Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Travel Warnings for the unwary

As this is the middle of the summer vacation season, here are a few warnings to take into account while you are away.
The BBC put out this warning for tourists going through Thailand: Tourists warned of Thailand airport scam that warns people to be careful when wandering in the dutyfree shopping area and a scam using a the store, the police, and a translator who will try to scam you into paying thousands of dollars to be allowed to leave the country in spite of a suspicion of "shoplifting".

Just the Flight has put together a nice infographic: A pretty useful guide to preserve your money against scam

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Move to end Bill Shock: Telecoms Slash Data Roaming

(Cross posted between my travel and telecom blogs)

Over the past 18 months or so the telecom industry has been
slowly going through a subtle change that affects travelers.

Back in December 2012 Telecom [New
Zealand] announced
a breakthrough new approach to international data roaming
that will slash costs for travellers when using their
smartphones and other mobile devices overseas.
A feature is a flat daily rate for
data roaming by postpaid customers across major travel markets. Australia
roaming will start at a specially reduced rate of $6 a day (Telecom will review
the rate in mid 2013). Customers will pay just $10 a
day flat rate for data while travelling in the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong
Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. Telecom’s fair use policy applies to
these rates.

Telecom’s CEO, Simon Moutter, said the flat rate would make it much simpler for
customers to understand data roaming costs and would give them the freedom to
make use of their smartphones in the same way they would at home.

“We know data roaming charges have
been a pain-point for customers – personally, it was a real bugbear of mine as
a customer before I joined Telecom earlier this year. A flat fee provides
certainty and puts an end to concerns about nasty bill shocks on your return

“It’s also much simpler to follow
than any usage-based system – as most customers don’t really know how quickly
their phone apps will chew through 1MB, 10MB or 100MB.”
Now other companies have started to follow suit:
On October 20, 2013 “T-Mobile changed
the way you can use your smartphone in more than 100 foreign countries” with
their T-Mobile's
New Global Roaming
. While T-Mobile’s Simple
plan allows certain customers to roam in about 116 countries as if
they were at home.
In March 2014 T-Mobile added 7
countries to Simple Choice Global International roaming list
so it is now
122 countries.

MTN cuts cost of roaming
across own 'footprint'
MTN has introduced its Roam like Home service that
enables all its customers to keep in touch with family and friends at
affordable rates while travelling in any of the 21 countries that it operates in.

Now the EU
parliament votes to abolish roaming
end to mobile roaming charges across
the EU by 2016, if it is approved by all the member countries.

So, now with only a few SIM cards you can now have unlimited
calling and flat rate data in 145 countries:

