Travels with Stuart

Going Cruising in SE Asia

We just got back from two glorious weeks in Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico. The weather was beautiful(remember that we left sub-freezing temperatures and lots of snow on the ground in Idaho); the food was delicious (as always!); we had a great time with my brother, his wife, and a friend (including our annual lobster dinner at Maro’s), and then we returned to Boise where most of the snow had melted freeing up the streets and the lawns. Relaxation time, right? Well, not exactly. We have to get our taxes done, do some shopping, and then lots of packing before we head over to SE Asia for two months.

Speaking of Cabo, I’m leading a third annual Los Cabos Highlights Tour next year — June 17-23, 2018 — that I guarantee you WILL enjoy. If you’re not interested, tell your friends because I’ve been going there every year since 2003; I know the people; I know the best places to go — and we’re going there! CLICK HERE to learn about the tour and see how to register.

Get your EARLY Booking Discount when you register by April 1, 2017!



Did I say, “Cruising for two months?”


Yes, We’ll be on four cruises (total of sixty days) on Celebrity MILLENNIUM that I’ll be speaking on as we visit many, many ports in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and mainland China. I’ve been to most of the places before, but these will all be new experiences for my wife. We’ll be going on many ship excursions, but we also have a couple private tours set up for us — the main one is a 3-day tour in Beijing where six of us will be treated to many of the main highlights of this 6,000-year old capital city.
CLICK HERE if you’d like to see the cruise schedule.

I’ve been on the MILLENNIUM several times previously, and the crew and staff are marvelous. The ship’s Master of the Vessel is really fun, and he attends many of the talks and evening shows — he truly cares about everyone who’s on the ship. And Steve, the Cruise Director, and Manuel, the Activity Manager, are awesome folks to work with; they make it so easy for me and all the other speakers and entertainers to put forth our best so the guests have a magnificent time. After all, isn’t that what cruising is all about? Of course it is!!!

I hope you follow along on our two-month set of cruises in SE Asia. I know we’ll enjoy the journey; I hope you do, also.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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To Tip or Not or How Much or Why . . . ?

As I travel to various parts of this wonderful world — whether it’s speaking on cruise ships or just enjoying the beauty of the area — there are activities and customs that can be downright confusing to some. One of those customs has to do with leaving a tip for someone who’s provided a service to you. That service could be the person cleaning your hotel room, serving you a meal, driving you somewhere, making your special morning latte, toting your luggage at the train station. There are lots of services being done every day as people move about in their own city or in some place far away.


One quick story. It was my first business trip to Japan, and I was staying at the Hyatt Hotel near the Shinjuku Station. I’d been given directions on how to use the train from the airport to the train station, so I was all set for getting to the area. Once at the station, I got in a taxi and told him the Hyatt Hotel. We were off in a jiffy, and we made it to the hotel in about six minutes (I didn’t know how close by it was; I walked from then on). As we got to the hotel, a man ran out to the taxi, grabbed my luggage and ushered me into the hotel after I paid the taxi driver. Once inside, the bellman stood by my luggage as I checked in, showed them my passport, etc. With key in hand I head to the elevator as the bellman dutifully and politely followed me. We ride up together, neither of us saying anything, until we reach my floor. Off to the room where he waits for me to invite him in with MY luggage. He brings it in and turns around to leave. I said something and he turned around. I had some money in my hand to give to him and he shook his head “No.” He bowed politely and left.
After I put my clothes away I looked at the hotel check-in form and there it was in bold letters: NO TIPPING. That was certainly different from what I was used to the the USA!

Many customs can cause confusion as there doesn’t always seem be rhyme or reason why “Yes” here, “No” there, “Maybe” or “Sometimes” in other places. As these are customs and not laws, there is no definitive source for what is actually the right thing to do, but Wikipedia does have a nice reference article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuity. You might not want to print the article although you could jot down a few notes based on the countries you’re planning on visiting.

Many people say that you shouldn’t have to tip if the service people are paid “a decent wage.” That sounds good, but that’s not always the case. For some workers, particularly in restaurants, hotels and other customer-focused service industries, their base pay is pathetic, perhaps three dollars an hour with the expectation that they’ll make it up in tips. Our son worked six years in a restaurant where a very significant part of his pay was the tips he received. His experience helped us to be even more generous when we tip; it will be 20% at a minimum in a restaurant unless the service is sub-par.

