Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Day In Istanbul

The Blue Mosque
     Got a long lay over in Istanbul, or maybe just starting your journey in Turkey but don't want to spend too much time around the capital? Here's how I made the most of about 18 hours there.

      I was excited to see on a flight between Greece and Israel I could manipulate the flight to do a layover trip to Istanbul, I got my Visa beforehand online for only $40 and was ready to see this beautiful city! I landed in the evening around 11pm, took a cab which I got ripped off on for about 35 Euros, it was 20 the next day, but I was freezing and anxious to get some sleep for the next days adventures. Since I landed so late I actually stayed in a hotel, but it was only $40 a night.

     I woke up at the crack of dawn to catch a city bus to Rumeli Fortress, it was not recommended if you didn't have a lot of time because it's off the main tourist path, but my heart was drawn to it, and I have no clue why it's not recommended it's a bit further than the rest of the main Istanbul sites, but it's one train, and a bus that runs along the pier to get there, so a pleasant view for the short ride. And the fortress was well worth it!


Inside Rumeli Fortress 

   After Rumeli I doubled back to the main part of the city, which by the way is only about 20-30 minutes from the airport. I also en route had my real cup of Turkish coffee, which was dumped after a few sips.... In just 19 hours including time to sleep and check in, I was able to do and see all of this:


Vile Turkish coffee!
The Blue Mosque: How can you be in Istanbul and skip it? Entry was either free or really cheap, because I don't remember paying anything. Once you are in downtown Istanbul it's impossible to miss this one. 



Galata Bridge: Legendary in Turkish folklore and literature I enjoyed it both by public transport and on foot catching the morning fishermen make some catches.

Galata Tower: As you may guess, if you found the bridge, you found the tower.

            

Hagia Sophia: It's literally right next to the Blue Mosque, so you won't miss it!


The Basilica Cistern: I had no idea how cool this would be, and my pictures don't do it justice, built around 300 AD, it's an ancient cistern, and underground water receptacle built by slaves of that era. 


The place is somewhat huge, but also a quick easy tour of 20 minutes to an hour if you are in a rush. 

The Spice Baazar: I was planning on skipping this unless I had time, and it turns out I had time, after a quick and delicious Turkish lunch I went in the spice baazar and got a magnet, I had close to 20 Turks try and sell me a rug.


And of course Rumeli, I hadn't realized it, but correct me if I'm wrong, Yedikule Castle? Was on the way to the airport, I could have squeezed that in too, oh well, next time!



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Monday, February 23, 2015

Toilets Around The World

      Ever wonder what it's like to take dump or go to the john around the world, here's some high, and very low lights of international toilet action!!!!


Good old brazil, if the wait is too long for the porta potty, go behind it!

Japan, make sure you have it turned off before you get up!

Your standard Asain squat toilet.
Brazil again, just covering up the basics, and it means 4 people can piss at a time rather than 1!
The Turks are on the right trail with the sanitary nozzle, but do they realize the back splash it will get from number 1?

Middle East, noted by camels.
Rolling Stones/Russia urinals


Vile and disgusting Thai toilet, no toilet paper, and you flush it with the bucket on the right.

More south east Asia action, nozzle to spray but no toilet paper.

Winner of the dirty dozen! No toilet paper, and you flush with the bucket! This award winner was in Bangkok Thailand.
And of course, my toilet, Japan won my heart!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Are Not Going To Have 196 Months To Travel

 

     I am so sick of people telling me what is enough time to visit a country! It always seems the answer from people I get is to spend one month there (sure no problem, let me just foreclose on my house and get fired from work). There are currently about 196 countries in the world (an ever changing and debatable number). I don't know about you but as an American we don't get that much holiday or vacation leave, it is extremely unlikely that in my lifetime I am going to have 196 months to see the world. Yet every time I ask friends, family, or forums for advice on short trips I'm going on somewhere, I get the same answer, "Oh no, that's not enough time!"



