Honest Holbox !

About 60 kms north of Cancun, lies a retreat,  characterised by its relative laid back, bohemian and lazy vibe. Pronounced as Hol-bosch, isla holbox is a gem, waiting to be unearthed. Overshadowed by its more exposed and internationally exhibited neighbours, Isla Holbox (yep…that’s the spelling !), is no less than a hidden paradise, sans the burgeoning crowd which comes as a package if you think of Cancun.

Read more in the following pages….:)

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Who the f*** goes to Albania??

This comes close on the heels of the universal epidemic of “New year new me”.

After a hiatus of almost six months, my new and reinvigorated blog piece is a result of me being the guilty of the aforementioned phenomenon.

Out of all the exotic eastern European countries I ventured into in the latter half of 2017, Albania holds a special place. This quaint country lying on the far southeastern  part of the continent is grossly underestimated and underrated for what it has to offer. Constantly being unfairly overshadowed by its lustrous and popular southern neighbor Greece, Albania has a character which is relatable to most of us (great but underrated).

For the uninitiated, Tirana is the capital of this small country and also was my gateway into Albania. My Tirana itinerary consisted of the capital city and then moving north to Sarande for the  famous Blue Eye while enjoying the Albanian riviera.

I reached Albania by bus from Skopje. The bus journey lasts for approximate 7 hours covering a distance of a little over 370kms and the tickets can be purchased directly from the bus station in Skopje starting from 20 EUR.

The international bus station is somewhat centrally situated and is approx. 2 kms from the main Skenderbeg Square. All roads lead to Skenderbeg square which is undoubtedly the heart of the city, as it  houses most of the main attractions of Tirana including the Et’hem Bey mosque, National History Museum and Clock Tower.

Et’hem Bey mosque is an 18th century mosque which boasts of frescoes depicting bridges, waterfalls and trees; which are quite uncommon architecture in Islam, thus making it an interesting monument. The place of worship looks specially exquisite under the moonlight.

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Beside the mosque, is the famous Clock tower of Tirana. Interestingly enough, both Et’hem Bey Mosque and Clock tower were built by the same artist. You can climb to the top of the clock tower and its free!!!

The National History Museum of Albania is the largest museum in the country, rightly so, as it sprawls across 27000 square metres. The mural mosaic above the entrance is considerably eye catching. It is captioned “The Albanians” and showcases the supposed ancient to modern figures from the history of Albania. This museum is the perfect place to get acquainted with Albania and its complicated past.

BUNK’ART MUSEUM: Talking about troubled past, my next stop in Tirana was arguably the most interesting ones and definitely a first for me.

As you walk past the clock tower, after a short walk you will find the Bunk’art museum.  This 1970s bunker converted into museum was informative and creepy at the same time. This museum is country’s brave and honest effort to confront its past. The museum covers the horrors of the fascist Italian regime from 1939 till the final ouster of communism.

As you stroll down the structure, its hard to not miss the atrocities of Hoxha Stalin’s regime. Some rooms display interviews of war veterans and others who tell stories of their brutal past. In one of the galleries there was a list on the wall stating the method of torture used by the fascist regime against freedom fighters, few of which reminded me of the same methods used by the soldiers of the erstwhile British empire in India. Some attractions are the big Assembly Hall and rooms of other senior officials. While the place undoubtedly sheds light on Albanian history, it left me slightly creeped out and with a feeling of sadness.

The museum is open to public in the summers and the entry fee is between 3-4 Euros.

Next for me was to take a leisurely stroll in Rruga Murat Toptani street. This is a tranquil pedestrian street lined with colorful buildings.

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Tirana is a colourful and vibrant city which has a buzz of its own. Don’t forget to take a sip of the café culture and soak in the atmosphere.

 

I hired a car from Tirana for more flexibility and planned to drive to the far south city of Sarande to witness the Albanian Riviera. The drive is around 280 kms long and it takes approx. 5-6 hours.  Hiring  a car from Tirana is not that expensive however it is totally worth it for the flexibility and the beautiful scenes. The road to Sarande is  full of mild curves  but is suitably wide and paved.

