Archive for December, 2010

A place you may not want to vacation

December 14th, 2010 by Mariah

Ukraine says it will lift restrictions on tourism in the zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 2011, formally opening the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident to visitors.

A limited number of visitors already are allowed into the 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded and burned in 1986. The Ukrainian government will present a detailed plan for lifting the remaining restrictions on travel to the area December 21, said Viktor Baloga, the former Soviet republic’s emergency situations minister.

Background radiation in the accident zone is still well above normal. But far from being a wasteland, wildlife has rebounded in the exclusion zone and trees are reclaiming the ghost city of Pripyat, said Mary Mycio, author of “Wormwood Forest,” a 2005 book on the area.

“It is very moving and interesting and a beautiful monument to technology gone awry,” Mycio said.

The April 1986 accident killed 32 plant workers and firefighters directly, and the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates nearly 4,000 more will die of related cancers from the radioactive material released by the disaster.

Currently, guides from the Chernobyl Zone Authority take about 20 to 30 people into the exclusion zone a day during the summers, said Yuri Rozgoni, whose Toronto-based travel agency, Ukrainianweb, books tours to the site. The tours typically take between five and six hours, not counting the drive to and from the Ukrainian capital Kiev, he said.

While travel is no longer restricted to scientists and researchers, “The only way to enter the zone (now) is with a certified guide on a certified tour group,” Rozgoni said. “That’s a huge restriction.”

Guides monitor radiation levels and “know where the people can go and where the people cannot go,” he said.

Mycio said tourists should wear “something that you wouldn’t mind leaving behind in case it does get dirty.” But most radioactive material has sunk into the soil, and visitors receive a dose comparable to the exposure they would receive on a trans-Atlantic flight.

“The only concern I would have is if too many people come in and it becomes this nuclear Disneyland,” Mycio said. “That would take away from a wildlife sanctuary (that has thrived) in the absence of people.”

Cruise ship battered in Mediterranean storm

December 13th, 2010 by Mariah

(CNN)–A violent storm over the weekend lashed a Royal Caribbean ship trying to get to port in Alexandria, Egypt, injuring nearly 30 passengers, shattering glass and overturning furniture.

“It was a little scary on Saturday because the boat was rocking down and rocking back up, but you never knew how deep it was going to go,” honeymooning passenger Justine Lovelace told CNN affiliate WTNH.

The ship, Brilliance of the Seas, was rocked by 70-knot winds early Sunday morning. The winds were nearly twice as strong as forecasted, Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

“Some guest injuries were reported, the most serious of which were two guests with fractures. The medical facility onboard is fully operational and our medical team is diligently caring for guests,” the statement said. The ship is carrying more than 2,000 passengers.

Damage has forced the closure of the ship’s beauty salon, video arcade and disco for the remainder of the sailing. The ship’s operating systems and engines were unharmed in the storm.

The rough weather prompted the captain to bypass Alexandria and continue on to Malta, the cruise’s next scheduled destination. The ship will return to Barcelona, Spain, on Friday as scheduled. The ship’s next sailing will not be affected, Royal Caribbean said.

The cruise line has provided guests with an onboard credit as well as a full refund for the sailing.

Cruising website Cruise Critic received accounts of the violent weather from members on its message boards.

“I was flying back and forth. My roomie managed to brace herself. The beds were sliding back and forth!! Broken glass everywhere as everything on it went flying. Tables and chairs upended,” wrote a member with the handle dirtgirl.

On shore, strong winds and heavy rains caused damage to buildings and numerous deaths and injuries, according to Egyptian officials.

Oprahs visit Down Under brings joy to fans, Australian tourism

December 13th, 2010 by Mariah

(CNN) — For the 300 fans who are accompanying talk show host Oprah Winfrey on what is being billed as the Ultimate Australian Adventure, the trip is a unique opportunity to take in the sights and wonders of the country with the TV icon.


But for Australia — a country that heavily relies on tourism — the investment is expected to pay off manifold in publicity, the government said Monday.


The eight-day trip began last week and ends with two taped shows at the Sydney Opera House, which has been renamed Oprah House.


Footing the bill for Oprah and her guests will collectively cost the government AUS $5 million, said Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia.



