Sunday, January 1, 2012

Places to see in 2012 - Extended Edition

In the January 2012 issue of Time Out Singapore I shared the best places to visit in 2012: Xinjiezhen, China; Guimarães, Portugal; London, England; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada and The Mayan Riviera, Belize.

Below, are a few more places worthy of your time before it all comes crashing down on 21/12/12.

Hong Kong
The city of Hong Kong is organized chaos at its best. Like any place with a constant whir, there is always a quiet food stall situated down a dusty lane to discover, or a corner city-view atop Victoria’s Peak, providing pause for reflection on a day well spent. And, with less than a year left on earth, spending is something you should not shy away from in The Pearl of the Orient.
What to see: "Kung Hey Fat Choy!!" The Year of the Dragon commences, Cantonese-style, on January 23, 2012. The Chinese Lunar New Year is best celebrated whilst floating on a junk boat in Victoria Harbour, being treated to an indelible fireworks display. The displays of fire are sandwiched between family-oriented fun, in the form of a colourful parade and one of the world’s largest horse races.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is the perfect stopover between Hanoi and Saigon. Look good for your trip into the Afterlife by getting fitted for a half-dozen tailored suits. Between fittings, rent a bike or scooter and head to Cua Dai Beach (a.k.a. Chin
a Beach), a 20-km stretch of sand situated on the South China Sea.
What to see: There is no better place to be when all the lights go out, than a lantern festival. On the full-moon of every month, Hoi An’s pedestrian-only Old Town celebrates a Full Moon Festival. Electricity is shut down for the evening, and the town is solely lit by lanterns. Light your own lantern, make a wish and release the lantern into the current of the Thu
Bon River. (Photo of Hoi An's Lantern Festival by E.Z. Guler-Tuck)

Paro Valley, Bhutan
Now that the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is officially open for business, albeit to a select few tourists per year and for a price (up to $200/day), you can now be shuttled around by a government-approved tour guide through some of Buddhism’s most sacred sites and other awe-inspiring splendours of the Himalayas.
What to see: An hour drive west of Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, glued to a hill face, 900 m above the Paro Valley, is Taktsang Palphug (Tigers Nest) Monastery, the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries. It is believed that the legendary Guru and Buddhist saint, Rimpoche, flew up there on a tigress and meditated in a cave for 3 months. The monastery was built around the cave later.
(Photo of Taksang Palphug Monastery by: Ceyda Eratalar)

Melnik, Bulgaria
For those feeling the Euro credit crunch, you might actually spend less money travelling to Bulgaria, then you would by staying home. The cosiness and warmth that Bulgaria lacks in its major cities is made up for in its countryside. Melnik, the self-declared ‘tiniest town in Bulgaria,’ lies, untouched, in Bulgaria’s up-and-coming wine region.
What to see: The chalet-like architecture of Melnik’s guesthouses and surrounding landscape are as stunning as any of its more widely romanticized Western European counterparts. Lush and rolling pastures and vineyards bleed into mountain vistas. In town, you’ll be treated to inexpensive yet palatable wine and as much sausage and Shopska salad you can handle.

This is a picture (credit: Tomek Roszkowski) of me taking a break after a short hike in the countryside around Melnik.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest still has some warts but hey, nobody’s perfect. Besides, a sunset stroll along Chain Bridge over the Danube River will provide all the cover-up needed. ‘The Pest’ is a great European hub for cost-conscious travellers as Hungary’s low-cost airline, Wizz Air, is now flying to more and more cities.
What to see: Budapest is hosting the 2012 Euro Games, a precursor event to the Summer Olympics in London and fully supported by the London Organizing Committee (27 June – 1 July, various locations around Budapest). In between sips of Goulash soup, be sure to visit the Parliament Buildings (Kossuth Lajos tér, V. district).

White Desert, Egypt
If you are still curious to tour through Egypt, interested in visiting during its time of transition, far to the west of the din of Tahrir Square, 50 km south of the Bedouin town of Farafra, you can find peace and wondrous natural beauty among the mushroom-capped rock formations of the sprawling White Desert.
What to see: Take a short hike up one of the desert’s many white mounds and watch the sunset.
(Photo credit: Ciara Sullivan)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers

Yes, it has been far too long since my last post. The tactile world of writing for print has owned me for the past few months. That said, I am anxious to report on some personal contributions toward something web-based.

The Lonely Planet Blogsherpa fraternity, of which I am a member, has published an e-book entitled, Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers. It is available as a free download from .

If you want to skip the step of going to Lonely Planet, here, is a direct link to download the pdf.

EZ was one of the editors on the project and I was thrilled to contribute to what I hope will be the first of many 'books' of its kind.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

BlogCarnival #13 - Memorable City Experiences

In the wake of the recent rough news to hit my current hometown of Istanbul I thought I'd present a magical moment experienced in this city that preceded the aforementioned act of terrorism by roughly 36 hours.

