Get out of my sun lounger

Have you ever been on vacation and struggled to find a sun lounger around the pool?  Isn’t it annoying?  You get down there quite early and find all these sun loungers occupied by towels, books, suntan lotion bottles – but not a body in sight.  Yep – it’s those chair hoggers again. Many resorts have tried to cut down on this by confiscating belongings laid out to hold the chairs.  Others are imposing fines but nothing – absolutely nothing – beats this resort in Spain.

Watch the video – go on – it doesn’t take long to watch.  Do it while your boss is in a meeting.  You will see the holidaymakers lined up with towels and books while the pool staff sweep and clean.  Then at a signal from the Pool Staff Captain (or whatever) there is this massive rush.  Much grabbing of sun loungers, spreading of towels – and then everyone disappears leaving the pool surrounded by empty sun loungers.

Bizarre!

This sort of resort behaviour is sure to get everyone up in arms.

It doesn’t just happen at resorts by the way.  Last year at the Calgary Folk Fest I was amazed to see the same behaviour with tarps.  People would arrive early in the morning and peg out their tarp in a prime position in front of the main stage and would then disappear to go off and watch other concerts – all the while taking up a space that they weren’t using.  No fair!

And honestly – they are no better than those people at the Flamingo Oasis – just look at this tarp dash at the opening

I guess it is just something about the human condition.  Here’s a definition :

“The human instinct to survive is our most powerful drive. Since animals climbed out of the primordial muck and as our early ancestors rose from all fours to walk upright, evolution has been guided by its ability to help us survive.”

So I guess that need for the best spot at the Folk Festival or the best position for your sun lounger next to the pool is all just down to our ancestors…. Thanks guys!

Funny vacations, shopping & swim up bars

Not funny ha ha…. but funny strange …. funny weird …. just funny.  Like what, you ask?

Like a temple in Northern India crawling with thousands of holy rats.  In fact latest estimates puts the number at around 20.000.  Does that sound awful?  It looks pretty awful.

This temple dates back to the 1400’s and the rats are said to be reincarnated story-tellers so they are revered and fed on treats.  Shoes have to be removed before entering the temple and it is said to be very lucky if one runs over your foot (as long as you don’t try to climb up the nearest gate).

Like the island of the dolls near Mexico City.  A local man had found a doll floating in one of the canals after a local child had drowned.  He was haunted by the sight and hung the doll from a tree as a memorial.  Well one thing leads to another and suddenly the whole island was covered in dolls – most of them broken.  The weirdest thing is that he drowned in the same canal.  Umm – major creepy – Here’s Chucky!

Like the dead and the bewitched tour in Scotland.  (reference Wikipedia) The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was completed in 1788. For around 30 years, the vaults were used to house taverns, cobblers and other tradesmen, and as storage space for illicit material, reportedly including the bodies of people killed by serial killers Burke and Hare for medical experiments.

Well that sounds weird enough for me!  But the BBC took it even further –

The television show Ghost Adventures investigated the vaults and claimed to have numerous encounters with spirits there.

In 2009 a BBC TV production team filming a one-off TV special featuring Joe Swash recorded unexplained voices in the vaults during an overnight sleepover by Swash. Swash was the only person in the vaults and did not hear the voices himself at the time of recording, despite the sounds being audible on his own microphone. The voices continued to be heard on the recording for some 20 minutes before abruptly ceasing after what appears to be the sound of children yelling. BBC sound engineers initially thought the sounds may be explained by voices drifting into the tunnels from nightclubs nearby but this was found to be incorrect and no logical explanation could be found although they may well have been weak radio signals being picked up by the BBC microphones. The recordings were broadcast as part of the finished program Joe Swash Believes in Ghosts on BBC Three in January 2010.

Boy – you would need a wee dram after that experience!

Like Giants’ wine goblets – found only in Northern Laos.  It is said that giants made these massive stone goblets for their rice wine so that they could have a few celebratory drinks after defeating some other mythical enemy.  Whatever the truth might be if you do make it to this remote area of Laos odds are that you won’t find any other tourists there and not even one souvenir stand.
The jars: still standing (Credit: Credit: Jarryd Salem)
Fill those with rice wine and you would have one GIANT headache the next day – sorry that was really bad!

