Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 371st issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

In Kiev, Ukraine, racially motivated attacks by skinheads have increased, the U.S. Embassy stated in November. These have been occurring mostly against people of Asian, African or other non-European descent, without provocation, in downtown areas frequented by tourists.

In fact, people of color have been the victims of harrassment by both locals and police, who stop them on the street for no legitimate reason.

In Madrid, Spain, a new squad of tourist police has been formed. In addition to offering visitor information, officers will assist crime victims in filling out police reports, canceling credit cards and contacting consular officials as well as family members. The unit can be reached through the emergency phone number 112.

In Naples, Italy, police are being increased by 50% and a new unit of 150 officers is being introduced to patrol tourist areas, following an upsurge in crime. More officers will work on motorcycles, giving them greater maneuverability in heavy traffic.

And just so you know, in Rome and Turin lately, hundreds of trains have been delayed for 30 minutes or more due to the thefts of miles of copper wire running along the tracks.

The wire, which carries information for signaling equipment and safety devices, is attractive to thieves because the price of copper has tripled in the past three years. Police have arrested dozens of people allegedly involved and recently seized a number of sea containers filled with stolen copper coils ready to be shipped to China.

Jeanine Healey of Naples, Florida, read the item in my October ’06 column about the contents of the “ideal travel wallet” and wrote, “Please stop perpetuating the myth advanced by American Express regarding taking travelers’ checks. They are virtually obsolete. Many places in Europe will not let you cash them in for local currency.

“When people ask me, a seasoned traveler, I tell them that the ideal travel wallet has a Visa card or MasterCard, a passport, health cards (note: your Medicare card has your Social Security number), an ATM card (best exchange rate) plus a small amount of cash. That’s all!”

Gene Schwandt of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, sent in a Nov. 2 clipping from the Wall Street Journal. It related that in Madagascar and, according to other accounts, in the Republic of Congo, Indonesia and certain establishments in Moscow, Russia, old U.S. bills from the 1996 series, signed by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, and the 2001 series, signed by Paul H. O’Neill, are not thought to be worth as much as bills from the new 2003 series signed by Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. An old 100-dollar bill might be considered to be worth only $90 or even less.

Of course, travelers have long known that currency that is torn, marked or otherwise damaged often is rejected by establishments overseas.

In his cover letter, Schwandt wrote, “It’s still best to use ATMs and get local currency. If we have a surplus, we pay for our hotel, etc., with all the local money we have and put the rest on the credit card.”

An ITN reader arrived at the Howard Johnson Grand Plaza Hotel in Bucharest, Romania, one evening last April and, rather than exchange money and run down the street to buy water, she used the bottled water in her room.

When she settled her bill, she was surprised to learn that the liter of water had cost $9. She suggests others not make the same mistake.

ITN wrote to the company whose tour she was on. In their reply it was pointed out that “the in-room menu. . .
specified mini-bar charges.”

Another subscriber stayed at a 4-star hotel in Rome in May ’06 and wrote to ITN, “On the first night in the hotel I could not get the television to work at all and the mini-bar would not cool. I reported this to the desk clerk on leaving the hotel the next morning.

“Upon returning that evening I found that neither the television nor the mini-bar had been repaired. My wife walked down to reception and requested that the clerk send someone up to remedy these problems. The clerk replied that no one was then available to do this. My wife then requested that the television be changed out, but the clerk said this could not be done because all of the rooms were occupied.”

ITN wrote to the hotel and did not get a reply, but let’s assume that, for both the TV and mini-bar, a repairman — or two repairmen — could not be summoned on such short notice. If you were the hotel guest, what would you have done or said next, if anything? What could the hotel representatives have done or what should they have said next, if anything?

Any opinion you proffer will be of interest to other travelers. Share your wisdom or your two cents. Write to Hotel Room Woes, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail

Selma Lloyd of Glendale, California, took the “Amazon Jungle Cruise,” Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2006, with Explorations, Inc. (which she found in ITN’s MART classifieds). She wrote, “I stayed mostly on the boat, as I was too old to climb the muddy hills and go through the jungle. I did climb down and go through one village, which I will never forget.

“These people all wanted to know how old I was. When I told them ‘92,’ they couldn’t believe it. (Neither can I.)”

Selma sent in the names and addresses of fellow passengers who each would like a sample copy of ITN. They’ll each be sent the next-printed issue, of course.

Selma added, “I will always need the ITN magazine.”

And the world will always need people like Selma.— David Tykol, Editor