Shot of the Day – Buda Castle (Budapest)

Buda Castle Courtyard

Buda Castle sits at the southern tip of Castle Hill and begins what is commonly called the Castle District.. It looks down on the Chain Bridge and some of the best views of Budapest are from the paths that surround it.  It can be reached by walking one of the beautiful paths up the hill.. or the Castle Hill Funicular.. Either way, it is well worth the time to explore..

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!

Let’s Plan a Trip..

So you want to take a trip?

Even people that just “go with the flow” do some planning before an adventure. It’s always nice to have the hotel, transportation and basic tour plan in place before arriving. I am going to take you through the steps I use whenever I look at visiting a new city..  It doesn’t matter much whether you are traveling across the state or around the world.. except for transportation, the steps remain the same..

1. THE HOTEL
This is actually the easiest to do but it takes the most work to get the best
the rate..  I usually start with two hotel sites – Booking.com and Hotels.com . These
2 sites will generate some awesome deals and I use Booking.com almost exclusively. Still
there are 2 more steps I take, just to insure the best price.. I next check travel sites..
Orbitz and Expedia (for example) because they both have the lowest price guarantee.
I am not sure how they can BOTH have the lowest price but between these 4 sites, you  will be able to find a hotel with the best price…or at least, you would think so.  But
there is still ONE more step.. Once you pick a hotel or two, head over to the hotel’s
actual website and check the price again. You will often find that the hotel is offering
some promotion or deal that they haven’t passed on to the Search Engine sites.. When
searching for the hotel, look for acess to public transportation (or parking if you are driving), location to what you want to see and do, and breakfast… I always include breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day.

2. SIGHT SEEING
 WHAT do you want to see and HOW  are you going to get there? I had a friend of mine book me a hotel in Lviv for me.. This was before I decided to planmy own travel and one of the reasons I actually decided to start planning my owntravel. The hotel was awesome.. decent price .. yummy, if limited, breakfast. The problem was that I wanted to explore LVIV which was almost 40 km away.. so an hour there..and hour back.. by taxi. Not good.  You need to have some basic plan of what you want to visit and dowhile on vacation.. Location doesn’t matter if you are going to lounge around the pool all day drinking MaiTais.. But If you want to explore a city, visit iconic landmarks, or check out thelocal flavor, you need to have a plan.Are you renting a car and driving?  Are you taking public transportation (Metro, Buses)?Do you need a taxi? Are you going to walk (My favorite mode of exploration)?What are the 5 most important things you want to see and do? Landmarks? Museums?In the larger cities in Europe that I have visited, I have found that Hop On/Hop Off bus tours are an excellent and economical way to see the landmarks.. While they are not all the same, typically they stop at (or close) to the major attractions and come and go about every 10 minutes..  I use them for transportation purposes because it easier to read and decipher the schedules than local buses..and over a 3 or 4 day trip..less expensive. Of course, you can just get a city map and walk.. ultimately that is the least expensive and walking allows you to see things you might have otherwise missed.

3. THE FLIGHT
This is the next to last thing, I plan.. The reason for the last will be apparent momentarily. The flight is also the fastest to book.. Check Kayak and follow the recommendations.. or use Orbitz or Expedia to book hotel and flight together. If you do a bit of homework with the hotel search, it makes this stage much easier..
A couple of points about flying and flight searches.. Prices change constantly, but in my experience, it is best to buy the flight 14 – 21 days in advance and after midnight on Tuesday.  I always find the best prices then.. And make sure that after you search on Kayak or Vayama or anywhere, always check the airline’s website. Just like hotels, airlines often have deals that they don’t share with the search engines.

4. AIRPORT TRANSFERS
The last thing I plan (and pay for in advance) is the transfer from the airport to the hotel.. I absolutely hate trying to get a decent price from a taxi at the airport. The reason that this is the last thing is because to pre-book a transfer you will need flight times and numbers.  I have found a couple of sites that provide transfers for a reasonable price –  City Discovery  and Sun Transfers. Either one of these companies will have your driver waiting at the arrival gate with a nice placard with your name. He will take your luggage to the car, load it, and drop you off at the front door of the hotel.  I have also found that the price is less than or equal to the same price as a taxi, and you don’t have to wait or haggle a price.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always options in every city.  Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich all have direct trains from the airport to the center of the city that take 15 – 30 minutes.. Paris has some of the most amazing public transportation anywhere and their train system will take you either to CDG or ORLY or both.. Trains are a reasonbly priced, fast and comfortable (although sometimes crowded) option in alot the major cities. The biggest downside is rarely do they stop at your hotel.
Most airports have buses to the center of town and that is usually the cheapest option. frequently though, the buses are packed to capacity and slow in traffic. And, like the trains, they rarely stop at your hotel. If you don’t mind dragging, rolling, pulling, or carrying you luggage from the stop to the hotel, buses can save you a small fortune..

Questions?

