I hate tourists that damage the buildings or the natural environment. Its a massive bugbear of mine.

The question is how much do we these people get punished? It seems Italy is getting tough.

This week,  one such vandal was fined $US25 000 for attempting to carve his initials into the Colosseum. This AD70 amphitheatre built during the Roman Empire stands 48.5 metres high and welcomes over six million visitors a year. I have visited it twice and it still inspires me.

The 42-year-old Russian tourist  had used a stone to carve the letter “K” into the surface of a wall inside the amphitheatre. He was caught carving the 25cm (10 inch) letter by a guard who handed him over to the police.  Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum, said “You cannot write on a historic wall, it’s absolutely forbidden,”

Sadly five vandals have been caught damaging the Colosseum this year. Apart from the Russian,there were:

Stupid behaviours deserve huge fines. Yes?

 

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I have heard of self service airlines before but this week’s story out of Siberia gave me the chills!

Seventy passengers hopped off their UTair Tupolev 134 in order to push it, after its brakes  froze in minus 52C temperatures at Igarka airport, above the Arctic Circle in Russia. The airport tractor was not able to budge the plane.

This video shows the pushers, most of whom were oil and gas workers wanting to get home:

Eventually the plane made a successful flight to the regional capital of Krasnoyarsk. Clearly their de-icing machine was working!  Apparently, the Problems developed because “the wrong kind of grease was used for the landing gear”

NB UTair safety record is a little spotty. They have had eight air accidents since 2007.

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Passports are such a crucial tool. It seems crazy to me in this modern world that I still need to show a physical bundle of papers to cross a border (or in the USA fly on a plane domestically).

On a visit of mine to Zimbabwe, I met an Irish guy was staying in my hotel. While sitting in Harare‘s Africa Unity square, he had put down next to him, his moneybag. It contained his cash, passport, credit cards, driver’s licence and even a copy of his birth certificate.  After some minutes, he realised that his bag was gone. Worse, his passport, ID, cash and cards were all gone. He was stuck in Harare with no means of identification. Even if his family sent money, he had no means of collecting it without ID. This incident struck me as to how valuable a passport is.

Once I have reached a city, my number one goal is to ensure my passport is kept safe. I do not want it lost, stolen, dropped in a drain, damaged or soaked in rain!

I therefore, unless required by local law, avoid wandering around a city carrying my passport. I leave it locked in my hotel safe or some other safe place.  I do not carry unless I specifically need it for opening a bank account, cashing a traveller’s cheque/check (not that I do that anymore) or getting a visa. (and of course, if travelling internationally or flying through a US airport).

For ID, I carry my driver’s licence, an electronic image of my passport on my phone and a paper copy. I also have one backed up on both googledocs and dropbox. Should the police request my passport, then I can show them these and explain my passport is back in my hotel.

In fifty years, I have only had one incident where I have needed my passport. A night club in Seattle demanded I show my passport to prove my age (I was 45). The bouncer refused my driver’s licence and I went to a different club. Bizarrely, I went to the same nightclub the next night and my licence was accepted.

 

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I have yet to meet a Thai person who is not passionate about their food. From small street stalls to five star rooftop restaurants, Thai people expect the flavours of their food to be right. And with good result. I rate Thai cuisine as one of the top five in the world (with French, Italian, Lebanese and Vietnamese)!

Thais will tell you passionately where the best place in their city is to buy sticky rice or  Som Tam (Spicy PawPaw/Papaya Salad) or Kai Pad Med Mamuang Himmapan (Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts):

They will also tell you with derision, their horror at eating Thai food in many places outside Thailand. Thais almost seem to compete with their horror stories of how bad a  version of Tom Yam Goong (Spicy Prawn/Shrimp Soup) is they found in Sydney or London or Los Angeles.

Source: Phuket.com

Tom Yam Goon Source: Phuket.com

This was illustrated to me when the closest Thai restaurant to me in Australia changed management. Overnight, the restaurant went from being packed with Thai people to a ghost land. Nothing could replace the grandmother who used to supervise the kitchen ensuring every dish was of Thai standard.

