Pompeii: Beware of bad tour guides, and don't hurt the ruins
Vandals, wild dogs, and reckless visitors are taking a toll on the archaeological site of Pompeii. The Italian government recently declared the site to be under a state of emergency.
Though the ancient city was preserved for nearly 2,000 years after an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, it is now in dire need of maintenance. Large parts are closed, sometimes to protect visitors from shaky walls but often to protect the ruins from the visitors!
Media reports from Bloomberg and elsewhere have overlooked a problem facing budget travelers: Unlicensed guides are bilking many of the roughly two million tourists who visit Pompeii every year.
How can you find an honest guide? For advice, we got in touch with Gaetano Manfredi, a third generation tour guide in Pompeii that Rick Steves recommends in his guide book.
Manfredi typically gives two hour tours of the site. "Tourism is the only industry we have, and so everybody tries to do it," says Manfredi, adding that in the last ten years, local politicians, trying to resolve unemployment have lowered their standards in giving licenses. "So, you do not find 'fake' guides, but a lot of official bad guides!" He advises that travelers book in advance instead of taking their chances with just any guide at the main entrance.
Official guides will have a license from the Region Campania, and travelers should ask to see their license before agreeing to take a tour. On top of the $17 admission, the official price for groups of eight to 25 people is $155 ($3, for each extra person). For a list of tour operators, contact the Tourist office of Pompeii (011 39 081 850 7255)
Gaetano Manfredi can be reached by e-mail, or on his mobile phone at 011 39 338 725 5620.
Of course, when you visit, you'll want to be respectful and not damage the site. But how can you be a careful visitor?
We contacted Marella Brunetto, a superintendent at Pompeii. She passed along the following recommendations on how to minimize damage to the excavations:
Don't stand on the edge of the digs or climb the walls.
Low-heeled shoes are suggested on your visit.
Respect all entrance and access restrictions.
Refrain from making unnecessary noise, writing on the walls, and littering.
Store all bags, knapsacks, umbrellas and other bulky objects in the wardrobe at the main center.
Smoking is not permitted.
Pets are not allowed.
Bonus Pompeii tips:
Mineral water and restrooms are "very few and crowded," says Manfredi, and can be found outside the ruins. There was a restaurant and toilet inside the archaeological area, but they are temporally closed, said Brunetto, adding that there is a picnic area near Porta Nola.
An audio tour is also available at the ticket booth. There are three main entrances to the sites at Pompeii: Porta Marina, Piazza Anfiteatro, Piazza Esedra. For visitors with physical disabilities or heart problems, the main entrance at Piazza Anfiteatro is recommended. [pompeiisites.org]
Have you been to Pompeii? What are your thoughts?
Booking travel at the last minute
One out of every three Americans planned a pleasure trip at the last minute last year. At least, if you define "last-minute" as 15 days or less in advance of departure, which is how the 2008 Ypartnership/Yankelovich National Leisure Travel MONITOR defines it. Where are folks going? The most popular last-minute destinations include Cancun, Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, Chicago, and Miami, according to the quick-trip-specialty-website LastMinuteTravel.com. Why last-minute travel? An increased familiarity with online booking may explain why the average lead-time for booking may be getting even shorter. In 2008 to date, LastMinuteTravel.com’s average customer books 15 days ahead of departure in comparison to 19 days in advance in 2007. Why the up-tick in last-minute bookings? “Consumers are now trained to expect good deals at the last minute, so they are more likely to look for them,” says Lauren Volcheff, marketing director of the website. Ironically, it may be getting harder to find deals at the last minute today, compared with three years ago. While hotel discounts are plentiful, airfare deals are harder to find last minute at a reasonable cost—in part because of the hike in fuel costs. So what’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck? CheapTickets.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Hotwire all have separate sections dedicated to impulse travel as well, just click on their last-minute deals sections to take a look at a variety of packages. Plus, LastMinuteTravel has a membership program that claims to save its members an average of 23 percent of the cost of bookings ("with savings up to 65 percent on nearly 13,000 hotels in 255 major cities worldwide"). Memberships cost $50 a year (ouch!), but the company claims you will save more than the cost of that fee on your first purchase alone. In another nice touch, the site quotes all of its prices with all taxes and fees included. No surprises at check-out. Have you taken a last-minute trip recently? What was your strategy in finding the best deals?