But the value equivalent in exposure has already made it a smart investment, he said.



“Just before Oprah turned up into our country, the number was $38 million,” McEvoy said Monday. “So that was three or four days ago. I can imagine that to double in the time that she’s been here. And I can imagine that to treble.”



He said the number could further skyrocket next year if Oprah commits to making “at least four hours of Oprah Winfrey television, which will go to 145 countries around the world.”



Oprah and her group have visited the Great Barrier Reef, gone on a wine-tasting excursion to Hunter Valley, taken in a scenic flight over the Australian outback, partied in the Royal Botanic Gardens and trekked up the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which adorned with a big ‘O’ in her honor.



“I can’t believe the energy of Oprah herself, her crew — they’re phenomenal,” McEvoy said, adding “everyone is full of adrenaline.”

During the media mogul’s career, many have cashed in on the “Oprah effect,” which has launched sales of what she promotes.

Oprah is in the midst of her farewell season of her show. Earlier this year, she showed her gratitude to her audience by announcing the all-expenses paid excursion.

Paris airport, Eiffel Tower closed due to snow

December 9th, 2010 by Mariah

Paris (CNN)–Heavy snow paralyzed travel in the Paris region Wednesday, where officials suspended air traffic at one of Europe’s busiest airports, closed several highways and shut down the Eiffel Tower.

The resulting traffic jams set a new record. According to the National Center for Highway Information, snarled traffic lined 420 kilometers of roadways around the capital.

Officials at the Charles de Gaulle airport suspended air traffic for several hours in the afternoon, and began limited operations in the evening, according to Aeroports de Paris, the region’s airport authority. There were dozens of flight cancellations and there will be long delays for other flights, authorities said. At the Orly airport, several flights were canceled and delays were running up to three hours, the airport authority said on its website.

Météo France has issued an “orange” weather warning across central France, the second-highest level of warning. As much as 10-15 centimeters of snow has fallen in some areas, and forecasters are predicting 2 to 3 more centimeters will come down before Thursday.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called on people to limit their travel as much as possible.

“As we wait for the situation to improve… I urge extreme caution,” he told reporters. “Pedestrians, especially, be careful, because the sidewalks are also very slippery.”

Hortefeux said 2,000 police and 240 civil protection agents have been dispatched to the Paris region to help stranded motorists.

As night — and more snow — fell, shelters began opening in the City of Light and its suburbs to take in people who couldn’t make it home.

Truck traffic was forbidden on several highways around Paris and those leading into the capital due to ice on the roadways and the heavy snowfall, officials said. Many access points into the capital were shut down by authorities, stranding thousands of commuters.

Some disruptions were also reported on the region’s railways, with the high-speed TGV trains limited to a speed of 230 kph instead of the usual speeds of up to 320 kph. That will cause delays in arrival times, the rail authority SNCF said.

The bus network in Paris was completely stopped, the group responsible for Parisian transport (RATP) reported on its website.

Authorities shut down the Eiffel Tower in Paris to tourists because of the weather.

Journalist Celine Martelet of radio station RMC told CNN affiliate BFM-TV she has been blocked on a highway near Paris for three hours.

“There’s an incredible silence, not one noise,” she said. “People are leaving their cars and trying to go on foot. I saw one man on skis, who was going to find his wife who was stuck in a traffic jam two kilometers away. He was going to help her get out of her car.”

Video from BFM-TV showed traffic jams on the Parisian perimeter stretching for several kilometers. Roadways were like ice skating rinks, drivers said.

“At the worst, I will walk home,” one man said, standing beside a long line of cars. “I’ve got a little place about 5 kilometers from here. It’ll be a nice walk.”

The owner of a towing service advised stranded commuters to not even bother calling.

“We can’t even get out to help you,” said Naima Rabari of Dan Depann. “It’s really a catastrophe.”

