travel

KN, p. 226 “On the Road: Myths about Traveling Abroad”

 

Portal Tomb, Ireland

Travel abroad is more affordable during September and October. The airlines drop their high season prices, and package deals abound. Everybody loves a bargain and if you have a sense of adventure, travel to a foreign country might just fit into your budget at this time of year.

 

However, traveler beware: you might get less than you paid for and be faced with more challenges than you ever expected. Or, you might have great fun exploring new worlds.

 

Here are some truths about travel myths that might put that foreign trip into perspective:

 

Myth: everybody all over the world speaks English.

Reality: That’s not even remotely true. It is likely that more English speaking people can be found in major cities in Europe (some servers in restaurants, some taxi drivers at the airports, some bank managers, some bookstore cashiers, some grocery cashiers) but be ready to do a lot of pointing to your chosen purchase when outside the tourist areas.

 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland

 

Myth: language apps will get you through the communication gaps

Reality: Your cellphone plan may not cover other countries, in which case you will pay roaming charges as soon as you turn on the phone in any foreign country. 24 hours a day of roaming charges. Call your phone company before you travel to see what plans are available. They are not one-size-fits-all.
PLUS, even if you have an in-country plan, there are dead zones everywhere, just like in the States. So, when you have to translate what you need for the train station ticket guy, the app may not work. Or, the guy in front of you in line may not have the app at all. During our latest trip, we missed our train connection (true story) because a guy in front of us in line could not make himself understood. The line grew longer and longer behind us.

 

BUT, you sputter, the ticket guys are supposed to speak English! Nope, there might be one person per shift and you might not be in the right line. Allow LOTS of extra time, because most of the countries we have visited have excellent, exactly on-time, public transportation. The train leaves the station on time, whether you are on the train or not, even if you have paid for the ticket. No refunds.

 

AND, the Post Office – for mailing great finds back – might not have any English-speaking employees. There are forms to fill out, so communicating about that is important. If you’re nervous about sending items back, see if your hotel (or the business itself) will handle it for you.

 

Of course, you can take English-only tours, or hire a translator, and these should be booked well in advance.

 

Myth: There are taxis everywhere

Reality: Not when the taxi drivers are on strike. Yup. Happened to us on an earlier trip. The news showed pix of tourists walking with luggage long distances (a mile or more) to get from the airports to their hotels or to other transport. TAKE UBER? Not when Uber is barred from the airports and is the target of the taxi strikers. Be flexible in your travel arrangements.

 

Sidewalk, Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel, Azores

 

Myth: You are gonna love the food!

Reality: Years ago, a stumbling block for our possible trip to Greece was whether or not we would like Greek food. We attended a local Greek festival, loved the food, and booked the trip the next day. The country’s food might be new to you, but go ahead, order menu items even if you don’t know what they are. No dead bodies lying on the ground around the tables means it’s probably safe to eat at that location.

 

I ordered codfish, salad, egg, and fried potatoes in Europe. I envisioned a piece of cod, a tossed green salad, a fried egg, and French fries. What I got was a famous local dish: mashed cod mixed in with straw potatoes and the egg. The salad was on the side. The straw potatoes are crunchy fries the size of those skinny, crunchy, chow mein noodles. The mashed cod was seasoned with a mustard flavored sauce. The straw potatoes were fried in olive oil. The plate had about two cups of the cod/potato/egg mixture piled in the middle. It was not at all what I had pictured in my mind and I questioned the waiter as to whether he had delivered somebody else’s order. We figured out with my limited Portuguese and his limited English that it was the correct dish. It was delicious. Truly. I would eat it again, but other travelers seated near us were horrified and left 90% of the food on the plate.

 

Vegetarian dishes are tough to find on the menus. Gluten-free is a challenge in most places. Be creative in your dining choices and be willing to experiment.

 

Metal Sculpture, Braga, Portugal

 

Myth: A resort hotel is the only way to go

Reality: If you want to travel less expensively, remember that ‘all-inclusive’ does not mean the same thing everywhere. In fact, the hotel may supply cheap liquor, badly prepared food, and no off-site excursions in the ‘all-inclusive’ price. Ask the travel agent lots of questions.

 

Renting an apartment or staying at a B&B are other options, especially if you have dietary restrictions and need to have some control over your food. We’ve done all three, and had wonderful in experiences in each, without tripping over any bodies anywhere. Promise.

 

Myth: You can travel with your prescription medication as long as you keep the meds in the original container and have a paper copy of the prescription with you.