One of my recent cruise ship speaking experiences was a six-week voyage from New York City through the Panama Canal to Sydney, NSW, Australia — what an awesome experience. It was the last segment of a 3+ month world cruise that sailed round trip from Sydney, so it was mostly Aussies and Kiwis on board. Because the ship was home ported in Australia, it was a requirement that there be no tipping on board. When you bought a drink, your room card was charged the menu price, and the bill was closed out. There wasn’t even an option to add a tip. That was strange for us (so we did personally tip some of the staff), but it was life as usual for the Australians. I came across an article on Cruise Critic about tipping, particularly on cruises, and I thought it was interesting — here it is.

Travel is a wonderful thing; whatever you do, wherever you go — remember there are people working to make a living so that you’re able to enjoy your travels. Even a few dollars from you — such a small amount for you — can make a big difference for the service staff.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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How to be Treated Like a Local when Traveling Internationally

Would you rather be treated like a local or a tourist when you travel abroad? What I am referring to is whether you can get the good bargains, if you’re able to order off the locals’ menu, or be able to greet people in their own language. If you’re going to Canada, the U.K., or to Australia – then it’s not really a problem; they speak English, just with a different accent.

One of the travel secrets that I have found to be very successful when I travel to different places is that I am treated much better when the first words that come out of my mouth are spoken in the local language. There are some countries where the only local phrase I can say is “Thank you.” But that simple gesture generally brings a smile to their face. That alone is worth it, but then I also typically receive excellent service whether I am in a restaurant, a hotel, a taxi – it has never failed.

I was in Paris a few years back on business, and my French host took me to a Japanese restaurant. It was an interesting sight to see all these Japanese waiters chatting with their customers – in French! When our waiter brought us our drinks, my host said “Thank you” in French and the Japanese waiter replied in French. He set my drink down and I said “Thank you very much” in Japanese – that’s about the extent of my Japanese vocabulary. The waiter beamed the biggest smile, nodded to us, said something in Japanese, and we had the best service and attentive waiter all night long.

When you greet someone in their own language, you are telling them that you value and respect them. It also tells them that you have taken the time to learn some of their words and phrases. You are not doing this just to get better service, but because it helps you become a part of their culture even if only for a few days, a week, or a month while you are there. I have also found that while I am learning new words that I am also able to learn a little more about the areas where I am going, so I am much more prepared when I arrive.

Did you know how to say these words and phrases in the local language in your last international travels: thank you; please; good morning; good afternoon; good evening; hello; nice to meet you; do you speak English? Speak slower please; how much is this? Those are just ten of the 25 essential words and phrases you should be able to use when you travel abroad. I admit that I don’t know them all in Chinese and Japanese, but then I don’t go to China or Japan as often as I go to Mexico or to Europe.

Some Americans feel that the locals should be able to speak English as it’s probably the most universal language. That is correct in a sense, but I think it’s a really bad attitude to expect someone to speak your language when you’re in their country. Using a few manners will not only help you, it’s also “the right thing to do.”


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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Ah, to Live Parisian!

Do you have a Bucket List? I do, and one of the items on that list was to spend two months in Paris, France, “living like a Parisian.” I was able to cross this off my list as reflected in an article previously published by JetSet Extra. And while the article wasn’t about me and my time in Paris, it showed common Parisian life as I saw it.

A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.
A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.

The allure of Parisian life has had a strong pull on writers, artists, musicians and many others since the 19th Century. You can’t understand that attraction when you’re on a whirlwind tour through Europe or even on your first week-long visit to Paris. No; to feel what it’s like to “be Parisian,” you have to have been here before (so you don’t feel obliged to visit the main tourist spots), and you have to stay for at least two months. That’s exactly what I did – I rented an apartment mid-May to mid-July in the 10th Arrondisement near Canal St. Martin, a tributary the feeds into the Seine River.

Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.
Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.