    I am born and raised in New York City, arguably one of the most touristed cities in the world. Most people probably want to go for at least a week, which is great. But I can EASILY make a great New York Itinerary for 3 days, 1 day, or even less! I wouldn't tell someone going to LA from Europe with a possible 12 hour lay over in New York City, oh no, don't go for 12 hours, that's not enough time, just sit in JFK for 12 hours and avoid seeing a piece of that great city, that's a better idea.



    I just got back from a 3 weeks trip to Greece, luckily for a great deal I was able to do a side trip into Israel for 5 days, but since I was greedy I saw that for FREE I could do a 19 hour layover in Istanbul, and threw that in as well shortening Israel. 4 days in Israel and 1 in Turkey. I asked several friends when I thought it was going to be 5 days what I could do in Israel, and rather than give me some ideas, they simply said, "Oh no, that's not enough time." With all due respect to my buddies, Greece was way too close to Israel to skip it. Then my 5 day turned into a 4 day because I knew I could do that kick ass lay over in Turkey.

    Let's use Israel as the perfect example, people will say that's not enough time, Israel is geographically the size of New Jersey!!!! How is it not enough time? I wouldn't dare doom someone to visit New Jersey for a month! This is not even a complete list, but here is most of what I did in Israel in just 4 days, and the last day was cut short from weather:
  • Toured old city Jerusalem
  • Did a midnight bike tour of Jerusalem
  • Walked around Tel Aviv for awhile (then got rained out and had to go to the airport)
  • Toured the underground Western Walls of Jerusalem
  • City Of David
  • Bethlehem
  • Jericho
  • The Dead Sea
  • Masada
  • Rode a camel through the Negev Dessert
  • Hung out in Mamilla 3 nights


     Notably the one common Israel tour thing I didn't have time for was Petra, which is not in Israel anyway. How did I do so much in so little time? I planned! And I saw the city,  I didn't waste time to read about what to do when I got there, I did that before. I didn't stop to check in on facebook back home, or text every single person I've ever known I was in Israel. Were some things rushed? Yeah sure, I was only in Masada for an hour or so. The same for the dead sea, notably, I actually read on several forums people saying 1-2 days for the dead sea. WWWHHATTTTTT????? It's a pond of salt, go check it out, float, and get lunch and leave. The power of research helped me so much! I also self toured half of this, at my own pace, I rented a car and drive through the Israeli dessert in a sand storm to get to the Negev (not recommended by the way!). But the point is that if you really research before you get there, then you can maximize any amount of time!!!

















Oh and how was 19 hours in Istanbul including 5 hours for sleep??? Let's see:

-Toured Rumeli Fortress
-Toured the Blue Mosque
-The Hagge Sofia
-The Galata Tower
-The Grand Baazar
-The Basillica Cystern (below)

-Sampled some Turkish treats and got some souveniers
-Saw Tokapi Palace (only from the outside though)
-Sampled Turk Coffee and had a great lunch

    With the exception of Rumeli Fortress all the rest of that is the equivalent size of touring lower Manhattan, with the right research I knew it could be easily done, and Tokapi Palace is on the way back to the airport. 

    I am never going to forget Istanbul or Israel, and I am never going to regret that I didn't wait until I had a month to go, there are some places that I am going to want a month to go to, notably Italy, but for my family and me, we have deep roots there, which I will talk about quite in detail in later article. But I am so happy and so satisfied with my 5 days in the middle east, and couldn't more highly recommend it for those people who are not going to have 196 months to travel. Save travels!

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why New Year's Is The Best Holiday!


