We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.
We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.
Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.
Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.
We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.
One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.
Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.
I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.
Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.
The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.
The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.
About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.
Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.
We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.
The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.
Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.
On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.
We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.
It had been decades since we’ve visited Las Vegas. How long? Well, casinos were still using coins the last time we visited. And if the fact that the slot machines now print out paper receipts is news to you too – welcome to my shocked world.
We went to Vegas to visit with family who had a trip already planned. That’ll be fun we thought, to be there with people who know Vegas. And was it! I came away with so many insights about this desert vacation mecca. And, a renewed belief that you cannot judge a place you don’t know.
First realization: It’s a fairly egalitarian vacation destination. You can go high spending, fancy, big gambling budget, top dollar shows, or, as we saw many folks doing, lower budget,weekday, bring food to your room and walk around enjoying the sights. And, according to the gaming reports issued, fewer people are gambling. And more are bringing children with them. As we all know, a child with access to a swimming pool on vacation is a happy child.
Another shock, the walking experience along the strip is actually not bad. Of course it wasn’t hot yet, but the sidewalks are fine, there are pedestrian overpasses with escalators and stairs, and although the urbanist in me screams ‘change the light timing to reflect the real world person through put’ (many more humans on foot crossing the street than people in cars, yet the light is held green for the space hogging cars). There are very few places to stop, sit, and observe life which are not part of a paid experience, but there is quite a bit of outdoor plaza life. And for many, this may be the best walkable, social, planned urban area they get to enjoy.
Although I’m a white woman with no experience of what travel is like for people of color, to me, Vegas seemed like a good place to travel for anyone. The diversity of people, and shared sense of fun, of vacation enjoyment, was really very uplifting. Yes, it’s all wrapped around a gambling culture that wants to separate you from your money, but all seemed to be very welcome. The hospitality felt the same no matter who you were. And the people watching is fantastic. Folks are having fun and looking amazing while they do.
If you find travel interesting, you can find anyplace interesting. This trip was a good reminder to put aside preconceived notions and simply look around and enjoy. There really is no where like Las Vegas.
The best part of Vegas was our time with family, the best part of San Francisco was time with friends. And now we are off to our next adventure, Turkey. We fly to Istanbul tomorrow.
The noses of Rome? They are everywhere. Approximately 2,500 -2,800 big noses. Water fountains to you and me. The nose refers to the metal spout, which sticks off the fountain like a … nose. In place since the 1870s they are a little Easter egg hunt as you walk the city.
If you come from California, a state usually struggling with and talking about drought, the sight of constantly running water fountains is a bit shocking.
It may seem wasteful to us, but the company in charge of supplying water to Rome says the constantly running fountains only account for a small percentage of water loss, 1% or so, compared to the loss from old and leaky pipes. It is the same tasty drinking water as that supplied to homes.
Some fountains have glamorous backgrounds.
Other nasoni have more utilitarian surroundings.
The metal spout has a small hole at the top of the arch. If you put your finger over the bottom spout water will arc up from the hole to create an easier to drink from fountain. We didn’t know this until later, so we either filled our water bag or slurped the old fashioned way.
It wasn’t hot while we were in Rome, but I imagine these fountains are even more appreciated in the heat of summer. It’s nice as a tourist not to have to worry about finding water. And, no need to carry a full water bottle, which keeps your day pack lighter.
We’re back in the US now for a visit to friends and family. Our five days in Rome were not enough to see all the sights, but we did visit many of them, in between fountain spotting.
This fantastic UNESCO world heritage site is firmly on the tourist track of the Puglia region, for good reason. The stone buildings are amazing and adorable. Even more adorable with a dusting of snow.
Why, you ask, are these squat little buildings called trullo built this way? Two main reasons, per Wikipedia – abundant building material in the form of limestone boulders collected from fields, originally. And, the Count of Conversano who gave permission for the first “town” here, was avoiding taxes which would have been due to the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Apparently, no mortar – no taxes.
