While the rest of Europe is freezing, the political heat in Greece seems to keep rising. It appears that the “debt deal” that was being considered has taken a back stage to the country’s apparent unwillingness to cut spending in order to qualify for the loans necessary to help it through this economic crisis. See this article from the Wall Street Journal for more detail.
From a traveler’s perspective, we think this means another “poor” year for travel in Greece. While you might be able to find some bargains, because travel will be down, you may also run into strikes, riots, demonstrations, intermittent transportation service and other headaches that do not appeal to most travelers. Our recommendation: look for an alternative to travel in Greece this summer. If you want to head in that direction, we recommend that you consider a vacation in Turkey.
On Sunday October 23rd Turkey suffered a devastating earthquake of 7.2 magnitude. The quake was centered in the east of the country near Turkey’s border with Iran with the destruction focused on the towns of Ercis and Van. The death toll from the earthquake is nearing 500 with thousands injured. It is feared that more dead will be discovered as a large number of multi-story dwellings collapsed. Our hearts go out to the people of Turkey who have suffered from this catastrophe.
For more details see this information article from the Voice of America, which includes a map showing the major earthquake faults in the area.
Van and its surrounding areas are off the paths normally taken by tourists, but anyone thinking of traveling in this area should postpone or cancel their trip. The earthquake was particularly devastating and it will take months, if not longer, to restore the infrastructure and allow Turkey to focus on anything other than caring for its citizens.
A car bomb exploded in central Ankara , the Turkey capital, on Tuesday September 19th. See this article from the Wall Street Journal Online for details. Although the government of Turkey has indicated that there is, as of yet, no evidence of terrorism, the car bomb is thought by many to be the work of Kurdish militants. Areas supporting the militants near the southeast border of the country and in the Kurdish areas of Iraq have been the focus of bombing and military campaigns by the Turkish Armed Forces. There is concern that the current action by the Turkish military against the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party) may result in the spread of PKK-related terrorism to other cities in Turkey as well as to tourist areas in the country.
If you are planning to visit Turkey exercise caution, avoid political rallies, or celebratory crowds, as these could become targets for the PKK. Also, be sure to monitor local news for any information that could be of use to use in evaluating the PKK threat wherever you will visit in Turkey.
Turkey will hold parliamentary elections on June 12 and the Kurdistan Workers party’s (PPK) separatist insurgency is thought to be trying to influence the outcome of the electoral process. On Thursday a small bomb was exploded in an Istanbul location near a police barracks and a shopping mall, injuring eight. No fatalities resulted. See this article in TodaysZaman for more details .
Today, a percussion bomb was exploded near a military barracks in the city of Diyabakir in southeastern Turkey, with no casualties resulting. See this story from Reuters for the details.
Spain continues to experience unrest due to joblessness with demonstrations occurring in most large cities. See this article in Yahoo News for more details. We note that the demonstrations in Spain have not been violent.
Meanwhile in Greece, police pepper-sprayed demonstration doctors (see this article from the AP in the Miami Herald ) who are rallying against the deep cuts to the medical and social systems in Turkey that have resulted from the country’s current economic problem (see this article in Yahoo News for a review of the recent austerity discussions being held by the government.
It seems as if the countries of Europe have experienced more demonstrations in 2011, including more violent demonstrations than have occurred in the last few years. Those planning to vacation in Europe this summer should read the local news for their travel destination and ask hotel staff in the towns and villages where they plan to stay about pending demonstrations. Avoid the areas where demonstrations are planned, perhaps taking a trip out of the city on that day.
The periods surrounding elections in countries experiencing financial or political crises are often marked with demonstration or, in in more extreme cases, by internal terrorism. If a city is a known hotbox for demonstrations, we recommend avoiding it while the crises lasts or the contested election is being held. If you cannot do that, then be sure that you are aware of local conditions, avoid crowds and avoid participating in political discussions about the problems in your destination.
Travel is inherently dangerous. You could be injured or killed driving to your the local grocery store near your home. International travel is no exception in terms of exposure to possible dangers. All travelers need to evaluate the safety of travel for themselves, based on their values and beliefs. Searching the international news on your destination is a good way to begin that evaluation.
It’s has been a tough month for Tourism and October appears to be ending like it started. In addition to all of the strikes across Europe, particularly those in France and Italy, terrorism has once again reared its ugly head in Europe and the Mideast.
A suicide bomber attacked Taksim Square in Istanbul, wounding 32 people. Taksim Square, Istanbul’s main square, is located close to several upscale hotels. The square is a noted meeting place and is often frequented by tourists because it is a major transportation hub. Taksim Square is located across the Galata Bridge and away from the main tourism area of the city. No organization has claimed responsibility, although it is thought that the Kurdish separatist militants are behind the incident. Authorities in Istanbul are vigilant about tourism and it is to be noted that fifteen of the wounded were police, as the terrorist appears to have focused the attack on the police stationed around the square.
Repercussions from the explosive packages shipped from Yemen to the United States seem bound to cause an investigation on security checks for air-freight packages that are shipped around the world. It has been rumored that one of the packages involved in the recent controversy was shipped on a passenger plane and that the sophisticated devices were designed to bring down aircraft.
Overall, we think establishing best practices on safety for parcel and package shipping is a good idea, but if freight is banned from passenger flights, the expense of our tickets will surely go up.
In Northern Ireland police disarmed two bombs, one near Belfast Airport, in a sign that Northern Ireland may be slipping back in to the “troubles”. Due to the presence of another bomb that required defusing, the railway connecting Belfast and Dublin was closed for 24 hours.
