Travel from Bulgaria to Istanbul

If you have come to this blog chances are you were searching for information on Bulgaria.  Well, you have come to the right place — and mind you — in the next few days, you will also get access to information on:

  • Getting from Bulgaria to Turkey / Istanbul
  • some places to stay in Istanbul
  • and of course tons of info on sites and interesting places to visit in Istanbul

So, here we go with the first information piece "Travel from Bulgaria to Turkey / Istanbul"

As usual, there are multiple options for getting from Bulgaria to Turkey and Istanbul specifically.  You can get there via

  1. plane: turns out the only fiights we could locate were from Sofia airport; asked for flights from Plovdiv (recently opened airport) and were told that none existed yet.  The flights to Istanbul were not exactly convenient. The only airline that flew directly was Turkish Airlines; All others (British Airways, Lufthansa…) included detour back to London or Munich or….really crazy itinerary given that Istanbul is Southeast of Sofia and those other cities are way West from it…!  As a result of this we decided that air travel was not the option we will pursue;
  2. Train:  We discovered that there are a couple of trains headed overnight to Istanbul.  The one we wanted to get on was the train from Bucharest (Romania) to Istanbul.  It stops at several cities in Bulgaria – Ruse, Gorna Oriahovitsa, Stara Zagora – to name a few.  The problem turned out to be access to sleeping car tickets.  When we checked with the international train ticket desk (called Rila) – we were told that one can buy sleeper car tickets only from Bucharest.  In Bulgaria you can only buy ticket for couchette – so we decided that was not an option for us either;
  3. Rental car:  We checked on getting a rental car in one direction.  Turns out you CANNOT do that.  Turkey requires that all cars that enter the country have to leave with the same driver.  So one way car rental was a no go.  We had only the option of hiring a car with a driver.  The price from Plovdiv: ~ approximately 300 euro!!! 
  4. Bus:  This was the last alternative.  There are a number of bus lines that travel from various points in Bulgaria (Sofia, Ruse, ….) to Istanbul.  We decided to use the HUNTUR bus line and get on the bus in Kazanlak traveling to Stara Zagora, Capitan Andreevo (the border crossing) and Istanbul.   The ticket price from Kazanlak is approximately 45-leva which is very reasonable given the distance traveled (Kazanlak to Istanbul accoriding to Google Maps is ~404km)

Here are some pointer for the bus ride:  (a) get ready for a relatively long journey; (b) the bus may include the occasional smoker – officially smoking is not allowed on the bus.  (c) the bus makes a number of stops for restroom use, smoking brakes; food;

About the Border crossing:

Border Crossing at Capitan Andreevo  Kapikule Border Crossing

Once you get to the border at Kapitan Andreevo (on the Bulgarian side) you will have to get off the bus and go through passport checkpoint.  Then you will get back on the bus and continue to the Turkish side. Before you get there though the bus will most likely make a stop for shopping at the duty free store.  Once you start crossing the Turkey border, you will have to give your passport and e-Visa (if you have purchased one ahead of time) to the Turkey immigration official and then wait for your passport to be processed.  Eventually, the passports will re-emerge and be handed back to you by the bus driver.  

Yes, the whole procedure is very strange and you need to pay attention to signs of what you need to do — that is unless you can speak Turkish and get information from the bus driver.

All in all the crossing is OK, and takes about one and a half hours.

After that, the bus stopped at one more restaurant and rest stop on the Turkey side and from there it was a non-stop run to Istanbul.    

In the next article I will summarize options for hotels in the European side of Istanbul and near the main sites in the city.  Stay tuned.

Istanbul view Istanbul views

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Just some photographs from New York City

I was thinking today about my two trips to New York City over the last year and a half, so I decided to put some photos on the blog to show interesting sites in the City… Plus I added a Photo Album page.  Enjoy!

NYC - Times Square (from Mariott)    Near Times Square

 

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Travel in China – China Railways CRH2

I have been meaning to put together a posting on the new trains in China for a while.  I remember years ago, 1987-1988-1990 timeframe to be precise, when travel by train across the country was a multi-day adventure.  My experiences from those days are very different and I will write a post later, in the mean time — I wanted to give you some view of the new, and really convenient modes of transportation in China — the bullet trains.  These days you can use those trains for a 45min journey from Shanghai to Nanjing, or a 4 hour trip from Beijing to Shanghai, a 50minute trip from Suzhou to Hangzhou….

All this is being made possible by the new high-speed trains which were licensed from Japan – and are based as I understand on the Shinkansen trains in that country.  As a reference – I have ridden on the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka, and yes, the experience is very similar.   The trains started being tested in 2007 and now they are in full operation between a number of metro areas in China.

