Who makes the rules?

I just had an interesting discussion with a journalist working on a story about the mis-spelling on a name on an airline ticket.  It is sometimes difficult to explain to someone not in the travel industry how convoluted airline ticketing rules can be.

A small spelling or typo in the first name on this ticket is causing a major headache for the passenger, the travel agent and I would imagine airline reps who have been called repeatedly by all parties.  The other confusing issue is that every airline has a different way of dealing with these situations.  Within the industry some airlines are known to be extremely difficult to work with – I am not naming any names but you airline people know who you are.

You would think that if you purchase a ticket under the name Fred Smith and by mistaken when you or your travel agent are typing in the name you put Frod Smith then anyone can see that this is clearly a spelling error – just one letter – in the first name.  Something that can be easily cleared up.  Well – not so easy depending on who you speak to.

Remember too that airline help desks are like call centres – probably tons of people working there – so you might get a different scenario depending on who happens to pick up your call.

Nevertheless – it is useful to do a double check EVERY SINGLE TIME – and never rely on anyone’s goodwill here.

Remember, the cheaper the ticket the more difficult it will be to change and discount airlines rely on not having to spend more man hours on reprinting and re-issuing tickets.  It seems easy enough – but trust me it is not.

really hard

So you took a selfie?

It seems weird to think how popular it has become to take photos of yourself – after all this technique has only been readily available for a short time – and yet it is not something new –

“The first selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius (USA) in October 1839, using a daguerreotype technique – an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour. Cornelius was required to sit for between three and 15 minutes to allow the necessary exposure time as he posed for the self-portrait in the backyard of his family’s lamp and chandelier store in Philadelphia, USA. He wrote on the back of it: “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

The Oxford Dictionary recognized “selfie” as 2013’s word of the year, defining this as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”.  (Guinness Book of Records)

Since 2013 when selfies became more common (and easier to take) it seems as if the interest in the place or monument has taken second place our pictures of ourselves.  I wonder why?  Is it because we have to prove that we were there?  Maybe no one would believe us unless it was a close up of our very own mugs with one of the wonders of the world in the background.  Sometimes it doesn’t give out the impression of awe and wonder that we would like –

great wall of china selfie

Maybe he just wanted to show how him and his best friends were having fun at The Great Wall of China

Sure doesn’t make you feel like visiting the Great Wall does it?  Unless of course you can do it like this ….

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But then we can’t always travel like the President.  But you know what – there is always photoshop …..

great wall photoshop

Yes – you are seeing right – she photo-shopped herself on a picture of the Great Wall …. but why not?

But getting the selfie sometimes comes at a price – as this broken statue found out.

Student Snaps Leg Off Statue W... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Things That Were Destroyed Because of Selfies

This broken statue is the Drunken Satyr statue in Milan.  A student wanted a picture sitting on the leg – one of the legs snapped off.  Now this is a copy of the original but still a valuable piece of work having been made in the 19th centurey.  Yep  –  the student managed to get out without being apprehended.   

Isn’t that terrible?  And here’s another selfie catastrophe –

Imagine that tourists trying to take selfies actually put turtles off their laying!!

Tourists Keep Turtles from Lay... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Things That Were Destroyed Because of Selfies
Photo: rupurudu/Tumblr

“In 2015, hundreds of tourists descended on the beaches of Costa Rica during the country’s sea turtle egg-laying season and, duh, tried to take selfies with the animals who were trying to get in the swing of their centuries-old birthing ritual. Due to so many tourists clogging up the beach, the turtles couldn’t lay their eggs, and now there are fewer turtles than there were before all of this selfie nonsense started. ”

Well I have to say – actually confess would be a better word – that I still haven’t mastered the art of the selfie.  And I have tried.  I get my thumb in the way or else I get the whole thing out of focus.  They say practice makes perfect so I guess I shouldn’t stop practising.  Mind you – there are a lot of other people out there who don’t take perfect selfies either and the proof is out there … online …. for the world to see – and it helps to have a sense of humour.

selfie sneeze

https://jokideo.com/girlfriend-sneezed-during-selfie-fail-meme/

 

JUST DOING CARRY-ON

Just doing carry-on …. I did it once before and I am going to do it again.

Travel to Europe for two weeks just with carry-on.  Now you might be saying to yourself – big deal – I have done that tons of times but I know out there among you all there are those who cannot leave home without a whacking big suitcase (and that’s just for a weekend).

So first of all why am I going to do this?  Well a two-week trip to Europe comprised of hotel stays, a cruise, trains, taxis and ferries and a hotel on Lake Como that has 37 cobbled steps leading up to it….

