This morning I got up super early in Lisbon to get on the road and head back to Spain in search of the Rock of Gibraltar and the famous Costa del Sol. The drive wasn’t bad and I entered the UK territory of Gibraltar (known as “The Rock”) about 4 hours after leaving Lisbon. The very British Gibraltar is only a little over two square miles in size, but it’s been a big thorn in the side of Spain for a long time (the border was closed from 1969 to 1985). It’s been under British rule since the early 1700’s and the residents of Gibraltar have, in very large numbers, repeatedly voted to remain British. Because of its strategic location at the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet, Gibraltar’s history has been volatile and it has at various times been ruled by the Spainish, the Moors and even the Dutch. The British took control for good in the early 1700’s and Gibraltar was a critical British base during World War II.Read More
To say that Istanbul Turkey is a city rich in history would be a bit of an understatement. Formerly Constantinople, and cradle to the Ottoman Empire, it was founded 667 years before Christ and is the only city in the world built on two continents.
Istanbul’s airport is a very modern facility and though Americans do need a visa to visit Turkey, I read that they could be easily obtained upon arrival. This was indeed the case and my “visa on arrival” was issued at the visa window in about 30 seconds, or immediately upon the surrender of my $20 US dollars. (2017 Update: Visitors can now request an e-visa online here.)
After obtaining my visa, I breezed through passport control and just caught the 3:30pm bus to Taksim Square which was very close to my hotel, the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus.Read More
Now that I’ve reached the half-way point of the trip, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for the many e-mails and glowing comments about the website. I am really glad you are all enjoying it as much as I am.
Thanks also for the travel advice from some of you who have already been to a few of the places I’m going. And, as always, feel free to make requests. For example, alert young reader, Chase Swims (son of my good friend Autumn), sent an e-mail requesting more pictures of unusual animals. Sounds like a tall order, Chase, but I promise I’ll work on it.
So, next stop…Israel. First, a few words about the current political situation. The independent State of Israel was established in 1948 and has been the subject of political unrest with the neighboring Palestinians ever since.Read More
The hotel had upgraded me to a suite with a great view of the Mediterranean. Luckily, I had the benefit of seeing a few pictures and getting a little advice about Tel Aviv before I arrived thanks to my friend Bill who recently visited here. The city was not at all like my pre-conceived notions. I never pictured it as a beautiful beach city like Rio or even Honolulu but, like those cities, the beach definitely dominates city life here.
Dining in Israel is a little different than anywhere else I’ve been. Kosher rules dictate that meat and dairy should not be mixed and Israeli cuisine reflects this. Restaurants serve either meat or dairy but not both. This makes for an interesting dining experience. Even in the hotels, they will have one meat restaurant and one vegetarian (dairy). The vegetarian restaurant options are actually quite good and that’s what I went with for most of my stay.Read More
For once, I caught a break with my flights and was actually able to get an earlier connection out of Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). So, instead of arriving at 8:00pm, I landed at 6:00pm, which was good since I needed to buy a train ticket to Hanoi for the next day. When I landed at the airport in Saigon, I had to spend about 30 minutes at the visa window while they processed my pre-approved visa application. The process was actually much simpler than I feared it might be and I was on my way into town by 7pm.
I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations for Vietnam. Actually, I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d set the bar pretty low.
As I got closer to the hotel in my cab I was mesmerized by the thousands of motor-scooters rushing by on all sides of the cab and by the dazzling light displays all around the city celebrating the Tet New Year (which was technically Feb 6-10 but is apparently celebrated all month). This was certainly not what I had expected, the city was beautiful at night. It was reminding me a lot of Shanghai, all glitz and glamour, bright lights and fancy stores. I had actually planned to take it easy on my first night and start the next day early with sightseeing but now I couldn’t wait to drop my stuff at the hotel and head out into this vibrant city to start exploring.Read More
Well, if Saigon is like Shanghai then Hanoi is definitely like Beijing (and that’s probably not a compliment). When I finally arrived at the train station it seemed almost like a different country than Saigon; dreary, depressing and cold – maybe I was just in a bad mood from the train ride. I arrived at my hotel, the Sheraton Hanoi, a little after 10pm and the first order of business was trying to set up a tour to Halong Bay (about a 2 hour drive away) for the next morning. Obviously, this was a little difficult at 10pm but I didn’t think about making the arrangements ahead of time so I had to take whatever I could get.
There weren’t any group tours still available at this late hour (which was fine by me) but they were able to arrange for a driver and guide for me for the next morning complete with a 4-hour junk boat tour of the bay including lunch so I happily agreed to the $160 price figuring it was probably time for a splurge anyway. And by this time, I had already decided there wasn’t much I wanted to see in Hanoi.Read More