spas around the world; FLiP W Magazine july 2016

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine July 2016.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

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Spas Around the World

By: Aeri Rose

We had been at a bar in Copenhagen the night before; talking with some fellow travelers, swapping stories and sharing recommendations.  They had been at a spa on a coast in Sweden that day and were encouraging us to go.  We had been traveling hard for a good week and a half at that point and the thought of a peaceful spa day with practically no museums or statues to gawk at sounded pretty refreshing.  Maybe they glazed over the details. Maybe we were so intrigued by the thought of a traditional Swedish Spa that we only heard what we wanted to hear.  They did say that the spa used the salty sea water in its treatment.

They neglected to mention the fact that they didn’t bring the sea water to the spa…they brought the spa-goers to the sea water. In the form of an ice cold dip in the frozen Baltic sea, with one small ladder going down into a sizable hole hacked through the frozen surface.

Not quite what we were expecting, but those travelers had looked pretty relaxed, and we were already at the spa, so we might as well embrace the local traditions and dive right in. Literally.

In many of the Nordic/Baltic countries their version of a relaxing spa day involves lounging around naked in large dry heat rooms until you’re sweating out of every pore and can’t stand a moment longer. Then you dash outside, across the snowy deck, and jump into an icy hole. The theory is that alternating dry heat with cold salt water is good for the circulation system, helps you sweat out toxins, and then cold shock your pores closed, keeping them out.

It is definitely invigorating. And after a couple of rotations we got used to both the hot sweaty nakedness of the saunas and the shocking coldness of the sea. We could even be found lounging on the still snowy deck between rounds, or walking to the very edge of the pier, barefoot, wrapped only in what was little bigger than a hand towel, relishing the invigorating yet calm energy we felt coursing through our veins.

Our spa day was an immense success. In part because we let it be. We could have turned away at the first snowy pier, or the first old naked sweaty man we passed, or the first sight of that hole hacked in the ice. But we didn’t. We embraced the newness of the experience and just went with it.

I highly recommend just going with the flow. Try out things you’ve never tried before and learn something new while learning about yourself.

Spas are usually a pretty good way to try something new. Every culture has a way to relax, and most of the are quite unique and area specific.  I mean, it would be pretty hard to make the Nordic spa day work in muggy Florida, where the water is often lukewarm at best.  Not nearly as refreshing as a cold dip in the Baltic Sea.

Some of my favorite spa days have included Turkish Baths, Korean Spas, soaking in Hot Springs, and exploring Chinese Medicine treatments.

In Turkish Baths you enter a big heated room with a giant heated marble slab in the center and small wash stations all around. You wash off, then lounge and relax on the marble slab for as long as you like. You can return to the wash stations at any time and can use extreme exfoliating soaps and sponges to really scrape off every dead cell.

Alternatively, Koreans use their spa experience as a mini-vacation.  Whole families go, and are allowed to stay for up to 24-hours. The spa house is open all night long.  There is a wet area, segregated by gender, with baths, hot soaking pools, and steam saunas.  Then, clad in little cotton uniforms, families can reunite in the dry area. The dry area is a collection of hot rooms of various temperatures and different energies. There are pine rooms, and amethyst rooms, and gold rooms, and more. Each room is designed to tap into a different healing practice. There are often comfortable chairs to lounge in in the common areas, and delicious cafes where you can get snacks and meals.

Hot springs can be found all over the world.  Small or large, these bubbling pools are often mineral filled and very healthy. Some are just holes in the ground at the end of a trail. Some have been tapped into and plumbed into large well-maintained swim centers.

In China it is easy to find a spa house specializing in massage, ear candling, cupping, acupuncture and more. Ear candling uses a lit candle to suction the ear wax and dirt out of your ear canals. Chinese Cupping Therapy uses small cups and heat to suck to the skin and to create a vacuum. This is thought to promote healing and blood flow.

I could go on endlessly about the many different spa traditions of cultures around the world.  But I think you get the point.  The next time you take a trip, look into the local spa traditions. It could be a fun way to immerse yourself in the local culture. You might find yourself relaxing in ways you never thought possible! You might even get home and install a steam sauna in your garage you love it so much!

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

 

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so here’s the plan…

Remember those pesky details I mentioned in the last post? Well, it seems that details spawn faster than the Easter bunny’s slutty cousins in the spring.  Cause boy oh boy is it going to be a crazy summer for me.  Wanna hear all the details so far?

Well you better, cause I want to tell you! If you don’t I guess you could just stop reading. Go away!

Still here? Awesome.

So.

Right now I am in Waxahachie, Texas.  I got here about a week and a half ago after a hastily, though skillfully, completed pack down in Arizona.  Here, I quickly moved into the super wonderful booth I am renting for the season and prepared for opening weekend of Scarborough Faire.  I do love the booth. I’m rather proud of it, honestly.  The clothing racks are curvy branches and really give the shop an organic flow.  And I put them up myself. With a power drill!  The skirts look colorful and wonderful hanging on them. Roxanne and I have had a great time playing fairy, and I have every confidence that she will be awesome when I have to drive away and leave her in charge of things.

Look at my racks!
Look at my racks!
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Aeri Rose, Scarborough 2014

So when am I driving away and leaving her in charge of things? In two days. Aah!!

On Sunday afternoon I will climb back in to Shelly the Sportvan, who is currently full of everything I’ll need to set up a booth at the Virginia Renaissance Festival and all of the things I hopefully will not need when I return to Scarborough at the end of this mad adventure.

After I climb into Shelly and turn her on I will proceed to drive from Waxahachie, TX to Denton, MD- approximately 1500 miles and/or 22 hours of straight driving.  I will need to do that drive within 48 hours in order to catch a flight to Italy from Dulles Airport by 11:00 pm Tuesday night.  I am hoping to do it in about 30 hours, leaving me “plenty” of time to catch up on necessary things like renewing my business license and/or sleeping.

