Mobile phone use while traveling overseas

This is the first in series of posts that will describe my experiences using an iPhone while traveling around the world.   This post is just general tips.  The follow on posts will describe our experiences in the countries I have traveled.  

We typically get a "local SIM" at the airport upon arrival.    This is also called a "pre-paid SIM".  This will save you a lot of money because by paying up front (hence pre-paid), you know you will not come home to a huge phone bill.  You'll typically need to spend between $20 to $30 (USD) to get a SIM and phone plan.  This beats even the cheapest international plans from US phone companies.

You will need to decide if you want data (Internet), voice, or both.  I always opt for both, if possible, as having voice will give you a local phone number.  

Having a local phone number comes in very handy.   You can call hotels or restaurants to get directions easily.  Also, in Paris, we found it was not possible to call and order a taxi without having a local phone number.  

Having data (or Internet access) is great while traveling.  The big thing is using Google Maps to find your way around.  This can be invaluable and can save a lot of time.  It also allows you to keep up with all your social media (Facebook, etc), email, or anything else you'd do online with your phone in your home country.  You can also use various apps to call home for free or very cheaply.  Our current favorite is Magic Jack.  

To use your phone with a lcoal SIM, you need an "unlocked" phone.  Most mobile phones in the United States are locked to a carrier like AT&T or Verizon.  Check with your carrier before leaving for your trip to avoid disappointment during your travels.   Locked phones will not work with another phone company.

For the best experience, research mobile phone companies in the countries in which you will be traveling.  Some carriers work better in some parts of a country, but not all.  Some carriers work well in cities and will not have good coverage in more rural areas.  Again, check in advance by doing a few Google searches before you leave.

The Lovely Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle is a 15th-century castle built by the O'Donnell clan.  It is located in the center of what is now Donegal town northwest Ireland.  My wife and I stopped here while driving up the western coast of Ireland.

The day we stopped no one else was visting.  It was like we owned the castle!  Just walking around by ourselves and soaking up the history.  Upstairs they have the story of the castle with some displays that show the castle at various times in the past.  It is interesting to see how the castle evolved and grew over time.

Until next time...

Wyman

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Pretty path to a Portuguese church

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St Gualter Church in Guimarães, Portgual is small-ish as churches go.  The garden out in front of the church is what makes it spectacular.  I love this view from the fountain down to the church.  The garden is so well kept and simple yet elegant.

The church dates back to the 1500's and in 1993 was listed in Portugal as a property of public interest.

Until next time...

Wyman

The Vatican from the River

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Taken along the River Tiber in Rome, Italy.  You can see St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican in the background.  I personally loved the reflections of the bridge in the river.  That's why I took this shot.  Once I got back  home, I realized a lot of people love this angle.  I had no idea!

Rome is such a wonderful, walkable city with many tourist sights to see.  The real pleasure for me in Rome is just walking and almost getting lost.  There is art and beauty on almost every street corner!

Until next time...

Wyman

Photo Essay: Water puppets in Hanoi

The water puppet shows in Vietnam have a long, rich history dating back many centuries.  We went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi.  The cynical part of me had low expectations and, wow, were those expectations exceeded.  I loved the show which lasts about an hour and a half. The theater is in the Old Quarter and very easy to find.  It's also only a short walk away from the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) which is on Hoàn Kiếm Lake.  This whole area of the city is very walkable  and nice to check out.

Here is the stage as we all eagerly waited for the show to start.

Finally the characters start to come out.  There are several stories played out with these characters.  We kept wondering where are the artists that are moving the puppets.

One of the main characters is just having a relaxing time fishing. Until...

A dragon shows up.

There are several old Vietnamese folklore stories which give you a good sense of the culture. Then the artists come out to take a bow and it's done.

This is a must see when in Hanoi!

The Belgrade Fortress towers above the rivers

Fortress in Belgrade, Serbia

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The Belgrade Fortress stands where the Danube and Sava rivers come together.  The view from the fortress grounds is quite spectacular.  I love this photo of the towers on the back side of the fortress.

The fortress walls were originally the walls of the city and is the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade today.  Belgrade is quite a lively city now and a joy to walk around.  The fortress is essentially a park now with plenty of shade, grassy areas for the kids to run around, and benches to sit and enjoy the day.

Until next time...

Wyman

Hot Air Balloons and Rock Formations - Cappadocia, Turkey

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The Cappadocia region is central Turkey has some amazing landscapes.  I highly recommend visiting Cappadocia if you go to Turkey.   There are caves to explore, complete underground cities, valleys to trek, and some of the most unique rock formations on the planet.

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Just the hot air balloon experience itself is incredible.  The morning we went there were at least 100 balloons up at one time.  You can get a flavor for the number of balloons in the air from the picture below.

You will wake up about 4AM and a shuttle will pick you up from your hotel at about 4:30AM.  The first stop will be the balloon company office to sign paperwork and have a quick breakfast.  Soon you will load up in vans and convey to the launch site.  You will watch them inflate the balloons, hop aboard, and get a quick safety brief.

The next thing you know, you'll be easing off the ground and gracefully floating above these strange looking rock formations.  It is both loud and quiet at the same time.  The gas burner that keeps the air in the balloon is very loud.  Luckily, it is used sparingly.  Otherwise, it is very quiet.  You're just floating up there in awe.

Do not forget to take some photos!  I was halfway through the trip before I realized I should collecting digital memories!  :-)

Until next time...

