Strike Season in Germany

Our plans for today were derailed, literally, by a massive rail strike in Germany. We got to the rail station a few minutes before our train was due to depart and saw an alarming amount of multi hour delays popping up on the boards. What the heck?

The departure board filled with delays

A nice civil engineer who was also hoping to travel explained. “It’s the strike” she said. “It will end at 9 am but the trains, especially the international ones will be all snarled up till tomorrow.” She thought our local train to Cologne (Köln) might run somewhat on schedule so we waited awhile. But soon it became clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. It also explained why last night’s train was stuffed to overflowing. Germans knew the strike was likely, and were rushing to their destinations early.

It could possibly also explained the preponderance of extremely lackadaisical conductors on that train. They probably weren’t interested in conducting but merely being sure to get home before the strike started. It was only a four hour strike but affected such key personnel that the railways were totally immobilized.

So, we went to pull Euros from the ATM, and it didn’t work either. It had been locked when we used it the night before. Since it was Sunday in the states, we couldn’t call to straighten it out till the next day. I had U.S. dollars in cash, so we went to the bank. No account, no money exchange. So we asked the hotel if they exchanged money. No, but she arranged to go with us to her bank which would do the exchange through her account. We opted to try one more thing before making her leave her post to help us. We used another ATM card and withdrew enough Euros for the rest of the trip as we hadn’t called this bank to let them know we were traveling so it would probably be locked after one use.

So we aren’t going to go hungry and it’s another rainy day in Koblenz. So we had a nice hot lunch with beer and wandered around the Christmas market.

Sometimes, our travel “disasters” are really memorable, at least when they’re over. What are yours?

Boston History and Fun

Breakfast was good but limited seating.
The park was lovely and peaceful
A one man band entertained the kids
Frogs outside the tadpole play area
Ray and I being silly
The tadpole playground
Massachusetts state house
Park Street church
Cathedral church of St Paul

Bike rentals
Solar powered pay station for bike rentals
Historic map in sidewalk
Freedom trail signs are everywhere
There was a big flash mob in front of Fanueil hall marketplace
Time for lunch
This place is popular!
Ray is contemplating the menu
Yum!
Ray’s yummy lunch
At the fresh air market
Oyster shucking is hard work
Lots of great produce. Blueberries are 2 boxes for $1!!
This sounds tasty
Quincy market
Loved some of the fun signs inside Quincy market
I wasn’t hungry but. . .
Cool decorations
Christmas in Boston
Cheers bar Christmas decorations
Map for the freedom trail

A little sticker shock. Glad we don’t have a car here
Old Courthouse

Wasn’t this a fun walking tour of Boston? It’s one of my favorite cities, especially since the food is amazing.

No taxis needed for Boston

Boston has a wonderful metro system so if you’re heading to downtown from the airport, and want to save big bucks, take the metro. There are shuttles for the blue line (shuttle number 22), the red line, and the silver line. The red line shuttle was free. I suspect the others are too. Although the #22 shuttle was only labeled on the outside as the bus for other terminals and rental cars, it definitely stopped at the airport metro station–before going to the rental car sites. At the metro, it cost us a whole $5.50 for two of us to get within a couple of blocks of our hotel.

One caveat. If you buy 2 tickets together at the machine, it’ll spit out a receipt and one pass. Both people need to use the single pass to go through the turnstile. The receipt is only for your records.

At your subway stop, let Google maps take over.

If you can’t walk a few blocks or have heavy luggage, Lyft is another affordable option. Reddit users claim it’s much more affordable than taxis.

But if you are able to walk a few blocks, the Boston metro can get you anyplace you might want to go in Boston, affordably and quickly.

By the way, Boston, including our hotel, is all dressed up for the holidays. And the Omni Parker House is the birthplace of Boston Cream Pie and Parker House rolls. Want to try them?

By the way, if you’re planning an Omni hotel stay, sign up for Omni select so you don’t get charged a big (about $10/day) internet fee.

Project Fi coverage is travel heaven

The Google project fi network makes finding maps for foreign locations, subway train schedules, and other minutia of travel a breeze. Because the network works in 170 countries without additional fees, a happy traveler doesn’t need to search out Wi-Fi hot spots, buy sim cards, or rent a mobile phone to stay connected.

Seriously, if you’re a frequent international traveler, switching to the go network may be the smartest move you could make. Going to Japan and don’t speak Japanese? Google translate and google navigate to the rescue.

While most countries are open to Google, China is the notable exception. Also, a few countries have restricted access to some Google services (YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, Maps). Those countries include: Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria. In those rare cases, you’ll want to use these travel tips.

Also, although the excellent Google pixl phones are the best known equipment that can be used on the project fi network, there are a host of other unlocked phones that work. And right now, Google is offering deals on it’s latest pixl models.

