When you are traveling, there are many things to think about and do before you leave for your destination. You have to pre-plan a lot of services and book flights, hotel rooms, rental cars and more before you even leave your home. There is a lot to do and a lot to think about, but it is always better to do these things before you leave so that you can fully enjoy your vacation. No one wants to arrive at their vacation destination only to find out that there are no rental cars available!In the last few years car rental agencies have tightened up their rules and regulations quite a bit. A few years ago anyone could rent a car as long as they had their drivers license and were over the age of eighteen. Today however, a lot of rental companies have put some stipulations on the class of the renters license and also on the age of the renter.A lot of "car rental" companies now have the rule that a driver has to be at least twenty five years of age and carry a full license to be able to rent one of their vehicles. This limits their business a little bit, but they feel that there will be less accidents involving their rental cars this way. At some agencies this rule is bent a bit; for example, the renter can be under twenty five, but they still have to have their full license, or they have to be over the age of twenty five but dont have to have their full license.Many rental agencies that do not have these rules will actually charge more for drivers that are younger than twenty five or drivers that do not yet possess their full license. This extra charge can be anywhere from an extra twenty dollars to an extra one hundred dollars! Basically, a lot car rental companies are being more careful with younger drivers. Sometimes they will also request that the renter supply a credit card before they can rent a car.Most people expect that there could be an age limit on younger drivers who are looking to rent a car for a few days, but not many people realize that rental agencies are also putting age limits on senior citizens. Many times senior citizens tend to slip under the radar with these types of regulations, but some rental companies are now including them in their age standards. They tend to actually be stricter with older drivers than with younger drivers! At some rental places, if you are over their set age limit, you can forget about renting a car from them. At other places, if you are over a certain age you will have to pay an extra charge to acquire rental services from them.There are still many car rental agencies that do not yet have these rules and regulations set up, and anyone can rent a car from them with no worries of extra charges and fees.
I checked some major world currencies against the dollar this morning. One US dollar buys the following: 0.498828 (British pound), CN$1.1227 (Canadian dollar), 0.73524 (Euro), AUS$1.19574 (Australian dollar).These figures are effectively putting a stranglehold on Americans vacationing abroad. They add up the airfare, hotel or vacation rental charges, cost of a rental car and eating out in restaurants, and decide that the budget simply cannot be stretched that far.But this is where home exchange comes into its own. Plan a home swapping vacation and the only major cost is for the airfare to reach your destination. No hotel, no rental home, probably no rental car, and eating out can be reduced drastically. In short, the very home you live in can be your passport to an exciting and affordable vacation.No money ever changes hands between "home exchange" partners. You are in their home while they are in yours. You pay all your home expenses such as mortgage, utilities, etc. as you normally would. Its sometimes agreed that people pay for their own phone calls, if they are likely to be excessive once the exchange is completed and the phone bills arrive.Many "home swap" ping arrangements also include a car, which of course represents more significant savings. Expensive restaurant meals can also be eliminated, or at least substantially reduced. Exchange partners often leave information on good, non-touristy restaurants that they recommend, while some will go the extra mile and obtain some great coupons and certificates for their exchange partners.People who are new to the idea of home exchanging are very often very apprehensive at the prospect of inviting strangers to live in their home completely unsupervised. To reassure them, I like to compare home swapping to Internet dating. Before couples ever get around to meeting they exchange emails, photographs and phone calls. If they sense incompatibility they drop that particular pairing and move on.Setting up a home exchange follows those same principles. By the time the exchange actually takes place, the two parties involved are never strangers. In the initial selection process they would have swapped emails, then as the arrangements progressed, phone calls, photographs, possibly videos and certainly many more emails would have been exchanged. Everyone involved feels very compatible and comfortable with each otherGood initial communications are what makes home exchange work. In the 20+ years Ive been promoting the home exchange concept with probably tens of thousands of exchanges arranged, Ive never received a report of a theft, malicious damage, vandalism, or a case of someone arriving at their exchange destination and finding a vacant lot. It just doesnt happen!Many members join initially to save money while they travel. That wish can be accomplished, with savings of thousands of dollars on hotels, rentals, cars and restaurants. But much more than that, many will often confess that the greater advantages they unexpectedly discovered are the experiences of living an area like a local, not a tourist and enjoying the comforts of staying in a home rather than a cramped hotel room with all the associated restrictions.
