Maui is paradise on earth. Never too hot and never too cold, it's a peaceful rock in the middle of the powerful Pacific Ocean that houses beautiful jungle hikes, warm seas, and enough activities for a lifetime. But, you may find yourself parked on the beach sipping testing organic vodkas and pineapple wine until you can't see straight.
With almost 2.5 million visitors a year, Maui is the second most visited Hawaiian island, and it's easy to understand why. It has an easily accessible airport, which opens the gateway to luxurious resorts, the famous Road to Hana, Ocean Organic Vodka's plantation, cliff jumping at Black Rock Beach, quaint towns like Paia, and Haleakala National Park - overlooking dormant volcanoes and rainbow bamboo forests.
Want to learn how to maximize a week in Maui then keep reading and see all that the Valley Isle has to offer.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Ka'anapali. It's situated where most of the other resorts are on the western side of the Island. But, if you want something a little more "authentic" check out Airbnb's near Paia. Here there are tiny villages and bed n' breakfasts that have a distinctly calmer vibe. If you're new to the island though, I can't recommend the Hyatt enough as the employees and location give you excellent access to all that Maui has to offer, without having to look too hard.
If you trust this blog for only one thing, it should be this. Breweries, distilleries, and vineyards run aplenty here, so you have the whole gamut to choose from.
- Maui Brewing Company
This award-winning beer can be found all over the island, but you can take a tour of the brewery in Kihei. If you just want a taste, head over to the brewpub in Kahana and get some food with it too. Personally, I recommend the Pineapple Wheat, but the Coconut Porter is great too if you like dark beers.
- Ocean Organic Vodka & Rum
I didn't know vodka tastings were a thing, but the views from the farm are worth the trip alone. I've found the vodka at Bevmos in California, but the rum can only be found on site. It's a pretty informative tour with an immaculate backdrop.
- Maui Wine
Famous for its pineapple wine, I'll admit, at first, I was skeptical, but Maui Wine's Maui Blanc is actually a dry wine and doesn't have the sweet taste that you'd imagine given the fruit. It's a unique take as it's certainly different from your typical white, but not so much that your standard pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc fans won't love it.
- Ka'anapali Beach
Sunset from here was like no other (featured image). With unobstructed views of the neighboring islands and a warm, calm sea. It's a great place to pop in or take a stroll.
- Black Rock Beach
Located by the Sheraton (north end of Ka'anapali Beach), this beach has a stronger surf and is built more for the adventurous in the bunch. Hawaiians believe this was where their spirits leaped to join their ancestors, leading some to believe that the tradition of taking Hawaiian volcanic rock as bad luck started here. Now, it's a cliff jumping and snorkeling paradise. Make sure you wear your water shoes when climbing up the rock as I stepped on a sea urchin, making for a very uncomfortable next few days.
- Keawakapu Beach
Translated as "forbidden cove", this beach is near Kihei, and while it is pretty developed, the condos and hotels are a bit off the beach, keeping all that dreaded commercialization at bay.
A multicultural mill and fishing village. Paia is perfect for a stroll along the main drag where you can buy products from local artisans and grab a bite that has influence from Chinese, Portuguese, and native cuisines.
The largest "city" on the island is home to much of the island's museums and is a jumping off point for most of the whale watching tours. It's also the only real place for nightlife that you will find nearby.
Maui's "most isolated village" is located on the tip of the island's north shore. Famous for it's Congregational Church (built 1892) where you get the best of both worlds with its ocean and mountain backdrop. The town is also home to Julia's Banana Bread, touted by many as the best in the world!
- The Road to Hana
The most famous activity on the island is well worth the 4-hour drive with hairpin turns on the cliffside road. It is a major commuter road, so take your time and make plenty of stops to not only let the locals pass but also so you can take in all the sites. Some of the must-see natural beauties include Twin Falls, the Painted Forest, and the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe'o; just to name a few.
- Iao Valley
The old burial place of Hawaii's chiefs. It is also the site of an old battlefield from 1790. Not to be outdone by its history, the valley and state monument's Needle Lookout Trail is also home to some of Hawaii's most beautiful fauna with placards explaining what the Hawaiians brought with them.
- Wainapanapa State Park
Towards the end of the Road to Hana, you'll find a volcanic black sand beach and surrounding tide pools that turn bright red at different times of the year. Local legend believes this is the blood of a murdered princess, but scientists say it's the arrival of small shrimp. You decide.
- Haleakala National Forest
The crown jewel of Maui. Haleakala possesses the most endangered species of any park in the National Park System. Home of Maui's highest peak at 10,023 feet, it does snow, so bring your jacket, but highs also get up into the 80s. Home to volcanic ash, cinder cones, and numerous types of flora and fauna. You need to make sure to book your reservation before you come (because it sells out fast and they cap the number of visitors), but watching the sunrise from here is the most magical offering Maui will provide you on your trip.
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.
In 2014, Turkey was quickly becoming one of the top tourist targets in the world. Now, the media makes it out to be another type of target. It was the sixth most visited country in 2015, but is now looking at losing up to $12 billion compared to last year. Not to mention, with everything that is going on politically--Turkey's everyday citizens and beautiful landscapes need some positive press. I'm not going to include "The Big 5" destinations that everyone sees in their inflight magazines or travel brochures. You will learn there's far more to this country than suppressed journalistic freedoms, terrorist attacks and threats, autocratic leaders, and regional "disputes" that could be said about lots of countries (and are definitely still ongoing here and are real issues). It's a place with an immense history and beauty that has been the center of the world for millennia. Napoleon once said, "if the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be the capital." Istanbul was my home for 3 years and the rest of the country lifts the city to its place of prominence.
