Saturday, December 27, 2014

Five Reasons to Bring a Travel Guidebook

Lonely Planet Collection 
Yes, travel light, keep your books to a minimum, but take a reliable current paperback guidebook. Pack  a travel guidebook and supplement with IPAD internet research.

#1. Use the Guidebook to Plan.  Prior to departure, discover vital facts about health, currency, transportation, weather, culture and history long before you take flight.  Either plan your trip in great detail or roughly, whichever you prefer, but have some idea of your agenda. If you only have one day in Istanbul, and want to see the amazing Archaeology Museums, the guidebook will inform that the Museums are closed on Mondays.  The internet is fine for looking up one thing at a time, but a guidebook provides everything you need to plan – quickly and reliably. 

#2. Travel Wisely and Well.  Well- researched guidebooks suggest the best sites, walk you through museums, take you on historic street walks and recommend good restaurants and lodgings.  They provide advice for gay travelers, and make recommendations for parents travelling with kids. It isn't possible to ‘see’ everything, so a good guidebook lists the sites not to miss and helps identify those that may not interest you. In essence, they help you to use your limited time wisely and to your liking.

Getting our bearings in Rome with guidebook
 #3. Ease of Use.  Guidebooks are still better 'on the street’ than e-books.  E-books are hard to flip through or find info in and although the technology may improve, many still can’t be read in sunshine.  For now, the paper guidebook is easier to read when on your daily travels.  With detailed maps for walking, a paper book still seems friendlier to use as you wander. A paper book can be quickly opened and read in a more comfortable stance. Make notes in it, place stars beside favorite restaurants, jot down transportation details. The book allows you to flip to everything you need.
#4. Generally Reliable (but not always). A guidebook might not be perfectly up to date, especially regarding restaurants.  Is the establishment still open, has fame ruined the ambiance or  raised the prices?  Check on the internet (Trip Advisor is OK) for current views, but use the guidebook to get you there.  We find that guidebook recommendations for restaurants tend to have good quality of food, but we don’t limit ourselves to just guidebook recommendations, or just Trip Advisor. For lodging, a guidebook shows you exactly where the accommodation is in relation to other sites. Location is important for exploration on foot. Guidebook recommendations for lodging cannot list all the great places to stay, but generally, you will not get stuck with unacceptable accommodation with a guidebook recommendation. We don’t rely solely on guidebook advice for lodgings, but we do often want to stay in the inviting, smaller hotels they recommend. The best get booked early.

#5. Trip Memento.  After your  trip, the books make a handsome display on your bookshelf. You have, for your everyday viewing, visual reminders of your trips at your fingertips.  Your own notations serve as advice for others, and for yourself should you return. What was that restaurant we loved; the name of that fabulous museum?

A Recommendation: Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet books are generally thorough and well organized, not perfect and with some variation,  but invaluable, even so.  We use others, too, but rely on Lonely Planet.  Buy the lightest book that suites the trip. Don’t buy the thick book for India if you are just going to go to Rajasthan. Many good guidebooks come as e-books too.  If you find that e-books suite you well, use one, but whatever choice you make a good guidebook will make travel easier and enhance your journey. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

9 Beautiful Buddhas in Bagan, Myanmar

#1 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#2 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#3 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#4 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#5 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar
#6 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#7 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar
#8 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

#9 Beautiful Buddha of Myanmar

 The Buddhists of Myanmar revere the ancient, sacred statues of Buddha found throughout Burma. The stunning, towering Buddhas of Bagan are often covered in gold leaf.  The temples, monasteries, and pagodas of Bagan were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, when the ancient city was the capital of the region of Pagan, later to be known as Myanmar or Burma. Of the 10,000 original structures, just over 2000 remain.  This amazing sight is particularly gorgeous at dawn or sunset.

Bagan, Myanmar Sunrise.

Buddhist Monks in Bagan, Myanmar

UNESCO World Heritage Cella Septichora, Early Christian Burial Site in Pecs, Hungary

UNESCO Early Christian Burial Site of Sopianae in Pecs, Hungary
 A few hours south by train from Budapest is the university town of Pecs, a cultural center of Hungary, a lovely medieval and modern town with multi-cultural roots, and home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Early Christian Necropolis of Pecs.  This archaeological site is part of the ancient city of Sopianae, founded by the Romans almost two thousand years ago and once home to 10,000 people. The city of Pecs, with a population of 150,000, now completely overlays the ancient town of Sopianae.
Early Symbol of Christianity at Pecs

The Romans introduced Christianity to the area and by 400 AD,  the trading center of Sopianae had a significant and large Christian population. Three ancient Christian burial grounds have been located just outside the old walled town of Sopianae. Here are tombs, numerous family burial chapels, monuments and mausoleums. This type of Christian burial site, with many grouped stone ceremonial buildings and chambers, was unique for this era in Europe. The well-preserved 1600 year old site is, therefore, historically important. 

From the town center in Pecs we walked to the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cella Septichora, Early Christian Cemetery. The burial chambers excavated here, around the Szent Istvan Square, date back to the 4th century.

