Monday, September 8, 2014

The Cost of Four Months Travel

Parisian river scene
 I recently returned from an almost four month extended vacation spent mostly in Greece, but with a two week side trip to Paris, France. As near is I can calculate it, my total costs for this trip were just under $7,000 (Australian dollars). Incredibly, this figure is pretty much what I would have spent if I had stayed at home in Adelaide, Australia.

By way of explanation: Transport includes all public transport (taxis, buses, trains), excluding ferries and flights; Eats includes meals out and snacks; Groceries includes purchases made at local supermarkets in Greece and Paris; Recreation includes visits to museums, galleries and other landmarks. It also includes shared family meals which I hosted and paid for; Other includes purchases that did not fit neatly into other categories. Finally, Bank Fees on overseas purchases and ATM withdrawals have all been lumped into this category. Here is a breakdown of my trip expenses (figures in Australian dollars):

Accommodations             $1526.40
- AirBnB, Paris         $779.00 (10 nights)
- Palace Hotel           $270.50 (4 nights)
- Delfini Hotel          $476.90 (10 nights)
Tower of St. Jacques, Paris, France
Flights                              $2013.97
- Emirates                 $1619.91
- Air France              $394.06
Ferries                             $225.00
Transport                        $127.37
- Greece                  $46.02
- Paris                     $81.35
Eats                                 $697.92
- Greece                  $390.27
- Paris                     $307.65
Groceries                       $552.39
- Greece                  $481.89
- Paris                     $70.50
Shopping                       $536.50
Recreation                    $762.64
- Greece                  $644.79
- Paris                     $117.85
Other                            $386.95
- Global Rorting      $18.22
Bank Fees                    $154.15         
TOTAL:                       $6983.29

Clearly, some of the costs in the above breakdown overlap with other categories. For example, I could have added bank fees (Currency Conversion Fees, etc) to their associated purchases, but I liked the idea of separating these costs out from everything else. Also, my hosting and paying for several family gatherings at restaurants could have gone into the Eats category, but I saw these as separate from meals and snacks I bought just for myself.

‘Global Rorting’ is my not so tongue in cheek name for Global Roaming fees imposed by all telecoms providers on travellers using their mobile phones outside of their home networks. Travel blogs and websites are full of horror stories about people who have returned home to find massive phone bills waiting for them, because they used their phones while travelling.

I got around this potential problem (just $18.22) by using Skype as much as possible, and by using my phone only when I absolutely had to. As soon as I had used my phone to make a call, I would turn off Global Roaming to ensure there was no chance of incurring costs and charges I was not prepared for. If you don’t have Skype installed on your smartphone or tablet device do so at the earliest opportunity. Calls to other Skype users are free―even if those users are on the other side of the planet. And calling people who are not Skype users incurs a fee that is a fraction of what your phone company charges, so do yourself a favor and install it now. Even the app is free.

Statue of Apollo, Versailles, France
An additional word or two about the Accommodations and Groceries expenses may be in order. Firstly, Accommodations. Clearly, since I only paid for a total of 24 nights in hotels, I must have had other sleeping arrangements in place for my remaining three months, and in deed I did.

I am lucky enough to have extensive family connections in Greece where two sisters and their extended families now live. Hence, I was able to share my time between both sisters at no cost in terms of accommodation. However, I did of course contribute financially in other ways while staying with family, either by hosting and paying for the already mentioned family gatherings, or by paying for petrol, groceries (other than my own), and for a new digital television and computer desk for family members (both Shopping expenses), and for other items.

As for Groceries: For most of my time in Greece and Paris, I lived in accommodations that enabled me to cook my own meals, thereby saving me a small fortune by not having to eat out at restaurants and caf├ęs all the time. To clarify, most if my stay in Greece was spent in a self-contained studio apartment owned by family members for which I paid no rent, which obviously kept my accommodation costs to a minimum. A good example of how costs can add up quickly can be seen by comparing the Eats figures. I spent almost as much in Paris ($307.65) over two weeks as I did during 14-15 weeks in Greece ($390.27).

Of course, not all travellers have the luxury of free accommodation available to them when they travel, so I am extremely grateful to my sisters and their families for making my stay not only affordable, but the absolute delight it turned out to be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Another City, Another Scam

Back in January 2011, I wrote about a Gold Ring Scam I fell for while visiting Paris during the winter of 2010. Recently, I was reminded of the following scam I fell for while visiting New Orleans in 2012. Apparently, it is a well known scam in the city, but unfortunately, I had never heard of it.

While out walking one day I was approached by a local person of doubtful character who complimented me on my boots! I immediately sensed that I was about to be scammed by a panhandler for a dollar or two, but this guy was better than most. He wanted to guess, with absolute certainty "Where you got your boots." I tried to ignore him, and said there was no way he could know where I got my boots, but he was insistent, so I let him guess, since he was quite persistent, and didn't seem to be able to take "No" for an answer.

