a kid protesting against the war in ukraine
Study Hall: Essays On Travel, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

The State of Travel 2022

The news has been so upsetting over the last few days. Russia’s unwarranted aggression and stinging invasion over the borders of the Ukraine is an unspeakable act. As the crippled travel industry continues to pull itself back together, Russia’s act of evil compounds Europe’s economy and future.

green field under white and blue clouds during daytime
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We here at TGC, are committed to showing our support for the Ukraine as we boycott any Russian supported services and products. Further, we would like to point out and show our appreciation for others in the travel industry who are showing solidarity for the Ukraine.

  • Rick Steves Europe has pulled all of their trips that include a Russian port of call.
  • Poland, Great Britain and Czechia are among several nations that have banned all flights from Russia at any of its airports.
  • The Vienna Philharmonic has pulled a Russian virtuoso from its company.
  • The Wanderful Network is currently compiling a list of Ukrainian bloggers so that they can gain following and get their story out to the rest of the world.
  • Delta Airlines has severed its ties with Aeroflat.
  • Major sporting events like the World Cup FIFA organization have cut Russia out of future matches and tournaments.
people in the street protesting against war
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The Ukraine deserves our support and love right now and its neighbors like Poland are trying hard to lend them a hand. TGC wants to help too. We stand with Ukraine and we stand with Europe as the endure Russian invasion. Our plan is to continue to promote travel in Europe and beyond in the hopes that safe travel to Ukraine and the rest of Europe is in our future. Here’s why: our travel dollars support small businesses and local families. We want that to never go away.

What can you do?

Follow bloggers, buy from European small businesses, support companies that show solidarity to Ukraine and its supportive neighbors. Like and appreciate Ukrainian treasures like Easter Egg Art and St. Andrew’s Church. Lastly, most importantly, pray. Pray for Ukraine.

Dateline: Spring 2019 CoronaVirus

Right now, there are so very many articles on how Coronavirus is affecting the travel industry are overwhelming. But, fellow travelers, I will jump in the pool and do my best to report to you the state of travel. Ready?

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The Overall Picture

To really understand the staggering numbers of COVID-19, check out the World-O-Meter Coronavirus Count. While the numbers are self-reporting, it gives you a look at the big picture country by country and state by state.

As for looking at a classic two week vacation now, consider this: most countries, including the U.S. are requiring 2 weeks of quarantine upon arrival. So lets put that together. Two weeks of quarantine upon arrival plus two weeks of limited touring (depending on what’s open and available) then two weeks quarantine upon arrival back in the States. Basically, you’re looking at a six week commitment. Ouch. In other words, yes, you can go to Ireland but do you have the time and will the locals be welcoming?

The State Status

If you do want to get a stamp in your passport, your first stop is the State Department. According to them, most travel advisories are at a level 3 meaning “reconsider travel”. Get that? It does NOT say “no travel”. Check out the full list of State Department Travel Advisories.

Interestingly enough, two countries had a Level 1 advisory meaning “travel as normal” : Macau and Taiwan! Who knew? Similarly, New Zealand, New Caldonia, and Thailand all found themselves with a travel Level 2 “exercise increased caution”.

Regardless of how The State Department feels, you’ll also need to check to see if American passports are allowed at your destination. So, who is welcoming American? Not the Mexicans or Canadians. Our neighbors are so concerned about virus spread that they’ve pretty much closed down their borders. However, tons of islands in the Carribean like Aruba and Barbados as well as countries like Belize are open with screening and/or negative testing results. A few others are Croatia, the UAE, French Polynesia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Sinai tourist area of Egypt. It’s certainly an interesting mix!

No matter where you land, expect required testing (or handing over of results) and temperature checks.

Cruise Crisis

Here’s an easy one- you can’t. Ports of call are not accepting ships so they can’t schedule anything. The American government (along with most others) is literally enforcing no sail ban.The cruise industry has their eyes on the future and is working on booking the 2021 season. River cruising seems to be taking the lead in this race as booking have almost doubled. Perhaps consumers feel comfortable with a small, floating home base.

It’s All Up In The Air

Since March, the airline industry has probably shown the most ebb and flow. From sanitizing aircraft to reducing the flight load, airlines have been experimenting with what is going to work.

For example, most airlines are doing away with the empty middle seat policy with Southwest looking to bow out on September 30th. And while airplanes have never sparked so much, I still recommend bringing your own wipes to wipe down your immediate area.