Happy and Safe Travels!

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Kyiv – Shot of the Day

St. Michael's Golden Domed Monastery and Mykhailivska Square

St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery and Mykhailivska Square

St. Michaels’ Golden Domed Cathedral and Mykhailivska Square ..  A beautiful cathedral just a short walk from the Maidan (Independence Square) and a great stop on the way to Andrew’s Descent (Andriyivsky Uzviz in Ukrainian)

Poland – Krakow

St.Mary's Cathedral

St.Mary’s Cathedral

I landed at the airport in Katowice because it was the only non-stop flight from Kiev that landed anywhere close to Krakow, not realizing the transfer to the hotel would take longer than the flight.. An hour and 37 minutes later, I arrived my hotel, The Hotel Pollera situated in Old Town about a 5 minute walk to the main square.

Main  Square

Main Square

It was cool and a little cloudy with evidence of fresh rain. Even though it was almost 10 PM, the square was awash with people. There seemed to be more revelers than tourist and even more ladies advertising the benefits of the local “Gentlemen’s” clubs than revelers.

I was tired so after a brief walk and several photos, I returned to the hotel with a plan to start exploring this beautiful city, first thing in the morning.

Prague – Arrival

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Arrival at the airport in Prague was anti-climactic.. If you are looking for stories of long lines, disgruntled passengers and lost luggage, this is not the place.  Everything was wonderful. From luggage retrieval to speedy processing through customs, it could not have gone better..  Maybe because it was Thursday …

I placed an order for an airport transfer from PAT (Prague Airport Transfers) when I first booked the trip so as I entered the greeting area, I was searching for the orange card with my name on it.  Ok.. my driver might have been colorblind because the card was yellow..But he was there.. took my bag and led me to the E-Class Mercedes to take me to my hotel.

City View

City View

During the 1/2 hour trip from the airport. Pavel pointed out the various areas of town and sights that I had to see while I was there.  Monasteries, churches, museums, bridges, statues, parks –  it seemed he knew more sights in Prague than the guide books. I highly recommend their service. It was wonderful and personal and cost less than the average taxi fare with less chance of getting ripped off because you’re a “tourist”.

I chose the Charles Bridge Palace  hotel near the river and the Charles Bridge because of the central location. It was a wonderful choice. The service and front desk were friendly and helpful. The room was heavenly and the breakfast was the best I have had in Europe..Let me clarify that..the best I have had at a hotel in Europe.. The biggest problem was the wifi.. it did not work everywhere in the hotel as promised. I wound up in the hotel lobby to post photos on Facebook.  Of course, I used Booking.com  (the link can be found on my website  Travel with Steve  ) to reserve my room and save a little money off their standard rates.. Follow the link and so can you

Across the River

Across the River

After I unpacked, I got the camera gear and merged into the massive throng of tourists headed to the Charles Bridge.  The Charles Bridge is a landmark historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 under during the reign of King Charles IV. It is over 600 m long and almost 10 m wide. It is guarded by 30 statues (15 to a side) and 3 guard towers.

Charles Bridge Statues

Exploring the west side of the river tomorrow..Stay tuned..

Getting Lost in Prague

I am headed to Prague in the Czech Republic. It is only short adventure of 4 days which limits luggage to a carry-on, camera bag and tripod. I have heard about the extraordinary beauty of this city and am excited that I will experience first hand.

Boryspil airport is the starting point, as it has been for most of the trips into Europe. Security and passport control cleared… boarding pass in hand and off to the plane. It is a little strange riding a bus across the tarmac instead of walking from the terminal into the plane. but that’s the way it’s done here, so, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…”

Prague is 2 hours and 10 minutes in the air from Kiev. Enough time to relax, have a nice lunch and look into the exploration of a new city. I usually have a plan and can do my “lightning tour” in 3 days.  Hop-on / Hop-off buses are one of the great ways to take in all the touristy places…the must see stops in a new city.  Of course, they don’t allow you to mix and mingle with locals in the little hidden gems that are often overlooked.

The second and third days and nights are spent wandering, exploring and photographing – Alleyways, side streets and other places off the beaten path in a search for the perfect panoramic city view or nighttime shot. Unusual buildings, windows and doors (my personal favs), and other shots to join my growing Weird Art and Travel Photos collections are mostly found during this time.

There is an excitement in exploration.. in getting lost in a new place… I’m excited so come…

Let’s get lost in Prague.

Travel with Steve

Arles ..

To be perfectly honest, I love Southern France..  This was my second trip here and the 3rd will be next May for a new photography exhibition in Arles.

Transfers from the airport to the center (or St. Charles Station) are extremely easy and inexpensive.  There is a bus that runs about every 15 – 20 minutes and costs 9 Euros..  There is also a shuttle to the train that is free but you must have a train ticket to board.  The biggest problem I encountered was that the ticket booth for the train did not take cash. Again, it needed a credit card with the microchip. Common in Europe…not so much from the USA.  