Into the Arms of BuddhaIt was 5 p.m. and I was stalking an angel on temple grounds. As the rain started, I wondered if she would show herself at all. Chiang Mais rain patterns are directly correlated with the contents of my purse. The resulting meteorological phenomena means the rain could stop in a matter of seconds or pour down for days, depending on whether or not Id brought my umbrella. I had not.Squinting into the droplets, I glared up at the massive Chedi, a Lanna-style stupa which draws in visitors from across Northern Thailand. Sure its impressive, but what I want to know is: How can you have such a large building sitting there for 700 years and not install any doors? Surely it has rained here before.Where to hide? No way would I take shelter in the two beautiful little buildings in front of me. Stunningly designed, absolutely! But each houses a wax replica of an elderly monk sitting in a clear box. File them under way too real looking to pass time with. What can I say? Lack of blinking disturbs me. Beside, if wax can achieve the lotus position, why cant I?To escape the deluge, my shelter took the form of a gazebo housing three large Buddhas. I would not be alone. One by one, temple residents trickled in. The first went straight to a mat he obviously kept laid out for these moments. Two more just sat down and licked themselves. By the time the skies opened up completely, three more temple dogs had meandered into the shelter.Carrying dog cookies is just something I do. I could explain myself, but people either get it or never will. I tossed five treats out and turned to the sixth dog, Lek (Thai for little). She had vanished. Not possible. Would she go back out in the rain? Is there a dog door in the side of the Chedi?I surrendered Leks cookie to an antique looking Weimaraner. Predictably, thats when I spotted her. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her sitting in the right hand of a Buddha. She yawned, nestled perfectly into Buddhas arms and fell fast asleep. After six years of visiting Wat Chedi Luang, the temple still brings a grin to my face. Must be why I keep coming back.Angels of Chedi LuangActually, as the donation box says, It all started about ten years ago. Ajarn Rosocon, a teacher at "Chiang Mai" s Rajabaht University, decided to make the dogs of "Wat Chedi Luang" and the adjoining Wat Phan Tau her mission. Ajarn is Thai for teacher. Her best lessons were taught at this temple complex. Out of a potential hell these unique Buddhist sites have been transformed into a sort of canine Nirvana.Initially, students and friends helped Ajarn Rosocon care for the dogs. They fed, sterilized, treated mange, vaccinated whatever they could manage from the pennies (baht) they scraped together. The group was determined that the dogs of Chedi Luang and Phan Tau not suffer the life faced by so many abandoned and sick temple dogs across SE Asia.In 2005 Ajarn Rosocon unexpectedly died. A friend, Ann Pierce, and another devoted friend/student Khun Soonthree stepped in. Adopting Rosocons dream as their own, they went forward, honoring a friends memory by helping the helpless. Ultimately, Khun Soonthree became in many eyes the Angel of Chedi Luang.Touring the TemplesWat Chedi Luang has become a refuge not just for dogs, but for all animal lovers. If travelers become overwhelmed by the sight and plight of street dogs or simply need a quiet escape they visit this feel good temple. Try it yourself. Play tourist, take photos, pat a willing pup, or bring a picnic its all good. Then at 6 p.m. watch for the angel. Over a year after Ajarn Rosocon death, Khun Soonthree still feeds and cares for the temple dogs.Word has it she never misses a day. She was there in the rainy season when her own home flooded several times. She was there in the storm when Lek and I sought shelter. Her bright yellow rain slicker and massive pot of rice mix carried her through the tempest. If it is 6 oclock in Chiang Mai, shes there right now.Most people visit Wat Chedi Luangs temple complex for the impressive ancient Chedi. In addition, its beautiful grounds are perfect for strolling, quietly removed from the citys frenzy. Vendors offer food and cool drink. Trees and benches offer hospitable shade. The adjoining Wat Phan Tau casts a luminous teak glow over the Buddha images it houses.Better still, the aptly named Monk Chat area offer travelers a welcoming invitation to pull up a chair and, quite obviously, chat with monks. A casual atmosphere where international visitors just hang out with Buddhist monks is a fabulous forum for asking questions and learning about one anothers lives. In the background the voices of novice monks echo outward from classroom windows.Whos Who?Of course, for a few of us the temples house one more special treasure the dogs. Not all are social. Not all are loyal. Some are downright ornery. But to know the whos who of Chedi Luang canines adds to the fun of any visit. True most tourists barely notice them except to do a quick sidestep away. Like many regulars, however, Ive given most nicknames.Take Ren and Stumpy for example. Ren, a diminutive twig of a dog, is the duos personality. Stumpy, who has a front leg contorted up underneath, provides a bit of size (a valuable asset in the world of temple dog politics) to the team. Side by side the pair can be found on a building patio overlooking the Chedi's north face.Ren works her magic, charming the visitors with enthusiastic greetings. Then Stumpy shows his handicap, Abracadabra! Any