April 2015 Travel Column

Retracing the History of World War II

In the spring and summer of 1945, the United States and its allies accepted the surrender of Germany and Japan, marking the end of World War II. For a world that had seen so much destruction, the victory was a time of celebration and solemnity.

This year’s 70th anniversary offers a chance to recall that era, to visit some of the places associated with World War II and to remember the sacrifices of the men and women of the “Greatest Generation,” who remain in our hearts even as many of them have passed on.

Aviation buffs will want to be in Washington, D.C., May 8 when the 70th anniversary of V-E Day (Victory in Europe) will be marked with a flyover featuring one of the largest arrays of World War II aircraft ever assembled. The next day, about 20 planes will be displayed at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Before the flyover, a wreath-laying ceremony is planned at the National World War II Memorial with the participation of veterans and representatives of U.S. and Allied nations.

One of the most enduring images of World War II appeared in LIFE magazine – a photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in New York’s Times Square when news of Japan’s surrender was announced. To re-create that moment, the Times Square Alliance is sponsoring a Kiss-In on Aug. 14, and all couples are invited to participate. Afterward, pay a visit to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, berthed on the Hudson River, to learn about its role in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

For many European nations, V-E Day is a holiday, marked with festivals, parades and ceremonies. For travelers, it’s an opportunity to remember the past and celebrate a remarkable rejuvenation over the past 70 years.

In London, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph, the United Kingdom’s national war memorial, and a parade the weekend of May 8-10. An air show honoring Allied forces is planned for May 23-24 at the Imperial War Museum’s facility in Duxford.

France pays tribute to Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle with an exhibit at the Army Museum at Les Invalides in Paris that runs through July 26.

Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its liberation by U.S. troops with a festival May 1 to 6. The city, about an hour from Prague, is the home of Pilsner beer and has been designated a European Capital of Culture for 2015.

World War II finally – and officially – came to an end on Sept. 2, 1945, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur received the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Today, in addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, travelers to Hawaii can see the Mighty Mo at Pearl Harbor. A new exhibit commemorating the 70th anniversary, “The War That Changed the World,” explores the everyday lives of people during World War II.

For help planning a trip, contact your travel agent.

Visiting Today’s Cuba Legally

With President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, more Americans are expected to visit the island nation that is tantalizingly close, yet has been mostly off limits since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties in 1961.

Travel to Cuba is tightly regulated through the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and it would take action by Congress to lift those restrictions. However, policy changes in the wake of the president’s December announcement make the process less daunting for travelers.

Current law does not permit travel to Cuba solely for tourism. Americans must have a purpose for their trip that falls within one of 12 categories. Some are specific, such as visits to family or as a journalist. Others are broader, including for professional research and meetings; religious or educational activities; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or of research or educational institutes; participation in performances or athletic competitions; and support for the Cuban people.

While the regulations rule out spending a week relaxing on the beach, they do provide a unique opportunity to truly get to know the country as part of an organized tour. For example, “people-to-people” tours allowed under educational activities may include a walking tour of historic Old Havana, a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home and a chance to take in the country’s vibrant art and music scenes. But the itineraries are also likely to include lectures about culture and society and a range of other activities designed to encourage interaction between Americans and Cubans, such as visits to medical clinics, businesses and community projects.

Up until this year, travelers to Cuba needed a specific license issued on a case-by-case basis. But the Treasury Department has simplified the process, authorizing a general license in each of the 12 permitted categories. That means people will still need to meet one of the categories for a trip but they’ll no longer have to submit a written request for permission to travel. However, individuals are responsible for maintaining records of their Cuba-related transactions for at least five years.

Other changes are designed to make things easier for Americans while they’re in Cuba. There’s no longer a daily limit on personal expenses. Americans will be able to use their credit or debit cards in Cuba, once their financial institutions are set up for it. And travelers can bring back goods worth $400 for personal use, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco products, such as Cuba’s famous rum and cigars.

While the U.S. government has taken small steps to facilitate travel, Cuba’s tourist infrastructure is limited. Hotel accommodations, air conditioning and Internet access likely won’t be available at the level that Americans expect. A half-century of economic sanctions means that there are plenty of vintage 1950s cars on the streets, giving visitors the sense that they’ve gone back in time. But adventurous travelers shouldn’t be deterred. They will find a warm and colorful country waiting to be discovered.

For help planning a trip to Cuba, contact your travel agent.


England Celebrates 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

Today, it’s a picture-postcard meadow in the English countryside near a stretch of the River Thames. But 800 years ago, Runnymede was the site of one of history’s most influential gatherings.

It was at Runnymede that the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was sealed on June 15, 1215. Designed to end a conflict between King John and his rebellious barons, the charter was a milestone in the evolution of democratic government and the rule of law. While much of it was annulled or rewritten over the centuries, the Magna Carta enshrined the concept that no one, including the monarch, was above the law. It has endured as a touchstone of individual liberty, serving as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution.

England is marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta with events nationwide, making 2015 a great time to visit, especially for travelers who want to explore British history, the roots of America’s system of government and how the two are connected.

In London, the British Library will examine the legacy of the Magna Carta with an exhibit of paintings, manuscripts and royal artifacts that runs through Sept. 1. Included will be two of the four original documents from 1215 that survive, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and an original copy of the Bill of Rights. Also in London, Shakespeare’s Globe, a re-created Elizabethan playhouse on the south bank of the River Thames, will present “King John” in June.

