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RTW 9 1/2 – The Moscow to the Med Edition

Sardinia and the Maddalena Islands

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 | 0 comments

Sardinia and the Maddalena Islands

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After dedicating our first full day in Sardinia to a day trip to Corsica, we weren’t exactly sure what to do with our other full day. We had wheels (about the only positive statement I can make about the ridiculous Smart Car, it did have wheels) so we had the freedom to go wherever we liked with our second day.

But as I mentioned before, Sardinia is a huge island and the driving distances are fairly long, especially with mountain roads, so we needed to narrow down our day to a specific region.

Our helpful front desk clerk at the Hilton Olbia and the car rental guy had both highly recommended the ferry over to Maddalena Island and after a little research we decided that would be a great way to spend our day.

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Crete Greece in 5 Perfect Days

Posted by on Jun 5, 2014 | 6 comments

Crete Greece in 5 Perfect Days

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Inside: The most awesome things to do in Crete, where to stay on Greece’s largest island and the perfect 5-day itinerary. Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Decision time. What’s it going to be, Chania or Heraklion?” I queried of my favorite travel accomplice, Shannon, as we waited to board our flight from Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Or Rethymno or Agios Nikolaos?” she countered, with an exasperated sigh.

This exchange mirrored all previous deliberations over where to call home on our upcoming visit to Greece’s largest island. We were smack in the middle of a 30-day, 15-stop summer adventure from Moscow to Turkey. If we didn’t end this dance of procrastination soon, we’d be landing in Crete homeless.

Our cheap-o Ryan Air flight from Sardinia (via Rome) landed in Chania, on the western end of the island. Logic dictated spending (at least) the first night there. But our outbound flight 5 days later departed from the eastern city of Heraklion.

Further complicating our decision? There was plenty to see in between.

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All Roads Lead to Rhodes

Posted by on Jun 8, 2014 | 2 comments

All Roads Lead to Rhodes

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The largest of the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes Greece has known many civilizations throughout its long history. Inhabited since the end of the Neolithic period (4000 BC), the city of Rhodes prospered for centuries during its Golden Age. In 164 BC Rhodes lost its independence and became a province of the Roman Empire during which time it developed into a renowned center of learning for arts and science.

During the Byzantine period that followed, Rhodes became an important military base and in 1309 BC it was sold to the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The order was originally founded to provide care for pilgrims to the Holy Land but ultimately evolved into a military unit. During the reign of the Knights of the Order of St John, the fortifications were expanded and reinforced.

When the Arabs attacked in the 7th century, they occupied the island for several decades. Then, in 1522 it was the Ottoman Turks who captured the city and during their rule Rhodes lost much of its international character.

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Smitten with Symi

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 | 4 comments

Smitten with Symi

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For those of us who are passionate about travel, there are many places in the world that we revel in visiting, maybe even fall a little bit in love with. But then there’s another level of travel experience, one that’s far more rare…a place that just calls to your soul.

If you’ve got a minute, the exquisitely-tiny island of Symi Greece would like a word with your soul.

Surprisingly, two months ago I’d never even heard of the island of Symi. But while trying to plan a route from Rhodes to Turkey, I happened to stumble across this little gem.

Though there are a few direct ferries between Rhodes and the Turkish mainland, the more common path was to Bodrum via the islands of Symi and Kos. It seemed like a good plan to break up the 3-ferry trip with a stay on one of the two islands.

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Wrapping Up a Month from Moscow to Istanbul

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Wrapping Up a Month from Moscow to Istanbul

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After an inspiring few days among the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, I was on to my last stop in Istanbul with an early morning flight from Nevsehir. I wasn’t especially excited to get to Istanbul, mostly because I knew it meant this amazing trip was finally coming to an end.

I’d visited Istanbul once before, on RTW #3, so I didn’t have a particularly ambitious itinerary for my last day of the trip. Of course, it had been in the middle of winter when I last visited and it was long before I was traveling with a good camera so I figured I should at least make the effort to update my photos from such a beautiful city.

I was on the ground at Istanbul’s Gokcen Airport by 9:30am and began the combined bus/metro journey necessary to get to the center of town. I had a 6:00am flight out of Istanbul’s other airport (Ataturk) the next morning so I had booked a hotel next to that airport for the night. Unfortunately, the two airports were hours apart so it didn’t make much sense to go all the way to my hotel, drop my bags and make the hour return ride back to the city. So, I decided to tough it out with my luggage for a few hours of sightseeing.

