Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rome, Italy -- Celebrating the 3rd Anniversary of our World Travel Adventure

4/29 – 4/30/11) We were very lucky to find a great airfare from Antalya Turkey back to the West Coast of the States, with an overnight stopover in Rome. Naturally, we have have been to Rome before so it was nothing new for us, but still had a leisurely half-day to tour around the central historical area of the city, strolling past Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. Then we found a fairly good restaurant serving basic Roman fare, to celebrate the 3rd “Anniversary” of our World Travel Adventure. (Yup, hard to believe, but true … we left our life in Chicago 3 years ago, and after stopping in Dallas TX to take care of business, we crossed the border into Mexico on April 30, 2008 – beginning our long international adventure). (Sorry, Nancy forbid any photos of us in Rome due to our ‘travel look’ from having arisen early, and long day of travel and strolling, etc.).

NEXT UP: We're Back (in the USA) ... Will our Travel Adventure finally be coming to an end?

Our plan is to initially spend 4-6weeks in Southern California (Orange County), where Bob is pursuing some employment opportunities in Law Enforcement. If any pan out, we would obviously stay in the area and Nancy would then also look for a job. Otherwise we’ll probably once again head back up to the Pacific Northwest (Portland or Seattle) for at least the next several months; and, both of us intend to look for some kind of employment, to rejuvenate our productivity and also help to offset some of our expenses – especially, while staying in the far costlier USA. But we are blessed to feel that we now have the freedom (financial and otherwise) to take it or leave it, and stay or not stay, work or not work, and simply follow our dreams. We still like the idea of annually spending mid-October thru mid-February in Chiang Mai Thailand (and, then a few months after that perhaps in our next favorite place of Buenos Aires); and, then perhaps returning every year to the States at the same time. But, if Bob is successful in obtaining a new full-time position in Law Enforcement, we would obviously stay put save for annual vacations (at least until, our full Retirements in the future), and Nancy would also return to gainful employment.


(4/3 – 4/29/11) This was our second visit to Turkey, the last time in Fall of 2002 on a ‘regular’ 16-day vacation while we were still living in Chicago. At that time, we flew into Istanbul stayed for 4 or 5 days, then rented a car and traveled down the Aegean coast with stops in Ephesus, Fethiye, Bodrum, the famous Blue Lagoon in Oludeniz, Pamukalle, and Kas. Then back to Istanbul. We always regretted running out of time to reach the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya.

Now, we finally had our chance since it was a short distance directly across from where we were last staying northern Cyprus. So we took a short non-stop commuter flight direct from Cyprus to Antalya, after finding a very reasonable 2BR apartment duplex rental in a nice residential neighborhood only 3 blocks from the famed miles long Konyaalti Beach. Of course, it was still a bit early and not quite warm enough for ‘beach season’ which would probably begin in earnest a few weeks after we would leave. But, then again, we’re not really ‘beach people’. However, it did make a wonderful walk to stroll along the oceanfront promenade that was just beginning to come to life with the opening of the beachfront cafes.

Antalya is truly a beautiful city, perfectly situated on a bay just around the bend from where the Aegean meets with the Mediterranean. The waters of course are crystal clear with a deep blue color, with a spectacular view of the surrounding Taurus Mountains. And, then there is Kaleici, the restored historical center of the city consisting of narrow winding streets situated on low lying cliffs overlooking the very pretty quaint Harbor leading out into the bay and Mediterranean Gulf. But the city spreads out in all directions, and is quite large for a ‘resort city’, with a total population actually now exceeding 1 Million people. Indeed, we were impressed with its diverse and bustling commercial activity, that would be very amenable for those seeking pursue new business opportunities.

Naturally, the City itself has several historical monuments and sights of interest, including Hadrian’s Gate (a/k/a the Triple Gate) constructed by the Romans in the 2nd century , the Clock Tower, Hidirlik Tower thought to have originally built in the Hellinistic period (300-150 B.C.), Kesik Minare (a/k/a the broken Minaret), and Yvli Minare (the fluted Minaret) decorated with dark blue and turquoise tiles which became the symbol of the City.

Within easy reach of the city for day trips are also several well-known archeological sites which we had an opportunity to visit, including the ancient city ruins of Perge, Side and Olympos (not to be confused with Mt. Olympus), the last two of which we found to be most impressive and worthwhile. Another beautiful day trip (actually merely on the northern outskirts of the City) is the Duden Waterfall park that is an excellent place to unwind and picnic.

