Read more about the article Izmir – Turkey
Izmir - Turkey

Izmir – Turkey

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Ancient Smyrna

With what is called in the UK the Spring Bank Holiday of May, what was best than using this chance for a long weekend trip abroad in Izmir without the need to take any extra holiday at work from the yearly allowance, which is already getting to an end almost entirely used spread across the whole of the year. It is quite incredible having to reach the point where I can only rely in the few weekends left this year where I have no trips booked yet to go anywhere abroad! This is the narrow barrier I am between being a “full time employee and part time traveller”, although my friends and colleagues at work prefer to joke in saying it’s the opposite way around, “full time traveller, part time job”.

This trip was anyway, planned a while ago in November last year, and the fact that the main flights were a return with BA to Istanbul was on purpose especially bearing in mind these were in Business Class. So what made the difference for us to get those flights and not any cheaper option?. Easy answer in this case: retaining the Silver membership status (Zephyr) with the One World Alliance. And the trick is this: there are still 3 destinations having sort of a loophole in the amount of tier points and air miles you would collect, being Helsinki, Athens and Istanbul. So a flight to Istanbul in Business Class will give you the same miles and tier points as if it would be a long haul flight, this is, double.

Since we’ve already been to Istanbul before, then we though this could be a great occasion to get to Izmir with the main idea of reaching the ancient city of Ephesus, and Pergamon too as our original plans changed and we managed to squeeze it in too. The good side of it, the internal flight between Istanbul and Izmir with Pegasus Airlines was really cheap, balancing the total cost for all flights after all. And with so many frequencies between both cities and many competitors, flying is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reach Izmir, unless you are in an overland tour or other cities nearby while in Turkey. (more…)

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Read more about the article Beijing and the Great Wall – China
Beijing - China

Beijing and the Great Wall – China

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The Last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China

Reaching our last destination on this trip we arrived to the capital city of China. The heart of the country where the former emperor flair can still be felt in the air in the spectacular palatial constructions. Royal temples, palaces, gardens and broad avenues dating back to the Qing and Ming Dynasties, where the center of power of the vast empire, the Forbidden City, was (and is) located at the very heart, with the rest of the city following concentric rings on an ever expanding city.

Having been before in Shanghai which apparently is a larger city than Beijing, you do not get this feeling once in Beijing. You will come across a vast city where sights are so distant one to another as you surely did not really expect before when planning your trip. Have this really in consideration as the time you will spend commuting around is going to be really incredible long.

But having said quite a positive introduction, the unfortunate reality can change your mind rapidly. Yes, no one can argue about the impressive sights and history on them, but how about what is in the middle of the way between the sites; this is, the city itself? Well, that is the downside here. It is a complete disaster in architectural taste. Horrible apartment high-rises simply everywhere possible, ugly streets without any taste; huge avenues where pedestrians are the less considered. Only congestion, pollution, noise and traffic at any time of the day. (more…)

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Read more about the article Xian – China
Xian - China

Xian – China

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Starting Point of the Silk Road

Our next move within China and after our first impressions of what is like to be in mainland China, we took off from Shanghai to Xian in the heart of China. The starting point of the Silk Road. Impossible to argue it is one of the most historical cities in China and perhaps under rated by most of the tourist, which they just go (or are taken as part of a tour) to the Terracotta Warriors and leave the city without even see the impressive city walls or not a glimpse of what other attractions the city has to offer.

I knew Xi’An had way too many places to visit and lots to do, but unfortunately in our super busy agenda all we could spare were 2 days, from which almost a full one was gone for the Terracotta Warriors. Still, from the remaining time we had in the city we definitely saw the most we could, and yet again as the same note of what happened in Suzhou, unfortunately the rest of the city around the sights is really an eyesore.

A very good point in favour is the way the city developed. Meaning what is within the walls covers at least 75% of all the sights and must do’s, and it’s easily reachable even on foot around the central ones. Only some temples, monuments and museums are outside of the walls. (more…)

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Read more about the article Suzhou – China
Suzhou - China

Suzhou – China

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Venice of the East

At little over 100 km from Shanghai to the west is this “beautiful” canal-city of Suzhou. A glimpse of very traditional Chinese architecture, gardens, temples and all criss-crossed by many bridges over the countless canals. A must visit should you have enough time in Shanghai. It will truly make your trip to China an excellent addition merely to be able to really appreciate and feel the real ancient Chinese life. You might wonder why the quotations on the word beautiful, but will explain later below.

And at only 25 minutes by super frequent high speed trains from Shanghai, and only around £5 per way there is no excuse nor hassle why not to come and visit. Perhaps the only constrain will be having the time for it. Thankfully for us we planned 3 full days in Shanghai for which we could allow one of them for Suzhou since in 2 days you can more or less visit pretty much every sight in Shanghai. Still for you to know, 1 day in Suzhou is not enough to see everything. At least 2 would make things better.

Shockingly the city is rapidly growing and will soon have 10 million inhabitants! That’s just crazy growth and here comes the quotation on beautiful mentioned before. Sadly most of the old city centre is now gone for horrible constructions, meaning what is basically left are all the gardens, temples and monuments scattered around them, many of them listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. A sad truth of what China is really doing with its development.


