Thursday, June 24, 2010

Japan - Narita



Map picture


US Customs Declaration Form

The primary purpose of your visit business? Unfortunately, I have had to answer “Yes” on all of my trips to Japan.





Picture 232 Mostly confined to Narita because of work an afternoon stroll takes me by rice fields as I make my way into town.




I am greeted by curious stares and stop at a few local 7-11’s to sample snacks. I like shrimp flavored chips and stock up.


Picture 470

Preparation for a religious parade ceremony.






Picture 426 During my trips to Narita, along with others I have eaten my share of  “The Yellow Awning” fresh made gyozas and drank a fair amount of Sapporo and Kirin beer.


Given the opportunity, I never miss out on gyoza and always enjoy them dipped in Asian style hot sauce. For the most part the same applies to beer but without the hot sauce!


Picture 215 A visit to Narita would not be complete without a side trip to Tokyo. However, I am up for a little more adventure with an overnight trip to Mt. Fuji. I understand to see the sunrise there is spectacular.



Picture 233I am fluent in Japanese, I think.  Does that sign say train to Mt. Fuji station leaves at 6:36pm?





I am surprised how densely populated Tokyo is as I take in a 40 miles per hour view of the city from the train. About 13 million.


Picture 261 A late train arrival at Shin-Fuji Station and I have missed the last bus to Mt. Fuji.

Kuso! (Damn)



Although there were numerous car rental agencies around the train station, I am disappointed that none of them would rent me a car without an International Drivers License.

Since then with a couple of mug shots and fifteen dollars, I have gone to my local AAA office and I now have one. Yip pee!

Today, like Karl Malden and American Express Travel Cheques famous 1970 slogan …  “I don't leave home without it”.


Picture 405 I do eventually get to see Mt. Fuji but for me unfortunately from the wrong altitude.




I hope someday to return to Japan as a backpacker and discover more of “The Land of The Rising Sun” with The Okinawa Aquarium high on my list.

Ecuador – Banos To Quito



Banos Church Back in Banos, I take in a few sights before with  a sense of road confidence, I set out for Quito.






Banos Street

With proper timing I might get a glimpse of Cotopaxi, the world's highest volcano which is on the way to Quito.






Farming Hills Through mountainous farmland, across bridges and rolling hills I head toward Ambato.





Dust fills the air as the pavement disappears and I follow buses and cars that I think are going to Quito. Signs for Quito appear but are missing as I approach a circular intersection. In a new neighborhood I find a delivery driver and inquire … “Que via a Quito?”. Another 180 then … a la derecha, again!


Rain is falling and the weather is deteriorating. At times the rain is heavy and I am driving by braille hitting a few potholes along the way. Road construction delays and detours adds to my dilemma and my visit to Cotopaxi is scrubbed.


Old Quito Square It's around 7pm as I enter south Quito. The traffic is crazy but most drivers are courteous. I drive through Old Quito headed to Mariscal.






San Augstin

A drive to Mariscal and I have a single “Happy Hour” beer with kebobs before heading to the airport.



I pass on “The Special”,  for $5 I can have 3 beers!


I return my car to Advantage and discover that my braille driving came at a cost. The front driver side rim is bent. The staff checking the car is friendly and professional but the expression on his face concerns me. He makes a few calls and I prepare to do battle against excessive charges.


Chevy Spark For $50, war becomes unnecessary as “The Chevy Spark” and I have taken a code of silence about our 5 Day Ecuadorian Road Adventure.



Map picture








I am surprised Ecuador is not talked about much as a vacation destination except for expensive trips to The Galapagos. However, if you enjoy the great outdoors and want an affordable vacation, mainland Ecuador should be high on your list.



The Quito Airport is a modern well run operation and the $41 departure tax seems to be well spent. Security, Customs and Immigration personnel are courteous, friendly and efficient. It's a late evening departure and the lights of Quito twinkle “Adios” as Delta 680 accelerates and heads north.


Delta 737 Buen Viaje!






Saturday, June 19, 2010

Turkey, Turkish Bath


I am no King Edward VIII, Tony Curtis or Florence Nightingale but we all share something in common, Cagaloglu Hamam.


Canon 204 On the list of “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, Cagaloglu ordered built in 1741 by Sultan Mahmud I is still an active Turkish Bathhouse located on Yerebatan Caddesi.


With four options available, I chose “Massage A La Turc” (YTL$62) and I am shown to a private dressing room and locker.


Samsung 013 Leaving in just a “pestemal” wrap I am given a pair of “Geisha” slippers and escorted to the separate “Men Only” bath area.



The circular domed capped room is warm and marbled from floor to floor and wall to wall. With over 200 years of history as a public bathhouse, I travel back in time to relive the original bath experience.


turkish-hammam-istanbul-cagaloglu-hamami Finding an open bath area I begin to drench myself with the warm and refreshing water using a provided silver bowl.



As I am beginning to relax, my masseuse enters the room. Laying on a huge warm stone in the center of the room he begins my full body massage. Soon I know what butter feels like on a hot day. I am melting.

How do you feel? I give no verbal response, I just go limp and this brings a smile to his face. A quick rinse off then my head and arms are lathered in soap as I am treated to the true Turkish Bath experience.


Canon 424 Left alone I am given unlimited time to continue enjoying the bath area and sauna. I could remain here forever!



Samsung 008 Cagaloglu Wrap Up








A last trip to Grand Bazaar and we make new friends (we think) while purchasing last minute souvenirs.

Free tea and chocolates as we get the Turkish carpet sales pitch. The carpets are beautiful but not the right size or price to fit in my backpack.


card4_1US$2500 for a 4 by 8 foot work of art.





