Istanbul – The Trip Of A Lifetime

March 28, 2009 on 10:51 pm | In Istanbul travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Turkey, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travels in Turkey | Comments Off

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.

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Europe And Hawaii – In The News

March 24, 2009 on 11:15 am | In Europe travel, Hawaii travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Uncategorized, air travel, things travelers need to know | Comments Off

Eurocontrol, the agency responsible for air-traffic control in Europe has introduced a new air traffic control system designed to double the number of planes in European airspace, while cutting flight time and enhancing flow-control at European airports.  The AP article can be found here.

We thought the article was interesting since it indicated a growing role for GPS and a diminished one for radio beacons to guide planes.  We wondered, however, how air traffic is going to double in Europe in terms of the finanicial difficulties being experienced by most airlines (not to mention their passengers).  However, we learned a new take on the word “Optimism” when it was mentioned at the very bottom of the article that the new air traffic control system “…should be fully operational by 2025.  Gee, only 16 years to wait for improved air-control.

On the other side of the world, the Supreme Court of Hawaii decided that the Hawaii Superferry, a car ferry that was running between Oahu and Maui (with plans to include Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii), was operating without a full environmental impact statement and would be closed down until one was filed and approved.  We suspect that the ruling will end the ferry’s emerging role as a popular, alternative mode of inter-island travel and the owners of the service have said as much.  We suspect that the island small field of air carriers are doing the Hula in celebration.   See our Hawaii Guide for more details von the best places to visit in Hawaii.

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London Anxious About The G-20 Meeting in April

March 21, 2009 on 8:57 pm | In Europe travel, London, London travel, ThereArePlaces.com, UK Travel, United Kingdom, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

April 1st and 2nd might not be the ideal time to visit London.  The Group of Twenty Economic Meeting (The G-20 Meeting) is scheduled for April 2 and international leaders are expected to arrive on April 1.  As you may know, this meeting often attracts those disenchanted with Globalism, including groups that are often referred to in the press as anarchists.  While we don’t know exactly how to classify the protestors, we do know that the protests associated with these meeings (wherever  and whenever they are held) often descend into violence.  We urge travelers to avoid London during the G-20 Meeting. 

A number of groups are planning protests and London’s Metropolitan Police believe that the protests will stretch the police force to its limits, according to an article in the Times Online.  Although the formal G-20 meeting will be held at a site in the Docklands, there is some fear that the protests in the City of London (on the 1st) may be difficult to control.  See this article in the International Herald Tribune for more information.  In addition, the G-20 is the first international meeting that will be attended by American President Barack Obama and his presence may attract protestors related to U.S. foreign policy. 

If you have a vacation scheduled in London on April 1 and 2, we recommend relocating to the countryside as an alternative.  After all, Bath, the Cotswolds, York, Wales and the Southeast are waiting for you and can be reached by car or train. 

If don’t want to change your plans, you might consider taking day trips from London on the April 1st and 2nd.  If you elect the day trip option, be sure to depart the city very early in the morning and return late at night. See our London Guide for a list of enjoyable daytrips just outside the city, although we do not recommend the daytrip to Greenwich during this period. 

If you are determined to stay in the London, we recommend that you avoid public transportation during the G-20 meeting and check the local news for updates.

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New Random Search of Air Travelers – It Could be Worse

March 18, 2009 on 9:40 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

An article in USA Today reported  the newspaper had obtained a government memo indicating that a new, more aggressive screening effort was being undertaken by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).   This is not the usual inspections while you wait in line going through security, but searches of passengers randomly selected just before they board their plane for departure.  The TSA has indicated that this action is not related to a specific security threat, but just another layer of security to protect the flying public.

I do not know about you, but I calculate boarding time very carefully and pretty much know when the doors for a flight will open and boarding will begin.  Just before this occasion, I scurry to the closest airport bathroom in hopes that this stop will allow me to avoid using the “smellatory” that serves as a lavatory on airplanes.  I suppose they clean them every million miles whether they need to or not, but would not bet with you on this belief.  While I am on the subject, guys, how can you be such poor shots?  There is usually more pee on the seat, the walls and the floor than there could possibly be in the toilet’s waste reservoir! Of course, all of those people entering the restrooms wearing nothing but their socks, do help soak up the mess, unfortunately, those stockings and feet are usually resting on the back of my seat sometime during the flight.

But back to the subject – So, I can see it now.  There I am dancing around and getting ready for my mad rush to the toilet before boarding (after all, I have to get back in time to board as early as possible), when TSA grabs me and wants to do a search.  Oh great.  Talk about becoming and instant pariah. 

