Transcendent Turkey, Istanbul

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For all those victims of dreaded long haul flights especially for my fellow travelers who cannot sleep on planes, the blessed respite called “Free Stopover” in any airline booking brings welcomed relief. We found Turkish Airlines to be one of the best layover locations being situated not just conveniently between Asia and Europe but also fascinating in it’s own right (As compared to other stopovers that are simply all endless malls).

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The beautiful arches of the Ottoman Imperial Mosque known as the Hagia Sophia. It truly felt solemn and awe inspiring to be in the midst of all this history. You have to respect the amazing detail set against the grandeur of the Byzantine Empire marking the glorious age and wealth of this empire (Thank you to my husband for supplying the context).

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Turkish delights seem to be most of what people remember of Turkey do not forget the Baklava which in my opinion is even better as it is soft, chewy and moist with a flaky crust. I would say they are just the appetizer to this amazing journey through history.

The Grand Bazaar is truly a wonderful place to experience the Turkish salesman’s amazing deal making and haggling culture as the premier trader in the world.

The brightly colored displays compete for your eyes which bewilder and confuse even the most seasoned of shoppers like my aunts. You could spend days in there and still not see half of what it has to offer.

Travel tip: Antiques and decor are probably the most uniquely Turkish items for sale. Make sure to have a budget in mind as they will quickly haggle you up on the price before you know it.

If you are just on a short layover, then a private boat ride along the Bosphorus is an absolute must. This amazing crossroad between Asia and Europe is marked by an amazing collection of forts like the Rumeli Fortress which has lovely violet trees peaking above the stone walls that made for such a unique picture. There is the island with the “Maiden’s tower” which has its own legend . Of course the iconic Mosques dot the landscape providing for an amazing skyline.

I highly recommend stopping by the restaurants in Fish point located underneath the Golden Horn bridge across the Bosphorus for some great seafood (We had the salt encrusted fish and squid). It may be a bit of a tourist trap but nothing beats the amazing view of the boats cruising along the Bosphorus

We ended the trip with Dondurma ice cream who had a hilarious guy tossing taffy like ice cream back and forth located just off the famous square. You will find several of these ice cream stalls so be sure to try it!

Turkey is such a varied and interesting place that requires several trips to see it all. If there is one thing I reflected on is that the melding of Christian and Muslim cultures in Turkey is a testament to how similar both religions are and how we can live peacefully together to produce something even more magnificent.

We will definitely be back on another lay over next year. Until then we will savor our baklava and dream of the blue Bosphorus waters lapping next to the shores of Asia and Europe.

 

 

One Month In Europe With kids, Part 3: Lucerne and France

Loire Valley

The beautiful Chateau de Chambord is the back drop for our first stop on our Loire Valley trip. It took a long drive but it was all worth it once we entered the magnificent palatial grounds which for us is second only to Versailles.

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What does set this apart from the other Chateaus are the Ipads that they use for kids to follow a treasure hunt for secret coins hidden in artifacts scattered in rooms throughout the chateau.

Travel tip: May need to spend about 2 hours to do this whole hunt unless you are pretty fit and good at finding things. The girls were really engaged though!

 

Chateau de Chenonceau

We decided to focus on the outside this time as we were short on time and wanted to take nice photos of the girls in their lovely dresses.

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Nothing is quite as intriguing as the maze in front of Chateau de Chenonceau so make sure to stop by along the path before heading to the house. The chateau rests upon a lovely little river with its graceful arches that truly make this the Chateau of the Queen as they say.

Chapel Bridge – Lucerne

It was generally a cloudy day but we caught a glimpse of sun in between as we crossed over the always remarkable chapel bridge on our way to our traditional cheese fondue.

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Cheese and Dark Chocolate Fondue

A must do for kids is to try fondue. The cheese was a mix of local cheeses with potatoes and bread. The chocolate was a dark and rich medley that went well with the marshmallows and fruits.

Travel tip: Just share with your little ones and ask for extra bread and fruits as they like. The dips are enough for our family of five.

We just did the regular tourist spot but asked our concierge to book a table next to the water. Picture perfect setting as the sunset late into the evening!

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The ducks were more than happy to gobble up our left over bread as we took in the sights.

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Colmar, France

This quaint little historical town is absolutely adorable! The flowers along the banks and the meandering canal takes your breath away as you are transported to an age gone by.

You can take a canal boat as well but I didn’t want to risk it with our little one not yet ready to swim.

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The brightly coloured houses are a great backdrop for pictures so make sure to snap as many as possible.

The town is very walkable and they have several shops along the way so you will always find something to do.

Travel tip: If you are an early riser, grab baguettes and croissants at the local bakery instead of eating at the hotel which gets really tiring after a long road trip.

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So ends our wonderful road trip thank you for coming along with us and hope you can one day experience the wonderful countryside of France and Switzerland.

 

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It was truly an unforgettable trip for my girls for a month which they will never forget. The trip was not easy by any stretch but the pictures speak for themselves. Thank god for Auto Grills along the highway for the much needed stops between long drives (never more than 4 hours a day if we could help it).