October 29th is Cumhuriyet Bayram (Republic Day) in Turkey. On this day in 2010 Turkey celebrated the 87th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

That evening from our balcony on the Asian side we were treated to one of the most amazing fireworks displays I have ever seen. Truly memorable and definitely magical. Spanning an area of 5km the show lasted for 15 minutes. Here is two-and-half minute hastily shot video where I sound a little bit like the 'double rainbow' guy. Listen for the Istanbulites cheering in between booms and enjoy the broadcast.

In commemoration of Turkey lifting its two-year ban on YouTube here is the video link below:

In addition to, this posting is also featured as a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival. Every two weeks one of Lonely Planet's favorite bloggers becomes the editor of a series of postings all centred on the same theme. This week’s editor is Denise at Travel With DenDen and the declared theme is "Magical/Memorable City Experiences". So visit Travel With DenDen thisNovember 8 to read what the Blogsherpas came up with.

Friday, October 22, 2010

1st Anniversary - North Cyprus

EZ and I decided to put an 'add-on' to our marital vows. In a collective mission to get to and experience the world's tinier nations, the countries easily missed whilst travelling, we pledged to visit a different out-of-the-way country on dates landing on and around our wedding anniversary. Insallah, we can look forward to clinking champagne cups together in Malta, Monaco, Macau, St. Martin, and perhaps even the island Yap in The Federated States of Micronesia.

To kick things off, for our first anniversary we hopped on a flight for 3 days in North Cyprus. Before our departure, friends in Istanbul declared that there is nothing going on in North Cyprus; just a slew of resorts and not much else. Either way, I was looking forward to some quiet beaches, seaside fish/mezza restaurants and lots of halloumi, a traditional Cypriot cheese.

We arrived at the Ercan Airport and hopped on a Havas (airport bus) that would shuttle us in one hour to Girne (Greek pron. 'Kyrenia') for 10 TL each (5 Euro). Okay, let me take care of the elephant in the room. Not having exchanged our currency, technically we weren't in a new country, but, the flag is different and a de facto state is good enough for me. Just show me the fish, cheese and beach.
Driving through the countryside, we noticed a lot of abandoned housing projects and dozens of car rental outlets and dealerships. The landscape was nice though and reminded us of the high-hills to sea geography of the Turkish Mediterranean. You have to drive around one of these hills to get into Girne. Just as the sun set behind the hill, we arrived in Girne, a picturesque harbour-town nestled like an egg between the hill and the sea. Not wanting to be tied down to one place we opted to stay in town as opposed to doing the resort routine. It was a bit of a shady walk to the guesthouse as most of the locals were young squirrelly men, skulking about in the cobblestoned back alleys. The local creepy man vibe was very typical of most seaside resort towns. See: Dahab (Egypt).
For those of you taking notes, we paid 50 TL for a double-bed private room at Cyprus Dorms. Our suite had a lovely snapshot of the harbour, excellent sight lines of the action along the pier and a perfect view of Girne Castle to our right. That evening we cruised the main drag, found one of those aforementioned seaside fish/mezze restaurants and had some Levrek (fish), 10 mezze dishes and of course, a couple tall glasses of Raki. At the conclusion of our dinner we were treated to a fight between a gang of local lads. The tourists, for the most part English, were well behaved.

My initial impressions of Girne, apart from the ever-present squirrely local packs of dudes, was that the tourists tended to avoid the main city and stay confined to the neighbouring resorts or inside the plethora of casinos. There is a lot of really nice restaurants and bars in town. Of course, the best ones are off of the main drag and you have to do some searching. I'll tell you about the one we found in a bit. We weren't hassled by shop owners and restaurant hosts nearly as much as I thought we would be. Also unexpected, there wasn't that laid back island vibe, to the contrary, juxtaposed with the vacationers, the people here seemed to really work hard and have not inherited a chilled out mentality common to most hot climate islanders. Often they were quite serious, curt and plainspoken. Hey, at least we didn't hear Bob Marley blowing out of the bar speakers all day and night. Overall, I think Girne has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of a resort town but could still use a little dusting off.

Yada yada yada, the next morning we made our way over to Girne castle (Kyrenia Castle). The tourist price is 13 TL. I stay out of sight and EZ (who is Turkish) negotiates successfully for the 'local' price of 3 TL. The castle is worth a visit if only to see a properly elevated view of the coastline and the geography of the city below. There are also some corners and hidden nooks to kiss in. It was our anniversary after all and I'm not going to leave all of the romance out of this posting.

Speaking of romance, after the castle we went for breakfast and I had BACON for the first time in 9 months. It was back bacon no less. Canadian style.

