Searching For Aurora Borealis

Searching For Aurora Borealis

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Day 1

After arriving at the Keflavík International Airport around 6am, we took a bus into Reykjavik and ended up at our hotel, Icelandair Hotel Natura , around 7am. We were pleasantly surprised when they checked us into our room.

Wacky and extremely lovable art in the lobby.

Wacky and extremely lovable art in the lobby.

Despite being exhausted, we opted to explore the city instead of crashing. While waiting to take a free bus into town, we discovered it ran sometime around noon. So, we bundled up, wrapping our scarfs around our necks and ears and set off toward the heart of it all. The first half of our walk into town confirmed our assumption that the ground would be slick, so we treaded with care.  Thankfully, neither of us munched it.

Our first notable experience in Reykjavik was gazing upon the outside of the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Hallgrimskirkja church

Hallgrimskirkja church

Thankfully, the wide open door invited us inside from the cold.

A serene moment - and one interesting door.

A serene moment – and one interesting church door.

A simplistic, serene, yet extremely thought-provoking décor met us inside the church. Hallmarks of a church existed, but not in a conventional way. We had a bit of good fortune when the organist played to an audience of four… us and one other couple.

Inside the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Inside the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Another shot of the interior.

Another shot of the interior.

On The Streets of Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is a sleepy town during the winter.  Most places opened between noon and 2pm, if at all.

(If you want to see any of the photos larger, just click on them.)

 

A few shops were open, and The Little Christmas Shop @Laugavegi 8, 101 Reykjavik earned some dollars from us. There we learned about the thirteen Yule Lads of Christmas. Our favorite is the Spoon Licker. What attracts us to these 13 Santa-types is (a) the inherent Icelandic folklore, (b) the Yule Lads put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve, (c) gifts or rotting potatoes might be left depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year, and (d) the ever-so-adorable fact that Yule Lads are trolls.

spoon licker

Meet Spoon Licker.  On December 15th, he sneaks into houses and licks the wooden spoon used to scrape pots. (Image from Internet)

Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you see ads for this clothing line. Gotta say, their clothing line looks cozy and warm.

Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you see ads for the 66 Degrees North clothing line. Gotta say, their clothing line looks cozy and warm. (Image from Internet)

 

One of our favorite aspects of Iceland is the Icelandic sweater pattern. Good news: there is no shortage of this print in Reykjavik. If it weren’t for the fact that everything in this pattern involved being made out of wool, my least favorite textile, I would have added a piece to my wardrobe.

I found a t-shirt with the pattern on it, but it was $45  with no extra personality.  We came home without it.

I found a t-shirt with the pattern on it, but it was $45 and had no extra personality outside a traditional t-shirt. We came home without it. (Image from Internet)

Architecture in Reykjavik

Buildings in Reykjavik oozed simplistic and colorful palettes of architecture.

(If you’d like to see them enlarged, simply click on them.)

Along The Shore of Reykjavik

One side of the shore sports typical industrial landscapes such as shipyards, but the other side delivers the promise of nature with heaps of snow embracing mountaintops.

Reykjavik's shoreline

Reykjavik’s shoreline

After enjoying a full day exploring Reykjavik, we grabbed some food from the local grocer and headed to our hotel.  (We often make our own meals on the road.)  The crunchy onions were to die for…yum.

Our meal for the evening

Our meal for the evening

Day 2

In the middle of the night, I started to feel funky. By 2am I knew why. Let’s just say that the toilet became my best friend for the next several hours. When I have the displeasure of barfing my guts out, the blood vessels near my eyes burst and after a while it looks pretty scary. Around 5am I cringed because (1) we had an 11:30am domestic fight scheduled from Reykjavik to Akureyri and I didn’t know if I physically was up to flying, (2) the blood vessels in my face were a dark reddish purple as if someone had smeared pomegranate juice around my eyes, and (3) I forgot to pack my foundation…uh oh.

