Posts tagged traveler
Posts tagged traveler
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most visited and popular pilgrimage/tourist sites of the Catholic world. Over the course of my four or so visits to the place, I still haven’t quite gone around the entirety of the basilica. With hoardes of tourists bustling about all day, not to mention the long lines filing into the basilica, sometimes you’re left with not that much time to really explore the inside.
Usually, if you join a group tour, a visit to St. Peter’s is a staple when Rome & Vatican City are on the itinerary. But because there is just sooo much to see and do and eat in Rome, there often isn’t much time devoted to a single place, St. Peter’s included. We actually had about 5 minutes inside the actual basilica (after a 2 hour or so wait in line) running around taking random photos like maniacs. These photos are when we went back after our tour (since we stayed in Rome for ten more days after) and gave ourselves ample time to really look at the artworks, walk (not run!) around and just absorb everything. Albeit, we still weren’t able to see everything, but at least we had more time than we normally did.
(Photo Above & Below) The famedPieta,depicting Mary cradling Jesus’ body after his death and crucifixion. The details, especially the lifelike flow and movement of the cloth, is just one of the awesome aspects of the works of masters of yore.
All around the basilica, little “chapels” line the halls. Marble columns, gold, and religious (and some might argue, masonic) iconography abound!
Cool emblem things like these are also to be found
This roof thing is the altar, and where the Pope is at when he holds mass here
Sewage type grates, also in gold
Statues of past Popes and their surrounding saints, angels, etc.
I love this metal wallpaper-like pattern. Kinda baroque ish.
Lots of light gorgeously filtering into the hallowed halls.
Everything here is just so ornate and rich. It’s actually ironic that the beautiful (and very very valuable & expensive) artifacts and architecture and properties of the Catholic Church that pilgrims and tourists all visit and revere today are the result of the manipulations, conquests, blackmail, bribery and other shady deeds of past popes, who used taxpayers’ and religious devotees’ money to amass incredible wealth and expand the Church’s reign. (Saw that on the discovery channel haha)
Makes you wonder how extreme the Church’s propaganda was in the olden times when Twitter and Facebook and the internet weren’t in existence yet. Ha.
Photos: Canon 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL
On our way from the Ottoman house to Konya, we took the scenic mountain route. Turkey’s landscape is truly fascinating, and this time was no different. Where a few minutes before we were surrounded by lush greenery and blue skies, and a few hours before that arid rocky landscapes—we ascended the mount only to be greeted with fog and yes—SNOW!
It was definitely not a scene we imagined we would encounter in the springtime/summertime, but it was a pleasant surprise indeed. For the Americans and Aussies aboard, it was no surprise, but for our South African tourmates, the snow is a rare sighting, and for us Fillies (can I call us Filipinos that? Fillies?), not a season we even have back in the tropics. Our tour director graciously allowed us a quick photo stop with this Christmas-tree-filled backdrop—so European, yet we were in Asia. Fascinating!
A few minutes down the mount from this point, it was back to snowless rocks and trees. Ah, the wondrous faces of Turkey.
Photos: Canon 450D + 10-22mm + Sony P200
One of the highlights of our Turkey trip was having lunch in an authentic Ottoman hundred-year-old house. The food was not particularly good—most of it was strange; stews and crops I’d never had before, all cooked in the traditional ways of the nomadic tribes. The house and village itself, though, was out of a movie set.
It was a day with clear blue skies, stark greens and high contrast textures. The house was made of timbers and simple, but charming all the same. The bare floors were lined end to end with Turkish carpets—typical in a Turkish home. Carpets are actually better off in a “high traffic” area of the house. The tread of feet actually help to tighten the knots and strengthen the weave. Nomadic tribes basically lived on carpets. They roll them up, move, lay them down, and so on. It really is a sort of metaphor for Turkish way of life.