It was around this time when we were forced to make a decision. Whether or not to use our two days to travel around the island or to stay in this area. Breaking with tradition we elected to stay put. We checked in to a newer (and fancier) hotel then took a cab to the nearest beach. You should also know that in Cyprus they drive the English way, on the left side of the road.
That evening as we got ready for our official anniversary dinner we saw an amazing sunset behind the hills.

The back alleys of central Girne, local squirrels aside, are quite lovely. There is a architectural consistency in the shaded stone homes and the width of the cobblestone lanes don't allow for much motorized traffic. We were able to track down a gorgeous Italian restaurant tucked away within these back lanes. SET Ristorante Italiano, if it weren't a restaurant, would be our dream home. We sat in the courtyard garden at the bottom of a sculpted staircase that connected various sections of the stone hewed building. In our dream home of course, the staircase leads down through an archway to a marble dock on the Mediterranean. One day, perhaps.

Over the course of our candle lit dinner we were visited by some curious cats.
On a cultural note, over the past couple days we were noticing that a lot of the hotel and restaurant employees were not Turkish and definitely not native Cypriots. It turns out most of the tourist haunts are English owned and these businessmen from Britain import workers from Kashmir province in northern India. How these Kashmir(ians?) are pulled out of this unstable region and connect with English tourism businesses in Cyprus, I have no idea and our server wasn't about to give up his secrets.

Apart from inquisitively inquiring about the immigration status of our servers, the minutes turned into hours as we sampled local red wines, ate lasanga and cheesecake, smoked a cigar, gazed longingly into each others eyes and nostalgically recalled the year that has passed since the celebration of our nuptials. After dinner, with wide-eyes and blushed cheeks we made our way to the after party in room #36 at Anadol Hotel...

The next day was spent much the same as the first with a visit to the beach and meals at scaled down hole in the wall eateries. I also purchased four giant blocks of halloumi. We woke up at 4am the following day to catch our 7am flight back to Istanbul.

Which brings me to the important part. Are you a fan of Raki? In Cyprus it's 11 TL ($8) for a litre and flying into Istanbul I suppose you are not on an international flight (though for all intents and purposes for us, we were) so there is no customs check upon arrival. For 100 Euro we got some big bottles of Tequila, Vodka, Baily's, 2L of JD, Glennfidich, and a couple jugs of Yeni Raki. That should keep us going through year 2 of our union, or at the very least until New Years.
Which brings me to this other slightly more important part. No matter where we spend our feasts of occasion and celebration you should all know that I have the best travel partner ever. Not only is she the best dressed backpacker out there and up for anything but she is also happy to take 6 tries at making me look like Nixon getting onto the Marine One chopper while the flight crew impatiently look at their watches.

(below: flying out of Girne, North Cyprus)
I love you EZ. Cheers to us!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival #12 - Scary Stories

As the host of this month's Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival, and in the spirit of the North American holiday of Hallowe'en, I have asked some of the best travel writers on the web to share their own indigestions, and recount to you, the reader, some scary tales of woe whilst travelling the face of the globe.

I'll go first.

"Where is the scariest place you have ever been?" declares an inquiring mind. The scariest place I have ever been? Well, apart from high school, I have to confess that given my over-active imagination, simply walking down the street after midnight in any small town in Canada can be just as fearful and mind-wringing as most of the places I've visited overseas. At various instances, even across "the true north, strong and free [Canada]," I've seen grown men howl at the moon in anger, complete strangers have asked that I punch them in the face as hard as I can, and the bus station at 4am in Barrie, Ontario, can be just as tense and thrilling as a taxi ride to the Cairo Airport.

Which brings me to a brief disclaimer. I think every place on earth has the same potential for dangerous pitfalls and shaddy people, and I would never say that a place is 'too dangerous, they have snakes and spiders, don't go there.' For me, I do not place the blame for my tales of terror on specific places, but rather, I would say it sparks from random moments that are either in or out of my control in any place and time. Simply put, if you should have a spooky encounter in Paris, that doesn't mean that Paris is too dangerous and no one should visit. Broad generalities such as this are insensitive to the place you are visiting and give an incomplete impression. With that in mind, I digress slightly, as a story does need a location.

To begin, here is a frightening event that was thrust upon me, out of my control.