Top Bed and Breakfasts in Mexico

December 6th, 2010 by Mariah

Casa de las Flores

“A Bed and Breakfast”

Santos Degollado #175

Tlaquepaque/Guadalajara, Mexico. 45500


Named one of the world’s ten best places (bed and breakfasts or hotels) to stay in a San Francisco Chronicle readers’ poll and praised in the Washington Post, Guadalajara’s Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast is also a guidebook favorite for Guadalajara Mexico. Trip Advisor also named Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast as their 2010 Best B&B in Mexico. Such public recognition is welcome, but a better measure of guest satisfaction is that people who stay once often return—typically more than half the guests at any given time have come back to experience a bit more of the magic of Mexico at Guadalajara’s Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast, or are friends or family of past guests who have had Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast recommended to them.


Innkeepers: Jose Luis Gutierrez Llamas

Rates: $95-$105 USD

Rooms: 7

Phone: 011-52-33.3659-3186

Toll Free: 1 – 888- 582-4896

Fax: 011-52-33.3659-3186 ext 321





Las Bugambilias

“A Bed and Breakfast”

Reforma # 402 Col. Centro

Oaxaca, Mexico. CP. 68000


Let our family welcome you to our beautiful city.

We offer family service first class rooms a traditional breakfast, a garden setting and promise to make your stay in Oaxaca an unforgettable experience.

Oaxaca offers museums, theater, grand churches, a symphony orchestra, markets, galleries, and restaurants. Delicious food, fine arts and crafts, beautiful music, and the warmth and generosity of the Oaxacan people — all just waiting for you to enjoy.


Innkeepers:Mariana Arroyo and Aurora Cabrera

Rates: $54-$110 USD

Rooms: 8

Phone: 011-52-951-51-61165Fax: 011-52-951-51-61165






Agua Azul la Villa

“An Ocean View Bed & Breakfast”

Lote 18. Manzana 6 Res. Conejos

Huatulco, Mexico. CP70989


With spectacular ocean views and spacious private terrazas from all six guest rooms, Agua Azul la Villa offers a tranquil vacation in a pristine, tropical location. Designed as a Bed and Breakfast in the Pacific coast style, the Villa integrates landscape and architecture relying heavily on natural materials such as clay, wood, rocks and palapa (palm-thatch). We are a mere three minute walk to a sandy, safe, swimable beach. Your Canadian hosts Richard and Brooke Gazer live on-site year round and can recommend restaurants and beaches as well as arrange tours and activities. Huatulco is Mexico Premier eco-resort, with nine bays and 36 pristine beaches, some of which are accessible only by boat. It is georgeous, safe, clean and unspoiled.


Innkeepers:Brooke and Richard Gazer

Rates: $109-$139 USD

Rooms: 6

Phone: (011-52-958) 58-10265

Mexican Road Trip

December 6th, 2010 by Mariah

(CNN) – With “Mexico only turns 200 once” as their motto, iReporter Michael Hilburn and his girlfriend took a five-day bicentennial road trip in September.

“Starting in Guadalajara, our 792 mile trek took us through some of Mexico’s most beautiful and historic cities including Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Zacatecas,” Hilburn, 28, wrote on

Hilburn, of Patterson, California, has been living in central Mexico, where he teaches at a small bilingual Christian school in Guadalajara.

The areas visited by Hilburn and his girlfriend, Jensine Pulford, were far removed from the violence making headlines along the U.S. border. “Even on the highways and among the large crowds of Independence Day celebrators we felt extremely safe,” Hilburn said.

Share your travel stories on

CNN asked Hilburn to answer these questions about his experience:

First impression

Prior to our trip, my first impression of a “Mexican city” was one dense urban sprawl polluted with noise and smog. However, walking through the enchanting back alleys, or callejones, of Guanajuato and Zacatecas, I quickly remembered that the beauty of these romantic old colonial towns was one of the reasons why I moved to Mexico in the first place.

Don’t-miss experience

If you are traveling from Zacatecas to Guadalajara like we did, the ruins of La Quemada are not to be missed! The impressive remains of this giant settlement stretch across the top of a mountain and overlook a breathtaking valley.

Adjectives that capture this place

Three adjectives that would describe our experience would be enchanting, intriguing and delicious.

Lasting memory

A lasting memory was participating in the “Grito” [a shout of independence] from the steps of the Alhondiga de Granaditas [an old grain storage building in Guanajuato City], the site of the first major [victory] for Mexican Independence.

