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A Historical Experience on a Road Trip to California National Parks

american history, National Park, National Parks, Travel, travel and history, travel and leisure

A Historical Experience on a Road Trip to California National Parks

 Joe Laing, El Monte RV

What a perfect way to spend a vacation – traveling in an RV on a tour of California’s National Parks! This is truly a unique way to experience California and U.S. history as well as amazing people from our past. Explorers, adventurers, artists and Native Americans – all sorts of folks savored the beauty and also some of the adversity of California as they arrived year after year, century after century. Many stories are told within California National Parks.

Let’s start in Southern California and work our way up to the northern reaches near the Oregon border. We will move not only through the deserts of the southwest where archeologists find historical treasures, but also through wild lands of rugged mountains and tall trees where American Indians hunted and gathered for their families. We’ll visit Gold Rush Country where miners laid down their lives for riches beyond measure. As you travel in an RV you will never lack for a place to stay, as there is an abundance of RV parks everywhere you go.

At Channel Islands National Park, off the coast in Southern California, you will be visiting five amazing islands that have been the subject of many years of research by scientists and historians. Each island has its own story. The Chumash inhabited the islands for thousands of years, yet were decimated when traders and explorers brought in disease. These same traders exploited resources as they hunted seals and otters. Because the islands are so isolated, they have a wealth of unique plant and animal life which creates in itself a wonderful reason to visit.

Heading east now, you will want to visit Joshua Tree National Park next. This desert park offers views into a rich history, with a fascinating story set in an almost surreal environment. There are numerous archeological and historic sites to explore. It is imperative you stop at the museum to see the Campbell Collection which consists of numerous artifacts, notes and photos which tell the story of early cultures.

On north now to Death Valley National Park! You simply cannot visit California without stopping here. You may not believe how much history this park can contain. However, you can’t deny that the Twenty Mule Team wagons have made an impression on young and old ever since they entered the history books. You have the opportunity to visit a long list of ghost towns such as Chloride City, Greenwater or Harrisberry. And to get a look into the life in this desert area in the 20s and 30s, be sure to stop at Scotty’s Castle.

Again heading northward, you will come to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where the breathtaking beauty of the giant trees and rugged mountains will encourage you to get out in the fresh air and get some recreation time in. These side-by-side parks lie in the San Joaquin Valley and have a six thousand year history at least, with hunters and gatherers living in this Southern Sierra wonderland. More came in later years – the trappers and miners, the sheepherders and the loggers. Learn the story of Walter Fry, who arrived as a logger, but after counting the growth rings on one of the trees he cut, decided he wanted no part of ending over 3,000 years of growth.

Don’t miss Yosemite National Park and learn all about our well-known John Muir and all he did to have this area protected as a national park. Experience the views as did Ansel Adams through his camera lens. This park is filled with history and you should allow many days to take it all in. There is so much about this park that can be said, that we’ll leave it at – GO!

Finally you will come to your last two stops, very different from each other – Lassen Volcanic National Park in north central California and Redwood National Park on the coast. Lassen is filed with meadows, lakes and, of course, volcanoes. More than one! Discover the wild stories of the Native Americans who lived and raised their families in the Lassen area. Find out all about the effect that American Indians and the loggers had on Redwood National Park. The wildlife and beautiful coastline at Redwood National Park are some of the main attractions here. As you explore either park, you will learn so much about this region of California and how natives and European explorers came and forged out a living. Although your tour is now at an end, the memories will last forever!

About the Author

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, your nationwide source for RV rentals. El Monte RV also sells used motorhomes through eight different locations across the United States. For more information on purchasing a used motorhome see http://www.elmontervsales.com/.

Travel Blogger Profile: Bill Ferry, Oregon Coast USA.

Travel

Bill Ferry is an active traveler, photographer, and blogger.  Check out his photography and travel blog   f 360” here:  ferry360.com  Over the last decade of retirement Bill and his wife have traveled throughout the US, Canada, and Europe.    In his working years Bill was an executive in the construction materials industry, publisher of a travel newsletter, and a board member of the Southern Oregon Visitor’s Association which promoted travel over a very large region of Oregon.

Bill covers topics relating to travel and photography and you can find a list of some of his work here at the Retire USA blog:

Travel and Photography from Bill Ferry

Here are links to our state pages, but be sure to check out the blog where posts are made almost daily from our merry band of retirement bloggers.

For more about US Retirement see our State Profiles at the Retire USA website.   Here are some of the “most popular” retirement states people choose when they’ve decided to travel away from the home state :

California Retirement | Colorado Retirement  | Florida Retirement | New York Retirement | Nevada Retirement | North Carolina Retirement | Oregon Retirement | South Carolina Retirement | Texas Retirement | Utah Retirement |  Virginia Retirement  | Arkansas Retirement

 

Iraq … Today

Travel, travel and history, travel guides
The US State Department has a fairly comprehensive profile of Iraq we are posting below.   Obviously this won’t allow a complete understanding of some of the complexities of the situation since it’s more a  reflection of US policy and programs than a purely objective analysis, but we’ve found that the US State Department and CIA “country profiles” offer some of the best country introduction material available anywhere.
May 2, 2011  US State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Background Note: Iraq


Official Name: Republic of Iraq

PROFILE

Geography
Area: 438,317 sq. km; about twice the size of Idaho.
Cities: Capital–Baghdad (5.7 million, 2004 estimate). Other cities–Basrah, Mosul, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil.
Terrain: Mostly broad plains; reedy marshes along Iranian border in the south with large flooded areas; mountains along the borders with Iran and Turkey.
Climate: Desert, mostly hot and dry.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective–Iraqi(s).
Population (July 2011 est.): 30,399,572.
Population growth rate (2011 est.): 2.399%.
Ethnic groups: Arab 75%-80%, Kurd 15%-20%, Turkoman, Chaldean, Assyrian, or others approximately 5%.
Religions: Muslim 97% (Shi’a 60%-65%; Sunni 32%-37%), Christian and others approximately 3%.
Languages: Arabic (official), Kurdish (official), Turkoman (a Turkish dialect), Assyrian, Armenian.
Education: Years compulsory–primary school (age 6 through grade 6). Literacy (2006 UNESCO est.)–74.1%.
Health: Infant mortality rate–41.68 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy–70.55 yrs.

