Scams

There has to be a lot of frustration out there. Today I decided to write about travel scams. Ruth & I have been victimized 4 memorable times. Three of the incidents occurred in Italy. The frustration now has to do with the internet. It’s not simple or easy to use any more. The last time I wrote about travel scams, I began on page one and was done by page 3.

Yesterday I was intrigued with a page one entry by the Travel Channel. “11 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them” by Steve Larese interested me, and I began looking among them for the 4 I had personally gotten involved in; but I knew better than to respond when a stranger asked me for the time, tried to tie something on Ruth or my wrist to gain control, asked if we wanted to have a drink with him, or offered to take our photo. These are common scams and none of the 11 applied to us, but they did remind me of the week we spent in Madrid when we were far more naive. We experienced a scam being perpetrated on us each and every day and learned by observing. One night we were mugged in the underground because I made the mistake of photographing very public Christmas decorations. By the end of the week we recognized both scammers and their methods.

I moved on to page 3 where I read Forbes ” 4 Travel Scams To Watch Out For Now” written in 2020. The 4 included “Scammers Posing as Airline Agents” that involved a summer trip to Europe. Since travel to Europe is difficult or impossible now with the virus I moved on quickly. The choices now seemed to duplicate information already covered, and the scams covered both repeated and ranged from 4 to 24.

By page 6, I was tired of the subject and recalled days gone by when I would not need to ever read beyond page 5 and mostly stopped cruising any subject after page 1. But on page 6 I was stopped by the Huffpost’s 40 travel scams that included a thown baby, an expensive taxi driver, and the overly helpful local. I recalled climbing into and out of expensive taxis in Istanbul and Mexico City and the many helpful locals I have avoided, but I have never experienced a thrown baby. I have heard about this, however, and remembered a tour guide in Argentina warning us not to rent a car in Bolivia because parents might push one of their children in front of it to put us into insurance hell. I began wondering how many more pages were ahead of me on this subject.

By page 9 the entries were at least becoming more specific. I read Trip Savvy’s “5 Common Travel Scams in Los Angeles”. It wasn’t until page 18 that I paused on the first non-travel entry. The article was about international financial scams. On page 27 I paused at USA Today’s most common travel scams by country in Europe. Travel scams finally came to a halt on page 28.

The most difficult travel scam to affect us deeply occurred in Brussels, Belgium. I was left to watch all of our possessions in a train station we had been warned about. Alone with luggage was our first mistake. Then I fell for the old scammers trick by responding to a question about where something was. After I gave directions, I looked down to realize that a new piece of travel luggage was missing. The bold scammers later contacted our family in the US about the supposedly found missing bag, but we never tried to get the bag or its contents back.

Hank


The Future

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world. Recently the Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto projected that Mumbai, India, will be the biggest city in the world in 2050 with 42.4 million people living there. However, it hedged its prediction by saying that Mumbai won’t be #1 for long. This struck me as wise because no one knows the future. Who could have predicted a worldwide pandemic in 2020?

India has 2 other megalopolises on the Global Cities Institute’s top 10 list, Kolkata and Delhi. Delhi is, in fact, #2 and a candidate for world’s largest city in 2050 when it will be home to more than 36 million people, but according to the World Health Organization, India has had almost 11 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 but only 153,470 deaths. Delhi is known to be choking from poor quality air and a very unhealthy environment. The Indian Government may have to limit growth. The same is true for Mumbai, Kolkata, and other Indian cities that are also experiencing frequent power outages.

China has more than 100 cities with a million or more inhabitants. I remember being shocked to find that one city we went to from Shanghai named Hangzhou had more than 10 million people. I expected it to be much smaller. However, the highly regulated people in China, which is better at limiting population growth in cities than India, is projected to have zero cities in the top ten in 2050.

Wuhan, the suspected source of COVID-19, is among China’s largest cities. It ranks #10 according to chinahighlights.com. This information was updated in January, 2021. There are 7.9 million people living in Wuhan and 11 million in the metro area, which has experienced only 3,869 deaths from COVID-19 so far with new cases declining. Wuhan is like Beijing in that it’s not a coastal city. It’s an inland transportation, high-tech, and education hub on the Yangtze River and a very old city.

