24 Hours In: Istanbul!

Our whirlwind of Europe is finally coming to an end – final destination Istanbul, Turkey!

After 22 hours of busses, trains and planes we arrived to Istanbul welcomed by a steep hill and many cobblestones. Note to self: don’t fly into Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in the future.

Connection from Gokcen Airport was achieved through an hour plus ride on a coach (14 Turkish Lira, TL) and two train / tram rides (4TL)…or we could have taken a private transport for ~90TL.

We arrived somewhere near the touristy Taksim Square on a steep hill next to the deepest construction pit I have ever seen. There are buildings under construction everywhere.
Navigating the cobblestones and taxi packed sidewalks, we slowly made our way to Taksim station – tantalizing aromas of sweet, spicy and fragrant combined for an unforgettable combination. This is my first impression of the city, and one I will likely not forget. Melody wanted to sample the wares from every restaurant we passsed. Everywhere we walked we have received a cascade of shouts offering taksi rides or a sampling of foods and drinks. For the easily overwhelmed, this is not the place to visit.

IMG_4059

The metro system in Istanbul is, by and large, efficient and effective. There are your standard metro ‘subway’ type cars, street trams, and even ferries…all of which you can take a ride on for 4 TL. For this purchase price, you receive a little plastic coin about the size of a nickel. There is an option to purchase a metro card, but our pleasure for walking meant we did not go this route.

With our little coins we took a short connector ride underground and then a slightly longer ride on an overground street-car, reaching our hostel in good spirits.

Even at 11pm, there were many shops open and crowds of others milling about. In the short walk we were hailed no fewer than 20 times for dining – did I mention you get shouted at?

IMG_4040

December 7, 2015

 

 

Advertisements

How to Be a Five Star Airbnb Guest

We’re big fans of Airbnb as a way to meet locals, experience authentic culture, and to find quality, budget lodging. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine, especially if you have a super relaxed host, what your responsibilities are. To earn yourself a five-star rating as a guest, abide by these tenets:

  • Most people loathe dishes in the sink, so wash them and leave them to dry, or rinse and put in dishwasher.
  • Minimize items left around the house. I’m really bad with this one, as I can be comfortable pretty much everywhere and thus my laundry, socks, and shoes tend to distribute themselves around any place of residence. It’s not messy; it’s a sign of genius. But if you have a host coming and going in the house, it can leave a bad impression of you. So if you’re like me and you enjoying occupying an entire space with your belongings, confine it to your room.
  • And close the door to your room, if for nothing else, because no one else wants to see your stuff, and you don’t want people seeing your stuff. If you’re a night owl like me and your day begins at 10pm (half kidding) then this also works to keep light and music in your room.
  • Ask to use the clothes washing machine!! Even if it is listed as an amenity, because odds are you’ll be using their soap too.
  • Recall your Aretha Franklin lyrics and R-E-S-P-E-C-T the space. Mark wants me to write to straighten the bed – fake make it – just in case something is needed from the room. This has never happened to us, where the host needed something from the room, but ya never know.
  • Understand personal time and space. The host might not always want to talk to you, and they’re not really obligated to. Most of the time they are working people too. We’ve had some quieter hosts and other hosts, like our lovely couple in Glasgow, that were happy to chat for hours.
  • Don’t eat food in the fridge or freezer unless you are invited to – if you finish something that you were given permission to eat or drink, offer to replace it.

And lastly…

Thank the host in person if they’re available – if not, leave a note / send SMS or E-Mail before writing and submitting your review. Airbnb will prompt you for a review at the end of your stay. If there’s any notes you’d like to offer the host privately, you can do so in a separate box after writing your review.

Let us know about your travels abroad, and as always, feel free to ask us for advice from lodging to low airfare.

Happy travels!

Mark and Melody

How A Missed London Flight Became the Best Day Ever

We had a flight from London-Gatwick to Oslo scheduled to depart at 6am. Following the guidelines of international flights, we decided to be there about 90 minutes early: 4:30. We were staying at Masslink Guesthouse so across the street from the airport. The alarm is set for 4am.

It doesn’t go off. Something wakes me up around 4am, but it’s not the alarm. I go back to sleep.

I wake up about an hour later, suspicious of how rested I feel. Light is peeking through the curtains. I know it’s not 4am. My eyes glaze over to the clock and in big red letters it proudly displays… Continue reading

Travel Diary: Battling Sickness in the United Kingdom

You don’t always need to catch a virus or get invaded by bacteria to get sick. Sometimes you try to do so much, so quickly, with such vigor, that your body literally breaks down and forces you to stop.

That’s what happened. After walking about 30 kilometers (18 miles) over 2 days, our bodies said, “Enough.” Naturally, we went on a hunt for some pain relief. In the UK, the equivalent of a CVS/ Rite Aid is Boots. Boots has a bunch of cosmetics as well as a pharmacy and some minor first aid items. We picked up some throat losenges we thought would do the trick.