My wife (EZ), a friend and I were in a taxi, riding home from a friends wedding in Istanbul. Even at 1am the highway was busy. Our driver, inadvertently or intentionally, I'm not sure which, cut off another motorist. The other car was a dented-in-12-places white FIAT, crammed with the requisite 10 family members that have all made their way into town from Central Anatolia. If you have been to or live in Istanbul, you know the kind of car I am talking about. I slouched down in my passenger side seat, just in case a bullet came through the back window (I've seen too many movies). After a few seconds pass, the FIAT screeched beside us. The driver and his entire brood started to hurl obscenities past me toward the taxi driver. Obviously, the taxi driver shouted back and vigorously raised his hands in fury. The FIAT swerved in front of us and halted in the fast lane of the 6-lane freeway. Our driver was forced to apply the brakes. Four men got out of the car and approached the driver's side. The taxi driver started to roll up his window but he was too late. One of the assailants grabbed the window and began trying to pull it off the car. Another proceeded to punch the windshield until it smashed. That was when I decided that it was time to get out of the taxi. Thankfully, the attackers had no interest in the passengers. It was like that scene in Jurassic Park where Sam Neil and the kids ran away without incident because the dinosaurs were instead preoccupied with devouring each other. Now would also be a good time to mention that EZ, a week prior to this, had undergone reconstructive knee surgery and could barely stand. I opened the back door and did my best to help her out. Amidst the screaming traffic, she steadily attempted to maintain balance on her crutches, but instead ended up looking more like Tucker in There's Something About Mary after he dropped his keys on Mary's office floor. To add more insult to this madness, we had a suitcase in the trunk. Our friend repeatedly screamed at the taxi driver to open the trunk. The driver, though understandably distracted, somehow managed to pop open the trunk. I grabbed the bag and we began our trek across the highway. Seeing the 3 of us meandering across the highway brought traffic to a halt and there must now be a video of it somewhere out there. Reading the distress signals all over our faces, another taxi pulled over, we got in and eventually arrived home safely. On the bright side, we only had to pay for half the fare home!

We currently live in Istanbul and while it is our favourite city and often, to a fault, we promote it with great positivity, we also know it can be quite manic and we are habitually prepared for things to turn sour quickly. However, what if the scenario was that we were a couple on our first trip to Turkey and taking a taxi into town? Not a good start to the 2-week 'vacay.' When I recount this story to local friends, they say that while the taxi drivers have dangerous reputations and a penchant for the dramatic, this tale of road rage is an exception and we all know it could happen anywhere.

Alternatively, there are the scary moments, rather, activities, that I have the power to choose. I'll keep this short as there is other, more important business to feature. Suffice it to say, any thrill embarked upon with my own prior approval satisfies this second category. Among others, this activity could be paragliding in Oludeniz, Turkey; bungie-jumping at Victoria Falls; ascending a Himalayan mountain; and/or going to the washroom at a rest stop in middle China. All of which provoke fear in the pit of my stomach, but afterwards I am usually happy and proud with my accomplishment.

Now, on to the point of this exercise.

Firstly, here is a bone-chilling story from Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels that loosely involves the US military, Moth Man sightings and Richard Gere. Her story begins peacefully enough with an arrival to the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. She checked into the Lowe Hotel - the only hotel in town. In Barb's own words, "I got a room for the night and was pleasantly surprised to find my room decorated in antiques and outfitted with a queen-sized poster bed. It didn't take me long to climb beneath the fluffy quilt, prop myself up with two down pillows, and get to work on the computer. And that's when the noises started..."

As we hear in the news almost everyday, climate change is one of the scariest things on earth. All that Kate at Kate Rambles wanted out of her birthday trip to Nha Trang, Vietnam, was some sun and seashells. Instead, she got the aftermath of a typhoon and had to grin and bear it through a haunted airport.

I didn't have too much luck in Nha Trang myself. In fact, I ended up in the hospital for a couple days to receive treatment for a ruptured ear drum that was caused by swimming in giant waves that were far too big for casual jumping and splashing.

Bret, at I Moved to Africa sent me a spider story. I hate spiders. In hindsight, perhaps I should have known that my solicitation for scary stories would bring out a tale about these eight-legged freaks. I have even hesitated to 'cut' and 'paste' an image, but in the spirit of Hallowe'en, here goes nothing.


Okay, I've got to bear down and confront this fear... Here is my own scary spider short story. When you get off at the public bus terminal in Siem Reap, Cambodia (the city close to the famous Angkor Wat temples), children will offer to give you bananas and if you decline to purchase, they will give you an offer you can't refuse. These little brats will put a tarantula on your shirt until you agree to buy a banana. Here are a couple pics of some fellow backpackers immersed in this local prank (photo credit: Kevin Naughton).

Moving forward, lets inject an action-packed thrill ride into this piece. Jason at Alpaca Suitcase takes his son and daughter on a self-proclaimed Death Ride In the Andes. This ride is complete with stray dog attacks and a torrential visit from Mother Nature. Fun for the whole family!

Living in Istanbul, I know first-hand the joy that a stray dog gets from lunging out at passing motorists.

Continuing along on the same theme, Shanna, from Grand Cycle Tour writes of a harrowing cycle through Albania's Llogara Pass. Cycling past countless roadside memorials she and her husband attempt to move forward without thinking about statistics surrounding Albania's shockingly high number of road deaths.

