Another thing to file under “Wasn’t expecting that!” The buses of Sri Lanka are eye catching. Very eye catching. Day and night they burst with color and bright decorations and lights.
Not all the buses were so exuberantly adorned. There are state buses (with staid, some might say boring, paint jobs), and private buses (wow! Not all are wow, but a lot.). The private buses are licensed for a specific number of runs per day, this means they linger a bit at every stop hoping for more passengers.
Did we actually ride the buses? No. We took trains when we could, but on routes with no trains we hired drivers. The buses looked pretty chaotic, and a few tourists with rental cars we spoke to confirmed that the buses are bullies on the road.
In addition to a bus journey taking a long time, it is recommended that you don’t put your luggage down below due to dust and mud, so you must pay for an additional seat and face the wrath of your fellow crowded in passengers. We decided that we didn’t need to experience the buses of Sri Lanka as passengers.
It’s easy to criticize or second guess a country’s public policy and governance, and Sri Lanka is working through a lot of challenges, but transportation is the lifeblood of any city, and even more important in rural areas. For the sake of the people of Sri Lanka I hope the announcement that a recently announced purchase of 500 new buses shows a commitment for improving transit. Many of the old buses are gross polluters.
This wraps up my bus post. Once a transit geek, always a transit geek.
India was incredible. It’s so overwhelming in its vastness, yet can be so friendly at a smaller scale.
There is nowhere we have experienced a broader range of moods. The many highs are unforgettably etched in your brain, just next to the pungent lows.
And in our fourth week of a big circuit of southern India, it continued to surprise us. It’s surprising that it works at all. It’s a global blessing that it’s all relatively peaceful, given the religious, cultural, and regional diversity. Let’s really hope this does not change.
It’s also fascinating to see how people have adapted to cope with it’s challenges. Vagueness and bureaucracy are endemic and seem to be the enemy of progress. Yet the dynamic new tech and innovation sectors are amazingly efficient. Two worlds.
One surprise of this visit to me is the fact that so much of the old world and customs still dominate life outside the metro areas. I thought things would have changed a bit more. Municipal services still don’t seem to be strong. Public spaces are not cherished and although cleanliness in the home is paramount, keeping common spaces trash free is still a difficult thing to experience for people used to more proper sanitation (and much more consumption per capita, but just better hidden!).
But as much as I have been intoxicated by the new metros, sights, sounds, and conversations with so many kind and interesting people, I was equally aghast at the state of road transport. It’s hostile, aggressive, dangerous, and classist. The National highways are death traps and have 30% of fatalities despite only representing 2% of the road system. Our last week really highlighted this as we had 3 road transfers in a row to navigate the center and east coasts of Tamil Nadu. In some cases, buses were an option (with additional transfers on each end), but the buses are also dangerous.
So my advice to future travelers is to avoid the roads as much as possible…book your trains early and plan your trip around them. When you do need a car transfer, only do it by daylight and make sure the car is decent and has working seat belts. I can see why people choose a nice driver or transfer van tour option. Of course you can ask your driver to drive slower or take fewer passing risks, but this can tough to overcome with language barriers and the endemic mania that are the norm of Indian roads.
And to be honest, a majority of people in cars were just plain mean, and generally have low respect for pedestrians. It was pretty horrible and stressful, and degraded the quality of life in places such as Ooty. It is unhealthy to body and mind. And as Cheryl likes to note, it has the biggest impact on women, who seem to be the majority of pedestrians walking on roads to conduct their daily duties…. and there are many duties.
It’s a tragedy of the commons. We did see a few feeble attempts to influence behavior with messaging, but unless a massive and systemic change is made, it may only get worse as more cars are added to the mix.
But we are so glad to have made the journey back to India. it’s added to our understanding of its challenges and boosted our appreciation again of the daily struggles of so many. It gives us both hope and fear for two disparate futures.
Thanks to all those who shared their kindness along the way, and we wish you all the best. Keep in touch.
This is our fourth visit to Bangkok. Bangkok is unique, fluid, and always changing. And we always look forward to further exploration of this vast and fascinating city, built over the swamp and floodplains of the Chao Phrayo River.
A lot has changed over 17 years since our first visit. There are new green spaces, MRT and SkyTrain extensions, and dozens (hundreds?!) of new malls and high rise buildings. But in many ways it hasn’t changed, including frenetic streetlife, food, and more traditional low rise and open living in most neighborhoods.