There were so many of us, so the main dining area was quickly taken up. Since we entered last, we got our own little private suite (one of the bedrooms turned eating area)—a much better arrangement for us!
Outside, National-Geographic-worthy faces and scenery. We were in a valley of sorts, with views of snowcapped mountains and forests all around. It was a really pretty scene.
Definitely one for the books! Nothing like a real immersion into a totally foreign culture to make one underscore the hope for a future where we can all just get along. Apart from the meal shared, we probably had nothing in common with the people we met, but a little hospitality and openness of mind can really build bridges across the culto-religious divide.
Photos: Canon 450D + 10-22mm
Interesting and colorful sights as we cross the bosphorus and leave Istanbul (for now) for the region of Gallipoli.
Istanbul’s cityscape is teeming with these colorful house-piles
They almost look like lego blocks. Don’t you love those rows of rooftops creating that zigzag pattern?
Gallipoli was a region that was pretty involved during the world war, or so I would guess owing to the number of monuments and war memorials we visited and saw along the way.
Ruins and farmhouses
Seeing more of the coastline as we approach Gallipoli
Monopoly-esque red-roofed houses scattered by the coastline
Next: In Gallipoli - Anzac Cove & Lone Pine Cemetery
Photos: Canon EOS 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL
It’s my family’s first time ever going to a Muslim country. Even though 1 of 3 of the main islands of the Philippines is Muslim, I myself am pretty clueless to the culture and ways of life. Needless to say, it was quite expectedly a fish-out-of-water sort of feeling, and I was a bit scared and apprehensive about how I would feel being immersed in something so foreign to me. Then again, that’s also something about traveling that both scares and excites me.
Summer of ‘11, and off we went to Turkey, which lies partly in Europe and mostly in Asia. I half expected sand and caravans in my mind, but was surprised to see how modern and developed Istanbul was (clueless me).
I love these funny road signs coming out of the airport. We were picked up at the airport by the Trafalgar rep (in Turkey working via Neon Tours), and taken to our hotel, the Dedeman Hotel Istanbul, which is in the “new city”.
Istanbul, the only city which is straddled across 2 continents, is divided into the new and old city. The Old City, which houses most of the major sites, lies on the European side of the Bosphorus River (which is what splits the city in two), while the New City is on the Asian side.
Below is an example of something we saw everywhere—those castle turrety things/alien spaceship things that sound off the call to prayer five times a day
Stunning views of the Bosphorus River from the car
In the distance, the bridge that links the two halves of Istanbul
Migros, a little convenience store/minimart near our hotel
My brother, Jourdan
Our hotel, the Dedeman Hotel Istanbul
Our tour bulletin
Photos taken by my sister with her Canon 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL
If you’re planning on trying out traveling on a group tour, a good start is using one of the major tour companies as a peg, and going from there*
*This is mostly for people traveling from the Philippines, but the general stuff could be applicable to anyone who’s thinking of this type of thing~ :)
*Land tours, not cruises or adventure tours
Some Major Tour Companies & Their General Profile
Trafalgar Tours - booked through Pan Pacific Travel Corporation in the Philippines - First class tours with several low cost alternative tours (i’ll explain below), usually a good balance between first class and low cost
(Insight & Trafalgar are actually sister companies under the same umbrella, The Travel Corporation. Contiki and other familiar companies are also sisters)
Insight is usually the most expensive of the lot. Note that the marked price difference between each tour company is not necessarily in the quality of the tour or the number of places you go to, but in the hotels you stay at and number of included meals. You’ll notice that Insight usually uses a lot more Big Name hotels like Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson, Swissotel, Mariott, Conrad, and so on. Big Names do not mean best location, though. A lot of the time these hotels are located outside of the city centers and so walking at night might not be an option. Also, depending on the country or places you visit, hotels won’t always be Big Name ones (ie when going to small towns, it is possible that the best hotel there is actually a motel sort of place), or tour companies may opt to choose hotels based on capacity because group tours usually bring 30-50 people. Insight tour directors have been great so far (we’ve gone on a USA one and my sister has gone on a Europe one).