The anniversary is a perfect starting point for discovering all that England has to offer. Across the country, six trails highlight places with a connection to the events of 1215, including Lincoln and Salisbury, home to the other two original copies of the Magna Carta. In the north, a renovated Lincoln Castle, built in the 11th century, reopens in April with a vault where the charter will be displayed and films that will tell its story. Southwest of London, Salisbury Cathedral, dating from the 13th century, also has a new exhibit where visitors can view the charter and learn about its legacy.

Travelers who want to see where the charter was sealed can visit Runnymede, a tranquil spot in the English countryside about 20 miles west of London. A granite memorial, erected by the American Bar Association, commemorates the Magna Carta as a “symbol of freedom under law.” Nearby is a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Reached via a forest pathway, the memorial is inscribed with words from his 1961 Inaugural Address.

Finally, given the links between our two countries, it’s only fitting that the National Archives in Washington, D.C., joins with Britain in celebrating the anniversary of the Magna Carta. Visitors to the Archives can see a version of the charter dating from 1297, as well as view the fundamental documents of American democracy: the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution. An interactive display explores the connections between them.

For help planning a trip to England or Washington DC, contact your travel agent.


Africa’s Top “Up and Coming” Destinations for 2015

South Africa is by far Africa’s top “up and coming” destination, according to a national survey of Travel Leaders Group agents. But it’s not the only spot on the continent that is drawing attention.

As part of its authoritative annual Travel Trends Survey, 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents were polled about the top spots for travel around the world. Their picks for Africa are: South Africa (41 percent), Kenya (11.2 percent), Morocco (10.6 percent), Seychelles (9.1 percent) and Tanzania (9 percent).

With a highly developed tourism infrastructure and some of the world’s most stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that South Africa is one of the continent’s most popular destinations. A safari should be at the top of the list for any traveler to Africa and South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the best places to view wildlife, including the big five: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard. Another must-see is Cape Town, a bustling, diverse city famed for its harbor and setting at foot of its imposing Table Mountain. Among South Africa’s biggest annual events is the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July, a 10-day celebration of music, theater, dance and film.

Visitors to the east African nation of Kenya have an opportunity to witness one of the world’s most remarkable sights – the annual migration of the wildebeest. From July to November, more than 1½ million animals make the perilous trek from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve in search of food and water. Tourists can view the migration in early morning drives, walking safaris, on horseback or from a hot air balloon.

The Kingdom of Morocco, in North Africa, offers ample opportunity for nature lovers, with its rugged mountains, vast expanses of desert and coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Morocco’s cities, including Casablanca, Marrakesh, Fez and Tangier, with their mix of Arab, African and European influences, are places to become immersed in history and culture. The Festival of World Sacred Music will be held May 22-30 in Fez, a city with roots that stretch back 1,200 years.

Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is a place to relax on pristine beaches and enjoy water activities including fishing, sailing and diving. It’s also a place of natural beauty. The Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin Island is home to an ancient forest including the coco-de-mer palm, which produces the largest nut in the world, and the rare black parrot. The country’s biggest party, the Carnaval International de Victoria, will be held April 24-26.

Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, which takes about six days to climb. For travelers who’d rather stay lower to the ground, the east African nation is home to the Serengeti National Park, teeming with wildlife, and the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, often called “Africa’s Eden.” The Zanzibar International Film Festival, East Africa’s largest celebration of film, music and arts, takes place July 18-26.

For help planning a trip to Africa, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel: Tipping Overseas

Business travelers accustomed to leaving tips in restaurants, for taxi rides and at hotels may be surprised if their work takes them out of the country. While tipping for good service is widely accepted in the United States, it’s not as common abroad and in some places, can be considered downright rude.

In Europe, a service charge is routinely added to a restaurant bill. French law, for example, requires a 15 percent service charge. In the United Kingdom, restaurants will customarily add a charge of 12.5 percent. Tipping is not as widespread in restaurants in Italy but some establishments in larger cities have started to add a service charge of 10 to 15 percent, which must be indicated on the menu. In Germany, if a service charge isn’t included, add 5 to 10 percent for the server.

While not required in cases where there’s a service charge, an additional gratuity for exceptional service is always welcome, although it doesn’t have to be the 15 to 20 percent diners in the United States are accustomed to leaving. An additional 5 to 10 percent is usually enough. If possible leave the tip in cash, both to ensure that it gets to the server and because the restaurant may not have a line for tips on credit card receipts.

Tipping for a taxi ride isn’t customary in Europe but if a driver assists with luggage, it’s appropriate to tip a pound in the United Kingdom or a couple of euros in France, Italy or Germany, or round up the fare and tell the driver to keep the change. Like a taxi driver, a hotel porter who assists with luggage should get a tip, usually a couple of pounds in the United Kingdom or a euro per bag in Europe.

In Australia, tipping isn’t expected but it has become more common to leave a 10 percent gratuity in a restaurant. As in Europe, a tip isn’t necessary if there’s a service charge added to the bill. It’s fine to give your taxi driver the spare change from the fare but it’s not expected. At hotels, give a porter who assists you an Australian dollar per item of luggage.

Unlike the United States or Western Europe, tipping is not part of the culture in Japan. It’s not expected in restaurants or at hotels or for cab rides. Most hotel employees are trained to politely refuse gratuities and, in fact, offering someone money directly is considered rude.

Like Japan, there’s generally no tipping in China, where it’s viewed as charity. Taxi drivers won’t accept gratuities and a service fee is included in most restaurant meals. But the practice has become more common at high-end hotels catering to Western tourists, where it’s allowable, although not necessary, to tip a bellhop or concierge.

For occasions when travelers do need to calculate a tip, a smartphone app such as Tipulator comes in handy. It lets you choose an amount up to 25 percent and calculates the amount of the tip.


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