People returning home from time spent abroad always have stories about how they averted a gypsy scam or a dishonest cab driver. It's one of my pet peeves of travel; the fact that a lot of the time it's difficult to trust locals that randomly approach you. Jaded, you stand patiently listening to their story, wary of a scam, waiting until you hear the true objective of their visit. "My uncle owns a suit shop. You should come with me to buy a suit." "My brother has a guest house. I can get you in for a good price." "Hello... Pineapple?" No, thank you.

Vibeke at Photito's Blog shares a very common tourist scam from the City of Light. If you have been to Paris, the 'ring scam' has likely been perpetrated on you by a wandering gypsy. How you fared depends on how suspicious you are towards strangers. Don't get me wrong, I love meeting new people (it's why I travel) and some of my best friendships were born out of chance encounters on the road, but if you are a traveller, you have to know that more times than not, people that approach you around the famous sites do not really want to be your friend. Again, it's the hardest part of travelling for me, feeling jaded.

Okay, let's hear some more ghost stories. Anne-Sophie at Sophie's World has been to 'the most haunting place in the Pacific'. According to legend, this honour belongs to Norfolk Island, one of Britain's worst convict colonies.

Liz at Travelogged rummaged through Rufford Abbey, one of Britain's most haunted places. Read on, only if you want to get spooked. The 'ghost baby' stories are really creepy. Though, if you made it through the spiders, you'll probably be fine.

Let's conclude these scary stories on a humorously violent note. When friends visit me in Istanbul, I usually drop them off at a Turkish Bath (Hamam) for a couple hours. The Hamam I take them to is extremely authentic and the experience is very traditional. This is not a watered down, pun intended, tourist experience. Upon entering, I can always tell by my friends' expressions and body language that they are not comfortable and quite tense. When it's all over however, every time, they come out feeling like a million bucks. Shawn at Shawn Was Here articulates his hamam experience. Like most things in life, as a smart man once told me, "you just have to let it happen."

Thank you for stopping by. I really hope you enjoyed these stories and my contribution to the LP BlogSherpa Carnival series.

For more Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnivals check out Carnival #11 (Food Around the World), hosted and posted by Kat at Tie Die Travels. Carnival #13 (Magical City Experiences) from Denise at Travel With Den and Den will be up and running in early November.

What is a BlogSherpa? Lonely Planet has signed up the best travel bloggers they can find. They bestow the title of 'BlogSherpa' to the blogger and then publish the blogger's articles on

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dr. Ho

Dr. Ho is one of the most popular and publicized characters in South West China. He lives in the traditional Naxi town of Bai-sha. From our home base in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, we decided to take a day trip to visit the famous Taoist physician in the hopes of receiving some natural remedies for EZ's knee ailments. Usually to get to Bai-sha the thing to do is depart by bike from Lijiang and cycle through the majestic country side. However, having just spent the last few days hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, we walked down to the Lijiang bus station and treated ourselves to a return trip car-hire (60 Yuan, $10).

Arriving in Bai-sha it didn't take long to find Dr. Ho's 'office'. The sign outside read, 'Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Chinese Herbal Medicine Clinic Lijiang'. This must be it!

We walked inside expecting a crowded house of packaged tour travellers but lucky for us the place was empty all but for the good doctor and his assistant (who may have been his wife, I'm not sure) sitting and waiting patiently for the next invalid. Seeing us enter, Dr. Ho sprung up from his seat quite spryly for an octogenarian and ordered his assistant to get us some tea. She poured and presented our drink with pleasure. Dr. Ho instructed us to sit down and asked us in plain english where we were from. "Canada", we replied. Instantly we were presented with a pile of literature praising and commenting on the life of Dr. Ho. All of the content was from Canadian media outlets. Under his gaze it appeared to be that we were not permitted to proceed to the next step of the experience until we had gone through each piece. For my next visit I hope he has not printed every blog article that has been written about him, as I'm certain there must be quite a few out there.

Next he sat down in front of us to share the story of his life, of which I am sure he has done so many times before. Throughout his impressive tale my mind wandered once or twice to think about the fact that here is a man who has had so many important people pass through his door and he is still willing to give the same experience to two travellers who held no video cameras or press credentials.

At the conclusion of the bio it was finally time for the appointment. EZ explained her knee problems and Dr. Ho approached her to make his assessment. He told her to stick out her tongue. Without questioning, she did and he inspected it. Then he told her to close her mouth. She did. He held her wrists with his thumbs pressed to the veins below her palms. "Hmmm, yes," he said. EZ and I leaned forward in anticipation of the prognosis after this odd assessment.

"You have poor circulation," he declared. He pounced up and beckoned us into the adjoining room. The second room was filled with buckets of herbs, leaves, powders and all sorts of natural remedies that he had gathered from around the region.

