The RomaPass – Cost-Savings Analysis

by Karen

In Paris, we purchased the Paris Museum Pass to visit an unlimited number of museums within 6 days, and thought it was our best purchase there. We heard that Rome had something similar, called the RomaPass, and decided to get one. Unfortunately, its rules and usage is not as clear as the Paris pass.

Whereas the Paris Museum Pass allows you to visit any (listed) museum for an unlimited number for times during a set period, the Roma Pass has these rules:

– costs 34€ per person
– activated on your first visit to any site or first use of public transportation, expires at midnight on the third consecutive day
– unlimited use of public transportation (a 16.50€ value)
– allows you to visit your first two museums/attractions for free
– any museum you visit AFTER your first two freebies are subject to a discounted entrance fee
– allows you to skip lines at some museums (not necessary in early December, but I’d imagine crucial in peak season)
– all major attractions & museums are covered, EXCEPT anything inside Vatican City (it’s not a part of Rome!)

Now, this sounds like a really great deal! That is, until you look at the admission fees for these attractions & museums, as well at the cost of public transportation: this stuff’s already pretty cheap! And the discounted prices to museums aren’t really significant. So did we end up saving money buying a Roma Pass?

Here are the general costs of public transportation (as of Dec 2013):
– Single ride ticket: 1.50€
– 1-day Metro pass: 6.00€ (4 rides)
– 3-day Metro pass: 16.50€ (11 rides)
– 7-day Metro pass: 24.00€ (16 rides)

20131218-135635.jpg

20131218-135643.jpg

Getting lost in the streets of Marrakech

by Karen

Our first full day of Marrakech, we had a simple breakfast of cereal, yogurt, and breads. One of the breads was a flat bread that reminded me of the roti that I’d used to eat as a kid in Malaysia.
20131101-113032.jpg
20131101-113045.jpg
Our guide picked us up at 10 and we proceeded to head out on our half-day tour of Marrakech. The guide was assigned to us by a local company that caters to one-on-one tours of interesting sights of their choosing. Our guide spoke pretty good English, though I had trouble hearing over street noise. We had a choice of going to the north side of the city closest to our riad, which was the markets, or the south side, featuring palaces and a cemetary. We chose the south.

20131101-113514.jpg

20131101-113527.jpg

Our guide hooked us up with a taxi and we were on our way. During the ride he pointed out various buildings of importance, and explained a bit about Islamic culture. Our first stop was in a cemetary for kings. He explained that kings were buried in the capital city during the time of their death, so a few kings were buried in Marrakech (Rabat is currently the capital of Morocco).

20131101-113319.jpg

20131101-113334.jpg

Some quick facts:
– Islamic art features lots of geometric shapes instead of people, so as not to worship idols or images other than god
– Green is a religious color, symbolizing Paradise (which is filled with green grass)
– The dead are buried sideways for efficiency, so bodies don’t have to be measured as much and can be buried ASAP without spectacle.
– Graves are unlabeled except for stones denoting the gender of the deceased. As our guide put it, the dead are dead, there should be no difference in how they are treated from other dead beings
– Cremation is thought to be painful for the soul, at least our guide thought being burned was more painful than being eaten by maggots (the dead can “feel”)

20131101-113543.jpg20131101-113602.jpg20131101-113623.jpg20131101-113637.jpg
20131101-113800.jpg
After the cemetary we walked through more winding roads and came upon a “palace”. It was actually an old French military building (Morocco used to be a French “protectorate”). The architecture was simply beautiful. Many of the doors and rooves were made of cedarwood, with intricate carvings on them. Tiles were arranged in symmetrical geometric patterns.

20131101-151829.jpg

20131101-151929.jpg

20131101-151944.jpg

20131101-152007.jpg

20131101-152041.jpg
20131101-152058.jpg
The walls are generally made of plaster since they are easier to maintain, and the floors made of tile because they are easier to clean. Many walls had engravings of the Koran etched on a downward angle, so it wouldn’t get so dusty and hard to clean.