Country Telecom NZ SIM T-Mobile USA Simple Choice SIM Any MTN SIM Any EU Carrier
Afghanistan T-Mobile as Investcom
Aland Islands T-Mobile
Anguilla T-Mobile
Antigua and Barbuda T-Mobile
Argentina T-Mobile
Armenia T-Mobile
Aruba T-Mobile
Australia T-Mobile
Austria T-Mobile  in 2016
Bahrain T-Mobile
Barbados T-Mobile
Belgium T-Mobile  in 2016
Benin  as Investcom
Bermuda T-Mobile
Bolivia T-Mobile
Bonaire T-Mobile
Botswana  as Botswana Mascom
Brazil T-Mobile
British Virgin Islands T-Mobile
Bulgaria T-Mobile  in 2016
Cambodia T-Mobile
Cameroon  as MTN Cameroon
Canada Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Canary Islands T-Mobile
Cayman Islands T-Mobile
Chile T-Mobile
China Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Christmas Island T-Mobile
Colombia T-Mobile
Costa Rica T-Mobile
Cote d'Ivoire  as MTN Cote d'Ivoire
Croatia  in 2016
Curacao (Netherlands/Dutch
Cyprus T-Mobile  as MTN Cyprus  in 2016
Czech Republic T-Mobile  in 2016
Denmark T-Mobile  in 2016
Dominica T-Mobile
Dominican Republic T-Mobile
Easter Island T-Mobile
Ecuador T-Mobile
Egypt T-Mobile
El Salvador T-Mobile
Estonia T-Mobile  in 2016
Faeroe Islands T-Mobile
Finland T-Mobile  in 2016
France T-Mobile  in 2016
French Guiana T-Mobile
Germany T-Mobile  in 2016
Ghana T-Mobile  as Investcom, MTN Ghana
Greece T-Mobile  in 2016
Grenada T-Mobile
Guadeloupe T-Mobile
Guam T-Mobile
Guatemala T-Mobile
Guinea Bissau  as Investcom
Guyana T-Mobile
Honduras T-Mobile
Hong Kong Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Hungary T-Mobile in 2016
Iceland T-Mobile
India T-Mobile
Indonesia T-Mobile
Iran  as MTN Irancell
Iraq T-Mobile
Ireland T-Mobile  in 2016
Israel T-Mobile
Italy T-Mobile  in 2016
Jamaica T-Mobile
Japan T-Mobile
Kenya T-Mobile
Kuwait T-Mobile
Latvia T-Mobile  in 2016
Liberia  as Lonestar Cell
Lithuania T-Mobile  in 2016
Luxembourg T-Mobile in 2016
Macau Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Malaysia T-Mobile
Malta T-Mobile  in 2016
Martinique T-Mobile
Mexico T-Mobile
Moldova T-Mobile
Montserrat T-Mobile
Netherlands T-Mobile  in 2016
Netherlands Antilles T-Mobile
New Zealand Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Nicaragua T-Mobile
Nigeria  as MTN Nigeria
North America & Caribbean T-Mobile
Northern Ireland T-Mobile
Norway T-Mobile
Pakistan T-Mobile
Panama T-Mobile
Peru T-Mobile
Philippines T-Mobile
Poland T-Mobile  in 2016
Portugal T-Mobile  in 2016
Qatar T-Mobile
Republic of Congo  as MTN Congo SA
Republic of Guinea  as Investcom
Romania T-Mobile  in 2016
Russia T-Mobile
Rwanda  as MTN Rwanda
San Marino T-Mobile
Saudi Arabia Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Scotland T-Mobile
Singapore T-Mobile
Sint Maarten T-Mobile
Slovakia T-Mobile  in 2016
Slovenia  in 2016
South Africa T-Mobile  as MTN South Africa
South Korea T-Mobile
South Sudan  as Investcom
Spain T-Mobile  in 2016
Sri Lanka T-Mobile
St. Barthelemy T-Mobile
St. Kitts and Nevis T-Mobile
St. Lucia T-Mobile
St. Martin T-Mobile
St. Vincent and the Grenadines T-Mobile
Sudan  as Investcom
Suriname T-Mobile
Svalbard T-Mobile
Swaziland  as MTN Swaziland
Sweden T-Mobile  in 2016
Switzerland T-Mobile
Syria  as Investcom
Taiwan Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Thailand T-Mobile
Trinidad and Tobago T-Mobile
Turkey T-Mobile
Turkmenistan (No Data network) T-Mobile
Turks and Caicos Islands T-Mobile
Uganda T-Mobile  as MTN Uganda
UK Telecom NZ T-Mobile  in 2016
Ukraine T-Mobile
United Arab Emirates T-Mobile
Uruguay T-Mobile
USA Telecom NZ T-Mobile
Vatican City T-Mobile
Venezuela T-Mobile
Vietnam T-Mobile
Wales T-Mobile
Yemen  as Investcom
Zambia T-Mobile  as MTN Zambia

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Making your vacation a winetastic time

On most international tours you are taken to historic places, museums, or cultural sites where everyone is taken.

But on several of my or my friends trips we  have gotten to go on more interesting tours. Some of the most interesting are to local wineries or breweries.