The project fi pricing scheme is great for either heavy data users like me or lighter users like my husband. Plus, the coverage is great. Ray almost always has better coverage with project fi than my t-mobile phone, and t-mobile has good coverage.

So are you ready to make the switch? As we’re anticipating more foreign travel, I’m making the changeover.

It’s ok. Drink the water

After years of traveling to destinations where drinking tap water was unsafe, it was a luxury to be in Japan where the tap water is safe to drink, use to brush your teeth, and wash your fruits and vegetables. Even the water in park fountains was considered safe to drink. Amazing!

Now that I’m heading to Germany, I was pleased to see that many European destinations also have safe tap water for tourists. Since a few still don’t, check this infographic to be sure.

Surprisingly, even though German water is safe for residents and tourists alike, most Germans drink bottled water. But it is nice to not worry when I brush my teeth that I’ll need the Imodium in my emergency travel pharmacy.

As more countries improve their water infrastructure, bottled water may eventually become a travel story from history. But until then, always check, as many tourist destinations like China, Mexico, Morocco, and Thailand, still recommend bottled water for tourists. And remember. If tap water is unsafe, use bottled water to brush your teeth, don’t eat salads or street food, and avoid fruits that can’t be peeled.

Slick Souvenirs

One of the more challenging aspects of travel is finding appropriate souvenirs for all the friends, family, pets, friends of family, and others back home. On my most recent trip to Japan, I spent over $100 just on postcards alone. Granted, Japanese postcards are some of the most beautiful cards on the planet, but some of my friends wanted more. What’s a budget constrained traveler to do?

One option is to buy a pack of something and break it up into smaller gifts. In this case, I found sets of Japanese magnets, and separated them into little packages wrapped in origami paper containing one magnet each. After all, everyone’s fridge is covered in magnets. Your friend probably doesn’t need 10 more, but one is a nice memento.

This divide and conquer tactic works with lots of things–decorative chopsticks often come in sets of 10, local candies often come in sets of bars, and so on. One souvenir we didn’t get but wished we had was Japanese Kit Kat bars. They come in flavors unique to Japan: green tea, wasabi, chocolate banana, grape, sweet corn and more. If you’re still in Japan, Don Quijote, a super discount store probably has the most impressive selection of Japanese Kit Kats as well as lots of other fun souvenir ideas. (Printed dish towels are another favorite item for some of my more culinary friends. )If you’re back in the states and leaving a Japanese Kit Kat, try Amazon, Ebay, or one of the many Japanese candy subscription boxes available.

If you’re traveling somewhere where cute postcards are few and far between, try Touchnote, an app that allows you to turn your smartphone pics into postcards, greeting cards, and other cool stuff.

I used this cute picture below for several postcards. The app let me write a message, choosing a font for my message. I then addressed the postcards and Touchnote let me know when the had been mailed.

The app is most affordable if you buy a bunch of credits so you can send 20 or more postcards. Each can be a different picture and message or you can mass produce them if you have a bad case of jet lag. Another option is to get their professional membership which gives you one credit per month and lets you even customise the stamp.

So what is your favorite souvenir to give or receive? Have you ever received a totally off the wall souvenir. Or had a strange reaction to a souvenir?

For example. Our daughter taught English in China. She brought me back the Mao Zedong picture that most residents there hung on their rear view mirror. So I hung it on mine. Several weeks later, a lady races after me in a parking lot, pounding on my car hood for me to stop. “How dare you display that in your car. He’s a communist.” True. And a dead communist at that. But I had it in my car because it was a gift from my daughter, and every time I looked at it, I thought of her bravely conquering challenges in a land so foreign that our demons were their heroes.

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends” – Maya Angelou gav

Japanese Convenience

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

A sample convenience store meal. These sandwiches are delicious but oddly, always served on white bread with the crusts removed.

When working in Cleveland during a summer break from college, I purchased milk and sundries from a nearby Lawson’s convenience store. Lawson stores are no longer found in the continental US, but to my surprise, they abound in Japan. Nowadays, 7-Eleven stores in the US are owned by a Japanese company, and, along with Family Mart, compete with Lawsons.

All told, there are more than 50,000 convenience stores in Japan. And they are convenient, abounding on commercial streets and in railroad stations and offering an ever changing array of snacks, sandwiches, ice cream, fruit and soda beverages, cigarettes, cold beer, candy, and international ATMs. Many ATMs throughout Japan won’t work with foreign ATM cards. Fortunately, this is an area where Japanese 7-11 stores shine. Google maps or a 7-11 finder app can help you find the 7-11 nearest you.

While ATMs at Family Mart, Lawson, and others may not support international cards, they offer many of the same useful services for foreigners as 7-11 stores including: currency exchange, free Wi-Fi, and ability to use credit cards for purchases.

Moreover, one can top off public transportation cards there and access the internet on Wi-Fi. Japanese convenience stores are truly a phenomenon.