Wyman

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

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We stumbled upon Alexander Nevsky Cathedral during a trip to Tallinn by taking the bus up to the top of the hill and just wandering around.  It is tucked away in the Old Town part of the city.

The cathedral was completed in 1900.  Services are still held in the Russian language.

The area is a bit touristy now and even has "beer wenches" on bicycles selling bottled water, Coke, Sprite, etc.  Strange.

Until next time...

Wyman

Bondi Beach (Circa 2000)

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Here is an old photo from my time in Sydney, Australia.  (Digital cameras have come a long way!)

This is Bondi Beach which hosted Olympic beach volleyball in 2000 just before I arrived.   Of course, this beach was popular well before the Olympics decided to go there.  See the Bondi Stories web for history, lots of old photos,  and to see how the beach has transformed (and stayed the same) over time.

It's about time to start planning another trip Down Under.  We want to travel to Australia and New Zealand again while we're young enough to enjoy the outdoors activities!

Until next time...

Wyman

Fairytale view in Hallstatt, Austria

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A couple of years ago we spent a few days in the mountains between Vienna and Salzburg, Austria in the village of Hallstatt.  We got the idea from Rick Steves as many Americans do.  Wow, did he steer us in the right direction.  This area of Austria is absolutely stunning with lots of activities to do.  I'll write a post about things to do in the area soon.

Some people in China like this village so much they made a replica of Hallstatt in China.  Pretty amazing.

The photo above is a view of the village as seen from the ferry that takes people from village to village.  Such a beautiful scene with the old style building and the mountains.  Hallstatt itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Until next time...

Wyman

Sunset on Highway 1

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This is from a recent road trip on Highway 1 on the California coast.   This is north of San Francisco in Marin County.  Very peaceful and a great break from the hustle and bustle of The City.   If you get a chance, do take the time to drive up and down this Pacific Coast Highway.

Until next time...

Wyman

A Mad Man's Home is his Castle - Neuschwanstein

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Many things could be said about this castle.  It is an awesome sight and, frankly, my picture does not do it justice.  If the castle looks familiar that's because it has been the inspiration for castles in several movies and such including Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.

The castle is named Neuschwanstein and was built by a mad man, King Ludwig II.  This was just one of his many castles and palaces.   One thing that is amazing to me is the castle was built in the 1870s and 1880s.  I always think castles like this were built in ancient times.

This photo was taken from a Marien Brücke (or Mary's Bridge).  It was named after the king's mother.

Until next time...

Wyman

Pompeii Street

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This is a common street in Pompeii, Italy.  in the background is Mt Vesuvius (volcano) which is the whole reason Pompeii is well known now.  Today, the area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is really amazing to stroll through the old ruins.  Seeing the layout of the streets and buildings gives you a feel for the city that existed so long ago.  It also makes you wonder what the place you live now will be like hundreds of years ago.  The place gives you a great sense of just out temporary we are and life is.

The city of Pompeii was once filled with business men, families, and tourists much like any modern city today.  They people of Pompeii probably had the same sense of urgency and desire for growth and prosperity.  Then one day, Mt Vesuvius erupted and it was over very quickly.  Just like that, all the life was gone.

The moral of the story is to enjoy the time you have on this earth!

Until next time...

Wyman

Wat Ou Sai Kham in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Ou Sai Kham, a temple, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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This is the inside of Wat Ou Sai Kham, a temple, in Chiang Mail, Thailand.  The temple is said to be more than 300 years old.   If you do not know, the word Wat means temple in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  Think "Angkor Wat" (Cambodia) which is, of course, one of the most famous temple ruins in the world.

I was just wandering around some back streets in Chiang Mai and stumbled upon this Wat.  It was completely a hidden gem for me.  There was only one other person there when I arrived.  He left as I arrived and motivated me to make put a little money in the donation box after I saw him do so.  This temple though small is absolutely beautiful.  It is quite a peaceful place; away from all the tourists and traffic.

Buddhist temples are different in different countries.  See my post on the Golden Temple for an example of a temple in southern India.

London bus tour - Big Ben and Parliament

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Took this photo from the top deck of a double deck tour bus.   We had our oldest daughter with us.  Our youngest was on the way, but not born yet.  So, technically, I guess she was with us too.  Despite the clouds, it was a beautiful day in London.

This is just as we were crossing the River Thames.   If you could look back to the right, you'd see the London Eye.  I love this angle of Parliament and Big Ben.  It is hard to get a good shot with a tripod on the ground owing to traffic on the bridge.  This is also a great area to hop off the bus and walk around it.  It is full of history and things to see.

We used The Big Bus Company and really enjoyed it.  They also do walking tours in certain areas as part of the ticket.

Until next time...

Wyman

Ta Prohm tree

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This is one of the spectacular trees growing into the temple ruins of Ta Prohm.  This temple is part of the larger Angkor Archaeological Park near the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia.  The most famous of the temple complexes there is, of course, Angkor Wat.  However, the other parts of the Angkor Park are just as amazing.  The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ta Prohm is basically an old monastery during the Khmer empire.  It was constructed by Jayavarman VII who was king of the Khmer 1181 until 1218 AD.   The temple was completed and dedicated in 1191.

Part of the Tomb Raider movies (with Angelia Jolie) were filmed here.  However, we did not see Lara Croft running around while we were there.  Oh well.  :-)

The fact that these structures have been around for so long is really mind-boggling to me!

By the way, I had just gotten my first DSLR camera and did not know how to use it.  That's why you see the sky is much brighter than it should be.  Live and learn.  :-)

Until next time...

Wyman