Iceland crazy face

Iceland crazy sick face – this is nearly 36 hours after the fact.  I didn’t have enough energy to take a photo earlier, so it’s a slight bit lighter.

Uh oh...I look scary.

Uh oh…I look scary.

While I shivered and moaned in bed, praying for my relationship with the porcelain God to end, John had to go to breakfast alone. Thankfully, my relationship with the porcelain God ended about one hour before we flew. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay because nausea remained.

John stayed by my side. When it was time to go to the airport, I wore my sunglasses hoping that the clerk at the check-in counter wouldn’t have too many questions. Turns out that Iceland domestic travel is definitely NOT like the USA – they didn’t even ask for photo identification at the check-in counter. Oh, and no security screening took place either, and, thank goodness, no questions were asked about me wearing sunglasses the entire time.

A 45-minutes flight to Akureyri proved to be exhausting, but I made it.  Stepping away from the plane, I almost fainted from the sheer beauty of Iceland.

A beautiful late morning.

A beautiful late morning.

 

A shuttle bus took us to our hotel, the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. I continued to be incredibly weak, but I didn’t want to miss the northern lights tour scheduled at 10pm, so I told John to enjoy the city while I slept. He stayed by my side as I slept the remainder of the day.

At 9:30PM, I rose from the dead.  Thirty minutes later, we climbed aboard the northern lights tour bus and set out in search for aurora borealis.

Sadly, no northern lights were seen. John and I had already resolved that if we didn’t see them, we’d try again when in Reykjavik…just call us the Northern Lights hunters. 🙂  But, then the tour guide made an announcement that if we were going be in town the next evening, we could try again for free. Seriously?  Saga Travel equals coolest company ever!

Day 3

Still feeling incredibly weak, yet feeling the need for some food, we walked into town. We bought some pastries for dinner, but enjoyed RUB 23 – a fish/sushi restaurant – for lunch. Serious yum! Akureyri is a town worth exploring, but since I had little energy to take on more activities, we simply walked the entire town.

What?  A real snowflake?  WOW!

What? A real snowflake? WOW!

On the Streets of Akureyri

Rub 23

DSC_0234

Rub 23 – a delicious stop.

 

Arctic char - yum.  Sushi too.

Arctic char – yum. Sushi too.

The view from our dining table at Rub 23.

The view from our dining table at Rub 23.

No need for a refrigerator in the room. Outside our hotel room window, we shoved our Pepsi Max into the snow.

Nature's icebox.

Nature’s icebox.

Once again, the northern lights tour bus picked us up at 10pm, and we headed out on our quest to find aurora borealis.  This time we had a storm rolling in, which left the visibility of the sky spotty, and the possibility of seeing the lights a meek one.  The spotty sky opened up and for a short time showed us aurora borealis.  At first, I didn’t see anything…and then the sky began to move – a green swirl shifted in the sky.  I gasped with joy.

Having never photographed the northern lights before, I hoped for the best.  However, before departing for Iceland, I studied manual mode settings for photographing these lights, and here’s how I captured a few of them: (1) Tripod (not negotiable) – and it was somewhat amusing watching others in the group trying to capture these lights with no tripod and a flash, (2) ISO 800/f2.8 for 30 seconds – turn noises reduction & white balance to auto, and (3) ISO 1600/f1.4 for 30 seconds.  I passed the test.

Iceland Northern Lights 1

Iceland Northern Lights2

Iceland Northern Lights 3

After 15 minutes, maybe 20, in the cold dark night, I couldn’t take the weather. I began to feel faint, so I headed inside with Icelandic hot cocoa in hand. John, in his element, remained outside until the allotted time was up.  The tour guide came aboard the bus and chatted it up with other wimps like me.  When the guide came closer to my section of the bus, he asked me if I captured the northern lights. I said “Yes.” As he continued walking closer to my seat, he began to share a story of a time long ago when he saw the lights for the first time. Eventually, he grew close enough to see me in the light. When I came into view with my non-repairable purple face patches, he stumbled backward and his train of thought broke. Trying sooooo hard to not make me uncomfortable, he picked up his story stammering as he remembered where he broke off and acted as if I looked normal. He was a good man to not scream and go running the other way.

