The Port at Bodrum-Bodrum, Turkey

One sweltering hot day in the middle of the Grecian summer we decided we needed to get away. But where should be go? Being on an island did not offer many opportunities but as our friendly hotel manager pointed out there was one place we could go while visiting a new country to boot …so we booked passage to Bodrum Turkey on the ferry and took off the next morning.

Now I live in a state known for its high temperatures and I am used to the heat. Yet, it was so hot the day we went that even the boat skipping over the cool water provided little relief. The cross breezes were so mild that blowing my own hot air cooled the air around me more than the breeze coming off the water. It was sweltering, so I took to dipping my shirt in the water to cool down; the effect not long lasting as it would be dry within 10 minutes. But the water was crystal inky blue and the birds dived along beside the boat making  for a memorable ride as the parched hills seemed to rise higher the closer we came to Turkey’s shore. But what I remember most was when St. Peter’s Castle a/k/a Bodrum Castle suddenly appear on the horizon….now that was a site! And then slowly the harbor around which it is perched came into view. Oh, the anticipation of seeing what was in this ancient port city stirred the fire in my belly.

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After disembarking we stood in line, passports in hard, waiting to have them stamped. I guess we looked harmless enough because they let us in. Sometimes that still astounds me… that whole letting me in process. Really….me?!!!!!!

With landing completed we joined the throng of tourists also taking a day trip to this fascinating country. Boats with flags of all colors and countries lined the dock. Some were sleek, some dingy, but all were magnificent in their own way. We turned towards the castle.

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Construction on Bodrum Castle began in 1402 by the Knights Of St. John. Each langue of the Order had its own tower and each had their own distinct style. The castle was built with plenty of twists and turns in order to keep enemy soldiers at bay. It served as a sanctuary for Christians throughout the area for over a century.

Then in 1962 the Turkish Government decided to turn the castle into a museum called the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. It houses one of the biggest collections of ancient glassware in the world and contains relics from the 12th century BC. Ship excavations are detailed and the treasures that can be found through the many rooms of the castle are truly a site to see.

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Back outside the port area bustles. Tourist shops line the street, small restaurants and craftsmen ply their trade.

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                                                         I found this sign slightly humorous

Little side streets and alleyways beckon you to explore a little deeper into the heart of the city.

 

This is a photo of an artist whose pictures we admired and bought several from him which hang in our home today.  Such a sweet, friendly and talented man!

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You will find just about anything you want here (except really good shade) so shop carefully because undoubtedly you’ll find the same item cheaper further on down the street.

While in Bodrum we took one of the tour buses. That is a story itself which I will save for another time. But if you are ever in the area I would recommend a stop at Bodrum. In fact, if I had to do it all again I would have spent several days in and around this area of Turkey only this time I would forego traveling there during the intense heat of the summer. And because is a land where ancient and modern meet,  you never know just what surprises await you but they are sure to be memorable.

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HINTS: This is not a cheap excursion. It costs a little less than $40 USD round trip for the ferry.

HINTS: The Museums are closed on Mondays. The entrance fee to Bodrum Castle is approximately $9 USD.

Train Views-Morocco

My first impression of Morocco was not a good one. It was 1998 and we had taken the boat over from Spain to Algiers. Our 7 year old daughter was with us along with my cousin, Katy.

After exiting the ship we were greeted by men who insisted that we needed their help to get to the train station. After being repeatedly harassed we were determined to either:

A: re-board the ship due to the harassment

B: Somehow get to the station ourselves.

We opted for the latter. It is the only time that I have traveled that I felt scared and as we were leaving the ship yard sounds of “They are going to kill you out there!” trailed along behind us. But finally we made it to the station, where without much of a wait, we boarded a train to Casablanca.

What an experience. Men who refused to wear deodorant surrounded us along with a few caged chickens here and there. We saw shepards herding camels and sheep dressed in traditional garb. We watched as hard boiled eggs were purchased by the riders at almost every stop. We saw community wells where women washed their clothes together and farmers with machetes harvesting sugar. Donkey carts trotted alongside the train as we crossed the countryside.  Slices of Moroccan life flew by as we made our way along the shore and then inland.

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In the fields

The train was a comfortable place to view a little bit of this exotic country if you discount the bathrooms on it. Standing over an open pit while using the facilities with a train swaying to and fro was a testament to good balance…or not.

