Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Service of Fear III

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Photo: theconversation.com

How do you determine when to be afraid? Has your fear gauge changed over the years?

In 1972 we were booked for a week in St. Croix. A few days before we left eight people were gunned down at the Fountain Valley Golf Club in what turned out to be the worst murder in the history of the Virgin Islands. We thought, “We live in Brooklyn. Are we going to let a few murders stand in our way?” Nobody else felt as we did: Our hotel was empty and there were few tourists on the island. Did we take a chance?

These days the incidence of murders, stabbings and injuries on New York City subways has increased so much that 600 additional policemen and women are being assigned underground. In a New York Times article Andy Newman, Edgar Sandoval and Téa Kvetenadze reported “Even though the subways have only a fraction of the ridership they had before the pandemic, violent crimes have persisted and at times increased. For 2020 through mid-November, there were more incidents of felony assault, rape, homicide and robbery in the subways than during the same period in 2019.” Meanwhile ridership is down 70 percent.

Photo: curbed.ny.com

Because of Covid-19 I’ve not been in a subway since March 2020 and didn’t plan on using it soon. The latest information isn’t going to accelerate my return to a convenience I’ve counted on for decades. I’ll wait for the all clear.

A server in a Brooklyn restaurant who worried that the vaccine might impact her fertility or her future child, should she become pregnant, was fired because she refused to get a vaccine. Rogge Dunn, a Dallas labor and employment attorney and professor Dorit Reiss, University of California Hastings College of Law say that private businesses have this right according to MacKenzie Sigalos on cnbc.com. There are exceptions such as when an employee is allergic to vaccine components or when a union has negotiated other rules.

Has the pandemic–or life experience–changed or impacted your fears? Does it make a difference if there are others to pick up the pieces should something happen to you? Are you generally fear-free? Do you hesitate before taking a subway? Should employers force employees to be vaccinated? Would you be more comfortable entering a business where you expect to stay for a time if it claimed all its employees are vaccinated?

Photo: rewards.com

 

Service of Armchair Travel

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Photo: news.un.org

Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that this isn’t the time for air travel, vaccine or no. She was on a CNN Global Town Hall on January 27 with Dr. Anthony Fauci hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Right after she’d said this we saw a videotaped question from a grandmother who was about to get her second vaccine. She wanted to know when she’d be safe to fly to see her grandchildren. Even though the benefit of the vaccine would kick in seven to 10 days after the injection, Dr. Walensky stuck to her guns: Unless an emergency she didn’t recommend air travel.

Photo: vikingrivercruises.com

The Viking cruise commercials always intrigued me and I like Rick Steves’ travel tidbits on PBS. Some of the Netflix series I enjoy–The Crown, Call My Agent, Lupin, Broadchurch, Marcella, Bloodline–take me to favorite or unknown places here and abroad. Traveling the Internet are extraordinary photographs of places I love or will never see.

Tourism and business travel are lifelines to survival of so many countries and cities. Businesses are crushed as a result of the stoppage from restaurants, hotels, boutiques and tourist sites to souvenir vendors.

The CDC orders travelers to wear masks. In future will they need to show proof of vaccination before being allowed on board planes trains and buses?  Hospitals and businesses can ask employees to get a flu shot but they cannot be forced to do so. Given the seriousness of the pandemic, will the Supreme Court make covid-19 vaccination a passport to public venues from theaters, sports stadiums and concert venues to cruises?

How are you satisfying your wanderlust? Are you planning to take a plane once you have been vaccinated or are you waiting for the all-clear?

Photo: theguardian.com

Service of Vacation Travel During a Pandemic

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Photo: flickr

It’s Fourth of July weekend! Where are we going?

Two friends have planned or have already gone on days-long summer vacations by car involving motel or hotel stays. Another will visit a friend later in summer traveling by train and a fourth would fly in a second were he welcomed in Europe.

They are in the minority according to a June 2020 survey of almost 1,000 adults commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association [AHLA]. It “found that only 44 percent of Americans are planning overnight vacation or leisure travel in 2020, with high interest in road trips, family events, and long weekends over the summer months.” Of those who planned to travel, 68 percent “are likely to stay in a hotel.”

