Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for July, 2010

« Newer Posts

Turkey bound: Friendly Planet Travel introduces its first tour to Turkey

At the beginning of every year, I give myself a Friendly Planet Travel to-do list. One of the items on my list this year was to add new destinations to our tour offerings. I can put a check mark next to that one today! For the first time Friendly Planet Travel is going to Turkey, with our new 14-day Best of Turkey tour.

Whirling dervishes

I’m excited to offer travelers a chance to visit Turkey, a country steeped in history and touched by many civilizations. It’s where the east and west truly blend together.

But you’ll find much more than just history in Turkey. The sun-splashed Mediterranean beaches, modern cities, covered bazaars, and whirling dervishes will leave even the most experienced traveler in awe, and with a new appreciation of world history.

For 14 days, you’re transported around the country beginning in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. You start at the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, for its tiles adorning the walls of the interior. Later, roam the Grand Bazaar built in 1461. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 1,200 stores.

From there you’ll stroll the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The museum holds Anatolian artifacts from excavations including Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.

Cappadocia rock formations

In the land of the fairy chimneys, get to know Cappadocia. It’s famous for its natural rock formations and underground cities. Afterwards, you’ll go south to the coastal cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea to Antalya. Upon arrival you can take a tour to Aspendos. It is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient Roman theater, famous for its perfect acoustics.

Depart the coast for Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and terraces of carbonate minerals left by flowing water. After a night in the town, you’ll leave for Kusadasi, a port town on the Aegean coast.

Here you’ll take a short drive to Ephesus to see the Temple of Artemis. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world. It’s also home to the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the last portion of your trip, you’ll make your way back to Istanbul stopping in Pergamon, a powerful kingdom during the Hellenistic period in the first century. Then Asklepion, a famed ancient medical center built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. Before you cross the Dardanelles for Istanbul, you can’t miss the ancient city of Troy, the focus of the Trojan Wars as described in the epic poem by Homer.

The best part is that you get all of this and more in the $1,599 price tag. Included in the price are roundtrip, nonstop flights from New York (JFK) via Turkish Airlines, including fuel surcharges; arrival and departure transfers with meeting, assistance, and porterage; intra-Turkey transportation; accommodations in superior hotels; 22 meals; comprehensive touring program including entrance fees; and a professional, English-speaking tour guide.

Right now we only have five departure dates available. So if you want to visit Turkey, book the 14-day Best of Turkey tour for $1,599 before Sept. 22, or as long as space lasts. If you have any questions, visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Fourth edition of a first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I ended my last post in this series, recounting the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise, my friends and I had just found our way out of the Mykonos maze.

A. Mykonos. B. Kusadasi.

We spent our first night aboard the Aquamarine and woke up to views of colorful Kusadasi, Turkey. The geographically challenged (myself included) might be wondering how we ended up in Turkey on a cruise in the Greek Isles.

If you pull out a map, like I had to, you’ll see that Turkey also borders the Aegean Sea, and isn’t far from Mykonos or Patmos, another island we’d soon visit.

First order of business in Kusadasi, according to our tour guide, Izzy: Learn how to pronounce the name of this town. It’s koo-SHAH-dah-suh, not KOOS-uh-DASS-see. The incorrect pronunciation translates to Bird Island. Saying that to a local would be pretty embarrassing.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Kusadasi was the first place where I opted in for a shore excursion — a visit to Ephesus. This is the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world (after Pompeii, the city that was buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.). Ephesus is located near Selcuk, Turkey, a 30-minute drive from Kusadasi.

Ephesus was first an ancient Greek City, and then a major Roman city. In fact, in the first century B.C. it was the second largest city in the world with a population of 250,000.

Izzy, was in a BIG hurry to get us to the site of Ephesus that morning. Why? Because when you’re the first to enter the city, you have some incredible, unobstructed views (and photo opps) of the ruins and the valley. It’s pretty rare to get a shot like the one below that isn’t packed with tourists. Be jealous. :)

Tourist free Ephesus

We saw some incredible things at the archeological site. It’s actually the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Izzy’s descriptions of what the site once looked like brought the city to life.

We saw marks that carts made in the stone pathways more than a thousand years ago, beautiful Roman-style columns, intricate lettering carved in stone, and most notably, the Library of Celsus. It was once home to over 12,000 scrolls.

The library’s facade has been completely reconstructed from its original pieces, and the result is breathtaking.

Library of Celsus

We also saw the Grand Theater in Ephesus, which seats about 44,000 and is believed to have been the largest theater in the ancient world. It was used as recently as 2001, when Elton John played a concert there.

