Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Thoughts on Costa Rica Jan 2015

A beach in the Guanacaste Province.

Costa Rica (our most recent trip)  is the belly button of the Americas, it encompasses just 0.03% of the world’s land mass (total area is 51,100 sq km) with over 500,000 plant and animal species. Any animals & plants that are traveling north and south have to go through CR. CR has 10 climatic zones and more flora & fauna than any place in the Americas. Eco-tourism is extremely important because tourism is CR`s largest industry. Not only are the Costa Ricans very proud of their country they are also very careful about the ecology.  CR has no mineral or oil & gas industry ( this despite having many great mineral deposits), so their major exports are fruit & vegetables. Therefore each climatic zone has their own specialties. Guanacaste is the area where they grow most of their melons, guavas, papayas, and pineapples. The climate ranges from dry tropical forest to lush jungle in the south. Costa Rica’s terrain varies between coastal plains and rugged mountains with three mountain ranges and over 100 volcanic cones, several of which are major volcanoes. For expats living in CR the only tax is on income earned in CR. Your international income is tax exempt, no capital gain taxes. Property taxes are very low, but there is a 13% sales tax on products and a 10% service charge in restaurants.

English: Tamarindo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Ri...

Unlike Mexico, the prices are higher (similar to Canadian prices), there are limited amount of fresh fruit stands and open markets where one could purchase fresh vegetables, meat and seafood BUT the water is drinkable in CR which is a big plus.  Lessons learned, book your rental car before you arrive.  No deals once you are in country. Lots of import duties make most things you would buy about the Cdn prices.

Our condo is the Bougainvillea Condominiums situated on the grounds of the all-inclusive five-star Westin Golf Resort & Spa. The resort is situated in the Guanacaste Region of CR’s North Pacific Coast and nestled between 2400 acres of lush forests and the beautiful Conchal Beach (Playa Conchal) with its sparkling azure waters. The condo overlooks the beautiful 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Championship Golf Course which surrounds the hotel. Conchal Beach, a two and a half mile crescent of white sand was named for the tiny crushed shells from which the beach is formed. This idyllic stretch of beach overlooks the Catalina Islands, a popular spot for diving and snorkeling.

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Picnic at the Iron Curtain. Susan Viets.

Iron Curtain Correction

Ukraine. Flag colors

Picnic at the Iron Curtain. Susan Viets. 2012. ISBN 9780987966407.  This book is useful to observers of Putin’s present day efforts to rebuild the Russian empire.  The author was a newbie journalist who set up shop in the Ukraine just before the Russian federation under Gorbachev imploded and all those new countries set up shop in the Balkans and the Ukraine. It is fascinating to read these reports of her visits to all the surrounding areas as they echo the reverse of what is happening today.  Great book for a two to three hour flight. As a journalist the author knows how to write good copy.

My My Myanmar. Tales from the new frontier of capitalism. Jonathan Nichols

burma rangoon shwedagon 03

My My Myanmar. Tales from the new frontier of capitalism. Jonathan Nichols. 2013. ISBN 9781628401301. A business  fable loosely based on today’s Myanmar ( Burma to Canadians).  I have a relative who has done business in Burma and the corruption, cronyism, and lack in intelligence by outside investors/agencies is quite well portrayed.  The author has written a few books on Burma so he knows the lay of the land.  Anyone wishing to do business there should be very careful.

Reflections on the cruise life – while sipping cerveza in warm sunny, Puerto Rico

While reflecting on these past weeks in the Carribean I (we ) came to see that the cruise lines are doing themselves a disservice in the islands. They are not looking after maintaining /upgrading their smaller boats while  building bigger and bigger new boats.  This causes the companies ( Royal Caribbean and Carnival are the big two)  to down market their offers to increase their sell plus compete fiercely with each other. To compensate for not being able to increase fares ( for ten years I think) they are cutting back on many of the niceties that caused many people to be such regular repeat cruisers.  We took our last cruise three years ago, and noticed a big decline this time. We talked to several people on the boats and if they were long time cruises, they also  notice a decline.  The island’s tourist executives we met onshore decried the overall reduced spend of the customers, despite the number of cruisers going up.  They also note that the cruise lines are reducing/modifying  the length (and time of day)  each port stop, which impacts how much of an excursion that the cruisers are able to book while onshore – further reducing the offshore spend.   Our hotel in San Juan is across from the cruise port and we saw  each day some boats arriving about 5 pm and leaving at 10 pm – restricting the onshore visit to a limited number of still open Old San Juan shops and no tours.   Yet the boats are dumping several thousand people on a small space, during this time. Major islands are visited on Sundays when many destinations have few to limited hours. The intent may be to capture more of the spend on-board.  However since the advertising is pushing the product downmarket, these first time cruisers have less discretionary income to spend.    Still the first time cruisers, having no reference point will have a great time on a cruise, just not as good a one as a few years ago.  My wife is seeing her clients move to the smaller boats like on River cruises or small land tours, to recapture the traveling feeling of discovery.  If you are retired, the last thing one wants is to be in a big controlled group.  Clearly the big vessel cruse companies are messing with their product value.   This usually opens up opportunities for other players to scoop out the high value customers.

The Hittite. Ben Bova

The Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its ...

The Hittite. Ben Bova 2010. ISBN 9780765324023. From the pen of a very famous and prolific science fiction writer comes his first historical fiction novel. I read it as part of my trip to Turkey.  The Hittites were the prominent tribe of ancient Turkey after the Sumerians and alongside the Assyrians.  The time is the siege of Troy after Paris has stolen Helen away from Menalaos, brother of Agamemnon.  The Hittite empire has fallen and a small band of seasoned Hittite warriors get caught up in the  siege of Troy and Helen as well. They travel trhough many parts of Turkey. Read the book for its depiction of those ancient brutal times and the descriptions of the ancient cities including Ephesus.   A quick easy read for the plane ride over .