The survey found that “55% plan to travel for a family event, such as a wedding, birthday, anniversary, or family reunion; 50% plan to travel for Christmas, 43% for Thanksgiving, 33% for 4th of July, and 30% for Labor Day.”

According to spectrumlocalnews.com “The American Automobile Association estimates that 150 million people had to cancel travel plans this summer…..In fact, this year, 97 percent of summer trips are road trips. According to the AAA, air travel is down 74 percent. Trains, cruises, and other forms of travel are down 86 percent. The only number that’s close to normal is car travel, which is down just 3 percent compared to last year.”

What interested me about the AHLA website was information about a “safe stay” initiative “focused on enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19.”

Photo: smartertravel.com

An excerpt of the “Cleaning & Disinfecting Products and Protocols” section about guest rooms: “Cleaning and disinfecting protocols will require that particular attention is paid to high-touch, hard nonporous items including television remote controls, toilet seats and handles, door and furniture handles, water faucet handles, nightstands, telephones, in-room control panels, light switches, temperature control panels, alarm clocks, luggage racks and flooring. The frequency of room cleaning during a guest’s stay may be altered based on guest requirements. In accordance with CDC guidelines, Housekeeping staff should wait at least 15 minutes before entering a guest’s room for cleaning to allow for adequate time for air exchange following the guest’s departure, and will discard all single use items provided by the hotel that were used by the guest during their stay, or left by the guest. If bulk personal care items are used, the cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all high touch surfaces in the room including any bulk toiletry items that may have been used or touched by guests prior to the next occupant.”

The point that raised my eyebrow in light of the controversy about indoor eating at restaurants and sharing air space in trains, planes and buses was “Housekeeping staff should wait at least 15 minutes before entering a guest’s room for cleaning to allow for adequate time for air exchange.”

Are you planning to travel? Will you disinfect your hotel room or assume that it’s clean? Are you driving or taking public transportation to get to your destination? Do you welcome overnight guests to your home these days?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of Keeping the Best we Have: Why the Drive to Erase the Past?

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Eddies Sweet Shop

Driving through France one summer years ago we were starving as we entered a tiny town. Not a soul was on the street–it was lunchtime so schools and businesses were closed–but we found someone inside the otherwise empty local cafe. She said she was désolé, but she had no bread and couldn’t make us a sandwich. Our faces fell. Knowing we’d find the same situation in town after town she said to wait–she had some fresh bread at home. We sipped a drink and sat at a table outside the cafe which was on the main drag–as no cars drove by–and were entertained by Muscat, the dog. She returned with magnificent ham sandwiches which also pleased Muscat, the recipient of welcome snacks.

Schmidts Candy Shop

I haven’t been to France in years and was sad to read the headline of Noemie Bisserbe’s Wall Street Journal article, “France Says Au Revoir to the Cafe,” which I hope is an exaggeration. [The photos in the online story are wonderful–take a look.]

We’re not so good at keeping the best/most charming elements of our neighborhoods either. I’ve been to American cities that have decimated any architecture of interest. Here’s an exception. A friend took me on a tour of favorite haunts from her childhood in Queens where I saw many wonderful landmarks–architectural, restaurant and retail. Our adventure began with a visit to Rudy’s Pastry Shop where we had blueberry coffee cake and I a cafe latte–scrumptious.

The Lemon Ice King of Corona

The photos here feature:

  • Schmidts Candy where the proprietor apologized many times because the shop was recovering from Valentine’s Day. I sampled a divine homemade dark chocolate treat with orange filling.

    Eddies Sweet Shop

  • Eddie’s Sweet Shop. My choice was a scoop of banana ice cream with caramel sauce. Can’t wait to return on an empty stomach.
  • Lemon Ice King of Corona is featured in the intro to the TV program “The King of Queens,” in re-runs. We had no more room for sweets but I’m planning a reprise in summer.

Something striking about Queens: 98 percent of retail space appeared to be full unlike Manhattan which has an alarming number of empty storefronts.

What neighborhood favorites do you remember from your childhood and how many of them remain? Which do you miss?