First off, 'The Big 5'. Let me break them down:
Sultan Ahmet, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Bodrum & Fethiye are the biggest draws. Most people fly into Istanbul and stay in Sultan Ahmet, then visit Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Tokapı Palace. However, there are so many places that you wouldn't normally find when wandering the old-stone streets of Sultan Ahmet.
Families' then move to Cappadocia. Here you stare at Phallic rock formations, hike through underground cities and ancient Christian valleys. Then you finish it up like any destination worth its weight--wine, sunsets, and tacky pottery (some is quite beautiful, actually).
If you're here in the summer (or British, Russian or German) then you may just head to one of the Turkish Riviera's beautiful turquoise beaches. Bodrum, Fethiye and Antalya are the most famous with their own bits of culture to keep you interested, but what makes these places really worth their salt is setting up camp on the beach and letting the sea slightly cool you from the scorching sun until you recharge with fresh fish and cold drinks.
Turkey's most well-preserved ancient city, Ephesus (Efes, in Turkish) was the Greek capital of Asia Minor and once the 2nd largest city in the world. It's an open museum that is as interesting as it is beautiful. As far as ancient cities go, if Rome is New York then Efes is Chicago. Which is to say that it may actually be better (I come from Chicago and am incredibly biased). It's massive and definitely worth shelling out the extra cash to get the full history. A bonus section shows old apartments from the time and detail the extravagance of the upper class and the depression of the lower. Very close is the Temple of Artemis, or really, a column from it, that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
About an hour or so away, you have Pamukkale and Hierapolis. Pamukkale, or Cotton Castle, are limestone baths that give the appearance of sitting in bathtubs in the clouds the way the Gods are always depicted in Greek myths. It's connected to Hierapolis, the original Florida. An ancient city that people have been flocking to in retirement since the 2nd century BC. The hot springs amongst the ruins are the only ones that I've discovered.
Now that you're caught up on the must see destinations, I'll give you the first place on my list--Kumkapı. Those that have been to this neighborhood know it for its square filled with fish restaurants to lure in tourists. On the other hand, trickling through the windy ravines of streets that flow from this reservoir of rakı, mezes, and fresh fish is evidence of Istanbul's diverse ethnic and religious origins. Still boasting a large Armenian population, it also possesses some of Istanbul's most original churches and mosques.
On my trip I came from the seaside at Yenikapı and I think it's the best way to encounter the neighborhood, though it's probably the opposite that most people will use. When you cross the concrete underpass by Kennedy Caddesi you'll encounter the Armenian Patriarchate and a large Armenian Orthodox church. Together, they represent much of pre-WWI Istanbul with an infusion of traditional architecture of the Ottomans mixed with an Armenian Apostolic style.
As you walk one more block inland you'll notice a stark contrast in the upkeep of the buildings. With run-down shops and homes, the business spills into the street where you can find a plethora of supplies. Anything from socks to booze, and even pork, can be haggled for while strolling down the street; make sure to grab some fruit from the street vendors for your walk.
That walk should take you up the hill a bit more towards Beyazıt and you'll end up at Mother Mary Church. Unassuming from the side, with a plain brick wall, but it's stunning on the inside and a gorgeous classical exterior that helps it sit like an island oasis in a concrete sea of dilapidation and gentrification. If checking out old churches is your thing also check out Aya Kiryoki and Rum Kilise for larger and grander structures, but with slightly less "je ne sais quoi" to them.
Turn towards the Old Town and you'll run into the main square that's filled with restaurants and not so passive waiters trying to get you to sit down. Kumkapı Historical Restaurant is the most famous, but in my opinion you really can't go wrong where ever you go here.
Once you're refueled head out towards Marmara University's campus and check out Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii just passed the police station. It's beautifully ornate with a piece of the Kaaba on the inside. You can chat with the caretaker who speaks enough English to give you an idea of the history and meaning of the place, while he'll also throw in pictures of all his grandkids to show you.
When you finally get a word in, ask him how to get to Küçük Aya Sofya and he'll point you there. Close to Sultan Ahmet, you'll come across the church-turned-mosque that actually predates the larger Aya Sofya by a year--being finished in 536 AD--and was used as a template to help them prepare for the much larger and more famous follow up. Due to Islamic law all the interior mosaics have been covered, but the current interior's design can be traced back to as early as 1506.
From here you can follow the path near the water or the streets next to the parks and end at Bukoleon Sarayı, the remnants of a palace from the 5th century. It was one of the few palaces still standing when the Ottomans sacked the city and a wall remains to this day. It's a last little photo-op before heading back into the much more dense Sultanahmet district.
A middle-aged man passes under a vivid yet rustic sign that reads BÜYÜLÜ FENER, which fits like a puzzle piece among the colors of cafes and apartments that flood this block in Balat. He pushes open a glass door that rests under a row of rainbow stained glass. Once inside he’s greeted with a welcome from the owner, Gediz, as he scans the walls and shelves. This isn’t your typical antique shop, which pop up all over the neighborhood.