In the only piece of good news for travelers over the weekend, was the speculation that the days of the ETA Basque Separatist Movement in Spain may be drawing to a close, although we have heard these rumors several times in the past. See Yahoo News for more information.
As those of you who have read our travel advice at ThereArePlaces know, we advise that travelers keep a low profile when traveling and avoid large crowds when possible. We continue to regard travel as the best prescription the doctor can order!
Over the last two days torrential rains have plagued Istanbul and north-west Turkey. Over 20 people have died and there has been significant damage as a result of flash flooding. Read more about the problem at the BBC.
In addition, the flooding has made it difficult to reach Istanbul’s airport, as the main road accessing it has been closed by the flooding. Travelers are unable to reach the airport and those who have arrived at the airport from other destinations are unable to reach the city. If you are planning air-travel to Istanbul, you should consider postpoing your travels until later in the week, or perhaps longer.
Yesterday, we saw an article in the Hurriyet Daily News.com indicating that bootleg booze was causing a tourism problem in Turkey. Three young German students died last March in Kemer, Turkey as a result of consuming contaminated Vodka they had purchased at a local market. In turn, this news has caused quite a stir in Europe and bookings have dropped significantly compared to last year (although some of this may be caused by the problems with the world economy).
Turkey is taking action to try and make sure that this issue does not happen again and we wish them luck in their efforts.
Our recommendation: when traveling exercise vigilance, especially in countries where problems with contaminated drinks have been reported. If you ask for bottled water, check to make sure that the container looks intact, has not been re-used, and has information about the bottling company. If you are going to drink alcohol, asks for brands with which you are familiar and ask to see the bottle. If a server is reluctant to show you the bottle, cancel your order. House brands are more of a problem, since you will probably not recognize them. Our recommendation – stick with brands you know and inspect the bottle – or skip the drink.
For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about Istanbul, one of my favorite cities. In fact, it was one of my favorite cities before I had the opportunity to visit Turkey.
When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, my family rarely traveled outside of the city and never outside of the state. Travel outside of the country was inconceivable!
My Dad had died in a car accident when I was very young and my Mom never quite recovered from his loss. And since he died returning from a fishing trip in Mexico, well, for her, travel just didn’t have its allure anymore. I guessed there was no way I was going to travel for a few years, so, I did the next best thing and started to read about all of the places that I hoped to see whenever travel was going to enter my life.
After all that reading, at 10 years of age, I had somehow decided my life list. It was short, my horizons had not yet expanded. Of course, there was the matter of money for traveling and I did not have any nor any prospect of getting any. Fortunately, lack of funds was never a reason not to plan, at least for me, so I decided I needed to do some homework and planwhere I really wanted to explore, just in case some unknown relative bequeathed me with a fortune.
London, of course, was a must – just on the basis of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street, the Tower of London and Paddington Station (you bear fans will know what I mean). Unfortunatelly for London, I had two posters of other, more desirable places tacked to the wall of my bedroom.
One old, cracked, poster was a drawing of Mont St. Michel, while the other was a stylized graphic of Istanbul, complete with minarets. Mont St. Michel was there because I had read some great kid’s mystery that involved Mont. St. Michel, the mysterious, medieval abbey somewhere along the coast of France. Istanbul deserved its place in my small room, because of its history and its role as the place where “East meets West”, although I wasn’t quite sure what that really meant – I was sure that it was important! Of course, the stylized, garish poster adorning my wall was labeled both with Istanbul and Constantinople, making this ancient city even more mysterious.
Fast forward a few years and my travel list was growing. I really enjoyed visiting London and was thrilled when I was able to explore Mont Mt. St, Michel, but for some reason Istanbul left me with a deep need to return again and again. The attraction is so strong that it makes me want to stop-in anytime I am reasonably (or unreasonably) near.
I first saw Istanbul from the deck of a Windstar ship, at the end of glorious cruise of the Greek Islands and parts of the Turkish coast. I had never been a fan of cruises, so it came as a surprise to me that the Windstar experience was so enjoyable. Maybe it was the small-sized ship, perhaps it was the customized itinerary – but even the considerable enjoyment I had on the cruise paled in comparison to the jolt that I received when I saw Istanbul from the Golden Horn.
Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and Hagia Sophia seemed to dominate the horizon and I knew that I had finally arrived at the edge of my boyhood dream, exploring the city where East meets West. I guess there are places like that for every traveler, but it was love at first sight for me.
The historic monuments were stunning, the Turkish Classic Architecture of the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque were exceptional in their complexity and superb in their execution. The Spice Market was smaller and more aromatic that I had expected, while the covered Bazaar was larger and less mysterious than I had hoped. Hagia Sophia was breathtaking and I spent much time thinking about the Emperor Justinian, his dome and the earlier Byzantine era. The Topkapi Palace was excellent, but too large and complex to take in during a single visit. The Bosporus proved to be an exciting, energetic highway to Asia and beyond, always beckoning and always delivering a new treat just just ahead.
However, the greatest treasure of Istanbul for me was its people and their important culture. While there are many notable thing about Istanbul, it is a small memory that might help you understand my romance with this timeless city.
I remember especially their flat bread. called lavash. One night we were eating at a particularly good restaurant and I was consuming massive quanities of lavash. The owner laughed with me as I asked for more and then, he asked if I would like to tour their bakery. Off we went into the depths of the restaurant to a large and spotless room equipped with a large ceramic kiln, being fed by a crew of five who were as proud as could be to welcome us to their workplace. Istanbul was a continual series of meetings between old friends I had never known before, but who became important to me the minute I walked into their store or restaurant.
I guess it’s time to go back – I need some Istanbul. If you can’t get there now, take a look at our guide to Istanbul. After all, thinking about travel is the next best thing to doing it.