Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spots Have Opened Up on Pauline Frommer's October Tour to Taiwan!

You know what they say about best laid plans....

We purposefully decided to limit the number of guests on my upcoming tour of Taiwan to 15 or less. But I just learned 15 minutes ago that a member of the tour has fallen ill. So he, and the three family members he was supposed to travel with, have had to cancel. Which means there's now room for you, dear reader to join me on what should be the adventure of a lifetime.

A few details:

1) The tour departs on October 4 and is 10 days long. We chose to travel in early October as it means we'll be in Taiwan over National Day, one of their most important and festive national holidays. It should be a wonderful time to be in Taiwan.

2) The tour is being administered by Pacific Delight Tours (800/221-7179 or http://www.pacificdelighttours.com/wor-taiwan), who will supply expert local guides, though I'll be hosting, which means I'll be adding commentary, bringing in special guests and have picked some of my favorite restaurants for us to dine in.

3) We'll be seeing all of the highlights of this fascinating country from beautiful Taroko Gorge National Park to Longshan Temple to the wood-carving village of Sanyl. And of course we'll be visitng the Palace Museum which holds the top treasures from mainland China's Forbidden City (brought here by Chiang Kai Shek).


The cost of the tour is $3499 with airfare to Taiwan (less if you'd like to supply your own air transport, using miles perhaps).

Taiwan is a truly special place, with a fascinating history, unusually friendly people and widely varied sights from the second tallest building in the world to bustling night markets (we'll eat at one!) to places of great natural beauty. There's a reason the Portuguese named this Ilha Formosa (or beautifual island)!

We expect to fill the vacancies by Friday so call ASAP if you're interested.
And to see some videos I made on the wonders of Taiwan, please go to www.wor710.com/taiwan

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More on Taiwan


“Bu yao!”

An ugly Mandarin phrase, it translates roughly to “I don’t want it” or “go away”.  And like most visitors to mainland China, I learned it on my first visit there and had to use it often on that visit, and subsequent ones, simply to walk from place to place though the aggressive trinket sellers who dog tourist’s steps in the People’s Republic of China.

But in Taiwan, where I was mid-February? “Xie xie” (thank you) passed my lips the most, followed by “hen hao chi” (that was delicious!). I had no need, ever, to ask for space, or sidestep persistent street vendors, or wonder why I was being summarily shoved to the side on crowded sidewalks or in front of elevator doors. Instead I found myself relaxing as we went from place to place. I felt safe and welcomed.

Taiwan is most definitely a kinder, gentler China.

Of course, no-one travels to a place just because the people smile at you in the loving way your grandmother once did (they really do!). But because this island nation offers such an intriguing mixture of classic Chinese culture, lush natural beauty and quirky Taiwanese history, the caring greeting visitors get becomes the cherry on top of the sundae—or in this case, that zesty bit of scallion atop the pillowy dumpling.

And with that metaphor, let’s start with the foods of Taiwan, which are travel-worthy in and of themselves. The island’s cuisine has a crazy quilt of culinary influences; it boasts 17 indigenous tribes, early settlers from southern China, Chinese Civil War refugees from across mainland China and a heritage of Japanese gastronomy left over from the half-century Japanese occupation of the island. That means that each meal can be totally different from the next…and yet still authentically Taiwanese.

To give some specifics, one evening I dined outdoors at a night market, inhaling a creamy oyster omelet smothered in sesame sauce and thickened with tapioca (for about $2); for dessert, it was a wispy mochi ball (50 cents) stuffed with bean paste, far more delicate than those you get in Japan. The next night brought excellent Shanghai-style soup dumpling at the famous Din Tai Fung (about $3, Taipei is where the multinational chain began and where its best outlets are).

Even the foods that scared the pants off me turned out to be swoony: at another night market I had a $1.50 bowl of pork liver soup, and though it obviously wasn’t kosher, it tasted like two great Jewish classics melded blissfully together: matzoh ball soup, with chopped liver replacing the matzoh ball.