As for the food, it is of course standard Mediterranean fare, largely consisting of Kabobs (chicken, lamb, kofte or beef), doner (wraps), fresh fish (usually grilled) pita, mesa dips and vegetable appetizers, Corba (soups),excellent fresh salads, and Lahmacun (crisp baked flat bread topped with various toppings of meats, veggies and sauce – sort of the turkish version of pizza), and of course baklava for desert. We do love it. As for drink, unfortunately the Turks have not in our opinion learned to make good wine (and if it will make them feel better, neither have the Greeks - LOL). C’est La Vie. Nobody’s perfect. But, we do like to sip their Raki as an aperitif or after-dinner drink, which is the Turkish version of the anise-flavored liqueur, similar to other countries e.g. Ouzu, Sambuca, Arak. As for value, unfortunately Antalya is no doubt affected by its resort status and prices are probably on par with Chicago for groceries and restaurants.

All in all, we were happy to finally have the opportunity to visit Antalya, and enjoyed our stay. We would definitely recommend it if you are in the region, but otherwise for us I don’t think we’d go out of our way to make it a must-go repeat destination like we do feel about Chiang Mai or Buenos Aires.

NEXT UP: We celebrate the 3-yr “Anniversary” of our World Travel Adventure, with an overnight stopover in Rome on our way back to the States. Our plan is to initially stay in Southern California, where Bob is making some job inquiries (in Law Enforcement). If they pan out, we will permanently settle back down and end our travels. Otherwise we may head back up again head back up to the Pacific Northwest (Portland or Seattle). After that, we'll see what's in store for us.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Island of CYPRUS

(3/1/11 – 4/3/11) As most folks are aware, Cyprus is an Island divided between two peoples. The Greeks control the south, and the Turks control the north. Technically both halves are independent sovereign entities, but in actuality each owes their allegiance if not financial viability to their ‘mother’ countries of Greece and Turkey respectively. Once united, in 1974 civil war broke out on the Island and the Island has been divided ever since. Though formal military hostilities have long since ceased, vestiges still remain visible, and each side still maintains numerous fully equipped and battle ready installations. But the border controls between the two halves has now relaxed and there is a very liberal free-flow of people from north to south with only minimal formalities. The southern Greek side is officially recognized by the UN, while the north is somewhat frowned upon. Personally, don’t take sides because we just feel it is an unfortunate dispute between neighbors, both of whom (Turkey and Greece) are very close American allies and members of NATO, and we have visited both ‘mother’ countries and feel warmly towards both peoples. Therefore, even though it is somewhat ‘controversial’, we chose to stay in the north, officially known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Our decision was based on research that indicated it to be the better value, and that it is less developed and less touristy which we prefer.

We flew into the southern city of Larnaka (on the Greek side) because their airport is internationally recognized and most international airlines arrive there. But, we immediately proceeded to travel due north by local bus to the central city of Nicosia/Lefkosia that is divided between the two nationalities. We then had to walk across the border and take different transportation for the remainder of our journey north, to the city of Girne a/k/a Kyrenia. (FYI – strangely, all of the major cities in the north are known by two different names). Our rental apartment was on the outskirts of the city about 10 minutes drive west towards the town of Lapte. The locale, if not ideal for us, was still very accessible to everything by means of the very frequent private transport mini-buses/vans known as Dolmush. We also had two good-sized and well-stocked supermarkets within walking distance of our apartment. Also located only 2 blocks walk from our apartment, was a nice beach on the Mediterranean coast along with several restaurants. However, this time of year is early Spring in Cyprus and still the off-season, and far too cool for beach lounging or swimming and other water sports. As we are not really beach-lounging type of travelers, that didn’t really matter to us (although we do lover our water sports, especially snorkeling and scuba diving when available).

What Nancy and I do love to do is explore, and take in the sites including natural, archeological, architectural (and, of course, Gastronomical). Unfortunately, on that score, we would have to rate Cyprus as ‘below average’. Although there are a few mountaintop castles, interesting old abbeys and churches, as some actual archeological monuments, compared to other places we have been (especially in both mainland Greece and Turkey), Cyprus is somewhat dull. We went to all corners of the north, including the western city of Guzelyurt/Morphou, the central capital of Nicosia/Lefkosia, our local north central city of Girne/Kyrenia, and the western city of Farmagusta/Gazimagusa, but in all honest found each only of real interest for a couple of hours walk. Of course, we thought the quaint Harbor in our own city of Girne/Kyrenia was pretty, especially as it abuts the ruins of the Kyrenia Castle. And, we enjoyed our walking tours of both side of the capital city of Nicosia/Lefkosia, especially the old sections. While Farmagusta with its walled central ‘old city’ was probably the most ‘archeological-worthy’ because of the concentration of and quality of the ruins and monuments within its confines. The only area of the north we didn’t have an opportunity to see, which we would have liked, was the far northeastern peninsula, which is said to be pretty due to its lack of development, but which proved to be impractical to reach and explore by public transport. We would have rented a car for a day, but inexplicably no rental agency in Cyprus (or at least northern Cyprus) will rent for less than a minimum 3-days, which we did not require.

