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Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Intro...to India: Part 3 - Visit the Taj Mahal

Disclaimer

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.


This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr. Purchase our fine art, decor or stock photos on ShutterstockZenfolioImageKindmcraytonphoto.comiStock by Getty Images , and Dreamstime. 





Visit the Taj Mahal

Prior to visiting India from the USA, you will need a visa. See our article here.
For a general idea of what to do in India, click here.

If you do a search of "top places to visit in India," the city of Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, almost always comes to the top of official lists and personal opinion blogs. The reason: the Taj Mahal. Here's what you need to know:

The Taj Mahal and gardens

1. It's a mausoleum. It was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his wife Mumtaz Majal, who died in childbirth of her 14th child. The entire complex was completed around 1648. Mumtaz was allegedly the love of the Shah's life, beautiful, adored and respected.

If you go early or are there before closing, there will be fewer people for your dream photo

2. The mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 1983, most notably for its beauty in Muslim art. The site was also listed on the New7Wonders of the World.

Get creative with still photography; video cameras are not permitted


3. Inside the actual area with the tombs, photos are not permitted.

Also, shoes are not permitted but there are shoe covers available

4. The grounds include a magnificent gateway (the great gate), which is so impressive that you may have a slight traffic jam as people first stop to admire the gateway and then are starstruck as they pass through and see their first view of the Taj Mahal.

The Great Gate

5. Also on the grounds are two almost twin outlying buildings (a mosque and guesthouse) and the famous pool.



Outlying Building

6. Many people visit with tours, which is strongly advised. Your tour guide will give you all the historic and fun facts. You guide will also get you through the line to the bag check a little quicker.




7. Plan to go special times: sunrise, sunset or a nice moon make for a memorable visit. Don't discount the rain, which may be accompanied by a mysterious fog.

Early morning

8. You can hire an approved photographer, which is highly advised. They are outside of the site and have ID to show they are official.


Don't forget to tour the gardens

9. See this page for what is not permitted. It's the usual, such as video cameras, tripods, big bags, etc. For some reason, the web site says no mobile phones for night time viewing but it also says they should be switched off. 

Use your phone for photos only

10. Speaking of night viewing, they have a special schedule 5 times a month when the moon is full and the two days prior and after.

For more information, including current admission information, visit the official website at https://tajmahal.gov.in.








Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Travel: Part 4 - Renting a Car

Disclaimer

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.


This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr. Purchase our fine art, decor or stock photos on ShutterstockZenfolioImageKindmcraytonphoto.comiStock by Getty Images , and Dreamstime. 




Traveling and Renting a Car 



Additional disclaimer: Check with the rental companies before you book a car. All information here is based on personal research or experience. This is not considered legal advice. Do your own research before making any plans.

Renting a car while traveling can be scary. There are many options to consider and there is always the slight possibility of an accident that you fear you may be ultimately responsible for. However, for many trips, a car may be strongly advised or even necessary to fully enjoy the amenities of the area. Take a look at these tips and decide for yourself if renting a car is worth it.


1. Rent a driver and car instead. With the recent surge in the use of car services (in addition to the traditional taxis), renting a driver and car has become very popular. If you have a group, it might even be cheaper. Renting a driver (perhaps along with a tour guide can take the fear out of driving in an unfamiliar city, state or country. In some foreign countries, it might even be advisable (such as India). This can be arranged before you arrive at your destination or with the hotel's concierge. If you are renting a house or apartment, check out the tourist information booths (the official ones) for suggestions.

Arriving in Delhi, India: rented car with driver


2. You will need a credit card. You can use a debit card with some companies, but they may hold a large amount of your funds and there is a possibility it many not released for up to two weeks. Certain countries put a hold on very large amounts, such as $1,000- $2,000 (Jamaica, for instance). What to do? See number 1 or use public transportation.

Exchange cash into local currency to use at gas stations

3. You may be required to purchase insurance (in foreign countries) or purchase a temporary license (for a small fee, such as $10 - $25). However, check with your personal auto insurance and also check out your benefits with your credit cards. If you are renting domestically, you may already be covered. But, be prepared to have cash in the local currency to fill up the tank. Normally, I am not a fan of purchasing the fuel package, but it can be convenient for those one day rentals.

Alternative: public transportation

4. Europe makes is fairly easy to navigate by rail (train) and public transportation. But the lure of the countryside in spring can be hard to resist. Also, labor strikes are frequent, planned and unplanned. If you are staying in a city, you will only need a vehicle for a day trip (keeping a car longer gets complicated with parking). You may also want to take a bus or train to a town and then rent the car on that end. For example, the town of Reims, France, is home to many champagne wineries and you may want to tour them all. Take the train from Paris to Reims and rent the car there. You may have to reserve one.



5. When you have limited time, such as on a cruise, renting a car on an island state (Hawaii) or country gives flexibility and independence. You can combine sightseeing, with cultural outings and a beach day and save time. Buy a map beforehand and get one from the car rental company. Roads may not be so numerous in smaller countries and they often have one main highway that makes navigating fairly easy. Also, there are often signs with cruise ship icons designed to help you back to the dock. 


