Last week, I introduced my new nostalgia column, "Turkey's Hidden Top 10", where I go into some of the hidden gems in the beautiful country that is Turkey. You can check out the 1st iteration here. The previous issue talked about another old neighborhood in Istanbul that houses some of its famous history and cultural diversity.
In honor of summer, this blog is about the Turkish Riviera. Turkey has a long beautiful coastline with some of the most beautiful and active spots on the Mediterranean. If you're looking for a great way to map out your trip here, check out this post.
If you're looking to get a combination of the adventure and relaxation this region supplies, look no further than three little towns: Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara.
This UNESCO Heritage site is a waymark on the Lycian Way, which is the Appalachian Trail of Turkey; but older, hotter, shorter, and with a nicer finish. Xanthos is famous because it was the capital of the Lycian Federation until the invasion of the Persians in the 4th Century BC. What remains are the Lycian Acropolis (the Roman one as well) and many ornate Lycian sarcophagi, the most famous being the Harpy Monument.
It's a surprise there's this much left because after the Lycians found out the Persians were coming, they murdered all the women and then committed mass suicide, with only about 80 families opting out.
Another UNESCO site, Letoon has a history that is closely tied with Xanthos. It's the next stop on the Lycian Way after Xanthos and is an important religious site. You can find Hellenistic Temples and inscriptions written in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. Some even detail a visit from Alexander the Great.
The greatest lore surrounds Mithridates VI of Pontus. Wanting to clear a grove of trees on his way to sacking the city of Patara, he has a nightmare about the importance of the trees and the repercussions if he were to cut them down. He relented and they won the battle. The importance of the grove lasted so strongly and deeply to those that lived there that its inhab-itants blessed the site every generation for over 1000 years and was even christened in the 700s.
Patara was the primary port of Lycia, you can see why with their 11 miles (18km) of continuous beach. A dip in the pristine water is definitely called for if you've just finished the Lycian Way. However, the city has its own historical significance. It has many ruins - like a 40 ft. tall lighthouse from the 1st century AD - but it's most famous as the home of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. This makes Patara a significant pilgrimage site, but I'd prefer just going to the beach.
During celebrations many people wave about the colors red, green, and yellow. They have a beautiful hue when the flags wave about and, not coincidentally, these are also the colors of the Kurdistan flag so many Kurds hoist their flags during the parades. In many parts of Turkey this practice can be extremely polarizing. The tenuous relationship between the Turkish government and the Kurdish people has the bloodstains of terrorism and military intervention drowning the diplomacy that is barely treading water.
When I travel and meet people, the ones I’m most envious of aren’t the ones living opulent lifestyles nor the people who are hustling to follow their professional aspirations. I admire the ones who have nothing holding them back
Beer in Istanbul is a touchy subject for a lot of expats, who generally fall into a few camps when it comes to preference. You have your beer snobs that scoff at the idea of drinking Efes or Bomonti, or pretty much anything else you can buy at a grocery store for less than 8TL. We get it, your favorite microbrewery brews on their organic farm on the top of some mountain in Vermont with hops plucked by the hands of virgins; we just don’t want to hear about it every round (who am I kidding, I sometimes fall into this group). Then there are those who drink alcohol like water. Mosquitos don't go near them because they smell permanently of rakı and they will guzzle down whatever swill you throw at them. Finally, there’s the rest of us, who are just tired of having only one or two choices at a pub that are actually from the same company (look it up — Efes owns and brews most beers in Turkey) and occasionally like drinking something a little different. Thankfully, it seems that because of rising beer prices in Turkey, there are two new Turkish options that are becoming more prevalent and reasonable (if you can find them): Gara Guzu and Pera. I’m going to try to guide you to your best option regardless of whatever camp you fall in.
Gara Guzu — which is how “kara kuzu,” or black sheep, is pronounced in a regional dialect — has two styles available right now: Amber Ale and Blonde Ale. Both are a little easier to find than Pera. With that said, I’ve still only seen the Blonde Ale at bars (and only at Joker No. 19 and United Pub, both in Beşiktaş). It ran me 12 TL, but at Koç Market in Cihangir I found both for 5.50 TL. If you really want to try these beers on a night out, the aforementioned pubs have them, as do a few other places in Beşiktaş. I’ve also seen them in Urban Cafe, located off of Istiklal. Finally, you can try your luck in markets around Taksim and Beşiktaş that carry larger liquor selections.