Naturally we love the cuisine of Cyprus, which is a combination of Greek and Turkish Mediterranean, including the ever popular beef and lamb kabobs and donars (wraps), roast chicken marinated in tomato based herb, grilled fish, rice and meat stuffed Zuchinis or Peppers or rolled in grape leaves (Dolma/dolmades), and the obligatory variety of appetizers known as Maize (olives, cheeses, sausage, sliced or salted meats, artichoke hearts, etc.). But alas, it was not unexpectedly quite expensive here in Cyprus, so we rarely ate out, and Nancy as usual tried her best to make some ‘local’ type dishes. In sum, Cyprus is a fairly pretty Island, with wonderful people, but probably best left to the beach-loving tourists visiting for a week’s R&R, rather than explorers and adventure seekers (other than water sport adventures in the summer months). Certainly, it would not be a place we would consider for any long-term stays, nor even go out of our way for a return visit (unless you happen to be in the ‘neighborhood’).

NEXT STOP: The City of ANTALYA, on the southern Mediterranean coast of mainland TURKEY.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chiang Mai, Thailand - REDUX (2010-11)

(11/3/10-2/28/11) Our second stay in Chiang Mai more about mobility and living, than about adventure and discovery. And, that in a nutshell is what our travels have been all about – seeking a place or places we could call our new home. Nancy and I both agree that Chiang Mai fulfills all of our requirements (at least for seasonal living): perfect climate (for 3-4 mos. a year from mid-Oct. to mid-Feb.) – dry, temps. averaging mid-80’s during the day, and dropping to a refreshingly cool mid-60’s late night; natural beauty; friendly people; virtually no crime (in Chiang Mai); good selection of nice housing; very good low-cost health care; good (and healthy) food; and INCREDIBLE VALUE.

First of all, as noted in our earlier brief Blog entry, we found a much better Condo rental, with beautiful views of the hills surrounding the city from our oversized balcony. Centrally located and close to everything important, less than half the rent of our Condo last year, complete with beautiful lobby occupied by 2 restaurants, a small sundries store; laundramat, 24-hour reception and security, large swimming pool, and best of all one of the better equipped fitness gyms in Chiang Mai for only about US$30/mo.

Second, this time around, we rented a Motorbike (Suzuki 125cc automatic) for the full 4mos. of our stay (for only about $3/day, including full insurance). This really made a difference to us, to have complete convenient mobility. Not only did we become very familiar with every nook and cranny of the city, but really felt like actual residents, but it allowed us to eat with the locals at the street stalls nearly every evening, for healthy filling and delicious meals at the ridiculous price of about US$1.50/per person with beer. We were able to shop and run errands like any other local resident, and felt ‘at home’.

Of course, we revisited most of the same sites of interest, as our new pictures below will show. Since I wrote about these in detail in last year’s Blog, it would be redundant to comment yet again. Instead, we’ll just let the photographs speak for themselves in that regard.

We did do something new of interest, when we attended an invitation-only Wine Tasting, hosted at an upscale restaurant, which provided non-stop superb hot and cold appetizers throughout the evening while we tasted some above-average imported wines from around the World. We also had the opportunity to meet some very nice expats, mostly British and Australian; and, even had our photograph taken and published in the City’s english-language weekly. It was a real privilege for us to drink our fill of wine that night, since the rest of our stay we were limited to our favorite local beer (Chang), due to the mystifyingly high-cost of wines sold in Thailand (e.g. US$10-15 for a bottle of below-average table wine).

While last year’s stay was all about new exploration and adventure, most of our time this year was devoted to just every day living and bumming around on our Motorbike exploring the different neighborhoods and corners of Chiang Mai and its surrounding villages. However, next year when we come (and, yes, unless we settle down elsewhere due to a new job or business venture, we would intend to come back every year at this time), we have vowed to be more ‘productive’ with our time by taking up some new hobby or interest (e.g. Language Classes or other such education; perhaps Flight Lessons for Bob, and Cooking Classes for Nancy), and/or some volunteer work (eg. Teaching or tutoring English to school age children.)

NEXT UP: We left Chiang Mai on Feb. 28, and arrived March 1 on the Island of CYPRUS, where we will stay for a month thru April 2 in the small northern City of Kyrenia (a/k/a Girne), which is for now part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

google-site-verification: googlec9ad5f5fffb008da.html