Now, the Government of Thailand has stepped in to save the palates of the world from bad Thai food. They have funded the development of two tasting robots, E-delicious and ESenS. (I checked multiple times that this was not an April 1 joke!).

tahi declision

The two robots are the size of an average computer printer and use gas and electronic sensors to  mimic the human nose and tongue. They measure sweetness, spiciness, sourness, saltiness and taste of the foods giving a rating out of 100%. Any score less than 85% indicates that the food has deviated too far and is “not worthy” to be called Thai!

The Thai National Innovation Agency (NIA) worked with universities and the private and public sectors to create the standard taste, look and PH balance of eleven Thai recipes. These recipes have been taste tested with the public from across Thailand. They form the basis of the robotic tasting. More recipes will be added.

As you can imagine, this development has spurred a furious war of words with some supporting the development and others protesting. Personally, I prefer word of mouth and yelp.com!

What do you think?

 

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One of the biggest dilemmas in travel is whether to give money to beggars or not.

Whether I meet one on the streets of Baltimore, Bangkok, Brisbane, Budapest or Bulawayo, I am faced with a myriad of thoughts and questions. For me, when accosted by a child or a mother and child or a disabled person, I have to work through what my position is afresh.  Other colleagues I travel with have no such qualms. They calmly step over beggars as if they were invisible. On some occasions, I have seen it lead to tension between travellers over how to treat beggars.beggars street

I think knowing how you will handle begging, before travelling, is important. There are three groups of beggars I have encountered:

  1. Abandoned by society and family, these people cannot afford medical bills, have no access to education and live on the streets eeking out a living on the few pennies they earn. Begging is the only way they survive. There is no social security system for these people and there are a myriad of tragic stories. Every cent they receive literally keeps them alive for a little longer,
  2. Some have made begging a career choice. I met an unemployed actor in London who sat in Chelsea for four hours a day, four days a week. His friends told me that between shows, this was a very profitable enterprise. There is a very famous disabled woman in Bangkok who has refused medial assistance to fix her deformity because she believes that the income from the foreigners far exceeds anything she could earn in any other job. As, a result, she exists with debilitating condition. A few weeks ago, a man in Oklahoma City, a man confronted a 78 year old after he found that she was driving a new car!
  3. Then there are the people being used to beg by others who take their money. These children or elderly people or foreigners are sent out to beg to bring money in for others. Even more chilling are the (true) stories of children kidnapped and/or maimed and forced to beg, with their “minders” hoping that the kids grave faces will melt the heartstrings of the hardest foreigners. Worse (if it is possible) is that sometimes, these kids are punished for not bringing in enough money.

The difficulty is knowing which one of these three groups, I have mentioned above, I am being faced with, when someone asks me for “spare change“.

I confess, I generally don’t give money to beggars. There are six ways I have chosen to help:

  1. I identify a reputable charity that I know has operations in the country, I am visiting. eg Red Cross (who I also volunteer with), Save the Children Fund, UNICEF, Oxfam, The Railway Children (very appropriate charity for travellers) are some of my choices.  It is possible to designate that a donation goes to a particular country and/or project eg Schools in El Salvador or Disabled children in Cambodia
  2. I support Kiva which allows me to invest money in projects that will assist families, individuals and groups to develop incomes and profits that will lift them out of poverty
  3. I have connected with specific individuals or families or groups through the years that I have directly assisted with funds for fees, housing or equipment to complete study.  In some cases, we have treated the money as a loan and in others it has been a gift but not in a patronising way. I know these people, I see how they live and I have watched them grow.
  4. I am a great supporter of the on board airline donation options which allow you to donate loose changch4goode to UNICEF etc. I know the money goes to those in need even though I am also aware that the airlines uses the schemes to gain publicity
  5. Carry for kids is a clearing house for projects that allow you to buy and take in your regular luggage, supplies that a charity may be needing. While I don’t often check luggage in, on the occasions I am doing so on Asia-bound flights, I always have a spare suitcase worth of space!
  6. I have volunteered for organisations and projects. Also known as voluntourism, watch that the work you do actually contributes to the community and does not damage or cost it.

I take the position that I can contribute a percentage of my travel budget directly to organisations that I trust will make a difference. The starting point is to be aware, that most of us who can afford to travel have way more wealth than half of the planet’s population. In some countries that I travel to, the cost of one night in a hotel is the same as three or four months of average wages. If I cannot give a percentage of what I spend on a trip to a charity that will lift a a family or community out of poverty, then I am being a very selfish person indeed. And the money I give I believe will result in fewer beggars needing to be asking for help.