But the pace of change in urban mobility hasn’t happened as fast as you would expect, or in pace with other big Asian and global cities. And unhealthy air, noise, and traffic are still major drawbacks to daily life. Some of this is due to challenging and unstable governance, some due to a slowing of the economy and the pandemic, but at its core, Bangkok is fighting a legacy of car and scooter dependence that has been coddled, accommodated, and supported by street expansion and lots of (mostly free) parking at every destination.
Of course, the addition of more highways and toll roads has helped overall capacity, and apparently even the continuous congestion and traffic jams of 2023 pale in comparison to the true chaos of the 1980s and 90s before road expansion and rail transit began.
But it’s a catch up game, as the first SkyTrain (metro) didn’t open until 1999. Luckily, major development has been concentrated along transit corridors. And there are now 3 BTS SkyTrain lines with 62 stations and 2 MRT lines with 46 Stations. The buses seem to be a missed opportunity as they have little or no dedicated space and suffer in the congestion. These old buses belch a scary amount of diesel along the roadways into air often in the 150-200 (very unhealthy) AQI levels.
There is also an elevated driverless train line to the somewhat distant Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airport that opened in 2010. These have all helped to reduce car dependence and expanded the reach of transit. But overall, the system is not extremely user friendly as the BTS, MRT, and Airport Trains are operated by separate companies, so ticketing is still separate and connections a bit clunky and congested. But it all works and much of the service is good. We just carried two fare cards and swapped out for SkyTrain to MRT trips, and bought an electronic single-fare token for our trip from the Airport.
We spent a week here in 2007 staying with two different expat friends. Outside of India, Bangkok was our first big Asian city experience. It was a globalization boom time. (And possibly peak?) We were mesmerized by the chaos and modernity of the city, then one of the fastest developing in the world outside of China.
At that time, we explored the country for 6 weeks, so saw the northern mountain regions, northeast rural and Mekong, and the southern peninsulas and fabulous islands. Like most western travelers to Thailand, we loved it. We stopped over here for 3 days in 2014 and 2017 as part of travels onward in Asia. Both follow up visits were enjoyable as we stayed in two different neighborhoods, but always close to a MRT or Skytrain station.
So fast forward to January 2023….two coups, military leadership, a new King, global slowdown, and three years of a pandemic devastating the tourist economy which accounted for over 20% of the GDP in 2019. It’s still the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, but the stagnation is obvious and frustrating for the hard working and constantly striving lower and middle classes.
Its growth and development is still chugging along, but it does feel like it the benefits of mega projects, skyscrapers, and industry are not reaching the masses. The unfortunate decision in the late 80s to embark on a massive roadway expansion in the city instead of transit set the patterns that feel intractable in today’s Bangkok.
On the bright side, a new central train station has been opened in northern Bangkok, that the government hopes to use as a hub of a vastly expanded rail network, with a specific goal for tourist service. Good plans if they can find the will and money to execute the plan.
Thailand still seems to need more tourist (and other?) taxes to pay for infrastructure. One of the highly touristed (and beautiful) islands Koh Tao has instituted an arrival tax for each tourist to help pay for much needed sanitation and environmental improvements, but it’s a modest fee (<$1), so progress will be slow. Thailand itself is also proposing an international arrivals tax of 300 Baht (about $10) starting in June, and monies are designated for accident services and development assistance. It still seems light based on the impact tourists have on the infrastructure. We all love Thailand, so we should help pay to make it more sustainable.
But the most obvious deficiency in Bangkok’s transport network is walking and cycling. It’s shockingly disconnected. The artery and capillary (Soi) network is disconnected by design and development legacy, as well as many routes being cut off by the remaining canals. But dead end streets are the nicest to live on and bring quiet from the chaos, so the challenge is to expand walking and cycling networks without inducing car and scooter traffic. It can work with some clever bollards, gates, or chicanes…and maybe some scooter traffic is acceptable as this would shorten trips for many from the arteries, as a grid is established.
So for us, this is a livability failure. The lack of connectivity has been recognized by some studies (See UDDC Goodwalk pilot plan) and a few small steps have been taken recently to improve pedestrian mobility, such as new ladder crosswalks and a corresponding law increasing fine for motorists violating ped ROW in them.