So I climb on the airplane and delight in the ability to sleep, or read, or do anything other than pay attention to where I am going.  Ten hours and fifteen minutes later I land in Istanbul, Turkey where I will probably try to go explore  the city for a bit if they will let me out of the airport. I have a heinous 24 hour lay over after all.  I am certainly not spending all that time staring at other bleary-eyed travelers near Gate B30 of the Ataturk International Airport.

Anyway. So flight to Turkey. Mini Turkish Adventure. Short flight from Istanbul to Rome. Hopefully manageable navigation of customs, etc. Catch commuter train from Airport to Termini Station. Catch 10:30 pm train from Rome to Cefalu, Sicily. Enjoy train ride down Italian coast and Train ON A FERRY ride across the bit of water separating Sicily and Italy.  Get to Cefalu. Get picked up by family in Cefalu.  Yay family!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure begins. Yippie!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure ends. Boo!

Return to Annapolis again via heinous Istanbul layover. Return the evening of May 1st.  Sleep, or something.

May 2nd I drive out to the Virginia Faire Site near Lake Anna and meet up with Team Wonder-Fairy to set up our booth.

After that it starts to slow down. I just have a wedding on the west coast to catch, and to get back to Scarborough for the end of the faire. And then get back to Virginia. Somehow. Even though I’m probably leaving Shelly with the Wonder-Fairies to use as a safe and dry storage spot. And then there are some more shows and festivals along the east coast I might do. Or maybe I’ll be running out to help in Colorado.  Or maybe back to Italy with my sister.

Who knows!

I’ll be somewhere on the planet. That’s good enough for me!

Bring it on summer! I have caffeine and glitter! I’m not afraid of you!

Wonder-Fairies Unite!
Wonder-Fairies Unite!

 

Wish me luck and stay tuned for updates, mishaps, adventures, and mushrooms! Mushrooms? Sure, why not?

 

With Love,

~Aeri

my dirty adidas theory

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my recent trip to Turkey, reminiscing about the adventures and the friends I met, sharing stories with loved ones who didn’t follow along here or who just want to hear the tales complete with my unique performances. But tonight I want to rein in the excitement and “1, 2, 3 Be Serious” for a moment because I’ve become aware of an interesting phenomenon that I’d really like to discuss.

I’m calling it my “Dirty Adidas Theory.”

Its the moment when every nation comes army crawling into the developed world, suppressed by heavy clouds of smog, weighted down by chains of factories along the waterfront, and beaten into submission by shipments of western products dropped like air bombs on a scattered populace, herded into the open arms of a brand new mall.

Sorry. Too poetic?

Let’s talk about Istanbul. Istanbul was once a beautiful city.  A thriving marketplace, at the crossroads of the east and the west.  Full of strange things and strange people.  They built beautiful palaces and mosques, they celebrated their Ottoman background and their long cultural history.

Now, Istanbul has let itself be influenced by western nations, like the artsy nerd type is pressured by the “cool kids” in the lunchroom.  Right now Istanbul is in that awkward pimply adolescent stage, where it can’t keep up with all the strange oils and smells oozing from its body.  Seriously.

In the beginning, non-westernized nations chug along fine. They have a system that works for them. They have local art, and culture, and cuisine.  They have a pretty balanced relationship with the environment.  Then the western clique rolls in, for whatever reason.  The non-westernized nation wants in.  Eventually the nation THINKS it has finished developing.  It has that sophomoric attitude of success. But what has really happened is this: industry and commercialism has caught up with the western world, but infrastructure hasn’t made the switch yet.  So they flounder along for years, without environmental policies or emission standards, without enough roads or reliable forms of public transportation, and without any means of cleaning up or processing the already released pollution.  But they do have all the most popular western brands, marked up even more than the absurd prices set in the west.  They have Nike, Adidas, Apple, Dior, McDonald’s, Coke, Coach. You name it, its there.

Their cities get dirtier.  Their beautiful stone buildings are covered with layers of black soot.  Their people scrounge around in the dirt and are scoffed at by clean “high bred” western tourists, who can’t understand why anyone would “choose to live in such filth;” not understanding that it was their need for the new Sony camera, iPhone, and L.L.Bean jacket that has forced the nation into this state.

Eventually the newly westernized nation looses their art and culture, much like the nerdy kid who puts away her paint brushes and violin in favor of a video game controller.  They import cheap Chinese imitations of their once beautiful arts, so that tourists can still feel like they’ve bought an appropriate souvenir; which they will wave like a victory flag in the faces of friends and family when they return home.   They develop versions of their traditional meals that are more palatable to the western tongue, a tongue drunk on processed sugars and “natural flavors.”

Why?! I scream. I wail.  Why must the west always win! Why is it western culture that always rises victoriously? When will we appreciate diversity, real chaotic diversity, diversity we yearn for and which inspires us to travel, diversity that we seem to squash at every moment whenever it tries to rise its head in defiance of the ever encroaching amorphous blob of western culture.

Sorry. Too poetic. Rein it in.

All I’m sayin’ is, strange cultures and historic traditions- I’m on your side.  Stay strong. Carry on.  And stay away from things that start with “i”.  It’s a slippery slope. Its like a gateway drug that will leave you lying on your broken sidewalk, gasping for air in a smog smothered world.

Here’s to individuality.

~Aeri

$3,419.96

Yup. That’s the expense total.  On November 14, 2011 I set out to prove it was possible to travel leisurely and enjoyably for under $100 dollars a day.  This $100 a day budget was to include all transportation, lodging, food, tourism, and souvenir expenses.  Absolutely EVERYTHING.  Those of you who followed the whole trip will know, sometimes it was tough.  The average daily allowance fluctuated between the high of $100 and a low of $54.47.  Sometimes I was over budget. Sometimes I was under budget.  But not once did I pass up a tasty treat, pretty trinket, or chance for an added adventure.

I kept a tight record of my travel expenses, down to every 2 TL metro ride in Istanbul, and 5 Dinar glass of orange juice in Marrakesh.  Sometimes I felt miserly, but mostly I felt intrigued.  Would the average work out in the end? Would I come in under budget?  That Thing That Sucked Me In sucked pretty hard in Goreme, Turkey, when I bought over $300 worth of hand thrown and hand painted pottery (that included shipping, promise!).

