Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey!

There is truly nowhere else in the world like Cappadocia, Turkey. Since I arrived in this country, and perhaps even in my initial research about the country before my departure, this was the name that kept popping up. It was, evidently, the place that I had to visit, and my oh my, I was not disappointed.

Though the scenery itself was magical, perhaps the most magical aspect was being able to take in the sights with Bri's sister, Brooke, her friend, Renee, and an old friend of mine from university, Lara. There's something decidedly special about taking in sights like those below with others - sharing in the awe, so to speak.

Cappadocia was as close to being on another planet that I'll ever get in my life. I do plan on writing an in-depth description of the whole experience, but, this time around, I just put together a little video. In light of it being the New Year, I'm trying to experiment with different creative outlets, and video is something I'm interested in at the moment. Furthermore, Bri and I have just bought the new GoPro Hero 4 (Silver), so you can imagine that, moving forward, the videos we'll be taking will be of a higher quality, and likely of a more intriguing subject matter. And, as a matter of principle, I'm trying to "create" more in 2016, so I'm just doing whatever feels right and this post, tonight, feels right. However, I do look forward to some more professional style video in the future, and I expect to write quite a bit in 2016 to go alongside with the extra touch of video.

In brief, and for general context, Cappadocia is located in Central Turkey, and is simply otherworldly. It is, arguably, the most popular tourist destination in the country, and for good reason. It's famous for its "fairy chimneys," and old cave dwellings which were settled by some of the first Christians, who were refugees at the time. This place has been settled since at least the Bronze Age, and it feels that way in a sense.

Below, you'll find a video I put together with footage that both Bri and I took. As I said, I'm looking forward to putting some even more topnotch stuff together in the near future, but this, I think, still captures the magic of what a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia entails.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

On Istanbul, My Home

Istanbul may be the most mischaracterized and misunderstood city on the planet. When I leave Istanbul in the summer, to Toronto or elsewhere, the most consistent response I get from people when I tell them I live in Istanbul is one of utter confusion. It's as if large swaths of people have already written Istanbul off as a city they'll never visit within a country that they only associate with vaguely troubling news reports.

And now, this week, the vaguely troubling news reports of the past have turned into decidedly damning news reports of the present. The event that occured, the bombing in Sultanahmet, was and is desperately troubling, but it is not Istanbul. That has been the problem with the coverage and the conversations from the beginning. In Paris, grim faced newscasters from around the globe shared news with disbelief of the unimaginable horror. Yet, in Istanbul, the event was, explicitly or not, described as an inevitability of a city such as this...such as what?

And, perhaps the folks who live here, like myself, understood that this was a possibility, in the sense that things are possible in cities this size sharing borders with the neighbours that Turkey has...but again...this single event cannot and does not define this city. Those who live in Istanbul don't dart from street to street, avoiding conflict like some 90's Sarajevo redux. Trust me.

Since the bombing, I haven't looked over my shoulder more often, nor will I. The most drastic change has been the outpouring of concern from friends and family, which is entirely understandable. Yet, I'm deeply perturbed by the notion that people may begin to associate Istanbul with one image, that of a "dangerous Muslim city." Istanbul is so, so many things, but not that. I feel downright privileged to live here, and to be some very small part of this city.

What I want to know is how many expats in Paris received a call from their loved ones asking when and if they were moving home? My family in particular, though concerned, trust me wholeheartedly to make these decisions for which I'm lucky, but I know many friends whose phones haven't had a moment to breathe. People have decided that Istanbul is a war-zone. It isn't, not one bit. Life is moving forward here, as the news looks behind for shreds of stories to continue to paint this city with a single brush.

I want to share a story. When I moved to Istanbul, about a year and a half ago, much of the concern that exists now for my well being was still present. My brother was living in Sydney, Australia where, globally, not an ounce of concern was shed, as far as terrorism and the like is concerned. In late September of 2015, a plot was foiled in Sydney from ISIS to behead a random member of the public, with one of the potential locations being a park near my brother's house. Me, sitting in Istanbul, had cause for concern about ISIS for my brother in Sydney. Think about that, about what that symbolizes...what that ultimately means.