A Unique Antique
Not just because Gediz is the only female owner in the area, but because instead of the other shops where you feel like you’re walking into an old Ottoman tea house, here it’s like you’ve entered the Art Director from Turkish Mad Men’s supply warehouse. On the walls are rows of small tube TVs, record players, and typewriters flashing with vibrant colors. One of the record players spins a song from the 1960s that only the Turks seem to recognize.
A Piece of our Past
The man’s eyes stop on an unassuming collection of retro cigarette packages. “Can I buy just this one?” he asks. Gediz tells him of course, but that it’s not worth much without the rest of the collection. “That’s fine. They used to sell this box in Cyprus when I was a kid there. So, when I saw it it immediately brought me back to my time there as a child.”
And that’s why people come to Büyülü Fener (magic lantern in Turkish), not necessarily to find the next rare find of the antiquing world, but to bring back a fond memory or experience. Gediz told me that what really separates Büyülü Fener from the other antique stores is that hers isn’t one; it’s a nostalgia shop.
Balat a Microcosm of Praxis
In a city that is rapidly modernizing, the gentrification can be dispiriting. And, when your commute consists of passing block after block of Soviet-style apartment buildings, you want to find the colors, diversity, and romance of the storied Istanbul. That’s what propelled Fener-Balat to become such a hotspot for tourists, expats, and locals alike. Büyülü Fener fits this neighborhood aesthetic perfectly. It’s what drew Gediz here in the first place. Cihangir had become flooded with overpriced housing and Karaköy had been overrun with chain stores, making a small business nearly impossible. But here, every business is personally owned and new people are moving in droves, but they haven’t destroyed the neighborhood’s character. In fact, as long as they adapt to their surrounding culture they can help enhance it. The neighbors across the street are Bulgarian immigrants on the first floor, Syrians on the 2nd, and from eastern Anatolia on the 3rd. Imams walk the street and wave at the employees from the nearby Ecumenical Patriarchate. Women with head scarves will chat with their neighbors in mini-skirts. Gediz says there’s a weird balance where if you don’t judge, no one will judge you. This is why Fener-Balat is where the city on the cusp of two worlds analogy comes alive. When you live in a sterile apartment and work a sterile job, it feels like the old Istanbul is dead, but you can still find it here.
I always assumed that antique shops were a staple of the neighborhood, but apparently, I was wrong. Büyülü Fener was only the 5th and opened a little over 2 years ago. Now there are 19, with that number changing every day. While the store may be new, Gediz tells me that opening it has been her dream since she was a teenager. After daring the corporate world for many years, while simultaneously filling her apartment to the brim, she decided to pursue her dream to open her own place and live the laid-back lifestyle of Balat.
A Bit of Nostalgia
She began collecting when she was 16. At first, it was anything that interested her, but then it slowly morphed into attaining collections as well. The evidence is on display everywhere. There’s an eclectic record collection with many hailing from Turkey’s rock heyday in the 1970s summed up with a Barış Manço print in the front row.
Apparently records are making a comeback and many people who buy them don’t even own the players. However, she still sells them, and they all work because Gediz and different specialists team up to restore all the gadgets and electronics in the store. She will buy paintings and photos that barely get settled on the wall before they’re sold. Retro gas lamps are probably the highest selling item for locals, but tourists love trinkets because they can fit them in their suitcase. There are collections of old soda bottles, miniature alcohol bottles (still full), postcards, and a slew of things that you didn’t even know would make you feel nostalgic.
The nostalgia bug hits me hard when I see an old tin toy car that looks like a larger version of a Hot Wheels toy. Across from the entrance, you’ll notice a giant one, like a Cadillac version of all those Fisher-Price commercials I saw as a kid where you actually can ride in the car. Not one to show bias, a miniature burgundy stroller, perfect for a toddler to play house in, rests opposite the car and in front of the original signage for Balat Hastanesi.
I bee-line my way towards the sign and begin sweeping through the box of Swiss and Turkish postcards underneath it, I can’t help but read all the messages people wrote their loved ones that now live on through the curious eyes that pry into them. It seems every item in the store has a story. A special one sits in the corner of the store on a 1950s era stove top. An old cast iron sauce pan lacquered in floral patterned paint looks banal at first. But, Gediz tells me these were exclusively made in Western Europe and discontinued there about 40 years ago with the development of lightweight cooking materials.
She lifts up the top to an engraved “Made in Turkey”. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen in all my years of collecting that was made here,” she says. So, maybe the rare finds are here as well.
The Business of Antiquing
I finally ask her how she knows what to buy and that it will sell? She says it’s impossible to predict what items people will buy, so she gave up trying. Instead, she buys things that she’d want to decorate her home with and that sometimes that’s beyond just an eye for commerce. “It’s hard for me to sell some of this stuff because I like it and I become sort of attached to it,” Gediz tells me. She then shows me her favorite item, a toy robot resembling R2D2 and when you open its head there’s a cassette player inside. I ask her how much she would charge for something like that. “It’s not for sale. This is still part of my personal collection.”
If you think you can pry it from her, come to Büyülü Fener in Balat from 10-7 any day but Monday and try.