Day 4

We headed back to Reykjavik. The plane ride back felt normal, so I knew I was on the mend.

Once back at the city centre, we checked out the Volcano House and found some lunch. The lunch stop turned out to be cooler than the Volcano House.  However, the hot dog stand is a local legend.

We found "the hot dog" stand.  It is a legend in Reykjavik.

We found “the hot dog” stand. It is a legend in Reykjavik.

Bill Clinton enjoyed a dog at this little gem. The dog is known for being the best hot dog in town, hell, even in Europe.

Above, John’s about to place our order. You can see the same woman who served Clinton about serve us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat more than two bites, but John had my back.

Hot dogs gone right

Hot dogs gone right.  Seriously, it’s a kind of magic.

Day 5

Time to leave Iceland.  With an appetite, a long flight ahead of us, and a bunch of Icelandic Krona in our pocket, we ate a hearty lunch.  The packed airport shocked us – seeing that it was Thanksgiving Day.  For such a busy airport, our plane turned out to be a bit empty, which meant we were able to stretch our legs.  Love when that happens.

The Scoop

1. We seriously, seriously, seriously, considered taking a horseback riding tour in the cold weather.  We love to take horses out on our travels and the sheer thought of taking Iceland’s purebred out for a jaunt made us giddy. But after I became ill, it was off the table.

2. Everyone we heard talking, that is, every tourist, talked about their AMAZING Blue Lagoon experience. We considered it, but opted out. Maybe next time we’re in Iceland.

3. Bucket list item #62 – see the northern lights.  Check.

Peace out,

Trenquilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

66-Day European Sampler, Coming Right Up

66-Day European Sampler, Coming Right Up

In a mere four days, we’ll be off to start a 66-day Euro adventure.  One question we are always asked is “How do you choose where you go?”  There is no real formula because for us not too many places are on the don’t-want-to-see list. As I write this, I can’t even think of one.  On a whole, we let deals lead the way. However, this European trip began with a concert.

Yes, a concert.

On February 20, 2012,  John asked, “Queen and Adam Lambert will be performing together in England this summer on July 7 at the Sonisphere music festival. Should I buy tickets?”

Might seem like a no-brainer to you, but what you should know is we had a United States road trip planned and were both already really excited about it…but Queen and Adam Lambert together in concert?  I hemmed and hawed for about thirty minutes incapable of making a choice.  It went something like this in my head:

Bad Trenquilla: You already have a great summer planned.

Worse Trenquilla: But, it’s Adam Lambert WITH Queen!

Bad Trenquilla: But, it’s expensive and you stated you wanted to save some money this summer so you could plan a non-budget trip in a few years like the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Worse Trenquilla: But, it’s Adam Lambert and Queen!

Bad Trenquilla: But, you’ll miss out on Comic Con in San Diego.

Worse Trenquilla: But remember how amazing Queen was in concert with the guy from Bad Company that you didn’t really like and you still thought Queen was amazing?  So amazing you had goose bumps!  This is that but with Adam Lambert – another one of your favorites!

Just as I was about to continue arguing with myself, John interrupted and said, “Look, every second you waste hemming and hawing over this, someone else is buying tickets.”  I blurted out, “Pull the trigger.”  Worse Trenquilla wins.  John buys the tickets and we begin planning our trip.

On March 29th, John receives an email stating that the concert has been canceled.  What?  Unbelievable – the concert that prompted our entire summer trip has been canceled. That’ll learn us.

In mid-April, Queen announced they would perform with Adam Lambert in London – offering two dates.  However, we still had to see if we could even get the tickets, and we had to rearrange a bit of our Scotland plans to accommodate the concert.  John stayed up until 1am to buy tickets (9am London time), and he was able to secure two.  YES! We’ll still get to see them.