With shrunk down fight loads comes unexpected delays and lots of rescheduling. With airlines working with a fraction of the normal schedule, domestic planes seem packed to the brim as travelers look for options closer to home. Meanwhile, international flights seem to have plenty of room due to the aforementioned government restrictions. For more on individual airlines check out this Travel and Leisure Coronavirus Airline Update.

With so much chaos, some travelers are looking at out of the box options like JSX Hop On Charters which lets you tag on to a private charter for a reasonable cost at the last minute. A very cool option.

Predicting The Future

So, with everything topsy-turvey, what’s a traveler supposed to expect? My reliable Magic Eight Ball is ready to wow you with scientific precision. Here are my five travel predictions as we climb out of the Coronavirus abyss.

  • National Parks Will Be Packed! Travel junkies are going to get out somehow and the park system is waiting. In fact, the National Park System has not seen the drastic drop in numbers that most other areas of the industry have dealt with. Expect prices to stay at retail and reservations to be at a premium.
  • Cleanliness will be important currency. Expect marketing campaigns to let you know that they value cleanliness more than anything. Airplanes will continue to sparkle and hotel rooms will be break the seal ready for your arrival.
  • Slow travel is king. The days of 21 European countries in 10 days are gone. Instead, look for trends that drop you in a singular destination for an extended amount of time. Slow travel also seems to benefit the environment by cutting into that carbon footprint just a bit.
  • River cruising will continue to power over ocean liners. River cruising is already feeling the love and that will continue. Huge ocean craft have gotten a bad rap lately while little known river long boats are just starting to find their place. The smaller boats have a cozier feel and are more welcome in ports like Amsterdam and Venice.
  • The age of the American road trip is back. With a feel of semi-isolation, road tripping is a comfort zone for many. In fact, RV sales are up and people are on the road already. As Americans continue to dip theirs toes back in the travel pool, road trips will, at a minimum, be the first step back to their travel mojo.

Dateline January 2019: Paris Riots

My sister-in-law and I were recently chatting about her upcoming trip to Europe. They are excited to spend some time in London and Paris. A great idea to enjoy in January to my mind! She, however, is now a bit concerned with the Paris leg of her trip due to the recent events that have shut down icons such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. A very real concern for any traveler.

So what do you do when your perfect plans are flung into the chaos of current events? Well, first thing’s first: check on your travel insurance options. Does the inconvenient payment you made when you booked cover a refund? Probably not however it is possible that it could cover a reservation change. Additionally, if you used travel services through your credit card, like American Express, check in with them to see if their services can assist you in any changes you need to make.

Pivot

Many times, however, we are locked into our plans because of time and money. So, how do you make the most of what you do have? It’s time to think out of the box. Can’t get to Rome? Swing on down to Sorrento. Athens is all caught up at Syntagma Square? Hydrofoil to Hydra. Paris in Protests? Check out stunning Strasbourg or romantic Reimes. A quick shift to a second city like this allows you to keep on track, enjoy, but stay clear of whatever issues are going on.

Clever and careful planning will always be the cornerstone to good travel but just as important is the ability to be resilient and keep our eye on the prize: good, educational travel experience. For now, I hope that the people of Paris can work out their differences and my sister-in-law gets to enjoy a little shopping on the Champs Elysees.

When things change during your planning or while you're traveling, what are your options?
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Notes on Planning and Packing

Europe 101: The Great River Cruise

We did it! We took an amazing Viking Cruise down the Moselle and Rhine rivers! It was all the things that you hope a river cruise will be. It was also the height of the first travel season during a pandemic. In fact, it was the very first cruise out of the gate for Viking since the initial Covid shut down. With only 67 passengers on board a longboat that normally accommodates about 180, our experience both on and off the ship were quite altered from cruises past. I’m here to give you the 411 on exactly what to expect and how to use your time wisely.

Before and After

Reality checks all conclude that cruising has drastically changed since that crazy little thing called COVID landed on our doorsteps. In fact, it made us wonder if travelling at all would be worth it? How could we be sure that cruising would even be a safe choice? We finally settled on this particular cruise because we felt that Viking had pulled together a plan we could count on. So, what did Viking do differently? Well, they laid it out beautifully here in this video from Spring 2021.

