Life goes on

No matter what is happening in the halls of power, regular life does, indeed go on, and we are preparing for our spring excursion – hoping that nothing that emerges from Washington (or elsewhere) is going to throw too much of a wrench (or for my UK friends – a spanner) into the works.

This time we’ll be heading mostly inland, mostly to Germany, with some side trips into Austria and Hungary, and in preparation I have been reading Danubia and watching documentaries on the history of Vienna (thank you Fiona!) and have learned more about the Hapsburgs than I ever learned in school (which pretty much consisted of Holy Roman Emperors, Electors, Austria Hungary, Ottoman Empire, War of the Spanish Sucession then there was Fredrick the Great and the Hapsburgs weren’t that important any more until Archduke Ferdinand – and that they married their cousins too much and had bad chins.) I now know a great deal more, and they really did marry their cousins way too much, and have really bad chins, but they also had a number of centuries of dominance over a very chaotic region and the seeds of many of the contemporary conflicts are rooted in the family history.

I am really looking forward to seeing this region and getting to explore some of the historic and scenic areas we will be visiting. I’ve also been fascinated with ‘Mad’ King Ludwig for years and we will be visiting at least a couple of his castles as well (he wasn’t a Hapsburg, though.) In addition, we will be spending some time in and around Munich on our own after our back to back river cruises on the Danube, and I hope to get to see some of the ancestral homes of my mother’s mother’s family, the Killians. I always thought, with a name like Killian, they were likely to have been Irish, but it turns out that a St. Killian, who was Irish, came over and proselitzed to the Germans, and these particular ancestors most likely were from the district around the Cathedral named for him. They were engravers and jewelers, the most famous being a contemporary of Durer and it turns out that his engravings – mostly portraits – are in the collections of a number of notable museums. That particular branch of the family was from Augsburg and I have a day trip planned to go there from Munich, just to see if we can find some traces.

I’ll be posting a travelogue as we go along.

And what she said, too

I received this response from a friend in Edinburgh in response to my posting of Dave Cogwell’s thoughtful and well written piece, and wanted to share her thoughts as well, as they have deep relevance, I believe, for anyone who may be succumbing to the prevalent hysteria and paranoia that is sweeping, at the least, the media in the US in the wake of the Paris attack, and now the attack in Mali, and the wide-ranging man hunts and sweeps going on in Belgium and elsewhere.  Her last sentence is all too reminiscent of Anne Frank, and one can only hope that the US is NOT going to replay our shameful pre-war history with the refugees of this current conflict.

I am prompted to reply to your carefully and thoughtfully written post if only to give a “European perspective” on recent events in Paris, Brussels and Mali, which I know have made headlines around the world. As I do not know exactly how much awareness of European events and news your blog followers continue to have once the main stories broke, or where in the world some of them are located, I hesitated to add a comment directly to the blog although that was my initial intention.

We have always had terrorism in some form or another here in Europe, and even in my own lifetime I remember the terrorist acts of European groups such as ETA, The Red Brigade and Baader-Meinhof amongst others. The IRA of course were (and indeed to a very small degree still are) our very own. Most of these names are now only to be found in history books, but in their time many innocent civilians were also killed or severely injured by being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

What is happening now is however very very different as it is ordinary citizens who are being attacked and murdered simply because their way of life is not approved of by ISIS/ISIL or any of their affiliated groups, or because their governments are making decisions which may not be the wishes of ordinary people. So where do we go from here?

For ourselves, we can only carry on with our everyday lives as we have done in the past. For my own generation it should be second nature to be aware of the places and the people around us, and to remove ourselves from any situation in which our instincts tell us that it simply “doesn’t feel right” however foolish we may feel at the time. For younger people it is not something they would even consider before, now they too would be wise to follow the same guidelines. It is what we have always done both at home and when we travel, but even with a degree of alertness we could still at any time and anywhere become direct or indirect victims of a sudden or unforseen attack.