Yup.  That sounds like a good enough reason.  I think it will be a good personal lesson in self-restraint.  Do I really need 6 pairs of shoes?  A different outfit every night?  Really?  The people I am travelling with are family. They have seen me at my worst …. Believe me.

The rest – strangers – ships that pass in the night.  They will never see me again and vice versa.

Next – how am I going to do this.  Packing cubes, wrinkle-resist material and Lululemons and more Lululemons.  A couple of colourful shawls – sparkly Croc flip flops and a good pair of Sketchers.  That should do it?

Oh – but I shouldn’t forget my running shoes just in case, and my swim suit and then maybe a rain jacket, just in case, and a warmer cover-up for the evenings – just in case.  You see what happens.  It just keeps piling up so I am going to have to work very hard at this.  It’s the “just in case” that prevents me from reaching my goal.  How many times have you unpacked unworn clothing after a trip.  You took it along – just in case – dragged it onto cruises, flights, trains and taxis and then brought it all the way home again – UNWORN!

My last carry-on trip worked quite well – two weeks in Ireland on a self drive vacation with a teeny carry on suitcase.  I was quite proud of myself but I also wanted to throw up when I unpacked my clothes at home.  I was so sick of the sight of them.

unpacking-depressing

There is something so liberating about being able to walk off your flight and right out the doors of the airport into a taxi.  No hanging around waiting endlessly for the case on the carousel – just out the door and on my way.  I have also had the experience of travelling with a larger case on European trains.  Yes it can be done but if you are going to catch as many trains as we are then I would rather not.

Italy_LuggageRack2

So all I am worrying about now is getting on the plane in time to get an overhead bin (or two) and a place to put my hat!
travel lady hat

 

Anything to declare?

After a few too many seasons of Border Patrol I always want to be very careful with my customs declaration when I get back into Calgary.  I have found it useful (although sometimes alarming) to write out a list of everything I have bought with the approximate Canadian dollar pricing so that I have some detail to hand over to the officer should he or she ask me what exactly I purchased.

My husband and I usually make out just one list between the two of us – after all – we both made the purchases and they are generally for ourselves or family members.  The latest trip home, however, featured a larger purchase of a carpet (yeah – you go to Morocco you have to buy a carpet – you do know that don’t you?).  We just lump all our purchases together and then divide by two – but the customs officer told us that’s not the correct way – especially if we have a significant purchase.

But now I know I will be watching that carefully – because going through customs makes me really nervous.  I don’t know why – I just feel guilty.  Maybe it was something I did in a previous life – maybe I was a gun-runner or smuggled gin into the US during prohibition – whatever it was I have to try hard to look awfully casual and relaxed and not guilty.

guilty cat

Now I have always had very nice treatment from the customs officers when arriving in Calgary so I have no reason for this trepidation – but it seems that I am not the only person to suffer angst at this situation.  I loved this story I came across online –

When Kristina F. was heading home to the US from Canada during the holidays, she found herself at the desk of a humorous border agent whose requests she couldn’t deny. “The US customs agent at the Calgary airport asked what kind of instrument I was carrying and I said it was a ukulele. He requested I play him a song right there. So I played ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and I’m pretty sure everyone was staring at us. It was goofy and surreal. He loved it, but I was bright red the entire time.”

yukelele

That’s why I really like watching Border Patrol.  They do a great job.  I loved the one episode of the British lady visiting family who put on her declaration no foodstuffs but had three chunks of lovely English cheese in her bag.  She was actually allowed to bring that in because it was fully wrapped but she had thought she might have to sneak it in so that’s why they searched her.  I am not sure how they knew that she had cheese in her bag, however.  Did the dog sniff it?  Or was it that she was acting nervously – like me?

It is true, however, that travellers do constantly try to smuggle things into the country or onto ships that we don’t really think of as smuggling.  Maybe it is something small and innocuous but means something to us whether it is a food stuff or a plant.  I came across this really interesting article by Donald Payseur

“I had a passenger one time on a flight coming back from Treasure Cay Bahamas back to the United States. We had Departed Treasure Cay and our short flight to Fort Pierce Florida to clear Customs was only about a 30-minute flight in the Mitsubishi MU-2 that we were flying.

Before the flight, I briefed our 5 passengers on the things that could not be brought back to the United States. That is any illegal drugs, or any medicine prescription or not that was bought in the Bahamas. For instance some medicine such as aspirin which are made in different countries like Israel or Eastern Europe are not sold in the United States. So if you buy the aspirins in another country and try to bring them in, if found they will be confiscated and you will possibly be fined. Other items are an excess amount of cash, excess amount of Duty Free materials such as liquor, beer, jewelry, unprepared meats or Foods such as raw hamburger meat, etcetera and plant or vegetation of any kind.