But, I am happy to say, I DID come home under budget.  The total spent was $3,419.96.  A full $280.04 under the goal of $3,700 for a 37 day trip.  Wahoo!!!

So, what did I end up spending that money on?

$1,590.87 was spent on transportation.  Planes, Trains (and Metros/Trams), Buses, Boats, and Camels. Still no hot air balloon though.

$321.64 was spent on lodging.  Hostels mostly.

$459.87 was spent on food.  This included meals, grocery store trips, snacks, and water.

$266.64 was spent on other touristy things.  Things like museum entrance fees, my Sahara Tour, and tips for henna done by the little old ladies in Morocco.

$780.95 was spent on souvenirs. So I like new trinkets.  I’ll say it, and I’m sure others have said it- when traveling, go ahead an splurge a little on those strange and unique things that call you in.  What are the chances you’ll be back a second time to pick it up later? Pretty slim, I’d say, so go ahead and enjoy the shopping experience.

And of course, the souvenir budget wasn’t necessary for survival, so I could have skated in almost $1,000 under budget if I wasn’t such a sucker for the rare and hand made.

Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself for making it home with cash to spare.  So pleased, in fact, that I decided to spend the remaining funds on a weekend trip to Philadelphia, to visit with some old friends.  I managed to squeeze that trip out for $290; which included gas ($65), theater tickets ($56), a hotel room in center city ($89), food ($50), and a night at the bars ($30).  Getting to reconnect with college friends in a new Grown-Up way- Priceless.

Though I still think I prefer the $10 student rush fill in the front row tickets over the $56 with a terrible view tickets…

Well, now I’m back home and broke, a common enough state for an artistic fairy type. Stay tuned next month for a Great American Journey. A road trip to Arizona and the beginning of a most unique and exciting adventure- the Renaissance Circuit!

Westward Ho!

~Aeri Rose

 

 

extreme budgeting

Well tonight is my last night in Istanbul for a while.  In the morning I head off to Paris to visit some friends (and hopefully Ms. Mona Lisa as well).  What have I done these last few days since returning from Cappadocia? EXTREME BUDGET TRAVEL!!! (Insert tacky camera effect here)

When I returned to Istanbul I made a decision.  While the city is very nice, I had reached that point of moving on, you know that point I mentioned before, when you just know its time for a new adventure.  So, I considered my itinerary, and knew that the five days I had booked in Istanbul at the end of my adventure would be entirely too many days spent here.  So, what did  I do? Booked a trip to Athens, Greece!! Wouldn’t you?  $210 later and I had my side trip arranged and plans to hit the #20 mark on my list of visited countries.

Having made that decision though, I was really feeling a tightening of my budget.  Reevaluating the remaining funds and days I realized that I’ll need to average under $50 a day to stay in budget, and this with my week in Paris, on the dollar devouring Euro, fast approaching.

So, for the last few days I’ve been extremely thrifty. But thats not to say I’ve been a snail hiding in the shell of my room.  This is what I did do:

On Nov. 25th I rolled back into town after riding the night bus from Goreme.  I napped, and woke up ravenous, so I found some quick food (16TL).  Well satiated I went for a wander through the Grand Bazaar and finished my shopping.  120 TL later and I had the fabric I had been looking for.  I’ve fallen in love with the “big pillow, low table” concept they use here, and really wanted some of the beautiful pillow cases.  They were just out of my budget though so I’ve consoled myself with the promise to make some of my own out of the fabric I’ve gotten.   On my way home I stopped at the market and picked up some groceries for the next few days.  On my uber-budget, this eating out had to stop.

On the 26th I managed to pull the day off for under 25 TL.  I ate breakfast at home, a banana-yogurt-honey affair, and then spent the day on the Princes’ Islands.  For 14 TL I could travel RT to the islands, and that included the metro from my door to the docks.  The islands were a bit of a disappointment, but the hour long ferry ride to and fro was enjoyable alone.  Especially the return trip, when we passed a pod of dolphins.

On the 27th I spent the day at the Spice Market and surrounding area.  I enjoyed wandering through the stalls and admiring the piles of saffron, white pepper, cinnamon- the list goes on.  I passed a fresh coffee shop and the scent hit me like a sack of potatoes.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get such fresh Turkish coffee.  Luckily they sold many weights of coffee and I walked away with 107 grams for only 3 TL.  A taste, without breaking the budget.  Exiting the Market, I realized I was near one of the bridges, the one with the restaurants and shops beneath it.  I went to take a peak and was struck by another wonderful scent- this time it was the unmistakable scent of fried fish.  I noticed a large crowd of excited people surrounding some silly restaurants whose kitchens seemed to be on boats out back.  I realized that these were no ordinary kebab booths, they were serving fish fries!  I was intrigued, and for 5 TL a sandwich, I was hooked.  I passed the teller my money and with the timing of a ballet, he reached back to the swaying boat and took a sandwich from the chef.  Fresh bread, fried fish, and a lettuce/onion salad were stuffed into a paper wrap and handed off to me.  Entrepreneurial kids circled the patrons like seagulls; selling tissues, wet wipes, and sodas.  The sandwich was a delicious surprise find and totally worth every Lira.  On my way home, I stopped in the same market from a few days before and picked up more groceries for my remaining meals. Total spent for the day: 24 TL.

On the 28th, I spent 9 TL.  Yup, nine.  Thats like $4.90.  In the morning I went for a walk, saying my good byes to the city.  I  spent some time in a coffee shop, doing some writing and enjoying a latte and a snack (the 9 TL).  In the evening I cooked some of my groceries for my landlord, Erdi, and his friend.  I supplied an epic veggie dish stuffed with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers; and he supplied some fried fish of his own (much better than the fish sandwich!) and some bread.  It is nice to have a family dinner at home sometimes, with whomever your family may be at the time.