If you've seen The Martian and thought you too would like to colonize Mars, you actually don't need to go as far you'd think. Matt Damon flew out to Wadi Rum, Jordan, which is also the home of the famous Lawrence of Arabia during WWI. There are numerous sites, both historical and geological, but the real jewel is the insight that you gain into the Bedouin culture and lifestyle. We signed up with Wadi Rum Nomads who are one of the top rated companies because the tours are informative, comfortable, reliable, but mostly because the people who organize it are friendly and open about their lives in the desert. Our guide, Atillah, told us about chasing his pet camels into Saudi Arabia, growing up as one of 30 kids, and hunting. My favorite was about the tiger that once got loose in the desert.
There's different trips and varying lengths you can do from riding a camel or jeep for a morning or up to nine days of walking. We opted for a day of visiting all the major sites followed by a night camping under the stars. The walking treks can be intense as it's hot and climbing sand dunes are much harder then they appear. But, if you still want some of that, you'll get it. Jeep tours are 95JOD for 1 person or 55JOD if you're 2-4 people.
Below, are some of the awe inspiring spots that the Nomads team will show you along the way.
The first stop on the tour ties is connected to Wadi Rum's most famous story, that of T.E. Lawrence or more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. The Brit who helped lead the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in WWI. For the Bedouins, the spring has been a major life force for centuries. Now, the water flows through piping, but you can climb the rocky hillside and simulate what the Bedouins used to have to go through to get a drink. With gorgeous views of the Red Desert ahead of you it's a great introduction to the beauty and strain of the valley.
This quick jaunt is a break from the sun, but also protects ancient Arabic inscriptions and ancient Nabatean hieroglyphics. The mountain appears daunting; however up close it's a quick walk to see the inscriptions that put into perspective the history and alien nature that desert holds in all its nooks and crannies.
Abu Khashaba Canyon
The hardest walk of the day tour, but still a moderate hike. Words don't really do justice to the experience - walking through the middle of sandstorm, the only respite being a lush oasis encapsulated by a silver haze. The thing I least expected about Wadi Rum (and Jordan, in general) was its palatial size. Unlike pink sand beaches in the Bahamas that are beautiful but manipulated on Instagram, out here everything was bigger and more striking than I'd seen before.
Um Fruth Rock Bridge
The most visited locale in the preserve, this bridge is worth the vertigo-inducing climb. It's also much easier going up then down. However, the view is worth it. A 30 meter climb with nice panoramas, make sure you arrive early as it can be difficult to get a shot of you on your own.
This dune is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Some days there will be those elusive watercolor-like skies. However, ours was almost like a negative photograph. There were all the colors of the desert streaming across the ground with white and silver streaking through the sky. A truly unique view, that taught me those cotton candy skies online aren't the only immaculate sunsets. Weather permitting around here is where you'll sleep.
The full day trip will also bring to a massive red sand dune, which is a bit arduous, but worth it to sand board down; Lawrence of Arabia's house, where he stayed to endure the tough desert winter, but more interestingly, the home was supposedly built by Nabateans; and also the Little Bridge, which is smaller than Um Froth, but fun to climb around nonetheless.
The most beautiful bit of the evening came after an unexpected disappointment. Weather prevented us from sleeping out under the stars in a bivouac tent, instead we were brought to one of the guide's uncle's camp where we were treated to Bedouin music and home cooked food, as we fell asleep beneath the stars or in a makeshift cabin. A magical way to end the night.
When you need to walk off all the delicious food, it's best to stay local and look at the capital of the city's illustrious street art. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it maintains its character while embracing the city's graffiti takeover.Read More
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.Read More
In episode 2, Chris and I delve deeper into the idea of living in Istanbul by talking to long time resident, Tarik. He runs the website yabangee.com, which is a resource for all things Istanbul. Chris and I have been contributors over there for the past 2 years, so we knew Tarik would be a great person to ask about what's really out there in Istanbul for those of us who stayed past the usual vacation period. You can listen here or find us on iTunes by searching Into Istanbul.
Giving us a rating and a comment (or even just a listen) would really mean the world to us. If you missed our 1st episode don't worry you're not going to miss any vital information, but we do provide some more background on what we're doing.
So, if you want to check that out you can find it here.
Thanks and hope you enjoy!
My friend Chris and I have been working on a podcast that documents individual stories from our current home city of Istanbul that pertain to a certain theme that's relevant to not only our city, but to all of you listening at home. Our first episode titled, "Istanbul as Home", relates our own impressions of home as well as that of our friend, Amer, who came to Istanbul from Palestine by way of Syria.
Currently you can catch "Into Istanbul" here on Soundcloud. This episode and future episodes will also be up on iTunes and Stitcher, hopefully very soon.
Our next episode will be, "Istanbul as Worth Discovering". We will be hosting Tarik Yassien who curates the website yabangee.com.
If this is at all intriguing check us out. Or, if you have a topic you want us to cover (or want to join us on air) shoot a message over to email@example.com.
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 backRead More
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.
For a place that is renowned for its architecture and also its religious fervor, it's only fitting that there would be numerous cathedrals and basilicas that are the quintessential destinations when visiting certain Spanish cities. After taking a breathtaking trip a few weeks ago, I decided to list the most majestic, immense, and important ones in the country.
- Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (Seville)
It's the 3rd largest church, but the biggest cathedral, in the world; The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the gem of the beautiful medieval city of Seville. The burial site of Christopher Columbus, it was completed in the 1500's where it surpassed the Hagia Sofia as the worlds largest cathedral. A title held for over 1,000 years.