Government
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: October 15, 2005.
Independence: On October 3, 1932, Iraq gained independence from British administration under a League of Nations mandate. Several coups after 1958 resulted in dictatorship, with the Ba’ath Party seizing power in 1963 and again in 1968. From July 1979 to March 2003, Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) assumed administrative and security responsibility for Iraq following the March-April 2003 overthrow of the regime, while Iraqi political leaders and the Iraqi people established a transitional government. On June 28, 2004, the CPA transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government. A new 4-year, constitutionally based government took office in March 2006, and a new cabinet was installed in May 2006. On June 31, 2009, U.S. troops withdrew from urban areas, a step that reinforced Iraqi sovereignty. On March 7, 2010, Iraq held a second round of national elections to choose the members of the Council of Representatives and, in turn, the executive branch of government.
Branches: Executive–Presidency Council (one president and up to three vice presidents; Council of Ministers (one prime minister, three deputy prime ministers, and 43 cabinet ministers). Legislative–Council of Representatives (COR) consisting of 325 members.Judicial–Supreme Court appointed by the prime minister and confirmed by the Council of Representatives.
Divisions: 18 governorates (muhafazat, singular – muhafazah)–Al Anbar, Al Basrah, Al Muthanna, Al Qadisiyah, An Najaf, Erbil, As Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Babil, Baghdad, Dahuk, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala’, Maysan, Ninawa, Salah ad Din, Wasit. One region–the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Economy
Nominal GDP (2010 est.): $82.2 billion.
Nominal GDP per capita (2010 est., PPP): $2,564.
GDP real growth rate (2010 est.): 0.8%.
Rate of inflation (2010 est.): 3.3%.
Unemployment rate (2009 est.): 15.3%.
Budget (2011 est.): Revenues–$69.2 billion; expenditures–$82.6 billion.
Public debt (Dec. 2010 est.): $52 billion to $79 billion.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, phosphates, sulfur.
Agriculture: Products–wheat, barley, rice, corn, chickpeas, beans, dates, cotton, sunflowers, cattle, sheep, and chickens.
Industry: Types–petroleum, chemicals, textiles, construction materials, food processing, fertilizer, metal fabrication/processing.
Trade: Exports (2010 est.)–$50.8 billion; export commodities–crude oil, crude materials excluding fuels, food and live animals. Export partners (2009)–U.S., India, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Netherlands, and Japan. Imports (2010 est.)–$45.2 billion; import commodities–food, medicine, manufactured goods. Import partners (2009)–Turkey, Syria, U.S., China, Jordan, Italy, and Germany.

GEOGRAPHY
Iraq is bordered by Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The country slopes from mountains over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) above sea level along the border with Iran and Turkey to the remnants of sea-level marshes in the southeast. Much of the land is desert or wasteland. The mountains in the northeast are an extension of the alpine system that runs eastward from the Balkans into southern Turkey, northern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, terminating in the Himalayas.

Average temperatures range from higher than 48°C (120°F) in July and August to below freezing in January. Most of the rainfall occurs from December through April and averages between 10 and 18 centimeters (4-7 in.) annually. The mountainous region of northern Iraq receives appreciably more precipitation than the central or southern desert region.

PEOPLE
Almost 75% of Iraq’s population lives in the flat, alluvial plain stretching southeast from Baghdad and Basrah to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers carry about 70 million cubic meters of silt annually to the delta. Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia, the region is the legendary locale of the Garden of Eden. The ruins of Ur, Babylon, and other ancient cities are located in Iraq.

Iraq’s two largest ethnic groups are Arabs and Kurds. Other distinct groups include Turkomen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Armenians. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language. Kurdish is spoken in the north, and English is the most commonly spoken Western language.

The majority (60%-65%) of Iraqi Muslims are members of the Shi’a sect, but there is a large (32%-37%) Sunni population as well, made up of both Arabs and Kurds. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbors in language and customs. Communities of Christians, Mandaeans, and Yezidis also exist. Iraq’s once-substantial Jewish community has almost completely disappeared from the country.

In recent years, a large number of Iraqis have been displaced, and there are currently 199,179 Iraqi refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. UNHCR estimates that approximately 1.5 million Iraqis displaced by sectarian violence following the Samarra Mosque bombing of February 2006 remain internally displaced inside Iraq. For more information on Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims, please visit:http://www.state.gov/g/prm/108717.htm.

HISTORY
Once known as Mesopotamia, Iraq was the site of flourishing ancient civilizations, including the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Parthian cultures. Muslims conquered Iraq in the seventh century A.D. In the eighth century, the Abassid caliphate established its capital at Baghdad. The territory of modern Iraq came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks early in the 1500s.

At the end of World War I, Ottoman control ended and Iraq came under the authority of a British mandate. When it was declared independent in 1932, the Hashemite family, a branch of which also ruled Jordan, ruled as a constitutional monarchy. In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. In 1956, the Baghdad Pact allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, and established its headquarters in Baghdad.

Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim took power in a July 1958 coup, during which King Faysal II and Prime Minister Nuri as-Said were killed. Qasim ended Iraq’s membership in the Baghdad Pact in 1959. Qasim was assassinated in February 1963, when the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party (Ba’ath Party) took power under the leadership of Gen. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister and Col. Abdul Salam Arif as president.

Nine months later, Arif led a coup ousting the Ba’ath government. In April 1966, Arif was killed in a plane crash and was succeeded by his brother, Gen. Abdul Rahman Mohammad Arif. On July 17, 1968, a group of Ba’athists and military elements overthrew the Arif regime. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr reemerged as the President of Iraq and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

In July 1979, Bakr resigned, and his cousin Saddam Hussein, already a key figure in the Ba’ath party and the RCC, assumed the two offices of President and RCC Chairman. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) devastated the economy of Iraq. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but actually achieved only a weary return to the pre-war status quo. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using chemical and biological weapons on civilian targets, including a mass chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja that killed several thousand civilians.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, but a U.S.-led coalition acting under United Nations (UN) resolutions expelled Iraq in February 1991. After the war, Kurds in the north and Shi’a Muslims in the south rebelled against the government of Saddam Hussein. The government responded quickly and with crushing force, killing thousands, and pursued damaging environmental and agricultural policies meant to drain the marshes of the south. As a result, the United States, United Kingdom, and France established protective no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. Coalition forces enforced no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq to protect Iraqi citizens from attack by the regime and a no-drive zone in southern Iraq to prevent the regime from massing forces to threaten or again invade Kuwait. In addition, the UN Security Council required the regime to surrender its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and submit to UN inspections. When the regime refused to fully cooperate with the UN inspections, the Security Council passed a series of Chapter VII sanctions to prevent further WMD development and compel Iraqi adherence to international obligations.