Doors are built outside of frames and are secured by outside hinges because it is more difficult to build them in arched doorways, and it takes up more space.
20131101-151906.jpg

20131101-113812.jpg

20131101-113900.jpg

After touring the building, our guide took us through more winding streets until we came to a large square–the heart of Marrakech, Jemaa-el-Fna. It was a giant marketplace, a complete sensory overload. And our tour guide pretty much dumped us there, without much direction on how to get back, other than a bus number, and the name of the stop. Without a way to call our riad, and with no wi-fi to figure out where we were, we were somewhat stranded. We did manage to find our bus and get off on the correct stop. But then we were really screwed.
20131101-150322.jpg
We thought getting lost in Paris was bad–getting lost in the middle of Marrakech with no street signs or familiar landmarks or any semblance of main roads was worse! We were in the middle of a small square that split off into 4 different directions, none of them looking very familiar.
20131101-145757.jpg
We were approached by a young man offering to show us the way, so we told him the name of the riad and followed him down a road–our first mistake! It didn’t look familiar at all, and he wanted some change for it. We told him we needed to get change, so he said “follow me” and started walking ahead. We quickly turned around and ran back towards the direction we had come.

After walking down a slightly more familiar path (“hey, that door looks familiar”), we managed to find our way back. Great, we thought, now that we know how to get home, let’s go back and take some pictures of important landmarks in case we get lost again.
20131101-150039.jpg
Another young man noticed we were taking pictures and said he could help us find a way. We already knew our way home, so we said “No”. There was an old guy sitting at a shop nearby laughing, and I said “Salam”, and he was happy I said something in Arabic, so he told me that today my name was “Fatima” and Mark’s name was “Sayeed”. The young man wanted to show us a mosque where we could take photos, and the old man gave his blessing, so we said why not. We followed him, found the mosque, and took photos.
20131101-145013.jpg
20131101-145040.jpg
“Now you pay me 100 dirhams.”

Ah. We fell for it hook line and sinker. To be honest, we didn’t have any bills smaller than 500DH, and we didn’t want to give him anything bigger, so we told him we had no cash. He argued with us the whole way home, calling us crazy, shouting at us, and insisting that we give him money. We offered him all our coins, but he wanted bills. We got back to the shop with the old man, who smiled and shook his head with a look of “just ignore him.” As we walked back to our riad, he cursed us and turned around and left. It was actually a bit stressful, but our riad hostess assured it was a common occurrence, that it was best to not give them money to discourage their behavior.
20131101-151537.jpg
After a bit of rest, we chatted with our hostess and she gave us a map (yay!) and directions on where to go and eat. As we walked down the street towards the square, we noticed some new graffiti near our riad that said “CRAZY CHINEES”. We eventually did bump into our “friend” again, and this time we gave him 20DH (the equivalent of $2.45) to leave us alone. He happily accepted it and went on his merry way. Lesson learned–don’t follow strangers, and don’t look so lost!

Now that we had a map, we were very careful about where we’d bring it out. Whenever we’d get lost, we’d find a bank or post office, go inside, and ask a security guard for directions. Bringing out a map or looking lost on the street causes young men everywhere to descend upon us like vultures, offering to show us where to go (of course, they all assume to know where we are going). We think it’s a ploy to get us even more lost, so we have to pay them to take us back out.

