Living History While Traveling in Trabzon Turkey

It about three  years ago when we found ourselves traveling through Turkey during Ramadan.  Turkey itself is a wonderful place to travel but what we found difficult was that as we headed further east, to the more religious parts of the country, we encountered the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.  During the holiday, Muslims traditionally don’t eat during the day and instead pig out at night.  Trying to be sensitive, and challenged by what food options were available to us, we tried to do the same which left us hungry during the day and awake at night as our busses made frequent food stops.

This past week we read an article in The Economist detailing how a Byzantine Monastary was being used as a Mosque to celebrate Ramadan.  The article took me back to that time on the trip, travlling through that very city during this same very holiday.  Although we didn’t visit this specific site, The Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, we were passing through during Ramadan and did visit another Byzantine Monastery, the Sumela Monastery.  The site was itself quite beautiful and, as a tourist site, made a nice reprieve for us from the restrictions of traveling during Ramadan.  Reading the Economist article I am left to wonder if it may to find a day when its own purpose is changed to another religion.  This is something that happens all the time, especially in the Middle East, but I just can’t help to wonder what the future holds for sites such as this.

I intend to offer no opinion regarding the cultural and religious politics of that region of Turkey, but instead just want to offer a few photos from the Sumela Monastary






Drinking Tea in Egypt

There comes a point in every trip when a traveler needs a moment to themselves.  A moment to just sit back and take it all in.  This happens to me whether I’m sitting beside a busy pool on a family vacation or in the middle of a crazy market trying to negotiate my way into buying some ridiculous souvenir I’ll probably wish I hadn’t bought when I return home.  (Editor’s Note: Ok, so I am still in love with everything I buy overseas – I just don’t know what to DO with it when I get home!)

One of the nicest things about traveling in the Middle East, especially Egypt is the tradition of tea drinking.  Egypt holidays wouldn’t be the same without the hustle and bustle of a local market, nor the busy streets and shouting vendors, nor would they be the same without the brief break for a few sips of tea with a shopkeeper.  It’s like stepping away from the world for a few moments.


A few moments of respite.
A few moments of respite.

I’ll never forget the moment when we stepped off the busy street in the Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo.  We had just entered the area with souvenir shops and night had fallen on the market.  Vendors had their stalls lit up like Christmas enticing passersby with welcoming gestures and good natured heckling.  We stopped to look at a drum in a stall across the street, careful not to approach until we knew we were really interested.  As we approached the vendor, who had other customers in his shop welcomed us with a hearty greeting and pulled out a cushion for me to sit on.  Immediately a cup of tea was thrust into my hand as he invited me to sit while he continued with the other customers.  We sat there for a moment discussing the drum in Spanish (another market buying technique- avoid speaking English if you can!) before he came over to join us.  Then of course the negotiations began, but for that brief moment before he returned I remember looking out onto the bustling, noisy, bright as daylight street and feeling cocooned in his little shop.

Sip, smile, repeat.  Take a break from the bustling market outside.

Then walk out with something that if you’re like me, you’ll cherish, but not know what to do with when you get home.  Onyx candle holder anyone?


Photo Credit: Flickr user AG Gilmore via creative commons licensing.

Luxury, Mud and Salt: A Visit to the Dead Sea

Salt is all the rage these days- from salted chocolate to special salt scrubs to even flavored salt it seems no matter where in the world we go, we see some sort of salted souvenir.  Honestly, until we started traveling I didn’t even realize there were different types of salt, nor the benefits of salt.

If you’re at all interested in salt or saline there is only one place in the world you can go to truly experience salt- the Dead Sea.  Bordering Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea has the highest content of saline in the world.  Believe it or not, even the worst swimmer can float in the Dead Sea.  If you go in, the rules are simple, absolutely, positively no splashing.  The salt content is so high that the buoyancy will actually sweep you off your feet!


Besides being a fun way to experience total weightlessness, the Dead Sea is also home to some of the most mineral rich mud and thus skin care treatments in the world.  It turns out that the same natural forces that increased the salinity of the water also increased the percentage of minerals that make your skin and body feel and look gorgeous.  You may have heard of mud treatments, but no mud treatments compare to Dead Sea mud treatments.  In fact, some people make a pilgrimage to the luxury spas and hotels like the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, that line the Dead Sea, not for only a vacation, but also for body enriching mud and skincare treatments.  All over the world products from the Dead Sea are recognized for their legendary properties.  Some sell for hundreds of dollars an ounce, well out of the price range of this traveler!