It is a bit encouraging, but pedestrians are still mostly a sub-species clinging to gutters, dodging scooters, and navigating a pretty hostile, polluted, and unpleasant streetscape on the main arteries. On hot and polluted days, which are many, it makes even the most ardent walker retreat to an alternate means. Tree planting and protection does seem to be coming with new development, which helps everything, heat, air, and sun protection for walkers.
But indeed this a just a drop of perspective from a non-resident Farang, and I don’t begin to pretend to understand the complexities of life and culture here. But the local officials and planners do. And many are working hard to make the long vision changes to lifestyle and infrastructure that will lead to a healthier environment and people.
Bangkok is a complex ecosystem of 11 million people, and finding the balance of economic growth and opportunity versus health, pollution, and mental health is tough. But as Asia often looks forward, I’m hopeful that next time we visit bangkok we’ll see more positive changes. Already they are considering a congestion charge, expanding the MRT, and modifying laws to improve pedestrian life. Just don’t move too many of the food carts out of the way….we can walk around!
I love the rush and excitement of flying into a new place. And since we transferred through Tokyo on ANA, we flew into the closer Songshan city airport (TSA) and had a window seat on a long double loop around the dramatic hills and skyscrapers of Taipei….a free aerial tour of the city where we would spend our next week!
Note that most longer flights go out of the much larger and more distant Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). But both have good rail connections right to the center, so no worries if you fly into or out of TPE.
Taipei is a world class city that just doesn’t rise to the top of most (western) tourists lists. But we think the Portuguese nailed it with the name “Formosa”, as it is a beautiful, prosperous, and free place.
It’s certainly a place that is receiving more attention in the global news due to the complex geo-politics associated with its status and ultra strategic location in the South China Sea. We enjoyed learning so much more about the history of Taiwan. It has left a unique legacy on the psyche of the country.
After the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, they ceded Taiwan and the Japanese colonized and controlled Taiwan for over 50 years. When their occupation finally ended after World War II. a dictatorship initially led by Chiang Kai-Shek ruled for the next 40 years under the KMT party, with strict repression of free speech, detentions, and killings known as the “White Terror”.
By the late 80’s, a slow transition to a more open and democratic Taiwan started, and after the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016, it has solidified its place as a liberal and forward looking democracy.
They were the first Asian state to legalize gay marriage in 2019 and have 42%+ representation of women in the parliament as well as a female president. The Scandinavia of Asia?! Almost, but there is still a huge gender wage gap and other legacy issues of a male dominated business world.
However, we could feel the positive energy and openness in Taipei, although all within a society that still values social stability and conformity. It’s an interesting mix but definitely a positive one to experience, even as an outsider.
Here’s the Top 10 reasons we loved our week in Taipei and why you might too:
1. The Food – you can see Cheryl’s last two posts for lots of details on the food scene…great food everywhere, and the amazing and exciting night markets.
2. Unique culture – fun and quirky with a rich history influenced by indigenous, Han Chinese, Japanese, and western culture. There is also a strong fascination with Korean pop culture and clothing. It’s not quite like anywhere else, it’s Taiwan.
3. Efficiency AND Kindness – This is a neat and orderly city…people follow the rules and you will enjoy yourself more if you do too. Or at least make an effort. It’s an easy, extremely collaborative society, and everyone has built in empathy and spacial radar systems. You’ll never bump into someone or have them cut or push too much, even in crowds…it’s infectious and relaxing once you embrace the system.
4. The MRT! – a comprehensive and modern system that carries 2 Million passengers a day. Buy a EasyCard (IC Card) at either airport station for 100 NTD (New Taiwanese $, or about $3 US), load some fare and then tap in and out like the locals for 50c to $1 a trip. We had the airport station agent add 300 to each to start, so paid 800 NTD. If you get a funny beep or issue with your card, there is always a helpful staff person nearby.
There are also real time predictions at all MRT and most bus stops, so don’t be intimidated to use buses as well. Big numbers on the front…tap on and off with your IC card when you ride at the front or back doors. So easy.
5. Bathrooms – Seriously, Taiwan is the most bathroomed place on the planet (interested to hear about others!?). Every station has one (or two), public parks, museums, attractions, malls, night markets, parking garages, busy neighborhoods….you get the idea. And all free and clean, which really does reduce travel stress and the need to go into “camel mode” walking about like in some counties.