You know that half the people on the plane are going to feel sorry for you.  The other half will worry that the TSA guys were too incompetent to figure out where you had hidden that for which they were searching.  Of course, by the end of the flight, everyone will believe that you are a terrorist and a cunning one at that. Not to mention, that during the flight, Grandma Jenkins, making her first flight at the ripe age of  109, will be giving you the hairy eyeball – you commie, terrorist!  (This is beginning to sound like Harold and Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay.)

On the other hand, who is really going to want to sit next to you after the TSA besmirches your reputation - so you might have an empty seat next to you, as a small boon for your embarassment.

I am all for stringent security and I have to admit that TSA is better than some systems I have witnessed. 

A few years ago I was flying out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for Zurich, when the poor fellow in front of me in the security line set off the metal detector.  He patiently explained that he had a metal plate and several surgical screws in his thigh, as the result of an accident. 

It was clear that the security personnel were having difficulty understanding this, and the traveler opened his briefcase and produced several X-Rays of his leg.  Well, I guess the security team had no way of really knowing if those were his X-Rays,  or if they were X-Rays of his thigh, so they dropped his pants, right there in front of the world.   Yes, they dropped his pants for him, then, the team began examining the large scar on his leg.

This set me to wondering how many experiences Saudi airport security had with terrorists implanting IEDs in their bodies. (If ever something was aptly called an Improvised Explosive Device, this would have been the textbook example.)  Fortunately, after whacking on his leg and giving it quite a few feels, it did not explode and they allowed him to board the plane for his return home to Zurich.  

Ah, modern travel!
 

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It’s Time For A Visit To The United Kingdom!

March 15, 2009 on 11:27 am | In Europe travel, London travel, Scotland travel, UK Travel, United Kingdom, Wales Travel, country travel information | Comments Off

One of the world’s most interesting travel destinations is the …United Kingdom.  Yes, that’s right.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the UK has fallen out of favor with some travelers, but we find it a delightful place that is full of unique attractions, interesting cultures and beautiful landscapes.  What’s more, for many visitors the language is relatively easy to understand (remember we mentioned the language, not the accents).

If you have not been to the UK, you should take a look at our Guide to its best places to visit. We even have a separate guide that explores the wonders of Scotland.  In addition, we recently added a new piece on the Best Castles to Visit in Wales, England and Scotland.

     Caerphilly Castle in Wales

We have to admit that we always look forward to the time we can grab in London, as we never tire of its museums, galleries, pubs, shopping and assorted things to do.  It is a great city for walking and wandering and you every time we visit we find something new.  As many times as we have been in London, you would think that we would not be candidates for taking one  of the many “walking” tours offered, but we always find a new topic of interest to us and the guides are usually very informative and uniquely comical.

Outside of London, we find ourselves drawn to the beautiful Cotswolds, Bath and its Roman heritage, the Lake Country, York and its unique Viking heritage.  For some unexplained reason we are almost magnetically attracted to the many archaeological sites along Hadrian’s Wall.  In addition, Wales, its castles and unique coastal villages also seem to send us a beguiling message to visit as soon as we can. 

As for Scotland, well visiting Scotland is a reward in itself.  The sights, the culture, its painful, self-destructive history (including the story of Mary Queen of Scots), all intertwine to make a most interesting visit.  However, we usually spend as much time hiking around the Scottish countryside as we do anything else. In spring, summer and fall, Scotland can be a glorious place to visit.

Maybe it is time for you to think about visiting the UK?  We think it would be well worth your time to visit this dynamic collection of nations.  If you have kids, the UK is one of the easier places to tour, it offers a great deal of information about things and places they have likely heard in school and it is a kid-friendly destination.  Of course, it will give your kids a great deal of ammunition to ping you about concerning their adventures while you were driving on “the wrong side of the road”! If that worries you, we even have advice for “driving on the left“.

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Oh Those Bargains

March 10, 2009 on 6:06 pm | In Dunhill Vacations, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, vacation travel | Comments Off

In a response to the economic downturn, major airlines, cruise lines, river cruise companies, hotels, spas and just about everyone in the travel business is offering discounts that are producing a mini-boom in travel.  We doubt that you will see bargains like this in the future and if you have the time and money, you should take a good look at what is being offered.  We have seen “unimaginable” prices and suspect that they will not last for long.  Until then, you might consider making hay while the sun is shining.

See Dunhill Vacations for some great travel discounts.  If interested, you can sign-up for their newsletter here.

We know it is a difficult decision to spend money in hard times, but the economy is a fact of life.  In turn, you probably only get one major vacation a year and we don’t think you should skip one if you can afford it.  Our view is that travel is one of the best things in life and if someone wants to throw travel bargains your way – Well, take the opportunity. You may never see prices this good again.

