September Notes from Istanbul

Before leaving for our flight to Istanbul, I read the weather forecast, predicting moderate to heavy rains from Monday afternoon until Thursday afternoon. This coincided exactly with our time spent there. But we had a great time there anyway, thanks to our wonderful hostess.

On the way from the airport to our place in the historic district of Fatih, we passed parts of the old city wall. Taking a taxi in Istanbul requires a bit of stamina though. So does crossing the street.

Old city wall Istanbul

This was the first view from our hostess’ balcony after our arrival. As hazy as it was, it was beautiful.

Istanbul rooftops

Daily life and laundry day.

Laundry day

Fatih Camii Faith Mosque was only a five-minute walk from our residence.

Mosque nearby

Fatih Camii Faith Mosque

The park in front of the mosque looked very inviting on this hazy day, but we were ready to explore some more. That first afternoon and evening, we did everything on foot.

Mosque Park

We also bought an Istanbulkart, which I can highly recommend. This Istanbulkart RFID transit pass is for the Metro, bus, tram, ferry & funicular travel in Istanbul. We spent 50 TL (about euro 17) on this card and used it for two days. Very easy to buy from the machine, and each time you scan your transportation charge, it also shows you the remainder of your balance. We mostly used the Metro and the tram. We even took the ferry over to Kadiköy on the Asian side, and by the time we left the city, we still had more than half of the TL left on the card.

Taxi Fare between Frankfurt Airport and Oberursel

A regular taxi might cost you between euro 50 and 70 to get you from the Frankfurt Airport to Oberursel.

Since our regular airport transfer service Kilic * has changed his line of business (he now has a fish restaurant/shop in downtown Oberursel), I had to look for a another one.

Welcome to Oberursel!

Welcome to Oberursel!

We are using My Car 24 Airport service & Flughafentransfer now. We’ve made four or five online reservations so far this summer, and it worked out really well each way – Oberursel to the airport, and vice versa.

Leaving your cell phone on the online application is not only mandatory, but essential when it comes to finding your driver outside the busy airport.

After reserving online, you get one mail with the data you entered. Within 24 hours, you get another mail confirming your online registration. They advise you to print it out – good to have if things went wrong – but I only take a screen shot. Making an online reservation is euro 33, a call-in reservation is euro 35.

* This was my previous post about the Flughafenkurier Kilic, who is no longer in business. Please ignore this recommendation. Updated: 25 September 2015

Unlike other blogger friends, I do not get any free services or products in return for recommending anything on this blog. I just want to share my experience with you. If this makes your life a bit easier, then that is my reward.

London in Seven Hours

Yes, I saw quite a bit of London in seven hours. We had gone to London for my daughter to attend a concert and meet someone special, and not knowing what time the celebrity’s Meet & Greet would take place, we decided to take a taxi from Heathrow Airport to the Hammersmith Apollo.

I had read somewhere a black cab would take us from the airport to the Apollo for  £ 30. We ended up with a white cab, which cost us  £ 50. It was worth it, as getting there quickly was crucial, especially sitting next to a nervous teenager.

When we arrived at the Hammersmith Apollo at 4 p.m., the lines were already long.

Apollo queue

With nothing better to do, I looked up and took some photos.

London buildingThen I looked down.

London shoes

We got her ticket from two box-office employees, who were working their way down the line. As a matter of fact, we got two Meet & Greet tickets! I was neither in the mood for the concert, nor interested in meeting a 21-year-old pop singer. We ended up giving the ticket to a very lucky girl.

I can’t recall ever seeing anybody cry so much for happiness. What a beautiful reward, I thought.

My brother and I were free then to explore London. All this excitement got us old folks mighty hungry, whereas my daughter went without a bite to eat until 10:45 p.m.

We quickly checked into our Hotel Adria on 44-46 Glenthorne Road, and headed towards King Street (a two-minute walk). Kings Street has a big selection of ethnic restaurants to choose from. We had a good meal and excellent service at the Indian restaurant Shilpa (more in a separate post).

Dinner at Shilpa Restaurant

Dinner at Shilpa Restaurant

After dinner, we almost contemplated skipping the pub experience. We felt relaxed and had a full stomach at 9 p.m., but had to wait till 10:30 p.m. to pick up my daughter after the concert.