6. Greenery – Parks, long greenways (140km of bike paths!), and lush hills and mountains make for a pleasant backdrop, plus potted street plants liven up even the drabbest streets.
7. Clean air – not perfect but good for such a large city due to great public transit, fairly clean vehicles, frequent coastal and island breezes, and the greenery noted above.
8. Safety – Traffic is pretty organized and street crime seems virtually non existent. One of our only social gaffs was inadvertently moving a women’s notepad/binder/IPad? from a back garden of a coffee shop…we thought it belonged to the shop, and she came out surprised to see us in her seat…we offered to move, but she refused and headed to another spot upstairs. Oops.
9. Hiking and cycling culture – a great proportion of the world’s quality bicycles are made here (not to mention 90% of the worlds fast semiconductors), and they actually push cycle touring as a key component of their tourist advertising. On this first “winter” visit, we only grazed the endless mountain and forest trails that crisscross the spine of Taiwan… with many accessible by public transit.
10. Mixing with the locals – not many western tourists makes for a more exotic feel. And at least some English in most places makes interactions more rewarding. We’ve discovered this cool Asian capital, right-:)
Maybe you’ve been here and are nodding along, but if not, consider at least a stopover in Taipei on your next travels to Asia, or better yet, spend a few weeks or a month traveling around the whole island. Rail circles the island and the more developed west coast has a high speed rail network that takes you all the way south in about 2 hours.
The more you learn about the people, history and culture, the more you will understand the how complex the geo-political conundrum really is. Our hope is strong for a positive future for Taiwan and we definitely plan to come back soon to explore by bicycle.
Let’s start with the architecture. And the way folks paint their buildings. The four or five color paint jobs on the Victorians always take my breath away, this one in particular. So bold. And the fence! This is a tour de force of color and joy. I love this house.
I haven’t found a better city for just walking around and looking at buildings. It helps that since there is so much money in the City now, more people seem to be spending to spruce up the lovely old buildings. SF has a boom and bust history, a history of rising from the ashes, and the care for these exteriors you see must bear witness to a deep love for this City. With each brightly or carefully painted building the mosaic of the city is enhanced.
Great buildings- check. What else makes San Francisco amazing?
Great transit. San Francisco has it. I admit that I have always lived quite central and in the northern part of San Francisco where the transit, biking, and walking are all good, and not every corner of the city is as accessible, but I have explored every corner of this city by transit. It’s better than many places we’ve visited in the US. It helps that SF is a small city, 7×7 Sq miles. With the help of MUNI you can explore all the neighborhoods.
And what gives us the great views from MUNI? The hills. Tough by bike and even on foot, but a climb up a hill is well rewarded.
Yes, I was that tourist standing in the middle of the intersection marveling at the hill. I love it when other pedestrians turn to look at what has me mesmerized. See! I want to say, look at that swoop of trees. So cool.
We have been so fortunate to stay with different friends each time we come back to this city we love, and left. Each stay in a different neighborhood lets us experience a new to us neighborhood and see a part of the city with fresh eyes. A wise person wrote that you can’t hate San Francisco unless you love it first. (In response to one of those ‘I’m leaving because of…’ letters.) It’s not tolerated to hate this city if you haven’t first learned to love it.
And love it we do. All the reasons I give above are nothing on the main reason why we love this City: so many good friends. We come back to recharge, to swap out stuff from our storage unit, and for Rich to get some bike rides in with his buddies. We come back to see how our city is doing, to find out if the continuing onslaught of wealth has chipped away at more of what makes this quirky city unique and lovable.
After Seattle our little City of hills seems so compact and charming. People are California nice, quick to smile and chat. It does make us wonder if we can settle anywhere else. So, a decision not to make that decision is made. We love SF, and we leave again. Houseless but not homeless.
Packed up and on our way. Goodbye again San Francisco. See you in about five months. Until then, stay quirky.
So after a relatively quick recovery from Covid in Lisbon, we finally made it back to the United States! We rejoined a revised and somewhat compressed itinerary and still arrived JFK via TAP Airways new fuel efficient A330. (Ok for airplanes at least…)
When our house sit in Boston fell through due to the owners case of Covid (ironic yes), Cheryl worked her magic and found a last minute house sit in Brooklyn. So after a quick change of plans and one obligatory night in an overpriced chain hotel close to the airport in Queens, we were off to Brooklyn by Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).