Today, my last real day, was the 29th, and I admit I may have splurged a bit above my EXTREME BUDGET requirements.  But the day was so fabulous that I don’t really care!  I started out the morning with a walk in the park, it was so warm I barely needed my jacket.  After lunch, taken at home, I met up with Maree and we went to a Turkish Bath.  We went to a local one, recommended by Erdi, which had reasonable prices.  Just the bath was 30 TL, you could add a  body scrub (5 TL), soap massage (5 TL), or oil massage (30 TL).  I went for the works. What the hell right? Gotta have the full experience!

It was well worth the 70 TL, let me tell you.  So you go in, and its this stone room with a big warm stone platform in the center.  You rinse yourself off and lie on the platform, getting warm and relaxed.  The attendant comes in and scrubs you down with this tough exfoliating towel, then sends you back to the platform to relax.  When he’s done everyone who’s waiting, its time for the bubble massage.  This massage was really tough and hard. Deep tissue stuff. A strange juxtaposition with the slippery light bubbles floating around you.  You rinse off and back to the heating platform you go.  I was the only one who requested the oil massage so after the other bubble massages were given I was up again.

Now, I know that massages are different everywhere, and I’m up for anything.  I’ll do anything once after all. But when this massage started I was a little apprehensive.  I asked the attendant to go a little more gently this time, I don’t like really tough massages, and he says in his broken English “It ok.  Bubble massage hard, oil massage soft.” Ok. So I lay down, on the heated platform, in front of the other bathers, and he squirts me down with oil. I mean squirts me down.  Like the scene in Van Wilder when the Indian friend tries to seduce his sexy blond girlfriend and ends up catching the room on fire because he uses an entire bottle of oil on her back. Yeah, like that.  And he proceeds to give me the most soft, sensual, massage I’ve ever had.  It was amazing.  Here’s why it was amazing:

Because usually when you get a massage like that, its being given to you by your lover, and you start out thinking aw he’s so great, what a nice guy.  Then right around the time you’re a total puddle of goo, totally relaxed and happy, you realize that your lover isn’t really that nice and selfless of a guy.  He’s rubbing you down because he either a) wants you to give him a massage next, or b) is horny and thinks this is a total turn on.  Which it might have been, at the start,  but by now you’re so totally relaxed and comfortable that all you want to do is enjoy the warmth and maybe doze off.  Which is EXACTLY what you GET to do at the end of this massage given by a strange attendant, in front of all these other people, in a stone room!  Awesome!!

So anyway, after my warm and relaxed nap I gave myself another scrub to wash off all that oil, and then Maree and I headed out.  You can stay as long as you want at these things, but after two hours of luxurious lounging, we were getting hungry!  We headed back to her hostel to collect some more friends, and then we all wandered over to this new restaurant district that Erdi had recommended to me.  If you’re curious, it can be found under the aqueduct near Aksaray neighborhood.  They were famous for this fancy mound of rice and their lamb dishes.  Which was exactly what we ordered.  And it was exactly deliciously amazing.  He was right again.  The rice, flavored with pepper and chicken, and filled with bits of chicken, was wrapped in a sort of pastry and looked kind of like a sandcastle when served.  It was called “Perde Pilav” and I highly recommend it should you come to Turkey.  Especially since one can serve four (as a side) and only cost 10 TL.

So that’s how my EXTREME BUDGETING week went.  I walked a lot, made frequent use of the available home kitchen, and did some strategic spending.

Tomorrow, on to Paris, and the hardest test yet for my bare bones budgeting.

Serefe!

~Aeri

 

 

a moment of equality

Last night was quite and unexpectedly epic evening.  After our morning pottery excursion, and afternoon hike, I had reservations to see a Whirling Dervish Ceremony.  At 50 TL it was a bit pricey, but I have always been interested in this human phenomena, so I decided it was worth it.  And I think I chose correctly.  The Dervishes went through an intricate ceremony of iterations of bowing and spinning, encompassed by bigger rotations around the stage. The rotations symbolize the connection amongst all beings, from the smallest atom to the largest planet.  Everything revolves, both in movement through space and cycles through time.  Though they moved quickly, the Dervishes seemed relaxed and meditative, a feeling that filled the energy of the room.  During the show the Dervishes, in their white flowing gowns, seemed to glow with some inner light…but then I realized that the dim cavern was actually lit by black lights.  The white gowns were glowing beneath the black light!! While the cavern may be several thousand years old, clearly the technical system was quite a bit newer. It was a nice touch all the same.

The rotating Dervishes seek a state of love and ecstasy.

Afterward some small sample of a red drink was offered.  I wasn’t able to find out what it was, but it couldn’t help but make me think: “Don’t drink the Kool-aid!” Despite the funny drink, I was impressed with the main principles of the Whirling Dervishes:

1. In generosity and helping others, be like a river.

2. In compassion and grace, be like the sun.

3. In concealing others faults, be like the night.

4. In anger and fury, be like the dead.

5. In modesty and humility, be like the earth.

6. In tolerance, be like the sea.

7. Either exist as you are, or be as you look.

After the ceremony, I peacefully returned to the hostel, where I met Maree. We had plans to visit a restaurant we had passed that afternoon which advertised live music.  The restaurant was charming, with more of the low tables and large pillows.  Here, I ordered the local Cappadocia wine, a dry red, and was very pleasantly surprised.  It was very mild but palpable.  Not extremely complex, but not at all tasting of vinegar.  I’ll certainly be taking a bottle or two home to share.

Though live music was advertised, it seemed not forthcoming.  A little sad, but enjoying the environment all the same, Maree and I stayed for a few drinks and snacks.  Eventually, we were the only remaining  guests, and the restaurant workers settled down across the room from us with a Saz and some hand drums and wooden spoons. They played several nice songs while we listened appreciatively.  Then the Saz player- Charlie- asked if we would like to join them! Though I have a little experience with hand drums, it can be intimidating to play songs you don’t know with people you’ve just met.  All the same, I happily took the offered Dumbek and settled on a pillow across from the Saz player.  Maree took a shaker. We played some songs  with them and after a few minutes of loosening up we even sounded somewhat good.  Certainly nothing to go on the road with, but also nothing to make a musician’s ears bleed.