In preparation for this vacation, we moved out of our rented dwelling and put our stuff in storage for the summer.  One of our beautiful friends took us under her wing this week as we wrap up the school year by letting us crash at her house.  Our last school day is June 6th, and we are off to enjoy our European sampler on June 7th – commencing in Venice, Italy on the 8th.

We are taking two carry-ons and one backpack. It’s our version of backpacking.  Yes, it is true, we won’t be able to take some things we would like to, but it just means we won’t be lugging it either.  We’re minimalists in the souvenir department, so unless a bag bursts or tears, we should be fine. 

Two carry-ons and one backpack is all folks.

In 2006, our 45-day Seattle/Alaskan adventure started with three stuffed full-size suitcases and a backpack.  Our first week into our travels we were at a teacher conference in San Diego, and took the opportunity to fill a medium box with our packed luggage and have a teacher-friend hold it for us for the summer.  It’s a good thing we did this because we had to shift stuff around at the airport to accommodate the weight limits.  Then, on our first stop in Seattle, we dumped another box of stuff and had it shipped home through UPS.  Our luggage didn’t feel lighter. Each time we’ve traveled, we’ve downsized.  We’ve come a long way in the luggage department, baby.

How Much Cashola Are You Spending? We have not calculated our trip, and not really sure we want to know.   Truthfully, we looked for bargains along the way with a few spots of splurging.  You will see them as we travel through Europe. 

European Sampler?  What does that mean?
We will not be staying in any place more than three days.  Many are one or two day stops.  We are not traveling with a tour company.  We designed this trip.  The first 45 days will be spent traveling by train and buses.  The last 21 days will be spent on a Holland American cruise.  Here is the complete itinerary: 

Venice, Italy

Padua – Verona, Italy

Lugano, Switzerland

Milan, Italy

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Zagreb, Croatia

Budapest, Hungary

Vienna, Austria

Krakow, Poland

Prague, Czech Republic

Berlin, Germany

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Bruges, Belgium

Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Paris, France

London, England

Edinburg, Scotland

Perth, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Glasgow, Scotland

Liverpool, England

Dover, England (we board the ship in Dover)

HOLLAND AMERICA CRUISE BEGINS JULY 21st

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Lisbon, Portugal

Gibraltar, British Territory

Cartagena, Spain

Palma de Mallorca , Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Rome, Italy (we’re not going into Rome, but checking out the port city, Civitavecchia, instead)

Ibiza, Spain

Almeria, Spain

Seville, Spain

Portimao, Portugal

Dover, London

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – we fly home from Amsterdam. 

Some places we have firm plans of what we’re doing or what we’d like to see, but some we do not.  We have no expectations and are ready to fill our plate with a multitude of experiences.  If you’d like to share anything about any of these places, we’d love to hear about them. We’d also like to know how you choose your vacation adventures!

Peace out, Trenquilla

Five Days in Vegas, Baby

Five Days in Vegas, Baby

“Let me get this straight.  You don’t gamble or drink, but you can spend five days in Las Vegas without getting bored?  Good Lord, what do you do with your time?”  This is a question we were asked before we left for our Las Vegas trip, and it’s not the first time we’ve been asked this question.

Perhaps inquiring minds feel this way because they only see Vegas as a party town.  However, Sin City offers a plethora of fun-to-do activities that deliver experiences that are not filled with regrets.  Since 1999, John and I have spent many holidays in Vegas. Somehow we end up there without ever planning it.  But, once the seed is planted, the few days morphs into a week or longer.  Our last jaunt to Vegas proved to have little down time.  Here’s how we spent our time and avoided boredom:

DAY 1:  RIVERSIDE to LAS VEGAS

Arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada ~12:30 PM, then enjoy lunch at Henry’s American Bar & Grill.

Henry’s American Grill – Vegas is a 24-hour town

  • * John’s excursion is cancelled (rescheduled for Day 4)
    * Check into hotel:  The Jockey Club – too early so we had to find something to do
    * Take a walk through the Miracle Mile Shops @ Planet Hollywood
    * Earn $10 each by rating a show at Test America (inside the Miracle Mile Shops)
    * Re-check into Jockey Club
    * Enjoy dinner @ Queen Victoria Pub located inside the Riviera
  • The Riviera has the Queen Victoria Pub, a quaint     restaurant where you can Keep Calm and Carry On. 

