of the perks, food, cocktails and entertainment that come to those who actually purchase a first class ticket.

Even if you don't have the good fortune of being bumped up to a butt-friendly, back-friendly, leg-stretching seat up where the beautiful people fly, believe me, you'll have a better flying experience. Flight attendants and even the other passengers are much friendlier than if you had worn your favorite jeans. So, dress for first class and watch what happens. Bon voyage!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Now's The Time

Well, it's finally happened. The Pound and Euro have dropped to the point where tourists spending dollars will think they're back in the 80's. Aside from the higher airfares, traveling to Europe, Great Britain and the Mediterranean is an absolute bargain.

Will the dollar grow even stronger as the EU tries to iron out the Grecian economy? Who nows? Don't wait to find out. Book your travel now. If you have the time to travel, pick a place and buy your ticket. Bon voyage.