The sites of Taiwan are equally as delish. Taipei is home, after all, to the Palace Museum, which holds all the top treasures from Beijing’s Forbidden City, spirited away by Chiang Kai-Shek’s troops at the close of the Chinese Civil War. A collection spanning some 5000 years, it ranges from austere Ming vases to objects that might be at home in the most high falutin’ of carnival sideshows, like an olive pit carved into an exquisite replica of a boat, complete with 8 rowers and doors that can open and shut to this day (you peer at it, and the other wondrous miniatures of the collection, through magnifying glasses set in the cases).

Nearby is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, an impressive shrine to the now-controversial leader, featuring a precision, high kicking changing of the guards on the hour that would impress the Rockettes. That display takes place in front of a massive, seated statue of the former president, a dead ringer for Washington DC’s Lincoln Monument.  And for high tech sights, Taipei boasts the second tallest skyscraper in the world, created in the shape of a bamboo plant and featuring the fastest elevator anywhere (according to the Guiness Book of World records; my still popping ears will also attest to its speed).

Taiwan was nicknamed “Ilha Formosa” (beautiful island) by the Portuguese, and you’ll see why when you head out of the cities. Dotted with pristine national parks and sweeping beaches, its mountains so green they’d make Kermit blush, it’s one unusually pretty island. The government, playing on its strengths, has recently created a nationwide system of bike paths, meaning one can now pedal by the thousand-foot marble-sided gorges of Taroko National Park or to the exotic, Salvador Dali-esque rock formations of Nanya.

But it was the temples of Taiwan that caught my heart. Here in Taiwan, worship is calisthenic in its intensity, widely varied and tangibly joyful. Unlike on mainland China, where the Cultural Revolution led to the destruction of many temples and habits of ritual, here people have practiced their religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and a myriad of animist religions associated with the island’s indigenous groups) undisturbed for centuries. Visitors are warmly welcomed at the temples and even aided if they decide to ask the Gods for an answer to a pressing question, using the temple’s kau cim sticks (you shake a bucket, then randomly pick one and it leads you to a proverb for guidance). Go even if you have no desire to throw out a prayer to one of the thousands of thousands of deities that populate these temples in elaborately carved and painted effigies (often sprouting real hair for beards and head gear). These brilliantly painted houses of worship, with their large urns for incense, turning prayer wheels (in some) and intense devotees are a sight to see, and get to the very marrow of the Taiwanese soul.

I promise, you’ll utter a hearty “xie xie” for having chosen little-visited Taiwan for your next adventure.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Won't You Join Me on an Exciting Trip to Taiwan This Fall?

I usually travel alone or just with my family. But once a year, on behalf of the radio network my father and I work with, I host  a tour somewhere in the world. Last year it was Paris and the French Riviera, the year before that we went to Sicily and before that I took a group to China.
And you know what? It's usually one of my favorite trips of the year.

That's because the listeners to The Travel Show all have something in common: they're avid travelers. Which makes them fascinating to travel with as a group, because they bring such a breadth and depth of experience to whatever we're seeing. The conversations over dinner are fascinating, and members of the group make life-long friendships. (A group of women who traveled on the Sicily trip call themselves the "Sicily Sisters" and have traveled together since, as well as going out periodically for lunch in New York City.

You'll notice that I very carefully write that I'm hosting these tours. That's because being a tour guide is a very specialized skill (one that I don't possess!), and so along with the group, will also be professional, Taiwanese guides. However, I did visit Taiwan just this past February, so I've had a good amount of say in shaping the trip, picking some of my favorite restaurants there for the group to experience, and shaping the sightseeing. I'm also hoping to bring in special guests to talk with the group, and thus make the experience a more culturally rich one.

In preparation for the trip, I created a series of videos so that people can see a bit what Taiwan is like. I hope to soon have them up on Frommers.com. But in the meantime, you can see them at www.wor710.com/taiwan.