Citing Iraq’s failure to comply with UN inspections, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March-April 2003 and removed the Ba’ath regime, leading to the overthrow of the dictator Saddam Hussein. (Following his capture in December 2003 and subsequent trial, Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006 by the Government of Iraq.) The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) assumed security and administrative responsibility for Iraq while Iraqi political leaders and the Iraqi people established a transitional administration. The CPA’s mission was to restore conditions of security and stability and to create conditions in which the Iraqi people could freely determine their own political future. The UN Security Council acknowledged the authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority and provided a role for the UN and other parties to assist in fulfilling these objectives.

The CPA disbanded on June 28, 2004, transferring sovereign authority for governing Iraq to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG). Based on the timetable laid out in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), the IIG governed Iraq until elections were held on January 30, 2005; thereafter, the Iraqi Transitional Government assumed authority.

In May 2005, the Iraqi Transitional Government appointed a multi-ethnic committee to draft a new Iraqi constitution. The new constitution was finalized in September 2005, and was ratified in a nationwide referendum on October 15, 2005. On December 15, 2005, Iraqis again went to the polls to participate in the first national legislative elections as established by the new constitution. The new 4-year, constitutionally based government took office in March 2006, and the new cabinet was approved and installed in May 2006. By that time, following the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara, violence in the country was widespread.

The ongoing violence and instability prompted President George W. Bush to increase troop numbers in Iraq (the “surge” in U.S. forces) in an attempt to improve the security situation and give Iraqi political leaders an opportunity to address the many problems that plagued the Iraqi people. Following the troop increase and adjustments to military strategy, violence declined, thereby providing political space and an improved environment for leaders to make progress on difficult national issues.

In January 2009 two bilateral agreements between the United States and the Government of Iraq took effect: 1) the “Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities During Their Temporary Presence in Iraq” (referred to as the “Security Agreement”) governs the presence and status of U.S. forces in Iraq, and addresses the withdrawal of these forces; and, 2) the “Strategic Framework Agreement for a Relationship of Friendship and Cooperation between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq” (referred to as the “Strategic Framework Agreement” or “SFA”) sets out a variety of areas and aims for bilateral cooperation and forms the basis for a long-term partnership with the people and Government of Iraq.

On January 31, 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Kirkuk province. On March 7, 2010, Iraq held national elections in which parties competed for positions in the Council of Representatives and the executive branch.

In June 2009, in accordance with the bilateral Security Agreement, U.S. forces withdrew from urban areas in Iraq. On August 31, 2010, President Barack Obama announced the end of major combat operations, the completion of the withdrawal of all U.S. combat brigades, and the transition of the role of the remaining U.S. military force of 50,000 troops to advising and assisting Iraqi security forces. By December 31, 2011, all U.S. military forces will withdraw from the country.

GOVERNMENT
Iraq is a parliamentary democracy with a federal system of government. The 2005 Iraqi constitution guarantees basic rights. The executive branch consists of the Presidency Council (one president and up to three vice presidents) and a Council of Ministers (one prime minister, three deputy prime ministers, and 43 cabinet ministers). The president is the head of state, protecting the constitution and representing the sovereignty and unity of the state, while the prime minister is the direct executive authority and commander in chief. The president and vice presidents are elected by the Council of Representatives. The prime minister is nominated by the president and must be approved by a majority of members of the Council of Representatives. Upon nomination, the prime minister-designate names the members of his cabinet, the Council of Ministers, which is then approved by the Council of Representatives. Subsequently, the prime minister and the new ministers are sworn in. The executive branch serves a 4-year term concurrent with that of the Council of Representatives.

Iraq’s legislative branch consists of an elected Council of Representatives (COR). After the 2005 elections, the Council of Representatives consisted of 275 members, each of whom was elected to a 4-year term of service. Following the March 7, 2010 elections, the COR consists of 325 members to reflect an increase in the population of Iraq. At least one-quarter of the members of the Council of Representatives must be female. The responsibilities of the Council of Representatives include enacting federal laws, monitoring the executive branch, and electing the president of the republic.

Iraq’s judicial branch is independent, and is under no authority but that of the law. The federal judicial authority comprises the Higher Judicial Council, Federal Supreme Court, Court of Cassation, Public Prosecution Department, Judiciary Oversight Commission, and other federal courts. The Higher Judicial Council supervises the affairs of the federal judiciary. The Federal Supreme Court has limited jurisdiction related to intra-governmental disputes and constitutional issues. The appellate courts appeal up to the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal. The establishment of the federal courts, their types, and methods for judicial appointments are set forth by laws enacted by the Council of Representatives.

Principal Officials of the Iraqi Government
President–Jalal Talabani
Vice Presidents–pending
Prime Minister–Nuri al-Maliki
Deputy Prime Minister–Husayn al-Shahristani
Deputy Prime Minister–Rowsch Nuri Shaways
Deputy Prime Minister–Salih al-Mutlaq
Minister of Defense–pending
Minister of Finance–Rafi al-Issawi
Minister of Foreign Affairs–Hoshyar Mahmud Zebari
Minister of Interior–pending
Minister of Oil–Abd al-Karim al-Luaybi

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Recent Elections
On January 31, 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except for the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Kirkuk province.