We thought of something really smart – why not stop at the pub Hop Poles, have a tiny drink and sip on it leisurely. Yeah, right.

Within two minutes, I met three British guys. 70 minutes later, we had downed three pints, two Jägermeister, I had taught my new friends how to say “Hau weg die Scheisse!” (instead of Prost) and I danced to Dancing Queen with a stranger. So glad my daughter was somewhere else having a good time.

I did thank the manager Angela (between hiccups), a woman my age from Poland, for the wonderful selection of 70s music they play there.

We only had to walk a few minutes to the Apollo and picked up my very excited daughter, who then had short bread for dinner in bed.

Apollo

Just before midnight, my brother and I stood outside the hotel in our pajamas to take in the London air. Just so glad no police officers came by.

London was very bright the next morning. We had to rise at 6:15, be at Hammersmith Station at 7:00 to catch the Piccadilly line to the airport.

London on a Sunday morning

London on a Sunday morning

Yes, one can do London in seven hours, and see/eat/drink/laugh much. It was worth it!

*Hop Poles Pub: http://www.hoppoleshammersmith.co.uk/FindUs.aspx

5 Best Ways to Keep Taxi Drivers Honest

It’s that time a year again when some of us not so seasoned travelers have to hit the road again. From past experiences and based on current inquiries about local taxi fares, I decided to come up with a list of pointers to look out for.

1. It is best to hire a taxi through your hotel or local friends. We hired a taxi through the hotel while we were in London last month. The fare was 10 pounds more than a street taxi, but at least the price was fixed. This proved useful as we encountered an accident on the main road and our driver had to take quite a detour. Nobody enjoys the feeling of doubt whether you have just gotten ripped off or not.

From Leadenhall Market in London (the banking district) to Heathrow Airport, most quoted a fare of 60 pounds. Our taxi was 70 pounds and it was worth it!

2. If your cab hire is not done through the hotel, get the driver to commit to a price. If you are in the U.S.A., e.g., don’t forget to ask whether this includes taxes, service charges, etc. Some taxi drivers do not mention the total charge and surprise you at the end of the ride.

If you are with fellow passengers, repeat the agreed upon total price, and name them as witnesses. A cunning driver might insist after the ride that you had misunderstood the quoted price.

3. Take a photo of the taxi before you get in or note down the license plate. This knowledge might also prove useful in deterring him from overcharging.

4. If your arrival by taxi is at night, remind the driver to turn the interior light on all the way. Here comes the important part – ask your fellow passengers to watch you pay the money as they are your witnesses. Then count out the notes in a strong voice, ask for confirmation of how much you have handed over, before he puts it away.

I have learned this from my New York cab driver who insisted I had not given him the full amount (which I had), but my tired fellow passengers in the back seat were no suitable witnesses either. We were just not prepared for this kind of deception.

5. Somewhere along the ride from e.g. the airport to the hotel, ask for the local police number in a casual way. Then store it in your mobile phone. Make sure the taxi driver takes notice of this.

I know it is difficult after a long flight (sometimes even a short one), when you have to deal with locking up your home, getting to the airport, checking in, waiting for your delayed flight, picking up your luggage, dealing with immigration, and finding your way to your destination.
But you have to stay alert up to the last minute until your feet hit the sack or your elbows hit the hotel bar.

New York City

I will be making use of my own list in Nottingham quite a few times next week. But besides keeping taxi drivers honest, I also intend to visit the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (England’s oldest inn), say “Hey up me duck” to the locals, and I also hope to catch a glance of our son while his farewell partying ends for the semester break.

Notes from Luxor, Assiyut, and the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt

Nobuko has been sharing her experience about travels to Cairo, Luxor, and now Assiyut and the Dakhla Oasis. See what she has to say.

Part 1: Getting from Cairo to Luxor

Getting from Cairo to Luxor was a breeze – but at $60 per bed, it is not cheap. The tourist sleeper train, which leaves from Giza station, was very comfortable with small 2-bed cabins that included clean sheets, a pillow and blanket, and a basin. Also included in the price were a pretty hearty dinner and breakfast which was served in your cabin. I shared the cabin with a Samoan woman who is a New Zealand citizen. She was also traveling alone for one year so we had much to talk about. The whole trip took 10 hours.