Cella Septichora, Early Christian Cemetery, UNESCO World Heritage site at Pecs, Hungary

Early image of Mary?

The UNESCO Center is a low, architecturally sound concrete structure, nestled into the surrounding plaza and steps. The small entrance and initial courtyard chamber are well-lit due to a glass roof, that serves as the floor of the public square above. Through tunnels we ventured into deeper burial chambers with remnants of biblical frescoes and Christian and Roman imagery. 

In the two story barrel-vaulted Saint Peter and Paul Chamber, the Apostles point to an early Christian symbol of Jesus,  a circular Christogram with Greek letters. The garden of Eden and other biblical stories are depicted as well as a faded portrayal of a woman, possibly the Virgin Mary. It was fascinating to see these Christian images created only a few hundred years after the death of Christ. 

We later toured the nearby Mausoleum, with a large sarcophagus and 4th century images of Daniel and lions, and Eden. Go to the Cella Septichora Visitor Center first to get information about the Mausoleum. The UNESCO site was closed on Mondays.

UNESCO World Heritage Site Cella Septichora, Early Christian Necropolis, Pecs, Hungary

Fresco in Saint Peter and Paul Chamber, UNESCO

Some guidebooks make reference to another archaeological site nearby, on Apaca Street. We sought this out first, but could not find it. This left us wondering if the UNESCO site existed. It does and once located, it was worth the effort to find.   Ask for the Cella Septichora, Early Christian Cemetery.

This World Heritage site is well protected and beautifully displayed. Although not expansive, it is of significance as one of the largest and best preserved early Christian burial grounds in Europe. It was interesting, well-presented, reasonably priced and like most UNESCO World Heritage sites, invaluable for its preservation of human history and culture. In Pecs, be sure to seek it out. The Center is also used for current cultural events by the citizens of Pecs.

Apostles point to early Christian symbol of Jesus, UNESCO World Heritage, Pecs, Hungary

More information on the World Heritage Pecs site.

Pecs, Hungary with medieval roads

Pecs, Hungary, with temporary Leonardo da Vinci exhibit -the Horse.
Center Square of Pecs, Hungary

Sunday, November 30, 2014

10 Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them!

Udaipur, India - Beautiful Travel Destination

  1In your 'carry-on' take a change of clothes, essentials, and your camera. If your luggage is lost, you will survive.

      2.   Pack light, travel light. Don't get an injury carrying a heavy bag. If you shop buy light, small things. In Budapest buy paprika; Thailand, silk scarves. Buy heavier items at the end of the trip. Shopping takes time, money and weighs you down. Resist.

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

    3.  Learn before you go so you can appreciate the cultural experience.  Read before you go. Hint:- learn at minimum a few words of the local language before you go – like ‘thanks’ and ‘hello’. 

Small plates in Bagan, Myanmar
      4.    As a pedestrian, be aware. Cross the street with the locals. Not every city is pedestrian friendly – some are downright hostile.

      5.    Beware the ‘soft’ scams. Even the most experienced travelers can get fooled. Don’t go with people who approach you on the street, don’t take their advice. Make your own plans and stick to them.

      6.    Don’t use taxis from the airport when the public transportation is perfectly fine.  Research this before you go and save cash and time. Singapore, Athens, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris  all have fast public transit from the airport. Sometimes the hotel will arrange for pick you up at the airport.  Ask your hotel for a good  local travel agent, too. Generally, they won’t steer you wrong.

       7.    Choose food carefully.  Don't eat creamy foods that are not chilled. Hot foods should be hot, not lukewarm. Enjoy great food experiences as you travel, but use common sense.  Take medications to combat diarrhea, constipation and vomiting. 
Shopping in Udaipur, India

     8.    Don't be lateCheck your departure times. Leave enough time. 

       9.    Don't rely on e-readers as guide books.  E-readers are fine for reading indoors, but not great as 'on the street' travel guides. Hard to read in daylight and difficult to navigate through when on the street. 

       10.    Stay cool. When in the tropics,  get air conditioning. 

Here’s a few mistakes we haven’t made, and hope you don’t either.
View from the hotel room in Delhi.

     1.  Resist renting and riding on motorcycles or mopeds. We have encountered MANY injured travelers. Thinking of deep sea diving, or para-sailing? Safety is not always a priority on the tourist beach.   CAUTION!  Is the equipment truly safe, is the training excellent, is the company reputable, are you insured for injury?

     2.  Buy medical travel insurance! You think you are healthy and nothing will happen to you? Maybe not, but maybe so. Get your shots before you travel, too.

     3.  Keep your valuables secure on your person. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mount Popa, Myanmar

We climbed to the top of Mount Popa, 777 steps.

Rendition of Nat spirits at Mount Popa
Nat Worship in Burma.