Trafalgar is our most usual option. Usually it falls somewhere in the middle of a superior class and a low cost tour, and so far we’ve never really had any problems with them. Trafalgar is a first class touring option, but not a “superior” first class like Insight is, its more expensive sister. It is not a budget tour either. Again, don’t be fooled by the classes, because the tours are all essentially alike, differing usually in the hotels you stay at or the tour and meal inclusions. Trafalgar is a pretty good middle ground because it’s affordable enough that it gives you value for your money (sometimes Insight prices are quite exorbitant), while giving you the luxuries of first class travel—hotels are usually a mix of named and semi-named hotels. In certain cases, as with most, location is given priority over a hotel’s number of stars, but it’s a good compromise.
Low Cost Trafalgar
Trafalgar’s low cost brochure is essentially the same bunch of tours but with less named hotels and usually less sights included. What this means cost-wise is that you get a lower base price for the tour compared to the first class Trafalgar, with the freedom to add on the optional tours as your budget allows. Basically, if you go on all the optional tours that would give you the same itinerary as the first class version, you’re pretty much paying the same price. For example, a first class 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,750, while a low cost 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,250. The case, usually, is that the low cost tour will just make into optional tours some of the sights that are included in the price of the first class tour. So for USD2,750 you visit 10 sites, while in the USD2,250 tour 6 sites are included, and 4 are optional. I hope I explained that right. Hahaha
I have never been on a Globus tour, but its price range is nearer to Insight, and it is also the first class alternative of Cosmos.
Cosmos is the budget/low cost tour class of the Globus family of tours, and while I haven’t been on one, my family’s actually trying Cosmos next year when we do the Central Europe tour (we still prefer Trafalgar actually because we would also get a frequent traveler discount on top of a group discount, but the departure dates just didn’t work for us). My cousin’s been on around 2 Cosmos tours though, and she said it was great, so at least I can breathe a little easier on that front. When comparing tours, Cosmos is usually the most misleading for me. This is because they usually print the cheapest prices, but they exclude a lot of the sights. Meaning, if you compare a Country X tour of Cosmos with a Country X tour of Trafalgar, and you add up the prices of all the optional tours you have to go on with a Cosmos tour to match the same itinerary as that of its Trafalgar equivalent, Trafalgar sometimes comes out cheaper. Or the price difference between a low cost Cosmos and a first class Trafalgar is so little that you’d opt to go with the first class tour instead. Also, Cosmos does not have complimentary hotel/airport transfers, so it’s an additional USD200 per person for a roundtrip to the airport, whereas Trafalgar and Insight tours include it.
Common Terminology: SEE vs VISIT
Almost all of the brochures, you’ll notice, are pretty wordy, and go on and on in flowery sentences about all the wonderful countries and places you’ll get to experience. Don’t be fooled though, once you’re on tour, when you just see a castle from inside the bus or if a palace is just pointed out in the middle of a walking tour. You might argue that the brochures said you would get to go to those places in the itinerary, but these tour companies will tell you that the brochures state if you will just “SEE" a place (meaning you literally just see it or pass by it or spot it from a distance without actually going inside) or actually "VISIT" a place (meaning you actually get off the bus and do a proper visit of the site. There are also "ORIENTATIONS" which usually mean walking tours with a local guide, ie an orientation of a medieval city. We usually type up or jot down a quick table of what sights are "SEEN" or "VISITED" so that we won’t be under any illusions while on tour. You can also compare the SEEs and VISITs for parallel tours among the different tour companies to see which tour will give you the most value for your money. Sometimes the cheaper tours have more SEEs than VISITs, so you want to be careful with those.