Here are a few examples that you may want to consider on your next trip:

  • Take an organized tour of several wineries I have done this in Australia and Israel and can recommend that you take a look at:


Israel Wine Tours for personalized tours of the various regions where wine is made in Israel:

Judean Hills Wine Tours

Sample Itinerary : Drive towards the biblical Wine Country of Judean Hills and disscuss the wine history of the are with a Wine Expert. Begin the tour at a nicely preserved off the beaten path 2,100 year old Wine Press.
Continue to Tzuba Boutique Winery, where we will meet Wine Maker Paul Dubb, tour the winery and hear about the wine making process. End by tasting 4-5 of Tzuba’s outstanding wines. Next we will continue to the Agur Boutique winery to meet up with Shuki Yashuv (owner and winemaker.) Shuki is a master Blender of wines and a very colorful person, guaranteeing an unforgettable tasting experience. Lunch
Our next stop will be Tzora Winery, considered one of the “top 8” wineries in Israel. Taste 3-4 excellent wines that often include a dessert wine that ranked 92 points with Robert Parker!
We then Travel through one of the most beautiful roads in Israel ending up at an off the beaten path “Tuscany In Judean Hills” vista point.

    Carmel Region Wine Tours

    Sample Itinerary: Head north towards the Carmel Region. On route our Wine Expert will discuss the wine history of the land of Israel and how it evolved through the years. What makes a wine Kosher ? wine politics in Israel Etc.
    Drive to the boutique winery Tulip located in Kfar Tikva – Village of Hope ;  This is an excellent winery and probably the only winery in the world that employs people with special needs. Taste 4-6 wines,  and and meet the employees of the winery.
    We than proceed to the beautiful town Zichron Ya’akov – a quaint Carmel Mountain town and the home of Carmel Winery where we will Visit Somek Winery, a small estate winery owned by a fifth generation vintner.  At  Somek, all wines are handmade using old world techniques to produce their critically acclaimed wines. Meet the winemaker and taste 3- 4 wines
    We will then Stroll the beautiful Zichron Ya’akov promenade and enjoy lunch at one of the terrific restaurants there.
    After lunch , we will Visit Ramat Hanadiv, The Rotshield Estate Botanical Garden
    Drive north to Kerem-Maharl home of the Makura organic farm and Amphorae Winery. Amphorae is one of the most beautiful Wineries in Israel. Designed by an Italian architect and built in 2005, the winery is a large Tuscan style winery and employes the world famous winemaker Michel Rolland as an adviser. Tour the facilities and taste Amphorae’s award winning wine.

     Israel Microbrewery Tour

    Small independent and traditional, the Israeli craft beer industry is going through a renaissance period in recent years. In the Judean Hills alone, there are a dozen Microbreweries in various sizes and styles. Haifa and the Carmel region are no different. Much like a wine tour, we will select three breweries, throw in incredible vista points and top it all off with gourmet dining. Microbreweries that we frequent include:
    Abeer Haela
    Buster’s Cider
    Laughing Buddah


    While visiting Sydney we went on Gray Line Tours Hunter Valley Gardens tour:

    World acclaimed Australian wines from the vineyards of the rolling hills and valleys of the Hunter region, delight both the palate and the eye in this green and fertile land dotted with villages and over fifty wineries. The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest commercial wine producing district with over 7000 acres under vine. Famous wine styles include semillon, shiraz, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, cabernet sauvignon and earthy pinot noirs

    • Three Wine Tastings
    • Winery Tour
    • Two Course Lunch

    Also, while visiting Kobe Japan I was able to visit the KOBE SHU-SHIN-KAN BREWERY
    The KOBE SHU-SHIN-KAN BREWERY, established in 1751, is located in the "NADA" district of Kobe, Japan, an area which has been acknowledged for centuries as the best for the production of Japanese sake. The quality of the locally grown Japanese rice and the purity of the water filtered from streams high in the Rokko Mountains; these are special blessings as they are essential to the brewing of sake. The cold winds which blow across the Rokko Mountains are also helpful.
    Friends have done part of the Whisky Trail in Scotland others have gone to Guinness brewery in Ireland.

    I have gone to wineries in the USA (Bully Hill), Israel (see above), Australia (also see above), Italy (that is another blog post), and intend to continue when the opportunity presents itself. I suggest that you keep your eyes open for similar interesting opportunities.