On that page, too, is information on the itinerary (October 4, for 10 days); our host company (the well-respected Pacific Delight Tours); and more. If you'd prefer to chat with someone about the trip, call 800/221-7179. Another website for information is: http://www.pacificdelighttours.com/wor-taiwan

One final way to learn more: come and speak with me personally! I'll be at the Broadway in Bryant Park event in New York City, this Thursday from noon-2pm, talking with folks at the Taiwan booth. So please drop by and say Hi!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Etiquette in the Air: The Importance of Manners In Flight


In the hopes of restoring some decorum to air travel I decided to interview “Mister Manners”, Thomas Farley. Farley is the author of “Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces” and helms the website whatmannersmost.com. After an appropriately gracious greeting, I grilled him with the following questions.

Pauline Frommer: Why are manners particularly important when we fly?

Thomas Farley: Manners, at their most basic level, involve kindness, consideration, and following the ‘golden rule’. You’ll feel better if you act well to the people around you because you’ll get that behavior back at you. And that’s especially crucial when you’re in a place as stressful as the airport.

Frommer: I’ve found that power outlets in airports have become hubs of incivility, as people jockey for a place for their plug.

Farley: I’ve noticed that, too—some people camp out and take over four or five outlets to charge their cellphones, their laptops, their IPads, what have you! So don’t be a power glutton. If you see people circling, do some triage with your devices to see which one most needs the juice and share. Even better: arrive at the airport with your devices fully charged so you can be the good guy.

Frommer: But what do you do if you’re one of the people circling the outlet?

Farley: If there are none others free, it’s perfectly acceptable to go up and say, “I’m sorry, but I see you’re using three plugs and my phone is almost dead. Would it be okay if I used just one?” Most people want to be helpful and will comply. And if they’re not, well, you know you’ve been the better person; you’ve been polite.

Frommer: Let’s move to the plane itself. Who gets the armrest?

Farley: The poor person in the middle seat, no question. Each passenger has the right to one, and the person in the middle, who’s squeezed, gets two. If someone feels that strongly about getting two armrests, and you’re sitting in the middle, see if they’ll switch with you for the middle seat. That should change their mind quickly!

Frommer: What’s the etiquette for reclining your seat?

Farley: This is a big one for me, because I’ve got long legs so I’m aware of the pain that can ensue when someone treats their seat as a barcalounger and slams his seat down! Before you recline, take in the size of the person behind you. If it’s a small child, it won’t be a problem. If it’s a 6-foot-tall senior citizen, I’d choose not recline. And if you must recline, do it slowly so that you don’t catch the person off-guard. Don’t do it during meal service, obviously.

Frommer: Should you ask the permission of the person behind you before you recline?

Farley: It’s not common practice but it’s a lovely thing to do. Remember, you might get a “no” if you ask, which will leave you with no options. But if you want to ask permission, you get a gold star from me!

Frommer: What’s your advice on issues involving carry-on luggage?

Farley: Don’t take too much! The overhead bin is designated, usually, for no more than three seats to share. If you’re using it all, you’re taking up too much space. And don’t plop your baggage in the first available bin as you board the plane. That’s very rude. Keep it as close as possible to where you’re sitting. If you’re an able person, help out others who are less able.

Frommer: Any final words of flying wisdom?

Farley: Remember that the flight crews, the people at security, the gate agents are all people, too. They’re dealing with every type of personality, and they’re often not paid well. Let them do their job without giving them attitude, and that way they’ll be able to do their job better and speed you through.

We’re approaching the busiest travel times of the year, and the most harried, as the cancellations increase because of bad weather.  Good manners are the best survival tool a traveler can have in the holiday season.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Spirit Airlines Quietly Ditches Its 800 Number, Domestic Airfares Down to Many Popular Destinations This Summer and More Airline News

What's the difference between 800 and 801? The first is a toll-free call, and the second is an area code in Utah. Which does Spirit Airlines use for its reservations number? The one that has customers footing the bill, of course.

I have to give thanks for that bit of intel to a Florida reader who alerted me the change. (I don't know when it happened). And you have to give chutzpah points to Spirit, the airline that seems to have mastered the art of squeezing every last penny from customers.

Prices down for summer?
In better news, Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal is reporting that airfares to a number of domestic destinations are down, and down steeply, in the coming months. Deepest drop is to and from Chicago; passengers will 18% less than last summer, according to Orbitz. Other cities that have also seen price drops include Honolulu, New York City, Tampa, Denver and Washington, DC. 