The high-speed trains of China

So next time you are thinking of looking for plane tickets to get from Beijing to Shanghai…..Don't !   The train is REALLY a lot more convenient and as fast (if not faster — given heavy traffic in China's airports and constant flight delays)

 

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More on China Eastern Airlines

Last week I published a note on China Eastern Airlines — or rather – a warning to avoid the airline if at all possible.  So now I am adding some more to my list of experiences with them.  This is on my recent experience with the comforts of their planes.  The reality is that the seats on the China Eastern Airlines are positioned extremely tight.  To the point of discomfort… The second aspect contributing to discomfort, is that these seats are setup with head-rests that are non-existent for anyone in the height range of 5'8" and above….

I really tried to get comfy on a couple of recent flights and I just could not find the magical formula to get comfortable.

So, my recommendation – use the airline at your own peril 

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Excellent Restaurant in Beijing

Finding a good restaurant in Beijing is always an on-going challenge.  Why?  Because there are so many different objectives to fullfil over a given period of time.  I am sure you, like me, would have friends who want to get together in an unassuming place, Or visitors who want to get to experience "authenthic Beijing place", or have good food BUT not having to pay a month's salary for it…and on and on….

Well folks, if you are trying to impress visitors from out of town, or show your friends a good place to see both a traditional Chinese house and experience great food (from Shandong), we have the place identified for you — but let me clarify — I have several of my friends to thank for bringing me first to this interesting restaurant.

Shandong Food Restaurant   Private dining room  

The restaurant is located on Suzhou Jie in Haidian District

Enjoy!  I will publish more photos 

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Avoid China Eastern Airlines

China Eastern Airlines – Avoid on domestic as well as international flights

It has been a couple of years since I have taken both domestic and International flights on China Eastern Airlines — all of those within a short period of time.  When I had the flights booked for me I had a bit of a question in my mind given my previous experiences with this airline – but decided (against my better judgement) to give it a try once again. 

So how was it?

The answer:  NOT GOOD !

China Eastern Airlines continues to have a whole lot of issues combined with strange and inconsistent rules.  Here I go with my next description of a set of poor experiences. 

Last week I was on a flight from Tokyo to Shanghai.  Upon getting my boarding pass I was asked to check-in my roll-aboard suitcase.  I questioned the reason for it and was told – it is too big.  I proceeded to highlight to them that I travel all the time with this regulation size roll-aboard but then was told "IT IS TOO HEAVY".  Of course – given the craziness of the statement — I questioned that as well.  After a few minutes of a discussion I asked for a supervisor so I can understand the issue of weight.   The person — who presented herself as the supervisor — proceeded to tell me that in Economy Class my roll-aboard cannot exceed 5kg and in Business Class — 10kg.  The reason she gave was apparently that the overhead bin can open during flight and the baggage can fly out and kill someone.  I KID YOU NOT – Those were her words.

My interpretation:  Of course in Business Class the overhead bins can sustain the asault of a 10kg bag !!!  Plus the passengers there have much thicker skulls and can survive a hit from a 10kg bag….vs. the weak passengers in Economy who can handle only a 5kg bag…. I HOPE YOU ARE SMILING BY NOW.  Yes, this is ridiculous.

Well my roll-aboard had to be checked in.  I could not prevail in my attempt to reason with the supervisor that I really have a tight connection in Shanghai and could not wait for my luggage to come out from the cargo hold…

Upon arrival in Shanghai I had to wait for 25-minutes!!! Precious time during which I missed my potential flight to Shenzhen and had to wait for one 2 hours later.  All that because of an airline employee WHO DID NOT KNOW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT.  Why do I say that?  Because in Shanghai I got my boarding pass for the flight to Shenzhen ALSO on China Eastern Airlines and was told "NO PROBLEM.  YOU CAN BRING THE ROLL-ABOARD WITH YOU ON THE PLANE.  NO NEED TO CHECK IT IN"

Go figure!!!  Either the airline all of a sudden does not care about the safety of the passengers on the domestic flights, or they just have my stronger heads…

In my next installment I will describe the great experience on board the main cabin of a couple of domestic flights on China Eastern.  As you can tell I am NOT a fan!!!

 

Posted in Airlines, Frequent Flyer, Observations | Tagged | 1 Comment

Taxi in Beijing

Getting a taxi in Beijing could be quite a hassle.  Yes, I agree, the notion sounds weird…Why would you have trouble getting a cab in a big city anywhere in the world?  Well, Beijing is sort of unique.  You could spend a number of long cold hours on the street anywhere in Beijing while trying to get a ride.  In my experience, comparing all the way back to the late 1980s, the situation has become progressively worse up to today when you may be able to get a cab from your hotel or by calling one ahead of time to your appartment / house, but then your attempts to get one for the return ride while on the street could be incredibly frustrating.  

