Wednesday, February 24, 2010

U.S. Renews Travel Warning to Mexico

Washington (CNN) -- The United States has renewed a travel alert to Mexico, citing increased violence in the country.
The alert, issued Sunday by the State Department, is in effect until August 20 and supersedes an alert issued August 20, 2009.
"Recent violent attacks have caused the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of Michoacan, Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua ... and to advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution," the alert says.
"Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organization. These attacks include the abduction and murder of two resident U.S. citizens in Chihuahua."
More than 16,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels shortly after assuming office in December 2006. Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state across the border from El Paso, Texas, is the most violent city in the nation.
"The situation in the state of Chihuahua, specifically Ciudad Juarez, is of special concern," the alert says.
"Mexican authorities report that more than 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in 2009," the report states. "Additionally, this city of 1.3 million people experienced more than 16,000 car thefts and 1,900 carjackings in 2009. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings while traveling in Ciudad Juarez, avoid isolated locations during late night and early morning hours, and remain alert to news reports."
But the problems are not limited to Juarez, the State Department says.
"Mexican drug cartels are engaged in violent conflict -- both among themselves and with Mexican security services -- for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border," the report says. "In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops throughout the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.
"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, but occur mostly in northern Mexico, including Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Chihuahua City, Nogales, Matamoros, Reynosa and Monterrey. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area."
A number of areas along the border continue to experience a rapid growth in crime, with robberies, homicides, petty thefts and carjackings increasing during the past year nationwide, the alert says. The State Department reports notable spikes in Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and northern Baja California.
"Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales are among the cities which have experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues," the alert says.
"Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana. Travelers on the highways between Monterrey and other parts of Mexico to the United States (notably through Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros) have been targeted for robbery and violence and have also inadvertently been caught in incidents of gunfire between criminals and Mexican law enforcement. Such incidents are more likely to occur at night but may occur at any time," the alert says.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who wants a FREE trip?

With the economy s-l-o-w-l-y making a a come back, of course this depends on who you ask, it's no surprise that great deals are all around. Here's a giveaway from the master of European travels Rick Steves. He is giving away one 7 day fully guided city tour to your choice of Paris, London, or Rome every month for the rest of the year! Now that's what I call a giveaway!

There is no purchase necessary however you will be signing up for their free newsletter. It's full of great travel tips and trips so you win either way. Click HERE to enter.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Did you remember to turn off the coffee maker?

If you are like me you start packing weeks before a trip. I like to open a bag and start tossing in items that I am not using on a day to day basis but that I will need for my upcoming trip, i.e. my grass skirt and coconut bikini top for my Hawaii vacation. (Oh how I wish I actually had a Hawaii vacation coming up in the next few weeks *sigh*). I digress...if you are also like me you spend at least two weeks before the trip preparing and packing and checking to make sure you have the extra battery for the camera all charged up and ready to go - and inevitably you always forget something!

Ahhh but those days are in the past! I have found the a great website called Don't Forget Your Toothbrush (which I have done before).  This site will help you create a custom list of items to pack and things to do before your trip. It will even email you reminders of items to check off the list before your trip! This site is ingenious and easy to use - I signed up and made a list for my imaginary trip to Hawaii and it was really simple to do.

After you have signed up for your FREE account, from the Member's Page just click on "NEW LIST".

Then the most amazing thing get to start designing your own custom list! (I do love a good list...) From this page you can select the type of destination, name your list, tell it when you traveling and click the check at the bottom.


After you have given the list your information, this is what you get....

Each section at the bottom has a drop down menu of items that need to be completed. It's all organized and when you go through each set of items you can make special notes for yourself so that you can further customize your list! The next sections for Packing List and Extra Items work just the same so you can make sure to have it on the list to check off before you leave for your much needed vacation! You can check off items on the website if you happen to be near it or you can print the list and update it when it is convenient for you. No more forgotten medications, extra batteries for the camera, or grass skirts and coconut bikini tops!

Now, I have to say that while I am loving this site there is one downside that I did find. When it asked my destination the list was by country and since I am going to Hawaii - I selected the United States. My issue with this is that while I am going to a beach vacation what if my destination were a place in the US that was a rock beach? I think that there should be a little more definition as to the destination, but I still wouldn't let that stop me from using this list. It's a very minor issue and I don't see that it would create any problems for someone that isn't as OCD as I am about my packing.

If anyone does try this site for a trip, please make sure to leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it!

Happy planning!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shopping carts and pampered Americans

In the US when we go shopping at a larger store we expect that there will be rows of carts just waiting for us at the front of the store when we enter. It's almost unheard of that we would have to get a cart in the parking lot and bring it into the store ourselves and for most people if they did have to go get a cart they wouldn't be very happy about it.

Welcome to the rest of the world! Well at least Germany and South Korea because those are the two places that I have been where people get their cart in the parking lot and bring it to the store themselves. Not only do they actually get their own cart but they also have to pay to use the cart. Carts here in Germany, and it was the same in South Korea, are chained together one to the next. When you want to use the cart you insert a 1 Euro coin into the handle and the chain releases so you can use the cart. 

Now here's the good news.....when you return it to the cart area in the parking lot, you get your Euro back! Now at first this was a little odd to me but not something that I was opposed to. I actually like that there are always carts in the right place, and so far I have NEVER found a cart that had some trash in it from the person before. That is a serious issue for me - why oh why do people feel like it's ok to leave their trash in the carts? Seriously. Another nice thing about this system for the carts is that they are covered in the parking lot. You don't have to worry about your cart being all wet or hot, they have a cover over them to keep them as nice as possible.

Now the only real issue I have ever had with this system was when we first got here and I didn't have a 1 Euro coin. The first time this happened to us I had to get change, I had a 2 Euro coin in my purse, and then get my cart.  Now I have a 1E in the pocket of all my coats, I call them my cart Euros, and I use them for carts only and then they go back into the pocket for next time. I know, I'm OCD and that's the way I like it! Now I don't have to worry about not having a 1E with me when I want to shop on the economy.

The next issue about shopping carts that I have to tell you is really annoying are the wheels. If you have ever been to an Ikea in the US you know exactly what I'm talking about. In the US the carts in stores have back wheels that are stationary and front wheels that turn. In Germany  all four wheels turn, you can even push the cart side to side. This isn't as much fun as it sounds like...actually it's really irritating. They are hard to turn and go every which direction and when they are full look out because you will probably run into something or someone.

There are a few stores in the US that have this system for carts but its almost unheard of in the US. Why more stores aren't doing this I'll never understand. Now I know that if the job market for cart boys was to go away we would have thousands of unemployed teenagers with no jobs and people would have to do something for themselves but I think the US would make it though that. That's one thing I have noticed being out of the US - that in other parts of the world people actually take responsibility for themselves, its not all about having someone to do everything for you. 
I just want to say that I did not take either of these pictures, they were found on the internet. But, I just noticed that this cart has some paper in it! I wonder if the person taking the picture was as crazy about other people's trash as I am or if that's their paper? lol