I have to say, music is a wonderful thing.  It can bridge cultures in an instant.  It is a way to bond with friends and strangers and not a word needs to be uttered.  It inspires both unity and humanity; creativity, originality, and connection.  And it’s just plain fun!

I don’t know what travel tips to offer from this experience.  This was one of those lucky moments that can’t be planned for, trained for, or scheduled. They can only be hoped for.  The moments when you can bond with strangers, not as travelers or hosts, but as equals finding themselves in the same place at the same time and sharing a brief moment of simple happiness. I can only hope that you can find these moments too, when you’re traveling and even when you aren’t.

Much Love,

~Aeri

get off the beaten path

The last few days have been stunning.  That’s why the message of this post is to “get off the beaten path.” It’s impossible, or rather impractical to plan out your entire trip before you even leave home.  You just can’t know all the great stuff to do in a place, even with all the internet research in the world! The best way to find the good stuff is to just ask around– ask the locals, ask the travelers, ask Everyone! And stay flexible.  If you like it somewhere, stay there for a few days- don’t rush it.  Tour around. You’ll feel it when it is time to move on.

So how has my latest “unplanned” trip gone? Smashingly, of course!  We left Istanbul on a bus for Çanakkale, a port city on Turkey’s west coast.  The next morning I went to the ancient city of Troy. You’ll need an imagination, to appreciate the expansive “city” which is just a collection of foundations and ancient rock walls now. But it was wonderful to be somewhere so ancient, and still being excavated currently.  I  touched a 5,000 year old wall!  I mean just think, the human race has only really been around for a little over 10,000 years; and that wall has been standing for fully HALF of it!  Far out! And bricks and mortar are still a popular method for building construction. Sometimes people are so slow to evolve. hehe.

Anyway, after Troy I spent some free time in Çanakkale, waiting for the bus to the Cappadocia region in the center of Turkey.  Çanakkale was really an unexpected gem.  They had a cute town square, warm weather, and beautiful restaurants and pubs along a waterfront (the Aegean Sea). 

Seaside veiw from my café seat

In no time we were on the bus to Kayseri, the big town on the edge of the Cappadocia region.  I have to say, bus travel (while totally necessary at least once!) can be entirely unpredictable.  Luckily, long distance buses in Turkey were fantastic. They were new, large coaches with plenty of heat.  This trip was not very crowded and Maree and I each had a row to ourselves with space to stretch out and sleep- which was really good considering the bus ride was 16 (yes, SIXTEEN!) hours long.  My longest ever ride yet. When going on a long trip like this, consider timing as well. We left in the evening so that we rode through the night.  This is good for several regions: for a budget traveler you can include a night’s lodging in the price of the ticket, and for the time conscious traveler you don’t waste daylight stuck inside.

Arriving in Kayseri in the morning, we were refreshed (well, excitedly energized  at least) and ready for an adventure. Our first mission: find a place to sleep for the night!  A few minutes work in an internet cafe and we found a hostel for 20 TL a night in a town called Göreme.  Works for us!

Now, I have to tell you.  We chose to add Cappadocia to our tour for one very important reason: the caves!  Called “fairy chimneys” by the locals, these strange landforms were made by volcanoes ages ago.  The local tribes moved in, and carved out elaborate cave homes in the cliffs and chimneys.  Many local people, while having moved away from the original caves, still build their houses backed up to caverns.  The hostel where we stayed was a cave hostel, and our room was a stone cavern.  The beds were even nooks carved into the living wall!

Totally Cool Right?! I’m that second nook on the right. :D

We could really settle into this town for a few days, with limitless hiking in the beautiful surroundings, and local crafts to experience. And we did just that.  Almost as soon as we could throw the bags into our rooms, we were out on a trail.  We explored up and up and found ourselves in a vineyard at the top of the plateau.  This region is also known for its wines, which I  will be sure to experience and report on- purely for the reader’s benefit of course.

The Fairy Chimneys of Göreme, Turkey


The next day, today, we started with a trip to Avanos, to visit a sixth generation pottery shop.  And boy-o was this some pottery shop! The owner showed us the facilities, explaining the process.  They collected mud from either the riverbank (for red clay) or the hills (for white clay).  They process the clay so it is ready for throwing.  The potters use either an antique foot spun wheel, or an electric wheel. Then we were shown the painting room, where each pot, plate, and bowl is hand painted by local artists.  The detail and craftsmanship was just stunning. One painter was working on something different from the other artists.  It was explained that he was doing some modern art pieces.  I was blown away by the thought that this family could maintain the work done by their family for generations, yet bring in modern influence to keep the art meaningful, present, and fresh.

Lastly, we were taken to the finished pieces showroom.  Every traveler should be prepared for this moment.  At least once on every trip you will encounter the thing that sucks you inThis was my thing. You may think you have a perfectly planned budget, you may even be perfectly keeping to your perfectly planned budget. But then, without warning, you’ll find that thing that sucks you in.  Really, you should plan for this too in your budget. My thing sucked me in was a collection of 7 bowls and 2 cups.  Including shipping it totaled…well suffice it to say, I blew my budget for this day and for several days after.  But it was worth it.  When you find that thing that sucks you in, let it.  You only live once, and you’ll probably never be back to the place to “buy it next time.”

Just looking at those bowls makes me happy. Which is a good thing considering I won’t be able to afford to put much food in them for a while!

So, to recap, my two important travel tips for today are:

1. Get off the beaten path, and

2. Be prepared for the thing that sucks you in.

Whew! Good night!

~Aeri

“tea-sugary-dreams”

For the last few days I’ve been settling back into the traveler’s routine. After my exciting first day, I decided to rein back in the adventures and do some sight-seeing. I started at the Topkai Palace, and like I anticipated, spent several hours wandering the rooms and courtyards. The mosaics inside and out were just stunning, and the views of the city were spectacular from that vantage point. Both the European side and the Asian side could be seen. After the Palace, I was in need of a rest and a snack. I got my snack in the form of a street cart. Many such carts can be found around the city, some selling steamed corn and some selling breads. More interested in the veggie, I tried a corn on the cob for 1 L. With tongs, the vendor adeptly flipped the corn into a waiting wrapper, salted it all around, and handed it off with a flourish. My Lira I dropped into the old barrel of corn water.