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A Day Trip to Bonifacio Corsica

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 | 0 comments

A Day Trip to Bonifacio Corsica

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So now we have finally arrived at the “Med” portion of the “Moscow to the Med” summer trip and I couldn’t be happier! For the next two weeks it’s all about the islands of Italy, France and (mostly) Greece. We had three nights and two full days in Sardinia which is not even close to enough time to see this very large island.

So what do you do when you’re already short on time to see a place? Add in a full day trip to a completely different place, of course! (On paper, this logic made perfect sense.) We decided to squeeze in a day trip to the neighboring island of Corsica because it seemed too close to pass up. And in our defense, on the map it is right there, just begging for a side trip.

Who are we to argue?

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Russian Roulette in Moscow

Posted by on May 23, 2014 | 0 comments

Russian Roulette in Moscow

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I knew I was taking a chance with Moscow. After all, the current political situation in the region is less than stable and Putin is anything but predictable. Who knew if he would make a move that would draw military engagement from the rest of the world.

But Russia had been on my wish list since my first trip around the world 9 years ago and the dramatic drop in airfares to the region were simply too good to pass up. Not to mention it had been years since my last trip around Europe and I was long overdue for a return.

So I decided to take a chance…engage in a bit of Russian Roulette, if you will indulge the metaphor.

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Lightning-Fast Lithuania: 3 Hours in Vilnius

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Lightning-Fast Lithuania: 3 Hours in Vilnius

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The original plan for this trip called for an overnight stay in the city of Vilnius Lithuania. But with the flight we needed to get to Sardinia only offered a few days a week, including Vilnius on the itinerary meant losing a day in Russia or eliminating Riga from the itinerary altogether and we didn’t want to do either.

But Shannon and I both wanted to at least get a glimpse of Vilnius, even if it would just be for a few hours. And the flight to Italy was much cheaper from Vilnius than Riga so we decided it was a sign that we were meant to make a stop in Lithuania on this trip after all.

The heavy rains from the night before continued for the entire 3 ½ hour bus ride from Riga to Vilnius and we were convinced we’d be spending our 3 hours in the city walking around in a downpour. But miraculously, after a very pleasant bus ride, the rain stopped and the clouds parted just as the bus pulled into the central station. Hooray!

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Radiant Riga

Posted by on May 31, 2014 | 4 comments

Radiant Riga

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The flight to Riga Latvia from St. Petersburg was a painless 55 minutes on regional low-cost carrier, Air Baltic. After a quick taxi ride into the city, we arrived at the Opera Hotel just on the edge of Old Town. It was a lovely little hotel and the location was perfect, central to everything we wanted to see in our limited time in the city.

The Latvian capital has been on my travel wish list since falling in love with nearby Tallinn, Estonia years ago. Rumor had it Riga was even better. Nicknamed the “City of Inspiration by the Baltic Sea” Riga’s colorful Old Town occupies a well-deserved spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

With soaring gothic spires and architectural styles from Renaissance to Art Deco to Baroque, the historic center is a spirited blend of classical European history…without the typical hefty European price tag. In fact, Riga is widely considered one of the top value destinations on the continent.

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Summer Trip Announcement…RTW 9 1/2 – Moscow to the Med!

Posted by on May 9, 2014 | 2 comments

Summer Trip Announcement…RTW 9 1/2 – Moscow to the Med!

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No, it’s not quite summer yet, but this year I’m starting my summer travels a little early! As many of you know, in addition to my annual January round-the-world trips, since 2009 I’ve been adding a month-long summer travel adventure to the mix. Instead of an actual “RTW” trip, my summer trips typically focus on a single region of the world for more in-depth exploration. Last summer it was the Himalayas; the year before, Central America. This year, I had grandiose plans for Russia, Ukraine and the Black Sea (the only real “region” of the world I’ve yet to explore) but the current political situation in that part of the world necessitated a revamp of the itinerary. Sigh.

But thanks to incredible deals on flights into Moscow (and a current lack of any travel warnings there), I’ve decided to gamble on keeping Russia on the itinerary since it’s the only inexpensive gateway to Europe at the moment. From Moscow, I’ll be heading to St. Petersburg, Latvia and Lithuania before flying south to spend the rest of the month in the Mediterranean – Sardinia, Corsica, the Greek Islands and southern Turkey – before finally flying home from Istanbul in mid-June. Again this year I’ll be joined by my regular summer travel buddy, Shannon, for the first two weeks of the trip. She’ll head home from Crete at the end of the month and I’ll continue island hopping around Greece and Turkey for another two weeks. We depart one week from today and I couldn’t possibly be any more excited. More on the full itinerary next week!