The house sit was a bit of a challenge with two old cats, lots of medications, and tight quarters, but certainly a memorable experience and in a part of Brooklyn we have never explored, Park Slope. It also was just a block from 4 subway lines!
It was a magnificent fall weekend and the weather was perfect for strolling, not to mention all the Halloween decorations and costumes, although admittedly, it’s often hard to pick out costumes from just “Friday” in uber hip Brooklyn.
The walking in Brooklyn also felt invigorating after Lisbon’s lumpy limestones. We could once again stride briskly, with standard crosswalks, and short light cycles. The fall colors and crisp weather were so magnificent that Cheryl belted out in Prospect park that “New England is so beautiful this time of year”. Wait, we are NOT in New England!! This is New York!
After some of her doubts were quickly settled by Google, we strolled on, but I was reminded that I was married to a true West Coast woman. I would be reminded again when she couldn’t believe we had passed through some states in an hour or less. Wait, seriously just 15 minutes in New Hampshire?! And how do so many Dunkin’ Donuts survive?
After three days loaded with good friends, perfect bagels and NY pizza, we were off via subway and Metro North train to New Haven, CT where we could pick up a rental car right at the station. The car was by far the best solution for our ambitious and compressed schedule we had to visit all our friends and family over the next 8 days.
It was nice to be back in the U.S., as things felt familiar and interactions were clear. We sometimes forget that we are even in foreign countries anymore as foreignness is our new normal. And we immediately appreciated small things like ubiquitous ice (just try to find an ice machine in a European hotel.) faster paced restaurant service (tip please), and giant American salads (Yes, Elaine Benes you can have a really big salad)
As for the things we didn’t miss? Crazy political ads on the TV, giant tailgating pickup trucks, ignorance, and shockingly high prices compared to much of Europe. (Not necessarily in that order -;)
The cost of living surprises people when we mention it, as many generally assume that Europe must be more expensive than the US. First off, the strength of the US dollar is peaking, and second, many people take short trips to the most expensive (A-list) cities only in Europe, and so get a skewed view of costs in general.
There also seems to be fewer corporate entities taking profits in the food chain of capitalism in other countries. Groceries, lodging, eating out, and transportation (except gas and parking), are cheaper almost everywhere we have been in the past 15 months. We won’t even bring up health care as costs are incomparable and often an order of magnitude less in Europe. (i.e. podiatrist in Bilbao, Spain $40, US $400+). Whoops, I brought it up again. So perhaps the social safety net and low health costs trickles through businesses to keep costs a bit lower.
But we had a wonderful time on our big New England driving loop, and still managed to work in some lovely walks, and a day of cycling into Boston. We really enjoyed reconnecting with folks and the mountains, rivers, ponds, streams, and trees that seem to fill 99% of New England.
I vow to come back to New England (and maybe even New York) more frequently, as staying in touch with your roots is important, and the feeling I had walking the neighborhoods of my childhood was joy, satisfaction, and peace. They are forever etched in my mind. No matter where else we go in the world, and whatever we experience, these memories of place will not be replaced. Experiences build in layers and hopefully growth and perspective with them.
So today is Election Day and we are now headed to Chicago for more family and friends recharge. We have our fingers crossed that people don’t take for granted the 200+ years of work it took to create the civic institutions and foundations for prosperity that we have.
Our system is not perfect and always a work in progress. But the institutions of democracy are unique, precious, and tenuous. And despite participating in many conflicts from afar, we have been physically isolated from the worst impacts of them, just as we are again isolated from the Ukraine invasion. We don’t share a border with an invader, and haven’t been occupied. But this could change in a flash. And the enemy could come from within. We can feel the fear in Europe as the free world knows a stable United States is still key to world stability.
As we enter our second week in Turkey, we have finally adjusted to the time zone, food, and some of the customs of Turkish life; even the complex and nuanced lives of the ubiquitous street cats.
Meanwhile the world changes faster everyday. Just as it seems we were looking the worst of the pandemic in the rear view mirror, here comes Putin’s invasion! And now a geopolitical, migration and energy crisis is gripping Europe and rippling through the world. The future is always uncertain, but it feels especially daunting heading into the summer of 2022.