We ourselves have tickets for some public events in the centre of Edinburgh over the Christmas and New Year period. Will we still go? Of course. We really have no other choice if we value our freedom outside of our home.

Yesterday, Saturday, we went into the city centre. It was the first weekend of the city Christmas lights being switched on, the seasonal markets open, the fairground rides and ice rinks open to the public for their enjoyment, and the shops were busy with Christmas shoppers. It was also the Festival of Diwali.

Celebrated principally by Hindus but also by Jains and Sikhs, the festival of Diwali spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

It seemed especially appropriate yesterday that this event should continue as planned, particularly as the celebrations were being held for the very first time in the public area of the Ross Bandstand in Princes St Gardens, so that others of different religions or even of no religion could participate or simply enjoy the performances of singing and dancing followed by fireworks and lasers.

We noticed that many of the Hindu men and young boys were wearing kilts. Not only a kilt itself, but in many instances the full outfit. And many of the women and girls (those not performing in their “other ” ancestral national dress) were wearing tartan or checked skirts, trousers or jackets. Others had pinned on tartan sashes. We guessed what the answer would be, but still asked one of the men why so many were wearing tartan. His reply was this:

“We feel it is important to show that although our Hindu religion may be different from your own, we are not only Hindu but Scottish and proud to be Scottish. We want to show that our religion is only one of the religions practised in Scotland, and apart from our religion we are as Scottish and as integrated as anyone else living here”.

I was very touched by these words. So many people of different cultures and religions trying to show that we are all united in condemning evil.

The world is still (mostly) full of good people.

What he said….

DAVID COGSWELL | NOVEMBER 18, 2015 8:39 AM ET

Beyond Paris and Beyond Fear

Naturally, in the wake of a horrifying and chillingly coordinated series of murderous attacks as we saw in Paris last week, a wave of panic and dread passes through the human community. Everyone with normal human reactions is going to experience an immediate impulse for self protection, to take cover, to shield yourself and get out of harm’s way.

And then there is the wave of anguish from watching the aftermath, seeing the suffering of all the people directly affected by the senseless tragedy.

Then, somewhere down the line, when the fear of immediate threat has subsided and some sense of normal life has returned, it is time to consider the implications of the events from as rational perspective as you can muster at that point.

The mass killings in Paris give us every reason to be frightened. But they give us even more reason not to give in to fear.

Claiming no expertise, but just as a shoot-from-the-hip layman’s analysis, it seems the moments just after an incident of terrorism are the least likely to be dangerous. At that point, everyone is hyper alert. Anyone planning a terror attack is likely to lie low at that time and wait for vigilance to subside.

If that supposition holds any water, one could then ask where we might rationally expect terrorists to attack next? Then you have bumped up against the great unknown.
Certainly there are criteria for educated guesses. Some places are more likely targets for terrorism than others, because of their visibility, their familiarity to people or the density of their populations. The World Trade Center for example.

There are intelligence agencies tracking movements of money and people who may be planning terrorist activity — but ultimately, it is impossible to perfectly predict the activity of these rogue elements of the population. It is impossible to completely eliminate risk.
Inside the United States, we have proved to be fairly effective at blocking terrorist activity from the Middle East, but we have proven ourselves unable to stop our own local breed of unpredictable, insane violence in the form of random mass shootings.

If I am sitting in New York, I have every rational reason for fearing that New York is a more likely target right now in the aftermath of the Paris attacks than is Paris.

So how do I stay safe? And if I am in Paris, or New York for that matter, what is and what isn’t a safe place to go?

As horrendous as the attacks were, the vast majority of people in the city only learned about the incidents from their TVs, as did other people around the world. Ultimately there is no logical, rational way to change your behavior in such a way that you are no longer at risk.  You can lessen or increase your risk, for example by driving to the middle of Death Valley all by yourself where no one can get you (you hope). But you can never completely eliminate risk.

If you start trying to consider all the rational possibilities during the time you are in a state of fear, there is no end to them. The mind can just keep generating possibilities, because in the actual field of activity, the possibilities are endless.

