Saturday, April 29, 2017

David Talks Terrorism and Travel

Summer is rapidly approaching and people are gearing up for their vacations here at home and in other parts of the world.  I spend much of my time in Europe leading tours, writing about my travels and exploring new destinations.  Because I travel so much, I am often asked about travel, terrorism, refugees and how I decide if it’s safe to go on a trip.  Being on the road in another country allows me to see things from a different perspective than we get here at home.  Culture, customs and ways of life vary from country to country, as does the way in which the media addresses local and worldwide events.  So, my short answer is that there is nothing to fear when traveling anywhere in Europe.  I certainly would not put myself, my family or my travel partners in harm’s way by visiting an unsafe destination.

When I see that “Breaking News” banner scroll across our cable news channels announcing another terrorist event,  I think, “Oh no, not again.” When they occur in places I know and love, like Paris, Berlin, Brussels or Nice, it comes with an even stronger punch. These are cowardly attacks on innocent people, and these extremist attacks can happen anywhere. The crazy shooter claiming ties to ISIS in Orlando, Florida, comes to mind because it is near my home and we travel right by the affected area several times a year.

My first concern when considering travel after such an event is to determine if it is safe to visit that area.  If the attacks were instigated by ISIS/ISIL or another extremist group seeking to instill fear and cause chaos, then my immediate answer is to continue with my travel plans.  I have confidence in the local, state and federal authorities to put strategies in place to apprehend the terrorist and thwart any other cowardly attempts of terrorism.  In fact, I believe that many places are safer after a terrorist attack because everyone is on extra alert.  Last December, I was in a Christmas market in Salzburg on the evening of the attack at a similar Christmas market in Berlin.  Tragic as it was, life went on in Salzburg, as well as in the other Christmas markets we visited in Germany during the following week. In fact, there was heightened security, with armed military and police keeping a watchful eye out for anything out of the ordinary.  It gave me peace of mind to know that the government was taking steps to protect its citizens and visitors. With that event, I considered that there are 70 million folks walking around Germany and Austria today going on with their lives just as we are in our hometowns.  They are not living in fear just as we’re not living in fear here at home. We are safer traveling today than ever before. 

However, civil unrest and crumbling governments are another matter.  I am saddened to have never visited Egypt, but I would not put myself or others in harm’s way by visiting at this time.  The same is true with many of the Middle Eastern countries struggling with various factions and governments.  And, of course, I would not set foot in North Korea.  It is possible that these situations may improve in the future. There was a time when I was scared to death to venture into Northern Ireland because of the “troubles” with the IRA.  Now, that’s a thing of the past and it is one of the safest places to visit in Europe.

Refugees also seem to be of concern to many Americans.  The cable news stories would have us believe that Europe is loaded with them hanging out on the sides of roads, like zombies just waiting for us.  This is a ridiculous idea.  There is absolutely no problem with refugees.  At the height of the crisis there were thousands fleeing the Middle East and North Africa and making their way into Turkey, Greece, Italy and other parts of Europe. These people, the so-called refugees, do not cross paths with tourists.  They are concerned with stabilizing their life and protecting their families.  They do not take the time to visit tourist attractions or tour castles.  In my travels, I have never seen a refugee camp; they are in out of the way locations.  I have seen refugees.  Just this morning in Orytgia, Sicily, I walked past the Questura and saw over a dozen refugees: men, women and children waiting patiently to be admitted into the office of the provincial police where they would be fingerprinted and photographed and officially announce their requests for political asylum.  They were all polite and orderly, carrying on hushed conversations and holding precious identity documents and slips of paper.  Two hours later I walked by the Questura again.  Many of the same people were still standing around, now in the hot sun, patiently waiting their turn.  I was particularly struck by a young lady with a small child in an ancient baby carriage. 

Finally, let’s address the odds of an American traveler being caught up in a terrorist event.  In doing my research for this article, I found many statistics pointing to the fact that my chances of being caught up in a terrorist event are slim to none, even though I travel outside my home country.  Since 9/11 there have been an average of 29 Americans killed worldwide in terrorist attacks each year. In contrast, there were 12.5 million US citizens who traveled to Europe in 2015!

To wrap it up, I have never experienced any events that caused me or my tour groups to feel we were unsafe. I’ll never put our tour members in harm’s way.  I feel that travel and experiencing other cultures is one of the biggest educational experiences available to us Americans.  There are 500 million folks walking around Europe today going on with their lives just like we are, here in in the USA.  They are not living in fear just as we are not living in fear here at home. We are safer traveling in Europe today than we were before the onset of isolated terrorist events. Tragic as it is, terrorism has made everyone more diligent and more aware of their surroundings. It is safe to travel to Europe and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Viking River Cruise... who me? Final Episode

Apples and Oranges

It is not possible to fairly compare a European river cruise with a European land tour.  The two offer totally different travel experiences and as a friend says, it is like comparing apples and oranges... you can’t!  There are positive elements to both experiences, so in wrapping up my cruise experience, I’ll try to comment on the unique elements of each and offer some comparisons.

