TSA and the Little Sequined Top

My wife has a sequined top that she has worn while traveling a few times. I don’t believe there is anything seriously metallic in the sequins and it has made its way thru a number of metal detectors. On a recent trip all hell seemed to break out over this top.

While we have never paid for pre-clearance we usually get pre-cleared on our boarding passes (not really sure why). Last October while passing thru the TSA Pre check my wife was directed to go thru the scanner. Feet on the marks, hands above your head and wait, something has gone wrong. It seemed the agent scanned her several times and now she is pulled aside for a thorough search. What went wrong? She was wearing that top!

After a little research we have discovered that TSA screening devices have a lot of issues with some types of women’s clothes. That splash of gold print on a T-Shirt can contain enough metal to set off the metal detector. The same with attached beads. Sequins can literally blind a scanner. Since often these things are part of the fabric, passing a wand over you cannot determine if it is the top you’re wearing or something concealed under it. Time for the pat-down.

A comment Submitted by Cindy M found on the TSA blog from Jan 2018 – When the scanners were introduced I believed they were an improvement. Now however, I see that the machines don’t spot real problems. Instead they seem to be confused by a variety of normal things such as sequins, metal, or other sorts of embellishments on clothing.

Why is it I\we have to dress for the TSA?! Actually you don’t but you can expect to be delayed and/or inconvenienced.  Especially if you ignore some simple tips that help TSA do their job efficiently. They do post a lot of information online that can help avoid these sort of issues. Unfortunately as of now sequins aren’t one of those tips.

 

 

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An Unusual Blarney Castle Adventure

A Short Story

Blarney Castle Caution

If you are not up the the challenge of climbing six stories of steep stairs – don’t start the tour…

I think that one of those requirements for first-time visitors to Ireland is visit Blarney Castle. It was way up on our list of must see.

When you tour Blarney Castle the first thing you are confronted with is a six story, narrow spiral staircase. Everything is rough stone and there isn’t enough room on the stairs for more than a single file line. Someone getting past another in line would be a serious challenge. In touring the castle and getting up to the rock of eloquence (better known as the Blarney Stone) you must ascend on one staircase and descend on another equally narrow staircase. While on the ascent there are a couple of side rooms attached to the stairwell there is no way out until you climb the full six stories. At the top you walk over to the Blarney Stone and afterwords cross over to the other corner and start down the second staircase.

Before you enter the actual castle itself there is an attendant that clearly explains the issues with the spiral staircase and that if you don’t think you are up to the climb you shouldn’t continue.

On our visit last year as we entered the grounds we became aware of a couple in the group that stood out. He was, it turned out, in his 90’s and walked with a Hurrycane. It’s that foldable walking cane with the hand grip at the top and the four footed base as seen on TV. As we entered the castle the elderly gentleman was ahead of us with about six people between us and him in line. Just ten feet inside we were at the foot of that spiral staircase. At that point we commented to ourselves that we were impressed with his courage if not his judgement.

To his credit he made it up almost three stories before he couldn’t take another step. At that point the people below on the stairs couldn’t do anything to help because we were stuck in a single file. There was a lot of discussion up and down the line and eventually the line above him managed to get into an alcove and one gentlemen came back to him. With his wife behind him and help from the man above they managed to help him crawl up a number of steps to that alcove. After that the line started moving up again – there was no other choice. There was no way we were going to get a line three stories up into the castle to back up. When we got to the top of the castle several people explained to the attendants helping people kiss the stone* about the gentleman’s problem.

Maybe Blarney Castle has experienced this problem before but the logistics of stopping the line, getting help to him and than getting him down three flights of steep, narrow, spiral stairs does seem like a daunting task. That doesn’t even take into consideration the tour buses that are on a schedule and have significant distances to travel.

I’m sure there are a number of morals in this adventure but I’ll leave them to the readers imagination.

*You lay on your back while the attendants hold you as you stick your head through an opening at the top of the castle, six stories above the ground while you kiss the stone protruding from the wall above you – try that on a wet and rainy day. Also there doesn’t seem to be any Purell in use and you start speculating about all those people ahead of you that day?

Photo Essay – The Keukenhof

It’s coming up Spring in Europe and that means it’s Keukenhof  time in Amsterdam.

For additional information about the Keukenhof click  HERE.

Open 21 March to 15 May 2019

The Keukenhof is unarguably the largest flower gardens and show in the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Official site click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For additional information about visiting the Keukenhof click  HERE.

Money and Roads Less Traveled

Financial Considerations for When You Travel Internationally

You’ve got your passport and your bags are packed, but are you ready financially to travel abroad?

We’ve been to some pretty interesting places over the years but usually haven’t had issues with getting local currency or being able to use credit cards.