After our tour, we headed back to Kusadasi to get a taste of Turkish life. The first stop was a Turkish rug store. The owner was VERY intrigued that there was a New Yorker in our crew. He asked her about a million questions about “the best city in the world,” and had pretty much invited himself to come stay on her couch by the time we left.

We watched a woman do the back-breaking work of weaving a rug on a loom, which can take years for the most intricate designs. And we learned about the different styles of rugs while we sipped Raki (the Turkish version of Ouzo).

Hand-woven Turkish rug

After leaving the shop, we headed into the marketplace in Kusadasi. Now this was an experience I’ll never forget. Heather had warned us that the shop keepers were a little aggressive. That was the understatement of the century. These guys would probably drag you into their store if you let them.

In the Kusadasi marketplace, you’re expected to barter for the best price on handmade Turkish goods, such as beautiful (and real) pashminas, handmade jewelry, pottery, and much more. Bartering is something that most people don’t have much experience with, so here are a few tips:

  • Ask how much they want for something. Offer about 2/3 of that, or less if you really think that’s all you want to pay for it, and go from there.
  • If they won’t budge on a price, walk out. If they really want to make the sale, they’ll chase you down the street to give you the discount you asked for.
  • Be respectful of the fact that they do need to make a living, don’t offer them pennies for their goods.

I spent 30 minutes haggling with one jewelry maker over a silver bracelet. I walked out when he wouldn’t budge. He even got his dad on the phone before he’d agree to a lower price. But I did get it for about $50 less than he asked for at first. :)

If you can believe it, our tour of Ephesus, lesson in rug weaving, Raki drinking, and Turkish bartering all happened in one morning. We headed back to the Aquamarine for lunch, as the ship set a course toward Patmos. More on that in my next post.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

My most embarrassing makeup moment: Don’t let it happen to you

I happened to find myself in a funny predicament during one of my trips. When I told my staff the story, they laughed and encouraged me to share it with you. It’s especially applicable to the female readers, and you’ll soon see why.

Not too long ago, my husband, Ilan, and I traveled to Greece on business. I didn’t know it at the time, but rushing to leave my hotel in the morning, I forgot my makeup bag in my room.

I was heading out to a hectic day and I already felt like all the odds were stacked against me. I had caught a terrible cold and was feeling sick, exhausted, and to top it off, the weather was terrible.

Ilan and I were evaluating cruise ships to decide which ones to use in Friendly Planet tours, and we were meeting with our suppliers to talk about contracts and other items. I always try to look my best, especially at important meetings, who wouldn’t? But between arriving in Athens and inspecting the ships, I started to look like quite the mess.

I wore jeans and sneakers, because I was walking around a ship that was being renovated. The wind and rain were whipping, which was anything but friendly to my naturally curly hair. Plus, my nose had turned a bright red from rubbing it with endless tissues, and my makeup, applied much earlier that day, was quickly eroding. I should have seen the signs then that things weren’t going to go my way that night.

Unfortunately, the cruise ship inspections lasted far longer than I anticipated. There was no way I could get back to the hotel to freshen up before the meeting with our suppliers. There was nothing I could do about my wardrobe, but I thought I could try to salvage the hair and makeup before our hosts arrived.

So I went into the ladies’ room at the restaurant where we were meeting, and began frantically digging through my purse for my makeup bag in order to fix up my makeup and hair. I quickly realized with horror that I had left it at the hotel, along with my hair brush, spray, and anything else I might have needed to make myself look decent.

I wanted to cry. How was I going to conduct a meeting looking like a monster with a red nose, black mascara under my eyes, and hair practically standing on end? Realizing there was nothing I could do to help myself, I went on with the meeting. At least I had a glass of dry Greek chardonnay to smooth out my despair.

You might think the story is over, but you haven’t heard the funny part yet. The next time I met with the suppliers, I was dressed properly, my makeup was done, and my hair was coiffed and in place. Remembering me from our previous meeting, they didn’t recognize me!

There was a moment of embarrassed silence when I shook their hands and they stood before me, clueless as to who I was. We all laughed when they remembered the story. But by their astounded faces, reflecting the evidently dramatic before and after images of me they now compared, I understood that I must never, ever leave my makeup anywhere. ;-)

So from that day on I started to practice a few tips to make sure my makeup bag is always with me and convenient enough to tuck into the smallest purse.

Here’s how to pack your makeup:

  • Buy your makeup in travel sizes. Or, when you buy the full-sized products, ask for travel-size samples.
  • Pack your cosmetics in one bag and keep it with you in your purse.
  • Keep creams, lotions, and other items you won’t need for make-up repairs in a separate bag, in your carry-on case.
  • Carry Q-tips for smudging eyeliner and quick clean up jobs under eyes.