 

Service of Pride of Place: NYC My Hometown

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

View from my apartment

Considering I was born in NYC, have lived here most of my life and I love the place I’m surprised that in the 11 years I’ve written this blog the city hasn’t grabbed even more lines.

New York is like anything or anyone I love: it makes me burst with pride and yet it can irritate me as well.

I was giggling in a Seventh Avenue subway recently because of the conductor’s quirky comments. As he announced each stop he also identified a lineup of key landmarks–which is unusual–and his comments were clever and refreshing. When I got out at 72nd Street heading for the stairs, as the car with his cubby passed me, I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled in response and tooted his horn twice. Made my day.

On the other hand, I don’t always have such luck with the bus system. Astronomical waits on major arteries and avenues followed by a clump of busses is trying. [If you live and work as far east as I do, the walk to the subway–my usual transportation option–doesn’t always make sense especially if your destination is also way east.]

In addition, identifying where the bus stop is can be a challenge. Last weekend I watched a local bus sail by on Madison Avenue as I stood next to a bus shelter [photo right]. Guess the shelter at that spot was decorative and had nothing to do with a NYC bus.

Bryant Park

When the subway’s executives whine about lack of funds, it comes as a surprise to see a very long line outside a booth with two windows and mics and only one MTA worker in it–as at a crucial hub: Grand Central/42nd Street. I was in that line recently and a tourist, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel I learned as we chatted, asked me in her charming Scottish accent: “Why is there only one worker in that booth?”  Good question given that 98 percent in the line were buying MetroCards. The do-it-yourself kiosks had even longer lines. Me to the MTA: Consider adding a few more kiosks where people are spending money, OK?

I’ve bragged previously about Bryant Park where I love to eat lunch. Once needle park, today the space welcomes locals and tourists who bring food–or buy a snack at a local takeout. There are plenty of trees, tables and chairs and a brisk turnover so it’s easy to find a spot.

I have an argument with restaurants and small retail businesses located on avenues here. Dollars to donuts they don’t identify the cross streets on their websites and it drives me NUTS figuring it out. Shakespeare & Co. does it right. They are at 939 Lexington Avenue and on the web they add “between 68 and 69th Streets.”

What is it about your town or city–or about NYC–that you love and what exasperates you?

 

Bryant Park

Service of I Never Thought It Would Happen Here: Warnings about Travel to the U.S.

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Photo: newyorktour.com

Most American tourists who plan to visit countries that are in the news due to unrest read the State Department’s website to evaluate the danger before booking the trip. International travelers no doubt check in with the keeper of their country’s travel warnings as well.

It breaks my heart that we’re now the subject of warnings by other countries. The potential impact goes well beyond the slap at my national pride and obvious financial repercussions.

Our state department assigns each country with one of four numbers to reflect the safety of travel: 1=exercise normal precautions; 2= increased caution 3= reconsider travel and 4= do not travel. Businessinsider.com recently focused on South American countries reporting1’s such as French Guiana, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Suriname and 2’s Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Guyana and Columbia to 4: Venezuela.

Photo: newyork.cbslocal.com

The reasons for Venezuela’s last level: “The State Department warns of crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens. The agency ordered government employees and their families to leave the country in January 2019. There are also shortages of food, electricity, water, and medicine. The agency warns against travelling between Simón Bolívar International Airport and Caracas at night and not to take unregulated taxis from Simón Bolívar International Airport.”

Claire Parker’s Washington Post article “Gun violence in America prompts Amnesty International and a growing list of countries to issue travel warnings” raised my eyebrows and made me sad: How can this be happening in MY country?

Parker wrote: “A travel advisory the organization issued Wednesday ‘calls on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA. This Travel Advisory is being issued in light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.’ ”

Parker added that Uruguay and Venezuela “have also discouraged their citizens from traveling to the United States, citing this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, as indicators of danger and a rise in hate crimes. The Japanese Consulate in Detroit, meanwhile, released a statement Sunday calling the United States a ‘gun society’ and urging Japanese nationals to stay alert after the Dayton shooting.”