- Almudena Cathedral (Madrid)
Here for its historical significance as well as its interior beauty. It's certainly not because of the exterior, which is intentionally dull so as not to outshine the Royal Palace across the street. Inside is a different story with modern renderings juxtaposed against Baroque and Gothic exteriors. Probably because even though the Spanish broke ground in the late 1800's, they didn't finish until 1993. It's the place where King Felipe VI married, making it a significant landmark for Spain regardless of religious status.
- Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Galicia)
The alleged burial site of one of Jesus's twelve apostles - St. James. It is also the final stop on the legendary Camino de Santiago, or in English the St. James Way. The famous pilgrimage trail concludes at the Shrine of St. James in this legendary church.
- The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Barcelona)
Also known as Barcelona Cathedral, the heart of Barri Gotic houses one of Spain's most important churches. The church is famous for its jagged spires at its top and the gargoyles jutting out from the side. Personally, I think the most beautiful aspects are within the walls. The atrium fountain and elaborate tombs of Eulalia and Olegarius.
- Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo (Toledo)
The old seat of the Spanish Empire - this cathedral, like Seville, is the exclamation point on a romantic medieval city. Only an hour drive from Madrid this is maybe the most important and beautiful Gothic cathedral in Spain. And it's about as old as Columbus's "discovery" of America. The whole old town and river bank are worth the walk.
- La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Probably the most famous landmark in a city full of them. This basilica is Gaudi's magnum opus and is a stark contrast from the cold, uninviting churches you find elsewhere. Draped in warm rose windows on the inside and amorphous figures ooze up from the outer walls. With long and one-of-a-kind towers bolting up it is supposed to represent the Earth's attempt at connecting to Heaven. The craziest part is it's not even done yet. But apparently, it'll be even grander by its completion date in 2026.
- The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona (Girona)
Since I've talked so much about beautiful medieval city centers in Spain, I'd be remiss not to mention Catalonia's greatest one in Girona. The old town is a major locale for King's Landing and Braavos for the upcoming Game of Thrones season. The Cathedral is the location for the legendary "Shame" scene from season 5. It's also the exterior of the home of the Sparrows.
Its history goes way beyond television, though. A church existed before at least 717 AD, but the earliest remnants are from the 11th century with the Charlemagne Bell Tower. With redesigns and renovations carrying on in the 15th, 16th, and 20th centuries; you can see different styles from the dominant periods of the time as well as artifacts crossing these periods. Even more impressive, it has the second largest nave in the world and the largest Gothic one.
- Basilica Nuestra Senora de Pilar (Zaragoza)
Not as famous as its counterparts, this is my favorite church that I've ever encountered. It's massive and beautifully lit on the outside, rests on a perfect spot on the Ebro river, has beautiful masonry and paintings, and a fascinating history. Home to some of Goya's most impressive work, it's probably best known for being the spot where Saint James saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary shortly before her assumption. Many churches stood here at different periods of time. With the first coming in the 1st century AD, the current version sprung up between the 17th and 19th centuries. A baroque style church that luckily survived the dropping of three bombs during the Spanish Civil War that thankfully never exploded. Divine intervention? You have to see it to decide for yourself.
My first night in Turkey my new employer brought me to the school dorms in Darica, which is about 30 km outside Istanbul. He picked me up from a packed ferry station where my phone didn't work and little did I know there were seven different docks spread out over a quarter of a mile. So, after waiting for about 3 hours to try and find this guy I'd never met I finally was on my way to school. Unfortunately, this was far from the most prominent shock I received that day.
When I arrived and toured the facilities, they emphasized how these were the special "teacher" ones...I'd get my own room, my own shower, and toilet. The room was alright, but I wasn't ready for this:
I truly understood culture shock from this moment forward. While these bathrooms aren't the only option, there are lots of them. Also, my shower was a janitors' closet, with a curtain attached to PVC pipe - without hot water. It was less than stellar. It got me thinking about lots of things. Like, what do I do when I pee in these? Are these all over the world? How and why have we transitioned to the sit-down toilet? And, what's that red hose for?
I felt the need to tell everyone about this; I couldn't stop. I had finally found out squat toilets weren't just for cabin outhouses. Apparently, they're common in the Middle East and East Asia. There are little quirks and protocols associated with all of them. I assumed that squat toilets must've been the original, but in actuality, the first constructed toilets were flush ones from Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. Of course, Ancient Babylonia not only created the world's first system of laws, but they also made the first hole in the ground and chamber pot. What innovation!
Afterwards, empires such as the Egyptians and the Han Dynasty all developed complicated drainage and fertilizer systems using the sit-down method. The Romans perfected these processes that were actually necessary to ensure the health and functionality of major cities.
As the Dark Ages took down the sewage systems of Europe, the East continued to flourish, and to this day China and Japan still use their original squat toilet design. However, there 's one aspect that the Chinese and Romans shared in regards to their lavatory framework, is that they didn't have dividers between toilets; in case you wanted it to be a shared experience. What a small world!
The Ottomans introduced the Alla Turka to the rest of Europe in the 19th century. What a time to be alive! For hygienic reasons, they actually became quite popular. As opposed to the Alla Franca or French toilets.
In Islam at this time, hygiene was especially important. I mean, if I had to pray five times a day and wash before each time, I'd probably be pretty clean too. In Islamic culture people always shake and eat with their right hands. It's actually considered rude to do either of these with your left. And given the topic of this blog, I'm sure you can imagine why. Here is where those red tubes come into play. You see, they function as a bidet. I fail to see how a shared bidet is cleaner, but I digress. If you were to have dirty underwear, then you need to change before prayer. For this same reason, you're supposed to sit when you pee. (I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Squeak.)