As for their flavors, I prefer the Blonde Ale. In fact, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It has a crisp and slight citrus flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s a lighter beer with a matching golden color that goes down smooth. The blonde has a 5% ABV so you can put a few down without feeling too heavy. It’s probably best when the weather starts heating up. I suggest eating it with lighter fare: chicken, seafood, salads, and greens. It also can take the bite out of spicy foods.
The Amber Ale is also pleasant. It would be a somewhat run-of-the-mill option in parts of the world with a heavy drinking culture, but here it’s the Dom Perignon of amber ales. It’s got a bitter and hoppy taste, but it’s not overpowering. It has a 4% ABV, and is a good choice if you’re tired of the sweetness of Efes and want something to go with your burger, wings, or anything fried.
Pera, which was allegedly the original name of Beyoğlu, was a little harder to find, but you’ve got more options when you do. They produce a saison dubbed 2. They also have a malt that’s more of a kölsch called 1. Finally, they have 3 (big surprise on the name) which is a smoked beer. The saison has a similar taste to wheat beers like Hoegaarden or Blue Moon. The others are styles that you probably can’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. I will warn you now: These last two aren’t for the casual consumer and definitely are more geared for the beer snobs of Istanbul.
The first one I tried was the kölsch, which they labeled as a malt. It has a light golden color like other kölsches and is 4.1% ABV. It’s sweet and smooth when it first goes down, but is followed by an aftertaste that’s eerily similar to how Icy Hot smells. It didn’t leave a great impression on me, if you couldn’t guess, but I’d definitely take it over Miller Lite or something similar. At a store, I found a 50 cl can of this beer for 5 TL. Compare that to the bar, where it was 17 TL. So I recommend picking this one up at a store and drinking it at home with some spicy food.
Next, I tried the smoked beer. Again, this is definitely for the niche consumer. I haven’t seen this one in any bars yet, but I did find it at Tekelist in Beşiktaş (along with the others from this article) for 5 TL. It has an amber color with an ABV of 5.1%. The flavor was difficult for me at first because it tastes like you’re drinking the grease from a grill. However, it grew on me. I’ve heard that if you eat smoked or grilled meats with it, the meat offsets the heavy smoked flavor, which this definitely has. Underneath that you can find a roasted malt, which tastes quite good if you can get over the smokiness.
The last one I tasted was the saison aka Magic Quality Beer or, simply, 2. I’m biased because I like this style in general, but found this to be the most palatable of the bunch. It’s 5 TL for a can at Tekelist and 5% ABV. It has a sweet taste and a bright gold color. It matches well with any food I can think of and if you’re a fan of more traditional flavors, this beer should be your go to out of Pera’s selection.
The Best of the Best
Overall, my favorite was Gara Guzu’s Blonde Ale, with Pera’s 2 following close behind. However, I’ll acknowledge that personal preference is individual, so I included a chart to show which one of these you might prefer:
Note: The blonde ale is closest to a wheat beer. The amber is closest to an IPA, American macro lager, or pale ale. The Kölsch, probably Pilsener (with a bite) and the smoked is nearest thing to a porter or stout you’ll find here. If you get sour on the flow chart, you’ll probably want to get the saison.
Where to Find Them
If you know any bars that have a large selection of microbrews there’s a chance they have one of these. Also, you can do what I did and call or message the place on Facebook or check eksisozluk.com. People upload on there pretty regularly with the locations they’ve found these beers. Please comment below if you know places that have these beers on offer — help me out!
A version of this article was originally posted here.
P.S. - There have been some major developments in this department in the past year, so I will do some "research" and post my findings.
Every year, around New Year's, it seems the feeling of declinism is strong. But thankfully my year didn't ring out that way. In honor of all the beautiful places, I saw this year I wanted to countdown the five best travel destinations. From coffee shops and clubs in the Balkans to parks in Amsterdam, I wanted to share how experiencing different cultures, history, and environments made 2015 a year I'll never forget.