No dice. Earlier today I went to an establishment that said simply ‘Pharmacy’ on it. I went in and that’s exactly what it was. Two pint-sized aisles of what seemed like space-filling items, and a whole wall after wall of drugs behind a pharmacy counter that a young pharmacy student was manning. After a bit of browsing items that had absolutely nothing to do with my pain, I walked up to this pharmacy student and said simply, “I have sinus pain and a fever. What should I get for that?” He simply nodded and turned to the pharmacist, who scanned the myriad of shelves for an item and handed me some intense looking sinus/ fever reducing SudaFed (4 pounds).

The main purpose of this is to illustrate that you cannot buy any pain relieving/ fever reducing/ cold or cough suppressants without first speaking to a pharmacist. You go up to them, or queue up (wait in a line) to talk to them. No charge. You tell them your ailments, and they fix you.

Note: Please tell your pharmacist what you’re taking or if you’ve had any alcohol or aspirin in the previous 48 hours. They don’t always prompt you for this. Anything, even contraception pills, can have adverse reactions when taken with certain medication.

Our Most Oft Asked Question: Travel – on the Cheap!

One of the questions that we get most often is, “How can you afford to travel? You must be rich / rolling in the dough / get money from your parents.” While all of these things would make traveling long-term much easier…it just isn’t the case for Melody and I.

Knowing that we would need to find a way to do it a little cheaper, and also knowing the type of trip that we both mutually enjoy, we set out to discover some cheaper ways to travel.

In general, the two largest cost items while traveling will be lodging and food – these are inescapable truths. While it is certainly possible to eat ramen noodles and camp in a tent, sometimes the weather and local culture may just not let that be a possibility (not to mention that would likely become old, very quickly). Striking a little bit of the middle ground, the following are a couple of other options:

  1. House-sit!We would first like to say a big thank you to Hecktic Travels for their amazing blogs and advice, as well as informing us and many others about house sitting as a travel option. Cheers, guys!Anyone with pets that loves to travel knows that bringing their animals along can make for…less than ideal trips. Traveling with a pet is expensive, and depending on your breed of dog / cat / bird / other exotic animal, may not be possible at all. For the longer trips, it is also not possible to leave your animals unattended (you wouldn’t do that, right?).

    Boarding your animals is another option – but again expensive.

    Some are lucky that they have close family or friends to watch after their furry / feathered babies – but again, not always possible for longer stays.

    For people who fall outside of these lovely conveniences, consider having someone come sit your house!

    In exchange for lodging, you can have a trusted and verified traveler stay at your house and care for your animals / property. The requirements for the stays are clearly stated (expectations and duration), and there are even some that are paid – though not very many – your mileage may vary.

    For our uses, we used Mind My House and Trusted House Sitters, but there are many others out there. Not only will you get to visit some unique and interesting destinations, but in most cases your only costs will be transit expense, food and some time commitment. A secondary bonus for people like us who live in a place that having animals is forbidden – you even get to enjoy the company of the resident animals.

  2. Help ExchangeMelody and I both enjoy staying active. We also love to meet new people and immerse ourselves in new cultures – out of the city and away from the tourist areas. Don’t get me wrong, we love to see the sights too, but there is something powerful about the countryside and the people that live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.Keeping these things in mind, we set out to find a way to immerse ourselves into the everyday life of a local – and save some money doing it along the route. When we came across Help Exchanges, we knew we had found a winner.

    For our uses, we use HelpX – although there are many more sites out there that do the same thing.

    Simplified, a help exchange is an exchange of your time and labor for lodging and food.

    This exchange comes in many shapes and sizes, but the postings usually detail exactly what the expectations are in advance. The number of hours you are expected to work will vary, but most that we have seen are between 20-25 hours per week.

    Some examples of what you might expect to find:

    Hostel Operator looking for help in maintaining hostel. 20 hours per week to include: Admitting guests, making beds, dusting lobby, preparing food, general cleaning. In exchange you will receive private lodging with bathroom. Minimum 30 day stay.

    or

    Looking for helpers to work in the garden with some experience of gardening and growing vegetables to get the spring work done. Four hours work per each nights stay in return for 3 meals per day and accommodation. Double en-suite bedroom and single bed. Fresh food from the garden where possible and all home cooked meals prepared for you.

  3. AirBNBIf neither of the above sound overly interesting, or you are not really interested in working for your lodging / food, fear not! There are other options for you.AirBNB is, in effect, a house / room / couch sharing site designed to allow homeowners the opportunity to earn a little extra income on empty or unoccupied rooms within their home. These rooms are usually priced substantially below what you might find at a hotel in the same area.

    For smaller groups 2-3, this might actually be cheaper than if you were to individually stay at a hostel.

    The site itself is very simple to navigate, and rooms are available in 190+ countries.Capture

    With an available mobile application, the ability to instantly book rooms, and read reviews from others who have stayed, Airbnb is a viable option for those planning far in advance, or on the fly.