Photo: thrillist.com

She continued: “These are just the latest countries and international groups to label gun violence in America a safety concern. In recent years, Germany, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand have issued similar warnings about travel to the United States.”

Shouldn’t Washington pay attention to this dramatic shift in image that points to the United States as an unsafe place to visit–and by extension, doubts about the security of this country as a safe place in which to park money? You’d think that this would be a wakeup call to immediately revise gun sale regulations and enact measures to ensure reasonable private gun ownership for an administration that honors the almighty dollar above all else.

In addition to lives, which seem to be last in a line of priorities for Congress, and the shame of the well-deserved reprimand by the international community, much more is at stake than hotel, restaurant, and airline bottom lines. Real estate and American-owned businesses should be prepared to suffer losses as international investors seek safer havens for their treasure.

And it’s not just violence-by-guns turning tourists away. A Crains New York news alert on Wednesday August 14, 2019 warned: “Chinese tourists sidestep NYC as trade war rolls on.” To end on a fittingly mercenary note, who, in DC, is watching the store?

Photo: bustle.com

Service of Loosey-Goosey with the Time: Tut-Tut Amtrak!

Monday, August 5th, 2019

Photo: blog.amtrak.com

I am spoiled by Grand Central Terminal and passionately dislike the way Penn Station in NYC operates because it treats its passengers like cattle. You can’t stroll to your seat at leisure as early as 15 to 20 minutes ahead of departure as at GCT. Instead you’re lined up like convicts and treated little better than cattle. More about my recent on-boarding experience below.

Because I’d not been to Penn Station in a dog’s age, I visited to buy my ticket the Monday before a Thursday trip upstate. I had no idea what the lines were like on a weekday in summer and with an 8:15 a.m. departure, didn’t want to get there early yet still miss my train.

I asked for a one-way trip to Whitehall, NY. My hostess told me the time and I’d confirmed it online.

“That train leaves at 7:15,” said the ticket clerk. In fact, it did. [My hostess was surprised because she’d called Amtrak the day of my arrival and the voice message matched the online information, confirming an 8:15 a.m. departure.] I wonder how many people missed the train that travels only once a day.

For no reason I could fathom we subsequently had a 45 minute layover in Albany.

I asked for a schedule—to learn the destination station and also the stop just before mine. “There are none,” said the clerk.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

On my second arrival at Penn Station at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday I found two lines of passengers and asked the person ahead of me, “Does this train go to Canada?” Answer: “Yes.”

Turns out there were two trains going to Canada: one to Montreal and the other, Toronto. I had no idea where my train was headed—remember: there were no schedules to reference and my ticket [photo above right] identified only my destination.

Meanwhile an Amtrak employee was shrieking at the passengers, treating us as though we were imbeciles if we were in the wrong line. The secret was in the number that was printed on the ticket. There it was on mine, along with many other lines of numbers, without any ID as to what that number referred to.

Photo: nyclens.com

At Grand Central there are stairs to negotiate to reach a few tracks otherwise there are mostly ramps and an optional elevator or escalator broken up so each ride is short. For Amtrak, to reach the platforms, there are steep, narrow escalators that aren’t convenient if you’re juggling a suitcase, handbag, tote with reading material and cup of coffee. [I won’t buy a cup of coffee before boarding again if my hands are full!]

Fortunately I thought to pull out my ticket to show the angry, screaming Amtrak employee before I reached the front of the line that headed for the escalator, where she stood. With all her caterwauling, never once did she ask the passengers to have their tickets in hand. She was a terrible representative for any business.

This intro to the trip was a shame as the train itself was comfortable, clean and accommodating. Unlike Metro North’s commuter trains out of Grand Central, this one had upholstered seats, tray tables, a waste container, several WCs and water as well as a snack car.

Have you been surprised–good or bad–by a travel experience lately? When confronted by a grouch who screams at you and the other passengers, do you respond in kind?

Photo: frugalfrolicker.com

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Photo: travelpulse.com

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

Photo: dissolve.com

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Bangkok Airport. Photo: youtube.com

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Photo: aisino.com

Service of a Simple Transaction Done Well: Kudos LAZ Parking

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Photo: worldartsme.com

One smart, quick, knowledgeable, engaged person can make a huge difference when there are potential stumbling blocks in a transaction designed to be seamless.