Traveling Over Land

Traveling by land, whether on a big bus or with a smaller group, always provides culturally diverse interactions with the local people.  The bigger the group, the fewer the opportunities exist for this cultural immersion, but no matter, one will interact with the locals. These cultural interactions include those with hotel and restaurant staff, shopkeepers, local guides, coach drivers and even toilet attendants!  Opportunities abound to break away from the group and experience Europe on your own. Additionally, traveling by land provides unlimited opportunities to visit big cities, small villages, national parks, historic sites and more while not being limited to sights strictly along or near a waterway.

My company, David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, offers tours for small groups ranging from 6-24 people. Typically, our tours are regionally based making for relatively short travel days, focused sightseeing and some time for exploring on your own.  Our tours are arranged so there are two nights in each destination which allows one to establish some “roots” in the locale and settle into the customs and culture. We include at least half your dinners served at some of my favorite restaurants offering authentic and gourmet local menus.  Breakfast is included daily at our hotels.  Our hotels are top quality properties, usually 4-stars or better, designed for Europeans and situated right in the heart of our destinations.  Some are small family-run properties while others are larger European chain hotels and resorts.  Our tours are all-inclusive meaning you’ll never be burdened with optional tours, added costs and nickel-and-dime add-ons. Finally, all tips are included… for everything!  Our advertised price is the price you pay, period!       

River Cruising

River cruising limits your destination choices and sightseeing to locations along or near the river route. My personal experience comes from a recent river cruise on a Viking long-ship cruising from Budapest to Passau in seven days. The boat is set up with 95 staterooms accommodating up to 190 passengers.  I’ve described the ship’s features in detail in a previous article which you can read here.  Every passenger, save a couple of Canadians and a couple of Aussies, were 100% USA Americans.  The ship’s crew all spoke perfect English and it was the language of the ship.  Many passengers were on their second, third or more Viking cruise.  The Viking company does very well with their targeted marketing to Americans ages 60 and beyond. 

Unpacking only once is definitely the best benefit of cruising. The stateroom was well planned with closets and drawers to hold your stuff and space under the bed to store empty suitcases.  The bath was small, but well-planned, modern and bright.  All meals were included.  A bountiful breakfast buffet, table service or buffet lunch and seated three and four-course dinners.  BUT, the meals were all heavily slanted to American tastes, ideas and portions.  There was one night we had a traditional Austrian buffet dinner featuring sausage, pork knuckle, pretzels, cheese, sauerkraut and all the fixings.  

There was organized sightseeing offered every day.  These included short coach and walking tours with local guides followed by some free time on your own… although often, this free time was limited due to having to go back to the ship for a meal or castoff.  I felt it was necessary to eat all my meals aboard ship because I had paid for them.  Dining on the ship certainly was a choice I made, although I think most of the folks did the same.  Getting back to sightseeing, there were optional tours offered every day and with this option came an added cost ($79-$150 per tour) and an investment of time away from the port of call.  The guided tours were mostly informative, led by a local professional guide with a placard “lollipop” that we were to seek out and follow. The group usually consisted of 30 to 40 cruisers.

It was a well-known fact that tips were not included for any portion of the tour.  Our pre-tour information included suggested tip amounts for drivers, local guides, ship’s crew and the tour director. This was heavily reinforced at our ship-wide meeting at the beginning and end of the tour.  Additionally, envelopes were placed in our rooms on our last night as a final reminder.  On top of it all, we were encouraged to give additional tips to members of the crew who serve you well.  For me and Charlotte, the suggested and optional tips added up to €360 above and beyond the cost of our tour.     

Wrapping it Up

Cost is the final factor to consider. I calculated that our Viking cruise cost us $3800 per person, plus coach airfare of $1400 per seat.  European coach tour prices vary widely depending on the size and services, however, my Exploring Europe small group tours beat Viking by almost $1000 for our 7-9 day tours.  Although, I must mention that our prices do not include lunches, a few dinners and drinks.  Check out all my European tours here at my website. Again, the two travel styles cannot be equally compared, however, I have given you my exact cost for a dollar-to-dollar comparison, so you be the judge.

A European river cruise and a European land tour, especially the European tours I offer, vary widely.  The two are totally different travel experiences designed for two types of travelers… those seeking cultural immersion and an authentic real-life and local experience, and those desiring the comforts of home punctuated with short guided excursions out to see the sights.  I am glad I traveled with Viking. They do a fantastic job with customer service and the boat and accommodations were top notch.  I enjoyed the down time and leisurely pace, however, I very quickly realized it would be my only European river cruise.  I am glad I chose the route from Budapest to Passau because it allowed me to see some sights along the river I had never visited.

