As we look for excursions outside of Chicagoland that are a bargain, we offer some destinations that have much allure – Istanbul, Turkey, Branson, Missouri and Toronto, Canada. Each place offers lively escape activities with accommodations and attractions for intergenerational families that attract the budget conscious. The Grannies on Safari have visited or shot episodes of their television series in all three and recommend them highly.
-You do need a passport.
-As one of the oldest cities in the world, and the nexus of three civilizations – Christianity, Islam, Byzantine, it has enough historical landmarks to visit in a lifetime.
-Istanbul or its old name Constantinople has been Europe’s great bargain for hotels and great food, including the famous Kebobs served at most Turkish restaurants.
-Landmarks abound – including free year around admission to Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque and the 400 year old home of the sultans, Topkapi.
-Hotels and pensions can be secured for all price points, including many located around the city and across the Bosporus. Many package deals are available including international air and hotels.
-Turkish Airlines flies out of Chicago directly to Istanbul daily. Prices are at their lowest in winter and early spring when 4* hotels can be had for under $100 a day. Vacation homes can also be rented. Visit –www.vrbo.com to find them.
-A shopper’s paradise. The Grand Bazaar includes over 4,000 shops selling everything and anything under the sun. This maze of goods is a must stop. Wear comfortable shoes and bring those Euros for making great deals.
-For the culinary enthusiasts, the Spice Bazaar has dazzling arrays of wonderful edibles in addition to spices – like candies called Turkish Delights that are absolutely delectable.
-A cruise on the Bosporus – a waterway that divides Asia and Europe allows the visitor to take a peak at both. The ferry, a commodious and smooth sailing vessel has views of the ‘yallis’ (the famous mansions of Istanbul), and abundant Roman ruins.
-You do need a passport to travel to Canada.
-Our big city neighbor to the north always welcomes residents of its Sister City, Chicago, to its cultural delights any month of the year. Granted the winter months are about the same weather wise as Chicago, there are still lots of things to see and do in this city with its own Great Lake – Ontario.
-Hotel prices are indeed bargains throughout the city and four-star hotels are advertising rates as low as $90 a night Canadian. Toronto has a lot of neighborhoods with great ethnic restaurants with bargain meals where you can take the kids and enjoy a sumptuous meal for less than in Chicago.
-Theater is hot in Toronto with almost as many venues as Chicago and the variety of presentations is breathtaking. It’s a good idea to check the listings before you travel north.
-If you like the cultural allure of museums, there are many choices. The Grannies particularly liked two smaller museums – the Bata Shoe Museum with thousands of shoes dating back several millennia and the Gardner Museum of Ceramics where you can even try your hand at making pots in their educational center. And there are also arts and ethnographic museums with low admissions and discounts for seniors and children.
-For your shopping urges, there is an immense underground shopping system that seems to cover half of the city. So one can indeed come inside out of the cold and spend some cold hard cash.
-China Town in some respects should be called Asia Town. Many of the restaurants are small and intimate; except for a couple of Chinese dim sum emporia type establishments. Visitors can also sample the food at a variety of Thai, and Indonesian restaurants! There is also an Indian section of the city with stores and cafes galore.
-For a great change of scenery, some new experiences in a foreign country, and a destination that will not hurt your pocket book, Toronto is the place. Remember you do need a passport. But the highways from Chicago to Toronto are great and the drive is about eight hours. Or you can fly or take the train. Don’t forget to go to the top of CN Tower. The views are spectacular!
-You probably have heard of Branson, but we would bet that many of you haven’t been there yet. It’s closer than you think – by car or plane and is a perfect weekend getaway for the whole family. The Grannies discovered Branson through the recommendation of friends who raved about its reasonable prices, its fabulous selection of entertainment and the year round accommodation packages that fit any budget. Well, we have to say that they probably have at least one of every hotel chain property in the country. So you can say that your choices are endless.
-Shows and more shows. Not just the ‘stars of yesterday’ perform nightly in almost 100 theaters meandering around Branson proper. There is rock and roll, country, soul, classical and comedy acts that perform in theaters that seat up to 2,000 people with prices that allow you to take the whole family and still have money left over for refreshments.
-Golfers! There are three impressive golf courses nearby with reasonable greens fees, and a new Branson airport is scheduled to open later this year that is right next to one of the most well known courses.
-Among the major attractions is the family friendly Silver Dollar City, a combination amusement part, crafts center, a place to sample regional cuisine and feel a part of the Ozarks’ cultural history.
-Branson is a little town that offers so much for prices that will surprise. From motor Inns for under $50 a night to four-star hotels from under $150 a night, you can’t beat the value for entertainment, lodging and food and you just might run into some stars like we did. Yes, Andy Williams and Ann Margaret filled that bill at Andy’s Theater. And believe us they are still sensational!