David Satterthwaite a Senior Fellow for IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development, did a study for them that was released in March, 2020. He admitted to not knowing some of the cities he was reporting on like Kenya’s Kiambu. It and other Kenyan cities like Ngong and Ruiru are experiencing rapid population growth. Lagos, Nigeria, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, are already among the candidates for largest in the world for population in 2050. All 5 of these or another African city might become the largest in the world by 2050. Satterthwaite sadly reported that the 3 cities with the largest declines in population at the present time are Detroit, Khulna, a city in Bangladesh, and Aleppo in war-torn Syria.

The worldwide final death toll from COVID-19 is still unknown. The name of and impact on the world of the next pandemic are also not known. All that is certain is that one will happen.

Hank


Traveling in France

Salasc is a commune in the Herault department in the Occaitanie region of France. I searched a map looking for it and finally had to google it to find out where it actually is. I would never have found it otherwise. Traveling in France can be difficult. I learned this lesson when our daughter married a Frenchman and we went to meet his extended family. Before dining with them, Ruth and I had to have lessons in proper table manners. When I mentioned Salasc to my French son-in-law, he did not know where it was.

An arrondissement is a subdivision of a French department used for local government administration. The word comes from arrondir, which means “to make round”. Go figure! I got used to Paris being divided into arrondissements, which I figured meant neighborhoods; but I never realized that the entire country is divided into them. They are the largest administrative subdivisions of departments. Salasc in southern France is in an arrondissement called Lodeve. There are 101 French departments and they are divided into 332 arrondissements, which are further divided into cantons and communes. Understand now? Me neither. To further complicate local administration in France, each district arrondissement has its own town hall called a hotel de ville. An inn is any small French town is often called an “auberge”, not necessarily a hotel. A hotel de ville is a city hall. A hotel de police is a police station.

Being an American and part of a French family too is not easy. Ruth & I learned how to dine properly early on, but over time we have learned much more. One of the first things we learned is that the French disdain corn. They rarely eat corn because they consider it cattle feed. Like in Italy, social etiquette in France is very important. If you deal with a French person during the day, it’s wise to greet him or her with, “Bonjour” and wait for a reply. This will get you better treatment. Americans are thought to be too abrupt.

Never show up at a French home without a small gift. Cookies, a pastry, or a cake from a local boulangerie will avoid tongue clicking and accusations of being a typical American. Flowers in lieu of a pastry is appropriate too. Candy is dandy. Avoid going into a cafe and ordering coffee in France while not in the presence of a French person. You will pay more and be judged non-French. It helps to understand the culture if you know in advance that the French don’t like waiting in line. Always be on time. It is important to know and say, “Excusez-moi” when about to ask for help from anyone French.

I finally located Salasc on a map of France. It’s about 3 square miles and has a population of a little more than 300 people. I will visit it on my Peloton again but will probably not try to go there when foreign travel is possible.

Hank


World’s Most Visited

There are several websites that track the world’s most visited attractions. One that grabbed my attention was by Katie Hammel for farandwide.com. Rating tourist attractions by number of visitors, Hammel listed the top 50 in the world. She updated the list as recently as 7/31/20 but may have to revise and rerank them in 2021.

Hammel’s list is something of a shock. Most of the attractions are in the USA with almost every attraction in Orlando, FL making her list. None are in Africa. However, a large number of them are in Asia with 3 in Hong Kong alone. I have never heard of the 2 that are in South Korea–Lotte World and Everland Resort. Not surprisingly, there are none on the list in North Korea, which is on few tourist lists of fun places to visit. Everland ranks #40 and reportedly attracts 6.8 million visitors per year.