As sewage treatment processes resurged and humans decided they preferred sitting, the Alla Franca became the optimal method of evacuation, like it is today.
But is this really better for us?
While I admit the squat toilet is weird to me and makes me live in fear of touching anything in a bathroom (which were separate rooms in Ottoman times), there is a lot of evidence that the flush toilet is both worse for our bodies and the environment. Doctors maintain that the squatting position is more efficient for our intestinal tracts and actually helps prevent diseases. On the other hand, could you imagine your grandparent having to use one of these? Hmmm.
Unfortunately, flushing toilets currently account for about 30% of the average person's household water usage. The answer is to use less water, apparently. But the same unlucky and bright minds who ponder this question (where I wonder?)
have concluded that the best alternative is a waterless toilet in the mold of the traditional squat toilet.
That's right, the revolution is near, and we could someday soon be forgoing a comfort that's usually an afterthought, but for the benefit of our bodies' and the planet.
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.
5. ZLATNA RIBICA - SARAJEVO, BiH
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.
4. VONDELPARK - AMSTERDAM, NL
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.
3. SUNSET POINT - CAPPADOCIA, TR
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.
2. RIVER BOAT CLUBS - BELGRADE, SRB
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.
LAKE BLED - SLOVENIA
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.
Like many places in Turkey, there’s a story behind Lake Sapanca’s name. In fact, it derives from a myth that many locals apparently still believe. Sapan is the Turkish word for slingshot, and allegedly an old man carrying one happened across the original town asking for a glass of water. No one was willing to spare one, so on his way out he cursed the entire town to be submerged in a flood. As the story goes, the town was flooded and Lake Sapanca was created.
What To Do
The villagers, awestruck by this prophetic act, deemed this old man with a slingshot worthy of remembrance. Some even say that the original town’s mosque still sits at the bottom of this massive lake.
Regardless of the validity of this story (needless to say, I have my doubts…), I want to thank whatever or whoever created this serene and peaceful reservoir. Located just past Izmit, Lake Sapanca is easily accessible by train, bus or car from Istanbul. The area is loaded with activities for all seasons both on the lake and off, with accommodations that range from camping to luxury spas and resorts. It’s a beautiful weekend destination that made me feel like I was in another world, even though it’s only a short jaunt from the concrete jungle that is Istanbul.
There are a variety of ways to get to Sapanca, the simplest being driving. Having your own wheels is also beneficial because there are nearby areas that can only be accessed by car – it is possible to get these places using a combination of buses and cabs, but that can eat up time and be inconvenient. There’s a high-speed train from Pendik to Arifiye (12 TL) that takes an hour and usually leaves five times a day. You can then take a cab from Arifiye to central Sapanca, which costs around 30 TL and takes about 20 minutes. You can also take various tourist buses. VIP goes directly to Sapanca, while the other companies go to Adapazarı Merkez (approx. 25 TL), where you can get a bus to Sapanca Istasyonu for 3 TL. The bus journey will take you no longer than 2-3 hours. Actually, we found that it took longer to get across the second Bosphorus bridge from Esenler then it did to get from Beykoz to Sapanca.
Where to Stay
On the lake, there’s a lot of high-priced villas and homes for rent, and there are also expensive resorts with spas and pools. The most famous is the Richmond Nua Wellness Spa, but a room will run you around $300 a night. I stayed at a place called Ogun House Hotel that was pretty central, clean, comfortable, had bikes that guests were free to use, and was about a sixth of the price of the nearby spas and resorts. One of the employees even gave us a ride around, explained some of the history and showed us points of interest. But if you want something a little more out in the woods or just really want to escape the crowds, there are a lot of campsites around Kartepe, about 20 minutes from the lake, as well as spots surrounding the lake itself where you can either pitch your tent or pay for an actual site.
On the Lake
Once you venture from your hotel or campsite, you’ve got a plethora of options. Fishing is a big draw here, either from the shores or a boat. Trout (alabalık) is the main catch, and you can find it in restaurants all around the lake. In the summer, swimming is obviously popular along with water skiing, canoeing and kayaking. There’s also little stands all along the shoreline where you can rent paddle boats.
As for villages, there’s the signature Sapanca, with its waterfront lined with cafes – the perfect spot for breakfast. We went to Gulizar, which had quite a large breakfast buffet for 30 TL. In the main traffic circle you’ll find some tea gardens and a bar or two (be forewarned the area is on the conservative side – there aren’t many tekels or bars – so you may want to BYOB). If you travel in the other direction on the waterfront away from the restaurants it will take you to the yürüyüş yolu. It’s a pretty bike and walking path that is a good place for your morning run or just an afternoon lounging in the grass. There are also benches and picnic areas if you prefer to have a cookout. We had dinner at Sasa Harmanlık, which is located right before the start of the bike path. It has decent enough food with a dining section situated on a pier over the water.
