March 2016 Travel Column

Luck of the Irish Travel for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to take in a parade, delve into Irish and Irish-American history and, of course, raise a pint of Guinness in honor of the Emerald Isle’s patron saint.

In Ireland, the third week in March has become a celebration of Irish culture, making it an exciting time to visit. Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland, naturally puts on big celebrations, with the St. Patrick’s Festival taking place throughout the city from March 17-20. Highlights include a huge parade on the day itself, March 17, performances by some of Ireland’s finest musicians, dancers and theater troupes, as well as and walking tours that will take you in the footsteps of St. Patrick. After all of that activity, you can quench your thirst at the Irish Beer and Whiskey Village.

About two hours north of Dublin is Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, where St. Patrick’s Day festivities include a parade and free outdoor concert. St. George’s Market, one of the city’s oldest attractions, is known for its food vendors and lively atmosphere. The 19th-century market is also the setting for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration that lasts through the weekend, with music and activities for all ages. Belfast is also home to a relatively new – and quite impressive – museum that tells the story of the ill-fated Titanic, which was built and launched from a city shipyard.

Of course you don’t have to be Irish, or even in Ireland, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in grand style.

New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, dating to 1762, is one of the city’s oldest and most popular annual traditions, with thousands of marchers making their way up Fifth Avenue. Among the landmarks along the route is the Neo-Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a serene and magnificent spot to contemplate the contributions of the city’s Irish immigrants, whose pennies helped build the cathedral in the 19th century. For another taste of history, try McSorley’s Old Ale House, the oldest Irish tavern in New York City, which opened its doors in 1854.

 

Boston holds a grand St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 20, but that’s only the beginning of places to celebrate the city’s Irish heritage. There are numerous Irish pubs where St. Patrick’s Day revelers can listen to live music, get Guinness on tap and try some authentic Irish cuisine. To explore the contributions that Irish-Americans have made to Boston, take a walk along the Irish Heritage Trail, which includes the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

 

Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade kicks off at noon on March 12. But the festivities begin earlier with an annual tradition that goes back generations. At 9 a.m. on parade day, 45 pounds of vegetable dye are poured into the Chicago River, turning the water an emerald green, a process that attracts thousands of onlookers. Cap off the afternoon with a cruise along the river, complete with a traditional lunch of corned beef and cabbage.

 

For help planning a St. Patrick’s Day trip, contact your travel agent. 


New Orleans and All That Jazz

When you think of that most uniquely American form of music called jazz, one city stands out like no other: New Orleans. European and African musical traditions came together in New Orleans to give birth to jazz, and there’s no better place to celebrate this American art form than during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

From its modest beginnings in 1970, with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and bandleader Duke Ellington as the headliners, the festival has grown to include dozens of musicians performing on multiple stages, as well as food and arts and crafts that represent Louisiana’s diverse culture.

The 2016 festival takes place over two weekends, from April 22-24 and April 28 to May 1, at the New Orleans Fair Grounds. This year’s line-up features an array of highly acclaimed musical acts.

Among this year’s many performers are Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Nick Jonas, Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill, as well as jazz stalwarts like trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Chris Botti and Arturo Sandoval, R&B singers such as Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples, and up-and-coming artists like Janelle Monae. And of course the festival wouldn’t be complete without New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band. There will also be a tribute to the legendary blues guitarist B.B. King, who died in 2015.

What’s great about music at the jazz fest is that you’ll see plenty of names you recognize but there’s also a chance to discover terrific new artists at spaces devoted to Afro-centric and world music, blues, contemporary jazz, gospel, Cajun and zydeco, traditional New Orleans jazz and New Orleans brass bands.

The heritage part of the Jazz & Heritage Festival gets just as much attention as the music. Visitors can watch artists create elaborate sculptures for Mardi Gras floats at the Louisiana Folklife Village as well as browse the festival marketplaces for handcrafted clothing, jewelry, artwork and musical instruments. While browsing, there’s plenty of opportunity to chow down on Louisiana favorites including po-boys, crawfish, jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, beignets and café au lait.

The first Jazz Festival attracted about 350 people. But it’s grown hugely popular, attracting about 460,000 spectators last year. That means the demand for hotel rooms is high, making it essential to book a room as early as possible.