On the way to Sarande, my first stop was Vlore, which is the third largest city in Albania  and is about 2 hours  or 153 kms away from Tirana. I had a delicious lunch of mussels and pasta at one of the sea side restaurants in Vlore. On the northern shore, Vlore boasts of a coastline comprising of Ioanian sea, Mediterranean sea and Adriatic Sea which then form of Bay of Vlore and is 30 percent of the entire coast of Albania.

Ahead were meandering but magnificent roads leading to Sarande. The views along the drive were simply breathtaking.

 

I reached Sarande well in time to catch the sunsetting in the amazing Albanian Riviera.

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The next day was my much awaited trip to the out of the world Blue eye or Syri kalter.  It takes around 25-30 minutes to reach Blue eye from Sarande. In the last 5 minutes of the drive, the road turns muddy but it doesn’t last long. Make sure to have some money for the small parking fees.

Syri i Kaltër: Blue eye was undoubtedly the highpoint of my Albania trip.

It is a natural spring wherein water keep constantly bubbling from more than 50 metres deep. This formation is aptly called Blue Eye coz of the dark blue water hole surrounded by a rim of electric blue water, like iris of an eye.

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The naturally colored water is astounding and hypnotic. The water in Blue eye is chilling and its advisable to bring a swim suit and towel in case you feel like taking a dip. Although Blue Eye constantly pops up as one of the must see places when you research about Albania, it is still relatively untouched by throngs of tourists.

 

Next day on my way back to Tirana, I made a quick stop at Ksamil which is only 15 minute drive away.

 

 

In Albania, I gorged on sea food and got high on raki.

 

When you plan your trip to Albania, rest assured to hear skeptical and discouraging voices and the often asked question, “Who goes to Albania?”. I was asked the same question and my reply was to explore a country which doesn’t appear highly on tourism charts. I ended up enjoying beautiful beaches and mouth watering food at a fraction of the “must visit beach destinations”.

To everyone who asks, “Why Albania?”, just answer, “why not?” 😉

 

PS – This post was written on my overnight layover at Frankfurt airport. Next article on some place from another continent 😀

 

 

 

Skopje in a day :)

SKOPJE pronounced as Skopae for the uninitiated (like me) was my quick next stop in my  south eastern europe escapade.

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The otherwise demure town was a surprisingly queer concoction of old and new, frailly connected together by the famous Stone Bridge which was the first “joint” between the two. Though it now has few other “colleagues” serving the same purpose , its hard to escape the aura and erstwhile appeal of the pioneer.

As you , cross the bridge, a remarkable difference  between architecture ,eateries , populace and prices is conspicuous.fullsizeoutput_83

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The bridges seem to rightly  “bridge” the gap between the Ottoman and modern era, successfully binding Skopje as a city which has something to offer for everybody.

Here is my list :

OLD BAZAAR

Cited as the second biggest bazar in Europe after the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul , the  heavy Turkish influence in this wide area abuzz with tea shops , gelato stalls , Louis Vuitton “outlets”, silver jewellery stores, and souvenir shops is almost unmissable. Don’t let the size of tea shops fool you as the smallest ones are quipped with one of the most essential requirements for existence, and no I am not talking about toilets!

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The souvenir shops are filled with tokens ranging from 1 euro magnets and embroidered pouches to more expensive showcases made in silver. One of the shop owner shared with me his friend’s shift in perspective of life after his meaningful and soul stirring trip to India. At the cost of sounding presumptuous , admittedly, not the first of  many such India-induced life changing stories I have learnt on my travels. As I sipped my Turkish tea in one of the wifi equipped tea stalls I realised the magnetism my motherland possesses.

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Old Bazaar makes an affordable and authentic spot to shop for gifts and artefacts to take back home. It also is an apt place to dig in to some cheap eats of fresh salad and kebab. It is the only place I devoured a burger which was bigger than the one depicted in the picture on the menu.

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Old Bazaar is 1-1.5 km away from the international bus station and the taxi ride would cost a meagre 1 EUR. Insistence to taxi drivers to switch on the meter would be a good idea, though, unlike other parts of the world , most taxis in Skopje quoted a reasonable price in the first go.

MATKA CANYON

Following the advice on every possible travel blog describing must dos in Skopje and after sifting through the pictures , I succumbed to the temptation called Matka Canyon.Matka meaning womb in Macedonian is an organically formed waterbody.