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    Norwegian Airlines

    Guest post by  Eden Miller
    I flew New York JFK - Oslo-Gardermoen Flight DY7002 on January 12, 2014 at 21:30 - 10:50. I sat in seat 18J, next to the window.

    When I first sat down, I felt a small drip of water hit the top of my head. I looked up and saw that some previous passenger had stuffed a paper napkin in the space between the light and the luggage compartment seam, and it was wet. I asked the stewardess if I could be moved, and she said the flight was full, and "oh yes, that drip always happens but only on take off and landing." I then had to specifically ask her for napkins to plug the hole further as she did not volunteer a solution.

    When I pulled the old, wet napkin out in order to plug it with a dry napkin, a piece of the plane fell out on my head, along with plenty of water. It is a small, white, plug shaped silicone or rubber gasket. I then shoved all the napkins I had in the space, which was dripping water on my head like a faucet. It was still dripping through, so I then shoved my wool scarf in the hole as well, and rigged it to the overhead luggage door so as not to fall.

    I paid extra for this seat. I had to sit with a faucet running on my head for 7.5 hours, and then a dirty, wet wool scarf. Their flight attendant's cavalier response was ridiculous and inappropriate, especially when I showed her that a piece of your plane was broken and in my hand. I have it if they'd like me to mail it back. We had not disembarked yet, and I could have been offered better customer service, or an alternate flight arrangement to get me to Berlin if the flight was truly full (I don't think it was). I have been a frequent flyer for over 30 years, and NEVER have I had this happen, contrary to the flight attendant's claim that a leaking plane was "normal".

    After WEEKS of waiting for a response from Norwegian Air Customer Service and several calls to Oslo to expedite, I received this answer: "We apologise if our staff on board this flight did little to solve the problem you experienced on the way to Oslo. We understand that you should not need to use your own scarf to stop the water dripping and that the staff should have provided you with napkins, since this plane was full and they did not have the opportunity to move you to another seat. This unfortunately do not entitle you to a refund of the ticket or compensation.

    We will take your information to the right department so they can rectify their routines and make sure that this will not happen again. We apologise once more for the inconviniency this might have caused, but do hope to have the opportunity to welcome you on board when you next choose to travel."
    Recap: Faucet on my head for 7.5 hours, a piece of the plane in my hand, ruined scarf, no response from flight crew, and Too Bad For You message a MONTH later from Norwegian Customer Service. Unbelievable. Avoid this awful airline.

    ** since posting on Tripadvisor, I've had several people question me on a) why I didn't get more paper napkins rather than ruin my scarf (??), b) doubt that it was really a full on run of water, and c) why I didn't move seats.  The flight attendant had told me that the flight was full, and I didn't move because I was in the window seat, so I couldn't get up until I was well on the way and my seat mates let me out for a bathroom break well after takeoff.  At that time, I saw people in other sections sprawled over the extra adjoining seats.  By then it was too late.

    Update: Apparently Norwegian Airlines has been getting a record number of complaints to the governing body as reported in NEWS in English.no:
    Unhappy Norwegian Air customers have lodged a record number of complaints, both with the embattled airline and the Transport Complaints Board (Transportklagenemnda). More than 200 grievances have been registered with the board alone, as Norwegian’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners continue to cause major issues.
    Norwegian Air's first new Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally landed at Oslo's main airport at Gardermoen on June 30. The airline has now begun testing them before putting them into service on Norwegian's new long-distance routes to Bangkok, New York and Fort Lauderdale. PHOTO: Norwegian Air
    ‘Dreamliner’ has been something of a misnomer for the trouble-plagued Boeing 787s. The Transport Complaints Tribunal has received a record number of complaints from Norwegian Air passengers after Dreamliner problems caused months of cancellations and lengthy delays. PHOTO: Norwegian Air
    “We have never before seen this scope of complaints in a single case,” Judge Einar Kaspersen who chairs the tribunal told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Kaspersen said the first port of call for disgruntled customers was the airline itself, then the Tribunal reviews Norwegian’s handling of the case. “There are probably many who neglect to go further with the matter after they’ve first been rejected. Anyone can complain further.”