Paranoia, by the way, is not a failure of logic, but a loss of faith. When one is under the spell of fear, the mind can generate plenty of paranoid plots that are based on fairly sound logic, but are still fantastic and unrealistic. When there is a loss of faith, there is nothing to ground our fantasies in. They can go wild.

Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times Monday, pointed out that the whole purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, and this incident has effectively done that. But the incident is not a sign that Western Civilization is about to collapse under the force of such terrorist attacks.

Krugman said the fact that the perpetrators are using this kind of tactic — bombings at public places — shows their weakness, not their strength. If you assign to them some massive power that is beyond what they are really capable of, you have given them too much power.

That is the purpose of terrorism, and that is the biggest reason we cannot give in to fear. That is the one thing that people on the scale of ISIS — who are looked upon with horror and loathing by almost all civilized people no matter what side of the conflicts in the Middle East they may be on — can achieve.

We have the power to deny them that. Each of us in our own lives can refuse to give them the power to destroy our lives.
Krugman says, and I agree with him, that “the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire.”

I hate to bring up bad memories, but after 9/11, there was an attack on a country that demonstrably had nothing to do with the attacks and posed no threat to the U.S. The mess we made there helped set the stage for a band of lunatics like ISIS to gain a footing.
Letting ourselves be ruled by fear, hiding away, trying to avoid the risk one incurs by moving around, is to make ourselves prisoners. For us as individuals, it is important that we resist the tendency to get carried away in the wave of fear. By letting fear take over our thinking, we have the power to destroy our own quality of life right now.

The justification I hear for unplugging life support and letting people pass on is because the person has lost “quality of life.” And if those of us fortunate to still be of sound mind and body give into fear, we are giving up our own quality of life voluntarily.

Not me. I won’t do it.

 

Me neither, David.  And thank you for this eloquent statement.

Some general thoughts on the Viking Experience

Our experience with Viking was a little odd. It was sort of like a sandwich with really good filling and moldy bread.  The middle part – the on board experience – was really really good, but the beginning and end, not so much.

We had handled our own pre-cruise arrangements, and had informed Viking of what those were, flights, hotel, etc. as is required in their registration process.  Everything seemed to be going along fine, we had received our pre-cruise documents just when they said we would and everything seemed complete.  Then, much to our surprise, we ran into people who were also on the same cruise while on a canal boat ride in Amsterdam, and found out from them that the whole embarkation process was going to be totally changed.  We went immediately back to the hotel, contacted both our travel agent and the online ‘chat’ help service on Viking’s website.  Neither my travel agent nor, initially, the chat desk guy, had heard anything about this change.  After prompting, the chat desk guy finally contacted someone who DID know what was going on, but even then, the initial information we were given by him was in error, and it took quite a while to get everything squared away and to get the right procedure for our embarkation.

Once at the rendezvous point, there were two ships impacted and somewhere around 400 people to get fed lunch and put on buses to go to Rotterdam to meet their ships.  Everything was chaos – no one was directing people to the lunch location – guests were informing each other.  No one was sorting people out by ship, assigning spaces on the buses, or in any way turning this into anything approaching an orderly process.  When we lined up for the bus, it was a shoving match as people tried to get on the first bus out.  I got separated from Dennis and we very nearly ended up on different buses until the driver intervened for me.  After arriving, it turned out that there were several cabins other than ours that had not been informed of the changes, and the Program Director did question us about our experience and seemed to genuinely be working on figuring out what had gone wrong, but at no time was there any real apology, not even a complimentary glass of wine.  Everyone on the boat was comped for one extra cost excursion for the inconvenience, but those of us who had never even been told about the change got nothing extra, or even a ‘sorry about that’ which didn’t seem like good business practice to me, particularly with first timers like we, and several others, were.