We received a letter from LAZ Parking, the company that runs parking lots and grants permits at Metro-North railroad stations. We had parked in the LAZ lot in Dover Plains for 15+ years and sent a check to renew our yearly permit before the other one expired. In return, LAZ provided proof of payment to display in the car window. The system worked well.

But they changed it. [I could write many posts about so-called upgrades that turn out to be downgrades for me.]

LAZ asked us to sign up online, to download proof of car registration and supply other information. In addition to online registration systems that in my experience are often fraught with peril and traps leading to potential error, our situation had a few complications:

  • My husband had held on to the letter for at least 10 days which was 9½ days too many. Each station has a limited number of monthly parking slots and they are promptly scooped up.
  • We needed to change the account from my husband’s name to mine to match our new car registration.
  • We wanted to pay by check, not by credit card, the way the system is set up.

We were saved by Kathleen Dawson, LAZ Administration Assistant Supervisor, who shepherded our order through all the twists and turns. She was in one office and our online application was used by another. She cleared up the system’s initial confusion over the name change which caused us at first to be refused a permit, responded to all my concerns, expertly advising me and warned those at the other LAZ office about our quirky situation. What might have been a nightmare that ended up with the loss of our parking permit turned out just fine. We are grateful to Ms. Dawson and to those at the second office who expedited and approved our request the day they received our check.

Have you been as lucky as we were to have someone like Ms. Dawson guide you and lubricate a transaction that had many opportunities to become grounded? Do most companies nurture, respect and reward five star customer service support staff such as Ms. Dawson?

Service of When It’s OK to Steal

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Photo: pinterest.com

When smoking was in style, some restaurants and bars had fantastic looking ashtrays that found themselves in customers’ handbags. Many venues considered it a way to get their logos into homes–a reminder of a great meal or fun evening and the cost of inspiring future meals. Others would stop guests as they were leaving to ask if they wanted to pay for the ashtray. [I know someone who was stopped!]

Today airline passengers paying $thousands for a ticket in first or business class are snitching bigger souvenirs: blankets, pillows and duvets according to Alison Sider and Andrew Tangel. And they boast about it. “Danny Kashou, 53, a business owner in San Diego, was impressed by the soft fabrics and Saks monograms on the blankets on an international trip earlier this year. ‘Heck, yeah, we took it,’ Mr. Kashou says. ‘We didn’t ask. We just stuck it in our carry-ons and walked off,’” the reporters wrote in their Wall Street Journal article “‘Heck Yeah, we Took It.’ Fliers Are Swiping Airline Swag.”

Photo: pinerest.com.uk

They wrote about another passenger who “At home, sips brandy from his favorite British Airways glasses and his children curl up in premium Norwegian Air shuttle blankets. Last year, British Airways began offering a soft, satin-edged blanket from the White Company, an upscale brand. Mr. King has three of them.”

On the trinket side, passengers have taken 26,700 salt and pepper shaker sets from Virgin Atlantic that stamped them “pinched from Virgin Atlantic.” The company reports missing 1,700 lightweight blankets from its A330-200 aircraft.

“So far, airlines aren’t taking a heavy-handed approach to pilfering, hoping to keep things friendly. Premium cabins—first and business class—account for 5.5% of international passenger traffic, but more than 30% of revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association.”

Photo: moneyinc.com

United Airlines sells the Saks designed bedding it uses on its international business class flights because its customers like it so much. A Polaris duvet costs $59.99 and a memory foam pillow $27.99 at United’s online store which it encourages passengers to use.

Sider and Tangel report that Delta flights from LA to Dubai can run as high as $15,000. Surely there’s enough profit built in to cover the costs of the two duvets one passenger saw another stuff into a carryon bag.

Would you feel comfortable snitching something that costs more than a dollar or two? Is it considered OK these days to remove anything used during a flight? Passengers feel perfectly comfortable to brag to reporters about their take–is that normal? Unless encouraged to do so, should rule of thumb be “don’t take anything?”

Photo: traveler.com.au

 

 

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