traveler with half a heart makes a beeline for the ubiquitous 5 baht meat-on-a-stick vendor. No need to heat it sir.Next, is Lady. She works with a local artist by delicately charming customers to his postcard rack. From there they get a close-up look at his lovely hand sketched works. I suspect Lady pulls in a commission.Friendly Little Lek hovers at ordinary in the looks department. But every dog is beautiful when they sleep in Buddhas arms.Not all is perfect. When I first saw Hiccup, I thought he had just been poisoned. Now I know the perpetual hack must be a medical problem. A bone lodged somewhere or I can not say. While not overly social, Hiccup is stunningly photogenic.At the front entrance of Chedi Luang are the three Golden Boys. At least I think they are boys. They rarely stand. This is the first place Khun Soonthree feeds each evening. Looking at the girth of the Golden Boys, its a tad surprising there is any food left for any other temple dogs.Across from them lives Lucy the Teddy Bear dog. Had you seen her before her haircut, you would have expected to find seams and a price tag.No one knows exactly how many dogs live at Chedi Luang, 60+ perhaps. Other notable characters include Cookie Monster, whose cantankerous attitude and dull looks are well compensated for by the fact that he is the only one who actually likes the dull old dry dog cookies I bring. Apparently others prefer Khun Soonthrees cooking to mine.Living on the north face of the Chedi is Scar and her three puppies. Some dogs turn up at the temple pregnant. Still, her puppies Goldie, Blackie, and Coco Puff are well cared for.The latest I have notice is named, Oh Crap, Where Are My Ears? Oh Crap, or Ears for short, must be an abandoned pet. He is way too forlorn looking. Its as though he desperately wants a master. However, hes willing to settle for jerky treats - or bigger ears.Chubby, a pseudo red Chow, and Pigeon Chaser top off the list of charmers over at Wat Phan Tau. Pigeon Chaser will pass any domestic chicken, but heaven help the wild birds if he ever sprouts wings. The young monks at Phan Tau are especially loving toward their smaller population of temple dogs. It is truly a joy to watch them interact. Saffron robes and happy tails flourish side by side.The influence Chedi Luang has on animal lovers is best summed up by Ann Pierce. A former volunteer with the dogs, Ann has returned to California, but wrote this in an email interview:I cannot begin to articulate the impact the dogs, Ajarn Rosocon, Khun Soonthree, Wat Chedi Luang and all the other people I met through my time in Chiang Mai has had on me. Im a very different person because of my experiences. My dream is to one day move back to Chiang Mai and continue helping the animals, no matter how frustrating it is at times.Getting ThereYou can take a Tuk Tuk to visit Wat Chedi Luang. Most drivers know of this popular temple. On foot enter the old city from the famous Tha Phae Gate (east moat gate) and continue straight up Ratchadamnoen Road about four blocks to the first street light Phra Pokklao Rd. Turn left. Youll immediately see the spectacular Teak Wood Temple of Wat Phan Tau on your right. Take a look inside. Wat Chedi Luangs larger complex is located next door.Please remember Wats are Buddhist Temples first and foremost. Dress conservatively and behave respectfully. They dont have to let the visitors or the dogs stay. Honor yourself by the example you set.How Can You Help?Visit Chedi Luang, have a great time, then spread the word.Feeding starts at the main entrance between 5:30 and 6:00 each night. Stop by and show Khun Soonthree your appreciation of her work.Please make a donation in one of the temples three Dog Donation Boxes, set up around the Chedi. Your money goes to food, vaccinations, mange treatment, sterilization of females (and males when it can be afforded), and general care.The main Wat is currently undergoing a massive restoration. Making a donation to support the construction work, the temple and the temples school is good for all the residents two and four legged (or 3.5 sorry Stumpy).Getting the Most from Your Visit!Never approach any dog that seems reluctant. Get acquainted slowly with the friendly animals. Their continued socialization, or at least apathy to people, keeps them from wearing out their welcome at the temple.Do not bring too many good tasting cookies: bacon, pork rings, a side of beef The bigger dogs will follow and fights can ensue with defenseless smaller ones. Dry old dog cookies rate low on the taste scale. In other words, they are a perfect cheap way to give snacks to those that will eat them eventually. If in doubt, donate the money instead. It goes to the right place.Helping Dogs in Chiang MaiIf you live in Thailand, consider helping change the world one temple at a time. Get advice form angels and/or adopt your own temple with permission of the monks. Make it a family, business, class or club project. Work with a reputable vet. Dr. Nook in Chiang Mai is aces!Other organizations that help pets in the Chiangmai area temples include Lanna Dog Rescue and Care for Dogs. Both have web sites and are always looking for volunteers or donations of funds, foods and materials.In addition, Care for Dogs also has a wonderful shelter offering adoptions of healthy rescued dogs and puppies to good homes. Remember, for each new pet that finds a family, space is made for a suffering dog to be brought into their facility. What a beautiful way to help one - dog at a time.
