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About Mark

Mark Kahler is an American journalist who has traveled to 45 U.S states and 17 other countries around the world. He is also the
Budget Travel Guide Editor for About.com.

An award-winning writer with 18 years experience, Mark has traveled from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China to cover stories. Between professional assignments and careful stretching of a very limited travel budget, Mark has managed to visit many of the world's great cities. He finds modest expenditures actually bring him closer to the people and places he visits.

Insider Travel tips from Mark Kahler

Mark's Tips for Beijing, China

  • I can tell you about a great day for those who want to see a lot in a short time. At most major hotels, there are cabs for hire. Find someone who speaks English and negotiate a day hire. The price is far less than you would pay in the U.S....generally about 100 USD. The hotels give little cards with the name of their place and address in Chinese characters. Grab one of those cards.
  • Have the translator arrange for a trip to the Great Wall at Badaling. It takes about 60-90 minutes to get there, depending on traffic. Once there, splurge for the cable car that takes you to the top and spend half the day exploring this marvel. Pay the cab driver about half the fare so he can eat lunch...but don't give him everything or he might not be around when you want to return.
  • On the way back to the city, have the driver drop you at the entrance to the Forbidden City....and then walk through the square mile palace, through a market and then into Tienanman Square. At nightfall, you can hire a driver to take you back to the hotel, using the card you took for communication. It's an unforgettable day that costs very little, especially if you have a group of people to share expenses.
  • Be certain the seal on your bottled water is unbroken. A common industry is to fish empties from the trash, fill them with local tapwater and resell them to unsuspecting visitors. You're better off buying from stores than vendors off the street.

Mark's Tips for Berlin, Germany

  • Stay at the small Hotel Arte (near the Markisches Museum subway stop), where rooms are generally under $100 per night. The hotel is centrally-located, and ultra-modern. Great choice.
  • For less money, there are scores of Bed/Breakfast places where you can spend $70 USD or less and have a wonderful experience. The beauty of these establishments might initially appear to be a drawback if you don't speak German: very little English is spoken in these places. But you get to see the "real" Berlin instead of a tourist haunt filled with people from the U.S. My favorite is the Hotel Arco, just a few blocks from the famous KaDeWe department store and within walking distance of Ku'Dam and the Berlin Zoo train station.
  • Berlin offers 180 museums...enough to visit a different one each day for six months! My favorite is the Pergamon Museum on "Museum Island." German archeologists managed to dismantle the excavated ancient altar of a Greek city, transport it back to Berlin and reconstruct it. Some 100 years later, it's still an awesome sight. All the buildings on Museum Island (in the Spree River) bear bullet holes--marks from World War 2.
  • There is a city bus #100 that basically makes a giant loop through Berlin's major attractions. You get on and off at your leisure. The city's pickpockets know there are plenty of tourists here, so guard your valuables carefully.
  • Visit Cafe Einstein on Unter Den Linden, just west of Friedrichstrasse. It's hardly an out-of-the-way place, but the food is excellent.
  • For bar hoppers, an unusual place is Windhorst, on Dorotheenstrasse, just a few blocks from Cafe Einstein. It shares a wall with the U.S. Embassy. Since September 11th, there have been concerns about a bomber trying to attack the embassy from the bar. So every visitor must check his/her bags and surrender an ID before entering. It's an unusual Berlin experience for those so inclined.

Mark's Tips for Rome, Italy

  • There's a little neighborhood place near the Vatican called "Prima Vista." It's not fancy. But the prices are cheap, the portions are huge, and the owner loves people from other countries. We loved the food so much we went back a second night. Since this is a neighborhood haunt, the help told him his first customers of the evening weren't regulars, but those Americans again. He came out of the kitchen in his apron, speaking only Italian, shaking our hands and pointing the way to our table personally. Most people in Rome (or Paris for that matter) eat very late...so you can go early in the evening and enjoy no-wait service.
  • We were directed to this place because it was close to the convent where we were staying. That's right, a convent. In Italy, many are set up to earn the sisters a little extra income. They have rooms in areas generally separate from their own living quarters. The prices are incredible--we paid $50 USD/night. Standard rooms in Rome can run double or triple that amount. The rooms are large, spotless, and very quiet.
  • A few caveats on the convent stays: there is usually a curfew (not a choice for night-owls) and they only accept cash (I found this out the hard way--and the ATMs were empty due to a bank strike.) You do NOT have to be Roman Catholic or even Christian, but it goes without saying that you should respect their rules and beliefs when choosing this option.
  • There is much to see in Rome, and all the top sites are well worth the billing they receive. Allow at least a day for the Vatican, and a day for the ancient sites. You won't often hear a lot about the Catacombs, but they are fascinating and humbling for Christians and non-Christians alike. The trip just outside of Rome includes some views of the ancient viaducts you probably saw in those elementary school history books. Look for a bus that says "Saint Calixto."
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