Some Buddhists in Myanmar, especially those in rural areas, worship Nats.  Nats are uniquely Burmese. They are spirits or guardians and protectors with dominion over people or things.  The worship of Nats  pre-dates Buddhism,  which became the national religion of  Burma in the eleventh century.   Nat worship was a form of animism, especially popular with the hill peoples of Myanmar, but practiced all over the country.
Mount Popa, Burma
Mount Popa, an extinct volcano in central Burma, was  home of the most important Nat, the Lord of the Great Mountain, and his Sister Lady Golden-Face.  In the ninth century they became the guardian gods of the city of Pagan.  Nat worshippers travelled to Mount Popa for a feast at the full moon in December.  Animals were sacrificed,  people drank palm toddy wine and danced. Full moon festivals were common throughout Burma in Nat worship.

Atop Mount Popa, monkey's view of Myanmar.
In the town below Mount Popa
Although pre-Buddhist practices, such as astrology, alchemy and the worship of Nats, were suppressed when King Anawratha unified Burma in the eleventh century and made Buddhism the national religion, Nat worship continued. The King eventually integrated Nat worship into Theravada Buddhism,  added one of his own to the traditional 36 primary Nats, and replaced other Nats with his own dead war heroes. 
Today in Myanmar, Nat worship continues, side by side Buddhism, with pilgrimages and festivals held throughout the country. Nats are similar to Saints, some with human characteristics, such as drinking and smoking. Some protect the environment and dwell in the forest or mountains, and environmental destruction could bring their rath.   Nats are spiritual friends of the Burmese people.

Nats guard Buddha in Bagan. Stop, and look, they seem to say.

Mount Popa is a day trip from Bagan. On the way to Mount Popa from Bagan, we stopped to see how palm oil, palm candy (jaggery) and palm toddy wine are made, the old fashioned way. The drinking of toddy, wild dancing and traditional hsaing music enduce the trance at a Nat festival, and assist in the belief that revellers are possessed by the Nats.

Palm Toddy

Grinding to make palm oil

Mount Popa, as an important shrine to Nat worship, was an extremely interesting place to visit. Monkeys inhabit the temples, and we enjoyed watching them, keeping our distance because they can be aggressive. The climb up to the top, 777 steps in bare feet, was not too difficult. Mount Popa does not have the beautiful old buddhas, pagodas and temples of Bagan, but as Nat worship is still prevalent in Myanmar, Mount Popa is culturally important.  Before we went to Myanmar, we knew nothing of Nats.  

In Mandalay, Myanmar

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jodhpur, India

Jodhpur town square at twilight. Look at the activity, even as the day is winding down.
The tailor sewing, customers at the pakora cart. In the background, trucks and
motorcycles rage ahead near cows, and above it all - the ghost of the
British empire, the landmark clock tower. (My favourite picture of the trip).


Jodhpur - the Blue City, from the Fortress  the Mehrangarh
Jodhpur, the Blue City of Rajasthan

After an afternoon train ride from Jaisalmer, we arrived after dark at the bustling Jodhpur train station. We were quickly ushered out towards the cabs through the crowds, into the dark, noisy night.  Local travellers were sleeping outside, next to the station. Every free spot of land was occupied. Something was moving at the base of the walls of the station....quickly and rythmically. Rats. Hundreds of rats, running in and out of cracks and holes in the walls of the station - scurrying around the  blanketed sleepers.  It was a startling but mesmerizing sight.  

In the Fort, Jodhpur, India

Busy, crowded, colourful, friendly.....Jodhpur.

Mr. Sharma, astrologer, in Jodhpur, India

The Mahrangarh

With only one full day in Jodhpur, we headed to the Mehrangarh. The formidable, impressive fortress of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh, rises solidly on rock above the blue city. It houses cannons, gates and turrets, grand palaces,  jewelled rooms  of maharaja royalty and an interesting, popular museum. We  took the recommended audio tour. Famous astrologer, Mr. Sharma, read my palm and astrological chart inside the fortress. Astrology has been valued by the people of India since ancient times, and astrologers are consulted for many matters, including marriage compatibility. What better place for an astrological reading than India? 

The Mahrangarh in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

In the fortress at Jodhpur

Markets near the Clock Tower Landmark

We walked around the lively Sadar market and the narrow streets and medieval bazaars of old Jodhpur for a few hours. The marketplace was bustling, with crowds of local shoppers, carts with fresh produce and lunch foods, stores with teas and spices, beautiful bolts of fabrics, Rajasthani crafts, and household dry goods of all sorts. The friendly people of Jodhpur were happy to chat with us.  

Spices and friendly people in Jodhpur, India.

In the old town and marketplace in Jodhpur
Vibrant Jodhpur

Jodhpur, a city of just under a million people, is rich in the cultural history of Rajasthan. It has a rural feel about it. Jodphur was the most colourful of any of the places we visited in Rajasthan, with its' panorama of blue buildings, dazzling neon fabrics, sparkling handicrafts, and brightly decorated auto-rickshaws, or 'tuk tuks', as we called them.

I love my pictures from Jodhpur - some of my favourites of the entire trip. We stayed two nights in Jodhpur, as planned. It's a place worth spending some time in on any trip to Rajasthan.

Decorated and colourful tuk tuk in Jodhpur - behind a belching truck ...

....loaded with bright fabrics.

Negotiating a tuk tuk ride in Jodhpur. Only two passengers- that's the rule.


 Next stop......Udaipur via Ranakpur and the renowned Jain temple.