 

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One of these days I would like to return to Morocco. I would like to experience Fez and the surrounding area. Until then I remember with fondness our ride on the slow train through the countryside of Morocco.

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Best Place To Go Near The Airport-Narita, Japan

If you have ever been stuck in an airport you know the importance of being stuck in the right airport meaning an airport near a great tourist destination. The town of Narita outside Tokyo Japan is just such a place.

We took a bus from the airport into Narita proper. Here you will find crooked winding streets that lead you to the showpiece of the city…Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. On your way to the temple stop to explore the wooden shops along Naritasan Omote Sando. Here you will find some of the most beautiful silk kimonos that you will ever see, traditional Japanese cooking utensils and lacquered bento boxes, and bins of souvenirs to suit the fancy of just about every tourist.  While in the area you must eat at the restaurants which feature the fake plastic food in their windows for easy ordering of traditional Japanese cuisine.

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We have been to Narita several times. On one trip we were walking down to the temple when we came upon a festival with large group of older women performing several traditional Japanese dances. Their slow graceful movements were mesmerizing as they moved in unison together like a swarm of butterflies.

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On another trip school children swarmed around us while handing us a card asking if they might practice their English with us. We spent a fun 10 minutes answering their questions until we moved on and stumbled upon the Narita Tourist Pavilion where we were snatched off the street by some very insistent older ladies. They lead us upstairs where we were treated to calligraphy lessons, traditional painting instruction and were dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. All this was followed by a tea ceremony. We had a fantastic time and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

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The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited.The temple was founded in 940 and has classic traditional buildings dotting its grounds. Incense fills the air as you enter through the gate. Intricate carvings adorn the buildings forcing you to slow down and take in all hidden artwork. With gardens that look like they are manicured by tweezers and beautiful statues it is a niche of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city. We have watched as hundreds of babies were blessed by the monks and have been in awe as people pay their respects to the dead. This is a special place in a city that has had its share of growth pangs thanks to the arrival of the Narita Airport in the late 1970’s.

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Narita also has an easy to navigate train station. We took the train into Tokyo to see a performance at the Kabuki Theater and arrived back in Narita worn-out but satisfied with our adventure.

Narita is the perfect place to spend some time outside of the airport and if you have a long layover I would urge you to check out this friendly city.

HINT: Narita is great place for a stopover. Check and see if United Airlines still offers a free stopover when traveling to various points in Asia.

Torpedo Bay Navy Museum-Devonport, New Zealand

One of the issues that those of us face when traveling with children is what we are doing of interest to the kids or will we spend all that entrance fee money only to be confronted with “THIS IS BORING.” Frankly, it is one of our worst nightmares come true.

I was a little concerned before reaching Torpedo Bay Navy Museum that we might find ourselves embroiled in that “I’M BORED”  scenario but I was, oh-so-wrong. The kids loved it here and from the “whoops” of children in their school uniforms it would appear the natives did too.

What’s not to love? First of all the museum is housed in a modern building along the bay with Auckland harbor serving as a pristine backdrop. With a cafe and plenty of space to run if nothing else the museum is a great spot to take in lunch. But wait…there is so much more to see.

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Upon entry kids are given a paper in which to hunt for artifacts and make brass rubbings as they move about the exhibits. There is even a place where children can dress up in old military uniforms and pretend they are in a submarine.

If you are a military history buff there is plenty to be found here. Old photos, interactive exhibits and films are just a few of the things to gaze at. Not only is New Zealand’s Naval history on display you can also find much about WW I, the United States Navy and other military personnel throughout the world who served in both World Wars.

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While the museum also houses artifacts from past sailors throughout history you can also find displays of weaponry, maps, and relics from the early years of deep sea diving. Military medals, military posters and paintings. But wait…before you go you must visit ‘The Boatshed’ an historic building with old boats celebrating whalers, dinghies an other sea worthy vessels who all contributed to maritime efforts in the area.

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Torpedo Bay Navy Museum is FREE and open seven days a week 10a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Christmas, Boxing Day and Good Friday. Take the ferry over from Auckland.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Use Local Transportation While Traveling

One of the best things about traveling is using the local transportation systems. Sure, it is scary at first but there is no better way to get to know the city and her people than traveling amongst them. Besides it is usually the cheapest way to go.

