I think you see them in every big city that is a tourist destination: those open-topped, double decker, hop-on, hop-off tourist buses with their passengers hanging over the sides to see what there is to see. Yes, they are very touristy, but are they any good? Interesting? Worth the money?
I think yes to all of the above. One time I was traveling with a friend who is a resident of Washington DC. She wasn’t too sure of the idea of spending the day touring on a hop-on, hop-off bus. She said that they laughed at the eager-eyed tourist as they were driven through the streets of their city. When the day was over, she said she wouldn’t laugh at them any more. It is a good way to see the great sites of the city that you are visiting.
Picture this, you are in an exciting new city that you have dreamed of visiting. The sun is shining (not too hot, just perfect), you are on the top deck, you have your ear buds in and are listening to the commentary as the bus rolls past the sites of the city: Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees, Louvre, Notre Dame.
It’s not cheap, but neither is it expensive. Think of it as being in the DIY section of travel products.
My tip: know the layout of the city before you get there. Know the sites that you want to really visit and explore and those that are more of a photo stop. This is the day to make sure that you get the photo stops in. You might not have time to really explore the sites that you have traveled so far to see. Save them for tomorrow when you can use cheaper mass transit. Today is for relaxing and enjoying the unique view that you get from the top deck of the bus.
What are your thoughts? Do you like the hop-on, hop-off buses? Too touristy for you? Too costly?
Once again, I seem to be eating. We were traveling through Israel and the West Bank with my sister, who works for a NGO and has spent a lot of time there. She introduced us to shawarma. Seriously good stuff!
We stayed in Jericho in the West Bank for a few nights and had shawarma at a place in town. The restaurant had a cart on the street where they kept the food warm and prepared the shawarma. As we stood there on the street, we watched the tourists drive by in their air-conditioned buses. Sitting high above the streets and looking down on the activity. Never a part of it. Just looking on and not getting to really experience any of it. What a pity, to be so close and miss the opportunity to come to a better understanding of the people in the countries that you are visiting.
Wait a minute, he only had three of the flat bread that he needed. There were four of us. He told us that he needed to get some more. We stood on the sidewalk and talked and watched everything that was going on around us while we waited. The needed bread arrived. We didn’t see how the bread got there but were too hungry to spend much time thinking about it. When I was looking at my photos, I saw the delivery man that brought the bread.
I think we might have been distracted by the truck loads of Palestinian Forces driving by.
Everyone knows that after a good meal a cup of coffee is needed and here’s the guy for you. Starbucks Palestinian style.
I love Europe. I love the architecture and the history. My husband, while he enjoys Europe, loves sunshine. Puerto Rico is the perfect compromise. We flew there in January and I remember splashing through the standing water on the tarmac as we ran to the plane. About seventeen hours later, we disembarked into the sunshine of Puerto Rico.
We spent a week of our time there in a vacation rental close to the El Yunque rain forest. I loved listening to the Coquí frogs and picking grapefruit off of the trees for breakfast. Our “landlord” brought us a variety of things that grow to eat. They seem to eat a lot of roots. Some were good and others were, well, not so good.
From there we moved to a hotel that was close to Old San Juan. We enjoyed exploring the area, visiting the forts, and dreaming of pirates. It was very interesting trying the local cuisine.
One of the memories I treasure most were the breakfasts we shared at Hacienda San Jose. The lazy ocean-front mornings were fantastic. Any time that I can sit and sip coffee and watch water I’m happy.
Somewhere I read about buying a cow bell at the street market in Nevşehir, Turkey and I determined then and there that I must have my very own Turkish cow bell. As my husband and I always enjoy the local markets it really wasn’t any trouble to visit it.
The market wasn’t a disappointment. The aisles of colorful fruit and vegetable displays made me wish that we had a kitchen so that I could take some home and cook. Then there were the cheese merchants with their cheeses in 5-gallon buckets (though I don’t suppose they are called 5-gallon buckets there). The egg sellers with stacks and stacks of crated eggs. Clothing, do-dads, tools, sunflower seeds, a few used things. They had everything there. I bought a beat-up, old metal colander that hangs in my kitchen and adds a lot of character.
I finally found a box of cow bells sitting in a corner. Neglected! Poor things. You might not be aware of it, but the important thing when making the decision on which cow bell to purchase is how it sounds. It must be just right. Quickly the three men at the booth found more bells and were helping me ring them. I finally found the perfect sounding bell and we negotiated the price. I looked back as we were walking away, and the men were busy hanging bells from everywhere that they could hang one from. They were no longer sitting neglected in a box. They had no idea that women would come all the way from the United States to ring and buy their bells.
Thailand in January. I love to escape to sunshine during the cold winter months and it was another warm, well hot really, beautiful day. We hired a guide and drove to the famous floating market (that’s another blog). After somehow folding ourselves into an extremely shallow boat and fighting our way through the market boats, we were floating along on the back cannels. Piers with friendly dogs running on them lined the cannels. More piers headed away from the cannel and served as pathways to the houses that were built on stilts to raise them above the water level.
Way back there, away from the shopping crazed crowd, we came across this man selling soup. Our guide bought some for us and we continued our float in the hot sunshine now holding bowls of hot, noodle soup with broth from the noodles dripping down our chins (no napkins of course). It was really very good! And a day I will always remember. Since then, I have wondered where he washed his dishes.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing the Trevi Fountain? With it’s over the top baroque architecture, the pictures were always so beautiful. What the pictures didn’t prepare me for, was the people! I was amazed when we turned the corner and run into the mass of tourists there.
A few mornings later, we were out for an early walk when we rediscovered the fountain without the tourists. It was between eight and nine and the fountain was shut down for cleaning and it was very interesting to watch them clean and remove all of the money from it.
We bought some breakfast from the McDonald’s (I know, I know, but it was what was open) just down the street and sat there at the fountain and enjoyed our breakfast and coffee. It was lovely.
The legend has it that if you stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin into it, you will return. We didn’t toss any coins in and we haven’t been back. I really should have tossed a coin in.
After 12 years, I had managed to convince my husband to give Europe another try. We had an overnight flight from San Francisco and after changing planes at Charles de Gaulle we finally landed at Nice, France. After clearing immigration and customs, we exited the airport, found bus #99 and boarded it for the ride to the main Nice train station. I remember being a little worried that we wouldn’t get on the right train and a very helpful French woman (who didn’t speak English) tried to help us. I need not to have worried. It was easy to find the right train and after a short ride, we disembarked in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The picture above was taken that first morning as we walked from the train station to the Welcome Hotel where we had reservations. As we walked down the road in the morning sunshine with the occasional glimpses of the sparkling Mediterranean, I thought, “I cannot believe this! It is so beautiful. Just fantastic!”
That’s what travel is all about: the unexpected. Unexpected is not always good, but most the time it is fantastic.