On March 7, 2010, Iraq held national parliamentary elections based on an open list system that elected the members of the Council of Representatives, who elect the president and approve the executive branch appointments. The Iraqi National Movement coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won the most seats (91), followed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition (89 seats), the Kurdish bloc (headed by Kurdistan Democratic Party President Masud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan President Jalal Talabani, with a total of 57 seats), the Iraqi National Alliance led by Muqtada al-Sadr (70 seats), and other smaller political and minority parties (18 seats). On November 11, 2010, the Council of Representatives convened to elect Jalal Talabani to another term as President of Iraq. Osama al-Nujayfi of the Iraqi National Movement coalition was elected as Parliament Speaker. On December 21, 2010, the Council of Representatives approved President Talabani’s nomination of Nuri al-Maliki for a second term as Prime Minister, as well as a majority of Prime Minister Maliki’s Council of Ministers.

Major Political Parties and Organizations and Leaders
Badr Organization [Hadi al-Amiri]; Da’wa al-Islamiya Party [Nuri Kamil al-Maliki]; Goran List [Nowshirwan Mustafa]; Independents Bloc [Husayn al-Shahristani]; Iraqi Front for National Dialogue [Salih al-Mutlaq]; Accord/Withaq [Ayad Allawi]; Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or ISCI [Ammar Adb al-Aziz al-Hakim]; Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP [Mas’oud Barzani]; National Movement of Reform and Development/Al-Hal (Kamil Karem al-Dulaimi]; Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or PUK [Jalal Talabani]; Renewal/Tajdeed List [Tariq al-Hashimi]; Sadrist Trend [Muqtada al-Sadr].

Smaller Parties and Organizations and Leaders
Future Gathering [Rafi’ al-Issawi]; Iraqi Islamic Party [Osama al-Tikriti]; Iraqi Justice and Reform Movement [Ajeel al-Yawer]; Iraqi National Congress/INC [Ahmad Chalabi]; Iraqi Turkoman Front [Saad al-Din Mohammed Amen]; Iraqiyoon [Osama al-Nujaifi]; Iraq Unity Alliance [Jawad al-Bulani and Sa’doun al-Dulaimi]; Islamic Virtue Party/Al-Fadilah [Hashim al-Hashimi]; Kurdistan Islamic Union [Salah ad-Din Muhammad Baha al-Din]; Kurdistan Islamic Group [Ali Bapir]; Life Current [Eskandar Witwit]; National Reform Current [Ibrahim al-Ja’afari]; Sons of Rafidain [Salam al-Zowba’e].

Minority Parties and Organizations and Leaders
Rafidan List/Assyrian Democratic Movement [Younadam Kanna]; Assyrian Chaldean Syriac People’s Council [Khalis Estepho]; Shabak [Jamshed al-Shabaki]; Yezedi [Ameen Jejjo]; Sabi’/Manda’i [Khalid al-Roomi].

ECONOMY
Historically, Iraq’s economy was characterized by heavy dependence on oil exports and emphasis on development through central planning. Prior to the outbreak of the war with Iran in September 1980, Iraq’s economic prospects were bright. Oil production had reached a level of 3.5 million barrels per day, and oil revenues were $21 billion in 1979 and $27 billion in 1980. At the outbreak of the war, Iraq had amassed an estimated $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

The Iran-Iraq war depleted Iraq’s foreign exchange reserves, devastated its economy, and left the country saddled with foreign debt of more than $40 billion. However, after hostilities ceased in August 1988, oil exports gradually began to increase, with the construction of new pipelines and the restoration of damaged facilities. But Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, subsequent international sanctions, damage from military action by an international coalition in January and February of 1991, and neglect of infrastructure devastated Iraq’s economy again. Government policies that diverted government income to key supporters of the regime and sustained a large military and internal-security force further impaired the economy and left the typical Iraqi facing desperate hardships.

The UN created the Oil-for-Food (OFF) program in April 1995 (UN Security Council Resolution 986) as a temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people because of the effect of the continued sanctions regime. The OFF authorized nations to allow the importation of petroleum and petroleum products from Iraq worth $1 billion dollars (U.S.) every 90 days. The Security Council directed the Secretary General to create an escrow account that would hold the proceeds from the sales of oil, and allow Iraq to purchase food, medical supplies, and other goods for essential civilian needs. Although GDP fell in 2001 and 2002, largely as a result of the global economic slowdown and lower oil prices, per capita food imports increased and medical supplies and health care services improved. However, the military action of the U.S.-led coalition from March to April 2003 disrupted the central economic administrative structure. Since then, the rebuilding and enhancement of oil and utilities infrastructure and other production capacities has proceeded steadily, despite attacks on key economic facilities and internal security incidents. Iraq is now making progress toward establishing the laws and institutions needed to make and implement economic policy.

Iraq’s economy remains dominated by the oil sector, which currently provides about 90% of foreign exchange earnings. Oil production currently averages about 2.5 million barrels per day, of which about 2.0 million barrels per day are exported. Following two successful oil bid rounds in 2009, the Iraqi Government has plans to dramatically increase production and export capacity over the next decade. The government must overcome some significant financial, technical, and infrastructure constraints to achieve stated goals, however.

Iraq is seeking to pass and implement laws to strengthen the economy, including a hydrocarbon law that encourages development of the oil and gas sector and a revenue sharing law that equitably divides oil and gas revenues among the central government, the provinces, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Implementing structural reforms, such as bank restructuring and private sector development, while simultaneously reducing corruption, will be key to Iraq’s economic growth.

Foreign assistance has been an integral component of Iraq’s reconstruction efforts since 2003. At a donors’ conference in Madrid in October 2003, more than $33 billion was pledged to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. Following that conference, the UN and the World Bank launched the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) to administer and disburse about $1.7 billion of those funds. The rest of the assistance is being disbursed bilaterally. Since 2003, international donors have pledged about $18 billion in financial and technical assistance, soft loans or potential loan facilities, and trade finance. International donors have exceeded their combined pledges for grants and technical assistance, totaling about $6.5 billion, by more than $1.3 billion. Total soft loan pledges amount to about $12.8 billion, of which $6.5 billion has been committed. Japan is the leading soft loan contributor, having committed nearly $3.3 billion to projects around Iraq. New programs approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank will substantially close the gap between soft-loan pledges and commitments.

In February 2010, the IMF and World Bank approved $3.6 billion and $250 million of support to Iraq, respectively. Both programs are focused on helping the Iraqi Government maintain macroeconomic stability and mitigate Iraq’s vulnerability to external shocks due to volatility in global oil markets. The Iraqi Government has worked closely with both institutions since 2003, including the December 2008 completion of an IMF Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), after which Iraq received the balance of the Paris Club’s 80% debt reduction.