When I interviewed McCartney for our radio show, he attributed the declines to an increase in bookings to the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe over the same time period.

Will the fares remain low domestically? That's anybody's guess, so the advice is: book now if you're thinking of flying this summer. A sudden hitch in gas prices, or a late-booking spree, could easily up the fares.

The drinks are on Southwest
And here's a bit of odd-ball news: Southwest Airlines is soon going to owe millions of passengers free cocktails.

The back story: Southwest Airlines used to gift its 'premium ticket' passengers with drink coupons for alcoholic beverages. Problem was, a lot of passengers started photo-copying the vouchers, and so, in 2010, the airline abruptly stopped honoring them. That led to a class action suit against the Southwest (since the vouchers had no expiration date) and just this week the airline settled. Which means it could be on the hook for $29 million dollars worth of beer, wine and high balls. Here's Business Insider's take on the settlement, and how consumers can potentially belly up to the sky bar.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Holiday Inn Pays Guests To Stay At Its Properties....Sort Of

Holiday Inn will be giving a minimum of $25 in gift cards for either gasoline, train discounts or air discounts to those who stay for two-nights between now and June 30th. Stay 3 nights, and the chain will reward you with a $50 gift card, 4 nights nets $75 and if you can bed down for 5 nights, you'll be eligible for a $100 card.

Does that make this a great deal? Not necessarily. Before you spring, do your due diligence and make sure that area hotels of similar quality aren't undercutting HI's rates.

But heck, if you're a loyalty point collector (and you need to be for this program, though joining is free), why not snag a gift card?

To read all the details, go to http://www.ihg.com/holidayinnresorts/hotels/us/en/global/offers/offers/planes-trains-automobiles

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pay Just $110 Per Night for a Lovely, Manhattan Hotel This Spring (No That's Not a Misprint)

Views of the Hudson river (from some rooms), fluffy duvets, larger-than-normal rooms, a primo location, free wifi, a useable gym and a genuinely friendly staff--these are the elements that make the Belleclaire Hotel in NYC a top pick, even during the periods that it's charging $239-and-up for its rooms.

Yes, it's an older property but in this case that's going to work in travelers' favor. To celebrate the hotels 110th anniversary, it will be charging just $110 a night for its rooms for stays between April 19th and Labor Day.

The catch? You have to get old-fashioned and use the phone. But those who call the hotel at 877-468-3522 between the noon on April 19 and midnight on April 20th, mentioning the "Belleclaire birthday promotion" are in for some lovely, and cheap, sleeps.

My advice: Call early in the afternoon on the 19th. I'm guessing this one's going to sell out.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Change Fees Waived by Airlines for Those Flying Into or Out of Boston

This is just a quick blog to point you towards a helpful article by USAToday. In light of yesterday's horrific attack in Boston, all of the major carriers have waived change fees for those scheduled to fly into or out of the city in the next few days. They're doing this not because service is being disrupted--it isn't--but because they know that many people's plans have probably changed.

For full details, please click on the link above.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Buckle Up, It's Going to Be a Bumpy Flight...Literally! The Effects of Pollution on Air Turbulence Plus More Bad Sequester News

I'm sorry that this blog has become a parade of lousy news lately, but here comes some more. Scientists are predicting that as carbon dioxide levels rise, so will air turbulence for transatlantic flights. The bumpiness will have to do with the jet stream moving ever farther north. Scientists, in a study published by the journal Nature Climate Change, are saying that both the frequency of turbulence and its strength will increase significantly in coming years. To read the Associated Press account of the study, please click here.

Those bumps in the, er, road will be coming in the coming years. But the sequester is happening now, and we're starting to see more and more fallout from it. In the latest news, the Navy has announced it will be cancelling Fleet Week this year. So, no well-deserved break for our men and women in dress-white uniforms this year; much less business for restaurants and night spots in those cities that host this yearly event (most notably New York City); and civilians won't have that once-yearly (and pretty thrilling) opportunity to tour working naval vessels. 'Tis a shame.