But remember – one man’s meat is another man’s poison so what you might think is weird others might think is perfectly normal.  What you might like to do on vacation may not be what your partner likes.  How many times have I been in a beautiful European city and have seen abandoned husbands fast asleep while their wives do a little Euro shopping?

Some love a swim up bar or hanging out at the pool all day – not my bag but each to his or her own.

Ouch – that’s going to hurt tomorrow.

It’s a dog’s life

Do you travel with your dog?  Many people do and it can be a hassle trying to find hotels that will accommodate them.  Fortunately in North America more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  However travelling around some parts in North America on public transit might be a problem.  The rules of riding on the NYC subway are that in order to bring your pet onto the subway it has to be in a bag.  One thinks of the little mini-dog accessory that many of the “stars” sport these day –

dog and paris
Every girl should have a pair – right????

So how do New York dog lovers get around this?  They just put the damn dog in a bag!
dog in bag

Like that

dog in bag 2

There you go – he’s in a bag.

Getting on a flight is a bit more problematic for dog owners.  The number of dogs allowed in the cabin is limited on each flight and of course you must be able to stow your dog away in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you.  Unless of course you are travelling with a support animal (or two).  Like the two large dogs that travelled in business class next to my husband a year or so ago.  Fair enough seats had been purchased for them (Wow) and the very attractive young lady (well that’s how my husband described her) who owned them indicated that it was an emotional support thing.  Whatever – everyone in the business class cabin made a fuss of them and they were very well-behaved despite a bit of snoring.  I just couldn’t help wondering what happens when they want to poop.

This thought came to me when I was out walking the dog we are suddenly babysitting.  I headed out with two large Safeway bags but a couple of times spotted very organised dog owners with small green bags (just the right size) clipped onto the leash.  In fact I even passed someone who cleverly tied the filled green bag to the leash too.  Poor Mutt!  It was like the equivalent of the Shame scene in Game of Thrones.  Bad enough that you have to be watched pooping – you then have to have it tied around your neck while you walk through the neighbourhood.

Shame!  Shame!

Game of Thrones

So you think you’re an adventure traveller?

Well before you say yes just think a little.  One person’s adventure might be another person’s ho hum day.  We all have different levels of what we consider to be adventure and this might be the activities on a vacation, the place we stay on vacation or even the destination itself.

Take India…a pretty ambitious destination.  Not everyone’s cup of tea.  Lots of poverty and muck and taking a trip to the toilet can be an adventure in itself.  But when you are staying somewhere like this ….

Taj Udaipur

Taj Lake Palace Hotel Udaipur

…. it doesn’t feel like an adventure – it feels like a dream.

Let’s take somewhere closer to home – Jasper National Park.  Beautiful area and I love staying at the Lodge but my first trip there was somewhat different –
tent
Humble lodgings indeed – add to that a tremendous downpour so that it felt like a river running underneath the groundsheet.  Yep – I felt like an adventurer that night for sure.

What about Africa?  Many exciting adventures during my years living in South Africa and Swaziland.  Like the time we drove by car from Swaziland to Mozambique during the time of the civil war back in the ’80s.  Now that was exciting – going through the border post with very little Portuguese and dealing with roadblocks, “soldiers” with no uniforms but very big machine guns!  We got into Maputo safely (believe it or not) and stayed in the decaying grandeur of the old Polana Hotel along with half of the diplomatic personnel from Russia and Eastern Europe.  I still haven’t learned how to say poached eggs in Portuguese but I do like recalling this trip as one of my adventures.

Just riding a bike in the Netherlands was another adventure for me.  I hadn’t been on a bike in years and years and I have never been so scared in my life but at the end of the tour I was on Cloud Nine.  I had an adventure!

What sort of adventure would you like to do?  Here are some of the most popular adventure style trips –

Climbing Kilimanjaro – this is not mountain climbing but you do have to be aware that altitude sickness can slow you down.  I am told the feeling when you get to the top is incredible.  Maybe I will add that to my list.

kili

Wow – what an achievement – now I want to do this!

The Inca Trail – here is another trail that is demanding because of the high altitude but with the right guide and the correct preparation you can do this too.  A unique and personally satisfying way of seeing Machu Picchu.

Diving with the sharks in Cape Town – this is very popular and sometimes hard to get a booking.  Would you do it?
sharks

Why is adventure travel so good for you?  Whether you adventure by day and sleep in six star comfort at night doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that you get a little bit out of your comfort zone.