This little coffee shop off Tito Avenue in Sarajevo says a lot about the current city. First off, it's a coffee shop which is essential to Bosnian culture. It's also a pretty modern set up and crowd, with a lot of trinkets from the past. The only things this cafe/bar doesn't encapsulate are the rolling hills and Ottoman feel of the old town. Bosnia was one of the coolest places I've ever been and didn't know much about outside the war. It's also relatively untouched as far European tourist destinations go. To me, the cafe exemplifies the feelings of Sarajevo, a modernizing city with images of its past punctuating every bit of its surrounding.
A city that's so much more than hookers and drugs, Amsterdam is a culturally vibrant and beautiful city. Vondelpark is a pretty famous locale that sits on the edge of Leidesplein and the Museum District. It's probably the best place in the city to ride your bike to and relax after seeing Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. There's a lot of beauty with the various ponds and the rose garden. From there you can hit up the bars or cafes that line the outside or play a game of giant chess in Leidesplein.
Cappadocia is probably the most unique place I've been in the world, and the Fairy Chimneys definitely are the major contributor. However, the most magnificent beauty that I experienced was hiking through the Rose and Red Valleys to end up at Sunset Point. It has a little bit of everything, a few fairy chimneys, frescoed churches, kangal dogs. Thanks to Fevzi at Fresco Cave Suites for showing us old Churches and the best vistas. He knows the trails like the back of his hand and is always looking to practice his English. Finishing an afternoon of hiking with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset from the above view is something that I'll never forget and was the perfect way to end my trip. Go in the fall when it's not too hot but still has all the colors.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not a dancer and usually not one to stay at them till closing, but in Belgrade, I didn't leave till the sun was coming up for three straight nights. And sometimes my group was some of the first people back to the hostel (except for the people who couldn't even make it out). The views are beautiful, drinks inexpensive (if you're a tourist), and people are friendly. There was no elitist vibe at any of the places, and everyone was just trying to have a good time. As you can see below some people had too good of a time.
The Blue Cruise is the coolest thing I've ever done, but I did it in 2014. It's all-inclusive, except for booze - which my brother managed to drink more of than anyone else even drank water. The sea is at around bathtub temperature and crystal clear, the food is fresh, and the crew is always laid back and capable. There's not a single spot on this four day - 3-night trip that isn't worth it.
Berlinale - Berlin is an awesome city in its own right. With a vibrant nightlife that
contrasts with a macabre history interwoven with a mighty imperial past. But during the winter, the Berlin Film Festival brings in some of the most significant stars and best films to be received in any given year. From Hollywood fare to independents, it's one of the best film festivals in Europe, if not the world.
Walking around Budapest - One of my favorite cities in the world. Budapest is on either side of the Danube and gives you the best of both worlds. The Pest side is flat with tons of great food (seriously Hungarian food is incredible) and tons of bars. You get some history with St. Stephen's Basilica and Parliament. While Buda is much more hilly, it's home to Buda Castle, a hill that has been a significant point of defense for European empires for centuries, and a more traditional town feel compared to the urbanity of Pest. I wanted to put this in my top 5 but felt like choosing an entire city was cheating. It's a pretty walkable city, though you'll want some kind shoes, and the town really glows at night.
One of the most beautiful, peaceful, serene, (insert positive adjective here) places I've ever seen. The lake and village surrounding it have a little something for everyone. There are hostels and upscale hotels and villas. On the lake, you can go boating, fishing, and swimming. There's even a warm spring which keeps this alpine lake's turquoise water relatively warm. You can hike and bike through the ridges of the Julian Alps. There's an iconic old church and castle, and a small modern waterpark, restaurants, and bars. The area is starting to get a little touristy, so, if you start to feel cramped, you can head about half an hour away to the pristine Lake Bohinj. Or you can hike up and catch closer views of the mountains and vistas of the lake. Either way, you can't go wrong and to just stroll along the lake and listen to the birds and church bells ring through the valley was almost meditative.
