Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Top Ten Tips for Traveling Coastal Croatia - August 2017

With picturesque red-roofed towns dotting its nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, the south central European country of Croatia has become a hotbed for tourists over the last decade.

Flying, busing and sailing in from all corners of the globe, Croatia now welcomes more than ten million visitors annually and intends to double that number by the year 2020. While the influx of foreigners means big bucks for the travel industry, not everyone is smiling.
If Croatia tops your list of holiday spots, take heed of these travel tips to ensure an optimal visit.

1. Chat up a local. Whether you're coming to soak up the history or the rays, your stay will be more enjoyable if you take an interest in the local culture. Did you know that Croatia was once a part of former Yugoslavia? How about that the popular dog breed, Dalmatian, hails from the region? While the majority of people under age 40 or in the tourism industry speak English, try out "zdravo" which means "hello," and "hvala," Croatian for thank you, to show respect and appreciation.

2. Keep your shirt on. Remember those ten million tourists who descend upon Croatia each year? Unfortunately, not all have had the reputation for being courteous and polite. After mounting tensions between locals and tourists, the popular island destination of Hvar enacted several purse-lightening laws to help morally-confused visitors. As a result, sleeping in public will get you slapped with a 700 euro fine. Shirtless while walking through the city? 500-600 euro fine. Drinking in public? That will cost you another 700 euro and the list goes on. Know the rules and honor the local customs.

3. Beware of tourist fatigue. Is it that too many locals are tripping over drunken, unconscious tourists on their way to church? Or possibly because the techno music echoes through the old city walls until 3 a.m.? Whatever the trigger, there is a serious case of tourist fatigue blanketing Croatia. Symptoms include a surly demeanor, impatience and a permanent scowl plastered across the face. Tread carefully.

4. Shoot for the shoulders. Peak tourist season in Croatia is July and August. During this time you'll have to push through crowds and clutch your belongings while navigating alleyways and waterfalls alike. Depending on your interests, check the weather and explore options to visit in late spring or early autumn when there are fewer visitors and more breathing room. And, as an added bonus, prices tend to fall during these times as well.

5. Count your kuna. Just because Croatia recently gained its independence in 1991, doesn't mean the country didn't learn quickly how to attract and exploit tourists to make an easy buck, or kuna in this case. It's not uncommon for taxis in Croatia to charge triple the local fare and restaurants and shops in popular areas to ask significantly more than you're used to back home. Look at prices before committing and if you can, get off the beaten path to find more reasonable options.

6. Uber on water. This summer UberBoat launched on the Croatian coast offering speedboat service between coastal towns and islands. While UberBoat is a bit pricey for most budgets, there are other more economical options including traditional water taxis and ferries. Plan accordingly, however, when using Croatian public transportation as ferries and buses are notoriously tardy and ticket sales often exceed seating capacity.

7. Slurp up the seafood. Oysters anyone? Boasting a far-stretching Adriatic coastline, Croatia's selection of fresh fish and shellfish is top rate. The local cuisine also favors its Venetian past with menus rich in pastas, risottos and pizza. While you are at it, try some of the local wine made from grapes grown in some of the country's 300 distinct regions.

8. Sleep in someone else’s bed. For those of you who are kuna-conscious it may be hard to stay in or near the old cities in many popular destinations. Unless renting a car or public transport is part of your plan, a viable option is staying in a home share or hostel. In Split check out options in the Veli Varos neighborhood steps away from Diocletian's Palace, or the areas of Ploce and the Lapad peninsula adjacent to Dubrovnik's Old Town.

9. Stop and smell the flowers. In Croatia you don't have to actually stop because you can't escape the fragrant scent of lavender swirling as you walk past sidewalk vendors hawking everything from oils to petal-stuffed puppets. Not into the purple stuff? Other popular Croatian souvenirs include olive oil, items made from Brac island's white stone and Game of Thrones merchandise.

10. Don't skip the top spots. Croatia is a large country by European standards and it's nearly impossible to see it all in one visit. A few of the top spots include: the well-preserved 16th century Old Town of Dubrovnik where much of the Games of Thrones series has been filmed; the city of Split which contains a Roman palace and sprawling beaches; the party island of Hvar with its hilltop fortress; the Dalmatian coast city of Zadar claiming the world's only sea organ; the historical county of Istria where truffle hunting is a popular pastime; the coastal villages of Ston and Mali Ston home to a world renowned variety of oysters; and Zagreb, Croatia's capital city with its Gothic-inspired and Austro-Hungarian architecture.

Andorra la Vella, Andorra: The Hidden Land with Two Princes - August 2017

Not the smallest country in Europe but quite possibly the most difficult to reach, Andorra is nestled in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. Only one road enters and exits the landlocked country into Spain and another connects the nation with France. Steep mountain slopes dominant the landscape, many dressed with steel netting to capture falling rock.

Nearly ten million visitors flock to Andorra annually to enjoy its ski slopes, natural beauty and duty-free shopping. It is also a tax haven which contributes to goods and services being significantly less expensive than in other parts of the world. The microstate of Andorra is a member of the European Union and uses the euro as currency, but is not a member of the Schengen agreement and therefore provides refuge for visa-constrained travelers.

Andorra is the world's only co-principality partially governed by two princes: the president of France and the Catholic bishop of Urgell in Spain. Throughout the country many villages are perched atop mountains and others carved into rock faces, but the capital city of Andorra la Vella lies in a valley not far from the Spanish border. Andorra la Vella sits at the highest altitude of any capital in Europe and is fragmented by the flow of the country's largest river, the Gran Valira.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Airport and Airplane Etiquette: Twenty Tips to Keep You Friendless

Fixed schedules, tight connections, long lines and communal spaces, air travel creates the ideal environment for making friends. If you aren't in it to chat up your neighbor or add a new name to your contact list, try one of these handy tips to lock in your friend-free status.
  1. Bring more luggage than you can carry or baggage too heavy to lift yourself.
  2. Cut in queue.
  3. Berate airport employees or flight attendants when things don't go your way.
  4. Take your time going through security.
  5. Casually stand with your partner or group on the moving walkway.
  6. Talk loudly on your phone.
  7. Let your children run freely through the terminal.
  8. Stand closely behind strangers withdrawing money at bank machines.
  9. Nudge others with your baggage cart and count how many toes and heels you roll over.
  10. If terminal seating is scarce, secure a full row; lie across the seats and sprawl your belongings.
  11. Take pride in being the last person to board the plane keeping it from an on-time departure.
  12. Select a window seat if you have a small bladder.
  13. Bring odorous foods into tight quarters; don't share.
  14. Maintain full control of the shared armrest.
  15. Extend your seat back as far as it can go, especially during the meal service.
  16. While enjoying the in-flight entertainment, push the screen forcefully and frequently.
  17. Don't mind your hygiene; feel free to remove your shoes.
  18. Kick or knee the seat back in front of you.
  19. Sleep with your head on the shoulder of the stranger seated next to you.
  20. Complain about the flight seating, temperature or food selection.
Practiced diligently and consistently, these tips will almost always guarantee you remain friendless, and as a bonus, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a scowl or disparaging remark. And while convenient for airport and plane use, many of these maneuvers can be applied on any form of public transport to ensure those around you are uncomfortable and inconvenienced.

What tips would you add to ensure others' an unpleasant travel experience? Feel free to share your stories.