DAY 2: LAS VEGAS

  • * Geo Holiday Time Share Presentation (we just said “No.”)
    * Excursion: ATV Tour with Adrenaline ATV Tours (~7 hours)
  • Trenquilla geared up for ATV riding.
  • * Enjoy dinner @ Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palms Place
    * 8:00 PM attend Marc Savard Comedy Hypnosis Show @ V Theatre, in Miracle Mile Shops, at Planet Hollywood

DAY 3: LAS VEGAS

  • * Enjoy lunch at LBS (located inside Red Rock Canyon Casino)
    Loved this burger joint.
  • * Attend 2:30PM One Voice by Bethany Owen @ the Rio
    * Enjoy dinner @ Barrymore’s (inside Royal Resort)
  • The decor inside the Barrymore Restaurant
    Barrymore decor piece – many details to experience
  • * 8:00 PM attend “The Shades of Sinatra” show at Clarion Hotel

DAY 4: LAS VEGAS

  • * Excursion: SCA Flight (John)
    John with pilot from SCA
  • John boarding the T-6 Texan.

    …and away they go!

  • * Enjoy lunch @ Hash House A Go Go
    Hash House A Go Go located in the M Hotel and Casino.  Best chicken and waffles! 
  • * Miniature Golf – KISS by Monster Mini Golf
    The entrance to the KISS miniature golf experience
    Glow-In-The-Dark golfing is awesome!
  • * Las Vegas Outlet Mall South
    * Check into MGM Signature Suites
    * Enjoy dinner @ Pink’s Hot Dog located outside of Planet Hollywood
    * 7:00 PM attend “Vegas! the Show” at Saxe Theatre, in Miracle Mile Shops, at Planet Hollywood
    * 9:00 PM attend “Sin City Comedy” at V Theatre, in Miracle Mile Shops, at Planet Hollywood

DAY 5: LAS VEGAS

  • * Enjoy lunch @ Elevation Burger
    Elevation Burger – Now Open, folks 
  • * R&R in room – watch “Johnny English Reborn”
    * John hit a jackpot as we waited for the 7PM show
  • Jackpot!
  • * 7:00 PM attend “Louie Anderson” show at Palace Station
    * Enjoy dinner @ Rock & Rita’s inside Circus Circus
  • A piece of artwork inside Rock & Rita’s restaurant
    Crazy clown at Circus Circus advertising Rock & Rita’s
  • * 10:30 PM attend “Gilbert Gottfried” show at Riviera Hotel and Casino

DAY 6: LAS VEGAS to RIVERSIDE

  • * Meet up at Las Vegas Outlet Center with peeps we know
    * Drive back to Riverside
    * 5:00 PM enjoy dinner at Miyagi Sushi in San Bernardino (located at 228 E Base Line St., San Bernardino, CA)

Peace out, The Franci

Experience Travel

When we are traveling, we like to take in as much as we can.  On group tours, like the one we are on in Thailand, you may not know how much free time you will have, but there can be strong indicators.  For example, when we took an outstanding 10-day trip to China, nearly every minute seemed accounted for by our tour company – with one exception, which we will mention later.  Others, like our 13-day trip to Turkey with Gate 1, had a generous amount of free time for the group members.

When checking on how much free time will be available, checking the itineraries provided by your tour company can be very helpful.  In the case of our Turkey trip, we were told we would have the day “at our leisure,” which allowed us to schedule tours.  Other days look like they are packed – probably because they are.  Tours can wear you out.  However, do not let your weariness get in the way of getting the most out of an experience. And do not let your fear of the unknown stop you from exploring. Part of the purpose of travel is to get to know these strange and exotic places.  Being in a large group of English speakers at a tourist trap is not the best way to do it.