CANDICE GAUKEL ANDREWS sums it up very well with the top ten reasons you should participate in adventure travel –

When you get dirty, you improve your physical health.Scientists have recently reported that our modern obsession with cleanliness might be leading to a rise in allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Outdoor activities can prevent (or treat) a wide range of health problems. Get off the couch and put down that iphone.

There are no age limits on adventure. Anyone can make nature a playground. Adventure travel is an activity you can stick with for life. Take a hike, get a bigger brain. Research indicates that hiking or walking grows brains. Typically, your hippocampus gets smaller once you hit your mid fifties, leading to memory loss. …. sorry what was I saying ????

Going on adventures raises your tolerance for uncertainty. Placing yourself in situations where things don’t always go as planned — such as on an adventure trip — helps you learn to cope with the uncertainties in life. And there is no shortage of those.

Adventure travel lets you safely “try on” alternate lives. One of the best things about embarking on an adventure is that you can shed your familiar skin for a while and pretend to be anything you want to be — before you take a drastic and permanent step. Who would you be if you lived there?

Going on adventures fosters reflectiveness, a mental skill often in short supply today. Adventures give us pleasant memories, which we often bring back to the forefront of our minds for reminiscing.

Adventure travel feeds your dreams and builds your confidence.  Adventures build your confidence; and with each successive one, you challenge yourself just a little bit more.

Adventure experiences remedy a societal ill: loss of adventurous children and the extinguishing of wanderlust.Today, the United States is facing what some have described as an epidemic: the loss of the adventurous childhood.

Adventure travellers may be more important than ever for saving the world. Adventure travellers are more likely to campaign against global warming because they are closer to nature.

So if in Italy hike the Pathway of the Gods – it is not hard ….
Pathway of the Gods - - more climbinin

But when you finish you will feel AMAZING!

Pathway of the Gods - I did it

I did it!

Where do you spend your vacation?

That’s a loaded question and I’ll tell you why.  Over my years in travel I have begun to realise that there are two types of vacation – the destination vacation and the resort vacation.  Let’s look at the difference –

THE RESORT VACATION

This is the type of vacation where you basically don’t care where you are going as long as you have a resort which satisfies your list of requirements – example

  • Safe swimming beach
  • Large pool with swim up bar
  • Kids club
  • Balcony
  • Lots of a la carte restaurants
  • On resort night life
  • A spa
  • A gym

swim up bar

I think you see where I am going here.  A resort vacation as in your typical Caribbean or Mexican all-inclusive is all about the hotel for the majority of people.  Now I am saying the majority because I do realise that there are people out there who love to travel to places like Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba and such because they want to explore the destination – but these people are in the minority.  Most people booking a resort vacation don’t really care where they are as long as the resort has all the amenities or aspects that are important to them – and, of course ,that the price is right and the flights are decent, and hopefully direct.

As Seinfeld would say ….
seinfeld

We work hard – this place is cold in the winter – we want to go somewhere warm with cold beer and a sandy beach and who the hell cares where it is.  So getting those features in your all-inclusive vacation is important and there are so many choices out there.  Tripadvisor lists over 700 hotels in Cancun, Mayan Riviera and Puerto Vallarta.

I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who specialise in sun destinations to these areas.  I can’t imagine having to know all these hotels and the facilities they offer – whether the kids club will take a 2 year old.  It’s made even more difficult as they are constantly changing their names, renovating their rooms, buying adjoining hotels and merging them.

THE DESTINATION VACATION

This is so different.  Imagine you have dreamed of visiting a place for years.  Perhaps you have always dreamed of going to Italy or Ireland or India.  Of course the hotels you stay in will be important but not the main focus of your trip.  Your research is not going to be focussed on Trip Advisor.  It’s going to be with Frommers, National Geographic and some of the best travel books every written.  Before you go you want to devour anything written about the destination – fact or fiction.

You’ll read about the great potato famine in Ireland and then you’ll want to visit the famine cottages and see the sculptures in Dublin to commemorate the victims.

dublin_1

Famine sculptures

A friend of a friend will tell you about the best gelato in Rome and you will keep a note of that and seek it when you are there.  You will study pictures in the guide books of Michaelangelo’s David …..and, when you walk into the museum you will be struck dumb by its magnificence and stand in awe and silence like everyone else.