Munching happily I wandered some side streets and found some small art galleries. Modern art in Istanbul is quite stunning, incorporating old themes (like the Whirling Dhirvish) with new mediums (like photography and oil painting). My walk led me to the archaeological museum, with its extensive collection of statues and pillars. I was particularly interested in the toga wearing goddess statues, and snapped some great pictures for costume inspiration later.

After the museum I headed home to freshen up. That evening I was meeting Maree for drinks. Before that I needed to find myself some dinner. While kebab is good, I was ready for something a little more sophisticated. Taking the tram back to the historic district, I let my nose lead the way. Intrigued by a chef in the window, I wandered into a nondescript restaurant on the main road. Once again, my nose didn’t fail me. I ordered the cold mixed plate and the day’s soup- lentil. The lentil soup was unlike any I had ever had before. It had a strong brothy flavor and was served with a slice of lemon. Unsure of the lemon I tested one drop on a spoonful first. The combination of lemon and broth, with the thick heartiness of stewed lentils, was stunning. I happily squirted the rest of the lemon into the bowl, mixed, and enjoyed. The mixed plate was equally appetizing. Served with flat bread, the plate contained hummus, a thick taziki sauce, a spicy tomato spread, two egg plant dishes- one spicy and one sour- and something remotely similar to potato salad, but could never be given the name. Cucumber and tomato garnished the dish between spreads. In the center sat two dolmadas- spicy wrapped grape leaves. Anyone who has ever enjoyed greek dolmadas would be impressed with these Turkish ones, whose rice is a bit more spiced.

Lentil soup with lemon juice...whoda thunk?!

After enjoying my dinner (with tea of course) and paying the tab- 35 TL- I wandered over to Maree’s Hostel. She was staying at the Harmony Hostel, a cute cozy lodge in a great part of town. We had plans to go out for a drink, but instead picked up some beers from the mart across the street and enjoyed them in the hostel common room.

The room was adorable, and the most relaxing, and stereotypical, Turkish experience I’ve had yet. Big fat pillows covered the floor, surrounding low tables. A wood burning stove stood in the corner, which we promptly lighted for warmth. Maree and I discussed travel plans, and decided to go together on a coastal tour to Canakkale and Troy, and maybe over to Cappadocia Province. Though out the evening we were joined by another Australian girl, the Turkish hostel manager, a Syrian sculpture artist, and a Malaysian amateur antique buyer. This right here is the best part about hostels. Stomach the group bed-rooms, pinch your nose at semi clean bathrooms, and grumble when the food you’ve left in the fridge gets eaten. But at night, come home to a cozy common room and share some beers with people from around the world, and somehow its all worth it. Of course you start out talking about traveling, and finally you’re surrounded by your peers. You can tell your most bogus, absurd adventure stories and your listener can commiserate. If you’ve got a good crowd, as we did this night, the conversation will wander into more serious topics and you’ll be amazed at the things you’ll learn. This night I fell deep into conversation with the Syrian artist, discussing- of all things- women salesmen, love versus lust, and the subjectivity of emotions. Much later, coming back into our surroundings, we realized the beer was gone, and I wasn’t actually BOOKED to stay at this hostel. Taking my leave of the group, and agreeing to meet Maree for our trip, I again hopped in a taxi for the short ride home. All in all I ended my day just slightly over budget, but again every dollar was money well spent.

The next day, Friday, I wrapped up my Istanbul Tour. By the evening I found myself in Taksim square again, this time wandering the shops more leisurely. I also discovered that the path, closed to cars, filled with street musicians in the evening. I enjoyed each one for several minutes, buying CDs from some of the better bands. At 10 Lira a pop, I can afford to be a firm supporter of these arts. Home early, packed, and in bed shortly, I excitedly awaited our coastal tour in the morning.

That would be this morning. Maree, Sam (the other Australian gal from the night at Harmony Hostel), and I met at the metro stop and continued on the the bus station. The station was huge- a long strip of bus companies, each with their own ticket office. We chose Metro bus, recommended by the hostel manager. For 35 TL we could make it to Canakkale, a small island in the Aegean Sea. Maree had done her couch surfing research and we would be staying with a couple of young university students for the night. When we hopped off the ferry we wandered over to the tourism office for directions to the flat. We were told bus C3 would take us there, and it was only a block or two from the stop. C3 was easy enough to find, but the stops were less well marked. We rode the bus to the very end of the line, and had the whole bus trying to help us find the flat on the map. Luckily the driver let us stay on for the return loop and we hopped off at the right stop the second time around. 

Confused on the bus in Canakkale

When we arrived, we checked in with Tahir and Adam, our hosts for the night. We had passed a grocery store on our walk from the bus stop and after dropping our bags we wandered back to the store to hunt for dinner. With access to a clean kitchen, we went fresh, and picked up some veggies, cheese, bread, and yogurt. For 21 L we had enough food to feed the five of us. I’ll talk more specifically about the grocery store experience in a future post. It can be quite epic and deserves its own space!

After dinner, Adam’s friend Frantz came to round out our group. Though the boys spoke little English, and we spoke even less Turkish, we had a good evening. With pantomime, Google translate, and general good humor almost anyone can get along for an evening. We also took the time to learn some more important Turkish words. ‘Thank you’ is always the first phrase I learn in any new country. In turkish it sounds like “tea-sugary-dreams”, or “tea-sugary” for short. Yes, no, and help are petty universal with body language, but ‘thank you’ can be tough. Cheers is another good one to learn quickly too, especially when sharing a pint in a pub.

Why, you may ask, have I spent so much time describing this day? Because it is full of wonderful examples of more crucial travel tips.