Nice weather is forecast for the next few days and it's a shame that I am leaving Istanbul tomorrow.


Canon 422 

I am sure I have only seen a glimpse of what Turkey has to offer.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Turkey, Museum Of Archaeology


No rain as promised as I begin my last day for sightseeing in Istanbul. Although later in the morning, it is stop and go traffic most of the way to The Museum of Archaeology.


istanbul-public-transit-collage I wish we were on the mass transit system located in a middle lane where passengers board triple length buses to and from Istanbul.



The traffic congestion continues in the city but Moose is lucky to find us street parking.

 Samsung 689                                                                                                                                   Nearby we stop at Ak Doner and sit on a street patio for lunch.





Fond of lamb, I am consuming as much of it as I can at very reasonable prices.


RJ Samsung 171 A foot long Doner for YTL$6 helps me with my goal.







Samsung 684 Nice weather, good friends good food that’s always worth a smile.





A quick ice cream stop and I watch as the ice server frustrates more than entertains his young customer.


Samsung 696 She just wants her “damn” ice cream!






Samsung 695 Fresh Bread Maker







Samsung 705 Next I am having my future told by a White Rabbit fortune teller.

DMB In Wonderland!





Samsung 702I am happy to know the rabbit thinks I am going to be wealthy because I could use some dough.



Preferably,  Benjamins  (US$100 Bills).


Canon 421 For YTL$10 we enter The Museum of Archaeology.





Canon 414 Here artifacts and sculptures from 4th Century B.C to the 19th Century are exhibited.




Canon 374 Some missing a few body parts but not bad for being thousand of years old.




Canon 401 Some just lay around and make no bones about it.





Canon 377 Some even just get stoned.






Samsung 709

Also displayed various sarcophaguses including one believed to belong to Alexander The Great (333 B.C)


Canon 382 Coming face to face with some of these statues is very impressive.




With a good sampling of museums, historical sites and Turkish cuisine, I a looking forward to my next Turkish experience, a bath.


Turkey, Dolmabahce Palace


Canon 322Five dozen rolls of Charmin and you are still eight short of supplying all the bathrooms at Dolmabahce Palace.



Completed in 1856 with 285 rooms, 68 toilets, 46 halls and OMG only 6 baths, Dolmabahce Palace displays Turkish 19th century “Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous”.

The Palace is also sentimental to modern day Turkey because it is here that it's First President Ataturk (1927) passed away in 1938 on the morning of November 10th at 9:05am.


Canon 317 Today, a military honor guard is still present at the palace entrance.




A YTL$20 ticket provides a no pictures guided tour in Turkish and English along with free admission to Dolmabahce Palace Harem Residence.


Canon 319 Entering the palace grounds, the threat of rain and gray clouds does not distract from the beautiful roses along the walking path, a fountain garden, statues and waterfront views.


Samsung 640 Dolmabahce waterfront location while beautiful also created a security risk for ship launched attacks.




A good introduction to the opulence of Dolmabahce is “The Grand Crystal Staircase”a two story double entry staircase with steps lined                                                                                 on both sides with large crystal rail supports. And if that's not enough just light it up with a crystal chandelier.

From one room to another the decorations and craftsmanship involved is almost unbelievable.

Entrance to “The Grand Ballroom” is hair raising and gives me goose bumps.


huge-chandelier-in-the At approximately four and a half tons here is the fifth largest crystal chandelier in the world with over ten thousand crystals and hundreds of lights.





Turned off except for special occasions our tour guide tells us . “Next time bring your president if you want to see it lit up”. Apparently, they cannot afford the electric bill.

Exiting to the left from The Palace a light rain begins to fall as we walk quickly to a free tour at the Harem Residence. A tour that is a bit rushed with a big group, it does give a little more insight into daily Harem life including exhibits of little prince and princess rooms.


Samsung 650 The sky opens up and without umbrellas we are drenched on the way back to our car even the military honor guard has to take cover.





Canon 326 Leaving Dolmabahce Palace we take a scenic drive along the coast to Sariyer, a town Tony claims is famous for meat pies.





Canon 329 However, Tony has other dining options in mind and we end up at A Meitre where the selections are very interesting.

Dinner anyone?



Canon 332 I eventually build up enough “Macho Man” courage to try Lamb Tripe Soup.





Samsung 655 A clam texture in a milk  colored broth there is not enough garlic or paprika that I can add to please my taste buds. Tony ends up with an extra serving.



I enjoy huge portions of fresh bread and water as Tony and Moose choose one of A Meitre specials.


Samsung 659 When their order arrives and looks back at me, I decide to do some local sightseeing.







Samsung 665        Sariyer Harbor



Samsung 668 I do get to enjoy a famous and tasty meat pie that interestingly is sold by weight.





Samsung 670 From across the street the smell of fresh baked bread requires further investigation. I leave the proud owner of two warm sesame seed bagels. Aaaaah, nothing like fresh warm bread, simply delicious.


Along two lane highways, Moose take us for a little sightseeing around the peninsula.


Canon 343 At one point we are taking gorgeous views of the Bosphorus.





Canon 342 Nearby cows freely roam the streets and allow us to pet them.







Canon 344 Here a feline cautiously eyes us from a garbage can.





Canon 328 Local Boater







Samsung 671 Waterfront Homes






Done with sightseeing for the day we maneuver our way back home joining traffic heading west out of Istanbul. The weather man promises no rain for tomorrow. I wish I could revisit this area because I am sure the scenery here would be even more striking on a day without Turkish Rain.