Friday, June 5, 2015

Read Donna's blog!

Donna posts every day, with great pictures and commentary.  I post once a month or so.

As this trip comes to an end I am having a very interesting trip to Malta.  The skinny: little to DO; LOTS to see.

Malta is a beautiful island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy in Europe and Libya in Africa.  The Maltese language is a melange of Italian, French, English and Arabic, but nearly everyone speaks English.

I've posted my best photos on Facebook so I won't repeat them here except one - a vista from on top.  Today I am writing about Gozo, a small island - part of  the nation of Malta - just a couple of kilometers off the end of the island of Malta.  It has many cathedrals so I headed for the one in the castle at the top.  €3 to "enter" but entrance only at the extreme back: the entire church was roped off (closed) at 2p (maybe earlier - I arrived at 2p) because there was going to be an "adoration" at 5p.  I suppose they wanted an exorcism to rid the place of heathen (non-catholic) prayers because there was no place to pray.  No praying alllowed.  Bizarre.  I asked the woman who asked for my ticket to ask Jesus what He thought about no praying in the cathedral.  Silly question.  All catholics know that we can't have a relationship with God - Jesus' repeated statements to the contrary notwithstanding - that's what the professionals are for.

Inside the door, the cathedral still requested contributions. I contributed my €3 ticket and left.  I thought of shaking the dust from my feet but instead decided to walk and pray under God's clear blue sky for the people blocked from living in the Kingdom of Heaven by false catholic doctrine.

Seems every road in Malta is (a) choked with traffic and (b) under construction. I miss Donna.  I spent 3 hours today on busses and ferries, and 4 hours waiting for them.  I'm ready to move on and cool off.  I wish I could have gone diving here, but teaching PADI is such a money-making business, for the first time in over 31 years and over 200 dives my PADI card was greatly limited: to 36' IF I paid for an instructor to accompany me. No thanks.  Little to DO.  LOTS to see.

Wizzin' on Wizzair

This is not going to be a glowing report.  Today (May 23, 2015) we are taking a flight from Paris to Vilnius. Tomorrow we return.

We have purchased 41 flight segments for this trip, 9 for Shannon or Megan, and 32 for us.  Once in Europe (Istanbul on March 24) we have flown the four main budget airlines: Pegasus, Ryan, EasyJet and (only today) WizzAir. 

Flying into or out of Istanbul is very difficult.  Like Paris CDG and our home airport Atlanta ATL, Istanbul IST is connected by rapid rail and takes about an hour. But whether out of IST or the outlying airport Sabita Goçhen (which requires a train and a long bus ride but only costs TL 10.5 - $4), getting THROUGH the airport's seemingly endless lines makes me wince thinking of going to what is otherwise my 2nd favorite (to #1 Paris) city in the world. 

Paris' 3rd airport (Orly is #2) is Beauvais (BVA).  BVA is HARD to get to and very expensive to get to.  An example is this trip. We are flying 2 1/2 hours on a fairly new A330 Airbus carry 180 passengers.  The flight - like all of these cheap carriers - is very cheap: €38 each, each way ($42). Total airfare: €156.  But, the last bus to catch our 8:40a flight leaves the bus station at 5:40a and the Metro only starts at 5:30a so instead of using our transportation pass which covers all Paris transportation for a month (€110), we have to take a €16 taxi.  The bus is €16 each, each way.  And - here's the wizz on Wizz - they are the only airline that does not accept etickets AND they don't tell you until you arrive at the airport and they demand an additional €30 each for us using an eticket!  We have time so we hike over to Terminal 2, track down an internet kiosk (which won't accept credit cards) and pay €5 to print a boarding pass!

So €16x4 + €16 + €5 = €85 in add ons to €76 in flight cost!  We won't be flying Wizz or from BVA again.  By the way, EasyJet flies out of CDG, and seems much more efficient than the others.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


My daughter-in-law, Eleanor Campbell - is amazing!  I walked 11.5 miles today on a warm, sunny day in Budapest.  She walked all but the first 4 with me. [Photo] And she is almost 8 months pregnant! And she loves my son, her husband, Trevor.  And she flew from Poland to California and back ladt week. Last night she was on an overnight train from Krakow to Budapest.  And she looks great and has a wonderful attitude about life. Did I say she's pretty awesome?

Second, Budapest desperately needs a first world transportation system, not leftovers from the USSR. And how about some signs?  And while I'm wishing, how about what the rest of the world has: signs in their primary language + English.

Good food.  Great Thai massage.  Did I say that Eleanor is awesome?  So is Trevor!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mighty Metro

Imagine this.  Paris started construction of its Metro in the late 1800s and now has 133 miles of track with no new construction.  New York: 1863 and 233 miles. London: 1863 and 250 miles.

Istanbul: 1992.  When the current construction is finished in 3 years: 400 miles!

The line that crosses UNDER the Bosphorous between Asia and Europe is 1,500 feet underground and the (park and ride) stop "Haciosman" on the north end of the like which goes through the business district ("M2") has a huge bus station on top at ground level, below which is a 5 story parking garage below which is the metro station. It takes 7 long escallators to get from the metro station up to ground level.  [Maybe the engineers decided that rather than having to stop construction for archological ruins in this 9,000 year old city, they would just have the lines go under all possible sites.]