In order to give you some free time, tour companies usually allot a number of hours for going on optional tours, which you can opt to join or opt to spend on your own, exploring the city or getting some extra shuteye. Optional tours range from cultural shows to walking tours to local meals and the like, and prices vary quite a bit. Usually tours which are packaged with a meal will cost more because they jack up the price of the meal, but in actuality the cost of the show or cruise is not that high. For example—a cruise only option is 35EUR, but it becomes 60EUR with a meal. And usually the meals aren’t even that good. In some cases, tour directors will allow you to cut out the meal, so always ask. Also, a list of optional tours is usually made available online so it’s best to do a bit of research on them so you know what to spend for. Sometimes the tour description sounds great but it turns out to be a tourist trap. It doesn’t hurt to do a bit of Googling :)
MEALS + ACCOMMODATIONS
While this is really dependent on the country you visit, most tours include all breakfasts and most meals, give or take a few. For example, in the Best of Turkey tour, all breakfasts and almost all dinners were covered, so you really just had to spend for lunch, which was usually at a traditional cafe in a gas station or pitstop where we would stop in the middle of the day. But for some other tours, such as a multi-country Europe tour or the Best of Italy tour we went on, all breakfasts and only a handful of dinners were covered, so you still had to spend for most dinners and all of your lunches. This can be a cramp in your budget considering that meals in Europe, especially the big touristy cities like Paris and London, don’t come cheap! Don’t think that going fastfood is going to improve your budget though—fastfood chains are really expensive too. The best thing to do is to stock up on food from breakfast! (Sneaky and a bit embarassing, but everyone does it—only not everyone admits it!)
There are a lot more topics to tackle but I think this bunch is a good start. Feel free to ask me anything else! :D Attempting sage wisdom.
Logos & brochure covers were Googled. Tour photos by my sister, Stephanie: Canon 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL; post-processed by me; from our Best of Italy tour with Trafalgar
One of the things people debate about when planning a trip abroad is whether to go “ON YOUR OWN (OYO)” or “WITH A BIG TOUR COMPANY (WABTC)”. I felt like writing about this particular topic because I’ve encountered so many people who’ve dissed and talked badly about traveling on a group tour because of supposed “myths” they’ve heard around the grapevine, when actually, traveling WABTC is not that bad at all.
As a preamble, here are some of the myths I’ve gathered from said skeptics:
Now mind you, these are just some of what I’ve been hearing from friends, acquaintances, random people in travel expos, and so on. I may be no expert, but I think I’ve been on enough of each kind of travel (OYO and WABTC) to have some sort of say on the matter.
In my years of mild jetsettedness (Around 15 years give or take—I don’t think you can count the first few years because I barely remember any travel from when I was very young), I’ve been on four multi-day group tours (Insight in the US, twice Trafalgar in Europe, and Trafalgar in Turkey), a handful or so of group day tours (Local companies in Australia, and a guided visit in Cambodia), and loads of travel OOO (ON OUR OWN) too.
So just to insert my two cents out there, here’s my reply to those myths:
"Westerners" are rude and leave us "Asians" behind
Not true. A lot of our tourmates come from different parts of the world, and not just the typical “Westerner” you may picture in your head. Although majority of our tourmates often come from Canada, the US and Australia, we also get to travel with people from India, South Africa, Ireland, and more! And while it does take a while to get acclimated to the mix of different cultures and personalities, we’ve never encountered a single “rude” person, and they most certainly have never left “Asians” behind. You have to understand that in a group tour, everyone has to be considerate of everyone else, and the tour operates on a tight schedule. You might get left behind if you’ve shown up shamelessly late at meeting points, but they always have someone wait for you to escort you to the bus or to the next “pitstop”, and this sort of policy most certainly does not apply to just “Asians”—only to “inconsiderate douches”.