Hopefully, this helps inspire you to see more of the world and maybe go to a place you never thought of before. I think 2016 will satiate my wanderlust a bit more, but sites like these make that a little more impossible every trip.
I will admit that I'm one of those people who sometimes fulfill those stereotypes of Americans that we all try to avoid. You know, the ones that travel to foreign places, get a little boisterous (thanks, alcohol), and then manage to show their complete ignorance of contemporary international issues and culture (#Murica). When I arrived in Ljubljana (pron. Loob-lee-ya-na), Slovenia not only could I not even pronounce where I was going, but I also did minimal research on the city itself with the intent of getting local suggestions and eschewing the guidebooks. Thankfully, the people are incredibly hospitable and willing to tell you all about their town and country. But as a visitor, most importantly, there are many things to do in Ljubljana. Here are the top seven.
Take in iconic Ljubljana Neighborhoods
The city is small, for a capital, but still got a lot of diverse movements within. From the hipster artists to the upscale bankers. There's a little bit of everything, no matter your preference in characteristics of a city unless you like constant crowds. For me, and most other travelers, there are two neighborhoods to focus on: Metelkova and Old Town.
Like most European cities there's a large, old part of the city near downtown where a castle sits on top of a hill and gothic style statues adorn bridges, crossing peaceful rivers.
Tour Ljubljana's Markets
This river's also lined with bars and restaurants (like most of the other European old cities). The central market also has an array of events from your traditional farmer's markets to the art market that happens every Friday. There's Austro-Hungarian architecture lining the cobblestone streets. What makes the place more unique is its proximity to everything not only within the city but also the rest of the country. Also, the fact that cars are banned from the city center makes it a relaxing place to saunter around.
Catch a View (or Exhibit) at Ljubljana Castle
In the day, the best thing to do is take the trolley up to Ljubljana Castle and check out some of their museum exhibits (Torture, clock tower, and history of the castle's usage).
Have a Picnic Outside Ljubljana Castle
Grab a few beers and view the whole city in the park surrounding the castle confines.
Hit the Clubs or Grab a Beer Along the Ljubljanica River
At night, you have two options depending on your preferences for a drinking scene. There's hitting up the bars that line the Ljubljanica River. They're probably the trendiest places in town and range from your pubs with large terraces like Cutty Sark to dance clubs like the famous Klub Cirkus. There's a full range to choose from, and you can go all night if you want.
Party in the Cyberpunk Playground - Metelkova
The other option is the rougher around the edges Metelkova. The former military prison lives up to its original image; if you replaced guns with graffiti and soldiers with punks and metalheads. When you enter this part of this city, it's like moving from this little Central European utopia to a scene from a Philip K. Dick and Hunter S. Thompson lovechild novel.
Metelkova has got a lot more metal, piercings, and tattoos; but the locale has still got a beguiling atmosphere to people from all walks of life. The bars and clubs therein mainly consist of sticky plywood bars with tallboy cans stacked in mini fridges below. The people are friendly, and it was never packed to the brim.
Outside is the middle school playground for adults you dream of in your cubicle.
There are sizeable freestanding metal structures that you can climb and relax with a view over the old barracks. There's a three-story shell of a house held together by plywood, metal rods, and seemingly spray paint - not to mention a see-saw and other random equipment. It's a great place to hang out for a night in a less judgmental environment. Not to mention the art on the outside of these bars and music venues vary from psychedelic - to surreal - to absurd.
The music on the inside can include jazz duos all the way to noise rock spliced with some EDM/trance/trip hop.
Take a Class or See an Art Gallery in Metelkova
During the day in Metelkova, there are art galleries, studios with lessons on things like dance, painting or video editing, and even some non profit organizations. After one of these classes (most are for children, but there are some drop-in ones for adults) you can go to one of the many cafes and sit around drinking coffee until the night comes and you do it all over again. Also, you can just use Ljubljana as your home base to visit the other wonders of Slovenia. Like its alpine lakes, views, and hikes in the Julian Alps, or massive caves. Don't just limit yourself to the city, but if you're forced to, then you still have at least a few days you can keep packed.