 

You will watch a re-run of the old film The Killing Fields and then when you actually walk those fields and see the skulls and speak to survivors, you will return home with a different perspective on life.

When you visit South Africa and know the story of Nelson Mandela you will visit his cell and imagine all the years he spent there and it will make you think.Mandela

You will read the statistics of rhino poaching in Africa and when you see the magnificent creature in the wild up so close you can count the wrinkles on his brow you will feel honoured.

That’s why we love what we do here.  We pass on our experiences and our love of destinations and the people and the history which make a lasting impression on us and the travellers we help.

 

Understanding travel advisories

As you know there was a very serious incident in Nice yesterday involving a truck that drove into a crowd watching celebrations for a national holiday (Bastille Day).  Once again our hearts go out to those affected by this tragedy and to the whole of France.  In fact this sort of terrorism touches all of us around the world

je suis

(I am exhausted)

As at this morning (15th July 2016) the position with regard to travel to France would seem to be as follows –

  • The Canadian Government has updated its online travel advice page with information on the incident in Nice but has not issued a travel advisory recommending that Canadians do not travel to France. They continue to recommend that travellers to France “exercise a high degree of caution due to the current elevated threat of terrorism.” when travelling in France;
  • There is still elevated security in France under the “state of emergency” that was declared by the French government last year and that state of emergency will continue for another 3 months. As a result, travellers will probably notice more police and other security at airports, seaports and train stations.
  • Flights and trains appear to be operating as usual in France;
  • Of course, the Canadian government travel advice on France may change as more information becomes available to them and customers can monitor this themselves at https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/france

 

So let’s look more deeply into this.

What does it mean when the Canadian Government website advises travelers to exercise a high degree of caution as advised on their website regarding France. This is what their website says –

Advisories

France – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for France. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the current elevated threat of terrorism.

“Exercise a high degree of caution” means

“There are identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice. You should exercise a high degree of caution at all times, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities.”

The following are the four risk levels of travel advice that could be issued by the Canadian Government. I am intentionally using the word “advice” as opposed to “advisory” as otherwise things can get confusing, as you will see below.

Risk levels

As you will see from the above, only the last two “Risk Levels” are “Official Government of Canada Travel Advisories”. Important? Yes, if you have travel insurance with cancellation cover, because the first two levels may not be sufficient for you to make a claim if you decide you don’t want to go to the affected destination. For example the Manulife Travel Insurance policy states that you only have cover if –

“20. ‡ The Government of Canada issues an “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” or an “Avoid All Travel” travel advisory after your departure date, advising or recommending that Canadian residents should not visit a destination included in your trip.”

AND, just to really complicate matters, every Insurer will have different wording and coverage; so you should check your policy carefully and, if necessary, take advice and/or call your insurance company BEFORE you decide to cancel!

ALSO, some existing “travel advisories” can be confusing.  For example, the Level 3 travel advisory on the Canadian Government website with regard to Egypt advises as follows

Egypt – AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL

Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to Egypt due to the unpredictable security situation. This advisory does not apply to the Red Sea coastal resorts of Hurghada (and its surroundings) and Sharm el-Sheikh, nor to the area from Luxor to Aswan along the upper Nile, where you should exercise a high degree of caution.

So, if you are planning a trip to Egypt you may find that you can’t get travel insurance at all because many Nile river cruises and packages start in Cairo which is subject to the Travel Advisory. So your choice of land arrangements and flights may be limited to areas in Egypt that are excluded from the Travel Advisory. All this is not easy but a travel professional may be able to assist with flights from Europe and other arrangements that keep you in the excluded areas.

And then there is the “sort-of” Level 3 Travel Advisory for MEXICO – a popular destination for Canadians – that only applies to the Northern and Western States

Advisories

MEXICO – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Mexico. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to violence in those parts of the country experiencing a deteriorating security situation (see Advisories below). High levels of criminal activity, as well as demonstrations, protests and occasional illegal roadblocks, remain a concern throughout the country.

Northern states – Avoid non-essential travel

Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León (except the city of Monterrey), Sinaloa (with the exception of Mazatlán), Sonora (except the cities of Hermosillo and Guaymas/San Carlos), and Tamaulipas due to high levels of violence linked to organized crime. Consult Security for more information.