The truth about extended travels is that it is hard sometimes, a fact that travel bloggers and instagramers don’t always highlight between the pretty pictures. For us, returning to the US for a month was a mixed blessing. It was so nice to see friends and family, but at the same time, it brought a bit of angst, especially to me, as I have to fight my strong urge to settle down again. I believe nesting is a basic human instinct, especially as you age…. Luckily, Cheryl is more happy go lucky and able to take the long view better than me, which is one of the reasons our life together works so well -:)
San Francisco was at its finest in April, and after our travels, the fruits of vast prosperity, including high quality food, water, parks, and services really stood out in my mind. Not to mention the spectacular scenery, good weather, and tolerant attitudes. It really is hard to beat. But the very purpose of our extended travels is to break us out of our comfort zone, so we pressed on to Istanbul for the next leg of our adventure. San Francisco, we always miss you:
We have flown coach the past two transatlantic legs (via TAP), but we managed to use miles for two non-stop business class tickets on Turkish Airways for the 13 hour SFO to Istanbul journey; a worthy investment for the comfort of this 6’-5” carcass. It’s also nice to fly the flagship carrier of any country you are visiting as a bit of the cultural experience can start earlier (even if that culture includes talking loudly while everyone else is trying to sleep-;).
The service and comfort on the flight was great; but regardless, the 10 hour time shift was pretty harsh! We had forgotten the luxury of the previous 7 months of travel in just a few European time zones, and never trotting around a busy foreign city half zombie like…most of you know the feeling.
Luckily, a friend and infrastructure colleague in the Bay Area connected us with a local American who has taught and is an administrator at Bachesir Univeristy (BAU) for over 20 years, and is married locally with a child. He gave us a fantastic tour of some of the less touristed neighborhoods, including his home in Kadiköy, a more livable and somewhat hipster neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus. There is no better way to stay awake then to have an energetic local share his local knowledge and insight over 5 miles up and down the hills. Thanks Sean!
We also landed in Istanbul at the height of Ramadan, which meant locals were out by the thousands (tens of thousands) visiting the city’s beautiful sights and passing the daily fast with family and feasts after sunset. Major holidays are always a mixed blessing when traveling. They can mean that lodging and (especially) transport can be at its limits, but you also get the joy and insight of seeing unique traditions unfold.
We stayed in the heart of tourist Istanbul of Sultanahmet. Although convenient to the big sites, touts and overpriced restaurants abounded, and it often felt like we were not getting the Istanbul experience we craved. However, it also turned out to be a major destination for local tourists to see the tulips in Gulane Park, or, for the more devout to visit The Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.
Our hotel also suffered from online ratings bloat, as was ranked near #1 on most booking sites. Just as a “top pick” rating in Lonely Planet used to inflate prices, the hotel did not suit our independent travelers nature. Some people love being doted on night and day, with freebies and gifts, but as long term travelers, we definitely stray towards independence and found it all a bit tedious. And poor Cheryl had to listen to my jet-lagged rants on all the poor design elements and annoyances of the hotel!
If you are staying more than a day or two in Istanbul, then I recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Karaköy or Beşiktaş, or even on the Asian side as the Marmaray raíl can get you to the key sites in 10-15 minutes (or scenic ferries). This is where we will stay when we go back, and I think we will go back. So much still to see.
Istanbul is truly unique, and a teeming blend of cultures set on an ancient backdrop. The city is fast paced and hectic, but we enjoyed just diving into the stream of humanity and going with the flow.
The public transit is also pretty good, but was very crowded, especially the very useful T1 tram line. Make sure to buy an Istanbul transit card at a major metro or Marmaray rail terminal first and charge it with 50 or 100 Lira. Recharging is easier than buying a card.
We had to ask for help using the quirky machines that sell the plastic cards and often seem to be out of service. But there are always genuinely helpful people all around in Turkey. Just ask. Even if they speak no English, they will still go out of their way to try to help. By the way, you can use one card for multiple people, by tagging them through the turnstiles first. There are turnstiles for the trams as well, as they used a platform pay zone system. Amazingly, we saw no fare dodging anywhere, even when it would be easy at low boarding tram stops.
The trams are also nice new Bombardier built rolling stock, and everything is clean and safe, as is most of the City. The new Marmaray Rail system is an extensive system that runs deep under the Bosporus, and is a crucial link for the mega region of 22 million. The new airport lacks rail service and is way out there, so we took a taxi for about $20 and an hour ride, although there are bus options. Apparently rail is planned, although given Turkey’s financial crisis, it may be an unlikely priority give the distance and cost.