  1. Learn the Metro System: Part of your mission in the first few days is to figure out how to navigate the city’s public transportation. It is often the quickest (yes even quicker than a cab if the city has traffic- as most cities do), and cheapest (again, certainly cheaper than a cab) way to move about town. Cabs are OK to hire at night, after the metro has closed, or if you’re uncomfortable walking to and from the metro stations; but often they are unavailable in the morning. Paying 2 L and hopping on the metro was the best way for us to get to the bus station this morning. Also, it provided a convenient meeting point for three ladies without cell phones.
  2. Travel by bus at least once: The bus is a great way to travel between cities in a country. The train is a good choice too. They both travel slowly and offer a great opportunity to view the passing countryside. This bus ride was no exception, and we spent several hours driving past fields and the winding along the coastline. We were even able to top off the trip with a surprise ferry ride.
  3. Learn a few key words in the local language: like I said before, ‘thank you’ is always the first phrase I learn. Other useful ones are please, yes, no, help, how much?, the first few numbers…oh and Cheers! Being able to say thank you in the local language is a fantastic way to be polite and really reinforce your gratitude.

All in all it was a great day. I got to see much of the countryside, rest my tired legs from days of intense walking, and meet some new friends in a warm and welcoming home. Oh, and I did it all for only 55 Turkish Lira/$30.55. Way under budget for the day!

Up next- Ancient Troy. Serefe!

~Aeri

top four first day travel tips

Wednesday was really my first real day in Istanbul. After traveling for 30 hours the two days before, and going to sleep early Tuesday, by Wednesday morning I was ready to explore and get acquainted with my new temporary home. In this post I’ll talk about my day, consider how well my budget will work out, and intersperse some helpful first-day tips throughout.

So, what did I do Wednesday? The first thing I did, is also my # 1 first-day tip. I wandered my neighborhood, orienting my flat in the neighborhood and the neighborhood in the city. I am staying in Fatih, a neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul, in the south, just west of the big tourist center Sultanahmet.

This is a good time to do my #2 first-day tip, if you hadn’t taken care of it at the airport. Get Cash! Often using your bank card and withdrawing cash from the ATM is a less expensive (ie less transaction fees than a currency exchange office) way to acquire foreign currency. The typical ATM charge is a $2-3 foreign ATM fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee. So for example, if you withdraw 100 Euro, you’ll pay $7.50- $3 for not using your own bank’s ATM, and $4.50 for the 3% transaction fee (3% of $150, or whatever the Dollar to Euro conversion rate is at the time). If you do A LOT of traveling, you may consider opening an account with HSBC, a global bank that doesn’t charge foreign ATM fees and reimburses any fees those foreign ATMs may impose. You may also consider opening a credit card without foreign transaction fees. Capital One has some good options, as does Chase Sapphire.

Anyway, after wandering past several Mosques and a park, I decided to enter the next one I saw. From the outside, the domes sit beautifully above sturdy walls, often with ornate windows, fencing, or tiles on the outside as well. Not sure of the proper manners, I timidly approached what looked like the tourist entrance. An older gentleman with a thick mustache encouraged me forward, explaining with gestures and broken english that I was to take my shoes off and leave them on the shelf, cover my hair with a scarf, and could leave a donation if I wished. A sign at the entrance warned visitors not to take pictures during prayer times and not to interrupt prayers for any reason, to just sit quietly in the back until they were finished.

Inside the mosque the floor was covered with thick red carpets and the inner domes were majestically painted with ornate floral patterns and Arabic writing. I snapped some photos and sat in awe, gazing upwards for long minutes trying to take it all in. Suddenly a wailing rang out throughout the city. I had heard the wailing the night before and my landlord explained- five times a day the practicing Muslims are called to prayer. The wailing, echoing throughout the whole city, was that call. Not believing my luck, I tucked myself into a back corner and watched my first Islamic noon prayers. It lasted about 20 minutes, and seemed to be a peaceful meditative moment for the congregation. It ended as soon as it began, and the men seemed to shake themselves awake, collected their shoes, and returned to their regularly scheduled day. I too collected myself and my shoes, dropped a Lira in the donation box, and went about my day.

At this point I was feeling pretty hungry. After a few false starts I realized that Turkish vendors, like small businesses in many foreign countries, don’t carry a lot of change and don’t like to break big bills. Stuck with only 50 Lira notes from the ATM, I eventually found a coffee shop chain that would make change. I always try to eat authentic and local when I travel, but sometimes it can’t be helped. At least it was a Turkish chain. 8.45 TL later and I was sitting down with a savory pastry and a sweet Turkish coffee.

After my snack and my break, I continued on my walk. I was heading in the direction of Sultanahmet, home of the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), the Hagia Sofia, and the Topkapi Sarayi (Topkapi Palace). I didn’t quite make it though, at least not yet, since I happened past an archway with the words “Kapalicarsi, Grand Bazaar, Gate 7” etched into the stone. The Grand Bazaar!! Over 4,000 vendors of new and old, import and export goods all ready to haggle over price. You can find some great stuff here, but you can get ripped off quickly too, so be wary and have fun.

I decided to take a walk through, but not buy much yet. After all it was only my first day! I did say, if I found an interesting blanket, I would buy that. My room was a bit cold last night, I could use the blanket on the trip, and I’d have a beautiful and useful souvenir for later. After a bit of wandering I did find a beautiful blanket stall. The vendor was very friendly and helpful and we spent a lot of time discussing the origins of the blankets and their patterns. He ordered tea and laid out dozens on the floor in front of us. I could tell these blankets were very nice, high quality, and I am sure way out of my budget! Not wanting to ruin the experience or cut the great lesson short I held my tongue. Finally I had to ask, the blanket I chose seemed like a large pashmina. Thin, woven cashmere of indigo and autumn colors. The asking price: 280 TL. Almost $150? NO WAY! After a good haggling session and some more talk I ended up walking away with the blanket, a leather poof cover, and dinner plans…for 100 TL. Still a high price, but at least within the day’s budget.