If you are desperate to give kids something, do not give them chocolates/sweets/candy/lollies. Fresh fruit is better or pencils, pens, notebooks that they can use. Be aware though, they may be made to see or give away these items.

 

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Was reflecting that, eight years ago this week, I was at the Taj Mahal for an amazing dawn. From out of the dark…

Picture 005

the first rays of the sun lit up the historic building.

Picture 127

Gradually more and more of the building appeared.

 

Picture 010

It was beautiful.

Picture 027

I include that as one of the top 100 experiences of my life! My camera was much more primitive than it is now.

Picture 081 - Version 2

What have been some of your best travel experiences?

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I boarded the train in Thailand to find a medium sized child (say 9 or 10 or 11) sitting in my seat. I smiled at the child, as his mother called him back to his rightful seat. I would have done the same at his age: wandering around the train carriage to get different views of the world from the train windows.

Ah this picture of exotic travel, domestic bliss and happy reminiscing was shattered when I found “the monster” before vacating my seat had carefully left his freshly chewed gum carefully along the side of his seat. Now I was covered in sticky saliva remnants of a child’s mastications. Gross!

I am assuming it was an accident.  The boy kept staring at me as if to see what I would do while chewing fresh gum. When he got off he respectfully “wei” ed the passenger sitting next to me and pointedly ignored me! Guilt or embarrassment?

Bearing in mind, neither his mother or he spoke any English, what would you have done? Ignored the situation? Complained? Laughed?

Welcome to travel!

Almost a million Australians a year travel to Thailand. Many get into trouble and some of them are now captured for eternity in a fascinating new TV series “The Embassy“, set at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. It is compelling viewing. Trailer:

The hour long episodes deal with everything that can go wrong on holidays in Thailand: ladyboys, love, lust, lost passports,  lunatic drinking and lame behaviour. My favourite line comes from one of the Thai staff at the embassy: “low cost airfares meant the end of ‘the calm’ for consular offices.

The “observational documentary series” took over  five years to plan and film and is is a first for  the Australian and Thai governments. The show details the lengths that staff go to rescue Australians, some of whom exemplify the worst Aussie behaviours. In Episode One for example, we have a guy in prison for overstaying his visa, a group of party animals that end up in fights with locals and the police, a couple wanting to adopt surrogate twins, a destroyed passport and more:

 

 

From the absolutely stupid behavours have seen in the show, I recommend the following commandments for all travllers. These, should be engrained on every backpacker’s passport, travel itenaries and at every border crossing:

  1. Take your brain on holidays (a line from Consular official Trudy in the show)
  2. Have travel insurance
  3. Obey the law
  4. Guard your passport…”is a lifeline back home”
  5. Do not carry all of your money with you
  6. Do not overstay your visa- ever
  7. Watch alcohol intake
  8. Treat people with kindness
  9. Have spare cash or access to it
  10. Read my blog!!

Or just get people to watch this show!

NB I have family and friends who work at the Australian embassy in Bangkok.

 

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Despite flying to or from 213 airports across the globe, Mexico City International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México).is not one of them. This amazing “bird’s eye” video is the closest I have got to that airport so far!

I have really been enjoying the three and a bit minutes of stunning visual coverage of the airport, its runways and planes.

We are assured that the “video was created with the permission and supervision of the Mexico City International Airport authorities”. They also state that the “drone operators were in close contact with the control tower at all times”. (In other words, do not try this at home!).

Mexico City International Airport (IATA: MEX) is Latin America’s second busiest airport in terms of passenger numbers (31,534,638 passengers in 2013). It is served by 27 passenger airlines and 17 cargo carriers connecting 100 dometsic and international destinations. It is the major hub for Mexico’s largest airline Aeroméxico. Skytrax customers give the airport a rating of 7 out of 10 with a fair few negative comments. This video redeems the airport for me!

Mexico has started work on a new airport for its capital, due in about 2022. The airport is a project of Foster and Partners so it should be somewhat stunning. I look forward to seeing the drone’s eye view of the new airport!