Mostar, Bosnia's 6th largest city and the center of Herzegovina has a rich history that's carried over from the Roman, Medieval, and Ottoman eras. The brutal siege and bombings of the city in the early 90's did their best to try and destroy the remnants of the past but construction over the past ten years has tried to undo these actions. Currently, views of the city exemplify a country in the process of mending its wounds, while also juxtaposing the two dominant cultures that still divide the city to this day.
Every year the government decides which buildings to renovate. The pro-Croatian party dominates the government, who has almost uniformly chosen to fix their side of town. These decisions effectively give the Bosniak side the appearance that it is still a war zone.
Stari Most (Old Bridge) is the defining feature of the city and one of the largest tourist destinations in the country. Built in the 16th century, airstrikes tragically destroyed the bridge in 1994 during the Croatian-Bosnian War. In 2004, they rebuilt the bridge by digging the rubble out of the bottom of the Nevreta River.It boasts a stunning view and displays arguably one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture in the world. Today it stands about 25-28 meters high (depending on who you ask) and this year even hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships. You can jump too, for a fee, after you pay insurance and do some practice jumps.
Nowadays, if you visit the city, you can walk through the old town and get a feel for what it was like during Ottoman rule. Vendors sell traditional foods, coffee, and trinkets. Hookah bars line the spaces where you can find shade and even though it's a Muslim country beer and other alcohol is still readily available everywhere, which is nice to fight off the 100-degree Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) heat that I faced every day there.
On that note the week before I got to Mostar it apparently got up to 50 Celsius or about 122 Fahrenheit, which is insane to me and also unlivable. So, if you are careless enough to go here during August, like me, I suggest you go off the path and at least visit Kravice Falls.
A great way to beat the heat, but can be a pain to get there. You can hitchhike (pretty common in the former Yugoslavia), or if you feel above that or unsafe doing that, you can just rent a car. There's also a lot of hiking in the area surrounding, but you need to make sure that you stay on trails as there is a lot of landmines still unfound.
The most fascinating part of the city and what sets it apart from other touristy towns has to be the recent war history. It's in a unique location because it was on the front-lines of the Bosnian-Serbian War and the Croatian-Bosnian War. Sarajevo, the capital, has mostly been rebuilt and renovated, but Mostar seems to be in the middle stages of this process. You have expensive resorts that line the Nevreta River next to high rise condos, and in between, you'll have the shell of a building with an abandoned snipers nest. All of them have beautiful views of the historical architecture and immaculate nature behind it.
There are a ton of war tours led by men that didn't leave Mostar during the conflict and now walk you around significant sights (be prepared to hear stories that will make the hair on your arms stand on edge and almost violently ill). The best evidence of this is an abandoned bank that sits as the tallest building in the city.
It was a former sniper's nest that was abandoned after the war. Now, teenagers and the homeless morphed it into a not-so-hidden hangout. Then it turned into a drug den, and so the town blocked off access. People still go to hang out and get views of the city. Be careful because the place is riddled with needles and broken bottles laying on the ground. Also, there is no wall alongside the stairs to the top, so it becomes a deadly fall to the ground. The Croats used the bank to fire upon Bosniaks.
Inside the bank, there's an eery feeling that someone could be around any corner. But, you'll rarely see anyone, except other curious travelers. Occasionally, locals use the location as a place to escape the pain from their pasts. Graffiti lines the walls and pops with bright colors. The content is usually sardonic comments or images about the politics and brutality of the conflict.
On the surface, Mostar is a city that is still under construction, but ostensibly everyone is happy and friendly. When you go to Stari Most, you'll find locals jumping off for tips. The locals are quick to strike up a conversation and tell you jokes. Seriously, Bosnians have great senses of humor albeit a little dark (go figure). Beneath this are ethnic and personal tensions that are bursting from the seams of the city.
Mostar is a beautiful and captivating city and worth the trip. Travel around the area to get an idea about Herzegovina and see the natural beauty abound. But to ignore the war ruins, I think, gives you an incomplete notion of everything that's gone on. As cliché as it is, actions speak louder than words. Below are some pictures from inside the bank to illustrate the emotions I experienced within this fascinating place.