Like many UNESCO sites Alberobello was both saved and destroyed by its designation in 1996. The buildings, saved. The probably once characterful town, now firmly on the tourist track, another tick on the travel itinerary – gone. Destroyed is a strong word, but we do find the friendliness of locals is an inverse curve to the number of tourists. Other than the charming little streets of trulli walking in town is not so charming, with impatient drivers and narrow if any sidewalks. So what does the savvy visitor do? Head out of town on a country side walk.
We quickly left town behind and the countryside felt very rural. It sounded rural too. The barking dogs had us both grab a couple of small stones for our pockets as dog bite deterrents, but we didn’t need them. All dogs were safely contained. And once we left the outskirts of town there were few people and fewer dogs. Off season this area was quiet, in season the vacation dwellings probably have a lot of life. Vaccination note: since we love to ramble on back roads on foot and on bike, we got vaccinated for rabies – which means if we get bitten by a dog we need only one fairly available shot instead of the full and less available course of shots. On our hike out of Sorrento Rich did indeed get nipped by a little terror of a terrier, but it didn’t break the skin. We’re glad we got those vaccinations.
As our trip back to the US gets closer we’re both getting very excited to see family and friends. See you all soon.
This is the country where we are most likely to overeat, over indulge, and find ourselves over padded as a result.
How to avoid this? Move. Just keep moving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Have a hiking day. Walk the long way home after dinner out. Walking and biking are second nature to us, so that’s what we do when we get somewhere.
If we have a train day, we make sure to have an active day next. Of course, some train days involve loads of walking too. We rarely take taxis, we walk to and from train stations or take a local bus. Being sensitive to the impact of car traffic on cities encourages us not to add to it. Walking gives you more time to notice things and grounds you geographically. I’m slightly directionally challenged, landmarks are how I navigate. That shop, this fountain, a row of green flower pots, all help me find my way though new places.
The Amalfi coast has so many trails, walkways and tiny roads to explore. And stairways. So many stairways. Our day hiking above Amalfi was one of the most memorable hikes we’ve done. The coast road is more famous, but the paths and small roads are what we love.
Are all of our hikes blissful and conflict free? No. We have very different paces and one of us, the tall one, hikes much faster than the other shorter one. In an attempt to get more of a work out Rich came bounding back down the first big staircase climb out of Amalfi as I was struggling up. Morale killer? Yes. Squabble? Yes. I demanded that he turn around and then after I passed him I insisted he go back down as far as he wanted as I hiked on – in the lead for once! Temporarily, but happily.
The weather cooperated for our first full day in Bari so we rented bikes and headed down the coast, knowing there was a train to take back and enjoying the tailwind.
So this is how we stay healthy and happy. But, six months in we have learned that Rich absolutely needs more exercise than me. He’ll be upgrading to a slightly larger travel backpack so he can add running shoes to his kit. And I’ll be better at not getting mad when he bounds back down a hill I’m still climbing so he can turn around and go up again. (Seriously, who does this?)
One of the joys of extended travels is discovering the connections and overlapping layers of history, from the Neolithic to this shocking few weeks in Post Cold War Europe. You see snippets of history, in both the context of the ancient society, and the modern context of how it is presented.
In this part of the world, it is still stunning to discover the vastness and complexities of the Roman empire from Morocco to England, and of course, in modern Italy.
The past week’s events in Ukraine overlapping with visits to two of the world’s greatest archeological sites, Herculaneum and Pompéi has been sobering. Most of us understand the risks of Putins end game, but it’s especially painful for Europeans who bore the brunt of two world wars and protracted Cold War. History does feel like it is doomed to repeat itself.
There is a lot to take in at both UNESCO sites, so we decided it was best to separate our visits by a few days. We had planned on trying to get to Herculaneum early on Sunday morning from Naples, and set out from our hotel at 8am sharp only to be stymied by misinformation on the metro and train schedules….(BTW the Moovit app is best in Naples).
So as we sat on a crowded platform, with the prospect of getting to Herculaneum 1 1/2 hours after opening on by far the busiest day of the week, we decided eating €5 train tickets was a small price to pay for a better experience and left the station for another day. Another blessing of long term travels.