So after 5 nights in Istanbul, we had to figure out our next move: East towards Ankara and Cappadocia, or down the Aegean coat. As often happens in just in time travels, the transport situation pushed us towards a decision.
Turkey has been building a backbone high speed rail network, and it is quite successful, but unfortunately so reasonably priced ($3.50 for 4 1/2 hour trip!) and in demand, that all the trains to Ankara and the east were booked out for 2-3 weeks! Doh!
We thought about flying to Cappadocia, but didn’t want to burn the carbon for our convenience, nor face another hour plus trip back out to the airport in traffic. However, a fast ferry to Bandirma and convenient train connection to Izmir still had tickets. So the lesscarmorelife choice was clear. The slow way to Izmir!
Izmir is a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean that is the heart of liberal and secular Turkey. We really enjoyed our three days there, and did what we love to do in cities…walked though neighborhoods, wandering and exploring, all served by great tram and ferry links.
And again our next move was influenced by transport during the end of Ramadan, and a bit of fate pushing back. Our hotel was walking distance to and from the Basmane train station, and trains continued south, so this was the logical choice; however, we did consider the holiday crowds and thought that renting a car in (as was recommended by many) Izmir could make sense, especially as our flight out of Turkey is from Izmir in 3 weeks.
Luckily, the Budget site in Europe would not take our credit cards on booking. (also a problem on the Turkish rail site, so we have had to book at stations). So no car for now and we were off to Selçuk by train for a few days.
One of our mantras is that we see what we see, and don’t fret about what we don’t see. You may see more renting a car or flying, but will you experience more?
And Selçuk was a lovely big town of about 30 thousand, where we stayed in a very homey and neighborhood located guest house. Selçuk is one of the gateways to Esephus, but as most people visit by cruise ship shore excursion from Kundasi, Selçuk is more of a travelers town, with a very local and relaxed vibe. More on our visit to follow in the next post.
So we are now in Bodrum, a big coastal city that heaves with summer visitors and is quite busy during the Ramadan holiday, but most locals think the weather and water is a bit too cool to swim yet, the beaches are just nicely populated. Sweet. We have a comfortable apartment for 5 days, and are mixing swimming and sightseeing with laundry, sewing, cooking, and blogging -:)
For years we’ve been thankful that we live a city life that makes travel less frightening than it is for some travelers. Three things we do on a regular basis here in SF make our trips easier, less daunting, and help us have a wider variety of experiences.
Buses. Being transit friendly makes getting around a joy. My favorite transit app is Citymapper. Citymapper has opened up a world of transit that used to be quite challenging to figure out. In London, like most tourists, we would be tied to the underground, with the confusing but understandable and always available map, but now, with Citymapper we use buses a lot. You can plug in your destination and be directed to the best bus routes, shown where the stop is, and the app will ping you before it’s time for you to get off the bus. No worries about missing your stop. The best part about riding a bus is being above ground and getting to appreciate the city – especially from the top of a double decker.
Bikes (of course!). Ever since I first used the Washington DC bikeshare while there for a conference years ago, and had my eyes opened about what a game changer bikeshare is, I believe that bikeshare, especially electric assist bike share, is the ultimate urban transportation. Fast, convenient, clean, space efficient. We’ve ridden bikeshares in SF, Boston, Glasgow, London, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Honolulu, Aspen and are looking forward to many more rides in many more cities. Similar to being comfortable on public transit, being a confident and safe urban cyclist opens up a lot of experiences you might otherwise miss. If you aren’t a comfortable urban cyclist I highly recommend taking an urban skills bike course.
Walking. Here in San Francisco we think nothing of walking a mile or two to dinner and home again. Yesterday we walked 1.2 miles to our dentist (Thank you Nikki! You rock!) had a Ramen lunch, and walked home again. While traveling we cover a lot of miles sightseeing. Our base level of walking fitness serves us well. Before traveling it’s a great plan to walk a lot so you’re ready to do 6 or 7 miles exploring a new city, and to make sure that your walking shoes are up to the task of helping you explore. And have your Citymapper app ready to help you get home if you need a boost!
Being flexible with your transportation will help you have so many more experiences than when you are limited to driving or taking taxis. And, having those options will give you the confidence you need to get out and explore. Some of our best times have come not from a planned destination, but from a serendipitous find while out on bikes, buses or foot.