Your tourmates are unfriendly and smelly
Again, we have never encountered anyone unfriendly/rude. In fact, we have never encountered anyone “smelly” either—and odor is so subjective, is it not? Our tour coaches (buses) were always in tiptop shape and smelling perfectly neutral (unless food’s onboard, of course). But odor aside, what you’ll be surprised to discover is that most people try to learn as much as they can about other people’s cultures. Depending on how you take it, it could come off as nosy or pesky, but really with good intentions at heart. I myself am a pretty reserved person, especially with a group of strangers who are more outgoing and openly chatty than me. But you also have to remember that you are in a group of curious minds, and they have probably never met anyone from where you’re from, and vise versa. So if you embrace that, you’ll find that their curiosity is really coming from a place of genuine interest.
Discrimination against us (“Asians”)
Bollocks. There is always the unwritten rule that we should be considerate of everyone and be open to embracing other cultures—otherwise, why travel?
It’s cheaper to go on your own
Not necessarily. Most tours run at about USD75-150 a day, which includes accommodations, all breakfasts, some lunches, some dinners, fees for the included attractions, porterage fees, etc. Which is not expensive at all compared to what you would be paying for accommodations on your own.
*Some first class tours or tours to certain destinations like South America can run up to around USD500 a day
Now, as with everything, price is dependent on the situation/nature of your travel. Some people opt to go full on budget travel mode—staying in hostels or friends’ apartments, going sparse on the most basic food, and so forth. Whereas some people turn their noses up at “group tours” and would rather chill out al fresco in a cafe than go walking around all day. If you are either of these, then group touring is most likely not for you.
Wake up calls are too early
Early, most of the time, yes, but not unreasonably so. Wake up calls are usually around 6-9am, with time alloted for breakfast. This may be too early for some people, but you have to remember that in a tour, they are also trying to give you more bang for your buck, so getting an early start is really more cost efficient for you.
You won’t be able to do what you want
Contrary to what people think, touring actually is more flexible than it seems. Apart from the included excursions and sights on your tour itinerary, there are several optional tours you can take on your own volition. And if you choose not to go on them, the time is yours to do whatever. Also, there are hardly any touring things done at night, so going for a nighttime stroll and such is definitely a possibility. Sure, you won’t have as much leisure time as you would if you were on your own, but it is a bit of a compromise to be able to go to more places in a shorter amount of time. Again, it’s sort of like a condensed, “introductory” visit, with an option for you to extend your stay on your own afterward, or for you to plan your next visit to whichever place you wish to return to.
And worst of all, there’s no bathroom onboard
Major tour companies (Insight, Trafalfar, Globus) have facilities onboard. This is pretty much a must because you’re traveling by bus for hours at a time. If you’re iffy about using the onboard restroom though, there are scheduled pitstops every 2-3 hours in gas stations or restaurants, but be prepared to pay up because most of them charge for use of the facilities.
Personally, we usually combine a tour with some time OOO—for example, when we went to Italy in 2010, we took a 13-day tour around Italy, and then another 10 days in Rome on our own. Touring can help open up locations and towns that you may never choose to visit OYO, but they can turn out to be some of the most beautiful places to visit. Going with a group has its benefits, but it also requires a bit of compromise.
On the plus side, you will be relieved of the headache of looking for accommodations for each city you visit, and you’ll have a go-to guide and translator with you onboard. You often skip the lines for busy sights like the Colosseo or museums, and there are added perks of having local tour guides share their insider knowledge with you. No need to pore over pages and pages of text online to try to plan out what to do and how you get there, because you’ll have your trusty tour bus all day, and you can leave your stuff onboard, like extra bottles of water or an extra coat.
Downsides of course include having to make nice and be cheery with a bunch of strangers, which, to one as antisocial as myself, is really a chore, but in the end, you learn a lot from them and their respective countries too. The early days and late nights of course can be tiresome, but when you think about all that you were able to see and accomplish that day, the wee bit of tiredness is really worth it.