Always remember it is the little moments along the way and the time spent with them throwing them on the bed and watching them jump and play with each other in between that are the most memorable and not just the beautiful monuments and places packed with tourists as you snap off your pictures and eat overpriced cafe food.

Enjoy the journey! In tribute to our Favourite TV host Anthony Bourdain I end with the quote from him “I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible”

 

One Month Europe trip with Kids Part 2: Highlights of Barcelona, London, and France Roadtrip

BARCELONA

Park Guell

One of the best places for kids is the legendary Park Guell by Gaudi. We went on midday in the scorching sun so you may want to go a little later to enjoy the stroll more but it was definitely worth taking the kids through the colourful walls. Please watch them closely though as there are so many people and you could lose track of them.

The whole place looks cartoonish with its bright colours and sloped roofs and leaning columns. Fortunately they are doing major renovations to once again being out the colour.

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Sagrada Familia

A definite must see and another Gaudi masterpiece being beautifully restored is Sagrada Familia. It may look like a melted wax candle but if you look closely you can see it is highly detailed. You can appreciate how much work was put into it. Hopefully with the restoration there will be bright colours to highlight the structure.

Travel tip: Take the Hop on Hop off bus so you can see more of Barcelona without having to trouble yourself with parking. Oh and watch your wallet! Some of the best pickpockets are in Barcelona.

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The main reason for our Barcelona trip was a lovely wedding celebration at Hospital de Sant Pau which was donated by a very rich businessman in the 1900’s and still serves as a hospital.

Its beautiful arches and moorish accents make for a perfect blend into the night sky. I am sure this would be a great place to recover from any ailments you may have.

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I just had to share some the tapas they served during the wedding… they were so cute! Newspaper rolls stuffed with beef tartar and patatas bravas. Yum! Michelin Star chef indeed!

A great place for breakfast is Brunch & Cake. It may be more for adult tastes though than children so perhaps just going in for dessert may be better for kids.

LONDON and ENGLAND

Nothing is more iconic than the red telephone booth! So glad to see my son again we miss him so much now that he is studying abroad.

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We visited a beautiful farm in the countryside that felt like being in Downtown Abbey! The fresh milk in the morning was amazing! Home made scones at tea time is a dream come true! I am ready for supper Mr. Carson! Sorry it’s a private estate so won’t be able to share any more details.

 

FRANCE COUNTRYSIDE

Road trip start: Gordes

How we got there: Flight from London to Marseille International Airport then pick up Europcar from rental lot across.

Where we stayed: Les Mas Des Romarins Good breakfast and Two large beds for a big family!

The main reason for coming was to see the beautiful lavender fields of Provence, specifically the Abbey Senanque

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Travel tip: Take the V Class Mercedes van to fit all the luggage! (My husband actually packed the car…I was just helping him haha)

Sadly it was not the right season for Lavender (August is a better time) but we still had an amazing view of this old medieval town.

Road trip stop 2: Annecy

Where we stayed: Le Loges de annecy which served an amazing breakfast of all the best of the local produce like baguettes, croissants, cheeses butters, juices and milk in generous portions! We took half of it with us for little picnics at the parks!

 

Travel tip: There are parking lots underneath the old town which brings you right among the walkways and canals.

This should be called the little Venice of France actually with its beautiful canals and brightly coloured buildings along the banks. They should probably have their own gondolas as well as it opens up to a large lake where you can also take a river cruise. Just watch out for lots of bugs in July! (They should treat the water perhaps)

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Well that’s all for now!  We will finish the road trip on the next final post!

Budapest to Bucharest: A review of a River Cruise on Amawaterways Amacerto

Reputed to be the best river cruise operator by Berlitz and numerous travel sites, we ventured on our first river cruise on the Amawaterways Amarcerto boat from Budapest down to Bucharest via the Eastern Danube. The founders Rudi Schreiner (The father of river cruises) had come over to Manila to officially launch Amawaterways several weeks earlier to an overflowing elderly crowd in the Conservatory in Peninsula Makati and had convinced us to try it out for my father-in-law’s birthday. The cruise we selected was the “Gems of Eastern Europe”.

It seemed interest was high and other past traveler’s experiences were well rated so let’s take a look into what the cruise is really all about..

THE LOBBY

Photos courtesy of Amawaterways

THE STATE ROOM

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The most important part of a cruise is actually the room itself. Each room came with an ample size balcony and was clean and very compact.

My cousin-in-law Caren Grey who just started a Philippine travel agency called mylocalite worked with Intas who is the official registered agent to plan our trip.

Travel Tip: The greatest part of cruises is NOT HAVING TO PACK AND UNPACK! Just put your clothes in the closets, use the rubber mat on the bed to keep things clean as you unpack your suitcase and place your luggage under the bed to save space. Voila! Stress free travel especially for the elderly or those with handicap.

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As mentioned in my earlier post, we started with a river cruise at night along Budapest and then proceeded down the Danube.