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From Russia with Luxe…the Splendor of St. Petersburg

Posted by on May 28, 2014 | 4 comments

From Russia with Luxe…the Splendor of St. Petersburg

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Often considered the nation’s “Window to the West,” the opulent city of St. Petersburg Russia is arguably one of the European continent’s most enchanting. Built on a swamp by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, the city encompasses more than 100 islands connected by a latticework of canals, rivers and streams rivaling the elaborate canal systems of Venice or Amsterdam.

Though the city is a popular destination with both Russian and international visitors today, St. Petersburg has an intriguing and often tumultuous history.

It was St. Petersburg residents who incited the Russian Revolution ushering in 70 years of communist rule before changing course and leading the charge decades later for democracy. The Bolsheviks renamed the city Leningrad and it wasn’t until the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that St. Petersburg regained its original name.

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A Travel Day from Kos to Bodrum

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 | 2 comments

A Travel Day from Kos to Bodrum

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As the ferry sailed away from Symi’s beautiful harbor I was definitely more than a little wistful. Symi was such a special place. But it was time to move on to the final leg of this trip – Turkey.

I’d visited Turkey once before but it was just a brief stop in Istanbul on Round the World #3. While I was in the neighborhood on this summer’s trip, I thought it would be the perfect time to explore the Asian side of one of the world’s only transcontinental countries.

So, over the course of the next week I’ll be visiting Ephesus, Pamukkale and Cappadocia before finally flying home from Istanbul next Friday.

The best option for getting to Turkey from Symi was to take a ferry to the Greek island of Kos and then another ferry from Kos to Bodrum on the Turkish mainland. But the limited ferry times meant that I’d have a minimum connection time of 5 hours to spend on Kos before the first afternoon boat went back to Bodrum.

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Ephesus with Ease

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 | 2 comments

Ephesus with Ease

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The 3-hour bus ride from Bodrum to Selcuk with Pamukkale Tours was much better than I thought it would be. It was a 26-seater minibus which seemed crowded at first and I thought, “well, this is going to be a long ride.” But once we pulled out of the station I was able to change from my assigned seat to the back row of the bus and spread out to get a little writing done along the way.

Oddly, the bus was quite the full-service experience. Fifteen minutes into our drive, a “flight attendant” type person suddenly appeared in the aisle handing out bottles of water. I hadn’t even noticed him on the bus before we left! He then proceeded to do another round passing out packaged snacks like pretzels and chips before making another round with coffee, tea and soda.

I didn’t know what was coming next, I half expected him to whip up a casserole or something in an Easy-Bake oven. I’ve never seen this kind of service on a bus before but it was a nice surprise, totally worth the extremely reasonable $18 fare.

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How to Visit Pamukkale Turkey

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 | 0 comments

How to Visit Pamukkale Turkey

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After my stay near Ephesus, I wasn’t sure how to visit Pamukkale, the next stop on my itinerary. Research revealed that a combination of train and bus would do the trick.

The train ride from Selcuk/Ephesus was a relaxed 3 ½ hours to Denizli where I’d need to find the bus station to catch a “dolmas” (a shared mini-bus that is a staple of travel within Turkey) to Pamukkale, about 25 minutes away. I’d gotten my first glimpse of the white mountains of Pamukkale from the train as we pulled into the Denzili station and I was excited to get up there and explore.

The bus station was pretty easy to find using my time-proven solid strategy of just following the other tourist-looking people with luggage. Since the dolmas leave every 15 minutes there was one waiting and we were off in just minutes.

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Cave Dwelling & High Flying in Cappadocia

Posted by on Jun 18, 2014 | 2 comments

Cave Dwelling & High Flying in Cappadocia

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Getting to Cappadocia is difficult over land, there are no trains into the area and from my last stop in Pamukkale the journey would have involved two buses and at least 8 hours. Luckily, there are a couple of low-cost Turkish airlines serving the nearby towns of Kayseri (an hour away) and Nevsehir (20 minutes away).

I managed to find a $45 flight on Sun Express from Izmir to Kayseri so it made sense to backtrack a little by taking the 4-hour train ride from Pamukkale back to Izmir in order to catch it. So, after spending the night at an airport hotel in Izmir, I was at the airport bright and early for my 6:00am flight to Kayseri, excited to get my Cappadocia adventure underway.

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