Friday, October 30, 2015

Hong Kong observations

Hong Kong observations. (Written on iPhone while there).

Vibrant, colorful, electric, fast paced, densely populated, city.
Both traditional and modern elements.
People drive and walk on the left side.
Smoking is more common than I'm accustomed to.
There is a 7-Eleven or Circle K on every corner.
Lots of French tourists.
A Lot of stair climbing. Lots up uphill walking. I walked more than 20 steps and climbed more than 20 flights daily.
In subway cars, 90% of riders are staring at cell phones, the other 10% are talking on them. (just like everywhere else).
Lots of cosmetics and herbs stores.
Lots of queuing up esp. for public buses.
Beware: water drips on you from air conditioning units from above.
Dying hair blonde is popular here too.
The young people are hip and happy and like to hang out in malls. Sound familiar?
Tapwater in the hotel is considered non-drinkable. They provide two free bottles of water daily. I was extremely good about this for the first 2 1/2 days. The last morning, As I contemplated checking out of my hotel, and taking a taxi to the cruise port, I got distracted, and accidentally used the tap water to brush my teeth. We will see what happens…… alert: I just realize I have been doing my sinus rinse every day. I've been using tap water for that. So I have been injecting not drinkable water into my system anyway.
They charge 50 cents per bag (many places) to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.
There are more banks per square foot than anywhere I have been!! Also, there are foreign currency exchanges galore!
I have seen no dogs.

Hong Kong – Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is Hong Kong island's tallest hill that provides spectacular views of the city and surrounding areas. The tran station was opened in 1888. At that time, travel to the top took three hours and now it takes only eight minutes. The tram is the steepest funicular railway in the world. I spent an hour walking around the peak soaking in all of the wonderful energy and breathtaking views.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hong Kong-first visit

Hong Kong first night --After more than 25 hours of travel, and experiencing a 12 hour time difference, I decided to take the metro from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon to visit some of the night markets. As I had suspected, Hong Kong is a vibrant, colorful, multicultural city. I am loving all the sites, sounds, and smells; Hong Kong is a feast for all the senses. Metro tickets cost HK$10 which is the equivalent of $1.25 US.
Note to self: walk on the left side of the street.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Overseas Travel—Last minute packers need not apply

Overseas Travel—Last minute packers need not apply
(see video below)
If you are planning to travel overseas, and if you are one of those last-minute packers who likes to pack the night before you leave, there are certain things you need to plan two weeks or at least one week before you leave.
Here are some of my suggestions of travel checklist activities you can't leave for the last minute. 

·         Ensure you have what you need before you begin to pack.

Write a pack list. Make sure you have everything on the list before you begin packing. Major categories include passport/all travel documentation, outerwear, clothing, shoes, underwear, toiletries, cosmetics, medications, workout clothing, swimwear, pajamas, travel guides, spare glasses, extra luggage tags, cash, Key electronics and chargers, extra credit cards, antibiotics, umbrella, reading materials, at least one washcloth for each overseas hotel, and more.

·         Carry-on what you cannot do without.
Think carefully about your carry-on luggage. I always like to bring everything I absolutely cannot do without, just in case my luggage never arrives. This includes such items as medications, spare glasses, chargers for electronics, and some extra underwear and socks.

·         Address medical issues and bring key prescription meds.

Think about any medical issues, any prescription medications you may need, and contact your doctor. I highly recommend that everyone bring an antibiotic prescription with them. You never know when you will need it.  Also, find out if there are recommended vaccines for your destination countries. Arrange to take the vaccines.  If you get carsick or seasick easily, bring seasickness medications.

·         Notify banks and credit card companies of your destination countries.

Contact your credit card and ATM companies/banks and notify them of all of your travel destinations. You want to ensure that you will be able to use them everywhere and avoid being flagged because of “suspicious behavior”.   Explore if your bank shares alliances with overseas banks that will waive the ATM transaction fee. Also find out what fees they charge for international transactions. Often the transaction fee is 3% of the total.

Make sure you have enough cash in your checking account. In case of emergencies, you may need to withdraw large sums.

·         Bring extra US cash.

Get notes in small denominations so that you won't lose money if you need to change smaller sums into the local currency. In some cases, (where appropriate) small denominations of US bills can come in handy for tips.