Here’s what to pack in your cosmetics bag:

  • Mineral powder and brush (better than foundation and easier to carry and apply or reapply)
  • Small blusher and brush
  • Lip gloss wand in a subtle color
  • Small eye pencil
  • An eye brush that will separate lashes, brush brows, etc.
  • A sample-size mascara

Do you have a funny story to tell? Please share it with us in a comment on this post.

Passport and visa pages fees to increase: What you should know

The U.S. Department of State is raising passport fees on July 13. Here’s a breakdown of the increases.

  • Adult: $100 to $135
  • Adult renewal: $75 to $110
  • Minor: $85 to $105
  • Additional visa pages: $0 to $82 

We covered how the Department of State was contemplating these increases back in March. The public was given a period of time to submit comments, during which the American Society of Travel Agents and other organizations expressed concerns over the proposed increases.

As you can see above, the biggest jump comes in the additional visa pages category. Visa pages are the pages in your passport that are stamped every time you enter and exit a country.

In some cases, you need to get a visa prior to visiting a country, and this is where it is pasted. Other times, the visa is stamped into your passport upon arrival at your destination. In any case, you need blank visa pages in order to enter another country.

If you don’t travel that often, you’ll probably never have to order more. But if you travel out of the U.S. once a year or more, you might need more blank visa pages before your passport expires.

If you have fewer than four pages left in your passport, make sure you order more before July 13 to avoid having to pay the new fee, otherwise you’ll soon have to pay $82 for the pages that cost nothing today. Until July 13, you’ll only have to pay for shipping, unless you want your visa page additions expedited.

It’s very simple to request extra pages. Just fill out Form DS-4085 and mail your passport along with the form to the address listed on it. When you package your personal documents, use a Tyvek envelope or a plastic bag to make sure they stay dry. You’ll want to use a traceable delivery method such as FedEx. You don’t want to risk losing your passport in the mail!

Once it’s sent, your passport will be returned with more visa pages in four to six weeks. If you don’t have a passport as of yet, flip back to a previous post where I show you how to apply for a U.S. passport. You only have one week left before fees go up, so get moving!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Should you carry cash, credit, or a traveler’s check when traveling?

A lot of us are accustomed to paying for most things with our credit or debit cards. It’s easy and convenient. But when you’re traveling, using a credit card might not always be the best option. So before you leave the U.S., be sure to determine whether you should be carrying cash, credit, or a traveler’s check.

A good starting point is this CreditCards.com article. It gives you best practices to find out which countries you should carry cash in, the safest way to do it, and more. Susan Ladika also featured some of my advice on this topic in her piece, so click over and read it.

But there’s more advice where that came from and I’m posting it here.

In today’s world, it’s hardly ever worth it to carry traveler’s checks. You can find ATM machines in many destinations, even those considered off the beaten track where you can get cash, in local currency, using your own credit or debit card.

Typically, the exchange rates charged by your credit card company or bank will be better than those charged by local banks, and the convenience goes without saying. You get money as you need it, without having to carry around lots of bills, and without having to pay commissions and fees to cash the traveler’s checks.

If you simply can’t imagine taking a trip abroad without traveler’s checks, by all means get the ones that are free. If you belong to AAA, or your bank offers free traveler’s checks to their depositors, get them.

But make sure you get them in small denominations because you pay fees based on the amount you’re changing. If you’re like me, you’ll bring them home with you again to redeposit into your own checking account. That is, of course, if you have anything left!

When I travel abroad, I usually bring about $300 in cash so I can quickly convert some dollars to local currency upon arrival. That gives me time to find out where the ATM machines are located, without having to stress about not having money in local currency.

I also carry enough $1 bills to take care of incidental tipping, too. Having $20 to $30 in single dollars buys me time to figure out what a good tip should be in local currency (and I can assure you that tips paid in dollars won’t be refused).

I use the hotel in-room safe to store extra cash, so I don’t need to walk around carrying a bundle of bills in my purse. I also take two different credit cards with ATM capabilities, but I only carry one at a time. I leave the second card tucked away in the room safe. If I ever lose my purse or if it gets stolen, I have another card on hand.

And remember, before you even depart the U.S., it’s a good idea to call your card companies and bank to let them know when and where you’re going. The last thing you want is to have your bank account frozen while you’re abroad.

In today’s security-conscious world, where identity and card theft is rampant, cards are often declined because the charge doesn’t fit a normal profile. If your credit card profile is annotated with your travel details, you’ll never face this embarrassing inconvenience.

Write to me or leave a comment on this post if you have any other questions about what form of money to bring abroad.

« Newer Posts

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

Tour & Cruise Packages Our specialty for 30 years! Find one now:
choose a region Europe Mediterranean Asia Middle East Africa Central America Caribbean South America South Pacific