So we landed in Fort Pierce and taxied up to the customs ramp. I had everybody’s passport in hand along with the entry form all filled out nicely packed for The Examiner to identify and question and clear my passengers.

One of my passengers started getting nauseous, sweat breaking out, fidgety and generally nervous. A supervisor behind a one-way mirror came out tapped her on the shoulder told her to bring her bags and come with her. She did I went also because I was in charge of the flight.

The Customs officer brought her and her luggage into a private room with a camera into corners of the room took her handcuffs out and put the handcuffs on the table, put them squarely in front of her and said.

“ I’m going to ask you one damn time. Do you have anything to declare?”

At that time, my passenger broke down sobbing and said that she had some hibiscus plants stuffed into her suitcase.

Immediately the suitcase then came open the plants were confiscated and I was asked to go with another officer to have the aircraft searched.

Out come 2 or 3 service dogs to search for drugs, and any other contraband. After taking three or four panels off of the airplane searching for drugs and contraband and then leaving those panels off for me to have to bring a certified mechanic to come back and put the airplane back together.

Then the customs officer read me the Riot Act for not doing a better job of briefing and pre-screening my passengers.

Luckily no fine was assessed, only about four hours of pure Agony and scrutiny to get the airplane cleared and the passengers cleared and put back on the plane.

All for one selfish act of stupidity.

Had my passenger not told the truth. The consequences would have been a lot harsher. She would have been arrested, fined and the plane would have been impounded for a deeper search along with fines to my company.”

Makes you think, hey?

 

 

What not to wear

Knowing what to wear (and therefore what to pack) when you travel the world is really important.  It’s not just about how to dress in more conservative countries, although of course this is important.  I was interested to note on my recent trip to Morocco that tourists visiting there dressed pretty much the same as tourists visiting, say, Mexico or the Caribbean.  It was quite hot and sunny and I saw lots of women in shorts and sundresses.  Morocco is a very tolerant country with a robust tourism industry so I guess they have accepted that sunshine + sand + blue skies = shorts and t-shirts.

However, it is not just about being cultural – it is also important to know what to wear (or not) for the activities you are going to enjoy (or not).  Take camel riding for example. If you include this in your list of activities don’t wear shorts.  Depending on the length of your camel ride (and I have heard of two hour camel rides) you legs will be worn through.

bikini camel ride

Seriously????

Or how about walks through the markets of Asia?  Yup – you might want to ditch those flimsy teensy little sandals.  Go for some solid Sketchers with closed toes or even the hiking boots will do.  Nothing worse than getting “bits” in between your toes.

Fish market

On an African safari leave the red dress at home, girl.  There is a reason khaki was invented.  It is to help you blend into the scenery and so you don’t startle the lions.  And in Barbados, forget about the camouflage gear.  It will be confiscated upon arrival!

Even going through security you should be clever with what you wear.  Jeans with decorative zips – yeah you are going to be pulled over for body search.  Scarves, hats, sunglasses …. why?  Keep it minimal so you can breeze through as quickly as possible and not hold up the lines.  Well…. not too minimal
airport security no clothes

 

 

A bazaar type argument

Shopping in Morocco …. how can I describe it properly.  It’s like a dance.  It’s not an argument although voices are often raised and even tears can come into play.  It’s like a duel and when both players are experienced at their craft it can be a delight to observe.

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However, when you are one of the players (and especially not a very experienced one) it can be intimidating.  But I had done the research and realised that it was a must.  Not only to get a reasonable deal (because really people, the shopkeeper will always win in this haggling process when dealing with me) – but also to preserve the proper decorum and relationship between the seller and the buyer.

So here’s the thing.  You find the shop and you know what you want.  There are very seldom any prices on the products.  You are encouraged to pick up and try and feel the product.  Sniff it.  Try it on.  Whatever.  But don’t ask the price.  No, no, no.  That is not part of this stage of the dance.

shoes in souk

First you have to see the quality of the workmanship.  You have to admire the fabric, the leather, the stitching.  You have to agree with the seller that this is of the highest quality.  In fact so good you have never seen anything like it before.  Don’t worry.  This process will not necessarily mean that you will be paying more than anyone else.  It is a compliment paid to the shopkeeper to show him – before you haggle – that you truly appreciate the fine goods in his shop.

Finally, after having tried it on, exclaimed with joy, taken it off, tried it on again – you ask the question.  How much?