Reality: We followed all the rules and an over-the-counter cold medicine (sold in their country) packed in the suitcase, was confiscated by the foreign country officials. No idea why.

 

Travel outside the country is an adventure. You learn astonishing things about the rest of the planet – culture, language, religion, incredible food, politics – and can witness some of the most majestic sights on Earth.

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, Canada

 

Book that trip! Be surprised. Be flexible. Fall in love with the world.  🙂

 

 

 

KN, p. 226 “On the Road: Myths about Traveling Abroad” Read More »

KN, p. 172 “On the Road: Don’t lose your ID!”

 

AmericanTermBDSCF1241 copy

Almost anyone that travels via commercial airlines has a story to tell about lost luggage, flight delays, or the latest TSA rules. It was such a hot topic among my buddies right before one of my trips that I did a little research and posted, “What does the TSA really do?” Read it here.

 

Just recently, Sheila and I got to experience first hand the TSA techniques for handling undocumented travelers. Yup. Undocumented. Sheila misplaced her official photo ID (her driver’s license) and had to not only prove who she was, but go through a very thorough search to boot.

 

Here’s how it played out:

 

We took the hotel shuttle van to the local airport, ready to fly out on a commuter leg that would get us to a major hub. Something told me to take an early shuttle van, so we arrived three hours before the flight. We had checked into our flight while still at the hotel and already had our boarding passes, so we rolled our suitcases up to the baggage check-in area, expecting a quick handover of the lightly packed bags.

 

Sheila took out her wallet, but couldn’t find her driver’s license, so she waved me ahead. The airline agent checked mine and took my bag. I stepped away and looked over at my wife. She was frowning. The agent wasn’t busy yet, so he stood there, watching. Sheila took every single piece of paper and credit card out of her wallet, but could not find the license. She had grocery cards, office supply cards, medical ID cards, but no license. Gulp.

 

“Is it possible you put it somewhere else for some reason?” he asked, so very kindly.

 

She took apart her briefcase and her tote bag, piece by paper by book. She turned everything upside down and shook it.

 

“The last time I remember seeing it was when we checked into the hotel.” She sounded a touch panicky.

 

The agent walked away to take care of other people and we called the hotel. We were put on hold for fifteen minutes while the hotel manager looked in the safe. No ID.

 

Sheila took everything apart again. I called the agent over and asked what would happen if she couldn’t find her ID. Would Sheila be able to board the plane in this post 9/11 world?

 

“Does she have a passport with her?” (We weren’t that far from the Canadian border, so that was a reasonable question.)

“We weren’t planning on leaving the country, so, no.”

 

He called a TSA supervisor, who explained that they would have to establish Sheila’s identity through the Homeland Security Office and after that, conduct an extensive search, a process that could take up to six hours. We would probably miss the flight – the last one of the day.

 

Anyone that flies in the United States knows that photo ID is required in order to buy an airline ticket and to board the plane. It is usually a driver’s license, but can also be a passport or an official non-driver’s license photo ID. Mom, who no longer drove and whose license had expired years before, had to get one of those in order to fly.

 

Photo ID is also required when checking into a reputable hotel – not the fly-by-night or rent-by-the-hour type.

 

Sheila and I had just finished a great weekend at a Police Academy training site – yes, she had fun, too. She shot an AR-15 for the first time and even had a tight grouping on the target.

 

As the flight time loomed closer, Sheila decided to give up digging for her license and undergo the search and questioning. The officers made a call to the regional Homeland Security office and agreed to accept her business card photo (the card also had her name, website, and email address) that she did have in her wallet. Since several people with their legitimate driver’s licenses had vouched for her, as long as she could pass the questioning phase and go along with the search, she might be able to board. I think it helped that there were cops in the group who vouched for her.

AirportClothesIMG_5441

Sheila’s suitcases had been placed on the side, away from everyone else’s. An officer opened them up, pulled everything out, and began the questioning.

 

“Why are you here?”

“What was the conference about?”

“What was the best class?”

“What do you do for a living?”

“What hotel did you stay in?”

“How long were you there?”

“Who ran the conference?”

 

The questions went on for twenty minutes. The personal search was conducted in front of the public, but the officer was polite/efficient and Sheila was focused on getting on that flight.

 

We did make the flight – barely. But, still puzzled as to what had happened to the license that she always puts in the same place.

 

It was midnight when we got home, but Sheila pulled everything out again. The last thing she looked at was the only item that she had not bothered with at the airport. The badge from the conference. It has a slot behind the name tag that attendees use to store business cards and hotel key cards. Very convenient. Sheila had helped sell raffle tickets at the banquet, thought that a purse would be in the way, so stuck her license and room card in that slot.