The emerald clear waters of match canyon are almost unreal.

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Kayaks can be hired for approximately 2 euros for half an hour . Boat rides are much cheaper but the boat starts only when they are filled with almost 6-8 persons . Kayaking to the caves would be almost 2 hours however return boat ride would be 1 hour.

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While I exercised my arms kayaking in the calm waters, my attention was diverted by incoherent sounds by young kids. Gazing up the cliff, I found the giggling boys folding their hands in the traditional way to greet in India aka namaste. I laughed and acknowledged them with a slight nod.

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The kayak guy had the same warm and customer friendly attitude I encountered in most of Skopje.”Pay later. Pay only if you like. No like , no pay.” His broken English didn’t come in the way of establishing his welcoming and friendly demeanour.

The cheapest mode to reach Mataka is public bus costing 1.5 EUR one way. Bus stations in Skopje are equipped with screens showcasing the schedule in real time, however, buses can run late. Bus 60 ran on the route at the time of writing this article. To get a bus ticket, you can ask the driver for an electronic ticket  and if you are lucky, the driver won’t have it and he will let you in anyway.( Guess who got lucky !).

Local taxis would make for a 35 EUR ride one way.

On the way back,  I ended up waiting for good 45 minutes for the bus at the wooden and almost dilapidated bus stand, till a taxi driver offered a ride for all the people (there were 4 of us) collectively to Skopje for 10 EUR. Needless to say, we jumped on the opportunity and I shared the cab with a French couple , to reach New Skopje in time to enjoy a drink before exploring it.

NEW SKOPJE

AS you cross the Stone Bridge, the shift from past to present is almost palpable. Right from sartorial to culinary, sensibilities change. The Archeology Museum is a spectacular example of the gap between old and new Skopje.

The towering statues of soldiers, fountains, presence of high end brands like Marriott and popped up “Bistro London” and “Irish pub” as opposed to my favourite Turkish tea stall.

 

I spent few minutes observing the flock of admirers , tourist and locals alike , vying for a perfect selfie with the monument. New Skopje is apt for shopping for clothes , accessories etc as a number of International and local brands make their presence felt around the main square.

WHAT TO EAT

Macedonian food is as interesting as the country’s  history. Chicken pie commonly called Pastrmajlija was my personal favourite.

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I found the food to be a heady mix of Turkish , Greek and Balkans. It is abundant with salads, fresh cheese , oven cooked meat and rake. Interestingly ,unlike eateries in Old Bazar , if you happen to order a burger in a traditional Macedonian restaurant, be ready for a “open burger”.Much to my surprise, the burger came with “beef patty” , some salad and separate bread, instead of the conventional burger form. Skopski Marek was my favourite restaurant.

IMG_5064With live music, smiling servers , delicious food and reasonable price  and complementary shot of a “digestif” there was little more I could have asked for.

SKOPJE BUS STATION

As I was on my Balkan tour and my next stop was Albania , I tried unsuccessfully to look for bus tickets online.Most of the schedules online are not uptodate and therefore I was advised by my hostel to go directly to the bus station and look for tickets. Tirana bus station reminded me of bus stations back home in more ways than one.With cheap restaurants ,souvenir shops , various tour agencies and passengers of all kinds. There were big families with even bigger bags fighting their way to the platform only to wave goodbye to their loved ONE. Simultaneously , the joy of a parent on seeing his offspring, the irritation of a young daughter trying to help her mother navigate through the crowd and youngsters nonchalantly smoking before their journey was extremely relatable. Once again strengthening my belief that same emotions run much deep in human race and they easily surpass colour ,nationality and continent. Don’t get astonished if you see young local guys aka randomly assigned passengers collecting passports from all the passengers of the bus, providing them to Border Control Officers , and distributing them to the owners after stamping. No need to get down of the bus and queue!

Talk about comfort  🙂

Skopje Bus station has ATMs , locker room and SAS bus service counters. The Tirana bus from the counters costed 18EUr however if you book it from one of the travel agencies it curiously costs 15EUR. The staff at inquiry office come across as clearly overworked and patience is the key to deal with them successfully. Most of the staff speak reasonable English. Toilets can be used at a sum of 50pence.