U.S. foreign assistance to Iraq since 2003 has totaled $58 billion. The bulk of this assistance has gone toward reconstruction and security. The focus of U.S. foreign assistance in recent years has shifted from bricks-and-mortar reconstruction to technical assistance and capacity building. The U.S. Government is working with the Iraqi Government to build political, economic, rule of law, and civil society institutions throughout Iraq.

Agriculture
Agriculture is Iraq’s second-largest economic sector (after the oil sector), producing about 12% of GDP, and the second-largest source of jobs (after the public sector), employing at least 15% of the labor force. However, despite its abundant land and water resources, Iraq is a net food importer. Obstacles to agricultural development, most of which existed prior to the removal of the Ba’ath regime in 2003, include government policies and subsidies that distort the market and undermine productivity and competition; outdated technology in plant and animal genetics, fertilizers, irrigation and drainage systems, and farm equipment; inadequate and unstable electricity; degradation of irrigation-management systems; insufficient credit and private capital; and inadequate market information and networks. In addition, the policy of the Ba’ath regime to destroy the “Marsh Arab” culture by draining the southern marshes and introducing irrigated farming to the region destroyed a natural food-producing area, while concentration of salts and minerals in the soil due to the draining left the land unsuitable for agriculture. Assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other international partners since 2003 has helped Iraq begin the necessary improvements. Current U.S. efforts are focused primarily on helping Iraq transition to a private sector-driven agricultural system.

Trade
The United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Under the Oil-for-Food program, Iraq was allowed to export oil and use the proceeds to purchase goods for essential civilian needs, including food, medicine, and infrastructure-repair parts. With the lifting of UN sanctions after the Ba’ath regime was removed in 2003, Iraq is gradually resuming trade relations with the international community, including the United States. The United States designated Iraq as a beneficiary developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program in September 2004. Iraq was granted observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in February 2004, and began its WTO accession process in December 2004. Iraq has participated in two Working Party meetings as part of the accession process, one on May 25, 2007, and the other on April 2, 2008. During this long-term process, Iraq must align its trade regime with the rules-based, multilateral international trade system. Through USAID technical assistance, the United States is continuing to support Iraq’s accession to the WTO. Completion of the requirements for WTO membership will help Iraq establish a proven framework for fostering a more stable and transparent economy that will encourage both domestic and foreign investment.

DEFENSE
The Iran-Iraq war ended with Iraq sustaining the largest military structure in the Middle East, with more than 70 divisions in its army and an air force of over 700 modern aircraft. Losses during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and subsequent expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 by a UN coalition resulted in the reduction of Iraq’s ground forces to 23 divisions and air force to less than 300 aircraft.

In April 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officially dissolved the Iraqi military and Ministry of Defense. On August 7, 2003, the CPA established the New Iraqi Army as the first step toward the creation of the national self-defense force of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The U.S. Forces-Iraq (Advise and Train–A&T) Command currently trains and equips Iraq’s security forces. The Ministry of Interior, with the help of A&T, is training and equipping civilian police forces to establish security, stability, and overall policy primacy for Iraq’s internal defenses. Initially under the command and control of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) Command, in 2006 police and Iraqi Army units began to transition to Iraqi control. By November 2007, all of the original 10 Iraq Army divisions had completed the transfer to Iraq Ground Forces Command. The process of transferring provinces to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) began in July 2007, when Muthanna became the first province where Iraqi security forces took the leading role of security in a province. By December 31, 2008, all provinces had transferred to PIC. U.S. forces remained in Iraq under a UN Security Council mandate until December 31, 2008, and under the bilateral Security Agreement thereafter, continuing to provide security and support to the freely elected government. On June 31, 2009, U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities, in accordance with the Security Agreement. By August 31, 2010, U.S. forces had drawn down to 50,000 troops in Iraq, whose mission transitioned from combat operations to the conduct of stability and support operations through continued advising, training, and assistance to the Iraqi security forces.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
With the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime, Iraq has taken steps toward re-engagement on the international stage. Iraq currently has diplomatic representation in 54 countries around the world, including three permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and the Arab League in Cairo. Forty-three nations have diplomatic representation in Iraq.

The Republic of Iraq belongs to the following international organizations: United Nations (UN); Arab League (AL); World Bank (WB); International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Nonaligned Movement (NAM); Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Interpol; World Health Organization (WHO); G-19; G-77; Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA); Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD, suspended); Arab Monetary Fund (AMF); Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD); International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); International Community for Radionuclide Metrology (ICRM); International Development Association (IDA); International Development Bank (IDB); International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); International Finance Corporation (IFC); International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS); International Labor Organization (ILO); International Maritime Organization (IMO); International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO); Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC); International Organization for Standardization (ISO); International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC); Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); Universal Postal Union (UPU); World Customs Organization (WCO); World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); World Meteorological Organization (WMO); World Trade Organization (WTO) observer.

U.S.-IRAQ RELATIONS
The goal of United States policy is the emergence of an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant. U.S. policy promotes a just, representative, and accountable Iraqi government. The Security Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement provide the basis for the development of U.S.-Iraq relations. When announcing the timeline for withdrawing American combat forces from Iraq, President Obama emphasized that the long-term solution to Iraq’s problems must be political and that decisions about the country’s future must be made by the Iraqis themselves. On August 31, 2010, the United States completed withdrawal of combat brigades in accordance with President Obama’s timeline. The remaining U.S. forces (approximately 50,000 troops) will advise and assist in training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and will withdraw by the end of 2011 in accordance with the terms of the Security Agreement.

U.S. Embassy–Baghdad
Ambassador–James F. Jeffrey

Embassy website: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/

American travelers must apply for a visa prior to travel to Iraq. The visa application, application process, and further information can be found on the Iraqi Embassy’s website athttp://www.iraqiembassy.us/consular-services-2/.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Trip Registration
The U.S. Department of State’s Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site athttp://travel.state.gov, where current Worldwide CautionTravel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found. The travel.state.gov website also includes information aboutpassports, tips for planning a safe trip abroad and more.  More travel-related information also is available at  http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

Date: 07/01/2011 Description: QR code for Smart Traveler IPhone App. - State Dept ImageThe Department’s Smart Traveler app for U.S. travelers going abroad provides easy access to the frequently updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more that appear on the travel.state.gov site. Travelers can also set up e-tineraries to keep track of arrival and departure dates and make notes about upcoming trips. The app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (requires iOS 4.0 or later).