For our purposes, we will be using a combination of the three, in addition to some other creative maneuvering to create the most memorable and dynamic trip that we can.

We have almost finalized our rough travel itinerary, so keep an eye out for that soon. In the meantime, keep thinking about that trip you would like to take, and… don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Cheers!

Mark & Melody

Hontoon Island State Park – Minutes from Orlando, Worlds Away

We’re a bit off-beat. We like off the beaten path adventures, off the tourist trail destinations, and off the major highway eats and treats. For New Years weekend, we decided to celebrate by camping in the wilderness, north of Orlando in Hontoon Island State Park.

The name by itself had me wondering an island exists in the middle of the state. Is it a hidden, lesser known version of Alcatraz? Is it the setting for a new series of horror novels? Is this Stephen King’s vacation residence?

Unfortunately (or fortunately), none of the above are true. I was delightfully surprised to find a hidden gem kind of place.

First of all, it’s only an island by about two hundred feet. That’s the span from the “mainland” to the “island”. This lovely little taxi (with room for only six!) schleps people to and from the parking lot (mainland) as needed from 8am to 5pm.

untitled-3

There is no charge to park. Wheelbarrows are provided to unload camping gear into while waiting for this taxi. Hontoon Island staff make it very easy to move things about. A complimentary van ride will take you and your stuff to your campsite. When you are packed up, simply give them a buzz and that same van will pick you and your things up. Bear in mind that even though the website says a 2 tent maximum per campsite it’s not really enforced so long as you don’t cause a ruckus.

Wildlife:

There are bears. Yes. Bears on an island. Deer. Armadillos. Lots of ‘Coons running around. Poisonous snakes. And the most aggressive mosquitoes I have ever experienced. You’ve got to douse yourself in bug spray if you are camping from November to February because the mosquitoes will eat you alive.

Facilities:

There are public (hot) showers and public bathrooms. There’s a coke machine also. One of my friends remarked that, because of this, we weren’t actually camping (though I beg to differ). Everything was well equipped. We had a first time camper with us and she had a great time; moreover, the campgrounds are family friendly. A lot of people bring kids over for a day trip and everyone seems to have a ball.

There’s a small general store with postcards, bug spray, sunscreen, toiletry items and some snacks all at fair prices. This is also where you buy firewood, fire-starters and Duralogs.

Each campsite is outfitted with a firepit and griddle to cook on. There are trash cans by the public washrooms (and that nefarious Coke machine), so at the end of the night (due to the bears and other animals) it’s best to walk the trash to the bear-proof trash bins.

Things to do:

Fish. You can catch an assortment of freshwater fish. If you’re a Florida resident, it’s worth the $20 to get a fishing license which is valid for a year.

DSC_0542-1

Hiking is another great option, recommended earlier in the day as the air seems to stagnate until you get close to the water. Cypress trees are abundant here, and when you see a group of them together, create a feeling within that this is not that place to be once the sun goes down.

DSC_0703

A lot of people canoe and kayak around this area. In fact, Blue Springs is an hour away by kayak (without wind) or two hours with the wind blowing against you. To travel from Hontoon to Blue Springs, you have to traverse the St. John’s River, which has a very fast moving northbound current.  Blue Springs is a bit south of Hontoon, so you will be rowing against the current to Blue Springs, and with the current coming back. Even though it’s a hell of an upper body workout, Blue Springs is worth the trip because of some amazing emerald waters and the chance to see the manatee’s winter home.

16102423877_e8ae734921_o

16287457482_49bde61c6c_o

Believe it or not, the water is truly that green. Remarkably, you can see down into the bubbling spring from the boardwalk. (Blue Springs is swimmable when it’s not busy being the manatee winter home from October to April).

Finally, it wouldn’t be a spectacular Florida destination without a riveting sunset. This was taken right as we arrived back from Blue Spring, without any photo editing or filters.

16262604406_4828908e7a_o

Cheers!

MarkandMelody

Late Night Inspiration Post

When I think about my life, I don’t see a big house. I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now. Blogging sometime around midnight. Thinking about the last 7 years of international travel. My running shoes are still on. They’re damn comfortable. Where I live, I have a balcony and I have Mark, but instead of overlooking the intracoastal, I am in a studio overlooking Hong Kong, or house-sitting in Tuscany. Right now I’m drinking water, but elsewhere it’ll be tea. In Latin America, espresso. I may have dinner with a different group of people every night. Sometimes I will eat alone. Sometimes I will have to try the homemade wine, and I will likely overindulge. I’ll learn Zulu from little kids and take a timelapse of the Milky Way. I’ll be a staff photographer for Costa Rica Tourism and Mark will find those hidden gems he is so good at finding. This is what I must have. It’s an intense, non-traditional, unpredictable lifestyle. It’s not for everyone. It’s not meant to be understood. But there’s only one person that needs to, and I’m pretty sure he does