Sucked in again, Jim!

Of course, he knew exactly where I " my boots."

"You got your boots on your feet!" he crowed triumphantly.

With that, he bent down and smeared some gunk on both boots and then insisted on cleaning them for me - for an 'donation' of course. I wasn't too happy about the scam, but took it in good humor when I realised he wasn't alone, and that a couple of friends were providing back up for this con man.

However, my good humor quickly soured when he (and his friends) tried to scam me out of $20 for the so-called 'shoe cleaning', I baulked and gave him $9.00 in small bills, which he happily took. I did have a $20 note, but I was not going to give him that if I could help it. I suspect that if I had only given him $5 he would have been just as happy with that, but what the heck.

I paid because, just like the gold ring scammer in Paris, I should have known better, but despite my Scammer Alert warning system, I still fell for his patter, and for that I needed to pay for my stupidity. I also paid because I had a feeling that his own 'good humor' and that of his friends might also have turned sour very quickly, and I was in no position to defend myself against three men.

Next time - and there will always be a next time - I hope I have the presence of mind and the good sense, to simply ignore the scammer and walk away before they have time to launch into their well rehearsed patter.

By the way, I was in Paris again just last month, and the 'Gold Ring Scam' as I like to call it, is still going strong. This time I was approached by some guy trying to con me while I was visiting the Eiffel Tower, but of course he went away empty handed.

And while I’m at it, if you ever go to Paris, watch out for the young women (and they always seem to be young women), who claim they are collecting money for institutions providing services for people with disabilities of one sort or other (mostly for the deaf or deaf-mutes). Some of them even pretend to be deaf-mutes themselves, but watch them long enough and you will see them talking together as they go about their lucrative ‘business’.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Final New York City Hidden Harbor Tours for 2014

The final(?) three New York City Hidden Harbor Tours for 2014 have been announced and all are well worth participating in. In addition to the three tours, you can also board a Spectator Boat and cruise alongside the numerous vessels taking part in the 22nd Annual North River Tugboat Race and Competition.

The tours take in Port Elizabeth & Port Newark (on Saturday, 30 August 2014); Gowanus Canal Tour (October 5, 2014); and the Circumnavigation of Staten Island (October 19, 2014). The 22nd Annual North River Tugboat Race & Competition takes place August 31, 2014. Clearly, time is short, so if you are going to join any of these events you had better get busy and start booking your place. Here are more details about each event.
Photos © Mitch Waxman

Hidden Harbor Tour of Port Elizabeth and Port Newark, Saturday, 30 August 2014

Explore the working harbor and enjoy an insider’s view of how the harbors of Port Elizabeth and Port Newark really work, and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. You will get unique close up views of port terminals where giant container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. This tour will be narrated by Captain John Doswell. Guest Speakers include Ed Kelly (Executive Director, Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ), and Captain Maggie Flanagan (Marine Educator South Street Seaport Museum).

Saturday, 30 August. Boarding @ 10:30 a.m. Cruising 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, Pier 83, West 42nd Street and 12th Avenue.

Adult Ticket: $40; Seniors: $35; Children: $26 (3-12)
WHC members: $35 (enter code WHCM5 in "Promotional Code" box)


Photo (c) Mitch Waxman, Gowanus Canal.
A new Hidden Harbor Tour from the Working Harbor Committee exploring Gowanus Bay (including Erie Basin and Sunset Park).

October 5, 2014 at 1 pm. This a two hour tour
Tour departs from Pier 16, South Street Seaport
Adults: $35.00; $30 Seniors, WHC members & kids under age 12.

This tour takes in the Erie Basin and Barge Center, and the Gowanus Bay Terminals. During the tour passengers will see the home of the historic ferry, Yankee, the giant slag ship, MV Loujaine, see behind the big grain elevators, and learn about the history and future of the Gowanus Canal and more. Special guest speakers from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy


Photo © Mitch Waxman
Circumnavigation of Staten Island, Including several Lighthouses.
Sunday 19, October, 2014. 
Departs 1 pm and Returns 5 pm

Boarding begins at 12:30 pm, at World Financial Center Ferry Terminal.

Tickets $55.00 Adult; $45 Seniors and WHC members & kids under age 12.

Suring this tours passengers will see several Lighthouses, Tug Yards & Drydocks, Giant Shipping Terminals, Graveyard of Ships and the former U.S. Navy Homeport, as well as get close up views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.


Photos © Jhoneen Preece-Doswell 2013
The 22nd Annual North River Tugboat Race and Competition
August 31, 2014 - Buy Tickets Today for the Spectator Boat!

Time: 9:30 am to 11:30 am

Be in the race! Enjoy great close up views of this exciting event on a Spectator Boat provided by Circle Line Sightseeing.

Adults: $25; Children: $12.


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