·         Have passwords handy.
Make sure you know all of the passwords to your key accounts especially financial and healthcare related.

 ·         Give travel itinerary copies to loved ones.

Make sure your closest loved ones have copies of your travel itinerary including all hotel information.

·         Procure $150 in local currency.

Never arrive somewhere overseas without some of the local currency. Make sure that when you arrive, you have at least enough money for taxi fare, some food, and other miscellaneous needs. You don't know when or where you will have your first access to an ATM machine. Large banks will allow you to order foreign-currency in advance, online. They will ship it directly to your home or to your nearest banking center. I recommend that you order at least $150 worth of currency for your first country.

·         Check the weather in advance.

Be prepared.  As you are packing you will need to know if you need light weight jacket or heavier jacket, a raincoat, hats, gloves, and any other items for certain weather conditions.

·         Bring international adapters and or transformers for all of your electronic devices.

There are some handy all-in-one adapters that include components for all the major parts of the globe. I know that I at least need to charge my cell phone, laptop, e-reader, camera batteries, and portable extra cell phone battery. Also bring extra extension cords and chargers.

·         Bring copies of your passport and bring two extra passport photos.

In case you lose your passport overseas, having passport photos will facilitate and accelerate the process of acquiring another passport.

·         Make sure that all of your devices work properly.

Twice, I discovered before an overseas trip that my camera was no longer working. I had to run out to my local electronics store at the last minute to buy another camera. For cameras, make sure you have extra SD cards so that you won't have a limit on the the number of photos and videos you can take.

·         Pay your upcoming bills.

 Also, you might even want to pay some bills in advance of next month. Use your discretion. Of course it depends on how long you will be away.

·         Research and add international Telecom plan (phone, data, text, etc.).

 Check with your telephone carrier to see what international plans are available that include phone, data, texting, and other services. Also, find out which countries are included in your plan. On one of my trips where I visited Baltic capitals, I discovered that Russia was not included in my data plan and I had been using data while there. I was required to negotiate a payment before they would reinstate my services (including free Wi-Fi access).

Plan to keep track of your data usage. Remember to reset your data counter on your smart phone before you leave town. I usually do this after boarding my last flight out of the United States.

·         Notify your postal carrier that you will be away and of your travel dates.

Finally, write a to-do list for your return. Sometimes returning home after a long overseas trip can be overwhelming. If you have a list of important next steps, it will make your transition back home much easier to manage.

 Here am I talking these points: (PS I have a small cold.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

I spent time in several interesting cities in Bulgaria from the ports of Burgas and Varna.

Country Background

The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, formed the first Bulgarian state in the late 7th century. In 1389, Bulgaria was overrun by the Ottoman Turks and nearly 500 years later regained independence with Russia's help.
Bulgaria fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when the country held its first multi-party election since World War II and began moving toward democracy. In 2001, Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg, the former king of Bulgaria who was forced from his throne after World War II, returned to power as prime minister.

Bulgaria has a lively mix of ethnic groups — Bulgars, Slavs, Thracians, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, and Turks. Some villages have a church, some have a mosque, and some have both. The former Soviet satellite is a peaceful nation — a rarity in the Balkans.

Bulgaria relies on the Black Sea for fishing, commerce, and tourism at major beach resorts. Varna is the country's largest seaport and second-largest city. Bourgas and Sozopol are the primary fishing ports