Touring is not for everyone, but as I’ve said, it can be a great introduction for future reference or trips you plan on taking. It’s not always the cheapest option, but you have to do the costing and weigh the cost against the benefits you get as well as the headache you save yourself from. You also have to take into consideration where you’re going, if you even need a tour at all (tours are especially helpful for visiting non-English-speaking countries), and when you’re going (there are usually big discounts if you book at an expo, or in the low season).
Also check among the different tour companies. Usually traveling with a major one like Insight (which also owns Trafalgar), Globus (which also owns Cosmos), Brendan (an affiliate of Trafalgar I think), and the like, will be safer, as they are more established and also are more professional and organized. I’m not too much a fan of joining local tours going abroad, because part of the group tour experience is getting to know people from other countries and their cultures too. Also, local tours’ fees are not cheaper, and in fact a lot of the time are more expensive than major companies.
Look through brochures for touring styles and routes that appeal to you and go to where you want to go. The major companies usually have the exact same tours in their arsenal, but with slight differences in hotels, meals, order of visits, etc. They also differ in price—Insight is usually the most expensive, as well as Globus. Trafalgar falls in the upper mid-range, while the low-cost Trafalgar brochure is a bit cheaper. Cosmos is the low cost version of Globus. Don’t be fooled by the price, though, because sometimes a Trafalgar tour can come out cheaper than a Cosmos one, depending on what sights they’ve included, how much their optional tours are, what meals are included, what hotels they stay at, etc. It helps to do a table of sorts (this is what my OC sister does, btw. hahaha) to be able to compare similar tours across different tour companies.
In short, do your research! :)
Photos of our tour itinerary & bus from our Trafalgar tours to Italy, and Turkey: Canon 450D + 10-22mm
If you have questions/comments, please do drop a line! I’m no pro, but I’m glad to share my own experiences from traveling and to learn what you know as well :)
After freezing in Como, we made our way to Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world. Big whoop. Milan was such a letdown. I had such high high hopes for this artistic city, being an artist myself, but the overall impression I had was that Milano was so bland, austere and cold-shouldered. In juxtaposition with the sunny, jolly south, northern Italy was turning out to be quite a snooty bunch. (And I don’t say this as a generalization, only an impression of my brief visit there)
To top it off, outside the Duomo we were totally harassed by these two dudes who kept trying to force pigeon feed into my brother’s and my hands. Even when we kept saying “no” in clear english, they grabbed our hands, shoved the feed into our palms, and proceeded to whistling to call the damned birds over. My sister snapped some pictures (we couldn’t really do anything because they were still grabbing our hands), and when the pigeons had gobbled the feed up, the men had the freakin audacity to demand payment! WHAT PRICKS. We just told them, very sternly, that we said no to begin with, and that we had no money. After realizing that we really could not (or would not) pay, they left sort of angrily.
Got a cool shot, at least. We quickly ambled off to a different photo spot -.- But that definitely wrecked my mood. I was always looking over my shoulder, expecting to see a gang of pigeonfeed con artists with an army of angry pigeons flying overhead. OK that last part was a bit of overactive imagination, but you get the gist. We were pissed and scared and feeling very unwelcome.
The staples of Milan were gothically cool of course—the rising towers and turrety things of Milan’s famous duomo, all dark and haunted and gothic (kind of like me, i suppose). The inside was not as uniquely striking (metaphor for Milan?) as the outside for me, although the cool vaulted ceilings and the standard set of paintings lining the walls still making it undeniably beautiful.
Inside, it was warm compared to the biting wind outside, and yet felt a bit cold-shouldered. I don’t know if it really seemed that way to me, or if I was just feeling a bit cynical post-incident. Looking at the photos now, I cannot deny that the Duomo is still really gorgeous.
Beautiful stained glass
Creepy statue, almost skeletal.
Back outside, a gorgeously ornate steel door
Positive or not, this was definitely memorable. A must-visit when in Milano—truly a city of startling contrast.
Photos: Canon 450D + 10-22mm