Kırkpınar is another place where you can lie in the grass along the shore. It’s about a 20-30 minute bike ride from the center of Sapanca, but definitely worth the trek. There’s a number of tree farms on the way, sporting different types of firs and pines that made the ride smell like a living room during the Christmas season. When you finally get to Kırkpınar there’s a beautiful little strip of grass along the lake, dotted with brides and grooms having their wedding photos taken, where you can grab tea or have a barbecue. If you want to head inland, there’s a lot of farmland and an interesting rural landscape that stretches for a couple of miles. Some of these farms have in-house restaurants and sell their own organic products (although there is debate about the legitimacy of the organic claims at some of these places). Otherwise, to get into the more scenic sections inland you need to hop in a car and drive for about half an hour.
Around the Lake
When you do make it inland – and I suggest you do – the big tourist draw is Kartepe. Mainly a ski mountain and resort in the winter, there’s also a fair amount of trekking to be done on foot or ATV during the rest of the year. I didn’t get to see much in the few days I visited, but I’m definitely going back to explore the views. One side gives you Lake Sapanca with the other showing off the Gulf of Izmit. All of this with vistas of the Samanlı Mountains in between.
Another must see all year round is Maşukiye. Located more towards the base of Kartepe, the area is known for its series of man-made waterfalls that wind around breakfast balconies and cabins. When you get tired of all the people, you can go for a walk on the nearby trails. If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie there are ATV tours that will let you see more in less time (they’re also easy enough for beginners). If that’s too much excitement for you, there’s a pretty mild zip-line before the restaurant area where you can at least get a little rush before you relax at a cafe and listen to the water stream down. My biggest disappointment was that I didn’t take advantage of the paintball courses halfway up the road – who doesn’t love shooting at your friends in a beautiful, natural setting?
Lake Sapanca offers leaf peeping in the fall, skiing in the winter, and boating and fishing in the spring. But whenever you decide to visit, it will always provide you a quiet and peaceful escape into nature.
If you liked this post, please check where it was first published over at yabangee.com where you can see other informative posts about Turkey from myself and other ex-pats and locals.
Fall is a perfect time in Cappadocia (or Kapadokya). It is an ideal climate. Distinct from the sweltering heat in the summer and the bitter cold that makes trekking and ballooning difficult to impossible in the winter. Spring can also be beautiful but can include showers without warning and ruin the idyllic views. Regardless of the season though there are many valleys, cities (above and below ground), and churches that are amazing to see any time of the year. Some locations are essential for a visit to Kapadokya. To get a significant list you can check out mappadocia, but for more in-depth hiking trails you can find numerous other sites online, or you know, a map. I'll be writing a little bit about my opinions on the best hikes and villages a bit later. Below is a small overview of the most famous and best locales in the region. Important to note, Kapadokya is a region and not a specific area; so there are many places to find and explore, but you may need to do a little bit of driving or trekking to get there.
KAYMAKLI (Underground City)
Probably the most fascinating place I've ever been to (and most claustrophobic), Kaymaklı is mostly a set of elaborate tunnels carved out of stone that doubled as homes, meeting areas, and defense fortresses. When walking around, sometimes almost crawling, you can see a winery, food storage, living rooms, kitchens, and ventilation shafts. Dug out by the Hittites over 3,600 years ago it was used as their full-time living space. Later it was used by persecuted Christians and pretty much any culture that had to hide from anyone in this region for the next 2,000 years. This city goes down about 80 meters and originally more, but earthquakes have collapsed anything deeper. I could make a post only about here and its history, but this is just a slight impression of what you'll see. If Kaymaklı is too far out of your way, then Derinkuyu is the deepest of the open sites, and there's also Özkonak. Its tunnels are slightly newer but have communication pipes and areas where they could dump hot oil on enemies in the tunnels, which the other sites don't have.
ALL THE VALLEYS
The most famous features from beautiful Kapadokya are its fairy chimneys, and some of the best places to see them are in Kapadokya's immense valleys that are great for camping or just hiking, especially in the fall. Ihlara Valley is a vibrant green canyon carved by the Melendiz River and flush with wildlife. It's a pretty relaxing walk that totals about 14km. There are many famous fresco churches and tea gardens that line the trail and culminates with Selime Monastery.
Pigeon Valley whose stone walls are lined with pigeon houses that used to fertilize the land runs from Üçhisar to Göreme.
You've got the aptly named Rose and Red Valleys that are connected and lead to many churches and stellar views, as well as crazy landscapes. If you end near Ortahisar, then there are excellent viewpoints near the end of the trail next to Aktepe. Also near Ürgüp is Zemi Valley which has two paths. One takes you up with a view, and the other takes you into a valley with cave churches and green scenery. If you have kids or want a real light hike, try Swords Valley. It's next to the open-air museum in Göreme and still gives you some views of the fairy chimneys and cave churches. Finally, there's Love Valley which is slightly more difficult than Swords and gets its name from its distinct, non-gender neutral fairy chimneys. It's still suitable for children (if they don't make the connection to the valley's anatomical resemblance) and picnicking but gives you some chances to climb around and challenge yourself a little bit if you want.
But not every fairy chimney looks the same and two areas are unsurpassed regarding individuality and beauty. Devrent Valley is the first and is famous for its personified formations like Napoleon's Hat and the Camel. There are numerous other unique configurations, and you could spend a few hours hiking around to find them all. Paşabağ is apparently the location with the highest frequency of fairy chimneys, and they have dark, mushroom-looking heads and slender stone stems.
These were formed from centuries of volcanic and meteorological activity that have eroded away the weaker stone but could do nothing to the more hardened, darker basalt. There are a few vistas to see and chimneys to climb into that provide good photo ops. You can hike around the ridges or look up at the vents in wonderment.