When you have full days, booking tours may allow you to get the most out of an area in a short amount of time.  Good tour guides will get you to the front of the line, explain the history and significance of places, and help you learn more and see more than you ever could have on your own.  But there are also a great many small opportunities to get more out of your trip.

For example, on our China trip we had very little time to break away from our group at all.  It was extremely well orchestrated and included all our meals, so from sunup to sundown we were hanging out.  Then several days into the trip, we were taken to a neat little shopping area.  However, after seeing what there was to see, we were told we had about 90 more minutes.  While the group went back into the shopping area, we immediately saw our chance to explore and see what was nearby.  It was like walking in a Hollywood back lot.  We walked out of this high-end, international shopping area and into a somewhat typical Chinese street with all kind of vendors, businesses, families and everyday life.  Walking these alleys and exploring the shops – in a futile search for a foot massage – was one of the more memorable experiences on a very memorable trip.

Other pleasures come by not taking the easy way out.  At the end of a long day, it is tempting to have a nice comfortable dinner in the hotel and then go back to the room, however we try to avoid the hotel whenever we can.  It can save a lot of money – meals in Thailand can cost as little as $1 from a restaurant on the street as opposed to a typical $10 and up for the hotel – but also allows us to explore the cities and meet the people.  Besides, the food is almost always good.  The $2 lunch consisting of a plate of Pad Thai and a plate of pork and rice in Thai red sauce while sitting across the street from 700-year-old temples is pretty tough to beat.  We have found markets, wonderful shops, entertainment and interesting people by wandering the cities.

For this trip, meeting the friendly little girl with the adorable puppy will probably be one of the most memorable highlights.  Not just because the dog was sweet, but because of the genuine openness for sharing that children in any culture possess.  We were taking pictures at Wat Chaiwattharanaram, which is still not fully open due to the flooding, when we spotted a cute sleeping puppy.  A young Thai girl smiled and we smiled back and she went over to pet the dog to show us it was hers and how proud she was.  It was all very cute.  We then went down to take a few photos from the other end of the temple grounds.  About 15 minutes later we were about to walk past the area where we saw the girl and she saw us coming, her eyes lit up and she went running to grab her puppy and bring it over to us to pet.  It was a wonderful moment in this place where people have been fighting to overcome so much, that this girl and her family were just sharing some fun and happiness with people who couldn’t carry on a conversation, but could share a wonderful moment together.

The little girl’s sweet puppy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when you get those 15 minute, 90 minute, half-day, or whatever breaks: do not dare sit around with the crowd.  There is something just around the corner and chances are it’s pretty cool – if only because you got to find it when no one else seemed to care.

Finally, do keep safety in mind. We do try to stay safe and we realize we need to be watchful.  However, with all the strange and obscure places we have been, all feel safer than many of places we have been in the United States.  If you are not trying to do anything illegal – buy drugs, cater to prostitutes – and you are not getting intoxicated, you will avoid most problems.

Peace out, The Franci

Watching Your Wallet

Watching Your Wallet

A traveler and his money are soon parted.

When traveling, it is easy to burn through money pretty quickly. However, there are always people around who will gladly help you burn through it quicker.  They aren’t stealing from you … exactly, and some are much worse than others.

 

Here are a few things we have learned about watching our wallet:

1. Haggling.  This applies nearly everywhere, unless you are in established stores (and sometimes even then).  They really aren’t trying to rip you off.  When you ask how much something is, the seller gives you a price.  They are expecting you to come back with a lower offer. They will then counter offer until you can agree on a price.  However, there is no set amount that you can expect the price to come down to.  In many places, 50% is a good rule of thumb.  If the seller says it will cost 1,000 ducats, perhaps 500 really is a good price.  Perhaps it should really go for 200 or for 900.  Three things will be most helpful in figuring this out.  First is to pay attention to what you see similar items selling at elsewhere, and if you see other tourists making purchases, note what they are paying compared to the asking price.  Second, and most important, is to decide what you are really willing to pay for the item before you even ask for a price.  It will make it easier to walk away if you can’t reach a deal and it will keep you from worrying that you could have haggled a bit further to get the item for less.  Never in my life have I bargained for something and then as soon as the seller accepted my offer thought “Darn it, I should have gone lower.”  Enjoy the item and don’t get caught up in the haggling game.  Lastly, just because you asked about something and tried to agree on a price, do not feel that you need to buy it if it is more than you are comfortable spending.  Just end the negotiations and walk away – this is often the best strategy anyway.