To wrap it up, floating down that river with two hundred people in an “American bubble” is not my idea of experiencing Europe. I am a traveler, one who enjoys planning and exploring on my own or with a small group of like-minded people. Armed with information and an adventurous spirit, there is a whole world out there to explore. Get out of your comfort zone and GO!

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If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Viking River Cruise... who me? Episode 2

An Authentic Austrian Dinner

This was the appetizers we found on our tables at dinner last night.  I was so happy to see local meats and cheeses that I forget to take photos of the rest of the meal... ha!



Last night we had an authentic Austria dinner!  It featured all the typical food and drinks you’d find in a place like the Augustiner or Steigl Braüstube in Salzburg.  The chef and his crew along with the entire ship’s staff did a fantastic job providing a taste of Austria.  In my last post, I was longing for this type of dining experience and I am happy to say the chef delivered.


Vineyards in Dürnstein

Sleepy morning streets in Dürnstein

Dürnstein castle and Abbey

Cruising the Wachau river valley

Yesterday’s cruise included the Wachau Valley Gorge, a designated UNESCO Heritage destination, between Dürnstein and Melk.  The river twists and turns through a scenic valley loaded with charming towns and endless vineyards all watched over by once stately (but now crumbling) medieval castles. The views we had from the river were fantastic! 

We enjoyed an early morning stop in the little village of Dürnstein.  In fact, I think we docked here very late the previous evening as we slept through the night.  Because there were two cruise ships in town at 8:00 a.m., many of the shops were open for business and ready to sell to the 400 or so cruisers.  However, Charlotte and I had a pleasant walk around town encountering relatively few boat people.  I suspect most were sleeping in.



David & Charlotte at Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey
We finished up our day with a visit to Melk Abbey.  Just like on my coach tours, we received a private guided tour of the museum, library and church buildings.  Perhaps the best part of the evening was our stroll through town and the countryside on our way back to the boat. 


That’s my thoughts for today. I welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions as well.

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Wrapping up this episode


If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.


David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Viking River Cruise... Who me? Episode 1



The Stateroom

There are many benefits associated with this Viking River cruise, but perhaps the best is the opportunity to unpack once for a seven-day tour.  Our stateroom more than meets our needs with plenty of sleeping, lounging and bathing spaces.  It is nicely appointed and well laid out with closets, drawers and plenty of storage spaces.  We elected to upgraded our accommodations to a stateroom on the top deck with a sliding glass door and balcony.  This has turned out to be a good decision, especially on the days we are cruising up river and have views and vistas.  There is a flat-screen 42” television with many English-language channels for entertainment as well as CNN International, BBC and Sky News.  Finally, the stateroom contains several electrical outlets set up for standard USA appliances operating at 110 VAC.  All things considered, our accommodations match any American-styled upscale hotel such as Hilton or Marriott.  It is top-notch and we have no complaints.

video

Dining Opportunities

The ship serves breakfast, lunch and dinner onboard daily.  There is a sit-down, three course service in the main dining room and a simpler menu served upstairs in the lounge area.  Because we’ve paid for them in the price of our tour, we’ve eaten all our meals onboard.  Dinners in the main dining room, lunch on deck or in the lounge and breakfast in the lounge as well.  There is plenty of food and everything has been prepared and present by professional chefs and wait staff.  There is something for everyone, every taste and every dining preference.  




The food choices are heavily slanted to the “American” palate leaving very little opportunity to experience local dishes. So far, I’ve had four dinners and chosen some sort of beef each time.  My friends had the pork filet one night and loved it and there is always an opportunity to get a chicken breast, BBQ sauce and fries.  Fish and vegetarian options are available as well.      


The Typical Viking Cruiser


There 95 rooms aboard this ship making it possible to accommodate 190 people in double and twin bedded rooms.  The hotel manager here onboard tells me the ship is filled almost to capacity.  According to a show of hands at our embarkation meeting, I reckon 98% of the people on board are Americans with a few Canadians and Aussies to fill out the mix.  As for ages, there are a few 30-somethings but most are well into their sixties and seventies. All in all, a very homogenous group of cruisers.  Finally, I imagine 30% of the passengers on this cruises have been on at least one other Viking river cruise.



I've provided the facts, now here's what I think so far

This combination of a homogeneous group travelers, great service from the staff, the Americanized travel style, the safety of the English language and the predictable menu choices make this an easy and unthreatening travel experience.  Unfortunately, it also sequesters the traveler in a culturally sterile bubble giving very few opportunities to experience the life of a local.

Today, I am writing this while sitting in the ship’s lounge with 80 other cruisers, peering out the windows at the passing scenery while the tour director provides a commentary about the villages and countryside.  Later, we will have another ship-board lunch followed by a group tour on Melk Abbey. How I yearn to get out and take a walk in the village and vineyards, pop into a local shop, strike up a greeting in German, sip the local Wachau wine and sample some locally sourced sausage, mustard and bread.  


That’s my thoughts for today. I welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions as well.


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Wrapping up this episode

If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

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