     I'm in San Francisco, California, in just 24 hours I will be on my way for a multi country and multi continental New Year's Trip with the midnight celebration being under the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Choosing your favorite holiday is like choosing your birth date, it's not your choice, it chooses you. I think there are certainly things that affected it being my favorite holiday, one of those certainly being years of bartending not being able to celebrate it. But now New Year's and me are locked in, and for as long as I can, I hope to celebrate New Year's in different cities or countries experiencing different cultures and celebrations for it. My list now looks something like this:

  • New York City
  • Las Vegas
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Shanghai, China
  • Austin, Texas
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Athens, Greece
    What I love about New Year's, is that it is a holiday recognized by the world, it's not limited by race, religion, or nationalism. It's the one night where everyone can celebrate and be a part of new beginnings while saying goodbye to the old. Some people call it amateur night in reference to the amount of people who rarely drink that will now make a mess of themselves... I call it the world night. While there are definitely amateurs, it's also great to see everyone made it one way or another to the end of the year. We have a lot to see and do on this Earth, but we don't have a lot of time to see and do it. From SFO airport, outbound to Greece and beyond, Happy New Year's 2015!


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Friday, September 19, 2014

Travel or Cable TV?


      Too many times you hear people say "I love to travel." And granted, a lot of us do love to travel, but then all the more often you hear, "But I just don't have the money." As the person puts their head down to tweet out they wish they could travel more on their brand new iPhone. I am frequently asked how do I travel so much, and how do I come up with the money for travel? To do one international trip per year my answer is fairly simple, get rid of cable or your smart phone.

    I should have a disclaimer, as of this year I finally do have a smart phone, BUT the only reasons I got it were as follows:

-My plan is discounted by a huge portion by my job (about the same I was paying for my flip phone)
-I make money off my phone blogging, writing to clients, etc
-My phone itself was free from a friend, and new phones are only $100 every year (assuming I don't go for the new models)

    Just getting rid of a smart phone would be enough money for the international flight you can't afford, an even better idea? Get rid of cable too! I haven't had TV for 12 years!!! I don't miss it at all, I will still go to the cinema, and occasionally I will watch some netflix on a tablet or something, but generally speaking I have no idea what shows are on, what celebrity gossip is going on, what reality shows are on, etc. And it doesn't make my life worse, it makes it better! I can still get news and sports from the internet, and would much rather go to a sports game than watch it on TV, of course sports bars are good too.

    But those two major expenses cost more than any one of my short (up to one week) international trips in a year. Because when it comes down to it, I don't love TV, and I don't love having the newest phone, I do love to travel. And I'd give up those two things in a second for it! Would you rather talk with your friends about a new show where the lead hero is in Thailand for a week, or would you rather be in Thailand for a week? How about watch some movie on your brand new smart phone about Russian dog sledding, or would you rather get an old smart phone, or even flip phone off eBay and go to dog sled in Russia? There are little things you have to look at in everyday life as budget travelers to decide what's more important, and what can you give up so you can travel more. A short list of other things I do:

-I drive a crappy car, and really barely use that as I walk, or bicycle most places
-I own a smaller house than I can afford easier than a big one, and have roommates
-I price shop anything that's over $20, from a backpack to car insurance
-When a trip is closing in I don't go to bars or out to eat as to save money for the trip
-I do seasonal work with 2nd or 3rd jobs so that the money is consistent seasonally, but does not interfere with travel
-I work tons of extra hours at my full time job so I can get longer vacations when it is time to travel.

    Think about the small things in life that you don't need, because if you really "love" travel, you won't talk about doing it one day when you have the time or the money, you will find a way to make it happen. And speaking of money... I regret a lot of purchases in my life as I'm sure most people do, but in all my travels, even my worst trips... I has never been one of my regrets.


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Friday, September 12, 2014

Brazil


    So as the regular readers know I will be releasing an ebook soon on How To Go To World Cup Russia 2018, that being said my experiences in Brazil for those people new to this blog were all during World Cup 2014. I traveled all over the country through many cities, however since a lot of it had to do with World Cup some of my Brazil travel tips may not apply. But anyway, here is my Brazil report.

