Sunday, April 18, 2010

Free Carry-on Still Sacred With Major U.S. Airlines

How nice. The airlines have finally determined there IS a fee that could send its passengers scampering for other modes of transportation and that is the new fee for carry-ons, recently instituted by Spirit Airlines.

Don't know how long it will last. But being one of those travelers who tries to avoid, with a passion, checking my bag on the outbound legs of my trips, it was nice to read this.

Click here for the full story

Tips for Antwerp, Belgium

Like my Tips for Amsterdam post, I'm not going to go into all the typical things to see and do in Antwerp. Instead, I'm just going to highlight some of the things we discovered on our recent river cruise.

Like where we Kattendijkdok. Surrounded by old warehouses, most in need of repair, there is no reason to hang around the dock area.

'Power' walkers were offered the opportunity to walk into Antwerp while the rest of took the bus. On the bus we were given a brief tour of Antwerp including a drive through the diamond district. After being dropped off near Grote Markt, we had a tour of the cathedral and then some free time. I had read to carry sunglasses and an umbrella as the weather is very changeable. That advice proved accurate.

Having never been to Belgium before, there were a few things I wanted to experience, like Belgian french fries, Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer. We had enough time to do all four and here are my recommendations:

While the group headed for a bathroom stop before touring the cathedral, I backtracked a few steps to a Belgian fries place that I had read about, right at the Grote Markt. I ordered a small fries with mayonnaise.

My portion of fries was cooked up fresh. Asked if it was for 'here or to go' (go), they were wrapped up in paper. For those of us in the U.S. who are used to fries with ketchup, I admit this doesn't look terribly appetizing. But you'd be wrong not to try it. I don't know what was added to the mayonnaise but it wasn't the plain mayonnaise I'm used to. Whatever it was, the fries were delicious and my husband and I competed over the last bite. BTW, we tried other fries places and there is no doubt in our mind that the fries at Frituur were the best.

After are visit to the cathedral, next on our menu were Belgium waffles. We learned that there are two types: one which are light and fluffy and you sit at a table to eat and one that is heavier/denser and is a walk-away food. We wanted the light and fluffy ones and, again based upon something I had found on the Internet, stopped at Antoon Van Dyek (that's DH in the foreground) also in Grote Markt at #4. (We later had an opportunity to taste the walk-away type of waffle....IMHO, skip it!)

Because the waffles looked big, we ordered one to share...with chocolate ice cream and warm cherries. WOW! They were so light and delicious that we could each have had one. In addition to the waffle, we ordered coffee which was served on a silver tray: a large cup of coffee, a small dish of whipped cream, a small pitcher of milk, and a small dish of cubed white and brown sugar with a small muffin. How elegant!

Next was chocolate. With several shops around the Grote Markt area it was hard to choose but, not wanting to buy from a chain, we picked Elise. Another reason was because it was one of the few shops that had sealed bars of chocolate that I could take home for gifts. Elise is one of the more expensive chocolate shops but the pralines (filled chocolates) that I purchased there were fantastic. (I really need to write a separate post on just Belgian chocolate. BG)

Last but not least is beer. Right across from the above shops was a store selling several hundred types of beer AND the glasses to go with them. A couple we had met on board (Tom and Becky) were interested in bringing some samples home and Tom stopped here to shop while Becky and I did the 'lace' thing. And this is where Tom ran into the 'chip and pin' problem.

To actually sample beer in Antwerp, our guide mentioned The Eleventh Commandment, not far from the cathedral. While they had a nice selection of beers, I DO NOT recommend this pub. We were not made to feel welcome (as we had been in Amsterdam), with no assistance on choosing beers and then having the glasses thrown down in front of us. We each had 'only' one beer and left.

My one regret, and I guess I'll have to save it for our next trip to Antwerp, was not making it to the Centraal Station. It is supposed to be a magnificent building and fellow pax who did make it there raved about its beauty.

If anyone has any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. And if anyone has some additional Antwerp tips, please do leave Comments. Thanks.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is the volcanic ash from Iceland still affecting your flight?

Here is information, current as of Saturday, 12:25 PM, Ireland time.

AUSTRIA - Airspace closed until at least Saturday 1900.

BELGIUM - Airspace closed until at least Saturday 1900; main airline, Brussels Airlines, cancels all flights until Monday.

BELARUS - Airspace closed on Saturday for flights operating between 6,000 metres and 11,000 metres. Some routes east and south open.

BRITAIN - Airspace closed until at least 0100 Sunday.

DENMARK - Airspace closed until at least 0100 Sunday.

ESTONIA - Airspace closed until at least 0100 Sunday.

FINLAND - Airspace closed until at least 1300 Sunday.

FRANCE - Airports around Paris closed until at least 0700 Monday. A total of 26 airports currently shut, with Bordeaux and Grenoble to close by 1500 Saturday.