Another day, another adventure

Today, April 20th, we headed out to a spa!  Not just any spa. No, not us. We headed out to a spa built 2,000 years ago by the Romans and still in operation today.  Water temperatures vary from 38C to 140C. My cup of coffee this morning was 140C.  That will hard boil an egg so I'm sure no one goes in that.  Flat Stanley [photo] got a free ticket to come along, so we brought him with us. He has never been to a spa and is looking forward to it, but he can't get wet, so I'm not sure what he'll do.  He can't get bent, so a massage is out of the question too.  To make matters worse, he speaks not a word of Turkish.

I'm slowly learning Turkish but the results are uneven.  After one effort in Turkish to get directions, a policeman asked me where I learned to speak Turkish. But when I was looking for the Arilik Çeşmesi metro stop and said "Hello, excuse me, where is Arilic Çeşmesi Metro?" - which is

"Merhaba. Afedersiniz, nerede Arilic Çeşmesi Marmaray?"

the person I asked said

"No speak English." 


After a 75 minute fast ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara, we caught a minibus [photo] to Thermal - that's the name of the area with the hot springs - for 3TL (US$1) each.

[How did that picture get upside down and how do I fix it?  FS doesn't know and neither do I.]

Anyhow, at the spa it says that it is the best in the world. Not on my estimation but it surely was nice, in a beautiful spot. Ojo Caliente in New Mexico and - particularly - Eco Thermales in Costa Rica are better. 

After getting into our bathing suits, Donna and I went into a 20' x 40' pool, about 3' deep.  The water was perfect for me: 104F.  It had a vaulted ceiling and an adjacent frigid pool which must have been in the 40sF.  Brrrr....  Tjere was also a sauna which was too hot to bear.  We decided against the massage, because it was only a 20 minute massage.  Then we went to the Olympic sized outdoor pool. The water was just as hot as the 104 pool but was probably 102 because the cool air was reducing its temp.

Hot springs wipe me out but we then went to a huge lunch which did the rest. I slept into Yalova on the minibus and we boarded the ferry.  If we come back, we will go see the waterfalls via minibus from the ferry harbor.

We have had a WONDERFUL month in Istanbul. Beautiful, friendly, adventurous, cultured, clean, efficient, delicious... just some of the adjectives we use about this city.  We are ready now to go on to Budapest - I'm missing pork sausage.  Donna and I both miss foot massages at the end of a long month of walking.  I'm really looking forward to seeing Trevor and Eleanor who will join us in less than 5 days!!

In 50 weeks or so we will be back in Istanbul for another month - that time living in Kadiköy - just south of Üskendar.  I know that right now Istanbul is my favorite city in the world, but after our month of May in Paris, I will be conflicted again between the two.

Friday, April 17, 2015


There are two such places.  One is out the Bosphorous to the West. The other is out the Bosphorous to the East. Today, in the Yenicapi Metro stations the two came together for a ride to the Levant stop.  Photo.

Before that I had come to the Iranian Consulate (no embassy here because the capitol is Ankara) to see about getting a visa for Donna and me to go visit Tehran.  I know we can book a tour, but that is a terrible way to meet locals.  So, I got some information and will write them a letter tonight.

Kisirkaya, it turns out, is the last stop on Bus #152 from Haciosman on the Green (M2) subway Metro.  152 ends just 100m above the shore of the Black Sea at the tiny village of Gümüşdere where I found the clear crisp Black Sea, went wading, then was the only customer in the local marina's restaurant "Onda".  Had good (B+: great cooking, just ok fileting) sea bass, really good salad, ok fries, tea and water. 55TL was high, but the view!  Photo.

[The 150 bus goes out to the European side intersection of the Bosphorous snd the Black Sea at Rumelfeneri.]

Whether you take the 152 or the 150, the view along the Bosphorous is amazing.  It's a full hour on the bus back to Haçiosman metro. Arrived at 3:30p. Had to rush a bit as we have a dinner engagement with Ilhan's family at 7p. Got to get to Yenikapi, then Uşkendar (get location and time on minibus to Atasehir) then Kuzgunçuk then home, shower, change clothes back to Uşkendar then to Atasehir at 7p.

BTW, from the Black Sea to Haçiosman to Yenikapi to Uşkedar to Kuzguncuk (each a change of train or bus) takes 2.5 hours and costs US$2

And the evening topped off the day: we were invited to dinner at the home of our friend Ilhan who spent last Christmas season with us. He called from America during the dinner which was a spectacular feast.  I have not had such a meal in a long, long time.  Home by midnight.  Donna says she is sleeping in tomorrow so I won't wake her before 7a.  ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Caribbean and Copenhagen

You might think that today we travelled from Istanbul to an island in the Carribean then dashed to Copenhagen to see the tulips in Tivoli Gardens.  No, we just walked around Istanbul. The water is in the harbor in Istanbul: crystal clear harbor water - what a seeming oxymoron.  And tulips were actually developed here in Istanbul and exported to Denmark. We walked through Yildiz Park just north of old Istanbul, on the water.  Finally, we asked a young girl to take a picture of us in the park - and it's one of my favorites.

Other than the Ataturk Airport, Istanbul is a hassle-free zone.  Unless you like movies and don't speak Turkish. While many - or most - of the movies are in English with Turkish subtitles, NONE of the theater websites and NONE of the theater marquees are written in English and NONE say whether they are shown in English. So, for example, we saw several movies where we knew three or four of the lead actors - all British or American - but no idea what the name of the movie was nor whether it was being shown in English.  Oh well, we have a vpn and Netflix.