From that point, though, things went very well.  The complimentary excursions – while having a certain sameness – were well-organized.  The use of the Quiet Vox (a first for us) was a great improvement over the usual ‘herd’ tour where you follow along behind the flag, umbrella, or, in Viking’s case, the ‘lollipop’ sign with your tour number on it, and if you are close to the tour leader you hear and if you are not, you don’t.  With this head set, you can hear the tour leader up to a half a kilometer away, and the tour leader can comment all along the walk, not just when s/he can gather the group together so everyone can hear.

The accommodations, while cozy, were well designed and had ample storage, particularly for a 7 day itinerary with no real ‘dress up’ requirements – a big difference between river and ocean cruising.  Public spaces were light and airy and decorated in a spare and very Scandinavian style that I really liked.  The Lounge was the heart of the ship, where everyone gathered for the ‘social’ time and also for any lectures, port talks, entertainment, etc.  Meals were in the restaurant or, if you wanted lighter fare,  at the Aquavit Terrace – an indoor/outdoor space at the bow of the ship.  Food was ample and generally of good quality – a couple of notable exceptions with really tough steaks, but overall, tasty and well prepared.  The included house wines and beers were more than adequate.  Premium wines and liquors are also available in both packages and by the glass.  Viking controls most of the variables, at least on the Rhine, from owning or leasing the dock facilities to maintaining their own fleet of (very nice Mercedes-Benz) buses.  The guides are free lancers however and the quality was a little uneven, both from day-to-day and among group assignments.  Nonetheless there were certain standards and procedures that they all followed and that were clearly part of the Viking requirements and counts were taken religiously of all the tour participants at beginning and end and at key points along the way as well.

Fast forward to the closing days of the cruise and the transition to the post-cruise land portion.  Our Program Director announces in his daily briefing that everyone who is going on the Lucerne extension should have received various materials in their cabin the night before and to fill out X Y and Z forms and get them back to reception.  We are not on the manifest, nor are some of our new friends.  Turns out that there are a number of cabins who are not showing up even though we have all booked, paid and been confirmed.  Much scrambling ensues.  Calls and emails go out to travel agents, papers are copied and taken to the desk, finally, we all receive our paperwork for the extension, board our buses, and arrive at the Radisson Blu to discover that, once again, we are not on the list, although we are assured that we will, indeed, have rooms for the two nights.  Once again, like with the embarkation mess at the hotel in Amsterdam, and in spite of having hundreds of Viking guests coming and going daily from this hotel, no one seems quite prepared for the arrival.  Our luggage sits on a sidewalk beside a busy road, with no one in attendance.  I realize that Switzerland is supposed to have a low crime rate, but this seems a little risky to me, so I set myself to watch over our luggage until it is moved into the hotel, a process that takes some little while as there was, initially, one person assigned to do this and he was managing about two to three cases per trip.  Finally some other folks, including some management types, showed up to help, but in the mean time, the luggage is sitting on the street unattended.  My worries were not assuaged when somewhere in the evening around 10 PM someone from the hotel came knocking on the door to see if we had picked up an extra bag as someone’s had gone missing.  Add to this, our walking tour in the afternoon with the local land based guide.  After our first stop where people were trying to access ATMs to get some local cash, we kept on walking, until the guide realized we were a few people short. How many?  she wasn’t sure.  So, we were told to walk ahead, she went back looking and found some but not, evidently, all.  How many did we lose? She wasn’t sure – hadn’t counted when we started…

So, bread not so great, filling quite tasty, but it could have been a much better sandwich with more attention to detail on the land bits and better handling of paperwork all around.

Some pictures of the ship and our cabin:

Atrium stair with picture of Eir - goddess of healing who decided the fate of wounded soldiers
Atrium stair with picture of Eir – goddess of healing who decided the fate of wounded soldiers at the head of the stair case.  Each Longship is named for a Norse deity and there is a similar portrait in the same position.
very awkward chair - didn't fit anywhere and easy to stumble over at night if you had to get up
very awkward chair – didn’t fit anywhere and easy to stumble over at night if you had to get up
Cozy but well organized
Cozy but well organized
As much of the ship as I could fit in - they are called Longships for a reason!
As much of the ship as I could fit in – they are called Longships for a reason!
Open airy atrium
Open airy atrium
Another angle on the atrium
Another angle on the atrium
The Lounge - heart of all the action
The Lounge – heart of all the action