CITIES OF KAPADOKYA
After days of hiking, you may want to reintegrate into society and talk to people. The most significant city (and biggest airport) is in Kayseri. I didn't spend much time here, and there's not a whole lot to do. In general, it's a very conservative city that is a little removed from the more exciting parts of the region but gives you easy access to all the crucial locales and has some of its history as well.
Nevşehir, a smaller province, but the slightly more interesting looking place (has the other, smaller airport for the region). It contains the village of Ortahisar which is built into the side of what looks like falling over wizard's hat and at night looks like Mickey Mouse's from "Fantasia." It's a little closer to everything than Kayseri but a little less accessible from other parts of the country.
The main cities of Kapadokya for sleeping and eating are Ürgüp and Göreme. Ürgüp has Temenni Tepesi which is a hill with a panorama over the entire town and a not so good restaurant but lovely tea garden at the top that used to be the town's public library. There's also a tomb that is sometimes open where you can walk around. Otherwise, in Ürgüp you have Ziggy's restaurant, which is fantastic albeit a little expensive. Up the hill from there, you have Turasan Şarap Evi which is the predominant winery in the area. Here you can buy most of the wine that you'd get at restaurants for a quarter of the price. And of course, you can do a tasting so you can figure out which ones are your favorite.
Göreme is a lot smaller population wise, so you have a lot fewer options for food and nightlife. However, if you stay here, you'll be situated closer to the unbelievable Göreme Open Air Museum which sports the most well-preserved and diversely colored church frescoes. Karanlık Kilise is an extra fee but is a must see. Nearby there's a lot more hiking possibilities and cave churches dotting the landscapes of Göreme National Park. But the way to start the day and catch it all in view is by taking a hot air balloon ride up at sunrise and picking the spots you want to see from the ground.
Finally, for the winter enthusiasts, you have the tall peaks of the Taurus mountain range. The tallest mountain in Anatolia is Erciyes which is about 13,000 ft. or 4,000 m tall. You can climb it, but it is a technical climb and is snow-capped all year-long. Apparently, there are a couple of caves and some inscriptions from ancient cultures near the summit. Or you can just go skiing about 1,200 m down from the top.
The 2nd highest mountain in Anatolia is Hasan (3,268 m or 10,722 ft.) it's about a six-hour climb from the highest point reachable by car and supposedly gives a good view of all of Kapadokya. The last mountain in the region is Aktepe where you get the beautiful views without all the work.
About 1,350 m tall, its erosion is still forming Devrent, Rose, and Red valleys. Sunset point gives you a view of the mountain and all the valleys and is even more spectacular during sunrise when there are tons of hot air balloons flying around.
While this post is a little long-winded it still only covers a fraction of the valleys you can hike, the unique villages you can see, and the history you can let seep into your brain. Hopefully, this gives a little insight into the multitudes of experiences that await you that I hope to delve into later on.
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.
If you've never been to Slovenia, then you're missing out. Most people I've talked to have never even heard of the place and that was a blessing. It's got a little bit of everything, except for crowds.
Why You Should Go
A coastline along the Adriatic (for all those that like Croatia), mountains in the Alps that'll remind you a little bit of Northern Italy or Bavaria, a capital that has bars and history but bans cars from the center, and caves like nowhere else in Europe. Though, any trip to Slovenia would be remiss not to include Slovenia's most famous locale, Lake Bled.
What To Do
Situated about an hour and half east of Trieste in Italy and about the same time from Ljubljana it's not too difficult to get to (I recommend the bus instead of the train from Ljubljana, though renting a car is a great way to get about so you can see the surrounding area). Here, you can swim, kayak, paddle, or sail on the lake. You can hike up into the forest nearby or visit the castle. Along the shoreline, there are a fair amount of bars and restaurants, though they're somewhat touristy and gimmicky. Accommodations range from villas on the waterfront to hostels and campsites. So, there are places for families to backpackers.
I recommend staying there for at least a night, maybe even two. I'd start by renting a boat and paddling across the lake to Bled Island. There you can check out the baroque church that was finished in the 16th century and has a lot of well-preserved frescos and architecture from that period. You can climb the 52-meter high tower and get a view of the surrounding area. Or if churches aren't your thing, you can just hang out and fish all day on the water.
Nevermind the duck, that water is crystal clear and about 27 degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit). Then spend the night eating and drinking. Everyone will make you choose between Union or Lasko, so pick wisely.
Get Out of Lake Bled
The second day, you can spend hiking around the area. Bled Castle is a popular destination and only about a 15-minute hike, but if you want the best views go up Velika Osojnica. It's about an hour and a half but definitely worth it.
If you're up here, have got more time, and want to stay away from the peak season crowds then check out The Vintgar Gorge which is more impressive than the lake, but less accessible and limited to hiking.
If you're still not feeling secluded enough or want to get away from any development than you want to go to Lake Bohinj. It's got a lot of the same activities as Bled with more action sports thrown into the mix. It's definitely worth a day trip.
Lake Bled is a fairy tale locale, and there's really no reason not to go. Like I wrote above, there are tons of varied activities all over the country, but I think this is the real gem. You can spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days and still feel content, but slightly dissatisfied because you know there's probably something breathtaking that you missed. Really the only option is to explore it for yourself.