Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dodging strikes while traveling in Europe

Last time my husband and I visited London, the tubes were on strike most of the time we were there. Luckily, we were already staying in the theater district, because we were there specifically to see plays. We did almost everything on foot. Getting into town from the airport, though -- that was a big problem. We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, then waited two hours to get a cab.

Two weeks ago, we were to have visited Portugal, but we had to cancel because we were sick. Had we gone, we could have visited Lisbon, but noplace else, because the trains were on strike. Our next trip is in the fall to Paris -- assuming the air traffic controllers don't go on one of their frequent strikes.

Strikes in Europe and the UK are an eternal problem. There's no way to ensure that your trip won't be affected by them, so planning for dealing with them if and when they do occur is important. Here are some tips:

1. Avoid traveling on holidays or those UK random days called "bank holidays." Transportation folks often pick these for strikes. Cynics say it's so they'll get time off with their families. Whatever.  Holidays are prone to strikes.

2. Avoid traveling on weekends. After holidays, your best chance of getting a strike is on a weekend. That's not to say you can't have a strike on weekdays. TAP airline is facing a possible 10-day strike in May. No way to defend against that, so....

3. Get information fast on strikes. On Twitter, follow @strikeinformer, where you're likely to get the news of a strike or its cancellation the fastest. Also, follow your airline and whatever trains are in your destination on Twitter.

4. Have with you the phone numbers and emails of your accommodations overseas, so that you can contact them if you'll be arriving a day or several days late before the strike. You don't want them to cancel you altogether.

5. Don't schedule any trip across the sea tightly against something else important.  You could get stuck wherever you are. Give yourself at least a day or so on the far end of the trip with nothing important scheduled so that you can be chill if something happens to delay you (and strikes aren't the only thing that can do this).

6. Have the phone numbers of car services in addition to cabs with you so that, if need, you can call one. It'll be expensive, but you might deem the expense worth the hours you'll save waiting for a cab.

Finally, understand that strikes are something Europeans cope with constantly without getting ruffled. Try not to ruffle. Load up your Kindle or other device with good books, and be of good cheer. Happy travels, and good luck from the Texas lottery.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Meet Arlington: Oregon and Ohio State fans, here's where you're really going

Stop it right now. The NCAA football championship game will not be played in Dallas. The Cotton Bowl wasn't even played there. Dallas is over as a football venue. Oregon Ducks and Buckeyes of THE Ohio State University, you'll be deciding who's best on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, because that's where AT&T Stadium, better known as Jerry's World, is.
And where is Arlington? Think of Dallas and Fort Worth as the eye pieces of glasses. Arlington is the nose --- a really big nose. (Note: I used this analogy back in 2010 in the Austin American-Statesman, so here's an acknowledgement that the newspaper is my source material for the facial resemblance.) Arlington is smack between Dallas and Fort Worth, due south of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Arlington is 100 square miles of what I'd normally call suburbia, because that's what it feels like, but Arlington isn't really a suburb. It's been its own nose for a long time, and back in the 30s and 40s was a prime gambling destination. A place called Top O' the Hill, now part of a very Bible-intensive college. These are not the '30s and '40s, though, and this ain't Pasadena.
A few things to know:
1. It takes 30 minutes from either Dallas or Fort Worth to get to Arlington if there's no traffic. But there will be traffic.
2. You might consider actually staying in Arlington. There's a full-fledged Holiday Inn, along with a good Hyatt Place. Some of these hotels have a trolley that will run you over to the stadium. If you're staying in Dallas, the highest end would be the Mansion on Turtle Creek or the Crescent Court. The Joule, downtown on Main Street, is a good stay with a first-rate ESPA-brand spa. Less expensive and one of my personal faves is the Adolphus, also downtown. And Hyatt Regency, the hotel next to Reunion Tower, is always good, as is the nearby Omni, which you literally cannot miss because of its Vegas-like LED display. In Fort Worth: The Omni, the Worthington Renaissance or a lovely boutique called the Ashton. 
3. Arlington food: Olenjack's Grill on Road to Six Flags near the stadium is solid. Love the Dim Sum at Kowloon at Center Street and Pioneer Parkway. My favorite off-the-beaten-path spot is Russian: Taste of Europe, 1901 W. Pioneer Parkway -- cabbage rolls, crepes with red caviar and really borscht if you're a beet person (which does not imply anything about your team). After, you can buy some of those stackable dolls.
4. Arlington has no public transpo to speak of. You need a car. What is does have is the International Bowling Museum. It's on Six Flags Drive not far from AT&T Stadium. In case you get bored.