Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Get Two Keys to Your Rental Car

Rental car companies often can provide two sets of keys.  Take both.  I recently lost the one set of keys I had, which required significant efforts to resolve. Had I had a second set, the problem would have been much easier (and cheaper) to resolve.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Getting an Australian Visa

There are a variety of visa services and they can be useful for countries like Brazil, which makes getting a visa an ordeal.  It’s not entirely nasty on their part — it’s reciprocal since the U.S. puts Brazilians through corresponding annoyance.

However, there is no need to pay extra for an Australian visa.  Simply go to the Australian Department of Immigration web site, where AU $20 and a credit card will take care of it.  You don’t get a paper visa, rather it’s electronic.  I’ve done it twice, and it worked flawlessly.

International Cell Phones, T-Mobile, and the Deep Blue Sea

Many have had the unpleasant experience of receiving a large cell phone bill upon returning from an international trip.   T-Mobile has the best deal going: their phones include unlimited international roaming, and they mean it.  I’ve used my T-Mobile phone so far in Australia, New Zealand, and Italy.  I always had a usable connection. They give 3G speeds, which is fine for email and basic web browsing.  They charge U.S. $.20 a minute for telephone calls, although one can avoid that by using Skype.

One thing to watch out for — cruise ships.  As long as one is in range of shore, T-Mobile works splendidly.  However, if one on the high seas, your cell phone will connect to the ship’s cellular system.  On Princess the name is Maritime Communications.  Data charges were $15 per megabyte of data.  I forgot once to switch data roaming off.  The result was 4 incoming e-mails and a $7.00 charge.

Be sure to turn data roaming off if you are not close to shore.

Visiting Australia’s Blue Mountains

When in Sydney, you may want to visit the Blue Mountains.  If you have an OPAL card, you have all you need.  Not only does OPAL cover the whole public transportation system from Wollongong in the south to Newcastle in the north, it also includes the local bus systems.  So, for example, if you take the train to Katoomba, you also can use the town bus system.

The alternative is to buy an AU $40 ticket to the Blue Mountain Explorer bus, which goes to the same places and has pleasant drivers — but why spend the money when you already have transportation?

Using an Italian Coffee Maker

It’s not immediately obvious how to use the standard Italian coffee maker.

The easiest way to be prepared is to watch any of a number of YouTube videos that will explain the process.  In brief, one unscrew the bottom pot, fills it with water up to the interior line, inserts the coffee stem, adds coffee (without tapping it down), screws it back together tightly, and turns on the burner.  Five minutes later, you’ll hear bubbling and see steam.  It’s ready.

They make excellent coffee, by the way. Like a lot of visitors, we promptly bought one upon returning home.

Italian Gas Stations

While returning a rental car to the Milan airport I found myself temporarily confused, along with others, by an unattended Italian gas station. These are open 24 hours a day — but there is no human present to explain things.

 The instructions were there, but not immediately obvious.

Here’s what to do.  Pull up to a pump.  Look for the kiosk between the pumps.  One enters the pump number and cash (the two I tried didn’t take credit cards).  Then return to your car and the pump should function.