      It's the center of South America, one of the largest countries in the world, and it was the center of the world in 2014 during the FIFA World Cup, I was blessed to catch so much of the action first hand, and football or no football, Brazil is still a great place to visit! Here's how I spent 1 month down there and spent about $5,000 (you could budget half if not going during World Cup) when all was said and done, I will leave out a lot some of the budget stuff here as it would only apply to world cup, but include the universal stuff :)


  • Street food is going to be your best friend, at least for awhile. I can't tell you how much eating chicken empanadas saved me money instead of going out to eat 3x a day. They were delicious, although of course after your 30th empanada it may be time for a change...
  • If you are with a group many restaurants offer a 2 pessoas (2 person option) being the stupid Americans that we were we had an awkward night when we didn't realize the four of us ordered food for 8! No wonder why the wait staff was giving us odd looks! But it's a good savings if you order right!
  • When you enter some bars, restaurants, or clubs they will give you a drink card/food card. This is not a free for all, it tracks what you buy and you pay when you leave. While I understand this helps against theft can you imagine the absolute shit show when you leave the bar with 40 other people at the same time?
  • Carnivale Tips! Ok granted I wasn't there for Carnivale, but the prices for World Cup were about the same I was told, that being said, it is extremely expensive, so consider using airbnb, that was our best accommodations, 2nd place VRBO, 3rd place hostels (all the budget hostels we stayed at were pretty bad, read those reviews on tripadvisor!), and finally hotels if you wanna splurge. I also had several Brazilians offer me a spot couch surfing which I ended up not needing as plans changed.
  • Carnivale or no Carnivale, Brazil is expensive. Especially the major cities in the tourist areas, a subway Sandwich meal might be as much as $12 USD. Carefully budget things out and try to avoid chain stores and find the good deals or load up on a buffet (opposite of what I'd advise in my fitness blog) so you don't have to go out to eat often.
  • If you speak Spanish, let me warn you, IT WILL NOT GET YOU BY WITH PORTUGUESE. I am fairly fluent in Spanish and was confident there would be enough cognates, or similar words that I'd have no problems in Brazil. I also thought that since it is bordered by so many Spanish speaking countries many Brazilians would speak Spanish. I was very wrong. Check out my tips for languages here.
  • The best things in life are free... The beaches is one of the main attractions in Brazil, while some cities had signs of poverty, crime, and despair, their beaches don't show it, the Brazilian people value their beach culture and it makes for an excellent day of playing soccer, going for a run, or just soaking up the sun and atmosphere.

  • Speaking of beaches my 2nd favorite stop on the tour was Florianopolis, this is one of the nicest cities I have ever been to in the World, in peak season of Brazilian summer you can find places up to $1000 a night, and some clubs charge a $2000 cover to get in!!! This is USD I am talking about! However we were lucky to go off season and enjoy it all for pennies on the dollar, paying $15 to get into classy bars and $1000 for the week for a house on the beach! If you don't mind missing the party scene of peak season I can't recommend a nicer spot to catch in Brazil to go in the off season!

  • Rio De Janerio and Sao Paulo are of course the biggest tourist cities, personally I didn't think they were the best, but certainly had great atmospheres and things to do. For Sao Paulo it is uncontested amongst expert travelers The Taste Of Sao Paulo Food Tour is the best way to soak up some culture and get a great bite to eat while learning about the history of the city. And of course for Rio Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf mountain, and who can forget the World Famous Copacabana Beach, where along with thousands of other fans we watched Germany win over Argentina. I would have loved to hang glide, but the weather was bad :( Two great cities to visit, but like I said, don't spend too much time there if you can make it out to see the rest of the beautiful country. Oh and don't be one of those guys that puts the same my arms are spread like Christ The Redeemer pic on your facebook that millions of others have.
  • Foz Do Iguacu, where else can you walk to 3 countries in one day and see the coolest falls in South America? Nuff said.
  • Be sure to do everything you can to catch a football/soccer game while you are down there! To not to do so would be like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.
       
  • You don't know a crowded bus until you have been to South America... I've mentioned this in other posts, but be ready to be packed like sardines, and watch your belongings for pick pockets. City buses are packed to the brink, BUT!!!!
  • Long distance buses between cities were super comfortable! I was pleasantly surprised by the long distance buses. You can even catch a good snooze on em, much better and more comfortable than an airplane seat.
  • Recife was where my Brazil journey began after a brutal combination of flights thanks to World Cup commotion. It's a great beach city but overall I'd say skip it unless you have a lot of time. Recife is more for Brazilians that live in the north east to go on holiday, so while it's a nice place, there are simply better spots to visit, and the beach has a lot of sharks!
    Boa Viagem Beach, Recife, Brazil
  • Personally, my favorite city of the many we went to, was hands down Salvador...