My Final Thoughts 

Skopje is an interestingly beautiful city and surely a place which deserves much more visibility. For solo women ,modest dressing is advisable. I gathered  questioning glances from old women due to my attire of shorts and crop top ..oops. Skopje has a large group of people following Islam and most young women are dressed in long dresses and jeans.Hijab clad women are also a common sight. It is the peaceful coexistence of tradition and modernity in all aspects which made Skopje amazing for me.Comfortable shoes are recommended for Matka Canyon as it includes some walking from the bus station to the canyon.

If you have enough time , a quick activity is to take the cable car up the Millennium Cross to witness Skopje in all is glory beneath you. I could not squeeze the same as I was super tired from my previous travel.

All in all , a day in Skopje, is a day well spent.

PS – This article was written on the road from Tirana to Sarande (Albania) ,more on it in my next post 🙂

Bratislava Blues :)

The latter half of erstwhile Czechoslovakia was my first stop on the impromptu Eastern Europe escapade. As I had only few hours in Bratislava I decided to prioritise my to do list.

The taxi ride from the airport to main city is 15 minutes.Public transport can take upto 25 minutes to commute. Bus 61 plies between city and airport at a ticket price of 1EUR. Uber ride to the Old Town is around 8EUR. There is a huge and impressive Decathlon store near the airport for the brand lovers.

Now, to be honest, the most attractive part of the city for me was not the Bratislava castle (surprise!!!). I was more enamoured by the little Blue Church and that is where I headed to straightaway. It is a short walk away from the bustling centre of Old Town.

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The interiors of the church are as beautiful and attractive as its outer walls of powder blue.ozv3sa8ZQCK3aKinr2G%Vg_thumb_f6

It surely makes for a uniquely colourful picture.

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The Old Town of Bratislava

The quaint Old Town of Bratislava tell the story of its rich past.

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What caught my eye was its obvious attempt to somehow please the throngs of tourists coming in. What with Irish and Scottish pubs peppering the town and Chicken wings making its way to the menu of a traditional Slovak restaurant!

The endeavour to attract tourists emanated a somewhat mixed reaction from me. While it is a welcome sign of opening up new destinations for wandering souls like me, the influx of tourist always threatens to bring with it the impending loss of rusty traditions.

The Old Town is dotted with souvenir shops , restaurants, coffee shops and pubs.

Their are occasional  quirky bronze statues which are a major must do for every picture monger (guilty!). The  somewhat funny statue of a man trying to come out of a manhole in the street has almost become a signature for Bratislava. The statue is named Cumin and is one of the most photographed sculptures in Old Town. Fridge magnets bearing his face can be found across all souvenir shops.  Their are other statues of a Napolean soldier leaning on a bench at the Main Square and the only silver statue of Schone Naci. The latter is the only statue of a real person from 19th century. All the statues have interesting legends attached to them.

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The architectural trademark of bell tower is present here too and magnificent view of the city, castle and Danube can be soaked in from the top.

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The oldest museum in Bratislava is the Museum of City History .

GAoH9szDSP2qsfY5Tw9hJw_thumb_ecThe beautiful green roofed building dates back to 1868 and unfolds the history of the city. Their are two entrances to the museum from Hlavne namestie (the main square) or Primacialne namestie ( Primates square).

DW0h3KHMS7+5cxKZoyfc0A_thumb_dbThe entry price is 5 Eur per person. From the main square entry there is a beautiful pink building on the left side of the museum which combines itself perfectly with the green roof of the museum.

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The Bratislavian Parliament building is also at a stone throw away and could be checked out for its significance , architecture and majesty.

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All tour guides and information centers can be seen coaxing tourists to head to the Devine castle or alternatively the face of Bratislava. While the castle in itself paints a pretty picture it did not do much to entice and compel me to squeeze it in my day’s itinerary. Dare I say, neighbouring Hungary has more splendid and impressive structures. Needless to say , I gave it a miss!

Must eats

Slovakian food is highly influenced by its neighbours and is a boon for meat lovers. The original is garlic soup or Cesnakova Polievka served in a bowl made of bread . Totally recommended for rainy days. The hungarian Goulash also features on most of the Slovak restaurants’ menus.  However , gnochi styled potatoes were my favourite.