While some time back our favorite credit card was Discover. It offered a generous point system and claimed no transaction fees when used internationally. It took a number of trips over a couple of years to actually give up on trying to travel with our Discover cards. While they claimed that the card would be accepted anywhere the Diners Club emblem was displayed we found that to rarely be the case. So we arranged for Visa and MC cards with no transaction fees and haven’t experienced any difficulties.

Getting ready for this months trip has proven to be a bit of a new challenge. We’re off to the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Uruguay, and points South and immediately hit problems with Argentina. In attempting to reserve a hotel the first few wouldn’t accept the Visa card. It seems that credit cards are not widely used there. We then went to our bank to exchange for Argentine Pesos and were told they weren’t available. Checked with AAA – same thing.

Next we reserved a guide and 4×4 in the Falklands but were told that we couldn’t use credit cards. No ATMs and they also use their own version of Pound Sterling. After several emails back and forth we settled with being able to pay with cash in British Pounds or US Dollars (no Euro’s).

Because Argentina has had a currency crises over the past few years money can be a problem. Our trip begins at the international airport for Buenos Aries but have been told to avoid the exchange counters there. We have now resorted to planning on using a debit card (which we rarely do), attaching it to an account with a specific balance without overdraft and will access some limited cash at an airport ATM. We will need cash to get into the city. After that we have mapped several locations for Citi operated ATM’s in Buenos Aries with no service fees.

We will also be traveling out to Iguaçu Falls for a couple of days and while the hotel will accept Visa cards most everywhere else will require cash. This need for cash and not being sure where we can use credit cards is making us a bit nervous. We’ll let you know how it works out…

Here are a few tips on money and international travel

1. Let the bank know where and when you will be traveling.

Many banks will freeze your accounts if unexpected foreign purchases show up. It’s important that the bank or credit card issuer is aware of your travel plans so they can ensure the remains active with proper safeguards.

2. Determine if your PIN number will work where you’re going.

Before your trip, call your bank and credit card issuers and ask if your PIN will work at your destination ATM’s. Four-digit PINs work in most countries. If your PIN contains zeroes, however, that may be a problem in some non-network ATMs. Additionally, many foreign ATMs don’t recognize four-digit PINs. Calling ahead gives you time to change your PIN, if necessary.

3. Watch out for international transaction and currency conversion fees.

Since fees and conversion rates vary widely, it’s important to know exactly what you will be paying to make ATM withdrawals or paying with your debit or credit card. A new process that has become common is for merchants to ask if you want to charge in your home currency or local money? Avoid the temptation to ask for charges in your home currency. If you do you will discover that the bill included high transaction fees and a less than customary exchange rate and usually the merchant gets a commission. If you plan to travel with a credit card get one that doesn’t charge transaction fees and let your bank calculate the exchange rate.

Contact your bank before you travel internationally to avoid any financial surprises

4. Ask about daily withdrawal limits on ATMs

Banks may have different withdrawal limits than ATMs. Keep in mind that any individual ATM may have a different withdrawal limit and limits may be expressed in the local currency. Have a backup plan that involves more than one way to pay.

5. Verify your account balance.

Be sure there’s enough money in your accounts to pay for travel expenses once you get there; you don’t want to find yourself overdrawn on your trip. To alleviate any additional stresses of overdraft fees, on top of running out of money, you can transfer funds from one account to the other using a mobile banking app.

6. Carry telephone numbers.

Get all the information you will need to contact your financial institution while traveling in case of stolen or lost cards. Most banks and credit card issuers will have local numbers you can call to report any mishaps that may occur while traveling internationally.

7. When booking your hotel or rental car, use your credit card not a debit card.

It is best to use a credit card for reserving a hotel or rental car because hotels and rental car companies may place a hold on your card for a certain dollar amount for incidentals. If placed on a debit card these funds could be tied up for some time.

Use a credit card to pay for your hotel or rental car in case they place a hold on your card for incidentals

8. When getting cash in local currency, use your debit card.

Your debit card is ideal for getting cash in local currency because you may get the same interbank exchange rate as you do with credit card purchases – this is generally the cheapest way to get local currency. Getting cash with your debit card allows you to avoid the cash advance fees that your credit card would charge. It’s also convenient as there are ATMs available in many international airports. Most major bank ATMs don’t charge a usage fee, but watch out for ATMs that are not affiliated with any banks-they may charge expensive fees.

9. Set up auto notifications on your credit cards.

We also set up options to be notified by text message for all transactions where the card is not presented in person. This has helped on a couple of occasions. Once while in Spain it looked we went on a bicycle buying spree in Rome. Nice to able to contact your bank when something like this happens.

Bon Voyage!