Stage 2 – this is when the price becomes the total focus of your discussion.  We have now left behind the quality of the product.  He tells you how he is making nothing on this.  He is just selling this as a favour to help out the dressmaker/shoemaker/potterymaker.  You say that is too much.  You don’t have that much money on you.  Well then how much do you have?  Then you take 50% off what he asked and say that you will pay him that much.  He looks at you in shock.  His eyes are round and staring.  “Look, look at this beautiful shoe/dress/plate.  I cannot sell it to you for this.  I am giving this away.  No I cannot do that”.

We then start the back and forth – he asks for this – you offer that – he lowers what he is asking – you lower your offering.  Oh my goodness.  I hate this part.  But I have to respect the rules.

rug seller

Eventually you make an offer – he holds out his hand to shake on it.  You take it and you know that you have paid too much.  You just KNOW it.  By the delight in his eyes, by the hand clasped to his heart.  BUT … what the hell.  It is beautiful, it is from Morocco.  It is exotic and it is yours.  Pack it up – take it home – never think again about how much you paid for it.

JUST ENJOY IT.

Deserts and camels

An overnight stop in the Sahara Desert in an exclusive tented camp has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I have sent others to do this trip and they all loved it.  Now it was my time.  Getting there is not that easy – a long drive and then into a four wheel drive and into the desert.  Although it was hot the ever-present desert wind kept things cool and while our guide and cook had a snooze we were too excited to sleep and decided to go exploring.

”Don’t get lost” our guide told us “Algeria is just over the mountains”.

Now walking on sand dunes is not easy – the sand is deceptive and seems to be as hard as concrete and then suddenly gives in when you are least expecting it and you find yourself disappearing ankle deep in sand as soft and fine as talcum powder.  We got the hang of it eventually and went for a long walk on top of the dunes – just miles of nothingness – very peaceful.

As we got back to our tent we noticed the camels.  Oh my goodness.  Here we go.  I was a bit nervous I must admit.  But really – what could go wrong?  They are such patient creatures and we got to know a little more about them from our guide.  They all have names and they travel in “families” not really related but sort of a group.  They don’t like to travel without each other so this was the reason we had 3 camels although just 2 of us were riding.  Our trusty Berber guide was going to lead the camels on foot.  I felt better about that.  I didn’t feel like I wanted to try any trotting or whatever camels might do.

Mmmm I was a bit wrong there – my feisty little camel just wanted to be number 1 and not number 2.  She kept pushing ahead of Peter’s camel in front and every so often did a little trot which freaked me out no end.  Deep into the dunes our guide stopped and got the camels to kneel so we could get off.  He then unpacked a thick woven blanket and we all climbed up to the top of the sand dune so we could watch the sun go down.

This is where we learnt about the camels and their behaviour with a strange conversation with our guide.  He spoke no English, a little Spanish (the Berbers still have strong links in their history to the Spanish) and a little French.  Well – seems like a million years ago since I did French at school in England and my Spanish consisted of Dos cervezos por favor.  Not exactly the best thing to ask over Ramadan.  But he laughed anyway.

We used sign language and the desert sand as a way of communicating.  The Sahara sand is really strange.  It is so fine that you can draw in the sand and the lines remain sharp and easy to read.  He seemed quite young and really liked having his photo taken.  I think he was maybe part of that strange in between land that you often see when you travel to exotic places …. part anchored in ages old tradition and part anchored onto a cell phone.

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Eventually we remounted our camels and rode back to our camp where a dinner had been prepared for us.  Early night because we needed to be up at 5 am to see the sun come up over the sand dunes.

Let me say that I am not a morning person… however …. after being nagged a few times I was out of bed by 5.10 am and out to explore the dunes and see the sun come up.  I was not disappointed.  It was amazing.  The sand dunes took on all different hues and shadows and even though it was a bit cloudy it was delightful.  But wait …. what is that?   A couple of girls in local gear just sitting on top of the adjoining dune.  How strange.

As we finished our viewing they made their way towards us and while we were taking photos they patiently sat down on the top of the dune and emptied out their bags to display their wares making, in effect, a temporary shop.  Scarves, miniature leather camels, carved stones…. all manner of Knick knacks none of which I really needed.  But you know…. you do the touristy thing and support the local industry. Why not?  So while Peter went back to the tent to get money we chatted.  Again we had limited language skills but again the Sahara sands served as our chalk board.  I asked them how old they were and found out one was 14 and the other was 21.  The 14 year old was still at school. Wow she must have got up at 3 am to make this trip to sell a few goods.  So then I told them that I was a grandmother (that involved a complicated family tree in the sand) and said that I knew all about teenagers and we had a good laugh about that.

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By the time Peter came back with some cash we had had a good chat in the sand dunes and I happily bought a lopsided hand made leather camel and an embroidered scarf.  The interaction with these two was worth way more than the trophies I carried away.