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Feb202014

Tour/Activity

Gallipoli Day Trip from Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

A long journey, 4.5 hours each way, but worth it to see the story of the WW1 attack on the Gallipoli peninsula. Firstly we visited ANZAC cove, then the "beach cemetery", then the ANZAC Cemetery and memorial, the Turkish 57th Army cemetery and the high Defence point taken by Ataturk, the Turkish general, with a NZ memorial nearby and some reconstructed trenches - from here you could see the whole lay of the land. Disappointed not to pop into the museum, although our guide was quite dismissive of it.

Feb192014

Tour/Activity

Istanbul City Tour

Istanbul, Turkey

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Despite a misty, chilly and eventually windy day, the tour took in the main sites if interest in the Sultanahmet. We saw The Blue Mosque - peaceful, impressive architecture; Hagia Sophia - impressive in stature, but looking a bit worn out and much restorative work with scaffolding and no-go areas included; the Hippodrome - really just nice walk with a couple of obelisks and again an under-scaffold bell/or well tower thingy. Lunch was OK - a bit tourist-fodder with some eclectic foods on the same plate. After lunch we visited some mausoleums at the back of the Hagia Sophia - peaceful area, then onto Topkapi palace, again imporessive, although the mist prevented us from admiring the view across the Bosphorus and the Sea of Mamaris.
To be quite honest, we could have done it all without a guide - the attractions are all in the same area, so the bus was completely unnecessary. In fact, we walked back to our hotel, via the Basilica Cistern which wasn't included on the tour (but should be). However, our guide was good and we don't begrudge paying out on our first trip to Istanbul.

Feb182014

Tour/Activity

Ephesus and the House of Virgin Mary Day Trip from Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

Even with a 5.30 start and a 9.00pm return this was one of the best days of my life! The mechanics of pick up/flight/drop offs etc went like clockwork. Our guide at the Izmir end was fantastic - his knowledge was great, his English was perfect, he gave us the right amount of time at every point. There was only one other couple on the tour, so it felt very personal service.
First we visited the House of the Virgin Mary, surprisingly peaceful and moving. Ephesus, I have no words for, except 'WOW' - go there. Unparalleled, and a lifetime's ambition realised! Then we went to St John's Basilica - in really good condition, followed by a quick stop to what remains of the Temple of Artemis - my classics and mythology courses come flooding back!
Lunch was after all the sightseeing - a lovely meal at a Carpet weaving co-operative. That, of course, was the only downside - the attempt at hard sell - luckily, the Americans bough a carpet, so everyone came away happy. I just wish these tour companies wouldn;t try with these factory visits - how many people really want to spend a lot of money when on a day out - unless they are actively looking for the diamond, the pearl, the carpet, the piece of furniture.... we never have and find these interludes annoying.
However, this particular day, nothing could spoil my enjoyment and appreciation of onw of the most amazing places on the planet.

Oct172011

Tour/Activity

Prague Vltava River Lunch Cruise

Prague, Czech Republic

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

An enjoyable trip up and down the river. We joined at Republic Square as directed, but simply got dropped off at the boat and left - no pick up was included, so we had to walk back into the centre. Buffet lunch was fine, plenty of choice. There were only about 30 people on the boat, so there was no rush or queuing. Only complaint was that the boat "idled" for quite a while, eeking out the time until its allotted finish - this is due, in part, to the need to get through the lock both ways - as it happened, we had no delays, hence the circling.

Oct162011

Tour/Activity

Cesky Krumlov Day Trip from Prague

Prague, Czech Republic

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

A really good (and long) day out - about 3 hours each way - and we stopped for a toilet break on the way out (but not on the way back). Plenty to do and see in this fabulous UNESCO World heritage site town. Our guide did seem to want us following him like sheep the whole time, but we did manage to get an hour or so to explore on our own whilst some spaniards had an arranged lunch, even though he directed the rest of us to another restaurant he obviously had ties with. We escaped and had a fabulous bowl of goulash soup in a bread bowl at a small place by the riverside, then went perusing the qaint little shops that we had previously been hurried by in his ever-zealous search for yet another "roccoco", "gothic" or "rennaisance" example of architecture. The actual castle/palace visit was worth every minute spent, with examples of 14th, 16th and 19th century rooms, portraying the three different families that held sway during its heyday. The town itelf, below the castle and on the banks of a curve in the river Vlatava, is picturesque to the max! Highly recommended

Oct152011

Tour/Activity

Karlstejn Castle Half-Day Trip from Prague

Prague, Czech Republic

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

An excellent trip to a very nice location. Our tour guide was quite knowledgeable, but her German was better than her English. The guide who took us round the castle was excellent - we got to see the "Crown jewels" - or a copy of them. However, the unlocking and locking of doors as we moved from room to room was farcical - as was a stray in-costume musician, playing the lyre, sat in one of the rooms - flogging his CD and with a bowl for donations!
WE had a choice of how to get from the coach park to the castle - you coudl walk for free but its very steep. Taxi was the safest, but the route was about 5km in a strange roundabout way. Horse and cart seemed too cold for mid-October. We all walked down into a sweet village area - some cafes, restaurants and food stalls available as well as shops, mostly tourist rather than craft.
A long half day though - we didn't get back to Prague until gone 2.30

Oct152011

Tour/Activity

Prague Night Tour and River Vltava Dinner Cruise

Prague, Czech Republic

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

Quite a full boat, and quite a chilly night, but an enjoyable trip. We were escorted by the guide onto and off the boat and transfers from the meeting place were included (some people were piced up at hotels). The trio of musicians were lively and not too obtrusive - they had to play both upstairs and downstairs, so we'd get some respite. the food, buffet style, was good for mass catering, although there were queues as it hadn't been logically placed - soups at the end of the serving area, bread in the middle. Most people ended up with plates stacked high with a mix of non-complementary items to avoid having to return for more! The boat was quite big - plenty of room to move about inside and out. Sights and sounds of Prague in the evening excellent.

Mar132011

Tour/Activity

Szentendre Half Day Sightseeing Trip from Budapest

Budapest, Hungary

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Don't book on htis if you've gone on the Danube bend tour, as you've already done Szentendre. (local tour company) were very helpful and we substituted the jewish Synagogue and quarter tour AND the Parliament tour at no extra cost - both highly recommended, but a lot of walking on both.

Mar122011

Tour/Activity

Danube Bend Day Trip from Budapest

Budapest, Hungary

My Rating
2 star rating: It was OK, but could have been better

My Review

THis trip could have been improved by changing one or two details - it is also slightly misleading. The first stop, at Szentendre, was excellent - plenty of time to look around sights and shops - a lovely little town. The only stop at Eszetrom was at the Basilica - and there we were simply left to our own devices, to pay for tour or to go up the Basilica if we wanted to. A bit too much time for just wandering around inside and out. Views across to SLovakia superb. We didn't stop at the stated 3rd place - merely had lunch at a restaurant on the mountaintop - there was a castle on the hill that was not included - and in fact was dismissed by the tour guide out of hand. We had to persuade the driver to stop so we could take pictures of the Danube Bend - the title of the tour. A useless visit to a diamond factory was a complete waste of time and we were back in Budapest inside 8 hours - a bit disgruntled really. Becuase it was March we didn;t get the river option, but the price is the same, so including the castle would have made up for it.

Mar112011

Tour/Activity

Budapest Half-Day Sightseeing Tour

Budapest, Hungary

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

Brilliant, fairly whistle-stop tour of the main sights. Our tour guide, Judith, was priceless - so funny and knowledgeable, too. Really enjoyed this one.

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