St. Charles - The main station in Marseille

St. Charles – The main station in Marseille

Since Arles was my first stop on this leg of the journey, I needed a train ticket from the airport to Arles. I was told that you can buy a ticket from the attendant on the train as he comes to check tickets. This actually proved to be the case and I was able to purchase my ticket as the train pulled into Gare de Arles.. That’s right..I did not have a ticket TO Arles but I was able to buy one as I left the train IN Arles.. 

Gare de Arles - Train Station

Gare de Arles – Train Station

Arles is a quiet little town on the Rhone in southern France. It has a long history and was very important in the days of the Roamn empire, as both a seat of government and a supply point for the Roman armies. The Arles Coliseium, second only to the Colisieum in Rome, is a major attraction.

Inside the Coliseum

Inside the Coliseum

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Empty Morning Streets

I, personally, like it more for the quiet side streets and cafes.. the open markets on the weekends and the laid back artist commune atmosphere.

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Avoiding the Crowds

                                                                                                                       

 

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Weekend Market

Since this trip was planned late and Arles is busy during the first week of July, I wound up staying across the river in the town of Forques. A nice little 20 minute walk along the river, past rice fields and cottages, and you will find yourself looking across the river to Arles.  The veiw of the left bank of the Rhone is especially dramatic in the evening as the sun sets and paints the town in red and gold.

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Paris – The Tourist Way

Since I was enjoying Paris with my now ex-girlfriend, I decided to abandon my usual way of exploring a city and take the tourist route. That being said, it was highly enjoyable being a tourist in Paris. The first afternoon, after getting settled into the hotel, we headed out on a short walk to the Sacré-Cœur. This is a very impressive cathedral. It is located on the butte of Montmartre and is the highest point in the city. From the steps you have an amazing view of Paris spread out below.  Sacre Coure 2

Front View

Front View

Day 2,after a short metro ride to the center, we boarded one of the double decker Hop On – Hop Off Bus Tours. At 25.50 euros, it is a very economical way to see Paris without wearing out your feet.  Just hop off at the sights you want to see… take photos … enjoy a coffee… and hop on the next bus. 

Of course, the first thing to see is the Eiffel Tower. It is a must and, probably the most recognized structure in the world. Iconic and majestic, it stands at the head of the Champ de Mars and soars an amazing 324 meters (1,063 feet) into the air. It was named after Gustave Eiffel whose company designed and built it in 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair. Eiffel, himself, actually had very little to do with the design of the tower. The designers of the Eiffel Tower were Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers who worked for the Compagnie des Etablissements Eiffel.  And the rest is history….

The tower has 3 levels available to the public and the 3rd level is the highest point accessible to the public in Europe.

Eiffel TowerEiffel Tower at NightDSC_4779

After a couple of hours of wandering and photos, we boarded the bus for the next stop ..  Arc de Triomphe . It stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The monument stands 50 metres high, 45 meters wide and 22 meters deep. The Arc de Triomphe is so large that on August 7, 1919, Charles Godefroy successfully flew his biplane through it.  The Arc was originally commissioned in 1806 but was not finished until around 1834.  Beneath the vaults lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. There is a museum at the top in the “attic”  with models and details of the construction and after you can climb a few steps to the top and see some wonderful panoramic views of Paris.

Arc de Triumphe

             Arc de Triomphe

Next  … Off at the Louvre .

Posts from France … Waiting

Here I am in Arles, where I was exhibiting photographs for the Nuit de la Roquette..at FreeSpace Gallery. 16 photos were hung and only 7 remain. Whether the missing ones are in someone’s flat or my outside exhibition was merely vandalized, I guess I will never know. Hopefully they are safe and sound hanging on a wall somewhere. I worry about them all alone in the city..

Since I am a complete I-Pad dweeb and cannot figure out how to upload photos to the blog without my computer, posts from France ( with photos) will have to wait until I get back to Kiev. Lesson learned … take computer and not just the I-Pad until you get it figured out.

I-Pad is awesome for instant gratificationon Facebook….feel free to add me as a friend and see photos there. :). But now I realize I should carry my computer too.. Like I said… Lesson learned.

Enjoy your week everyone!

St. Michael’s Cathedral

From Sofiyska Square, you will see another cathedral to the east.. St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery which sits on Mykhailivska Square.

St. Michael's Golden Domed Monastery and Mykhailivska SquareThe original cathedral was built in the middle ages and dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It was demolished in the 1930’s after falling into disrepair but was reconstructed and reopened after Ukrainian independence in the late 90’s. While it is not an exact reconstruction of the original, St. Michaels is a beautiful sight to see.

Also on the square, is a monument to Olga of Kiev. Her husband, Igor of Kiev, was killed and she ruled as regent for her son Svyatoslav. If you read into the history of her rule, you will see she was ruthless in her protection of Kiev.Olga of Kiev

St. Micheal's