Getting Onboard

River cruise lines are very pared down compared to their ocean loving big sisters. In fact, I highly suggest that you acquaint yourself with a river cruise ship because there are a ton of amenities you will not find. You won’t find a pool deck. There’s no casino. These ships often do not have a centerpiece lobby. There aren’t a ton of dining options and you’re not likely to find a rave in the ship’s disco. There are no stage productions and there’s no all day buffet. What there is, though, is plenty of touring and a simple, efficient way to get around.

To Tour or Not To Tour?

Probably Viking’s biggest barrier to getting back to the job at hand was their tour schedule. Normally, river cruise itineraries have more than enough options at each port to please just about everybody on board. From wine tastings to hiking, Viking had the ability to cover it all – pre-pandemic. With that said, the pandemic choices were severely limited and needed to be cleared by local authorities every step of the way.

At first, we were under the impression that if we wanted to leave the ship, there was only one choice: go on the tour. With most ports offering one or two tour options, we were a little nervous that we would be stuck on a bus or following a red tour paddle all day. It turns out that most local officials were extremely nervous about passengers importing more Corona Virus. The negotiated agreement was to limit visitors to the historic downtown areas.

The good news for us is that we had an included tour at every port along the way. The better news is that we didn’t need to go on any of them. So, sleeping in was an option but small tours were too.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Viking prides itself on its food and beverage selections like most cruise ships do. With one main dining room and a terrace, Viking certainly delivered for each and every meal. We enjoyed a standard menu available each day combined with chef’s specials that spanned the regions we were sailing through. We enjoyed delicate French concoctions and sturdy German dishes including a Bavarian themed night with all kinds pretzels and mustards to please the palate. I have to say, however, that Viking tends to cater to a retired crowd and many of the standard choices were not my cup of tea. I stuck to the chef’s special each day.

The Sleepy Moselle

Our trip itinerary started in Paris where we spent a few days enjoying the city. We met our ship in Trier along the lovely Moselle River. There, we got comfortable for 7 days of vineyards, small riverside villages, towering castles, historical architecture, and river locks- lots of river locks!

Here’s a time lapse video of our very first lock. It takes about 20 minutes in real time.
Our first lock. You can see the river level where we started on the wall behind us.
Part two of the lock.

For reference sake, we happened to be on these two rivers just after massive rainfall had devastated the area just North of our route. The river was high and fast and the banks were certainly flooded. While the water was certainly a sight, it was the iconic hillside vineyards. Steep rows of vines bask in the sunshine and thrive throughout the river valley making it the scenic stretch of river you hope for.

The Mighty Rhine River

As the principal trade route to the inner European populations, the Rhine is as strategic as it is scenic. Romantic looking castles dot the vineyard covered hills looking over the waters they once protected or tormented… depending on who you were! Plenty of lovely riverside towns dot the banks and offer a glimpse into the traditional Germany so many come to think of. Our cruise highlighted the following:

The roaring Rhine was particularly fast throughout our cruise including this highlight stretch of castles.

Trier: Romans and Vineyards

A true seat of Christianity, the Romans settled here and left things for the Germans to run after a couple of centuries. Here, vineyards thrive and the seats of regional popes remain.

Cochem: Half Timbered Charm

With a large castle perched overhead, the little riverside town of Cochem is perfect for a mid afternoon walk to enjoy the ambiance. Take in the baker who has fresh goods to offer. Sit in the cafe and order something hard to pronounce. Stroll past the fountain in the town center and pop in to the general goods store to see what the locals are up to. Our ship stayed just long enough to tour the castle and enjoy the town for a few hours.

Koblenz: The Deutches Eck

Situated where the Moselle and Rhine converge, Koblenz is a work-a-day city that wear’s it’s German pride well as it hosts King William at the water’s edge. The lovely church just steps away from King Bill is a surprisingly pretty stop and there are plenty of eateries to choose from. Although, your ship will most likely be the easiest choice as cruise lines time things to ensure you enjoy your midday meal onboard.

Mainz: Local Markets and Guttenberg

The big story here is the book business. Home to print press inventor Johanes Guttenburg, the town hosts a comprehensive museum but also offers a lovely town square with fresh markets and plenty of outdoor cafes. The better story around town are the smaller churches which burst with historic architecture. While the grand cathedral is hard to miss, it’s not all that memorable. But, just around the corner, smaller parish churches come to life with baroque and rococo brilliance.