One stereotypical view of Parisians is that they sip coffee in sidewalk cafés all day long and then they party and drink wine all night. I have seen some bits of both, but that statement’s as unfair as thinking everyone in Southern California surfs all day, has blond hair, and wears tie-dyed shirts. I used to live in San Diego, and I know that’s not the case! And it’s not the case here in Paris, either. For some introductory information on Paris, I recommend an initial visit to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau – here is their website (http://en.parisinfo.com/).

A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.
A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.

One thing that’s consistent, and not just in Paris, is the attraction to water on a beautiful day. Whether it’s along the mighty Seine River or the neighborhood-friendly Canal St. Martin, friends make the best of a nice day. For some, it’s just to sit around and talk; for others, it could be a drink possibly accompanied by an impromptu meal.

Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.
Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.

The baguette is as much a part of everyday life here in Paris as a cup of coffee from Starbucks is to New Yorkers. It seems that there is a boulangerie (bakery) on every Paris corner, but maybe it’s actually on one out of two street corners. I read some interesting history of the baguette; don’t worry, it’s a quick read. I spoke with the staff at the corner boulangerie closest to my apartment. After the customary exchange of bonsoir greetings (good evening), I asked the young lady behind the counter if she spoke English. She did. I continued with, “How many baguettes do you make and sell every day?” The young lady said she didn’t know, but she asked Emmanuelle, the owner, whose French reply was “five hundred to six hundred.” About one hundred of those go to restaurants, but that means that four to five hundred baguettes are sold (for €1.10 each) to walk-in customers every day! And that’s just from the bakery right next to my apartment. That’s a lot of bread!

Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.
Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.

The local bars, bistros, cafés, and restaurants definitely get their fair share of business. Whether it’s a drop-in on the way home from work, or even ordering take-out food, the typically small establishments seem to cater to a particular clientele. And even though there’s not much sense of privacy, everyone minds their own conversations as they sit, eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company.

Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.
Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.

Most Americans are spoiled when it comes to grocery shopping. We go perhaps once a week and fill the refrigerator with food items from around the world. The freezer gets stocked with specials and broken down packages of large quantities of meats, fish, and other frozen items. The Parisian refrigerator is about half the size of an American one, and the freezer space is almost non-existent.

The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.
The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.

So what do they do? They shop almost daily for the fresh items, and there are neighborhood grocery stores all over. Most of them carry some meats and seafood, but there are specialty butcher shops (boucherie) close to most areas, and most Parisians have their favorite. We tried three different ones before we decided on our favorite. As you notice in the picture of the refrigerator above, not only is it small, but see if you can read the brand embossed on the egg cover – it’s IKEA!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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La Rambla—One Street That Deserves a Whole Day

The wavy, almost watery, textured lines in the pavement evoke images of what the road used to be—a waterway from the city walls to the Mediterranean Sea
The wavy, almost watery, textured lines in the pavement evoke images of what the road used to be—a waterway from the city walls to the Mediterranean Sea

There aren’t many roads as special as La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain. You might have been on some that have special designations, or there’s some historical significance, or they seem to have some magic about them. La Rambla really doesn’t have any of that going for it; yet it’s worthy of an entire day of your visit to the capital of this Catalonian people. Take a stroll with me, and you’ll see what I mean.

Technically a series of five connected streets, it’s considered to be just one street because there are no crossing streets. You might hear it referred to as Las Ramblas (for the five sections), but the singular is just fine. The main part of La Rambla is the rather wide tree-lined pedestrian walkway, with narrow driving lanes separating the walkway from the restaurants, shops, hotels, and other businesses. Rambla in Spanish means dry riverbed, and this is where the water ran from outside the city walls down to the Mediterranean Sea. Not a very glamorous beginning, was it?

Legend has it that one drink from the black and gold ornate Fountain of Canaletes ensures that one day you’ll return to Barcelona
Legend has it that one drink from the black and gold ornate Fountain of Canaletes ensures that one day you’ll return to Barcelona

Starting at the Plaça de Catalunya, which is where the non-stop bus from the international airport deposits you, look for the widest street that branches off this huge pedestrian-friendly square. Ignore the Hard Rock Café that you see off to your left, watch out for the whizzing cars that don’t care that you’re a friendly tourist, and make your way across the street to being your journey down La Rambla. The wavy pattern in the walkway that you’re admiring is designed to evoke the feeling of the water that used to flow down this area a long time ago. Speaking of water, just a short way down La Rambla is the Fountain of Canaletes, and legend has it that drinking from this fountain ensures that you will someday return to Barcelona. Thirsty? Give it a try, then get ready to book your return trip.