Cruising and Tours

Cruise Ship port of Call Tours

While we are just not “guided tour” enthusiasts, we have been on a fair number of them. To begin with, there are some land tours that make good sense to do. The first is where there is someplace you really want to see and even the bus trip is on a very tight schedule. The one thing you can be sure of is, if you are on a ship sponsored tour the ship isn’t going to sail without you. And yes, we have seen people left behind. We have taken a number of tours also because the costs were just too good to ignore. Sometimes that is because we have onboard credits that we just need to spend and others have been provided by our agency as a perk.

From our point of view the biggest problem we have with guided tours is that you become a prisoner of the tour. It is common for us to get stuck visiting some place that we are just not interested in. Why do we have to spend forty-five minutes at a chocolate factory or a nut packer? I’m sure the tour operator is being paid to deliver people to that business but we resent paying for visit. The other case is visiting a location where we could spend hours and are informed we have to be back on the bus in a half hour. Going it on our own eliminates those possibilities.

There is also the issue of cost. If you understand your options, often you will see that the ships tour will cost you significantly more money. A few examples:

Cozumel Chankanaab

Cozumel Chankanaab National Park – When you get down to it, this is a day at the beach. The park is equipped with bars, restaurant, along with beach and snorkel rental stuff. A taxi ride will cost between US$10 and US$20 each way (make sure you have plenty of singles as drivers don’t offer change) and park admission is about US$21. A recent tour booked through the cruise ship cost $69 per person. That’s $138 for what would have cost $62 on your own.

Mendenhall Glacier Alaska – This is a national park outside of Juneau Alaska. The park is serviced by a bus route from the historic downtown area with round-trip fare being $31. Add to that the admission to the park (NPS standard fees) $20 which totals $51 ($31 if you have a NPS Senior Park Pass). The basic cruise tours usually start around $75. They often will add in a salmon bake for $20 to $30 more. For more on Mendenhall CLICK HERE.

 

Rome from the Port of Civitavecchia – On or first cruise stop in Civitavecchia we booked the “Rome On Your Own” tour at $89 each which included a bus ride in to Vatican City and back to the ship. Six blocks from the Civitavecchia port is the train station and for as little as US$12 you can get a round-trip ticket to the St. Peters station. For two that’s a savings of $154 and the trip in and back can actually be quicker.

For more on visiting Rome from Civitavecchia CLICK HERE.

In order to head off on your own and save some cash you do have to be a bit adventurous. We are pretty independent and prefer to use local buses and trains with our biggest fear being missing the ships departure. Our protection is to always build in a good time allowance in our plan. We are also good at doing research on our destinations and have a good idea of what we want to see and how to do it before we leave on a trip.

On the other side of the discussion here are a few examples of ship tours that we thought were well worth the cost and why:

The Golden Triangle Iceland – This tour was a bit pricy but so were the local tour companies. The reason we selected this tour is because our ship docked in the afternoon and sailed shortly after noon the next day disqualifying local tours. We also considered renting a car but again were concerned about the times. The tour itself was great. We probably traveled over a hundred miles and saw thermal fields, waterfalls(!!) and Icelands rift valley where the earths crust is pulling apart. No shopping stops or misspent time. If you are going to Iceland don’t miss the Golden Triangle.

Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey – The ancient city of Ephesus, located near the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey, was one of the great cities of the Greeks and later the Romans in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major attraction located some distance from the port. Again not inexpensive but a great experience (it did include a stop at a rug showroom). We might be adventurous but there was no way I was going to rent a car for half a day in Turkey and I still am not aware of any convenient public transportation.

A Wine & Tapas Tour in Palma – This one wasn’t that expensive and included nice stops at three different tapas bars and free time in a nice in-town shopping area. The drive back to the pier included brief stops at the castle overlook above town and a drive along the coast. A good answer to filling an afternoon in Mallorca.  For more information CLICK HERE.

 

This is part one of a three part series we’ve been working on. Check back or subscribe to see the whole series.

Travel Maps For Christmas

Put a Pin In It

We’ve Created Beautiful Pin Maps To Record Your Travels available through our Etsy store. VISIT NOW

A few years ago we printed, mounted and framed a world map and added pins to designate the places we had visited. As we continued to travel, we added more pins. Over time, we have had a number of friends and family members admire our map and ask for maps of their own, which we were glad to give as gifts. With much encouragement over the past couple of months, we have designed our own original maps and hope to make them available for sale.

Our Etsy store is now open. VISIT NOW

After you place your order we customize and print each map and ship in about five working days via the USPS. The map is printed on heavy cover stock and is ready for framing. Detailed instructions are included for installing in ready-made, inexpensive frames or you can have it custom mounted and framed.

The World Map

Proudly display and pin your world travels while keeping track of your adventures and future plans. Our gorgeous personalized maps are a beautiful addition to your home and are a great conversation piece.