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More Violence in Northern Ireland

March 10, 2009 on 5:53 pm | In Northern Ireland travel, The Troubles, Uncategorized, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

Well, it took just two days for a splinter group of the IRA to cause more trouble for Northern Ireland.  A police officer responding to a call in Craigavon, County Armagh was shot through the rear window of his car as he arrived to provide help to a woman who had called for assistance.  He died of his injuries and the killing was claimed by the Continuity IRA.  For more information, including a map of the location, see this article by the BBC.

The IRA splinter groups are unhappy with the progress of the Peace Process and seem intent on causing more trouble in the future.  Visitors to Northern Ireland should exercise caution.

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Are “The Troubles” Re-emerging In Northern Ireland?

March 8, 2009 on 4:10 pm | In Ireland travel, Northern Ireland travel, The Troubles, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Northern Ireland has seen a re-emergence of violence over the weekend, which may be a new phase of “The Troubles”.   Solidiers accepting a pizza delivery and the lads delivering the pizza  to the Massereene barracks near Antrim, Northern Ireland (northwest of Belfast)  were attacked by gunmen firing automated weapons.  Two solidiers were killed, while the delivery personnel and two soldiers were wounded.  It was reported that the solidiers who died, had been wounded were then executed by a second shooter as they lay incapacitated. 

Apparenly the attack was claimed by the “Real” Ira, a group that separated from the IRA, when the main group decided to support the Easter Sunday Peace Initiative, several years ago.

Anyone considering travel in Northern Ireland should pay close attention to this situation, as it has a nasty habit of involving innocent bystanders.

See the BBC Website for more details on the attack and its probable background.

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More on Ryanair’s “Pee Fee”. Is There A “Bowel Bond” In Your Future?

March 6, 2009 on 1:57 pm | In Europe travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Uncategorized, air travel, pee fee, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | Comments Off

There was an article today in Canada’s The Globe and Mail about Ryanair’s CEO and the “pee fee” being contemplated by the Dublin-based low cost air carrier.  I guess we were not paying attention the first time this hit the wires, but the airline is considering installing credit card scanners on the doors of the toilets of their fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft.  What’s more, the fee will be one British Pound.

Just imagine, if you are a foreign traveler, not only will you have the pay to use the toilet, but it is likely that your credit card company will charge you a foreign currency transaction fee.  In combination these two fees will be called the “wesua fee” (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi Users fee) by the airline.  Yes, the WESUA (WE Screwed yoU Again) fee is a product of our imagination, but as long as we are imagining what could be, why not read some more of this good fun?

Do you suppose Ryanair will try to segment the fees?  There could be a “pee fee”, a “crap trap” (also known as the “bowel bond”), a fee for toilet paper, one for washing your hands and another for the paper towels to dry them.  Since no one will pay to wash their hands, the airlines could make a bundle by installing a credit card-based hand sanitizer dispenser somewhere on the plane.

The mind runs wild at the possible ways to wring even more money from the traveling public.  Perhaps, the airlines could charge more for the ticket based on pilot seniority? If a pilot relatively unqualifed on the aircraft used was going to fly, then you would be charged less than if a more senior pilot was scheduled to fly.  Perhaps they could charge more for tickets on airplanes they actually maintain, as opposed to most of the ones that fly, for which the records are maintained, but not the aircraft.

How about charging for ‘barf bags”?  Or, lifevests?  Imagine – boarding a plane could become a cafeteria plan where you get to opt-in or out of seats, toilets, flight announcements, safety announcements, etc.  Ah those airlines – always thinking about the best interest of their passengers!

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Avis Europe to Raise Rates Significantly

March 5, 2009 on 11:54 am | In Europe travel, Uncategorized, car rental, travel industry, travel news | Comments Off

While many travel service providers are discounting their rates to entice travelers to use their services in these trying economic times, some companies just do not seem to appreciate the consumer dynamics in this market.  Today, we read that Avis Europe is planning on raising car rental prices 10%.  Avis Europe’s Chief Executive, Pascal Bazin, said the company “…would lead the industry….”  I had  never thought of “racing” to be the first to announce price increases that would decrease my competitiveness and lead to less people using the serivces provided by my company.  If you would like to read more about Avis Europe and its plans, you can find the article in the Financial Times.

We rented from Avis during a recent research trip in Germany and the service was great.  The car included GPS at no extra charge and was an upgraded model.  It ran well, was a pleasure to drive and was well maintained inside and out.  In addition, the rates then charged by Avis were competitive. 

I am sure other reputable car rental companies will increase their rates and follow the lead of Avis.  There will be some that don’t – and those will be the ones we will examine when considering our next European car rental.

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