6. Some of the cheaper options are not at the airport or cruise dock. If the company offers a free shuttle, bear this in mind when you have to return the car. Add an extra 45 minutes to allow for traffic or the fact they may have to wait for the van to fill up. 

7. If you rent a car for a cruise day, note the operating times of the company. If your ship docks on a week-end, you options may be limited.

Parking can be complicated in cities or small towns with pedestrian zones

8. Although not 100% necessary, an international driving permit is strongly recommended, particularly if you want to go from country to country. It is valid for one year and not renewable (you must start a new application). You must have a driver's license in your own country and carry both. You also cannot use it in your own country in place of a real driver's license. Only two companies in the USA are authorized to issue them: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). 

9. Be alert to the driving patterns. For Americans, this means learning how to drive on the left side of the road, possibly with a right-hand drive car (with the steering wheel on the right side, rather than the left); making turns into the left lane; learning expressions like Give Way, rather than Yield; for some, traffic circles.; a lower speed limit in some countries (despite evidence to the contrary), a NASCAR-like speed limit in other countries or states; learning the metric system (kilometers rather than miles) and reading in other languages. Luckily, most sign colors and shapes are international.



10. Finally, wherever you are, it is your responsibility to know the local laws. It should go without saying that some customs should be automatic regardless of whether it is a law or not: no drinking and driving, wear your seatbelt, car seats for younger riders and good defensive driving strategies, turn on your lights when it is raining, etc.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cruising 101 Part 5: Plan Your Own Excursions

Disclaimer

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.


This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr. Purchase our fine art, decor or stock photos on ShutterstockZenfolioImageKindmcraytonphoto.comiStock by Getty Images , and Dreamstime. 



Planning Your Own Cruise Excursion






If you are first time cruiser, you may get sticker shock when you see what is not included in your fare and how much extras cost. (see our article here). Activities that you do while in port are generally called excursions. Cruise lines charge extra for excursions and you may be led to believe that they are mandatory. Check out my tips below.






Bonus tip: you don’t have to get off the ship! Check out the newsletter for the day and enjoy the peace and quiet, along with available deck chairs at the pool.


Extra bonus tip: Be aware of how much time you have. If I have a long time (6 hours or more), I’ll get off and explore the town, come back to the ship to eat lunch and then get off again to catch a cab to a great free public beach.

Here are my top tips:

1.  You do not have to buy the ship’s excursions but there are some advantages: they already researched reputable and reliable companies; they're guaranteed not to leave you behind (the ship will wait for you); it’s easier for the more exotic day trips, like parasailing, zip-lining and ATVs.



2.   Stop at the information desk when you disembark. Although it seems they are steering you to their friends and relatives in the business (and sometimes they are), they will also guide you to the more reliable vendors. Cruise guide books are a great way to introduce yourself to great sightseeing spots.




3.   Explore your options about ports before your cruise (don’t waste precious data while onboard if you bought the internet package). Travel guidebooks (hard copy or electronic) are also a wealth of information. For a book that combines almost all of the Caribbean ports, I use Fodor's.




4.   Don’t be afraid to rent a car and explore. Pay a little higher and use familiar names such as Avis, Hertz, etc. Hint about Caribbean cruises: for the most part, you are on an island, which goes in a circle, less chance of getting lost. Don’t waste your mobile phone data with GPS, go old school and use a map, the rental companies will give you one. See more information here.


Don't forget to gas up before returning the car. You may need local currency.


5.   The above tip being said, be aware of which countries drive English style and which drive American style. Sometimes you get a right-hand drive car, sometimes not. After one excursion you will get the hang of it.


Barbados lets you know right up front about the taxi fares

6.   For the less adventurous, some islands that have safe public transportation. When a ship is in port, buses miraculously are on the ship’s schedule and seem to be available when you dock. Tell the driver where you want to go and when you need to be back onboard. He or she will tell you what time you should catch the bus back. You may want to take an earlier bus just to be safe (remember the tip about getting left behind).


Hiring a van for a group can be more economical: they'll give you a tour and take you to a local beach.


7.   For the even less ambitious, a cab will take you to a location and will pick you up at an agreed time. Get a price before you get in, don’t be afraid to bargain. A cab to a beach will probably run you half of the price of the cruise price total. For example, we’ve taken cabs for $25 round trip for 2-3 of us. If you are traveling with another family, you can hire a whole van sometimes for $50 total. We had 7 of us between two families. Not bad when it would have been $280.

8.   You can arrange your own excursion with a company in advance from home. However, do your research: check out the reviews on websites such as Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor (but learn how to read between the lines for some of the reviews).

The Butterfly Farm in Saint Martin

9.   Some sightseeing that you can do on your own are museums, shopping, public beaches (the local cabbies will know which ones are safe for tourists), or even day passes at resorts (Atlantis, for example). Save some fun for the next time so that you will have something new to do when you return.

Save money and catch a cab to Dunn's River, Ocho Rios, Jamaica


10. The more you visit a port, the more familiar and safer you will feel. Nassau is one of the most popular ports and you can tell experienced cruisers. They haven’t bought an excursion in years, yet they've done almost everything there.