Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 403rd issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Here are a few of the items that have been making news in travel.

Gentoo penguin — Paradise Harbor, Antarctica. Photo by Debi Shank

In cities around Nicaragua, be wary of anyone, even a woman, offering to share a cab or help you find one. Robberies and physical assaults in taxis are increasing, particularly around the international airport. Victims in taxis have been forced at knife-point to withdraw money from their accounts at ATMs.

The US Embassy recommends using only officially registered taxicabs (with red plates) or radio-dispatched taxis, which can be found at the airport and larger hotels. The driver’s name, photo and ID number should be on the dashboard. Note the color and number of the vehicle. Should there be a robbery attempt, do not resist.

Residential break-ins and muggings (such as around bus terminals) are increasing as well. Use hotels with a fenced perimeter and a front desk staffed 24 hours a day. Be aware of pickpockets on public transport. Do not travel on buses after dark. When driving and stopped in traffic, keep the windows up.

The sale of alcohol is banned in Gujarat, India, but at least 122 people, mostly people living in slums, died in that state in early July after drinking toxic bootleg liquor. Chemicals and pesticides often are added to home brews to boost their strength.

In 2008, more than 150 people died in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu after drinking from a bad batch. Authorities arrested more than 800 bootleggers in a recent crackdown.

The EU country with the highest percentage of smokers is Greece, where on July 1 a bill went into effect, six months ahead of schedule, banning smoking in indoor public places, including cafés, bars and workplaces, and even on public transport, including taxis, trains and ships. Restaurants are allowed to have separate smoking and nonsmoking rooms, with ventilation.

In this third attempt at banning smoking in Greece, club owners face stiff fines for violations.

Of the 27 EU countries, all currently have smoking bans in pubs and restaurants and public spaces; however, Denmark and Germany are reviewing their bans, which are controversial and poorly enforced. The EU is proposing making smoking illegal in all public places in all EU countries by 2012.

The website shows the status of smoking bans in every country in the world that has a policy on the subject.

An outbreak of norovirus cut short a 10-day cruise of Britain aboard the Marco Polo, owned by Global Maritime and under charter to Transocean Tours. (The ship sailed for Orient Lines from 1993 to 2008.)

On July 6, two days after embarking from Tilbury, Essex (20 miles from London), the ship arrived at Invergordon, Scotland, with about 75 passengers and crew having taken ill with vomiting. Port health officials authorized nonaffected passengers to go sightseeing.

The ship was then detained in port until July 9, during which time 120 of the 750 passengers opted to head home on a chartered train. The rest stayed on board to return to Tilbury after only seven days. Ultimately, about 400 passengers and crew had become ill.

In a goodwill gesture, Transocean Tours is giving all passengers full refunds plus the money they spent on alcohol on board plus a 50% discount on a future cruise.

In Rome, the 149-year-old Ristorante Passetto, near Piazza Navona, was shut down temporarily in late June after a Japanese couple filed a fraud complaint with police.

For a meal of pasta, lobster, oysters, sea bass, porcini mushrooms, gelato and wine (€100 Sauvignon), they had been presented a bill for €579.50 plus a €115.50 tip, totaling €695 (near $975). Prices on their receipt were vastly different than those on the menu, which the couple had not been shown.

It was health inspectors who closed the place, citing hygiene violations.

When the news broke, another Japanese couple said they had been forced to pay €352 at the same restaurant. A friendly waiter had encouraged them to enter, showing them the dishes and fresh fish… but not the menu.

The take-away message here — ask to see a menu before ordering.

In Italy, menu items will be priced by item or sometimes by weight. The menu also may indicate “servizio incluso” (10%-15%) or “coperto” (cover charge, usually €1-€5) or in a tourist haunt perhaps both. Beyond that, tipping is not expected, though any tip given (round the bill up, perhaps) should be in cash and handed to the waiter.

Note: if you pay with a credit card, you can contest any fraudulent charges.

One of India’s main tiger parks, Panna National Park, no longer has any tigers, following the fate of Sariska Tiger Reserve, a special wildlife census found recently. A hundred years ago there were 40,000 royal Bengal tigers in India. Now there are 1,400-plus.

Habitat has been set aside as national parks (including Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench tiger reserves) and tiger hunting is illegal, but poaching continues and corruption is a factor. Tiger bones, claws and skin are in demand in the Far East.

The Israeli transport ministry decided that, as of August, road signs no longer will show the English and Arabic names for cities and towns, just the Hebrew names.

Jerusalem (English), or Al-Quds (Arabic), will appear only as Yerushalaim (Hebrew). Likewise, Nazareth, or Al-Nasra, is Natzra.

The US requires that passports of people from countries on the Visa Waiver Program (France, Germany, etc.) each contain a radio frequency ID chip with biometric information. Since the RFID chip cannot be installed by border police at the airport on a last-minute basis, “emergency passports” can no longer be issued in a matter of days.

Visitors wishing to enter the US whose passports have been lost or stolen now have to go through the normal, lengthier process of getting replacement passports.

An alert subscriber called ITN in July to report what did, indeed, turn out to be a scam involving her subscription.

Know this. No one from ITN or the company handling our subscriptions (System Design, Inc., in Sacramento, California) will ever call you to say that your subscription is expiring soon and you should send money in order to renew.

If there is a problem with your subscription, someone from System Design or ITN may call to straighten things out, but you will only ever write to ITN Subscriptions, P.O. Box 189490, Sacramento, CA 95818, or phone System Design at 800/486-4968 or contact someone at our offices: ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818; phone 916/457-3643.

If you receive a phone call from anyone else claiming to handle subscriptions for ITN and suggesting you send money to any other address, write down their name and address and call ITN immediately, as the above-mentioned subscriber did. If they request you renew by credit card over the phone, ask for their name and phone number and say you will call them back, then inform ITN at 916/457-3643 so we may follow up with the authorities.

Do not provide payment to anyone except at the phone numbers and addresses shown above.

Many magazines are having this problem.

Linda Cates of Nelson, New Hampshire, wrote to ITN, “When our son, Will, was young, he loved penguins. He had stuffed-animal penguins, made Lego penguins and read books about them. I always told him that one day we would go see penguins, and in 1996, when he was 13, we traveled to Antarctica.

Aboard ship, as we were crossing the Drake Passage, everyone was asking each other, “Will this be your seventh continent?” I thought about it and, yes, it would be the seventh continent for my husband, Tom, and me. Then Will asked, “What about me?”

Tom and I started thinking. Will was born in London in 1983 and came home to the US later that year. We all moved to Bahrain in 1990, visited Egypt in 1991 and Hong Kong and China in 1993, then spent a month in Australia in 1995. We had just been in Chile and Argentina on our way to board the ship, so, yes, this would be Will’s seventh continent, as well.

As we were getting ready to go ashore in Antarctica, a guide asked for a show of hands of those for whom it would be the seventh continent. One of the passengers who raised her hand was a quite elderly woman who was very spunky and had gone ashore on all our previous island landings.

When she saw Will’s hand go up in response to the question, she chuckled and said, “It’s just not fair.”

Linda sent in applications and a check for three ITN Traveled to All the Continents awards. And, now 26, Will Murray continues to travel, having visited his 39th country (the Netherlands) in summer ’08.

Send a traveling friend of yours a free sample copy of the next issue. Write to ITN or e-mail — DT