Many hotels offer festival rates, including the Royal Sonesta New Orleans, located in the heart of the French Quarter and featuring live jazz nightly; Loew’s New Orleans Hotel, across from Harrah’s Casino and offering views of the Mississippi River or New Orleans skyline; and the W New Orleans – French Quarter, located south of Bourbon Street, which has undergone a multimillion-dollar transformation.

Single-day tickets to the Jazz Festival are $65 in advance and $75 at the gate. Shuttles provide transportation from locations in the city to the festival. Springtime in New Orleans can range from warm to extremely hot. While there’s some shade, the Fair Grounds infield is mostly wide open to the sun, so you’ll want to wear cool clothing and bring sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen and comfortable shoes.

For help planning a trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, contact your travel agent.


Protect Your Travel Investment by Protecting Your Skin

While most travel to sunny destinations go off without a hitch, it’s important to take common sense precautions on everything from your personal safety to preventing bug bites, particularly from mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes don’t have to take a bite out of a vacation. With some simple precautions, travelers can protect themselves and have a safe, enjoyable trip.

Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) offer the same advice for anyone going to areas where mosquitoes are common: use the right insect repellent and wear the right clothing.

When used correctly, insect repellent offers the best protection from mosquito bites, according to the CDC. If you’re using sunscreen, and you should, apply that first and then the insect repellent. While there are products that combine the two, the CDC doesn’t recommend them since repellent isn’t usually reapplied as often as sunscreen.

The CDC recommends choosing a product that contains one of several active ingredients including DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. They’ve all been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and provide safe protection. According to the CDC, you can find those ingredients in brands such as Bug Guard Plus, Cutter, Off!, Sawyer, Skin So Soft, Repel, Skin Smart and Ultrathon.

There are a few things to keep in mind when using repellent. Don’t spray it on your skin underneath your clothing and remember to reapply it every few hours. Be sure to spray the repellent into your hands first before putting it on your face, and use just enough to cover exposed skin. Use it sparingly around the ears, and be sure to avoid applying it to your eyes or mouth. It’s also worth noting that a heavy application won’t give you better or longer-lasting protection. At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, or bathe.

Make sure you bring enough repellent with you, since there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find it at your destination. And remember, federal Transportation Security Administration regulations limit the size of aerosol cans you can pack in your carry-on luggage, so you’ll want to put anything larger than 3 ounces in your checked baggage.

To further reduce the risk of bites, both the CDC and WHO recommend covering exposed skin, especially during the daytime when mosquitoes are usually most active. That means wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats in light or neutral colors. Also, make sure you’re staying and sleeping in screened or air-conditioned rooms. Keep the screens, doors and windows closed to eliminate ways that mosquitoes can enter.

Since mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing, the CDC suggests getting an extra layer of protection. You can buy boots, pants and socks that have been pretreated with the EPA-approved insecticide permethrin, which binds to the fabric and helps kill or repel insects. You can also treat your own clothes with permethrin, and they’ll keep their protection after multiple washings. (Just remember not to use it directly on the skin. It’s for gear and clothing only.)

Finally, if you are bitten, avoid scratching mosquito bites and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce itching.

For help planning a vacation anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.


Haute Cultures, European Style

Each year, the European Union (EU) singles out two cities as its “European Capitals of Culture” as a way of highlighting the continent’s vast diversity, while also celebrating the cultural bond shared by Europeans.

This year, two of Europe’s hottest destinations are a picturesque spot on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region of Spain and an architectural gem of a city on the Oder River in western Poland. After a highly competitive process, the EU named the Spanish city of San Sebastian and the Polish city of Wroclaw as the European Capitals of Culture for 2016. The two cities have very different and fascinating histories. With numerous events planned, they’re primed for discovery by travelers.

Basque country is a region in the Pyrenees Mountains that straddles northwestern Spain and southwestern France on the Atlantic coast. The Basque people, among Europe’s oldest ethnic groups, have held onto their distinct language, strong cultural traditions, including seafaring, and celebrated cuisine for thousands of years, making the region a fascinating place to visit.