We’re Off

Running around getting all the last minute things handled before we head to the airport and the first of the flights – this bit is going to be something of an ordeal – first the flight to Honolulu, no big deal, then the overnight flight to Dulles – hoping the fix they did to the air traffic control system holds up! Then, a 10 hour layover, and Dulles is far from Singapore’s airport as far as being a place you would WANT to spend 10 hours. Not looking forward to that bit AT ALL…Then another night flight to Amsterdam where we will arrive at 7ish in the morning on Tuesday. It is going to be a long couple of days, I fear, but we are looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring Amsterdam before boarding our first ever river cruise. We will be on one of the newest of the Viking River Cruise Longships, and we will get to see the ‘inside’ of the country we are visiting – something new in our cruise experience which has all been ocean cruises around the outside edges.

Traveling – it pays to check, then check again

We are embarking on a rather complicated journey in few weeks that will involve flights, a river cruise, a number of trains, a transatlantic ocean cruise, and a few point to point transfers, as well as an assortment of hotels. I’ve been putting these parts into place for well over a year now and it seems that every few weeks some part or piece get changed or some plan unravels, sometimes with no notice whatsoever from the vendor. So, my takeaway from this and many other trips we’ve planned and taken is check, double-check, then check again,

So far, on this trip, our air carrier has dropped a direct from Newark to Honolulu flight then rebooked us (without notification) to a totally unacceptable flight through LAX that would have had us missing our connecting flight from Honolulu to Kona and having to stay overnight in Honolulu. Our hotel wouldn’t (and still won’t) credit us for our stay because we booked through the credit card (THEIR affiliate!!) site rather than direct with them – that’s a battle I will fight on site at the hotel. Since I pre-paid, I also can’t cancel the booking and rebook directly so, so far, lose/lose with that one. Train schedules seem to be changing on the day we are making our way from Switzerland to London to the Lake District and what seemed, earlier on, like an easy, ‘oh well, if you miss this one there’s another in an hour’ connection is now a ‘do or die’ twenty minute connection with a ten minute walk between train stations in London and/or a fairly pricey taxi ride from the next nearest train station to Windermere if we have to take the next train. Plus, we are arriving on the middle day of a British Bank Holiday weekend which means that at least our first day in the Lake District is going to be a mob scene – but that was my fault for forgetting to check on British Bank Holidays before settling on which days we would be spending up there.

I’m now obsessing over the water levels in the Rhine River. Too little or too much water in the river means our ‘river cruise’ could rapidly become a bus tour. Add to that, the really vast range of territory we are covering and the ‘shoulder season’ travel from late August to mid-September and my other obsession is packing. We will be experiencing temperatures ranging from the 80s to the 40s – maybe even the 30s – as we are going to northern Iceland on the ocean cruise segment, and will need, among other things, formal wear for the ocean cruise, warm weather clothes for the river cruise, something suitable for a possibly wet Lake District and really warm clothes for Norway, Shetland, and Iceland, AND we want to keep the size and weight of the luggage down because of the multiple trains in between spots and packing is going to be, at best, a challenge.

I will be doing a trip journal here like I did for our Myanmar/Angkor Wat trip, so you will get to see how well (or poorly) we were able to plan and pack!