Istanbul is lively, diverse, and has its challenges, but to suggest that the city is merely a breeding ground for terror is to drink deeply from the cup of ignorance. What we as human beings need to do is think about the word associations that the news have planted firmly in our minds. When I read and say the word "Istanbul" to people around the globe, thoughts of the Bosphorus should come to mind, filled with sumptuous blues. Thoughts of steaming çay, kind barbers, pleasant ferry rides, and packed, inviting restaurants. Thoughts of mosques that humbly take their place on the skyline, and a nightlife more exciting than most. Thoughts of people who go out of their way to make you understand that Istanbul is something special, and cannot be summed up as just one thing or another.

And, so here I sit, as in love with this city and its people and culture as I ever was. My plan to stay longer, at this time, stands firm because I know what this place is, and what it has. I owe a lot to this city, my home.

Unfortunately, it looks like the world has decided in an instant, in a blast that took a fraction of a section, what Istanbul was, is, and will be. It is as if a minuscule corner of the world's greatest painting has been torn off and held up as an example of the entire piece. I'm not saying we must ignore the corner, which is surely a part of the whole, I'm saying we must remember what it is we're looking at, and why that matters.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

EXPO Milano 2015 - A Video Montage

I didn't post as much as I would have liked last year, so I'm looking to up my game a little bit in 2016. Why not start on January 1st? In actuality, this has been something that has been in the works for a little bit of time, but it definitely feels good to put the bow on it today.

The video below chronicles our time at the Milan World EXPO. This is actually the second EXPO that Bri and I have attended. Indeed, I wrote about my experiences at the Yeosu World EXPO in 2012 (part 1/part 2), which was later picked up by when I was a world korea blogger. To put it bluntly, we absolutely adore the EXPO experience. If possible, I'm sure we will attend every single EXPO until I drop, but I don't want to get ahead of myself, though that is one of my greatest talents.

Without further adieu, here is our video montage of Milan's take on the World EXPO in 2015.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Most Epic Castle I've Ever Seen

To say that Corvin Castle, also known as Hunedoara Castle, is "kind of cool" is like saying that space is "kind of big" - it just doesn't cut it. I've been to castles where I thought that it might have been neat to be a ruler there, or be a wealthy gentlemen who was garbed in only gilded attire during the Dark Ages, but when I got to Corvin Castle...well, this is the type of place that rivals any of the elaborate sets from Game of Thrones. Forget about living there in the past, I'll move in tomorrow.

It was just a few days ago that Bri and I drove hours from Sibui to get a glimpse of this, and my goodness, we were far from disappointed.

The castle stands guard in present day Romania, but at the time of its construction, in the middle of the 15th century, it was a masterful addition to the already powerful Kingdom of Hungary. Even today, it's touted as one of the largest castles in Europe. Due to its strategic position on a hilltop, it was a place of importance for quite some time before the construction of this castle, being the site of a keep commissioned by Charles I beforehand. However, it was really in the Middle Ages that Corvin Castle become the highly formidable, military minded structure that stands today. With just the right mix of renaissance and gothic architecture, it's pretty much what you expect a superb castle in Transylvania to look like.

It's said that Vlad the Impaler (the figure Dracula was supposedly the inspiration for) was held prisoner here for 7 years by the ruler of the castle, John Hunyadi. In general, there are many legends and tales about the castle that lead many to believe it's haunted. Several paranormal/haunted shows have made their way to Corvin to test the theories, and probably for good reason. The impressive exterior of the castle was enough to make me believe just about anything about the castle, and Bri was adept at convincing me that this castle was, in fact, Hogwarts.

Unfortunately, many sights in Romania haven't exactly been restored or kept in superb condition - parts of the city of Braşov come to mind. It's not that they're in poor condition, but compared to the work that countries like Austria, Slovenia, Germany, France, Italy, Czech Republic etc. have done, they haven't been able to attain the same standard. Thus, it was pleasing to see that effort had gone in to keeping Corvin Castle in great condition. Some of the restoration was a touch cheesy in the interior, such as the prisoner mannequin in the prison, but most of it was tasteful, and added to the ambiance. The interior had much to offer, and set my imagination running wild.