Travel Tip: The best part of this river cruise is the boat as it is a shallow hull therefore quite stable so if you get motion sickness this is the option for you! Lastly if you are like my husband and constantly do risk assessments he already as asked what happens should the boat sink… the answer was take a cocktail at the roof deck as the boat is actually taller than the riverbed.

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After the room, the second most important thing is the FOOD! It is all included as with most cruises but what sets this apart from the rest is that you can book the “fine dining” restaurant called “chef’s table” for one night and do not pay extra for it. There is a personal waiter for your table and your own chef. I must say we were very impressed with the food in general which did may not have lobster or Angus rib eye steaks but had very good local delicacies and fresh ingredients like tomatoes (Mostly agricultural business in this region).

Travel tip (Healthy Option): I asked the head waiter if they could make me oatmeal chocolate chip cookies as a healthier alternative. The first few tries were pretty dry but they got it eventually (with enough coaching)! I really appreciate the extra effort! A baker comes on board every morning to make the baked goods by the way so you may be able to ask for other items next time.

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Lastly, the final component is entertainment. There is not much entertainment on board as our onboard musician while nice did not seem to have any songs past the closing of the Iron Curtain. Luckily my family always likes to improvise so we had a name that tune game on the first night and found similarly spirited group in the tour who took up the songs with a very talented singer of their own (Sadly our family have no singers but my aunt’s could dance I tell you!)

My husband enjoyed the massive chess board on the deck and had a thrilling match with his brother. He also swam at the roof deck pool (Ok more like waded as it is quite small).

On the last few nights we hooked up our Iphones to play some songs to start the party off with the same group who actually out partied us on a nightly basis.

Travel Tip: There is a free cocktail hour before dinner with FREE drinks. My husband liked the Whiskey Sour although it was premixed. Wine is free flowing during dinner as well so make sure to make space. The local wines are quite good although not well known.

 

 

I will end this with our tour of Vukovar which pretty much encapsulates Eastern Europe which is a land frozen in time trying to rebuild itself once step at a time after a harrowing period. I recommend this tour to those who have done most of Western Europe has to offer and are looking for something off the beaten track and a little rougher (Yes cheaper as well) than the main tourist photos of Eiffel Tower and London Bridge. It is also a great way for them to provide jobs to the locals in a very tough economy. My husband calls it “Charity tourism” every time we are faced with a somber faced waiter telling us we can’t split the bill or order a meal with something slightly different on the menu (Me: Can you remove the olives from the salad and dressing on the side……. waiter: No not possible!)

Thank you Amawaterways for the great service from the warm waiters to the hard working housekeeping. The hotel manager Pascal was great at making things run smoothly and our cruise director Florentine was always there to send us off on our tours and keep us informed of the days events.

Mythical Mont St Michel

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Mont Saint-Michel (MSM)

Rising out of the sandy marshes a castle comes into view as we slowly cross a wide bridge in the early morning hours. Towering minarets topped with a statue of Archangel Michael at the summit seem to call the heavens declaring this island sacred ground (According to legend the Archangel Michael came down to Bishop Avranches to build a church here). We quickly realise why this is one of the top destinations in France and in our opinion the world.

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Travel Tip #1: Modern amenities have arrived in MSM given its 3 million tourists every year. A shuttle bus that crosses the land bridge allows access to MSM at anytime of day (In older times you would have to wait for low tide). I would suggest you stay at the more modern hotels on the mainland and just take the shuttles back and forth to MSM. The wind is quite strong so bring a sturdy tripod or a friend to take the shot. There are land tours from Paris but as you can see the night shots are truly breathtaking and worth spending a night in the area.

Itinerary: We took a train from Paris to Rheims and spent a night there. The next day we picked up our car and drove to MSM. There is a huge parking lot available where you can park then simply walk to the visitor Center and wait for the bus to be called. Easy with kids who we will bring next trip. We stayed overnight inside the walls but do not recommend it as places are small and old unless you like that feel.

Upon entering MSM, the winding narrow lane leads you into a time long ago with around 50 shops mostly souvenirs and trendy Creperies dotting the outside walls with dazzling views of the surrounding landscapes.

My husband was fascinated in the construction and how the castle was originally built on dry land but as water levels rose it eventually became an island

Travel tip #2 We were warned not to go to the marshes without a guide as the tide can rise very quickly. This got us very worried but we saw many people out there during the day and seemed to be something we should have tried.

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La Mere Poulard Cafe

The most iconic establishment in MSM and located right smack at the entrance is the La Mere Poulard Cafe where they have a small exhibit right in front of the restuarant. They create one of the most exquisite omelettes in the world. My husband had the truffle omelette which he found rich and luxurious. I had the potatoes with Jamon and Cheese.

Travel tip #3 if you have a small appetite you can easily share one as it is quite heavy despite its light airy texture. This is a definite must stop!

Mont Saint Michel is truly a magnificent place that can be visited again and again with something new each time and for any generation young and old. I am delighted to see the French tourist authority are preserving the historic walls and structures.