Most delicious food or place to eat

I had one of the best meals of the trip our first night in Zacatecas at a small restaurant called Los Dorados de Villa. My order of enchiladas came drenched in a “Durango style” sauce that was sweet, spicy and chocolaty, all at the same time!

Biggest surprise

Our biggest surprise along the way was our “discovery” of an abandoned hacienda on the road to San Luis Potosi called Jaral de Berrio. We spent hours roaming through the passageways, courtyards and towers of this football field-sized mansion that was built around the turn of the 20th century.

All in all, this trip was one that will not quickly be forgotten.

Happy Hour Hits The Sky!

December 2nd, 2010 by Mariah

NEW YORK ( — American Airlines has a new tonic for the travails of air travel: Happy Hour.

American unveiled a plan Wednesday to offer discounted alcoholic drinks on domestic flights that take off during the hour between 5 p.m. and 5:59 p.m. local time.

During that time, the airline will knock $1 off the price of beer and $2 off liquor and wine. This means that all drinks will retail for $5 each.

Happy hour lasts for the duration of the flight, not just the hour after 5 p.m., the airline said. The deal lasts through the month of December.

The deal is good on AMR’s (AMR, Fortune 500) American Airlines flights, which only accept credit and debit cards for onboard purchases, and on American Eagle and American Connection flights, which only accept cash.

First and business class customers are unaffected by this deal, the airline said, as their drinks are included in the price of the fare

Heavy snow creates European travel chaos

December 2nd, 2010 by Mariah

London, England (CNN)–Britain’s second-largest airport was closed for a second day Thursday because of unseasonal wintry weather that was also affecting the European continent.

All flights into and out of London’s Gatwick Airport were canceled until 6 a.m. (1 a.m. ET) Friday, the airport said. It asked passengers to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

Planes sat at the gates covered in snow and a spokesman said the snow was falling on the airport’s lone runway faster than crews could clear it.

“We are doing everything we can to resume operations,”the airport said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to make the runway safe for aircraft to use and get our passengers flying again.”

Thursday, airport officials handed out 1,000 blankets along with food and water to stranded passengers who had little to do but sit around and hope for the weather to improve.

The United Kingdom has seen the heaviest and most widespread amount of snow since 1993 and the deepest November snow since 1965, the Met Office, Britain’s weather forecaster, said.

Forecasters issued severe weather warnings Thursday, predicting heavy snow for many parts of the country including Scotland, northeast England, parts of central England, and the entire south from Cornwall to London and the southeast.

Edinburgh Airport in Scotland was closed because of heavy snow, the airport said. London’s Heathrow Airport was open, but said some airlines were experiencing delays and cancellations because of snow disruptions at other airports.

Eurostar, which operates trains between London and the continent, said it was operating a “significantly reduced” timetable on Thursday with a number of cancellations, along with delays of as much as 90 minutes.

It said disruptions were expected through the weekend, and it advised passengers booked to travel through Sunday to postpone their journeys if not essential.

The main reason for the snowfall is the cold polar air sweeping across the North Sea, said Mari Ramos of the CNN World Weather Center.

The sea is still relatively warm, at 9-10 degrees Celsius (48-50 degrees Fahrenheit), so as the water evaporates and is hit by the cold polar air, it turns to snow.

“You normally have this change in the wind pattern later in the season, but it won’t bring snow because the ocean will be colder,” Ramos said.

Snowfall has also been widespread across Europe, with unseasonably low temperatures — easily 10 degrees below average for this time of year — lasting much longer than normal, Ramos said.

Snow was expected across France, from the northern part of the country into the southern parts, near Switzerland and Italy, Ramos said. As much as six centimeters (2.4 inches) were expected in some areas.

Meteo France issued an orange weather warning — it’s second-highest — across central France, and forecasters predicted icy conditions and heavy snowfall.

A quarter of flights out of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport and 10 percent of flights out of Orly were canceled Thursday, air traffic control said. Trains were delayed throughout France but were expected to run regularly Friday.

The snow was stretching into northern Portugal and central and southern Spain, with an unusual snowfall in Grenada earlier in the week, she said.

Temperatures were another big concern.

“The temperature will be in many cases 8-12 degrees below the average, and that’s not factoring in the wind,” Ramos said.

The chilly weather began over the weekend and is scheduled to last for a week, she said.