Yes, those are birds you hear as you continue your journey. The menagerie of birds, turtles, fish, and other small animals on the left side is where children would bring their parents and then beg them to buy a pet. Since those living in apartments couldn’t have dogs or cats, these animals were the perfect pets; they were small, they were easy to care for, and they didn’t make much noise. If you go by at night, you’ll hear the plaintive chirps of the birds who really would like a new home.

This Roman Necropolis is over 2,000 years old, and it was uncovered as workers were preparing to build the foundation for a new set of apartments
This Roman Necropolis is over 2,000 years old, and it was uncovered as workers were preparing to build the foundation for a new set of apartments

As you continue down on the left side, go through the hotel passageway at #122 and set your sights on some 2,000 year old Roman ruins. These graves and other markings were uncovered as contractors were digging to lay the foundation for some new buildings. The ruins might have been completely destroyed except for the noble act of some local residents who notified the authorities. You can look at them from above, or pay a small fee and enter the grounds and the museum; they’re worth the time and the money.

Once you enter the spacious La Boquería marketplace, you’ll fall in the love with the delicious sights and smells, giving you one more reason to return to Barcelona

Returning to La Rambla, continue downhill and go past the red metro stop on the right until you see the wide walkway that is filled with people going in both directions. As you enter La Boquería market, you just might discover that you’re hungry, and there are plenty of stalls in here to quench your appetite and your thirst. If you’re staying in town for a few days, this is a great place to buy olives, vegetables, cheeses, fruits, and fresh meats. You can find any flavor of smoothie that suits your taste. Caution: don’t come in here if you’re hungry and you’re in a hurry!

A cold glass of refreshing beer while sitting at an outside café along La Rambla is the perfect way to relax and reflect on the beauty of this marvelous city
A cold glass of refreshing beer while sitting at an outside café along La Rambla is the perfect way to relax and reflect on the beauty of this marvelous city

If you don’t find the right refreshment for you in La Boquiería, you can always stop at any one of the outside cafés along La Rambla and have a refreshing beer or Sangría, a favorite drink made with red wine. If the waiter asks you if you want yours “grandé,” be careful because he doesn’t mean just “big”; he means “very big.”

Continuing your walk, as you pass the flower stalls, be sure to look down for an original piece of art by the famous Spanish artist Joan Miró. The mosaic is of an anchor, which is a strong reminder of Barcelona’s linkage to the sea. Once you reach this point, you are essentially halfway down La Rambla. Fortunately, the rest of it continues downhill.

The colorful helmeted lampposts in Plaça Reial are functional and they’re Antoni Gaudí’s first public works”
The colorful helmeted lampposts in Plaça Reial are functional and they’re Antoni Gaudí’s first public works”

A few steps past the Liceu metro stop (your stop if you were going to the opera), you’ll find the entrance to neoclassical square Plaça Reial. Here is another marvelous place to take a short rest. There are taverns and bars, souvenir shops, palm trees, herbs, and — drumroll please — Antoni Gaudí’s first public works, two helmeted lampposts.

As you head back out of the square, go straight across La Rambla for the street Nou de La Rambla. Situated at # 3 is Palau Güell, the stately mansion built by Gaudí for a very wealthy family. If you have time, pay the small entrance fee and tour the inside and be totally amazed. One of the hidden gems of this palatial estate is the collection of whimsically decorated smokestacks that are accessible on the roof.

Returning to La Rambla, turn right and you’re near the end. You’re also getting close to Barcelona’s Chinatown, but don’t be surprised when you see nothing Chinese about the area. The Columbus Monument that marks the official end of La Rambla, and the Maritime Museum on the right side of La Rambla are worth checking out, however.

Now that you’re at the bottom of La Rambla, you can see why you wanted to start your journey at the top. And since you already took a sip of the water from the Fountain of Canaletes, you’ll be returning to Barcelona one day, and then you can do the walk in reverse order!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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