Kolkata taxi drivers. Also, smoking bans in China and Greece.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2011 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 423rd issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Diminutive amphibian. Photo: L.A. Dawson

In Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, authorities are finally doing something about overly aggressive taxi drivers and touts who harass and heckle not only visitors but locals. One hundred “ex-defense personnel” have been recruited to patrol the airport as well as the Howrah and Sealdah railway stations and Alipore Zoological Gardens. The tourist police won’t be able to arrest or penalize anyone, but they can forward cases to city or state police.

In addition, special booths will be placed at tourist attractions such as Victoria Memorial, Kalighat temple, Park Street, Sudder Street and New Market. Anyone who is harassed or requires help can seek out a booth or an officer.

The goal, a state tourism department head said, is for visitors “to carry back a good impression of the city.”

On May 1, the Health Ministry in China enacted new restrictions on smoking in “indoor public places,” such as hotels, restaurants, cafés, bars and beauty salons, though smoking is still allowed in many workplaces, including factories and offices. Smoking in places like theaters, shopping malls and libraries was banned back in 1991.

However, in a country where the state has a monopoly on tobacco production — and where almost 30% of adults smoke, including almost half of all male doctors, and cartons of cigarettes are common as gifts — “No smoking” signs are often ignored and enforcement is missing; penalties remain nonspecific.

The new restrictions are part of a set of regulations for health management in public places, which includes rules on air quality, pest control and the use of disinfectants.

In Greece, about 40% of adults smoke cigarettes, compared to an average of 29% in all of the European Union. In September 2010, for the second time in 14 months, a new law strengthened the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, including rail and bus stations, workplaces, restaurants, nightclubs and even taxis. Smoking already was prohibited in trains, buses and planes.

Bar and restaurant owners who allow smoking can be fined up to €10,000 ($14,085), and smokers who flout the law can be fined up to €500. After five violations by a company, it can be closed.

Enforcement was lax; many restaurant owners complained of losing business, so they brought the ashtrays back, and many taxi drivers persisted in puffing away with fares in tow.

In a crackdown this January, the government added hundreds of inspectors to act like Smoky the Bear and scout out the lawbreakers, only these inspectors may be imposing fines.

Soon after, POESE, the federation representing bar, café and restaurant owners, threatened staging 24-hour strikes (but did not carry through with them). The group’s general secretary, pointing out that the previous year had been rather difficult, stated, “We are not against the ban, but we believe it is a mistake to enforce it at this particular point in time.” He suggested waiting another year before implementing the law.

Smoking IS allowed in airports in Greece in special smoking booths, but, at present, only the Athens International Airport has installed them, and they’re accessible only to some arriving passengers.

Subscribers to ITN are special in many ways (one being that NO other periodical can claim a higher percentage of subscribers with passports: 98.4). Consequently, for a readership of people who spend a lot of time each year out of the country or at different addresses, the company that handles ITN’s subscriptions (800/486-4968) is used to making special concessions.

If you’re a “snowbird,” someone who lives for part of the year in a different, more climate-friendly state, you will be pleased to know that you can arrange to have upcoming issues of ITN sent to whichever address you want during particular months, projecting years ahead.

Another service offered — if you know you’ll be out of the country for a month or two or three and are worried that the post office will not keep your magazines in your “hold” mail, you can arrange to skip the delivery of certain issues and extend your subscription by an equal number of months.

No, your copies can’t be held for you and mailed upon your return. The cost of mailing magazines first class (which now is how individual copies must be sent) is prohibitive. But particular back issues, if available, can be sent for $3.50 each.

The post office states that periodicals will be added to mail put on “vacation hold,” but, in reality, results are mixed.

If you move to a new home and file a “change of address” with the post office but do not inform your magazine distributors about your new address, the post office will forward your magazines to the new address only for 60 days, at which point, if the distributors have not been informed of the new address, the magazines will be returned to them, informing them of the change of address. But, again, this process doesn’t always run like clockwork.

If you move and tell no one of your new address, your magazines will continue to be delivered to the address on the label, regardless of who’s living there.

Always keeping us on our toes, two readers pointed out something they spotted in our March ’11 issue, page 60.

Mary Judge of Rolling Hills Estates, California, wrote to ITN Publisher Armond Noble, “I know this was unintentional, but I was just reading the reader’s letter titled ‘Rented a Car in the UK’ and noticed that it stated, ‘If they offer you an upgrade to a larger vehicle at no extra cost, my advice is not to accept. Some of the prettiest parts of the country have tiny toads, some of them one lane.’

“I just couldn’t resist teasing you and your staff a little. I’m still laughing! Keep up the good work. My husband and I love ITN.”

David Fulk of Overland Park, Kansas, added, “Please, sometime, publish a photo of those tiny toads!”

Barbara Psichos of South Portland, Maine, traveled on the “Opera and Classical Music” program with Road Scholar last fall and returned with the names of 13 tour members each to be sent a sample copy of the next-printed issue of ITN. We were happy to send those out.

Barbara wrote, “There were 19 on the trip, nine of whom were single ladies. We attended productions, performances and concerts in Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig and did sightseeing too. The pace was very good, and we all felt that we saw as much as possible without exhausting ourselves. I have been to many places in the world and this was one of the better trips. (Vietnam was number one. I was there twice, totaling 30-plus days.)”

She added, “I always take an issue or two of ITN on a trip and ask folks if they are interested in receiving a free copy, as it was in Costa Rica that a couple showed me the magazine — and I’ve been hooked ever since. Like many other subscribers, I read each copy from cover to cover and have related to others many facts on current changes that travelers write in about (chip-and-PIN cards, for one example).

“Because ITN is written by serious travelers, there is such a wonderful ‘give and take’ among contributors. I will continue to praise ITN to all I encounter in my travels.

“P.S. I’m even getting into Randy Keck’s poetry.”

Reading that, I called Randy, who writes the “Far Horizons” column, and asked about the “Beyond the Garden Wall” codas with his articles: “What do they all have in common?”

He said, “Each is my reaction to the subject matter or some aspect of that month’s article. It can be a heart feeling or gut feeling or theoretical. Sometimes it’s a question or it leads to a question.

“They’re pretty much instantaneous. When I get to the end of my first draft, I go straight to the ‘Garden Wall’ and it pops right out. Once it’s written, I don’t change it that much.”

He added, “Others have complimented me on the ‘Garden Wall.’ People like to know that, beyond their reporting function, someone has a human side.”

Travel can change people. We do hope that — amidst the hotel rates and sightseeing recommendations — some insight comes across in the pages of ITN.