My October 2014 Visits

Burgas Port to Nessebar Pomorie Sozol, Ravadinovo

Today, I took a full day shore excursion from the port of Burgas, Bulgaria. Our visits included, 1. The more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebar, Bulgaria, a UNESCO world heritage site, 2. The well-preserved old town of Sozopol, Bulgaria; 3. Traditional Bulgarian lunch at a seaside resort of Selena along Sozopol’s coast, 4. And 5. 2 sites in Pomorie:  a visit to the Thracian tomb and to the monastery St. George the Victorious and 6. A fun visit to a quirky mid evil castle Ravadinovo, near Burgas.
Nessebar, Bulgaria
Its cobbled streets, well-kept medieval churches, and iconic two-story timbered houses from the 19th century display evidence of the numerous cultural layers - from the second millennium BC, from Ancient Times, including the Thracians, and the Medieval period, until the present time.  Importantly, there remain structures and monuments from each era. 
One of the oldest towns in Europe , Nessebar, situated on a rocky peninsula and connected to the mainland by an isthmus, is a rich city museum who's architectural heritage is defined by more than three millennia of history including occupations by various groups including The Greeks, The Romans, the Byzantines, The Turks, the Ottomans, and of course the Bulgarians.  It had even been conquered by some of the Crusaders.
We began our visit by entering the imposing ancient city walls.
Our tour guide provided comprehensive descriptions of some of the following:
Monuments from the Middle Ages include the 5–6th century Stara Mitropoliya ("old bishopric"; also St Sophia), a basilica without a transept; the 6th century church of the Virgin; and the 11th century Nova Mitropoliya ("new bishopric"; also St Stephen) which continued to be embellished until the 18th century. In the 13th and 14th century a remarkable series of churches were built: St Theodore, St Paraskeva, St Michael St Gabriel, and St John Aliturgetos

Wooden houses built in the 19th century are typical of the Black Sea architecture of the period
Because we visited in October, we enjoyed the luxury of a visit with very few tourists.  The residents were serious yet friendly people playing the role of background actors.

Sozopol, Bulgaria

Ancient Sozopol, with its charming old town of meandering cobbled streets and pretty wooden houses, huddled together on a narrow peninsula, is a jewel along the coast.  Less crowded than Nessebar, it provides a welcoming canvas for a growing number of tourists for both its history and its coastal beauty.

Time in Sozopol has different dimensions - fishermen are still seen catching what the sea has to offer on wooden boats; older women sit in front of the picturesque houses, chatting, knitting, selling freshly picked figs, homemade jams and jellies, while almost everyone who decides to dig in the ground or to build something stumbles upon remnants from the past – clay vessels, ancient coins, wooden objects, little statues and much, much more.

Sozopol’s Old Town was declared a museum-reserve by Ministerial Decree № 320 on September 7, 1974. The reserve includes more than 180 residences, constructed from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Houses in the Old Town are built of stone and wood and conform to the so-called Black Sea school of architecture.



The tomb is known as the hollow hill and presents a corridor, burial chamber and ancillary facilities. Built according to the Roman building techniques, it is assumed that it belonged to a wealthy family and was used as a mausoleum and later on as a temple for providing Thracian religious rituals.

Karla and Nina, tour guide
The Monastery St. George the Victorious in Pomorie

The Monastery of St. George is the only functioning monastery in Southeast Bulgaria with a unique assortment of structures including an impressive 20-meter high belfry tower, holy spring, and a collection of paintings and frescos from the 18th and 19th century.

We even toured the mill where they produce their own distilled spirits.  Throughout our visit, we spotted monks and even a couple of woman engaged in their daily routines.

The present-day church was built in 1856 over the foundations of the preceding one



The Castle of Ravadinovo, near Sozopol

Here is the websites description which I cannot improve upon:

The Castle of Ravadinovo combines various building and decorating styles and materials and it is definitely interesting to see what some ancient castles must have looked like when they were new. If you are driving from Burgas down south the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, there is no chance of missing the impressive construction of picturesque steeples and towers with some of the roof trusses still bare- a sight to behold. Many visitors perceive The Castle of Ravadinovo as an utterly mystical and romantic place, for others, it is the closest to a Disneyland or fairy tale adventure which they can experience in this part of the Balkans. The best way to describe the Castle of Ravadinovo is probably in a statement made by one of its visitors - 'this is the most unusual building in the most unusual location'. Indeed, the castle bizarrely stands in the middle of a farm field, just a stone-throw from the highway. Its architectural design is unusual, a bit extravagant and exotic for this country.



I found the country to be a very beautiful, the people were hauntingly sweet navigating their conflict with the past present and future.  The generation gap is huge as the younger generation is comfortable with and excited about having life choices---which is unchartered territory for their parents and grandparents from this former Soviet satellite.


Our ship was also supposed to dock in Varna, a little farther north in Bulgaria but very choppy seas prevented us from doing so.


I would definitely return and visit the capital of Sofia in the west.