Apparently, the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron have been forced to cancel all their appearances at air shows in 2013. 

Even worse (arguably) has been the rash of vandalism at Joshua Tree National Park. The Park Service has been forced to close several of the park's most popular hiking trails because vandals have defaced 17 areas of the canyon with graffiti. Most are blaming social media for the increase in vandalism. Apparently, the perpetrators have been posting photos of their hits, spurring others to do the same. But one has to wonder if the decrease in ranger patrols--something that's happening at strapped National Parks around the country--was also a factor.

And that's the news from country woebegone. Hopefully I'll have some happier news for you soon.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lessons to Take Away from Yesterday's Pickpocket-Inspired Shut Down of the Louvre in Paris

Last May, I hosted a tour of France for the listeners to my radio show. We had days of touring together, and days when we set off on our own. On one of the free days, a group within our group headed to Versailles. Though they came back raving about the grounds, and the hall of mirrors, they also had some serious negatives to report about the experience, on two topics: pickpockets and crowds.

The two are, of course, inextricably linked. Where there are crowds, there often are pickpockets. Our group felt they had two close calls at the museum, dealing with men who were obviously tailing them and at one point, shoved a member of the group into another stranger. Thankfully, nothing was taken from that person, but they were shaken up. Constant announcements, by guides, about looking out for pickpockets, also made the experience a less-than-relaxing one.

The problem isn't confined to Versailles. Yesterday, the staff of the Louvre expressed their worries about pickpockets at that institution in a highly European way: they went on strike! Would-be visitors to the Louvre were told that the staff had walked out, forcing the museum to close, an extraordinary turn of events (and  that must have been intensely frustrating for the visitors). A union representative for the staff told the Guardian newspaper that workers were afraid of the organized gangs of thieves in the museum, many of whom used children as distractions (children enter free). Staff members had reportedly been spat upon and insulted when they tried to intervene.

So, a new spotlight on the age-old problem of pickpockets at tourist sites. But it's an issue that Bruce McIndoe, founder of the travel security firm I-Jet, feels has gotten more serious in recent years thanks to worsening economic conditions in Europe.

Obviously, travelers shouldn't skip the Louvre or any of the other crowded-but-important sights of Europe. But they should take precautions. Here are a few suggestions, from McIndoe:
  • Keep your passport, the majority of your cash and other important documents, in a safe at your hotel when you can.
  • When you have to carry a large amount of money, do so either in a money belt or in a wallet that can hang from your neck and tuck under a shirt. Keep a small amount of money in your pocket so you don't have to dig into your hidden stash in public.
  • Men who don't want to wear one of these devices should keep their wallet in their front, not back, pocket. They also are advised to put a thick rubber band around it, which will make the wallet much more difficult to extract from the pocket.
  • If you feel like someone is barging into your personal space, heed the red lights that sets off. Generally pickpockets work in small gangs, with one or two people distracting the victim while another lifts their valuables. So keep a zone of space around yourself when you can, and if you think someone's approaching you for a phony reason, walk away.
  • Be careful about flaunting your cell phone in public. Pickpockets are increasingly grabbing those. 
Travel safe, friends!

By the way, the Louvre re-opened today.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Airline Complaints Soaring

Did your latest flight arrive early? Mine did and that's not necessarily a good thing. As an analysis in USAToday showed, just about two months ago, that airlines are padding their flight times to improve on-time stats.

That means on-time and early arrivals, yes, but also more time spent just sitting on the darn plane. In fact, the paper found that 93% of flights are now longer than they were in 1995. 

Combine that increased time with the fact that planes are flying much fuller than they were a decade ago, and with more seats crammed on to them, to boot,  and what do you get? Complaints. A massive surge in complaints.

According to the Associated Press, complaints are up by a full 20% from a year ago. It's basing its reporting on statistics just released by the Department of Transportation.

An additional source of friction has been the increase in involuntary bumping (with fewer planes in the sky, fewer passengers are volunteering to wait for the next plane when flights are overbooked than in the past. Why? Does so could mean getting to one's destination days rather than hours late).