Turkey Trip of a Lifetime. Weather. 7 of 8

The places can get pretty warm in summer and wintry in winter. We were advised to suggest April and October for travel. That said we were there in November and aside from one cloudy day we had glorious weather.  I broke out the shorts at Pammukkale and did not put long pants on until I got back to Istanbul. The Aegean coast is famous for is good weather and rarely gets any snow – true Mediterranean. (One of the reasons why Ephesus was so popular.)  On the last day we went for a Bosporus cruise in Istanbul – it is well worth it. Very expensive real estate here.

Turkey. Trip of a lifetime. Getting there. 8 of 8

Lufthansa City Line CRJ700 D-ACPO “Spaichingen...

From Vancouver we flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt and then on to Istanbul. Others used KLM to Amsterdam and then onto Istanbul.  There is talk of next year a direct Turkish Air flight from Vancouver to Istanbul.  We flew Turkish Air from Izmir to Istanbul. Good airline with some neat features. I.e. they have HD cameras on the nose and tail so you can watch the whole flight and view the ground as you go over. Watching a landing is so cool.  The Star Alliance is very big in the EU so you can really build up your Aeroplan points. Our tour was organized  through LandoftheGods Travel ( Amanda is an agent).  Airfare was $1050 return , per person , all in (this was end of the season rates) . The land trip (airport transfers, hotels, bus, admission tickets)  was $1600 per person and it was first class. All meals except for daily lunches and your dinners in Istanbul are covered. ( And we went to an amazing restaurant where I was first introduced to raki.) The bus is ultra modern, fitted like an air-plane,Turkish Delight, French Nougat, Coconut Ice - ... full wifi all over Turkey, with  entertainment centres at each seat and two fridges for cold water, beer and wine on board.  Really roughing it. What surprised me is that Turkey is pretty big. open and aside from crazy city traffic snarls the country roads were not that busy. I would not recommend renting a car and driving, the distances are big and tiring, unless you like that sort of thing. Think nine hours driving through Saskatchewan.  If you do drive , it appears that speed limits, lanes and road signs are just guidelines, some drivers go as fast as they do on the German autobahns. Cities do not have many street lights, very limited parking, signs are in Turkish (think Cyrillic Hungarian/Finnish), roads can have unmarked hazards. And they do not tell you about local attractions on the highway. Due to the great distances, the roadside gas stations are big.  Since it is so competitive, when the bus drives up, the passengers race to the WC ( sometimes one-holers, sometimes western). The bus gets a complete wash ( free) . The passengers sit down to eat a very good simple meal, with beer or tea and dessert – Maybe $12. And there is a whole bazaar to shop from.


Turkey Trip of a lifetime. Shopping. 6 of 8

Carpet weaving; Izmir, Turkey

Carpet weaving; Izmir, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Lots if you want it and its not junk. We did not “stop” at many shopping places, but the opportunity was everywhere. The girls got really good at haggling. No, walk away – price drops to 1/3.  They also found that if they walked half a block to a local shop , the owner was really ready to deal. Scarves, purses, bags, leather goods ( Really good leather in Turkey – the lambskin products are incredible, innovative – and are sent to Italy, France and  German high fashion houses). We watched heritage ceramic plates being created in Cappadocia. All handmade taking months to finish one plate , often only four out of ten making it to finished product. So I bought an example of the Tree of Life.  As well we saw hand tied wool and silk rugs being made at a weaving school near Izmir. Again months of work to create. Since I do not see Persia in my travel plans, I bought a rug.  These items are well worth the steep prices, since its a unique art, if your guide takes you to the right place. And I did spent $70 on fresh spices at the Istanbul spice market.
Thank goodness for the $800 individual duty free allowance ,  we almost went over.


Turkey Trip of a lIfetime . The Food. 5 of 8

The food.
Everything you like about the Mediterranean and then some. Since they sell to the EU there are no Frankenfoods, all local and organic. Boy can the Turks do breakfast.  Don’t look for pork, but everything else.

I fell prey to the best yoghurt ever (They do not do low fat) , sometimes eight types with fresh fruit added available. I settled on  big spoonfuls of plain yoghurt, with a ladling  of grape molasses (think dark maple syrup, but not as sweet) to which I added scoops of beyond amazing Turkish apricot, nuts , raisins , figs, persimmon. So good I would opt for seconds. Then a nice omelet, incredible Turkish breads. Finishing with a slice of fresh dripping honeycomb. For a change of pace there were always two soups at every meal – and they do a mean soup.  Lunch and dinner we would have lamb or fish with fresh vegs, sides of bulgar ( seemed better than we get a home), great breads with preserves, a selection (like six or more types of olives and fresh cheeses) and tables groaning with every imaginable salad.  The local beer EFS is lite and dark , and it goes down really well.  Always have a semisweet turkish coffee and lots of strong tea breaks during the  day.

Juicing is pretty big so we would see pitchers of fresh cucumber/carrot, or beet/celery. or tomato available. There are also vendors who fresh press pomegranate juice everywhere and it is really good. A few of our group had gluten allergies etc. They found their symptoms subsiding within days and they started to eat the local breads and drink the beer , with no bad effects.

Yah, I added 8 lbs in 11 days.  But you could easily be a vegetarian and really enjoy it. But do not go there expecting to lose weight, despite all the walking.

Near Ephesus ( Sirince)   we had an amazing lunch at Bizim Ev. The chef is Hatice Mercan.  We bought her book!