    Entering Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil
  •      Salvador is one of Brazil's most dangerous cities, shortly before World Cup police had gone on strike leading to a murder rampage, the poverty is there too, the streets are broken up, buildings in desperate need of repair and it's definitely not very clean. But for me, it was home. Like all struggling cities, in the midst of the madness you find the strength of the people surviving there. The reception to me, the low budget food, the beach soccer, the cheap day pass for the gym, and the friends made this place my favorite of the trip. I will warn it is not for everyone. It had your basics for tourism for a beach city, and certainly is dangerous. But being street smart, not going out late, and just watching your belongings (or doing what I do and don't bring expensive stuff in the first place) can make this a great part of seeing Brazil. To me it just reflected the people that built Brazil, the middle class and lower class that make this a country. 
  • Old City Salvador
          Sure, you have Rio and Sao Paulo, which we visited as well, but Salvador was something else, it was to Brazil what Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island are to New York City, I can't put it any better than that. My days were spent very simple, going to the $5 gym in the morning, go to the beach, hit the old city, go to a game, or the fan fest in the evening. It was the part of the trip we were all LEAST looking forward to, it had the least tourism things to to do options, it had the high crime, and my accommodation night one was the airport floor, followed by a living room floor the next night till I finally found a bed. But if I had it all to do again, I'd do it in a heart beat.
Salvador during Holiday Festivals

      All in all, it is such a big country to visit, if you have a lot of time see the whole thing, and if you don't make the most of the time you have. A country like Brazil is one of the many I have been to that has its rough sides, it's ludicrous prices, and some ludicrous people, but of course it also has it's beauty, in the country, and in the people.

                          

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Brazil World Cup Withdrawals...



     It hasn't even been a month since the World Cup ended, but already the feelings of withdrawals have hit me. Instead of checking the news on my phone every morning about the day's games, match stats, and tournament news I find myself reading about shootings, plane crashes, and the ebola virus, you know, all the happy news. It will be over a year until qualifiers start for USA, maybe 2? Of course we have the Gold Cup, and Copa America to look forward to, but nothing is like the world cup.



    It's just amazing how long it takes for the 4 years to pass and how quickly it goes by. I still remember sitting in an airport in Peru during an airline strike in 2013 and meeting travelers from Brazil and letting them know I would be there for the cup. I remember the hassle of the ticket process, but the rewarding feeling of scoring tickets to see Italy vs Costa Rica and Mexico Croatia. The early 3am wake ups to be on CET time zones, the forums, the trip planning, the tears of joy, etc.

    It was such a thrill to see the games I went to, as well as the excitement of the fan fests, and talking with other football fans for a month straight! Now that I am back in America I find myself correcting my vocabulary and saying "soccer" instead. I watch some youtube replays of the matches we went to, and look at my pics from the trip.


 Just 4 more years I tell myself... 4 more years... The best way to explain the World Cup to someone who is not a fan, is this, I have been in NYC for when the Yankees won the World Series (multiple times), I have been in NYC for when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, I have been in Phoenix for the Superbowl, and Phoenix for the Phoenix Open. All of those events combined... Does not even scratch the surface of the World Cup! I decided while I was down there that after following this sport now for over 20 years, I am not going to just make it about every 4 years. I am going to try to hit one MLS game a year, and see the national team as much as I can, be it friendlies in AZ or Cali, or the Gold Cup/Copa America if I am lucky! And more importantly, I know what I went thru on the planning of this World Cup and the ticket process, so for Russia 2018, I plan to share my knowledge and crack out an ebook for the masses to enjoy! I think you make around a quarter an ebook or something like that, so who knows, if I sell a million copies it may just pay for Russia 2018!!!




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