Driving there, Bri and I kept on thinking "for all this driving we're doing...this better be something special." And, as I've noted and you can see, it certainly was. After spending a week in Romania, I'm fascinated by how little people seem to know about the country. Frankly, I only knew the name of the capital until I started researching the best way to approach a road trip in the country, and now the names of cities, towns and castles roll off my tongue like I've known them my whole life. Romania seems to be overlooked by the tourist beacons that surround it, and its places like this, Corvin Castle, that prove that people need to seriously consider an attitude shift. My advice? Head to Romania while it's still inexpensive, undiscovered, and full of mystery and adventure.

Don't forget to stop by Corvin Castle; you'll have this image etched into your memory for as long as you live...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Somewhat Spontaneous Exploratory Poem On Travel

Well, I have a moment to spare, and seeing as how I'm not particularly good at relaxing, I thought I'd write a poem about what it is that travel means to me. That is to say, when I'm sharing where I may or may not be going next, sometimes I get raised eyebrows, with the question, "why?" - and I suppose this is an attempt to answer that question, and explain what travel means to me. Perhaps it's also an attempt to make use of time that I might otherwise have used to relax...My goodness, can you imagine?

A Rocking Boat

It's the sip of a coffee with a taste unknown, 
A walk in a room with a glittering throne, 
The taste of salt water on carefree lips, 
Recording a movie to post a good clip. 

Last minute packing, no care in the world, 
 To try something new, a passion unfurled, 
Beaches too hot to walk on barefoot, 
Knowing its better to move than stay put.

A rocking boat in the waves of the night, 
The sincere excitement surrounding a flight, 
Arrive at a hotel, it's dirty indeed, 
Trying to let go of the thing we call "greed." 

The first time you see a place from your dreams, 
 In the book of your life, you discover new themes, 
A mountain, mist-covered, perched up above, 
To question your knowledge of the meaning of love. 

Watching a plan come to gleaming fruition, 
Eating a meal and forgetting nutrition, 
A brilliant glance of water and sun, 
That feeling you get, when you finally run. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

10 Photos That Capture Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a city that everyone should visit. I'm not referring to your average tourist either, I'm talking about urban planners, engineers, mayors and heads of state. Copenhagen is a model of what a city can accomplish with the right confluence of foresight in planning, access to wealth, and a desire to ever improve. It seems that whenever I'm reading a study about the results of an experimental study that tests a shorter work week or something decidedly progressive, it was done in Copenhagen, or at least not far away.

Having lived in Oslo in 2010, I was able to visit this city back then, but I'm not quite sure I had the lens to understand what a masterpiece Copenhagen was and continues to be. Visiting hundreds of cities around the world, then arriving back provided a more than adequate lens to appreciate what I was seeing, and perhaps I can also attest to the fact that I may have matured a fair bit since I was 19 - at least I certainly hope so.

The city operates seamlessly, and has just the right balance of historical intrigue and modern innovation. I've selected 10 photos from my visit in late June earlier this year that hope to portray precisely that notion.

1. Strøget, Europe's longest pedestrian street, is a marvel to walk down. Constructed in 1962, it was one of the first streets specifically constructed for pedestrians. Copenhagen is always seemingly ahead of the curve. 

2. Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance castle from the 17th century. When a castle is politely nestled into your downtown core, you've got something special going on. 

3. Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, opened in 1843. It's also the second most visited seasonal theme park in the world, and adds undeniably charm to the heart of the city. 

4. Nyhavn had to be my favourite area in Copenhagen, which isn't altogether unsurprising considering it's a 17th century waterfront entertainment district.

5. Stormgade. You can be sure that this effect was designed intentionally. Everything in Copenhagen is built with creative intentionality. 

6. Near Christanborg Palace. Classic Danish architecture and modern touches of design make Denmark a pleasant place for a stroll. 