Part 2: Getting from Luxor to the Dakhla Oasis

Now, the transit from Luxor to the western Dakhla Oasis was an arduous one. It took me 16 hours to arrive there via Assiyut (more about that train route on TripAdvisor). I took a local train at 7:30am (cost less than 20 E pounds) which arrived in Assiyut at 1:30pm after enduring an incredibly dusty path. There was only one car for first class, but there aren’t any noticeable differences between first and second class.

I met a group of four female college students who kept me company by teaching me Arabic. I remember only one word from this lesson, which is magnun = crazy. After they got off, other women filled their seats. But these women made me feel uncomfortable by continious laughing at the sight of me. I think the laughter was not malicious, but I left to move to another seat.

Assiyut is a large city. But the bus station is only a five-minute walk to the left  from the train station. The direct bus to Dakhla did not leave til 6pm, so I decided to take the bus at 3pm to the Khagra Oasis which is located two hours before reaching Dakhla. My plan was to take another bus from Kharga to Dakhla. The ride to Kharga was hot but smooth, arriving at 6:30pm. But the onward bus from there did not leave til 8:30pm – which meant I would not arrive in Dakhla til 11:30!  By this time I was simply exhausted, so when I learned this I was going to look for an accommodation in Kharga.

I do not speak Arabic. There were many instances where I really wished that I had studied some words. But there is always someone who speaks some English and offers me much needed help. A group of college girls got me in a taxi with them, and I was taken to a micro bus headed to Dakhla. During the travel, they fed me and gave me drinks. When we reached Dakhla, one of them gave me a ride to an accommodation in her boyfriend’s car. So I was in bed before 10:30pm.

The travel route I had taken I would not recommend to anyone. But unfortunately, there aren’t many other options unless one has $130 to spend on a five-hour taxi ride from Luxor to Dakhla.

Dakhla itself does not have any sites. 30km away from it, there is Al Qasr, an abandoned medieval fort city made of mud and bricks which served as the capital for the area for a long time. It’s a surreal experience to walk through the maze of small streets in this ghost town. Some multi-storied houses are more than 1200 years old and still standing in good enough condition for us to walk in. The wood of Acacia trees was used for constructions and for city gates for its durability. To make it extra strong and preservable, it was soaked in salt water first. As a testament, none of the acacia trees were crumbling. Amazing!Acacia wood was also used for curving the prayer areas which decorate the doorway of the houses. These prayer boards record the dates when the house was built and the names of the artists who curved the boards.

The whole city was designed to remain cool in the hot desert climate by making narrow streets which created much shaded areas. The narrow and bending streets also served as a defense tactic to prevent invaders from marching into the city with  high velocity and momentum.

Aside from Al Qasr, the Dakhla Oasis was supposed to be famous for its hot springs. However, these are cemented structures with pumps that pour spring water into the pools. And due to the prolonged decline in tourism over the past few years, the pools had moss growing inside and some pumps were not operating. So my dream of getting into natural hot springs were miserably shattered.

The hotel staff were very nice people, but they did not speak English. This was a problem apart from getting breakfast and getting a wi-fi password. I could not get a map or contact information for the tourist office in town because they did not understand what I was asking for. I aimlessly wandered the streets looking for the tourist information office. Someone picked me up and drove me to the tourist police office. Probably they didn’t know what else to do with me. There finally I met the officer Mr. Mahmud, who spoke English. He gave me some tea and a snack, and called the tourist office on my behalf. With directions in my hand, I headed to the tourist office, but got lost within a few minutes.

Mr. Mahmud probably figured that I would get lost, so he came after me and drove me to my destination. There I met Mr. Omar Dahi who agreed to guide me to Al Qasr. But I admit, it was so much fun to ride in police cars! Now I understand why cops are one of the most popular attraction among the elementary school kids on  career day!

Dakhla Oasis, also spelt Dakhleh and translates to the inner oasis, is one of the seven oases of Egypt’s Western Desert. Dakhla Oasis lies in the New Valley Governorate, 350 km from the Nile and between the oases of Farafra and Kharga. (source: Wikipedia)