The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department’s travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (a link to the registration page is also available through the Smart Traveler app). Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

Passports
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State’s single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Health Information
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication “Health Information for International Travel” can be found at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentYellowBook.aspx.

More Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including more Background Notes, the Department’s daily press briefingsalong with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

Mobile Sources. Background Notes are available on mobile devices athttp://m.state.gov/mc36882.htm, or use the QR code below.
Date: 07/01/2011 Description: QR code for Background Notes - State Dept Image

In addition, a mobile version of the Department’s http://www.state.gov website is available at http://m.state.gov, or use the QR code below. Included on this site are Top Stories, remarks and speeches by Secretary Clinton, Daily Press Briefings, Country Information, and more.
Date: 02/09/2011 Description: QR Code for m.state.gov - State Dept Image

Back to Top

Wait…there are MORE… 150 MORE travel blogs to follow!

blogs, Travel, travel and history, travel blogs, travel guides, travel websites

Scroll DOWN a bit for Invesp.com’s BlogRank clickable listing of 150 blogs they have ranked, but note they DO NOT RANK most travel blogs.    That’s a project I’m working on now and it’s going to be very helpful to those of us in the sector since there are now tens of thousands of travel blogs, most with almost no traffic at all but many good ones with more than you’d think.

BlogRank’s Top General Travel blogs unique monthly visitors shows how dominant Gadling is in the Travel Blog Sector, though the great folks at BootsnAll up in Eugene Oregon appear to be doing very well also.   I’m skeptical of these visitor numbers and will try to follow up on where they come from.

Compete in the past, based on just a bit of research by me, seemed notorious for underestimating traffic unless you used their (paid) system and installed their counter.    For sites I controlled the underestimation tended to be very dramatic compared to our actual traffic logs and Google Analytics reporting.   I hope they’ve fixed that and a study might be in order, as I’m happy with Google Analytics reporting which seems to match our logs better (again, I’m saying this without enough research to back it up robustly).

1.  Gadling 733,497

2 BootsnAll Travel 178,575
3 MiceChat 89,419
4 The Travel Blog by TravelPod 81,972
5 Jaunted – The Pop Culture Travel Guide 72,462
6 TheJetpacker 69,924
7 Travellerspoint Travel Community 59,745
8 BoardingArea 59,286
9 elliott.org 37,701
10 Europe for Visitors 30,051

———————

Rank Blog Name RSS Monthly Visitors
1 Gadling rss 733,497
2 BootsnAll Travel rss 178,575
3 MiceChat rss 89,419
4 The Travel Blog by TravelPod rss 81,972
5 Jaunted – The Pop Culture Travel Guide rss 72,462
6 TheJetpacker rss 69,924
7 Travellerspoint Travel Community 59,745
8 BoardingArea rss 59,286
9 elliott.org rss 37,701
10 Europe for Visitors rss 30,051
11 Vagabondish rss 27,879
12 PeterGreenberg.com rss 25,679
13 Suzannes Files – Luxury Travel Insights rss 23,176
14 Johnny Jets Weekly Newsletter rss 20,386
15 Nomadic Matts Travel Site rss 19,712
16 Go Visit Hawaii rss 19,266
17 Travel Guides rss 18,263
18 Kathika Travel Website rss 15,417
19 OffbeatTravel rss 14,930
20 The Cranky Flier rss 13,423
21 Global Grasshopper | Travel Tips and Inspiration rss 13,223
22 NewYorkology rss 12,385
23 Touropia rss 11,488
24 Everything Everywhere rss 11,185
25 Wanderlust and Lipstick rss 11,170
26 The Vacation Gals rss 11,094
27 EuropeUpClose.com rss 10,464
28 World Hum rss 10,286
29 My Several Worlds rss 10,143
30 Upgrade: Travel Better rss 9,537
31 DeliciousBaby.com rss 9,235
32 Traveling Mamas rss 8,937
33 Bonjour Paris rss 8,868
34 almostfearless.com rss 8,804
35 The Amateur Traveler Travel Podcast – best places to travel rss 8,803
36 Uncornered Market rss 8,798
37 Travels with Children rss 8,364
38 WanderingEducators rss 8,254
39 Go Green Travel Green rss 7,959
40 Holland America Blog rss 7,415
41 Off Track Planet – The Backpackers Ultimate Travel Guide rss 7,286
42 foXnoMad rss 7,023
43 Hole In The Donut rss 6,851
44 As We Travel rss 6,526
45 itravelnet.com Travel Blog rss 6,491
46 Canada Adventure Couple rss 6,174
47 Indie Travel Podcast rss 6,145
48 Travelvice rss 5,827
49 My Melange rss 5,672
50 Go, See, Write rss 5,158
51 Fun Things to Do rss 5,095
52 Solo Traveler rss 4,946
53 Chris Around The World rss 4,905
54 GoBackpacking rss 4,822
55 Online Travel Review rss 4,506
56 Tales from Technomadia rss 4,161
57 Gourmeted rss 4,077
58 Wandering Trader’s Travels rss 4,005
59 My Itchy Travel Feet rss 3,922
60 Tech Guide For Travel rss 3,871
61 Nomadic Notes Travel Blog rss 3,627
62 RickSeaney.com rss 3,481
63 Ottsworld rss 3,438
64 Champagne Living rss 3,355
65 Get In the Hot Spot rss 3,181
66 Traveling Canucks rss 2,996
67 Mommy Musings rss 2,966
68 Vagablond rss 2,811
69 soultravelers3 rss 2,805
70 Travel Experta – All You Need to Know About Traveling in Central America! rss 2,786
71 TravelBlogs rss 2,755
72 Travel Happy rss 2,741
73 Alaska Travelgram rss 2,722
74 Neil Duckett rss 2,684
75 Johnny Vagabond – Around the World, Low and Slow rss 2,644
76 Blog about barcelona, berlin, madrid and paris rss 2,621
77 Travel Wonders of the World rss 2,608
78 Married with Luggage rss 2,557
79 Travels with a Nine Year Old rss 2,555
80 Travel Blog Sites rss 2,494
81 Family Friendly Hotel, Resort, Suite Reviews: Travel Savvy Mom » blog rss 2,415
82 Briefcase to Backpack rss 2,397
83 Europe Travels rss 2,358
84 SoloFriendly.com rss 2,345
85 Africafreak rss 2,341
86 Round the World Travel rss 2,272
87 The Ticket rss 2,235
88 The Professional Hobo rss 2,181
89 Heather on her travels rss 2,003
90 501 Places rss 1,979
91 HAPPYTIMEBLOG rss 1,900
92 Telluride Inside… and Out rss 1,898
93 Vagablogging rss 1,890
94 The Brooklyn Nomad rss 1,889
95 A Luxury Travel Blog rss 1,871
96 The Road Forks rss 1,864
97 SimpliFlying rss 1,858
98 What a Trip rss 1,761
99 Andy’s Blog – Gone Further rss 1,697
100 Travel Blog Exchange rss 1,658
101 Asian Ramblings rss 1,634
102 PassportChop Travel Experience Blog rss 1,530
103 TravelBrook rss 1,497
104 The Longest Way Home rss 1,484
105 Inside the Travel Lab rss 1,467
106 Peregrine Online rss 1,432
107 tripso.com rss 1,348
108 Travelwires.com rss 1,333
109 Go Galavanting rss 1,330
110 Grumpy Traveller rss 1,309
111 Traveling with MJ rss 1,285
112 Gap Year Escape rss 1,266
113 The Gypsy’s Guide rss 1,250
114 Top vacation spots rss 1,244
115 Travel Feeder rss 1,244
116 Travelogged rss 1,240
117 Travellious.com rss 1,207
118 Fuzzygalore.com -Girlie Motorcycle Blog rss 1,195
119 iBackpack Canada rss 1,171
120 Unearthing Asia rss 1,106
121 Exposed Planet.com. The world exposed in words and vision, by Harry Kikstra rss 1,100
122 Wanderlust Journey rss 1,090
123 MaxaBlog.com rss 1,073
124 Family Travel Guide rss 1,051
125 Travels of Adam rss 1,046
126 VirtualWayfarer – A Place For Intellectual Musings rss 1,044
127 davidlansing.com rss 1,006
128 The Seattle Traveler rss 986
129 Travel Writers Exchange rss 985
130 Travel Rants Blog rss 958
131 MuseumChick rss 947
132 FOGG odyssey rss 919
133 The Aussie Nomad rss 870
134 Family Adventure Guidebooks rss 771
135 Lanzarote Information – Everything and anything about Lanzarote rss 750
136 Chengdu Living rss 747
137 hipcompass.com rss 740
138 MarksTravelNotes.com rss 738
139 Wandalust rss 684
140 Double the Adventure rss 654
141 iKangaroo, rss 644
142 divehappy.com rss 578
143 Kyspeaks rss 576
144 Backpacker Ben Travel Blog rss 573
145 Tyson Williams rss 572
146 Vietnam Travel rss 543
147 thelasvegasadventurer.com rss 534
148 Lifecruiser rss 534
149 Ll World Tour rss 509
150 Travel Junkie Julia rss 500