7. City Hall Square. Arguably the major focal point of the city. 

8. The area of Nyhavn was nearly enough to convince me to pack up my life in Istanbul, and hop on the first plane back to Copenhagen. 

9. Børsen, also known as the Old Stock Exchange, is a prime example of the fact that Copenhagen has been pushing architectural boundaries since at least the middle of the 17th century. 

10. It's only fitting that I end of with a photo of Nyhavn. This photos contains churns more emotion for me than I could put into words. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

8 Reasons I know I'm Canadian When I'm Travelling

Canadians, like it or not, are a particular bunch, complete with their own culture, ideas, and superstitions. Honestly, It never occurred to me until I started travelling that "being Canadian" was actually a thing, but, of course, it is. People I would meet in hostels would have knowledge of all these stereotypes of "the Canadian," which was essentially an image of a polite, maple syrup loving, nature experienced lumberjack. It all got me thinking, and I started to find myself doing something abroad and stopping to note, "my goodness am I ever Canadian right now!"

If you're wondering how I know, wonder no further. Here are 8 reasons I'm sure I'm a Canadian when I'm on the road.

Busan, Korea - 2012

1) The first word I learn in another language is typically "sorry." 

I wish I was kidding. I suppose the thought process is, if I can't say hello in that language, at least I can adequately apologize for that. It was humourous though in Asia, when I kept apologizing for bumping into people in crowded situations, and people would look back as if they were utterly confused as to why I was apologizing. I suppose it's better safe than...sorry?

I'll just stick with promiňte, thanks.

2) I still, for some reason, expect people to follow traffic rules. 

In Canada, you can be relatively sure that if you cross the street and a car is coming, they may have some sympathy and slow down. Elsewhere? Don't count on it. In some cases, (I'm thinking Turkey and Italy namely) they may actually speed up. It's something engrained in me from my Canadian childhood - I'm still positive pedestrians have agency. However, there is hope, another year in Istanbul and I'll likely just forget traffic rules ever existed at all. 
Bangkok, Thailand - 2012

3) I sweat more than others...

It's cold in Canada, alright? 

Sweating away in Granada, Nicaragua - 2014

4) Hours in transit just don't faze me. 

When you're used to the length of a Canadian road trip, it turns out you're well prepared for pretty much any other kind. In my teenage years, a spontaneous trip to visit a friend in "nearby" Montreal might cost me 6 hours on the road, and it wasn't something I thought twice about. The sheer enormity of Canada, and navigating it in my past, has made me patient on planes, trains, boats and whatever else you can throw at me in the present. 

Zagreb, Croatia - 2010

5) Large animals in other countries, don't seem all that large to me.

Enough said.

6) I'm a beer snob. 

Even beautiful scenery doesn't allow me to turn off my Canadian beer snobbery. It's not something I have to confront much in regions such as Central Europe, but in most of the rest of the world I'm complaining. I find myself saying things like: 

"I know it's hot here, and this is refreshing, but where's the flavour?"
"You'd think they could have added some hops to this." 
"I guess they were going for a 50/50 beer and water mixture on this one." 
"Do you think, by any chance, they sell craft beer?" 

Now, I know I'm a beer snob because I occasionally make these comments on remote islands where I should just be happy that they even have beer. I can't help it folks, it's in my blood. 

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia - 2012

7) When I talk about "the cottage," people have no idea what I'm talking about. 

"Wait, so you have a house...and house in the woods?" 

The new cottage - 2015

8) I get giddy when I see bacon on a menu. 

This is no exaggeration. Around bacon something just happens to me, and I've seen this phenomenon with other Canadians as well. Canadians and bacon go together like Hansel and Gretel, perhaps even better. Naturally, it's hard to come by in Turkey, but if I can find it anywhere my eyes light up like a kid on Christmas, and then I think, "damn, I'm really a Canadian, aren't I?" 

You know it's not such a bad list really and, frankly, I'm happy to feel Canadian when I'm not on home soil. It goes to show, we bring a little bit of home with us, wherever we are. 

Are you Canadian? Feel free to add to the list in the comments below. Perhaps there's a part two worth thinking about.