He muttered the prescription to his assistant and she set to work assembling what looked to be about 2 dozen ingredients into a plastic container. Meanwhile, using black paint Dr. Ho brushed his prescription onto the paper sack that would hold the concoction. He carefully poured the mixture into the sack and wrapped it up for us to take.

"Mix with hot water 3 times a day for one month."

"Okay. Thank you."

I reached into my wallet to pay the man. He shook his hand and said, "No money, no money, it's okay."

Like Yoda, he ambled out of this room and back into the makeshift media centre as other travellers had wandered in. He became preoccupied with the new faces and set out to begin the process all over again.

Fascinated, and standing with our natural remedy in hand, we slipped a small tip on the counter and left the doctor to his new patients. What an interesting and inspiring character. What a life.

A few months later...
We got home it and was later revealed that EZ had a partial tear of her MCL and a full tear of her ACL. Her circulation may have improved because of the natural 'tea' but Dr. Ho might benefit from an MRI machine.

In addition to, this posting is also featured as a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival. Every two weeks one of Lonely Planet's favorite bloggers becomes the editor of a series of postings all centred around the same theme. This weeks editor is Camden at and the declared theme is "Encounters". Featured will be interesting portraits, unforgettable characters and downright strange people that Lonely Planets best bloggers have encountered on their travels. So visit on June 25 to read what the Blogsherpas came up with.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

When I Get Older...

For BlogSherpa Carnival #5, guest editor Glennia Campbell asked contributors to share their experiences with kids whilst traveling the face of the globe. In turn, EZ and I went through our iPhoto collection and put together a slideshow tribute to the children that we encountered during our trek from Ireland to China in 2008/09.

Click this link and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rubber Stamp - Story 1 (without horror)

EZ and I had heard so many horror stories about travellers being denied VISA's into China, getting turned away at the border, having books such as Lonely Planet China confiscated by officials, that we were ready for anything when we began the process of getting our tourist Visas. Information on the government of Canada website led us to believe that travellers can only get their tourist Visa from a Chinese embassy in their native land. This was also false. We got ours at the Chinese Embassy in Singapore and the process could not have been smoother. Anticipating a lengthy bureaucratic process we went to the embassy on our first full day in Singapore. Within 48 hours I had a one-month multi-entry sticker on page sixteen of my passport. One day early. Independently getting your Chinese VISA should not be an issue, but, I'd still love to hear some more of those horror stories.

Visa's in hand, the next 'challenge' was the border crossing. We had slowly made our way through all of South-East Asia, took the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, avoided the throng of taxis headed to Sapa and made our way toward the Vietnam-Chinese border. Leaving Vietnam turned out to be a bit of a hassle. The border guards held onto EZ's passport for about a half-hour. We were directed to stand aside and wait. Over and over they looked at their computer monitors then up at us, silently skulking in the corner. Eventually EZ got it back, without incident. We were leaving their country after all, so why did they care? Who knows.

(The bridge between Vietnam and China.)

We walked across the bridge to China and the big moment had arrived. Our precious books were cleverly wrapped up and hidden inside our dirty laundry. Anticipating the worse but putting on a positive face, we confidently walked through the sliding glass doors and inside the customs building. We were greeted by a friendly official who gave us a form to fill out. Then we were greeted by another friendly official who instructed us where to put our backpacks. He also guided us to the customs clerk who greeted us with a cordial smile. While he was going over our documentation we noticed in front of him a tiny box that had buttons with images of very sad faces and a variety of happy faces. We were expected to 'grade' the performance of the border official by pushing the face that most represented our feeling about the experience. Efficiently the customs guard stamped us through and discreetly hinted toward the tiny box. Immediately I pushed the button with the happiest face, he smiled and we were on our way!

The first place we wanted to visit in China was the Yuanyang rice terraces so we walked to the Hekou bus terminal. We did not know that once you cross the border into China the clocks go ahead one hour. Lollygagging around the terminal we would have missed our bus had it not been for a kind Dutch couple who were also going our way. Thank you Hans and Ilona. I guess it all works out in the end, though, when it comes to my next story, the jury is still out on that...

In addition to, this posting is also featured as a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival. Every two weeks one of Lonely Planet's favorite bloggers becomes the editor of a series of postings all centred around the same theme. This weeks editor is Georgia at and her declared theme is "Rubber Stamp". Featured will be funny stories of border crossings, passport nightmares, baggage handlers, run-ins with the police, confiscated cameras, etc. So visit on June 21 to read what the Blogsherpas came up with.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slowhand & Fireworks on the Boğaz

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, both formerly of the rock super-group, Blind Faith, closed out their European Tour at Istanbul's Kurucesme Arena. The tickets were a gift from my lovely wife and we were both really excited to finally see the master play on the banks of the Bosphorus Straight. But first, we had to get there and lucky for us their was a direct boat set up by the municipality that went from our neighbourhood in Uskudar to the venue in Kurucesme. How convenient it was to be dropped off 25 feet from the stage.