 

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In the fifty or so times, I have visited the USA, the question often comes up about how I as an Australian feel about the US dollar. Half of the questions will ask me how I deal with switching from the Euro. Inevitably, people look incredibly confused when I explain that Australia does not use the Euro.

Apparently this confusion is quite universal as evidenced in this video from the TV show: Squawk Box. Scroll through to 6:55 minute mark and prepare to be amazed:

The commentators show complete ignorance and then tell Martin Shanahan, the head of Irish Development Agency that the whole pound and Euro thing is “too confusing” and “You have got to get it together“.  Cringe. Was it meant to be funny? Squawk Box is meant to be satirical but this was too uncomfortable! Imagine a Canadian telling the US off for the Civil War and asking why Texas isn’t part of Mexico and using the Canadian franc?

Me Shanahan looked decidedly uncomfortable as the discussion skirted topics such as the Irish Independence, Northern Irish “Troubles” and the recent Scottish referendum. He sensibly kept the conversation focussed on Irish golfing prowess! The IDA themselves did not criticise the television channel or the show’s presenters.

Here is a handy Euro map which may be helpful for European travel and/or appearing on national TV with dignitaries from one of those countries.

eu currencies

 

(For those who are wondering, the Republic of Ireland effectively gained independence  in 1922. Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom.  Ireland adopted the Euro as its accounting currency in 1999. Euro currency began circulation at the start of 2002. The United Kingdom uses Pound Sterling. Scottish banks issue their own Pound banknotes which circulate freely across the whole of the UK. In September, Scotland voted to remain in the UK. )

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This is serious. You never know when you might need this! Or impress your loved one on your next dinner date! Happy to take corrections and additions!

      1. Afrikaans – Ek het jou lief
      2. Albanian – Te dua.
      3. Arabic – Ana behibak (to male)  Ana behibek (to female)
      4. Armenian – Yes kez sirumem.
      5. CatalanT’estimo
      6. ChineseMandarin -Wo ai ni
      7. Creole – Mi aime jou
      8. Croatian – Volim te
      9. Czech – Miluji te
      10. Danish - Jeg Elsker Dig
      11. DutchIk hou van jou.
      12. English – I love you.
      13. Ethiopian – Afgreki
      14. FarsiDooset daram.
      15. FinnishMina rakastan sinua
      16. French – Je t’aime.
      17. Georgian – Mikvarhar.
      18. German – Ich liebe dich.
      19. Greek – S’Agapo
      20. Gujarati – Hoo thunay prem karoo choo
      21. Hebrew  To female – “ani ohev otach” (said by male) “ohevet Otach” (said by female)
        To male – “ani ohev otcha” (said by male) “Ohevet ot’cha” (said by female)
      22. Hindi – Main tumse pyaar karta (to female)/karti (to male) hoon.  
      23. Hmong – Kuv hlub koj.
      24. Hungarian – Szeretlek.
      25. Icelandic – Eg elska tig.
      26. Italian – Ti amo.
      27. Indonesian – Saya cinta kamu.
      28. Irish Gaelic – Taim i’ ngra leat.
      29. Japanese –Aishiteru or Anata ga daisuki desu.
      30. Korean – Saranghaeyo.
      31. LatvianEs tevi miilu.
      32. Macedonian - Te Sakam
      33. Malay – Saya cintakan mu / Aku cinta padamu
      34. Nigeria: Yoruba - Mo ni fe
      35. Persian – Doo-set daaram
      36. PolishKocham cie
      37. Portuguese Te amo.
      38. Romanian – Tu iubesc.
      39. RussianYa tebya liubliu.
      40. Scottish Gaelic Ta gra agram ort.
      41. Serbian – Volim te – Volim te
      42. Slovakian – Lubim ta.
      43. Spanish – Te amo.
      44. Swahili Ninapeda wewe.
      45. Swedish – Jag alaskar dig.
      46. Tagalog – Mahal kita.
      47. Thai – Chan (by female)/Phom (by male) rak khun. 
      48. Turkish – Seni seviyorum.
      49. Ukrainian – Ya tebe kahayu.
      50. Vietnamese – Anh yeu em (to female) / Em yeu anh (to male)

 

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