It was a great decision as we were able to stop at Herculaneum on the way to Sorrento on Monday, and had the place practically to ourselves….oh, and the sky was bluer on Monday too -:). This also gave us the opportunity to watch the excellent BBC documentary on Herculaneum which really did enhance our experience the next day.
Both Herculaneum and Pompéi are on the CircumVesuvia regional train line that runs from Naples to Sorrento, so an “on the way” visit is a great option, especially as both sites have left luggage facilities. The Pompéi entrance is very close to the train station, but Herculaneum is almost a kilometer away downhill, so best if you are traveling light with backpack luggage, but it is certainly doable with a roller bag (if you can stand the sound on the sidewalks!)
Herculaneum was a prosperous and smaller city than Pompéi; kind of a posh suburb. When it was hit by the huge earthquake of AD 62, many of its wealthier residents took the damage as an opportunity to remodel…of course, only to be buried by 50 feet of the pyroclastic flows of Mt. Vesuvius just years later in AD 79. The site is compact and surprising in its somewhat dense surroundings of a more modern town.
What was also surprising to us, was all the people that still live in the shadow of the mountain, taking a calculated risk that it won’t erupt soon, or with such force. They say there will be some warning from the vulcanologists and seismologists next time. And of course, we lived in San Francisco for 30 years, so can understand taking a risk living somewhere you love or is your home. Or both.
After a nice day off in Sorrento walking in the local hills of lemon groves, we visited Pompéi by taking the train back from Sorrento on Wednesday, and again enjoyed an enjoyed light crowds.
In fact we walked up to the ticket window at 9:30 am with no line. It did get a bit busier as the day went on, but still an apparent trickle compared to pre-COVID times, as the tour buses have not returned yet. Somewhat a golden time for travel if you can get here.
Pompéi is vast and sprawling, and it stuns you with the scale of the city’s ancient streets, sidewalks, and lunch cafes. Romans ate lunch out routinely, apparently to feed their appetites building vast baths, forums, and an amphitheater.
It was so easy to visualize the vibrant community, with its rolling and meandering streets, variety of villas, and the detailed understanding that has been miraculously deduced about the residents of almost every significant building. Artists, traders, cooks, politicians, and more recently nearby, slave quarters that give insight into the reality of the indentured servitude that supported much of the Roman’s impressive legacy.
It also helps to visit the fantastic Archaeology museum in Naples first as we did, so you can see many of the original artifacts, frescos, sculptures, and mosaics first, and the drop them into Pompéi and Herculaneum, like objects in SimCity AD79. There are a lot of in situ items still remaining at both sites, and many buildings at Pompéi are under restoration or access is limited to protect the fragile elements from so many visitors.
So as we headed out of Pompéi to continue along the Amalfi coast, we both relished this unique time to travel, our freedom, and the fact that our civilization is generally still thriving. But also more cognizant than ever that it can fall apart in an instant….or at least an archeological instant. We have to learn from history and react.
Peace and love to all, especially to those who have recently fled their homes from an impending calamity.
Some say it’s too gritty and sketchy. A couple we met thought it felt unsafe. It’s far too easy to be put off a place by reading negative on line comments. But, we also heard from people that Naples is all about great food, and that the people are quite nice. Thankfully we decided to make up our own minds and visit. We had a wonderful three days. What a great food city. Friendly people. Train and metro system could use a bit of love and money, but yeah, so could a lot of cities’ transit systems.
It was a busy weekend in Naples, with loads of Italian families in town for Carnivale festivities, and to enjoy the lifting of some Covid restrictions. The hotel front desk said it was their first really busy weekend since the start of Covid. The city was hopping, and many of the restaurants we had researched were booked solid every evening. But we used our long honed traveler restaurant radar and did quite well.
Naples really earns its food reputation. The restaurants and pastry shops, although daunting with their fast moving busy customers and workers, were very worth the occasional “dorky tourist” feeling. Usually we watch how things work for a bit before plunging in, but when it’s really busy that can be hard. So, make mistakes, do it wrong, but get to that pastry!