GERMANY - German airspace shut until at least 0100 Sunday.

GREECE - Flights to northern Europe cancelled.

HUNGARY - Airspace closed until at least 1800 Saturday.

IRELAND - Airspace closed until at least 1800 Saturday.

ITALY - Northern airspace closed until at least 1900 Saturday.

LUXEMBOURG - Airspace closed until at least 1300 Saturday.

NETHERLANDS - Airspace closed until at least 1300 Saturday.

POLAND - Airspace closed since Friday, partial reopening possible on Sunday.

PORTUGAL- Airports operating for flights to and from everywhere other than northern Europe.

ROMANIA - Northern airspace closed from 0100 Saturday; to close all airspace from 1600 Saturday.

RUSSIA - All airports open.

SLOVAKIA - Airspace closed as of 1400 on Friday.

SPAIN - Madrid airport open, but carrier Iberia cancels all its European flights except those to or from Portugal, southern Italy, Greece and Istanbul in Turkey.

SWEDEN - Airspace closed on Saturday.

SWITZERLAND - Airspace closed until at least 1900 Saturday, except for aircraft able to fly at altitudes of 36,000 feet (11,000 metres) or higher.

UKRAINE - Kiev airport closed to flights until at least 1300 Saturday. Airports in Lvov, Odessa, Donestsk, Simferopol and Dnepropetrovsk also closed for an unspecified period.

For a real time map of the ash cloud and planes flying, check out Radar Virtuel.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Free Entrance to All National Parks

Entrance to all 392 U.S. national parks is free the week of April 17 to April 25. Also, many parks will be running special programs during the week.

For more details, visit this National Park Service website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

I'm a subscriber to I find some of their articles quite interesting.

Like this one on when to hire a tour guide and when to go solo...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips for Amsterdam, Holland

Having just returned from a river cruise that started and ended in Amsterdam, I thought I'd write a little about our time in the city.

First a caveat. There are tons of Internet sites which can advise what to see and do in Amsterdam. This is not going to be one of them. Rather, what I want to do is provide some of the little things I discovered to try and help make the visit a bit easier for a cruiser with limited time.

So.....Amsterdam is a wonderful walking city and also has a fantastic public transportation system. Another VERY popular means of transportation are bicycles. There are designated bike paths and BE SURE to look both ways when entering one. More tourists are hurt by bicycle accidents every year than every other type of accident added together.

As we walked from the dock, heading towards the city, we were instructed to go through Centraal Station. As we entered Centraal Station, we were greeted with a line of ticket entry machines. Not having a ticket (since we weren't going to be taking the train) we exited the building and looked for another entrance.

Next entrance was the same. Then we stood and watched as people walked through without putting a ticket in the machine. So we did the same and walked through the station and exited right into downtown Amsterdam.

Across the street from Centraal Station (be careful crossing all the tram tracks) is Tourist Information. I highly recommend picking up the free booklet on Public Transport.    It shows all the bus and tram routes, by number. There are several transportation passes available, including a day pass that was 7 Euros.

We, however, decided to walk using a walking tour I had printed off. We walked the very old part of Amsterdam detailed in the map and really enjoyed it.

We made it as far as #7 and then headed back towards the ship on Damark Street. That was the last time we walked on the very crowded and busy Damark St and, instead, limited ourselves to the smaller, canal-side streets.

The next afternoon we strolled the other side of the city. We got as far as the floating flower market which is a great place for souvenir shopping. In the map below, I've noted some locations that I hope will be helpful to other travelers.

During our walk the first day we located the cheese shop near the Dam. During our walk the next afternoon, we stopped in the cheese shop (Kaasland Singel, Haarlemmerstraat 2) on the Singel Canal. Both places had a full selection of cheeses that did not require refrigeration. And then we spent a delightful couple of hours tasting several of the many Dutch beers at the Eagle's Nest.

At the end of the cruise, I honestly don't think we could have been docked further away from city center. However, a short walk away was a stop for bus #42 which ran right by Centraal Station. Several of the ship's passengers made use of it.

For those booking their own air and doing their own transfers into Amsterdam: To get from Schiphol to Centraal Station is VERY easy. Coming right out of the Customs area, into the main terminal, there are loads of train ticket windows and entrances to the train platforms.

It's once you get to Centraal Station that you could run into a problem unless you know EXACTLY where your ship is docked. It could be a very long walk, especially dragging luggage. At that point, if it was me, I'd spring for a taxi. And don't let the taxi go until you are absolutely positive your ship is where you are being left off. Many river cruises dock in Amsterdam and it would not be unusual to find them tied up, literally, one next to the other, making your ship even harder to find.