The traditional Slovak restaurants in Old Town would cost around 25-30 EUR for a meal for two with beer or Borovicka or the customary Slovakian rum .. (hiccup!) Gelato is abundant and easily alluring  (Holiday weight alert !)

There are Turkish  and Oriental  restaurants for food lovers.

Quick  and obvious budget tip is to get out of Old Town and explore the eateries outside of it.

 

Owing to its proximity to Vienna , (approximately one hour by road) , Bratislava makes for a quick one day trip. The city is quaint and a concoction of past and modern era. It is dotted with picturesque establishments which tell the tale of its rich history.

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People speak sufficient English and rooms in the Old Town can be hired at 30 EUR per night.

Tips for solo women travellers would include exercising common sense , check the weather before packing and avoid pencil heels as most of the streets in old Town are cobbled.

Slovaks largely came across as helpful and approachable people. From candy offering Uber driver to random stranger helping me with the right bus platform just because of my confused expression, Bratislava has certainly no blues attached to it 🙂

Out of this world – Cappadocia !!

I honestly did not know about Cappadocia and its magnificence before I started researching about Turkey. I confess I was bowled over by the scenic landscape , the gargantuan fairy chimneys emanating from the ground , the sheer expanse of Goreme Open Air museum (UNESCO world heritage site) and of course the indescribably mesmerising and my high point (pun intended ) of the Turkish visit – the hot air balloon ride.

 

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I spent 2 nights in Kapadokya which is an aerial hop away from Istanbul. I chose to stay in Nomad cave Hostel which is a beautifully built hostel decorated with traditional Turkish carpets and off white walls. It was a 40 minute ride away from Neveshir Airport. As I reached my hostel and enquired about the daily available tours , I realised that the next tour would start in few minutes ! Because I was there only for 2 days I could not afford to “waste” a day by chilling at the beautiful hotel !

 

Enter , Turkish hosptality to my rescue . The guy from my hostel quickly made few calls and whisked me away in his car , raced on the treacherous terrain of Cappadocia  to the place where the tour originated from and I made it ! There were 2 mini vans of tourists and we were all set to visit Ilhara valley which is a hiking heaven for locals and tourists alike . Ilhara valley boasts of about 60 Byzantine churches and  , caves , chapels dating from 11th century ! The dramatic gorge is cut by Melindiz river  through the volcaninc landscape of Cappadocia. Most visitors join a tour like me and enter the valley via the 360 steps from Ilhara tourist office and exit at Belisrma . The whole trail is around 2 hours long and is laden with awe inspiring ancient establishments . If you want to go off the beaten track you can take the trail from Ilhara tourist office and exit at Selime .

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KAYMAKLI UNDERGROUND CITY

Our second stop was around 62 kms away from the previous one an approximate an hour drive . They were the old underground city of Kaymakli. The architecture will leave you wondering and baffled at the fact of this scientific master piece in the absence of technology. The underground  city of Kaymakli is 8 floor deep however visitors are allowed entry only till the first 4 floors and is one of the largest underground settlement in the region. Archaeologists claim that this city could house 3500 people ! I touched the sturdy walls and marveled at their strength and the fact that they withstood the tests of time. Back home we have civilizations bearing the testimony to human tenacity and industrialism , much like Kayamakli.

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Narrow paths in the underground city

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TURKISH NIGHT

After the day in the underground marvel , I planned to be touristy and experience the famous Turkish night. Most of the tour operators offer Turkish night show as a package with Hot air ballon ride or other tours in Cappadocia . It sure is a fun and easy way to relax , devour the delicious Turkish cuisine , watch the whirling men performing Sufi dance  and witness the ever sexy  dance Halay.  Halay is a famous Turkish folk dance practiced in some regions of the country. The smooth moves by the dancer made me secretly question my own flexibility ( It sucks !!).  The Turkish night lasts for approximately 3 hours and is a great way to enjoy , meet other travellers and experience a part of the rich culture offered by Turkey. It was succeeded by a large bonfire on the chilly night which gave everyone a chance to mingle and share their stories .