By the time I left the Bazaar it was already 3:30 in the afternoon. Tired of walking, and still interested in checking out Sultanahmet, I jumped on the nearest metro stop. Five minutes and 2 TL later and I had finally arrived. I wandered the area, snapping pictures. I picked up some postcards and an English guide book for 5 TL (haggled down from 26 TL. They jack up their prices an absurd amount!).

The palace, which I was extremely interested in seeing, closed in an hour so I decided to come back the next day and go in when I had more time to explore. The Hagia Sofia had an entrance fee, and my personal principles make me disinclined to pay an entrance fee for a church. So instead I walked across the street to enter the Blue Mosque (for free). It too was extremely ornate and beautiful with patterns within patterns covering the entire interior.

Since the sky was getting dusky by the time I left the Mosque, I decided to head home. My orientation walk had turned into a successful first day of touring, and I still had those dinner plans to fulfill! On the walk home I stopped at a small market I made note of at the beginning of my walk. This is my #3 first-day tip: Find the local grocery store or market near your house. Pick up jugs of water, fruit, and healthy snacks to leave in your room. Other stuff you can make note of on your orientation walk include the laundromat, an internet cafe, hospital, police station, and post office.

At home I had time for a little rest before dinner, so I took time to check over my budget. Remember I have $66.86/120.6 TL per day.

November 16 expenses:

  • 1 TL Mosque Donation
  • 8.45 TL Snack
  • 100 TL Blanket and poof
  • 2 TL Metro ride
  • 5 TL Postcards and guide book
  • 3 TL Water and sesame sticks

Before dinner, I had spent 119.45 TL. Just under budget with only a little more than 1 TL to spend on dinner! Uh oh!

Luckily my new friend was also a gentleman, and paid for me that evening. He met me at the metro stop near my flat, and we took a taxi to Taxim Square, the big modern shopping area. We went to an Otanic restaurant where we ordered Gozleme- a big flat Turkish pancake stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes. After dinner we continued our walk, and stopped at a coffee shop. The menu had the basics: tea, coffee, seltzer water; but it also had an item called Sahlep. Since it was the only thing I didn’t recognize, this is what I ordered. It was a creamy milky vanilla drink with cinnamon on top. It was decadently rich and delicious. My friend couldn’t quite explain exactly what it was, but I wasn’t much concerned. It was tasty and warm!

After coffee we stopped in a few bars to listen to local ethnic music. Some typical instruments in Turkey are the Saz and the cümbüş (both stringed instruments); a variety of flutes made from bone, metal, and wood; and hand drums like the Darbuka.  As fascinating as my evening had been, by midnight the day had caught up with me. Pleading exhaustion, I excused myself from my new friend and took a taxi home. Which brings me to my #4 first day tip. Keep a printout with your address and cross streets in your bag, so you can show it to cabbies. That way in case you get terribly lost and can’t explain yourself, you can at least show them the paper and be taken safely back to home base. Ten lira later and I was tucked into my room, exhausted but content, and ready to snuggle underneath my new blanket.

So to review: Here are my top four first day tips:

  1. Go on a walk and orient yourself
  2. Get cash
  3. Find a grocery store and stock up on water and snacks
  4. Carry a card with your address and cross streets

şerefe! (My newest vocabulary word, meaning “Cheers!” in Turkish)

~Aeri

maree from australia

Well it is now 3:00 am in Istanbul, Turkey, and despite the exhausting trip getting here, jet lag has gotten the best of me.  Since I seem to be reviewing the day’s events in my head anyway, I deemed this as good a time as any to blog about my day.

So, how was the trip getting here? Long, but uneventful.  After an on time departure from Dulles Airport in D.C., we arrived in Munich at 8:00 am their time.  I had time for a walk to stretch my legs, and a nap- stretched across several chairs- before the final flight to Istanbul.  Two an a half hours, and a surprisingly delicious in-flight meal later and I had arrived. We landed, I passed through customs after purchasing a $20 visa, collected my bag, and made my way to the tourist office.  There I got my hands on a map and instructions for the metro system.

At the ticket machines I made my first friend.  A “Maree from Australia” who had also just arrived, though she’s spent the last nine months backpacking around Europe.  These spunky Australian girls are a travel staple.  No matter where you go, you’ll find these spirited girls, laden down with packs as big as they are, and bursting with knowledge, stories, and a sense of adventure.  Maree lent me 2 Turkish Lira after the machine repeatedly rejected my 10 Lira bill, and shared a portion of the train ride with me.  Before she had to get off, to transfer to another line, we exchanged e-mails and Facebook information.  Hopefully we can meet up again and do some of the touristy exploring together!

A few minutes later the train came to my stop as well, and with simple map in hand I began the search for the flat I would be staying in.  About twenty minutes and 5 stops for directions later and I was sitting cozily in the living room of Erdi’s flat.  Erdi is a young Kurdish man who has lived in Istanbul for five years, slowly studying economics and making the rent by subletting rooms to travelers and doing free-lance computer repair.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting over tea.  We ordered in for dinner, and upon Erdi’s recommendations I had some spicy kebab, something that sounded like “ichili kutte”- a fried meatball squirted with lemon juice, and a salty yogurt drink, typical from this area.  It was all delicious, and I had it all for 16 Turkish Lira.

Spicy Kebab, Fried Meatball, and a Salty Yogurt Drink. All delicious!

After the food, the warmth, and the friendship I was quite content and relaxed.  My exhaustion quickly caught up with me, and shortly afterward I excused myself to retire for the night.  After all, tomorrow I had a busy day of learning about my new neighborhood!

So, to catchup with my budget:

November 14th

I did not spend any money as most of that day was spent on the plane.

November 15th

– one postcard for my dad, from the Munich Airport- .80 Euro, or $1.08

– Visa from the Turkish Airport- $20.00

– Metro token- 2 TL, or $1.11

– Dinner- 16 TL, or $8.88

– TOTAL: $31.07, well under budget for the day.  I’m off to a good start!

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, when I start my first full day in Turkey.

Good night for now!

~Aeri