Meanwhile I’m off to pursue yet another ‘how to pack’ list and double-check all my reservations – AGAIN…

Volendam

This is our first time on this ship, the third Holland America cruise and vessel we have been on.  She is a sister ship to the Rotterdam, which was our last ship, for our trip last spring to Scandinavia.  She was just in for a major drydock and revamp in December of 2014 and the public spaces have been rearranged, and some new cabin categories added.  Holland decided that some of the formerly ocean view cabins located along the Promenade Deck could be converted into something between and ocean view and a balcony cabin by making a patio door in the wall facing the Promenade Deck.  Many people have found this to be very objectionable, while others adore this new configuration.  I don’t think I would particularly care for it, as you would have virtually no privacy without keeping your cabin drapes closed all the time, and there are folks tramping by on the deck outside your door at all hours of the day and night.  Other people object to the loss of space on the Promenade for deck chairs as room has to be made for the cabin occupants to come and go through their patio doors.  It must make economic sense for Holland, though, since they went to the expense of retrofitting the ships in this class to accommodate the new cabin category.  In addition to the reconfigured bar and shop area and new cabins, the bathrooms of some of the higher end cabin categories got a remake and the soft goods got a spruce up as well.

While not as small as our favorite former Renaissance Cruises ‘R’ships that carry just under 700 people, the Volendam and her sisters are comfortable sized vessels, spacious without being overwhelming, with ample entertainment and dining options and a passenger capacity just under 1500.  We so much enjoyed our experience with the Neptune Suite on the Rotterdam that we also booked that cabin category for this trip.  In addition to a nice large cabin with separate seating and sleeping space, we also have access to the Neptune Lounge which is similar to the club lounge in a hotel, with the exception of the free alcohol at happy hour.  There is a continental breakfast, snacks and coffee, lattes and expressos all day, and a dedicated concierge staff who seemingly, can get anything done you need to have done with any department on the ship from the dining room reservations to the excursions desk.  There are other ‘perks’ with the suite, but it is principally the lounge and conceirge that we use and find is sufficient ‘value added’ that we will spend the difference for the upgrade.

Our minimalist packing was such that we don’t even scratch the surface of the available storage, but, like most people in this modern world, we have more gadgets to plug in than we have plugs. We do carry ‘multiplug’ strips with us now, having learned from prior trips that this is usually the case.  This is such a port intensive itinerary that we won’t have much ‘recharge’ time for our devices (or for ourselves!)  We start right off with a port call in the morning to Malacca (or Melekka) Malaysia.  We will be doing a walking tour there, booked through Tours by Locals, with five other people from our Cruise Critic roll call.  This will be our first day together, and we will be sharing several other tours over the next two weeks.  Fingers crossed for good compatibility!

Getting ready to travel

We will be on the road again soon and that means going through all my pre-travel rituals. We always have house sitters, so the first thing on my pre-travel list is updating the ‘instructions for house sitters.’ This time, somewhere in my cleaning up of computer files after I quit working, I discovered that I had erased or discarded my master copy. Fortunately, I still had the last print out, but it seemed like a good time to have an overall look at it and a re-write. That took a couple of days, but is now complete with better organization after the re-write.

Next up is reconfirming everything – from airline seats to hotel rooms and tours. It is always good to make sure that everything is still the way you want it to be and that, if you have special requests, like late or early arrivals, non-smoking rooms, etc. that these are acknowledged and on the record. I’ve also learned, especially if you book hotels through third-party vendors like Hotels.com or Priceline, and you have booked a particular class of room – like executive floor, it is a good idea to print out a hard copy of the confirmation reflecting this and bring it with you. We had a recent experience with a hotel in Rotterdam where our reservation clearly spelled out that our reservation was for an executive floor king bed non-smoking room but the front desk had none of this on their record and would not have honored the reservation had we not had our print out of the email spelling everything out.  I’ll start the reconfirmation process this afternoon.

I’m in the early stages of ‘wardrobe planning’ and pre-packing. Everything I am thinking about taking with me gets a check over for condition and a try on for fit, then it hangs on the door for a couple of weeks while I go by and add and delete. We are doing a cruise with an add-on land trip involving two regional flights, in addition to the international ones, and I’m trying to keep the packing to one 21″ suitcase and a PacSafe over the shoulder bag for the electronics, medicines, etc. May not make it, but that’s the objective. I have gotten much better over the years of traveling and take less and less each time, but this is pretty extreme.