Planet Explorers: Laura Schaefer’s Travel e-books for kids

Travel, travel guides, travel websites

Check out this new series of travel guides for kids from Laura Schaefer:

Author Laura Schaefer (The Teashop Girls) Releases Planet Explorers Series of Travel Guidebooks for Kids

Laura Schaefer, author of The Teashop Girls (Simon & Schuster 2009) and The Secret Ingredient (Simon & Schuster 2011) has a new series of e-books for kids called Planet Explorers. Her first title, Planet Explorers Walt Disney World, is a guidebook for readers aged 8-12. With fun facts, tips, and active hyperlinks for kids who want to dig a little deeper into everything Disney, the e-book guide is designed to be read on smart phones, Kindles, Nooks or iPads. It is priced at $2.99 per copy at Amazon.com.

“I wanted to give kids an easy way to become Walt Disney World experts without having to carrying around an actual book,” explains Schaefer. “The Planet Explorers guides live right on your phone, which most ‘tweens would have with them during a day traveling anyway.” More exciting, explains Schaefer, is the fact that e-book technology allows readers to jump from information about the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to a website about notorious real-life pirates such as Blackbeard. “The e-book format is perfect for young readers,” she says. “A kid can quickly check out the height requirement for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, then read a little bit about classic Twilight Zone episodes while they wait in line. It’s all there, linked and ready to go. Writing Planet Explorers Walt Disney World was a blast.”

Planet Explorers guidebooks cut out all the stuff kids would find boring if they looked through a regular travel guide and focus on attractions and fun facts. The guides have a lot of pictures and even include a quiz at the end to check the user’s knowledge. Parents are excited about the easy way the guidebooks incorporate learning about geography, history, art and science into real-life experiences.

Planet Explorers Walt Disney World is the first in a whole series. Planet Explorers Chicago, Planet Explorers New York City, Planet Explorers Philadelphia, Planet Explorers Disneyland and Planet Explorers Disney Cruise Line are also available at Amazon, BN.com, iBooks and Smashwords. If you’d like to sample the series, now is the perfect time. Planet Explorers Philadelphia is on sale at Amazon for only $0.99.

Next up? Planet Explorers Universal Resort Orlando, followed by Planet Explorers London. “I loved traveling as a kid,” says Schaefer. “I want to empower my readers to be part of planning vacations with their parents. That way, it’s more fun for the whole family.”

To learn more, please visit http://www.planet-explorers.net.

Sawasdee from Thailand

hospitality, thailand, tourism, Travel, travel and history

One of the many appealing things about Thailand is the greeting gesture that is very common throughout the tourism world here.   In hotels and restaurants it is typical for the server, waitress, or owner to clasp their hands in a prayer-like gesture to greet you or to say goodbye.  Sometimes this is accompanied with the word “Sawasdee” for both hello and goodbye, a term coined some time ago by a university professor during efforts to “modernize” Thailand.