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Read more about the article Shanghai – China
Shanghai - China

Shanghai – China

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Pearl of the Orient

Leaving behind South Korea, we moved into our next destination; China. A new country visited in our already busy list, currently occupying the 67th place (as of 2014). Knowing there are 196 official countries in the world then this is quite an achievement so far! Not an absolute “new” country let’s specify in this note as we’ve been to Hong Kong and Macau before which belong to China under special territories though surely first time in the mainland.

After visiting Seoul some days before now arriving to Shanghai, there’s not too much difference between them in the sense of architecture. This is after all, the financial heart of China. And that title comes with an obvious outcome: the already thousands of skyscrapers the city has. More shockingly to know that all you see today has been built pretty much over the past 25 years only. Unfortunately (or fortunately), depending which kind of person you are and what interests you have behind, most of the traditional old architecture is lost on behalf of this frenetic construction and development.

Still good to know and see that the waterfront, what is named “The Bund”, has been spared and retains almost in full and intact the heart of the colonial city that Shanghai once was, in this area, the British Concession. A massive and beautiful collection of buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries with special attention to the 1930s when the city bloomed and so the art-deco new architecture embellished the city with grand constructions, most of them financial institutions like the HSBC headquarters (also shared with the Hong Kong headquarters). (more…)

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Read more about the article Seoul – South Korea
Seoul - South Korea

Seoul – South Korea

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After such impatient wait, the day finally has finally arrived! Our second time in Asia this year with a span in between trips of barely 4 months. Another two different countries, two well marked different cultures. Starting with the capital of South Korea then moving on to mainland China to cover the triangle cities of Shanghai, Xi’An and Beijing, and other secondary small ones in between.

This was not only the first time I would visit South Korea, but it was also the first time I would fly on such a long haul in business class. Although it was not one of those super offer tickets this time, it was at least one of these British Airways flights we could manage when they, from time to time, launch what they call “luxury sales” or “the world is on sale” where all their business and first class tickets have some sort of discount. I do strongly advice you to check around some flights whenever they have such a sales, you can grab some really great deals! Another purpose for us to have chosen business class was to boost our Executive Club membership to the next level, to become and retail the Silver status.

Now to what really matters here, the city of Seoul. It is the second largest metropolis in the world at over 25 million people, and has only became so rich and successfully over the past 30 years. It was not many years back, even poorer than their neighbour North Korea. This incredible unprecedented development is what is known as the “Miracle on the Han River” when it was transformed from the ashes of the Korean War after 1953 in what is today the 4th largest metropolitan economy in the world. (more…)

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Read more about the article Taal Volcano – Philippines
Taal Volcano - Philippines

Taal Volcano – Philippines

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The Smallest Active Volcano in the World

At just 7 hours after returning from Taipei back into Manila, our last day in the Philippines would become a special surprise thanks to our Philippine friends who planned this day on our backs and told us just once we were about to take the plane into Manila the night before. The magnificent Taal Volcano National Park. What best way to end this great trip than spending the last day with them and enjoying these marvellous landscapes and nature merely 2 hours south of Manila.

The heat again played against us, although I keep saying that I totally don’t mind the heat, but mind the cold. We were anyway lucky towards the afternoon, with the refreshing thunderstorm out of the sudden. Quite unexpected, but kept the rest of the day under clouds and fresh air. This is part of the magic in here, the unexpected. And not precisely talking about rain, but how about a volcanic eruption? Mind that this is one of the most active in the world, and as recent as early 2020 it has put the area on a stand-still once again.

Reaching this place is really straightforward and comfortable. For at least half of the way there is a good motorway where you need to pay several times for tolls along the way, while for the remaining of the journey this will be a single lane road in each direction. With just some traffic near one mall you will pass along the way, there seems to be no complication at all. (more…)

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Read more about the article Boracay – Philippines
Boracay - Philippines

Boracay – Philippines

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White Beach: One of the top 10 beaches in the world

On our next move within the Philippines we travelled southwest of the country to this little piece of paradise, the island of Boracay. Barely 4 months since I was in another piece of paradise at the other side of the planet, 15500 kilometres to the west of Boracay, 15000 of them being the vast of the Pacific Ocean; San Pedro Ambergris in Belize (or La Isla Bonita as it is better known). Thankfully in this occasion weather made a huge difference to what was back then in the Caribbean with a horrible one! Although our second day was quite cloudy I have to admit it was even a relief after the intense heat and unbearable sun from the first day.

The island of Boracay is located in the region called Western Visayas. It’s so small that the nearest airports are on the larger neighbouring island of Panay, but easily to commute from/to as described in the transport section below.

It rapidly boomed in tourism being one of the most visited islands in the Philippines without doubts for its worldwide renown pristine beaches of fine white sand and turquoise waters. But something almost the 100% of first time visitors to the Philippines do not know is that there are by far much better islands and beaches elsewhere across the countless the country is formed of. (more…)

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