I had heard from friends that at 65, God, AKA Slowhand, AKA Eric Clapton, was perhaps starting to show signs of aging. If this is so, I didn't notice. He may move a little slower, and a couple of the songs may have decreased in tempo (eg: Crossroads) but he hasn't lost a step. The crisp bluesy notes rang true from his USA Custom Fender Stratocaster. Here is a man who does not hide behind effects. Sticking to the set list, Clapton and Winwood let their instruments do the talking, only briefly pausing to say "thank you" between songs.

Midway through Midland Manic a fireworks display surprised the crowd, as well as the band. One of the party boats floating by produced a display that lasted well into the next song, my personal favourite, Crossroads. Undeterred, the band continued the jam throughout the explosions. Each spectacle accompanied the other perfectly and it was an unbelievable 7 minutes.

Other memorable moments from the concert included the crowd singing softly along to the chorus of Layla (unplugged), Winwood's sweet solo on the Hammond Organ during a slowed down cover of Voodoo Chile, the crowd shouting the final "Cocaine!" in the song aptly named Cocaine and Dear Mr. Fantasy as the encore.

The show ended and we began to make our way to the boat. We were extremely happy with the show and I was ecstatic at finally being able to see one of my childhood idols.

Monday, June 7, 2010

2010 World Cup in my back yard: Istanbul


Over the past 10 years The Turkish national football team has enjoyed its greatest triumphs on the international stage. In the 2002 World Cup Turkey made it to the semi-finals where a 1–0 defeat against eventual tournament winners, Brazil, forced Turkey into the third place match where they won the bronze medal after a 3–2 victory over South Korea. In the 2008 Euro Turkey again made it to the semi-finals, this time against Germany. With just 14 outfield players available as a result of injuries and suspensions, Turkey scored first and were 2–2 in the last minute of the match, until Germany scored a third goal in the last few seconds thus eliminating the Turks.

With the increased profile that the 2008 Euro delivered, expectations were high for another fine result at the 2010 World Cup (June 11-July 11) in South Africa. Unfortunately Turkey had a mixed qualifying campaign and missed out on a play-off berth.

While pride in their national team may have diminished as a result of Turkey’s absence from the tournament, rest assured local interest in the beautiful game has not waned. So, if you are looking for a hot spot here in Istanbul to watch the tournament, we can point you in the right direction. We have found some great spots on either side of the Bosphorus, where, depending on your budget, you can hoot, holler and act like a hooligan in support of your favourite squad. The establishments mentioned in this feature do not charge an entrance fee to watch the games. Reserve your table(s) ahead of time and enjoy the matches.


The North Shield Pub - Sultanahment
A popular chain of English style pubs for tourists and expats alike is The North Shield Pub, of which Istanbul lays claim to five franchises (in Ataşehir, Baçheşehir, Yeşilköy, Sultanahmet and Fındıkzade). The Sultanahmet location is a few paces from the Gulhane tram stop and is the perfect venue to come watch the Final after a day of sightseeing. Once inside, you will have your choice of nine 36-inch television screens to glue your eyes too. A unique space in the pub is up the four steps underneath the “Napoli” scarf. There you will find an intimate room with space for eight (though Pub Manager, Zafer, says they have squeezed fifteen patrons up there for the biggest matches) to sit on comfy couches and watch the game on the TV that hangs above the mantle. Be sure to call ahead to reserve this space.

10-satellites pull in game feeds from all over the world allowing guests to choose the language they would like to hear the match broadcast in. Free Wi-fi will also allow you to check-in with friends online during the game.

During The World Cup a new menu will be added, including Turkish mezza’s. Zafer encourages guests to try the Lamb Skewer/şiş kebap (19.50 TL) and the Sultan Kebab (25 TL). He generously adds that a free coffee and dessert follows dinner. Beer prices/0.5L are 8.50 TL for Efes, 10 TL for Gusta and 11TL for Miller.

The North Shield Pub - Sultanahmet
(0212) 527-0931
Ebussuud Caddesi No:2 Sultanahmet
Open every day from 11.00-02.00

The Irish Centre
Located in the heart of Beyoğlu, at the intersection of Nevizade Sokak and Balo Sokak, The Irish Centre offers two full floors of football fanaticism. In 2008, this family-run bar was voted by a national newspaper as the #1 place to watch a football match in Istanbul.

Popular Irish music will be turned down in favour of the final World Cup matches. Most of the televisions are on the second floor. At the back of the bar a projector screen will be pulled down in front of the stage. This screen can also be seen from a perch on the second floor.