World Map #W1 in Grays and Blues

This 13″ x 19″ exclusive original design  map is available in two color schemes and is printed on premium cover stock. Included are a number of custom options (see ordering information).

World Map #W2 in Earth Tones and Blues

Pick Your Map and Select Customizations Below

  • Select a banner .                           
  • Add a custom printed name .     
Put a pin in it and record all your travels

Ships promptly in a mailing tube and comes with a collection of 50 colored pins. Includes suggestions on saving money on framing with do-it-yourself instructions. Make use of included colored pins to indicate visits to Countries, Cities and National Parks. The design shows over 200 cities along with major national parks, seas and oceans.

Available soon, framed and ready to hang.

Example of map detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

The United States Map

Great to get your children interested in geography and tracking their adventures or remembering family vacation trips. Makes a beautiful personalized gift and is designed with children in mind as a fun, in-home, learning tool.

This 13″ x 19″original design map is printed on heavy premium cover stock and includes a number of customization options.

Select Customizations Below

  • Choose a banner                              
  • Add a custom printed name       
Put a pin in it to display your travels

Comes with a collection of 50 colored pins. Includes suggestions on saving money on framing along with do-it-yourself instructions. Select pin colors to indicate visits to National Parks, States and Cities.V

This map is designed over a topographic image with all 50 states outlined and their names in bright red. Printed with over 200 U.S. cities along with major National Parks.

 

Also available soon framed and ready to hang.

Visit Our Etsy Store NOW.

Still time for Cristmas – order maps and select customization options only at our Etsy store.

 

 

Rome Cruise Port of Civitavecchia

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Civitavecchia inner harbor

Rome’s Cruise Port is Civitavecchia which is one of the Mediterranean’s Two Major Cruise Departure Ports. If you are spending time in Rome ahead of a cruise or are flying in, the trip to Civitavecchia requires some planning as it is not a short distanceGeneral

The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia is a seaside city and the port serving the city of Rome. The city is served by frequent train service from Rome along with regular service to other Italian destinations. The Cruise port is only a short five or six block walk from the train station along the waterfront on Via Aurelia. Once at the port there are usually free shuttles to the cruise ships. From where and how the shuttles run seems to change often.

The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia is a seaside city and the port serving the city of Rome. The city is served by frequent train service from Rome along with regular service to other Italian destinations. The Cruise port is only a short five or six block walk from the train station along the waterfront on Via Aurelia. Once at the port there are usually free shuttles to the cruise ships. From where and how the shuttles run seems to change often.

 

The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia is a seaside city and the port serving the city of Rome. The city is served by frequent train service from Rome along with regular service to other Italian destinations. The Cruise port is only a short five or six block walk from the train station along the waterfront on Via Aurelia. Once at the port there are usually free shuttles to the cruise ships. From where and how the shuttles run seems to change often.

The main entrance to the port is nearest the train station and across from the McDonalds but recently the cruise shuttles are being organized nearer the Roman Dock entrance about four blocks farther up Via Dalmazia .

Where the Ships Dock 

 Rome Cruise Port Civitavecchia is both a cruise ship embarkation port as well as a popular port of call and for that reason it can have a large number of ships in port from time to time. On one day we counted seven large cruise ships tied up. Because of the size of the port it normally requires a shuttle to get out of the port or to your ship.

 

 

Transportation 

The best way to get into Rome is to take a train. From Civitavecchia a typical trip to S. Pietro (40 mins), Trastevere (50 mins), Ostiense (55 mins) and finally Termini (70 mins). Fare starts at €5 one way on the commuter trains but can cost up to €25 round trip if using regional trains depending on ticket class. There is a manned ticket booth at the station along with vending machines. We would strongly recommend getting a metro train map ahead of time and plan your route before getting to Italy. Our experience is that buying tickets ahead of time online doesn’t save anything and can actually cost you more.

Taxis are available but are famous for overcharging with the short ride from the port to the train station quoted as high as €10 or €15.

Taking a taxi into Rome or to the airport can be an expensive trip with fares running from €150 to €300.

There are also shuttle services to the airport with an average price starting at €25 per person. It is recommended that reservations be made as schedules can vary a lot.

Visiting Civitavecchia 

We have stayed in Civitavecchia a number of times. It is a nice city with a number of nice hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the port. The main business district is next to the port and there are a number of nice shops in the area as well as a pedestrian mall. 

evening.Via Aurelia runs along the waterfront from the train station to the ports main entrance and has a number of restaurants, most with outdoor seating available. Sitting in an outdoor cafe and feeling the sea breeze is a way of life here. There is also a nice park area along the water which is a popular place for locals to stroll in the evening and often features special events.