Travel providers throughout the world could learn a lot from the wonderful hospitality of the Thai tourism industry – in my experience the best in the world where helpfulness is not only considered the norm, but generally given without any expectation of a tip (although tips are very much appreciated).

Julia notes from Voss Norway to Paris

history, Travel, travel and history

Paris!
Julia’s been blogging a bit at her personal site: www.HaveyoueverHeardofThat.com and here’s a recap of those posts:

We arrived in Paris two days ago but I haven’t blogged about it yet because I’m too lazy. Yesterday was really fun, but caused all of notre (our) feet to hurt. We went to Notre Dame and it was…huge. The biggest and most detailed church I have ever seen. It was amazing! We walked the streets for about an hour and we looked for souvenirs. My dad didn’t like that. At all. And to top it off, someone ripped him off and didn’t give him enough change! I just woke up so my writing isn’t very good, but oh well. We mustn’t dwell on the quality of the writing itself but the information that it possesses. (I totally disagree with that by the way) I’m very tired right now. We ate at McCaffee (a french McDonalds) and we ate Croissants. I love Paris!!! I could live here! This Morning we’re going to see the Eiffel Tower! That’s my favorite part of Paris. I bought a necklace yesterday with an eiffel tower charm!
Good Bye!

EUROPE TRIP: 4 trains, 1 day, tired me

“Gettin on that midnight train to Oslo…Woo woo!” That is what I was singing this morning when we ever so graciously dragged ourselves out of our nice little bed and breakfast to the train station in Voss at midnight this morning/middle of the night. We got on our train to Oslo and I guess we were supposed to sleep, but that didn’t turn out well for any of us. So now, here we are, on our third train of the day and moms asleep, the brother is uploding pictures with a tired face and dad is watching me write this. I think we’re in Sweden, but who really knows for sure? … There’s really good chocolate on this train. It’s milk chocolate with rasberries or something in it….it makes me happy. I think it’s pretty cool–blogging from a train in a foreign country! That’s a first for me! Tonight (on our fourth train) we get BEDS! Halleluja!

Norway…day one

We are finally settled in to nice Bed and Breakfast in Voss, Norway! We went around town today and saw some cool stuff…like a church that was built in 1277. TWELVE SEVENTY SEVEN! That was before dinosaurs! ……just kidding. But it was a cool church…to tell you the truth, I don’t have much to say yet. Other than Norway is beautiful and today was what we call a “take it easy and don’t do a whole bunch of stuff because we’re still getting used to the time difference” day. I think I’m going to take nap now. Goodbye!

Booking Europe with TripAdvisor and Venere

train travel, Travel, travel and history, travel and leisure, travel blogs, travel guides, travel websites, tripadvisor

As I wrap up our hotel bookings for the Europe adventure I’m very pleased with the many reviews I’m finding at TripAdvisor.com and the booking services at Venere.com, though I think Venere is best for the major cities where TripAdvisor is very helpful even for smaller city destinations like Vernazza in the Cinque Terre.

For Paris, Rome, and Venice I was very pleased with Venere’s ability to sort through thousands of listings and give me high rated properties at lower cost.    Most importantly I was able to reserve them with my credit card with very reasonable  cancellation policies – in one case better than that at the hotel website.     Plans can change in Europe and I’m concerned about the fact that some areas – like the Cinque Terre – are not at all cancellation friendly.     Although my understanding is that you can usually find a nice place in the Cinque Terre without a reservation I’m not risking that with a family in tow and the area surging in popularity pretty much every time a Rick Steves show, book, or magazine extolls the beauty and charm of the area.

Although it’s time consuming, a good approach for smaller destinations is to review the TripAdvisor listings for your destination and then use Google search to find the specific hotel website.   From there I’m finding friendly hotel folks who seem genuinely apologetic when they can’t find me the right room.

Thanks again to Eurail Pass, for helping to sponsor our European Rail Adventure

Thanks, Rick Steves!

europe, rick steves, Travel, twitter

Seattle’s Rick Steves has been touring Europe for decades, and his PBS shows, books, and personal tours to Europe have captivated many of us over the years. The Rick Steves website is one of the web’s best Travel resources with maps and extensive travel tips and participation.

It’s really a “must see website” if you are considering or planning a trip to Europe.
Although I am not a fan of the group tour approach I’m finding that the itineraries are a great way to discover new cities and attractions, and most importantly get a quick feel for the landscape, travel times, etc.
We’re planning the big family tour of Europe now (thanks Eurail.com ! ) and I’m finding that Eurail and Rick Steves are two of the best sites for planning this complicated trip.
Rick’s on Twitter now @RickSteves and I’m hoping he’ll actively participate there, as it’s a great way to project your views to many very fast. He’s also blogging about the politics of travel, offering some really interesting and provocative perspectives on what he feels is a commercialized and narrow view from the American media. Steves’ believes that travel is the best way to experience cultures and countries and people so we fully come to understand them, and hopefully come closer to reducing the many conflicts in our complex world. Keep up the great blogging Steve!

Mexico Cruise Prices Plunge Despite Low Risks

cruises, mexico, mexico cruises., swine flu, Travel

The Swine Flu has yet to claim many victims – in fact it now appears likely that the casualties from regular flu will be *hundreds of times greater* than from Swine Flu. Yet the outbreak appears to be having a chilling effect on travel, especially to Mexico.

Obviously individuals perceptions and tolerances for risk vary, but this is probably one of the best times *in your lifetime* to take Cruise trip to Mexico if you can overcome the anxiety you might have worrying about the small chance you’d pick up the flu during your trip. Keep in mind that precautions are so high now my personal guess is that people are actually *less likely* to get sick on a cruise now than before the Swine Flu outbreak.

As with lightning strikes on a golf course we tend to exaggerate the likelihood of dramatica or catastrophic risks and underestimate the likelihood of minor or mundane risks.

Although the Centers for Disease Control caution that this outbreak could become worse, I think most scientists would agree that people should not avoid travel as a result of the Swine Flu and perhaps more importantly would agree that you can reduce your death risk much more substantially by avoiding or cutting back on other “more risky than flu” behaviors such as driving, bicycling, drinking, smoking, etc, etc.

Here’s the AA Cruise link that got me thinking about this. This is NOT an subsidized endorsement and there may be other great deals out there.

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