Hailing his bar as the only authentic and truly Irish Bar in Istanbul, owner Eamon, highly recommends the Fish & Chips (17.50 TL) with a 0.5L Efes (8.50 TL), and, if there is no match, Sundays at 10pm you can stop by to watch him perform traditional Irish folk tunes. Sláinte!

The Irish Centre
İstiklal Cad. Balo Sok. No: 26 Beyoğlu
Open every day from 12.00-02.00


Ekvator Cafe
Located in Beyoglu, just a few blocks from Taksim Square, the Ekvator Café is a 3-storey gem. During weekdays in the summer beer is 3 TL and we are told that this special will be offered during the World Cup. Traditionally guests will grab a beer and fries at the bar then head to one of the 12 LCD screens, 3 plasma-screens, or 3 projectors. No matter where you sit you won’t miss a single second. The crowd here is mostly younger foreigners and locals. Ekvator offers a great atmosphere without causing you to break your budget. Take a break from kebaps to try the mostly Mexican and South American cuisine, consisting of nachos (13 TL), fajitas (18-22 TL) and quesadillas (15 TL). The colourful website gives you a good taste of what the Ekvator Café is all about. Salud!

Ekvator Cafe
(0212) 243 97 42
Küçükparmakkapı Sokak 7, Beyoğlu
Open every day from 09.00-02.00.


If you prefer the local experience, the watering holes close to the stadiums are excellent and affordable choices for the most hardcore fans.

Mackolik Complex
The white and cream coloured Ottoman mansion near the west side of Fenerbahçe Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Kadikoy, offers a 100% local experience. With 7 satellites beaming to 20 screens throughout the facility, this renovated mansion is designed for those wanting a stadium-quality experience.
If you want to take a smoke break or watch the game outside, there is space enough for 120 in the garden patio. Co-owner, Erdem, recommends the massive Mackolik Burger w/ Salad and Fries (16 TL), or the Meatballs w/Eggplant (16 TL).

At Mackolik the spirit of the locals will make you feel like you are truly at the game. To fully understand the communal passion exhibited for the local sports clubs, Erdem also recommends the experience of watching a Turkcell Lig 1 match at Mackolik.

Mackolik Complex
(0216) 338 65 55
Şefik Bey Sokak 1, Kadıköy
Open every day from 09.00-02.00.

There are also a plethora of sports bars and cafés all along and off of Bağdat Caddesi, the long thoroughfare that runs through the municipality of Kadikoy.

A favourite hang out for residents, Yerfıstığı (Peanuts) is located on Iskele Street just off of Bagdad Caddesi. Yerfıstığı has 9 plasma, 4 42-inch and 5 40-inch screens, making it the preferred sports watching venue in the neighbourhood. After a certain hour they will not hold your reservation, so try not to be late.

A unique feature of the bar resembles a tradition held in many American sports bars. Peanuts (hence the name Yerfıstığı) are provided and guests are encouraged to drop the shells on the ground. Try the Sigara Böreği (cheesy filo rolls) and Börek (traditional filo pastry). They also serve Schnitzel , hamburgers , chicken wings , chicken kebabs and köfte (meatballs). The Hot Appetizer plate is 10 TL.

(0216) 355 18 95
İskele Caddesi 23, Caddebostan
Open weekends from 10.00-04.00, weekdays from 10.00-03.00.


When you start the search for a perfect place to watch the big game, going to a hotel doesn’t immediately spring to mind. However, there are comfortable lodges in Istanbul that boast sporting establishments catering to higher-end clients and business travelers.

Hilton Sports Bar
If your preference is to watch the World Cup Finals in five-star quality then The Hilton Worldwide Istanbul’s Sports Bar is for you. For this event Executive Chef Andreas Scheuregger has prepared a special selection of thematic dishes such as ‘Penalty’ (Hilton Burger), ‘Free Kick’ (Club Sandwich, 24 TL) and ‘Side Line’ (Caesar Salad, 25 TL). Sink into a sofa to watch the game with a beer and light snack. At halftime you can enjoy the perfect view of the Bosphorus.

Hilton Istanbul
Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Harbiye-Istanbul

There is no shortage of places to chill-out and watch football in Istanbul. The city will have hundreds of kitschy hole-in-the-wall eateries, Kuafor’s (Barber Shops) and public spaces packed tight with locals, watching intently and screaming passionately, with every turn in the action, at tiny 13-inch tube television sets. You would need a volume of books to sum up the locales to watch a football match in this town. Nevertheless, we trust that this feature delivered an understanding that while Turkey may not be represented in the 2010 World Cup, the games will still resonate and be enjoyed all over Istanbul. The World Cup is an international and cross-cultural event of joy and celebration and we hope that by watching the matches here in Istanbul it will add to the memories of your time spent here.

N.B. In addition to, this piece is extended to feature 7 additional locales in the July issue of Time Out: Istanbul