So, in case you are trying to figure out how to manage this situation, here are some useful tips:

  • If you live in Beijing or spending a significant / long period of time in Beijing, develop a relationship with a local taxi company / taxi drivers.  Get their business card and call ahead for service;
  • Make sure you have a card with your destination written in good legible Chinese (the taxi drivers are always afraid to pick up a foreigner as they may not be able to understand what they are being asked to do)
  • Plan you trip into the city to make sure you do not have a need to take a cab for a very short distance — the drivers will just refuse; Same thing applies if you are going to a location which is out of the cab driver's routine…
  • Many of the cab drivers have very poor knowledge of the city — they are recent migrants to Beijing and as such may not be able to assist you; Have instruction on how to find your destination;
  • Plan your trip into the city in a way that allows you to look for a cab near big Western hotels — you are more likely to get service there

Having listed all this there are some good alternatives to having to deal with inconsiderate taxi drivers.   Here is my list on the alternatives:

  • Consider renting a car – whether for a weekend or for a year (if living in Beijing) — go ahead and take the Chinese drivers license test and get a car.  You will enjoy the independence!
  • If you in for a short visit – consider chosing a hotel which is near a subway stop or a public bus stop.  You will get much more done if you could leverage these public transport options
  • Consider renting or buying a bicycle.

Beijing Traffic  storming the taxi

 

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Air Pollution in Beijing

Air pollution in Beijing is becoming almost a regular article in various news and media outlets.   The most recent article is in the Financial Times from…. YES, April 1st 2013!  I looked back through this blog and found that I am writing on the topic just about every year.

Here is the article from FT.com

Air pollution is driving expatriates out of Beijing and making it harder for companies to recruit international talent, according to anecdotal accounts from diplomats, senior executives and businesses.

No official figures are available on how many people are planning to leave after three months of the worst air pollution on record in the Chinese capital. But companies that mainly serve foreign residents are bracing for an exodus around the middle of the year when the school term ends.

—————————  More from this article here ——————————–

At the same time I have experienced enough of the challenging climate and its air surprises to believe that the issue being raised by FT.com is real — folks are seriously considering their options on how to move to a different location.  The article states the opinion / experience of some of the expats — that their kids cannot go outside without face masks.  Yes, that is the case — I recall our daughter and her classmates not being allowed outisde during recess…..

Here is a photo from the area near the Astronomy Observatry in Central Beijing — you can judge for your self — this photo from late winter — February timeframe.

The Air Pollution in Beijing

So, you be the judge…!

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Airline Travel Deals – Update

Airline Travel Deals – Another Survey (Spring 2013)

Earlier in February I published an update on air travel deals.  So, now it is time for another update.  In this posting, I will outline newer deals and the airlines that offer them.  Keep in mind there are price fluctuations in plane tickets constantly.  In my posting I am looking for the major / or in other words significant travel deals — those that can offer you a good bargain for major travel destinations.   Here we go:

  • Alaska Airlines – offering bargain airfares on flights to Mexico – for travel between April 16th and June 14th 2013; The tickets must be purchased by 11:59pm (PT) on April 4, 2013; The link is here — it also stipulates some blackout dates – check them out.
  • Virgin Atlantic is offering special fares on travel between many major cities on the East and West coast of the US, including transcontinental flights.  The deals are for flights between April 8th and June 14th.  Example is Washington DC to San Francisco US$179 one way ticket — this is a very nice deal!  Here is the link to more cities/airports;
  • Until April 15th 2013, flights on Malaysian Airlines continue to result in double Advantage miles on American Airlines
  • Interesting to see the somewhat of a price competition between American and United on their fare sales to Europe.  Boston to Heathrow (UK) is $849 on American and $855 on United.   Orlando to Paris is $1147 on American and $1222 on United.  Hence it looks like American is the low cost leader;
  • But if you can go to Europe earlier — i.e. in the Spring — you could leverage a set of special deals offered by Lufthansa.  The roundtrip from NYC start at $549;

Well this is it for this installment.  Let me know if you find any other special deals.

 

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Bird’s Eye View of Beijing

Yes, I decided to post some bird's eye view images of Beijing.  The photos below were taken at several vantage points in Beijing – mostly from the top of Jing Shan Park – right behind the Forbidden City.  Overall, a nice place to see Beijing from, of course on a relatively clear day.

Enjoy!

Beijing Views

Beijing View

View of the Forbidden City - Beijing

 

 

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