It's all an ugly brew, and frankly, there's not much to do. But forewarned is forearmed right?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Flying From Abroad into a US Airport? Bring a Book...and Lots of Patience

The sequester's effects have been sneaking up on travelers, slowly but surely.

I've blogged here before about this governmental snafu's potentially devastating effect on our National Parks--their staffing, services and programming.

Happily another travel crisis has been averted...for now. The Department of Transportation has decided to put off shutting down air control towers until June, citing safety concerns. Summer should also be when security lines slow down, due to a hiring freeze at the TSA.

But for those flying  into the country, the ugliness has already set in. According to USA Today, understaffing at customs has slowed down entry into the US to a crawl. New York's JFK has it worst, with passengers waiting up to three hours to get into the US. (Note for travelers: lines are the worst in the morning. From personal experience, I can tell you that they don't seem to be too awful in the evening. We waited just half an hour last week when coming back from Morocco). Miami has also seen 3-hour plus waits, according to the newspaper, while at Los Angeles Airport, officials have held passengers aboard planes for a full hour because the customs area has gotten dangerously crowded. Sadly, Washington Dulles, which just added a third more customs booths (at the cost of $180 million), has seen its wait time increase by half an hour or more, despite the expanded facilities.

Cuts to employee overtime are the reason behind the increased waits.

What a sad welcome for foreign visitors coming to the United States! Heaven knows we can use their tourism dollars. According to the White House, foreign tourists spent $14 billion in the United States in 2012, an increase of 8% from 2011. That translates into tens of thousands of jobs at hotels,  attractions, airports, restaurants and other sorts of facilities that cater to tourists.

Tourism has been a bright spot in an economy that seems to be getting better only in fits and spurts. With the sequester, and its devastating impact on the comfort of our visitors (and on their options, should they be coming to visit our national parks), we could see that increase in visitor numbers evaporate in 2014. The US has a good amount of competitions when it comes to travel.

So what to do? Remind your legislator that you haven't forgotten about the sequester and you realize these inconveniences--some serious ones--are the direct result of their inaction. Travel cuts are just one small part of the impact of the sequester (my heart goes out to all those whose unemployment benefits have been slashed). It's time to kick up a ruckus! Email your Congressperson, email your Senator and tell them we expect them to do their jobs, now, not later!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Freebie Friday: Intercontinental to Offer Free Wifi to All Its Loyalty Program Members

In 2014. The clubs elite members have it already. But hey, it's a step in the right direction.

Along with the Intercontinental Brand, the company owns the following chains: Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites. And yes, free wifi will be available at all at the turn of the year.

For complete info, click here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Quick! A 48-Hour Sale on British Hotel Rooms For High Season Stays

Just a quick post to let you know about a great deal: beds across Britain for just 10 GBP. And those ain't hostel beds. DeVere Venues are all proper, often pretty, hotels scattered across the UK. The sale holds for travel between June 28 and September 9, for those who can book by end of day tomorrow. Need more info? Go to http://www.deverevenues.co.uk/offers.html. But do it quick! Some dates will sell out.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Your Browser History Affecting the Travel Prices You're Shown? A Terrific Article from Veteran Journalist Bill McGee

I'll be interviewing Bill McGee for our radio show tomorrow about a provocative article he posted in USA Today on whether travel deals change based on your browsing history. Though all of the major travel sites have long claimed this idea is sheer paranoia, McGee tested his hypothesis, using different computers in the search for airfares. His conclusion: travel providers are tracking consumer purchases, and raising the prices on those who spend most.

So what does one do with this bit of intel? McGee's advice may be a bit unwieldy for many, but he recommends using more than one browser and even switching computers when possible. Shopping around is also key, he writes, as is using sites that don't respect your privacy. Towards that last point, always make sure the site you're about to use has a privacy policy posted and don't use sites that say your information will be "held", "shared" or "sold".

Alas, McGee (and I) think this situation is about to become worse, thanks to the airline's stated intention to start customizing fares for their passengers (click here for my blog on that). This will require passengers store past travel purchase history with the airlines in order to be eligible for specialized "discounts".

Hey, any of you potential airline customers in the market for a bridge? I have just the one to sell you.