 

 

HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE

This activity a must do on all the tourist sites and “Top things to do in Turkey” list. Now I must say I was not expecting too much from this so called “tourist” trap. And I was proven hugely wrong. The thrill of being gently lifted off the ground was surprisingly different from the loud and obvious take-offs I was used to . The landscapes are best described in pictures . As the hot air balloon takes to the sky you can see the ground beneath turning magnificently breathtaking.

DSCN4620DSCN4608DSCN4598DSCN4602DSCN4590The stone cut formations rising from the volcanic land of Goreme are a treat to the eyes when witnessed from the vantage point few hundred metres off ground. I met a 80 year old Australian lady who overcame her fear of heights by challenging herself to try the balloon ride . Her zeal of  defying her age old (pun unintended ) fears and tread in to uncomfortable terrain was inspirational.

Most of the tours offering the balloon ride start at an unearthly hour (read when the morning sky is still dark) as the principle is to capture the outstanding beauty of dawn.A Brazilian couple next to me chose Turkey to mark their 5th anniversary and graciously invited me to their country. The ride lasts for approximately one hour from its inception and the price ranges from around 110USD to the more luxurious and exclusive ones priced at around 550 USD. All the tours offer “Champagne breakfast” (a flute of Champagne ) to celebrate your success at the end of the ride .

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Perfect time for Champagne 😛  The Aussie lady delighted after the “flight”

 

As the sun rises from the horizon its a tussle to determine which scenery is more splendid.

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The landscape changes its colour from pale white in the pre dawn light to hues of orange as the day begins to unfold. The volcanic formations beneath start to bathe in the warm early morning rays.DSCN4620

Breathtaking will be an understatement for this spectacle.

 

And there was more to Kapadokya – Pigeon Valley and Fairy chimneys !!!

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THE REAL TURKEY

One of the many enchanting and truly heart touching travel experiences I had , was in Turkey . While I was treading through the dusty by lanes of Istanbul on a lazy afternoon , along with my two new friends , we were warmly invited by a shop keeper who made handicrafts into his quaint shop. While we were checking out the designs , he offered us the traditional mint tea and we all indulged in a wonderful conversation which encompassed Ottoman empire , surge of immigrants in Turkey , the usual dissatisfaction with the government and his love for different cultures . It once again reinforced my learnt fact that though we all belong to different demographies , we still are essentially the same . He gifted us with handmade ear rings (mine were turquoise blue ) as a souvenir and bade us goodbye . Incidents like these re establish the fact that not all things written in the news paper and transmitted by media are true . People look out for each other be it in Turkey , Nicaragua or New Delhi . Needless to say ,those blue earrings are one of my prized possessions .18386947_1553791424653699_1986305955_n

 

Do’s and Don’ts in Turkey / Cappadocia 

As I always recommend , exercising common sense is the key to safe solo female travel. Turkey has a good mix of conservative and modern dressing. A lot of women dress in jeans and dresses , and a considerable number of them use head scarves and traditional clothing . Comfortable shoes will go a long way ( pun unintended) , in Cappadocia and Istanbul alike as the streets are cobbled  and terrain can be rough . Also , a quick weather check before packing would be a good idea . Istanbul , like any other big city , has its own areas where venturing in night as a lone female would not be a good idea. Sticking to Istikal for nightlife would be a good idea. Again , sunscreen would be your best friend in Istanbul and Cappadocia .

 

So here was my journal of Turkish trip . One of the most culturally rich countries I have been to .  Don’t let the media fool you . Enjoy Turkey and come back being more enriched , improved and with your pair of ear rings :)))

How to Hostel ?

So this comes close to the heels of me treading carefully in the new found space of “traveler” and thus a hostel dweller. While Tblisi was the first place I had a true hostel experience, Istanbul was a close successor.

The conveniently located hostel in Istanbul brimmed with positive vibes and an overall ambience of laid back ness .  I temporarily abandoned my humble abode ( read bed in a mixed dorm) and  went to imbibe the captivating Cappadocia. More of it in my next blog.

On my return at an unearthly hour of the night, I was politely requested by the hostel staff to move to another room. I followed the instructions to the 5 bed mixed dorm and quietly opened the screeching door. I was welcomed by darkness (it was 3 am and people were in deep slumber). It took me few seconds to adjust my eyes to the blue light coming from one of the windows. As soon as i gained a better vision , i caught a glimpse of a “leg” abnormally dangling from the bed. I still thank my stars for not screaming my lungs out.