The rest of the day went by pretty smoothly, now that we had better directions and followed straight paths. After a few winding roads and ignoring cries of “this way, follow me!” and “where are you going?”, by sunset we found our way back to the giant square again.
20131101-115653.jpg
We ate at a restaurant facing the square called Chegourani, recommended by our hostess. The prices were reasonable, and the food was amazing. We had chicken, raisin, and almond tajine, along with Moroccan soup and some veggie couscous. I noticed how in all the cities we’ve been to so far, our favorite foods involved Middle Eastern or Arabic cuisines (our favorite meal in London was Lebanese; in Paris it was Turkish). We washed it down with some strong Moroccan mint tea (needed a lot of sugar), and watched the crowds pop up as the sun went down.
20131101-113831.jpg

After dinner, we decided to get lost in the souks. There was just so much color everywhere. We must’ve wandered around for hours, the stalls went on for miles in every direction. Eventually we decided to go back to our riad (but not without getting slightly lost). Thankfully, the photos we took of important landmarks during the day came very much in handy, as they helped us find our way home.
20131101-145444.jpg

Shameless plug: Our YouTube Channel

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

We’ve been doing a bad job of filming videos during our trip, and when we do, we’ve been doing an equally worse job of uploading them! On top of that, we’ve been adding repetitive YouTube-approved background music to each video! 😀

Anyways, if you haven’t noticed the links in our sidebar, we DO have a YouTube channel, and we try to update it whenever we can obtain a fast wi-fi connection. Please visit and enjoy! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

First few days in Morocco

via our Facebook page:

We are alive! We’ve gotten lost in the streets, led astray by locals, almost run over by motorcycles, met very friendly people, and our stomachs are still ok!

@ http://www.facebook.com/pages/p/190184244496819

The Turkey Shuffle

by Karen

No matter how much careful planning you think you do, there’s always something small that can slip through the cracks. In our case, it was a pretty big crack!

Somehow we got the idea into our heads that Mark didn’t need to apply for a Turkey visa beforehand, that he would be able to purchase one upon arrival for $20. We both could’ve sworn it was true. In fact, it IS true for US citizens, but not for Philippine citizens.

We were thisclose to booking our 14 days in Turkey, when on a whim we decided to read the page about visa requirements.

PHILIPPINES
Ordinary passport holders are required to have a consular visa before travelling to Turkey.

To say that we panicked is a gross understatement. We scrambled to get all his visa paperwork together, going through the motions of booking fake hotels, printing out flight itineraries, filling out forms, and grabbing cash, and raced towards the Turkish embassy in Paris, only to find out they were closed. We then realized that it might take days or weeks to get the visa approved, so we gave up on the idea of going to Turkey for 14 days.

Turkey was an important strategic segment of our trip. Because we’re only allowed 90 days in Schengen territory, and because we want to experience Christmas & New Years in Europe, we needed a way to extend our time in the Europe region through January. An obvious solution would be to fly to Asia, then come back, but we have bigger plans for that trip later. 😉

So what were our other options? We couldn’t go to a country that required Philippine citizens to get a visa in advance, and we couldn’t stay too long in Schengen, lest we go over our 90-day welcome.

  • Extend our stay in Morocco (US & Philippine citizens OK for 90 days)
  • Go to Israel (no visas required for both of us)
  • Go back to London

After e-mailing the Turkish consulate in LA about our visa issue, I found out that there was a loophole for Mark entering Turkey. According to the friendly Turkish consulate worker:

If you come to Turkey by a cruise ship and thereafter leave Turkey for another country by the same cruise ship, all cruise passengers on board are exempt from visa for a daily stopover. If your cruise ship starts from Turkey or ends up in Turkey, all passengers are subject to a visa to enter Turkey. Depending on the citizenship of the passenger, an advance visa may be necessary to disembark.

Really? Even if we have to disembark the ship? *flutter of hope*

Mark found a cruise with Costa Cruises that fits into our itinerary quite well (anyone back home wanna join us???). But, we need to be absolutely sure, for real this time, lest we repeat our mistake:

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE AN ADVANCE VISA UNDER YOUR CRUISE TRAVEL ROUTE FOR ALL TURKISH PORT OF CALLS. AS LONG AS YOU ARE LISTED IN A CRUISE PASSENGERS LIST, YOU VISIT TURKEY.