Although no one can predict exactly when, every spring thousands of Tokyo inhabitants will flock to their public parks to enjoy hanami, the viewing of the cherry blossoms. The most popular of the citys Cherry Blossom Festivals is at Ueno Park. The Parks main street is lined with over eight hundred cherry trees, the glowing blossoms of which are illuminated each evening by the light of fifteen hundred lanterns. Several hundred thousand daily visitors enjoy the blooms, which lend an aura of the palest pink to the parks many other attractions.History of the Cherry Blossom FestivalThe Cherry Blossom Festival has its roots in the ninth century, when Japanese nobility had the first formal flower viewing at the Shinsen-en garden in Kyoto. Today Cherry Blossom Festivals unfold in stages as warm weather begins to spread over Japan from south to north and from the lowlands to the mountains. The Japanese listen intently to the reports from the Meteorological Agency as the cherry blossoms begin opening in Okinawa each January. When the blooming season arrives in Tokyo, usually in late March or early April, it is a signal for two weeks of celebration.Families, friends, and even groups of workers in every part of Tokyo will head for the blossom-shrouded public spaces, spread out their picnic blankets, and enjoy the return of spring beneath the gently falling blossoms, which symbolize for them the fleetingness of life. By days end there is no way to tell where one group ends and another begins, and the sense of community is special indeed. For those who would prefer to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the blossoms in more contemplative surroundings, the Meguro River Cherry Blossom Festival, only six miles to the west of Tokyo Station, offers an evening stroll beneath the lantern-lit trees at the rivers edge. Where to Stay during a Visit to the Cherry Blossom FestivalLocated in Tokyos central Taitoku district, the four-star Hotel Sunroute Asakusa Tokyo is a modern facility within two kilometres of Ueno Park.
Germany has emerged as one of the premier countries in which to vacation in Europe in recent years. Germany has a uniquely diverse landscape for a European, containing mountainous regions contrasted with sandy beaches and large, natural untouched forests. Germanys beautiful landscape and its abundance of amazing destinations add to its appeal. The Germans, themselves, are very hospitable and welcoming to visitors to their country, showing that they are proud of their land and the progress they have made in becoming a world player in economics, culture, and tourism.For some visitors, Germany may be their first exposure to Europe and its small, but apparent differences in their culture. Here are some tips for traveling to and staying in Germany: Germany has adopted the Euro for its currency for the ease of trade across its borders. Virtually every financial institution around the world will be able to accommodate currency exchanges, current exchange rates, and will be able to determine if your credit cards and debit cards will be accepted in most places. Credit cards are typically not accepted quite as much as in other countries, particularly the U.S. so planning ahead is a good idea. One of the first things travelers will notice when settling into a hotel room in Germany is the different style of electrical outlet. Compared to, say American 110 Volts, Germans much higher 220 Volt outlets put out much more power. There are adapters available, but you would be much better served by bringing along a voltage regulator with an interchangeable adaptor. The extra voltage being sent to your electrical device without regulation can cause major malfunctions. This is particularly true of relatively fragile electronics such as laptops. Speaking of laptops, if you like to stay connected then you will likely want to know how to get online while on vacation in Germany. Many Americans have become accustomed to paying a flat rate for unlimited use of access to the internet, but German ISPs typically charge a per minute rate. Though many hotels do offer Wi-Fi service, they too are typically billed at a daily or weekly rate. Wi-Fi would definitely be the way to go when accessing the web since an adaptor will be needed to plug in. Additionally, it is a good idea to specifically ask about rates and availability at your hotels front desk before plugging in many German hotels long distance rates pack a punch! If your cell phone provider uses GSM technology, then your phone may work in Germany. If not, then you are probably out of luck. Verizon, Cingular, and T-Mobile have all moved towards GSM technology in recent years in an attempt to satisfy trans-Atlantic needs. Check with your carrier on availability. If you are from a major metropolitan area in the U.S. or other country, then you may be familiar with a problem many Germans also face parking. If you rent a car in Germany, then parking will likely become an issue when visiting the larger cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. There are also frequent tolls, narrow streets, one way streets, and no shortage of pedestrians to look out for. Germanys public transportation system is one of the best in the world and will usually be cheaper than renting a car, so you may want to use the trains whenever possible to avoid some potential stress.