Despite my vow never to write about the world’s most popular attractions like Niagara Falls, which ranks #5 and usually experiences 22.5 million visitors each year, Ruth and I have been to 27 of the 50. In my own defense, we went to many of them before I began travel writing. You will not find reviews of Disneyland and Versailles on my blog. Some of the 27 include #38, the Eiffel Tower, # 25, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), and Grand Central Terminal in New York City, #6. We have not actually been on the Eiffel Tower because the day we were there it was closed due to snow and ice. The last time we tried to enter GSMNP, we were in a line of cars that seemed to stretch into infinity. It was a sunny Sunday near the end of Smoky’s good weather season at a place that Hammel says attracts 9.6 million sightseers every year now. We made a U-turn and fled. We always go to Grand Central while in New York City because we love the original Oyster Bar there for special occasions.

So, why do I think that Hammel might need to revise her list? Because of COVID-19, several of New York City’s most visited attractions see far fewer out-of-towners. Every photo of Times Square I have seen lately has shown it virtually deserted. Entry was barred on New Year’s Eve for the dropping of the newly-crystalized ball to welcome 2021. Hammel’s #1 attraction was the Las Vegas Strip. According to her, 39.6 million people saw it per year to make it the top attraction in the world. On January 11, 2021, the Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, announced measures that will be in place for at least another 30 days and include full-time mask wearing, restaurants and bars operating at 25% occupancy, and no large public gatherings. Notre Dame in Paris is ranked #13 on Hammel’s list despite the fact that tourists can’t go inside it at the present time because of the fire on 4/15/19.

On farandwide.com, however, the Katie Hammel article is followed by a report on overtourism by Lissa Poirot. Its thrust is, “How Not Traveling Is Helping the Planet”. It’s dated 4/3/2020. How can people pass up the chance to see the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that once attracted 15 million visitors per year?

Hank


Funny Headlines

I love headlines. One on-line service defines “headline” as “a heading at the top of an article or page in a newspaper or magazine”. This seems rather limited now since many on-line services and other organs use headlines to encourage readers. Perhaps Merriam-Webster on-line has a better definition, “Words set at the head of a passage or page to introduce or categorize”, but then they offer a 2nd definition as weak as the first meaning above, “A head of a newspaper story or article usually printed in large type and giving the gist of the story or article that follows”. This is altogether more descriptive and accurate, but does it apply to just newspapers that people seldom read today?

What I do know is that good headlines are difficult to write. Way back when I actually worked for a newspaper or two, I often had little trouble writing an article but then agonized over how to word the title. Writing a blog is tricky. It’s hard to use words that will help readers find stuff to read that suits their exact interests. Often a headline seems generic and dull even though it’s far more helpful.

Anyway, I collect unusual headlines and have for years. Today I googled weird headlines and was surprised by how many services like huffpost.com use headlines to stimulate the imagination like “OREGON THIEF BERATED MOM WHO LEFT 4-YEAR-OLD BOY IN CAR HE STOLE”. This is, in my opinion, unwieldy but curious and funny. I want to read the article.

Below are some recent headlines that I found today followed by some that are old and I recently found in a folder. I have proof that they were once actually used.

MISSIPPI’S LITERACY PROGRAM SHOWS IMPROVEMENT

MURDERER SAYS DETECTIVE RUINED HIS REPUTATION

BEST MAN LEFT BLEEDING AFTER BEING HIT….BY FLYING DILDO.

FEDERAL AGENTS RAID GUN SHOW, FIND WEAPONS

and LOOSE COW IN MASSACHUSETTS CAPTURED AFTER SIX MONTHS

The following were in my folder and were really used

TIPSY TABOO

JUST-REPAIRED PLANE CRASHES INTO TOY FACTORY

DOG KILLED, COUPLE HURT IN FIRE AT BOWLING ALLEY

STOVE, LEFT ON, DESTROYS KITCHEN

SHOT MAN WON’T TALK TO POLICE

and my favorite, which could apply to me, THE MAN WHO’S BEEN EVERYWHERE, EXCEPT THESE PLACES

Headlines that make you want to read on do work, in my opinion, superbly.

Hank