One of the best ways to explore is the subway. Did you know there are 160 metro systems in 148 cities and 55 countries throughout the world? Cities such as Shanghai, Madrid, Toyko, Seoul, Miami, Budapest, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, Helsinki, Rome, Cleveland, Manila, Lima, Mecca and Stockholm depend on the system to transport their citizens to work and shopping districts. You should depend on them too. HINT:With multi-day discount passes which make one-way travel a dollar or less it is the way to travel on the cheap. Fare prices vary per city but single ticket averages include $1.09 USD Seoul, $2.50 New York and $0.13 USD in Cairo.

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                                   Green Line 2 and the Brown Line 6 on the Seoul Subway

Once you figure out the system it is a breeze. And most systems are very similar. After purchasing your ticket  and putting in the turnstile which opens the gate; you head down to the tracks. Looking at your map you determine where you need to get off. Then you look for the last station at the end of the line and go to the track that lists that station as the end station. Once in the system you will see the name of the stop that you are currently at and on either side the station before and the one after. Stand at the lines and wait for the train to arrive. Now let those exiting out and now (and this is the important part) push your way in.

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In some stations you will also be guided by the color of the line. Follow the color to your tracks and repeat the above. Transfer stations where many lines converge are indicated on maps and signs. Here you may transfer from the green line you have been riding to the orange line that takes you to your destination. Many subways systems also have dual signs with the primary language written first followed by signage in English.

Another way to get around your chosen city is via the bus. While it is often more difficult to learn and time consuming it is often cheaper and great way to talk to locals to find out the best restaurants, parks and stores in the area. Again,  buses have starting and end points to their routes which you just follow in the direction you want to go. Many cities also have electronic maps which show you where the bus is at the present moment and when it should arrive. We found this to be true last month when were were visiting the fairly small city of Xinchang, China.The cost was about 60 cents (USD) each way.

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Boating is another popular way to travel in some cities. Venice immediately comes to mind with its numerous water taxis but San Francisco, New York, Sydney and Istanbul also use taxis and ferries to shuttle people about. While often more expensive than subways and buses they are much more relaxing and provide great scenery along the way. Prices for the Sydney ferry varies from $1.87-$4.50 USD. We took the ferry from Auckland to Devonport and bought a 10 pack for about $31 USD.

Trains also move people into the city from neighboring towns. We rode in and out of the city of Edinburgh from the suburbs of Livingston many times. The trip was scenic and comfortable and we ended up smack dab in the middle of the city just where we wanted to be in about 22 minutes. The cost is about 8.60 (eight pounds sixty) The advance purchase of rail passes brings the cost down considerably.

Chicago is another place with a great train schedule as is Dublin and Zurich. Commuter trains are definitely a bargain especially with long term passes bringing the prices down to about the same as a subway ride in some areas.

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While decreased transportation costs are a great reason to take local transportation many other reasons abound including:

  1. Because they are often faster than taxis in traffic you don’t waste time and can see multiple sites in a short period of time.
  2. Public transportation stations often have ATM’s, banks and shops for added convenience.
  3. Since your goal should be to converse/mix with the locals you can easily ask them to recommend a good restaurant at your next stop or directions to where you are going. Often times if you have a confused look on your face people will stop to help you get on your way.
  4. Public transport allows you to hear things which can result in amazing conversations. All you have to do is say something on the order of “I heard you talking about ______. I am a visitor and am wondering if it is a place worth going to.”
  5. It gives you a different perspective of the city. Places you normally would not get to see suddenly come alive and all you have to do is hop off to visit someplace not on the agenda.
  6. Commuter transportation gives you a chance to talk to the locals. I cannot count the number of times we have met someone while using commuter trains only to be invited to their house for dinner.
  7. Outlying areas suddenly become more accessible. Last month, instead of basing ourselves in Shanghai we took the subway and bus out to the beautiful ancient water city of Xinchang something we surely would have missed had we not used public transportation.
  8. You reduce your carbon footprint using public means rather than a rental car.
  9. Its fun! If you don’t have a subway/ferry/train nearby there is nothing more thrilling for the kids than to take a new form of transportation. I mean seriously, what kid doesn’t love riding on the train!

So get out there and explore the city you are in and commute the way the locals do. I guarantee to you that if you do a whole new world will open up in ways that you had never imagined!