 

2. It’s closed!  This one is all the rage in Bangkok and they even have teams of people to help set you up.  When you are heading for a location – a temple, National Palace, or in one case a city block – a taxi or tuk tuk driver will tell you they are closed for a special Buddhist prayer meeting or other issue.  Instead, they will give you a good deal to take you to a few places, which will inevitably include a gem shop, jewelry store, or some kind of other enterprise. If you refuse to go there, things get much less friendly, if you do go, plan on getting scammed by some very friendly people.

 

3. Tourist price.  Tourists come to town with plans on seeing the sights, buying the local items, and experiencing a wide variety of opportunities.  Many businesses will gladly help you do these, but depending on the experience you are after, you can likely do it for less and enjoy it more if you do just a little research or like to explore a bit on your own.  Often it begin at the airport.  For example, in Bangkok, there are several places labeled “taxis” that will get you to your hotel.  Their prices can range from 450 baht to about 1,000 baht.  However, if you just walk out the door to the taxi stand and get a metered cab, it will cost about 200 to 250 baht for the same trip. When we wanted to cross the river to go from the Wat Pho temple to see Wat Arun, we were looking for a way across.  We had paid 30 baht to come a couple miles up river, so we thought it would be cheap to cross, but just needed to find out where.  A helpful woman found us and explained that the only way to do it was to take a long-tail boat (power boats with a propeller at the end of a long shaft used to steer the boats) and she would take us across for only 300 baht.  We declined.  Three feet from where she stopped us, we found the ferry the locals use. It cost three baht to cross.

 

4. Transportation.  A great many international cities have some excellent public transportation.  Use the elevated trains, subways and water taxis to get around and it will not only save you money, but likely allow you to see other places of interest you might have otherwise passed on.  It is very easy to get trapped in a hotel room and not know where to go or what to do, but look for opportunities to explore the places you have traveled to.

Keep it in perspective: If you have flown to another continent and are staying in fairly nice hotels, don’t get so caught up in saving your pennies once you have arrived that you miss out on experiences or don’t enjoy them.  There are many times where I know I could get a better price or that I am being overcharged, but getting upset, missing an opportunity or losing valuable time should also be taken into account.  For example, in Thailand 1 baht is worth about 3 cents American money. We booked a trip to the floating market about 100 kilometers from Bangkok.  We knew that there was no way we would be leaving the market without experiencing the market from a boat.  They have two kinds of boats: mechanical (long-tail) and paddle boats (a person paddles you through the canal).  From a quick bit of research, I knew that the mechanical boats charged several times as much as the paddle boats, plus I didn’t want the noisy boat, so it was an easy decision.  However, when we arrived the paddle boat vendor asked 1,000 baht for a half-hour boat trip.  It was a ridiculously high starting point, so I countered with an offer of 200 baht for a 1 hour trip.  We couldn’t reach any kind of starting point, so we walked away to see what we could find elsewhere.  A minute or two later, the vendor found me and said they would take us for 400 baht for 1 hour.  We accepted and went back for a pleasant trip through the market.  We likely could have negotiated back and forth for a bit and got the trip for as cheap as 300 baht, but the haggling, hassle and time wasn’t worth it for trying to save $3.

 

The bottom line is you are here to enjoy your vacation. Getting scammed or ripped off can certainly take some pleasure out of a trip.  Be aware of your surroundings and don’t trust that kind man just because he speaks English well and you will likely do just fine.

–Peace Out, The Franci