Hope you have found this post helpful and please don't hesitate to ask questions and/or post a comment with your own Amsterdam tips.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Airline to charge for carry-on bags

Spirit Airlines announced Tuesday that it will charge its customers $20 to $45 for items they place in the overhead bins.

Spirit Airlines claims that their very low fares allow passengers to choose, and pay for, only those services they want. If a passenger flies without a carryon, Spirit's fare would be lower than its competitors. So, if I understand this correctly, the cost of flying Spirit WITH a carryon should be close to the fare of another airline flying the same route.

If I was a passenger that flew most of the time with a carryon (which I am), Spirit just made it easier for me to chose to fly a competitor, who might have better flight times for me and, with Spirit's new fees, won't be any more expensive.

In the meantime, I sure wish Southwest Airlines flew out of my home airport!

For the full story....

How to pack light for a cruise

A very popular topic, on a cruise forum I frequent, is packing light. This comes up every time someone writes about airlines losing their luggage and they not seeing their luggage again until they return home.

The best way to avoid this problem is to pack light enough to take everything in a carryon. My husband and I have several sized carryons and just returned from a 10 day river cruise using my backpack and (2) 20" rolling bags which fit perfectly in the overhead bin on the way there (and we checked on the way home.)

If we were taking a large ship cruise, I suspect we would trade one of the 20" for a 22" rolling bag since my husband would add a jacket and we'd both add bathing suits, shorts and sneakers. But we no longer take 'formal' clothes, and, over the years, we have developed an extensive wardrobe of quick dry clothes.

So how do we do it?

My backpack holds our meds, my camera, binoculars, reading material. I also pack my purse in my backpack so I have only two carryons. We take clothes that can be mixed and matched and never take anything that won't be worn more than once. We also are prepared to do laundry in the bathroom sink.

Packing list for me:
*(2) pairs of quick dry cargo pants - wear one, pack one
*gortex jacket - wear
*sweatshirt/sweater/vest - wear
*hiking/walking shoes - wear
*(1) pair of black, dressy polyester pants
*(2) blouses to use as 'jackets' over
*(5) quick dry shirts that do double duty by wearing solo during the day and under one of my blouses to dress for dinner
*several scarves to dress things up for dinner
*pair of black flats
*socks, underwear....enough to get through a few days and I wash as we go
*old t-shirt that I sleep in and then trash when we leave

Packing list for my husband:
*(2) pairs of quick dry cargo pants - wear one, pack one
*gortex jacket - wear
*sweatshirt/sweater/vest - wear
*hiking/walking shoes - wear
*(2) pair of nice pants for dinner
*(5) long sleeved shirts which he wore during the day and then would dress one up with his nice pants for dinner
*pair of black shoes
*socks, underwear....

We both wore everything we took and didn't feel like there was anything else we should have brought.

BTW, at least one of our rolling carryons can be expanded. If necessary, I expand it for the trip home.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Travel Resources for Safe and Healthy Travel

Airport security wait times

Information on electrical connectors

List of festivals worldwide

Money Conversion information with a printable pocket-sized rates table for travelers

Seat Guru for advice on the best and worst seats on the plane

Budget Traveler's Guide to Sleeping in Airports

Travel Tips for People with Diabetes

Travel Security Administration traveler's site - Up to date information on airport security and what you can, and cannot, carry on board your flight

TravLang for a traveler's translating dictionary

U.S. State Department traveler's website

World Climate for what the weather is normally like at a location

World Time Zone information

World Travel Guide with information on just about everything

Saturday, April 3, 2010

More on Chip and Pin Cards

I received this email from a friend (and blog subscriber).

I’ve been investigating my own personal situation with thanks to Diane for raising the alert!

Why haven’t I had any problems with my ATM/Debit card? It’s had the chip for years – even before the technology showed up in Europe. So that mystery is solved!

But, I also found out something interesting. I have a Citibank Gold AAdvantage Mastercard ATM/Debit card that comes with my banking accounts – no annual fee. There are no ATM fees whatsoever. And, if using as a debit card in a restaurant, again no bank fees and it earns miles for debit transactions.

The drawback with Citibank is low money market interest on checking, and they require a lot of “total” $ business to qualify for this card, but if I add up what I’ve paid in transaction fees using my regular airline credit card in Europe, I’m money ahead. A Gold Citibank account in general has a lot of free services for which I’ve partaken in for years – I was just totally unaware of the rest of the perks - I sure wish banks would disclose this information in much more clear language we could all understand!

Anyone else have a Citibank Gold AAdvantage MasterCard Debit/ATM card? Check with your bank. You might already have just what you need to make international card transactions work for you.

(Note: This is a special Citibank Aadvantage Gold Mastercard Debit/ATM card, not a credit card. You can only get it with supporting business with a lot of money in Citibank services like loans, checking, savings, IRA, brokerage products, etc.)