Overweight passengers cost the airlines fuel
Newsweek and Forbes have weighed in on whether airlines are likely to charge passengers more if they weigh significantly more than the typical person of their height and age. They say: Fat chance. Not that the expanding American waistline hasn't affected the airlines. Forbes cites government statistics to say that "the average weight of an American has increased 24 pounds since 1960." Writer Emily Stewart then does the math: Airlines flew 735 million passengers last year. Multiply that by 24 pounds and airlines are flying 17.6 billion pounds of extra weight around. It takes roughly a gallon of jet fuel to move 100 pounds on a domestic flight. That means 176.4 million gallons of fuel, costing $538 million (at an industry average price of $3.05 a gallon) Newsweek cites similar talked to a variety of industry experts, however, and decides that the airlines have no practical way of charging passengers for perceived excess weight. One reason: The airlines might be sued for discrimination. Here's a quote: Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, thinks weight should be a protected category, like race or gender, which would make discrimination against fat people illegal. "Some people can diet, exercise, do everything right, and still have a tough time losing and keeping weight off," she says. Have an opinion? Join the 300 plus people who have commented on our previous blog post on this topic. Click here to comment "Should obese airplane passengers pay more?" UPDATE Aug. 5: Despite what you may have heard on blogs or on TV news, it is not true that AirAsia X, a Malaysian airline, will charge passengers by weight. "We have not planned nor even considered charging passengers by weight," says the airline, countering a report in the publication Travel Today.
The motel from hell?
Californian blogger and journalist Mat Honan recently visited Travelodge Portland City Center in Portland, Ore. He found the motel via Orbitz, and the Orbitz rating system said that the place had several standard amenities. (Mat has posted the page from Orbitz with the listing, as proof.) First, few—if any—of the listed amenities were actually there. The safe was broke. The Wi-Fi wasn't working. There was no promised fitness room. No tennis. No spa. The microwave oven had a hole in the glass on the door. The A/C didn't work. The wiring on the lamp was duct-taped together. The shower curtain rod was jerry-rigged. And then it got worse: My wife was the one who discovered the blood on the door of the bathroom. Whose blood? Why was it there? We can't say! ...The bloodstain wasn't too far from the imprint where the towel-holder-thingie had been ripped off of the door and not only not-replaced, but left exactly as is. Not painted over, sanded, cleaned up, or anything. But that's not all! The Karaoke bar rocks until about 2:30 in the morning, at which time all the drunks pile back up into the hotel and begin pounding on the doors until 4 am.... On night two: As I attempted to close the heavy curtain, to block out the exceptionally bright light on the porch, it fell. It made a loud sound, like ZWOP!, and then came tumbling down to the floor, held in place by one lonely fastener. I could have called the front desk to fix this, but I had learned my lesson, and so just slept with it as is. Or tried to sleep, since it's hard to sleep when someone's shining an interrogation light in your face, which is what it felt like. Now, I was only able to confirm that there is a karaoke bar but no fitness center when I called the property and spoke with a clerk who answered the phone at the front desk. And, maybe it was just a freak event. I've certainly stayed in other Travelodges from New Jersey to Northern Ireland, and found they were clean and good values. So this may be an isolated case for this location. But the lesson does seem to be: Cross-check those hotel reviews, before you book at a two-star or lower place. For example, TripAdvisor readers have given this place very sour reviews. (Read for yourself.) At the same time, Mat's review was in the top dozen search results when I used Google to search on the phrase "Travelodge Portland City Center." And that's the good news--the Internet helps customers level the playing field. [The Travelodge Portland City Center is a Terrible Hotel] Got a story of your own from any hotel or motel nationwide? Feel free to share.
Paris: An electric-car sharing program
Fast on the (w)heels of its successful Velib' bike-sharing program, the city of Paris is planning to implement a similar program involving shared electric cars—which could come as good news to travelers. Set to begin in late 2009 or early 2010, the Autolib' program would work along the same lines as Velib': People could pick the cars up at one of 700 proposed lots across the city and drop them off at another lot. Some things have yet to be worked out, such as the cost and whether international driver's licenses would be accepted. But if foreign tourists are allowed to participate in the program, the cars could be an affordable and flexible way to get around. Foreigners are able to rent the Velib' bicycles with certain credit cards; for more information on that program, check out our story from the May issue on 10 ways to beat the high costs of traveling to Europe.