Speyer: Biergartens and Basilicas

Speyer offered quite a few points of interest including the large romanesque cathedral with a very large crypt worth investigating. Additionally, the Judenhof or Jewish quarter has a succinct story to share with interesting baths to explain more about this branch of orthodoxy. However, my favorite part of little Speyer was the wide open work-a-day main street full of bustling stores and cafes. We particularly loved the home goods stores with gadgets and heavy pans that we wished we could ship home! Time here can wind down in the little amusement area in the park where the local beirgarten sits. Perfection.

Strasbourg: Our Favorite Stop

I’m going to just say this: out of all the ports our river cruise stopped at, it was Stasbourg that blew us away. It’s imposing grand cathedral with bells that tolled on and on. It’s half timbered, canal laced charm couldn’t have been more perfect an experience. The food and wine were just sublime and our stay was just too short!!! Can you tell we have plans to return? Our favorite moments included mass, the canal boats (get your tickets ahead of time!), and shopping for the unique French pottery exclusive to this area. In all reality, 3 days would be plenty of time to spend here. We did not get enough time to enjoy the whole thing.

brown and white concrete building near body of water
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Basel

Out of all the Swiss cities to see, Basal is best used for a transfer point to much better options to the south. As our river cruise came to an end and transferred us to Zurich. I couldn’t help but realize in hindsight that we should have taken the train right to Bern for the day then use the ever efficient trains to zip right to Zurich and our hotel.

top view of library with red stairs
Intro To Travel Lit, Travel With Alex: Europe 101, Travel With Terri: USA 101

Travel U: Libraries That Inspire

Admit it, you haven’t thought about it in a long time. It’s been hectic and there was just no way to fit it into your all too busy schedule. Then, the whole Corona Virus thing brought everything to a standstill. Between dance class and self-quarantine, there is just no room in your schedule for yet another activity anyway. I know, I know! Me too! But the reality is that your local library offers so much more than just a good book selection. There are so many more activities and opportunities at community libraries than we even realize! So, in order to support all those hard working, book loving librarians out there during National Love Your Librarian Month, here is my best pitch to get you in those doors! Let’s travel to the library!

via GIPHY

I recently looked at the August schedule for our local library and I was so impressed with the amazing array of events and activities that they are offering. There was everything from science to tax prep. I even saw YOGA! I don’t know about you but yoga may have been my favorite thing on the schedule! Yoga at the library! Seriously?! Absolutely. Libraries are so much more than the books that they keep. Monthly book clubs for adults and weekly story times for kids of all types and ages are just the start of how innovative this underused resource is.

There’s more….

Lots of libraries are involved with programs that incorporate and support STEM initiatives. They provide spaces for people to gather for all kinds of community interests and there is ALWAYS a reading incentive program. (That’s right, they are not just in the summer!) Looking for a class on sign language for babies? Check. How about a veteran’s book group? Yup. Like gardening? Yep, they meet once a month too! The library even offers a class called Pizza and Picasso! I’m in!

Two great resources for getting your kids ready to go to the library are “Between The Lions” (younger) and “Reading Rainbow” (older)- both products of PBS and both available in some way through YouTube. Together, they do a wonderful job of making the library exciting and interesting.

Library Lowdown

As for the global citizen, let me direct you right to the non-fiction stacks. The section you are looking for is all the way at the end. According to Mr. Dewey, you can travel the world in the 900’s. Specifically, section 910 is full of travel and geography. (Did you see my last post on maps?) and just next door in section 914, you will find a bit more about genealogy. That’s right! There is no better place to get started then at the library! Now, hop right on over to fiction and pick up a great European mystery or a Tokyo love story. So, c’mon! What are you waiting for?! Make the time and visit your local library now. Better yet! Make one of these fascinating libraries a bucket list stop on your next travel adventure:

New York Public Library

Located on iconic 5th Avenue, there is no better library in the world, hands down. Check out events and storytimes here.

The London Library

Located in historic St. James’ Square, check out the amazing collection and seriously good events on their calendar here.

The Chicago Library: The Harold Washington Library Center

Located on State Street, check out all of the cool STEM activities that are offered here.

The Central Branch Library of Kansas City

Located in downtown on 10th Street, the library is worth the visit just to see the outside. Check out their events here.

So, let’s travel to the library and discover a new place to find adventures right in your own neighborhood. The library can take you anywhere! Like this and want to see more? Join us at TGC!