AirportIDBadgeIMG_5430

At least nobody stole her ID, a nightmare both of us had considered.

 

Lesson to be learned:

 

Stick to your normal routines for keys and licenses when traveling. We have those routines for a reason – so that we don’t forget where we put them. Ooops!

 

We had visions of staying quite a while in the airport. We were lucky that we happened to be traveling at the same time as so many other people who had attended the same conference. We were lucky that Sheila had a business card with her photo on it. We were lucky that reason had prevailed.

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

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KN, p. 171 “Visit to Antietam”

 

Dunker Church
Dunker Church

We are a military family and in honor of those who served, Sheila and I have visited several battlefields/military cemeteries in recent years. The 2016 destination? Antietam – a Civil War battlefield in Maryland named after the creek in Sharpsburg.

 

The night before the Battle of Antietam was to begin in the farming town, soldiers gathered in the woods behind Dunker Church. On September 17, 1862, Generals Robert E. Lee (Confederate) and George McClellan (Union) made their stands, determined to break (or hold) the Union front.

 

Antietam is remembered not only for its political importance, but also for being the bloodiest single day in American military history. About 23,000 souls (out of combined forces of about 100,000) were either killed, wounded or lost – a quarter of the area soldiers were out of commission, a devastating toll.

 

A film shown at the Antietam Visitor’s Center revealed that the battle itself was the result of accidentally acquired information about Lee’s plans, but some say that the incredible losses were the result of poorly formed battle strategy on both sides. Communication between the generals was spotty and at times, the enlisted men took things into their own hands after their officers were cut down.

 

The Sunken Road was the center of intense fighting for several hours and when the outnumbered Confederate forces were finally surrounded and killed, hundreds of bodies lay piled high throughout the length of what came to be called Bloody Lane.

The Sunken Road
The Sunken Road

 

 

Burnside Bridge changed hands several times during the day. Whoever held the high ground was able to see the enemy approach and could easily pick the soldiers off, one by one.

Burnside Bridge
Burnside Bridge

 

Eye witness accounts in letters reveal that often, single lines of men walked straight into the fire of the opposition, with little or no cover. Small groups continued to be picked off and there were so many bullets flying that it was hard to keep out of the way.

 

Nestled in a rolling valley in Maryland, today’s landscape is peaceful, beautiful – devoid of any signs of war except for the occasional statue or monument to the sacrifices of the brave men that lost their lives almost 154 years ago. Those rolling hills created several areas of high ground for the 500 cannons employed effectively by both sides.

Cannon with New York
Cannon with New York Monument in background

 

That restful view belies the actual aftermath of the Battle. So many men were wounded

Maryland Monument
Maryland Monument

that every building for miles around – school, home, business, barn – was used as a hospital. Never before had battlefield medicine been so severely tested. While the U.S. Sanitary Commission had been established the year before to help with distribution of supplies to hospitals, the aide was stretched beyond its limits.

 

The Sharpsburg region was devastated by the battle, racked by death and disease, stripped of food and supplies by both armies, and transformed forever by the impact of the fighting. Many local civilians lost their homes and farms to the combat and were never compensated by either side for that loss and destruction, despite their loyalty to the cause.

 

Clara Barton, who would later form the Red Cross, gave aid to soldiers from both sides and eventually organized the practice of giving assistance to civilians after natural disasters.

 

Neither side was a clear winner at the end of the day, but when the out manned and under supplied Confederates retreated back into Virginia, the Union counted it as a victory and Lincoln was able to use that as a bargaining chip to push the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation forward.

 

September 18, 1862 was a day that both sides gathered and tried to bury the dead, but

Antietam National Cemetery
Antietam National Cemetery

it took days to bury the 3,500 bodies. Union soldiers were re-buried in the area now known as Antietam National Cemetery, while Confederate soldiers were ultimately buried in local graveyards.

 

For more information about Antietam, the battlefield, and the museum, please visit:

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/hours.htm

 

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/antietam.html

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/index.htm

 

http://www.npr.org/2012/09/17/161248814/antietam-a-savage-day-in-american-history

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/learn/historyculture/arty.htm

 

Our visit to Antietam was a sobering experience; the exhibits pointing out so clearly  the terrible price that both soldiers and civilians pay for the freedoms we enjoy. If you truly want to understand the importance of what transpired at Antietam on September 17, 1862, read up on it. Better yet, take time to visit the area.

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

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