Archive for the 'Travel' Category

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!

Turkey Trip of a life time. Turkey Today. 4 of 8

Turkey today is a modern secular mix of Christianity and Islam. You hear the call to prayer five times a day, but that plus the mosques are often the only reminder that this is an Islamic country. Friday is the holy day, so the bars stay open longer, while  some places close on Sunday. The women look like they are in Paris and the men are all business ( No beards, fezes ). The President does not have a majority so like Harper he has had to look for issues to maybe get a majority. He is appealing to the simpler country folk that the country has lost its Islamic roots and needs to retrench. Lots of talk and little change (well in some places you can no longer buy beer at gas stations). The urban Turk is all over being European, worldly and they are having nothing to do with this talk, being more interested in the local soccer scores. The debates stay in the newspaper and  the parliament, not on the streets- it would be bad for business. The biggest incident in years was local folks in Istanbul getting upset that  developer was going to cut some trees down. (We saw more action from Greenpeace in BC over the years) Sure Syria is a neighbour. But the impact on your visit to Turkey is like the impact riots in Detroit would have on Toronto. You will stay in four or five star hotels (We were in Hilton hotels , the general manager in Izmir is a Canadian so he treated the 14 of us to an amazing really fresh seafood dinner, the local wine was really good, – I kind of lost track of the courses, once I started on the Raki shots – its like Ouzo yumm).)

Turkey – the Geography. Trip of a lifetime 3 of 8

With the exception of the coasts, the Turkey is high plateau. It reminded me of the Calgary area foothills and Peace River country. This was sugar beet harvesting time, so we saw truck loads of sugar beets.You travel through acres of farm land, growing an immense variety of crops. E.g.  Turkey is a major olive and olive oil exporter. When you come into the cities ( which are quite large – Istanbul has 18m people) there is lots of industrialization including major car and truck plants  (Ford, Mercedes etc.). With a good amount of geothermal activity there are thermal heating and power plants. Here and there you see windmill farms. With no oil of their own, Turks pays over $2 per liter for gasoline .

In the area called Cappadocia, there were centuries of volcanic eruption which lay down hundreds of feet of pumice and ash. This was covered with lava flows.  Over time wind and rain eroded the area, forming what we would call hoodoos and they call fairy chimneys.

Since this was on an invasion/raiders route, locals dug their homes into the soft ground horizontally and vertically. We visited an underground city that goes down 9 stories and could house thousands of people. The walkways are narrow and low ceiling ed with trap doors worthy of an Indiana Jones movie.




You can take a sunrise balloon ride like we did to float over the amazing terrain.


The significance of Turkey. Trip of a life time. 2 of 8

Istanbul is the only capital city located in Europe and Asia making it an unique crossroad between the West  Middle East and the East. (means when you back to a Western airport, you get double scanned). Having sat out WW2 as a neutral , the country is the most Westernized Islamic nation you can imagine. They trade a lot with The EU but do not belong, “All of the advantages and none of the debts of membership” they say in Turkey. (The UK does the same.) This is a popular vacation spot for a rising Russian middle class, and they are all over Istanbul.  We visited those famous Basilica Cisterns where From Russia with Love and Skyfall were filmed.


For us, this meant our trip could not help but find us walking in famous places in the Bible, ruins from the time of the Greeks, Romans ( Cleopatra’s mineral baths at Pamukkale where you swim among the ruins – sounds hokey but it is awesome).

Europeans do enjoy Turkey’s mineral baths.  We visited the temple of the whirling dervishes in Konya and also a centuries old caravanseri (ancient Holiday Inn for camel caravans)

In this country something is recent if it is only a few hundred years old.



At the National Museum in Ankara you will see relics from the Sumerian (who invented writing), Hittite, and  Assyrian eras, the war kirtle of King Midas and more. All this is reminding us that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were the cradles of human civilization. Museums aside, much of the country is a walk in museum that will blow your mind. This is  part of our Judea-Christian heritage. (including the ravages of the Crusades)




The Ottomans ruled Turkey for over 400 years building one of the three great world empires (Roman, Ottoman and British). It stopped at Vienna in Europe (which may be some basis for still lingering fears of Turks in much of Europe), all across North Africa, Egypt/Saudi Arabia, the Middle East to India and South.

In Istanbul the Ottomans built up lavish  buildings, palaces, mosques and govt offices. The Sultan and Keeper of the Faith ( Caliph) had some wives and many ( 100s) concubines in order to birth many sons. In early days the sons would be sent off to rule provinces as governors in order to be trained to run the country.  When the sultan died, the first governor to reach Istanbul became the new Sultan. Later, the sons were kept in the palaces in Istanbul. On the death of a sultan, the power struggle resulted in one winner, who then murdered all his brothers. You will see the harem – where intrigue, politics and privation were the norm and the Sultans mother ruled the roost. Now and then a concubine would find enough power and favour to be raised to wife and chief consort. The court/palace was run by black eunuchs, since fewer white than black boys survived the operation, (usually from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan).
In Ankara you can tour the Ataturk museum and mausoleum.


After WW 1 (with Turkey finding itself on the losing side), the country was ripped apart ( in secret agreements) by the British, French, Italians, Greeks and Russians. This sparked the Turkish War of independence against the Allies. Ataturk rose to unite the country and almost single handedly wrenched the country into the 20th century.  While we were waiting at the Izmir airport at 10 on Nov 10th, alarms went off and the whole airport, and country stopped for a minute of silence to remember Ataturk’s death (This is their Nov 11), including the playing of the national anthem while looking at a huge picture of Ataturk. Few countries would help Ataturk in rebuilding Turkey, except the Russian Communists.  Thus some of Turkeys modern government structure is socialist, making it behave like some Scandinavian countries. (eg.  universal Medicare, free education through university, and relatively high taxes)
In Ephesus you can visit the house where the Virgin Mary spent her last years, while the tomb of St John is nearby (he stayed by Mary in her later years).






You can stand on the arena stage where St Paul was besieged by the local merchants upset by his preachings/conversions which would affect their income from the pagan pilgrims of Ephesus. Later Paul wrote letters to the same Ephesians. Standing in the arena or walking through Ephesus made me think of Ben Hur , chariots, and Julius Caeser, You see the ruts in the stone streets. sconces for street lighting, water ducts and bathhouses.

While we were there we took in a hard to find local restaurant, and what an amazing lunch the cook put put.

We bought her cook book and have been recreating her  meals at home.