Gardens — An Amazing Part of Travel

It’s no secret that I really do love to travel, and these days I’m doing a lot of it by speaking on cruise ships. Here it is the first day of June, and I’ve spoken on four cruises with seven more booked for the rest of this year. There’s no question that I’m visiting many amazing places and seeing lots of fabulous sights. Please read down to the end of this article for a link to 55 of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world!

Many of us spend our time in museums when we go places, and they’re a great place to revisit history, view awesome artwork, or even seek indoor shelter on a hot or a rainy day. Another venue to consider is a garden. On our recent set of cruises in Southeast Asia, we did visit the Glover Gardens in Nagasaki, Japan — a couple photos are below; the gardens are included in this posting from two months ago.

A year ago we went on a 19-day road trip, and one of our stops was in Palm Desert, California. While there, our host John took us to visit the Living Desert, a botanic garden where native animals and plants all co-exist in natural environments. The children we saw there really enjoyed feeding carrots to the giraffes. A couple photos are below, and here is the link to last year’s article.

For a great resource on some of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world — I’ve been to a few of them — I highly recommend that you check out this article from Sproutabl (www.sproutabl.com), a lawn and garden blog that aims to help people learn about all kinds of gardening, lawn care practices, and plant care. The article is 55 Stunning Botanical Gardens You Really Need to See Before You DieCLICK HERE for the link. If you like gardens, you’re sure to like this quick-and-easy reference to these amazing gardens — please let me know what you think!


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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A Nice Visit to Ho Chi Minh City, aka, Saigon

As we departed from our two-day stay in Laem Chabang, we sailed south in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand until we reached the open waters of the South China Sea. After another relaxing sea day we pulled into the industrial port of Phu My in the southern part of Vietnam. Our bus trip into Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, took only ninety minutes thanks to the newly constructed highway (previous trips had been over two hours).


Our first stop was at the Reunification Hall, the former Presidential Palace of South Vietnam.

Our guide took us quickly through the Hall where we did see the former present’s helicopter on the roof as well as some of the important rooms, both above ground and in the below-ground bunker.

I’ve been to the Hall on two previous trips, and I was hoping that we would also have time to visit the tanks out front and read about the defector who dropped a bomb on the Palace in April of 1975. The outside grounds were well maintained with ornamental plants and shrubbery.

We re-boarded our bus inside the gates and as we left, we exited via the famous area where on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese stormed the Place by driving a tank through the gate, bringing an end to the conflict


I’ve always wanted to visit the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens, but previous trips would stop at the History Museum at the edge of the gardens, but never inside them. Established in 1864 along the Saigon River, the zoo is also a popular place for locals.


This was a treat for me and the other guests as we walked around and saw animals, both large and small – rhinoceros, elephant, bears, birds, monkeys, tigers, etc.




There are many types of trees and flowers around the gardens, including an orchid house. The orchids were not very colorful, so we opted for an outside location for the photo.


A delightful buffet lunch was served at the Lion Brewery & Restaurant. I wasn’t expecting that we would eat at a German Brewhouse, but the food was decidedly Vietnamese, and it was very good. They did have German beer available, but it was a cold bottle of the local Saigon Green beer that was served to us.



We had some time for souvenir shopping after lunch, and several of us bought a selection of beautiful greeting cards that have pop-up cuts when the card is opened. Some of the street vendors were also selling baseball-style caps at a very cheap price of three hats for five U.S. Dollars. I saw a few people buying them, but I don’t need any more hats.


The Ho Chi Minh City Museum has many items telling the history of the city.

I thought that the items outside the building were more interesting.


Our final stop was at a temple where incense was burning and Buddhist monks were chanting in several of the rooms.


We saw this dog in the last room, and he looked very content.


If you’ve ever wanted to be a millionaire, just come to Vietnam where it’s very easy to hold a million in your hand. This display that I have is worth about forty-five U.S. Dollars, and it was just some of the local currency (Vietnam Dong) that I had — I was “a millionaire for a day”!


It was an enjoyable day in Ho Chi Minh City, and we returned in time for dinner and to watch as our ship pulled out of the port of Phu My in the evening for another sea day before our final two ports in Vietnam. We’ve been enjoying learning about the culture of the country and tasting the food – very good! While there was some discussion of the Vietnam Conflict during our tours, there was nothing negative; it was given just as background facts.

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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