I surpressed an involuntary shock induced shriek , much to the relief of my dorm mates . Being woken up by the sound of a frightened scream does not sound sexy ( pun intended) 😉  I tunnelled my vision as much as I can and raced (yeah.. right! ) to the empty bed in the room. I dared not look at the limb again and enveloped myself in the blanket , silently cursing myself for being “adventurous” and choosing a hostel instead of a private room. Due to my heightened exhaustion after the travel from Cappadocia I thankfully slipped into sleep in no time.

When I woke up in the morning , I saw the bearded and well built guy in the adjacent bed making use of the prosthetic limb which caused me a mini heart attack the previous night . Phew !! I told the ludicrous story to my Austrian fellow traveler and we shared a hearty laugh over it .

Interestingly , this freak incident made me re- realise and respect  more the specially abled people and their passion for travel. It also induced me to broaden my horizons and be ready to welcome and accept every one with a passion for travel .

So , my preparation for the hostel dwelling will be more of mental , instead of the practical steps of carry ing your own towel , multi charger , tooth brush , etc. ( Not implying that the practical tips are unnecessary.) Choosing to live in a closed area with strangers while on “vacation”  could be a big leap out of comfort zones for a lot of us . I have had friends who almost squirm at the idea of sharing space with unknown people. While staying in hostels is not everyone’s cup of tea , some enjoy it nevertheless (guilty). The new or amateur hostellers might find below mentioned points helpful.

PS – These suggestions are only to mentally prepare you for what or not to expect –

  •  Before trying a hostel , make sure you have your calf muscles strengthened as a lot of beautiful hostels do not have elevators .
  • Try to travel light as this might help in navigating in location centric set ups eg cave hostels in Turkey.
  • Be ready to embrace and accept different behaviours and cultures . It is an often over repeated sentence however being open to behaviour of complete stranger sleeping 4 feet above you is highly imperative.
  • Read about hostel vacation, experiences and expectations of travellers . A lot of hostel users are seasoned travellers and have been on the road for a considerable length of time. Reading about them would give you an idea of what’s in store.
  • Hostel life does not always mean incessant late night parties and it does not necessarily translate into finding  “travel buddies”. There might be times when you are left to your own company (which I bet is amazing), so get your favourite books , music , podcast , etc. ready.

I hope this would help you to ditch the touristy hotels and try to authenticity , warmth and spirit of hostels

More on Cappadocia , coming soon 🙂

Turkish Delight : Part 1

Circa 2014  and it was Istanbul calling .Turkey was and still is one of the most unusual places I have ever been to .

My decision to visit Istanbul came close to the heels of the country undergoing a massive unrest and thus it was no surprise that I had my own share of valid trepidation. Much of my apprehensions were mitigated as I was very kindly provided a more lucid picture of the ground reality by many of my colleagues . It was comforting and exciting at the same time.

Thus I decided to embark on my very own mission Istanbul (a forgettable Bollywood movie) and added Cappadocia to the itinerary.

The key to plan before landing into Istanbul is to determine which one of the two airports (Yes ..Istanbul boasts of 2 major airports – Ataturk International on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen on the Asian side) you are using as the city bustles with 13 million and more inhabitants and planning your airport transfers in advance is a wise idea.

As I was still moulding myself into a seasoned traveler I settled in on being extravagant and booked an advance airport transfer from my hostel. (I realised it was an unncessary step on my way back as tram and metro system from and to the airport are pretty convenient.) Neverland hostel was my abode for the next few nights .

The striking points of the hostel were total absence of elevator in a tall building and refreshing smell of turkish coffee (more so because it was complimentary )! I was led to my dorm and was quickly greeted by a German traveler. After a pleasant banter comprising of our backgrounds and travel plans , he kindly invited me for a drink. Not a bad start ! I met another hostel dweller , an Austrian cyclist who travels with yeah you guessed it right ,his cycle ; and a Swiss girl who was studying in Istanbul . We formed an impromptu group and went to one of the open air pubs in Istikal Street.
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