Western states – Avoid non-essential travel

Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to the western states of Guerrero (including Acapulco but excluding the cities of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Taxco) and Michoacán (excluding the city of Morelia) due to the high levels of violence and organized crime. For the same reason, avoid non-essential travel to the areas of Jalisco state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas, as well as the areas of Colima state that border Michoacán. Exercise a high degree of caution in the excluded areas. Consult Security for more information.

Or the lower level risk advice that applies to many places in and around the Caribbean – for example

Costa Rica – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Costa Rica. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to crime.

Or Belize?

Belize – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Belize. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to a high rate of violent crime throughout the country.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THIS INFORMATION – The bottom line for Canadian travellers is that there are scores of countries listed on the Canadian Government site that are affected by various warnings or Travel Advisories. Actually every destination that I can think of is affected by some degree of risk, not least of all our immediate neighbour the United States (think guns and mass shootings, attacks and threats in Orlando and California and snipers in Dallas).

Will you stop travelling? Your choice. Everyone has their comfort level and a few may choose to stay home in Canada rather than run the risk of what happened in Nice yesterday or Orlando last month. There are also many travellers who hold the view that the very nature of a terrorist attack means that it can happen anywhere, even back home, and travel regardless.

If you have booked a trip and the Canadian Government advice is Exercise a High Degree of Caution (as it now does for France) you really have to go with what you personally are comfortable with. There is no point going away somewhere if you are constantly worried and in fear.  That definitely is not a vacation.  Despite Nice, many travellers will of course continue with their travel plans to Europe, as will I at the end of August when I will be visiting one of my favourite cities, Paris.  I can do no better than quote the following advice from the Canadian Government relating to a high risk level “Travel Advisory” situation (currently not the risk level for France). Check the Government advice and the risk level against your own personal threshold – it’s your decision!

Should I cancel my trip if a Travel Advisory has been issued?

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. You are strongly advised to follow the Government of Canada’s official travel advice to ensure your personal safety and security. It is up to the individual to decide what constitutes “non-essential travel,” based on family or business requirements, knowledge of a country or region, and other factors.

Cancelling a scheduled trip could cost you money, so check with your travel agent, travel insurer, or airline/tour operator first. Travel insurers generally take into account the government’s Travel Advisories when determining their refund policy, but they have no legal or contractual obligation to do so.
Not afraid

 

 

Who wears short shorts

Well Maggie McMuffin does.  In fact sometimes she doesn’t wear anything at all.  She is a burlesque entertainer holding a bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is, let’s face it, fairly controversial.  So when Ms McMuffin tried to board a Jet Blue flight in the states in her burlesque style striped short shorts the staff decided to deny her boarding as her attire wasn’t suitable.  What do you think?
Maggie_McMuffin_c0-207-640-580_s561x327

Frankly I have seen worse on a flight so I really think Jet Blue was over-reacting.  After all I would rather sit next to Ms McMuffin dressed like this than sit next to some big stinky guy with flip flops…..or even worse bare feet encroaching upon my private place.
feet
Or even worse – this outfit spotted at Dallas Fort Worth

plane attire

I think Ms McMuffin looks a lot better.

Remember the good old days when catching a flight was like going to church.  You got dressed up.
50's airline wear
Looks pretty civilised doesn’t it?  But not very comfortable unfortunately.  That’s the most important thing on a flight, especially on some of the flights these days that can stretch into 14 or more hours non-stop.  You just could not sit in a pair of stockings with gloves and a hat over that period of time – never mind a corsage.  What are your memories of your first flight and what did you wear?  Might be interesting to share.

So what is acceptable and what is not –

Bare skin for the most part is not acceptable.  This is why I believe the burlesque lady got denied boarding.  On cramped flights these days you get much closer to strangers than you do to your dearest loved ones, so let’s cut down on the amount of skin you show.

Bare feet.  If you must shed the shoes then bring a thin pair of socks to put on.  Not only is it more hygienic for your fellow passengers, it is more hygienic for you.  Can you imagine what has been on that aircraft carpet?  Ugh!

Personal grooming!  Stop it already with the hair brushing, nail clipping and make up application.

Remember people – we are flying through the air in a pressurised metal tube.  This is not your front room.