Yes sir, we will go and visit Turkey! With the supposed blessing of the Turkish consulate, we went ahead and booked our cruise!

20131022-113852.jpg

Now because we are leaving from Italy, we would be spending extra time in a Schengen zone. We did the math and so far it seems to work out (we hope). So if we’re on a cruise ship, which country are we technically in? I e-mailed the Greek consulate in LA and got back this response:

When you are on the cruise ship in Greek waters, you are considered as being in Greece.  They will stamp your passport when you enter and exit the country.  As a U.S. citizen traveling on a U.S. passport you can stay in the Schengen area 90 days in any six months.

So, hopefully this all works out in the end. A cruise will be a nice break from all the planning, and in addition to Turkey, we get to visit Greece, Croatia, and 2 new Italian cities in the process, something that we hadn’t planned. 🙂

Paris Metro

by Karen

Thanks to Mark’s limited high school French and my iOS translator, we managed to figure out the basics of getting a pass for the Paris Metro.
20131014-142048.jpg
Similar to London’s Oyster Card, the Paris Metro uses a Navigo Card. For non-residents, it’s called a Navigo Découverte card. It gives you unlimited access to their public transportation system (subway, buses, etc) for an entire week, starting on Monday @ 12:00am, and ending on Sunday @ 11:59pm (therefore, if you arrive on a Thurs or Fri, you probably shouldn’t buy it).

It costs 5€ to buy the card (good for 10 years) and 19,90€ to charge it up for the week, as long as you stay within Zones 1&2 (where all the touristy stuff is anyway). A one-way ticket is approx. 1,70€, so if you ride the train at least 10x during the week, you’ll have already made up for the cost.

You’ll also need a passport-sized photo that gets affixed onto your Navigo card, and there are plenty of photo booths in every Metro station where you can get a set for 5€. (Hey, this is starting to add up!)

You can also buy ticket packets if you don’t plan on traveling by bus or subway as much. For 2 weeks in Paris starting on a Monday, getting a Navigo card seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

20131015-004016.jpg

Traveling from London to Paris on Megabus

by Karen

There are a bunch of different ways to travel to Paris from London, the cheapest most likely being a bus. There are also many different bus companies going to Paris (probably at around the same prices), but we ended up choosing Megabus because we didn’t realize how many others there were at the time of booking (we booked our Edinburgh-London bus at the same time).

Unfortunately, London-Paris does not offer a sleeper option yet. So we had to get a regular seater bus for £18/person.

Our bus left from Victoria Coach Station at 9:30pm on time (yay!). But we had to get to the check-in line about an hour earlier. Holy crap, the station was absolute chaos. It was like someone started throwing free money around and everyone was crowding around doors.

The seats are like normal coach seats and the bus is a duplex. It’s pretty full in contrast to our Megabus from last weekend.

Cheap bus full of (predominantly young) people traveling in groups = bring earplugs if you want to sleep. (I almost feel like the older I get, the more anti-social I become.) Fortunately I was tired enough to just pass out.

Two hours into our journey, we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. Mark said that it was like going through Communion for him; everytime he gets a passport stamp, he feels “blessed”.

We got off the bus again after that to get a sandwich while waiting to board the ferry, and again after the bus parked on the ferry. The ferry feels pretty huge, it was almost like being on a cruise ship, and had a large cafeteria and small slot machines. It was about a 1.5hr ride to the French shore. Goodbye, England! Unfortunately, it was too dark to see anything outside.

Our bus arrived in Paris around 8am and dropped us off in Porte Maillot, which is supposedly a giant concert hall & shopping mall area.

Nothing special about the bus, but it was pretty darn cheap. The ferry made us really sea sick though. 😦

20131014-135348.jpg

20131014-135409.jpg

20131014-135434.jpg

20131014-135450.jpg

20131014-135506.jpg

20131014-135519.jpg

20131014-135535.jpg

20131014-135549.jpg