I usually carry a small pharmacy with me that takes up a good bit of space and that may have to be cut way back this time in order to make the alloted space.  I’ll just have to hope we don’t get sick or injured!  I normally carry a full week of cold meds and a full two weeks of various kind of digestive meds, along with ace bandages, band aids, neosporin, and other first aid stuff.  And that is in addition to our usual prescription meds which, after you reach a certain age, is not an inconsequential amount of stuff.

Next up is getting the house ready for ‘company’ – cleaning closets, cleaning out the refrigerator, turning in the recycle stuff, getting the oil changed in the car and so on. That’s what I’ll be spending most of my time on for the next few days, along with getting a fresh hair cut (tomorrow) and picking up the dog’s medicine and giving the names of our house sitters to the vet.

Finally, the last day, I will print out all the boarding passes and other ‘official’ documents and put them in my travel folder, and triple check all the required documentation.

By the time it is time to go, I really do NEED a vacation!

TripSuite

This free, with for purchase enhancements, app is made by GPSMyCity.com and downloadable from ITunes.  I chose Kuala Lumpur, which we will be visiting in March, to have a look at.  There is a city map, with pins for places of interest, differentiated by green pins for general interest and red pins for “must see” attractions.  There are standard tours outlined – in the case of Kuala Lumpur, nine – highlighting various interests.  The ones for KL are Museums and Gardens, Architecture, Religious, Nightlife, Shopping, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Daily Life, and Antique Hunting.   Each category has a listing of points of interest, and, when opened, a description and picture of the point of interest.

However, if you want a map of a specific tour, or you want to create a tour of your own and have it mapped, you need to purchase the upgraded version for $4.99, per city.  This upgrade will provide a higher resolution map, tour route maps, turn by turn walking directions, radar showing directions to specific points of interest, and nearby attractions, and is also without advertising.  For a city that you plan to tour on your own, particularly if you are spending a few days or longer, it is probably a good investment.

There are over 450 cities available from TripSuite, and there is capacity to submit and share photos and to link to various social media.  There is a trip planning function, but it is primitive compared to the specialized apps like TripIt and WorldMate.  Given that there are a large number of cities collected in one common format, this is an app to consider, but there are also many city and region specific completely free apps that are available from the tourism bureaus that will work as well or better, with only a little more time required to find them.

www.GPSMyCity.com

TripIt travel organizing app

Similar in function to WorldMate, TripIt also has free and paid versions, with several enhanced functions in the paid version, including the capacity to track all your travel points in one place, receive alerts to price decreases and better seats for flights, alternate flights, and real-time alerts to cancellations, gate changes, and delays.  Like WorldMate, you can share the details of your trip with friends or colleagues, or keep the itinerary private, and TripIt composes your itinerary from forwarded email confirmations.  However, unlike WorldMate, TripIt is a little more friendly to the leisure traveler and cruiser, allowing you to insert a cruise into the itinerary from a confirmation.  It even outlines all the port stops, at least for ocean cruises.  I’m having a little difficulty getting it to recognize my travel agent’s confirmation of our Viking river cruise, and it may require that I enter those ports manually, but I’m still working with it.

On balance, it is a little easier to understand and intuit  than WorldMate, although I had a little trouble figuring out how to merge two trips that it had created out of my one itinerary.  The help function isn’t all that great and the search function didn’t turn up an immediate answer, as I didn’t use the term ‘merge’ initially.  I did find the answer, but it took a little longer than one would like.  I think with practice it will be a good tool for keeping track of all the details of a trip in one place and accessible on either smart phone or tablet, and may cut down on the amount of paper that I normally carry around with me to prove to the hotel desk that I’ve booked what I say I’ve booked.  More importantly, it will help to highlight any mistakes that might be made in booking dates as it is very clear on gaps or overlaps in scheduled events.  Where plans are incomplete, it prompts you by asking if there are things you want to add.

Of these two, I will definitely be keeping TripIt on my devices, and removing WorldMate, since, for me as a leisure traveler, TripIt has greater functionality.  I may even consider upgrading to the paid version but will save my 30 day free trial of the pro version until I’m actually traveling next spring.