San Sebastian, known as Donostia in the Basque language, is a resort city along the Atlantic Ocean. In this place of about 200,000 residents, you can relax on the beach or stroll along a seaside promenade during the day. Then in the evening, explore the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, sampling the bar snacks known as pintxos, the Basque version of Spanish tapas.

The city’s cultural calendar is stocked with festivals, including ones devoted to jazz, from July 20-25, and film, Sept. 18-26. As part of its European Capital of Culture events, San Sebastian will host the World Puppet Festival from May 28 to June 5, with more than 20 internationally renowned companies offering performances for all ages. A major exhibit, “Peace Treaties: 1516-2016,” which runs from June 17 to Oct. 2, will include 300 works by European artists that demonstrate how war and peace have been represented in the arts.

When national boundaries were redrawn at the end of World War II, the German city of Breslau became part of Poland, and adopted the name Wroclaw. Today, Wroclaw is a booming municipality of 600,000, a high-tech hub with numerous universities that give it a youthful energy. With a Gothic town hall and medieval market square filled with restaurants, cafes and pubs, it’s also a place to experience the charms of Central Europe.

Located along the Oder River, Wroclaw is spanned by more than a hundred bridges. On June 11, as part of its European Capital of Culture program, the river, parks and bridges will become a performance space under the title “Flow,” to tell the story of Wroclaw/Breslau’s transformation over the past century. A week later, Wroclaw will hold a nighttime half marathon, with classical musicians serenading runners at spots along the route.

For three weekends in late July and early August, the city will become the singing capital of Europe, with dozens of choirs performing opera, oratorio and a cappella music. And from October 14 to November 13, Wroclaw will host the Theatre Olympics, held every four years and bringing together artists from around the globe. This year’s theme is “The World as a Place of Truth.”

For help planning a trip to San Sebastian or Wroclaw, contact your travel agent.


Business Travel: The Declining Cost of Flying

Over the past dozen years, consolidations have reduced the number of major U.S. airlines to four carriers that today make up the bulk of the domestic market.

With fewer airlines came fears that passengers would end up paying dramatically higher prices for tickets. While that’s a concern for all travelers, it’s of special concern to business travelers, many of whom must fly frequently for work and must pay attention to the corporate bottom line when selecting a flight.

But just the opposite has occurred. Federal statistics, backed up by independent research, show that the price of a plane ticket in real dollars has been on a downward pace for the past several years.

In the third quarter of 2015, the average domestic airfare decreased to $372, down 6.2 percent from $396 for the same period in 2014. When adjusted for inflation, that’s the lowest level since 2010, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. (The average fare doesn’t include optional services, such as baggage fees or preferred airline seating.)

What’s helped to mitigate the price increase? An analysis in 2014 by consultants PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) cites the expansion of low-cost carriers into major domestic markets as a primary reason.

As part of the process of airline consolidation, takeoff and landing slots were divested and gates transferred in large markets such as New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Miami and Chicago. That created an opening for low-cost carriers to enter those markets, and they now represent about a third of domestic air traffic according to the PwC report. As a result, legacy carriers gained competition and the anticipated increase in airfares moderated, proving beneficial for all consumers no matter which airline they fly.

Another factor benefiting frequent fliers such as business travelers is a sustained drop in the price of oil, which is linked to the strength of the U.S. dollar and a worldwide glut of oil.

In February, the price of oil hit a 13-year low, falling to less than $30 a barrel. Most oil contracts are settled in U.S. dollars and the dollar is at a 12-year high compared with other currencies. As the dollar strengthens, analysts expect that the price of a barrel of oil will drop even further.

What does that mean for the airline industry and passengers?

Purchasing jet fuel represents about 30 percent of an airline’s operating expenses, according to the International Air Transport Association. So a lower oil price means greater savings for airlines. In 2015, airlines paid an average of $1.84 a gallon for jet fuel, compared with $2.85 a gallon the previous year, a decrease of 35.5 percent, according to federal statistics.

Lower fuel costs are already having an impact on airlines in some parts of the world. In February, a fuel surcharge on flights originating from Hong Kong was scrapped after the Civil Aviation Department concluded that it was no longer warranted.

Lower airfares means the cost of doing business whenever travel is involved just decreased.

For help planning a business trip in the United States or anywhere around the globe, including getting the best possible airfare, contact your travel agent.

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