Mud, luxury and salt, who knew that combination could be so beautiful?

IF YOU GO:  The Dead Sea can be accessed from either Jordan or Israel.  Many people make a vacation loop from Petra to the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side, taking in spa treatments like mineral mud facials, massages and salt scrubs to rejuvenate at some of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious resorts before returning home.  Don’t skimp on the experience, Dead Sea treatments really do wonders for your skin-I even took a few bottles of product home with me!adventure travel


Cruising Turkey’s Blue Coast

Turkey’s blue and turquoise coast is a glistening stretch of turquoise water, small inlets and hidden ruins.  Although you can travel the blue coast on land, the experience is much better by sea.   After all, who doesn’t love to be lulled to sleep by the waves?


We booked a cruise from Fethiye –Olympos (you can also book in reverse) on a gullet, or a traditional wooden sailing boat.  Between sleeping on board and sailing from beautiful turquoise lagoon to beautiful turquoise lagoon it was a lovely vacation to travel – but it came with plenty of warnings.  Like everything on the road, tourist adventures are a little bit of buyer beware.  We stocked up on plenty of information before arriving in Fethiye on tour companies, boats, things to look out for and warnings about short-cuts that some operators take.  Armed with that information we had an amazing experience along Turkey’s blue coast and so can you.  Here’s what we learned:

  • Get recommendations from others who have taken cruises recently.  Captains and tour operators can change ownership quickly so it’s best to have a recent recommendation.
  • Don’t go with the cheapest operator!  We learned this the world over, but the cheapest operator often skimps on something- food, water or maybe even a crew that doesn’t speak English!  Be prepared to pay a fair price for your cruise, if someone is 50% cheaper, trust us, you’ll know why within the first 24 hours onboard.
  • Ask about what is included, and get it in writing.  Many Turkish blue cruise prices do not include alcohol – if this is important to you do some quick calculations before you get on board.

Like anything in tourism, going in with the right information can make the difference between having an amazing, once in the lifetime experience and an experience that could have been better. Although many tour operators will sell Turkey blue coast cruises from Istanbul, it is best to wait until you are at the coast to book your tour (if you can wait!) as you’ll be able to check out the outfitter and ask questions yourself.


IF YOU GO:  Turkey’s blue coast is incredibly popular with tourists, but that doesn’t mean it is overcrowded.  We found that the beaches and lagoons were not crowded with boats, most of the cruise we were the only boat in a harbor. There’s also a beautiful hiking trail, called the Lycian Way that follows the coast to Anatalya if you get a little sea sick. Don’t miss a chance to explore the various Lycian ruins along the coast.  From sarcophagi near Fethiye to the ancient city of Olympos and the mythical flames of the chimera, the area is rich with cultural heritage sites that are well worth the visit.

Hiking in Egypt

Hiking in Egypt’s Sinai desert is more fun than you think.  Surely desert hiking requires a bit of preparation, but the Bedoin’s have it down to a science. From small kiosks along the hiking route up Mt. Sinai to a bevy of guides willing to help you from town, they’ve perfected the art of hiking with ease.

Mount Sinai (2285m ) is the most famous and probably most sacred mountain in Egypt.  Pilgrims from all over the world converge on the mountain, usually late at night to be on the summit for sunrise.  We chose to do the exact opposite, and hike up to the summit for sunset.  It turned out to be fantastic, as the sunset reflected on the rocks was a sight to be seen.  Read more about our hike up Mt. Sinai.

While we made it up on our own two feet, there are plenty of people who make it to the top and are too tired to come down.  Hence this guy trekking up on a camel.  Huts along the path provide every kind of nourishment and comfort you can imagine, but still some find the path too difficult to navigate and the Bedoin’s are more than happy to provide transportation up or back.

Mt Sinai in Egypt


IF YOU GO: Hiking in Egypt does require a bit of pre-planning, even with the bevy of help from the local Bedoin’s.  It is still a desert, so sun protection is a must, as is adequate water.  You can imagine how expensive a bottle of water can be at the top of a mountain in the desert.  In addition to hiking Mt. Sinai, you can also climb Mt. Catherine (also leaves from St. Catherine), Egypt’s tallest mountain.  St. Catherine is easily accessible if you travel to Sharm el Sheikh first, as there are tour buses that leave every day.  From Cairo, you will likely have to change transportation in Dahab although there are a few buses direct to St. Catherine every day.  We have an independent traveler’s guide to Egypt that you might find valuable if you’re traveling in the area.