Up next, more of southern Italy, including two ancient Roman cities destroyed by Vesuvius.
What to do as tourist numbers are still down in the (hopefully) waning months of the pandemic? Head to places usually much too crowded to consider. We always say the B and C destinations are our thing, we prefer the less visited sites. But the idea of Venice with fewer tourists? Yes please. We didn’t even realize it was the start of Carnivale. With Italy just lifting the outdoor mask requirements a few weeks ago, we were surprised and happy to learn that Carnivale was on – in a more limited way than usual.
At first I was a bit timid about taking photos. But the revelers were posing for everyone. It reminded me of a Halloween/Beach Blanket Babylon mash up.
It was Piazza San Marco and the lack of crowds there that really made us appreciate what a unique time this was to visit Venice. Like much of the world we watched with horror the terrible effects of the pandemic in Italy, and wondered what it would feel like to be tourists in the after times. Since we don’t speak much Italian, it’s difficult to know what the locals are feeling about the return of tourists. Yes, it’s a big part of the economy, but for all of us who spent the lockdown days in places with usually high tourism levels, it was nice to get a breather from over-tourism. How to navigate the return of what can be an onslaught? What we do is try to be good tourists, respectful visitors, and keep our impact as low as possible.
We spent a wonderful three nights walking, taking Vaporetto (the public transit boats), eating, and enjoying being in a city that seems unbelievable.
And now we’re on a train to Naples, where we anticipate more Carnivale activities all weekend long.
Six months of travel so far. I should add the word only to remind myself it’s ONLY been six months. It feels much longer. To have so many new experiences after 18 months of home body living skews your sense of time. We talk about something we did three months ago and it feels as if it were a year or more in the past. I want to tell you what we’ve learned, and what have been our successes, but first – what do I miss?
Friends and family are of course on top of the list of what I miss. And I miss baking. But, for everything I miss (except friends and family), there is a consolation activity or option.
I miss knowing our way around a place. Living for so many years in SF meant I could bike, walk, or take transit almost anywhere without consulting a map. Now, maps are our constant friends.
The upside of not knowing your way around is the constant discovery of new things. Every place, every turn of a corner, every walk to a museum, restaurant, or train station might have an unexpected gem just waiting for us to notice it.
Every fun discovery gives us a chance to chat with locals, like the gent who was coming to refill his milk bottles at the milk vending machine and walked us through the process. And then a man returning to his work truck from a hardware store nearby stopped to congratulate us on finally figuring out the vending machine, and we chatted for 20 minutes, hearing about his trips to Scotland and France and sharing our own travel stories. It’s not the same as seeing old friends while walking or biking in SF, and we’ll never see those two men again, but I will claim them as momentary friends.
Comfortable furniture. That we miss! If a hotel room has two chairs we consider ourselves lucky. If even one of them is actually comfortable we’re thrilled.
The uncomfortable furniture is a small price to pay for the privilege of travel like this. Our time in the UK helped us appreciate slow travel. And I’ve learned to fluff, flip, and rearrange the couch seat cushions in our rental apartments to try and eke out a bit more comfort .
So what have we learned to make ourselves happy and healthy while traveling long term? Cook for ourselves as much as possible which means apartments with kitchens. We amass a roving pantry when we’re staying in places with kitchens. And we check for a local farmers market first thing.
Exercise is key. Easy when bike touring and when getting a lot of walking in, but we both have specific stretches and strength building exercises we need to do. Enter travel yoga mat. It’s nice to have and even more, it’s a good reminder to actually do the stretches and work outs. After trying to buy it in person I caved and ordered from Amazon to be delivered to an Amazon locker in London. I also ended up ordering laundry detergent sheets from Amazon to be delivered to a locker in Liverpool. Again after failing to find them at local shops. As much as I don’t love Amazon, the ability to get deliveries while traveling is very helpful. Laundry sheets are a fantastic travel item. Light to carry and useful for sink laundry as well as for confusing all in one washer/dryer combo machines.
We are currently in France, swapping out some gear for our next adventures. Where to next? Italy.