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Meruschka at the Oriental Plaza

For Meruschka (a.k.a. MzansiGirl)

Dear Meruschka, Soon after I heard the news last night, I started making a list of all the adventures we’ve had over the years. The list was longer than I realized. I can’t remember for sure the first time we traveled together. It might have been Port Elizabeth in 2013, when we jumped into a mountain of wool. On another trip we spent 10 days traveling the length and breadth of South Africa. You had a terrible cold the whole time. But still I could hardly keep up with you. We slept in tents and grungy youth hostels and fancy hotels. We flew over the Magaliesberg in a hot-air balloon and paddled down the Orange River in a two-person canoe. (You were a far better paddler than me.) We ate hot Durban curry and drank lots of wine. We swam from South Africa to Namibia and back again, then walked back to camp without shoes. The soles of your feet were riddled with thorns. You laughed and winced but never complained. Later we watched the sun set over the Richtersveld. A couple of years later we traveled around Turkey for two weeks. It was the trip of a lifetime for […]

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Who Even Are You, Cappadocia?

Cappadocia. Seriously. Who even ARE you?* Cappadocia. Cappadocia is too strange and eerie and spectacular to describe in words. More than two weeks after my visit, I’m still almost too overwhelmed to try. I’ll leave it to Wikipedia and Lonely Planet to provide more detailed descriptions of this otherworldly place. But briefly, Cappadocia is an area in the central Anatolian region of Turkey known for its crazy sandstone rock formations — called fairy chimneys — and its colourful history involving ancient underground cities, cave dwellings, and rock-hewn churches. Meruschka and I went there for three days on the tail end of our weeklong stay in Istanbul. (Cappadocia is about two hours by plane from Istanbul.) Where I stayed in Cappadocia We stayed in Göreme, a small town that is one of Cappadocia’s tourist centers, at a boutique hotel called the Cappadocia Cave Suites. (Thanks to Murat and the team at Gezimanya for arranging our stay.) Cappadocia Cave Suites, like most hotels and guesthouses in Cappadocia (and many other businesses and private homes), is built into an actual cave. My luxurious cave suite. The Cappadocia Cave Suites from below.  View from the Cappadocia Cave Suites. Göreme was a great place to stay — quaint, easily walkable, with plenty of restaurants […]

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Five Things I Ate in Istanbul

My biggest regret about my week in Istanbul is that I didn’t eat enough. Seriously. I spent so much time running around trying to see things in Istanbul that I actually didn’t have time to eat all the Turkish food I wanted to try. This is almost unthinkable for a food-loving person like me. But there you have it. I didn’t eat İskender kebap, which is my favorite dish at the Turkish restaurant back home in Melville. İskender, along with shawarma, is only served between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. at most Istanbul restaurants, and we rarely found time for lunch until about 5:00. I never ate the famous Turkish dessert künefe, which my Instagram follower @sarahmariesny describes as “Christmas in your mouth”. I didn’t have Turkish ice cream (too cold), and I never tried those deep-fried sticks that look like churros, which were for sale on every corner. (I’m not sure why I never tried the churros.) But despite all this complaining, I did eat a lot of wonderful food in Istanbul. Istanbul is like Paris; it’s a city that takes eating seriously and delicious food and drink is everywhere — from fancy restaurants to cafés and street-side carts. Sultanahmet Koftëcisi, one of the most famous köfte restaurants in Istanbul. More on köfte in a minute. Rather […]

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Istanbul: A Travel Blogger’s Dream (and Nightmare)

When I was invited to attend the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul, I decided to stay on for an extra week. I bought a guidebook, consulted with friends, and made plans with Meruschka, who was also traveling to Istanbul for the forum. A week should be plenty of time to explore the city, I thought — visit all the best tourist attractions and maybe fit in some locals-only activities. Right? A man sells Turkish flags outside the Spice Bazaar. Ha! Wrong. One week in Istanbul is nothing. We didn’t scratch the surface…In fact we didn’t even touch the surface. Meruschka and I spent a lot of time being lost and wandering aimlessly and taking hundreds of photos, which was awesome but we didn’t manage to do half the things we planned. The Süleymaniye Mosque, largest mosque in Istanbul and reportedly the most beautiful. Alas, we never made it. Istanbul reminded me of a few important travel lessons: 1) When visiting a huge, frenetic, culturally rich, ancient city like Istanbul, sometimes you have to throw out your guide books and to-do lists. Getting around takes time and it’s easy to get lost and distracted. 2) Getting to know Istanbul, which has tens of millions of people, thousands of historical sites, and a […]

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Cats of Istanbul

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Turkey, most of which I spent in Istanbul. The main reason I went to Istanbul was to attend a travel conference called the World Tourism Forum, where I listened to speeches and panels with leading tourism professionals and met other travel bloggers from around the world. I also wanted to explore Istanbul (I’d been once before, but only for eight hours) and check out at least one other destination in Turkey. And there is one other big reason why I went to Istanbul: the cats. This might be the cutest cat in Istanbul. Or it might not be. There are thousands of cats competing for that honor. Everyone knows I love cats. I photograph them everywhere I go, and my own cat writes frequently on this blog. But my love of cats can’t compare to the cat-love that encompasses the city of Istanbul, and in fact all of Turkey. Cat on a wall in Cihangir, Istanbul. Istanbul’s Multitude of Cats There are hundreds of thousands of cats in Istanbul, most of which are strays. By “stray” I mean that the cats live mainly outside and aren’t “owned” by any one person. But the stray cats of Istanbul, as […]

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Five Things I Can’t Wait to Experience When I’m Back in Istanbul

Three months ago, I flew to the United States via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. It was the best deal I could find and I decided it would be fun to visit Istanbul during my layover, even if it was just for eight hours. In the blog post I wrote about that eight-hour layover, I finished by saying, “Next time, Istanbul, I’m coming for a week.” Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. I meant what I said; eight hours in Istanbul is certainly not enough and I wanted to come back for a longer stay. But let’s face it: Istanbul is a long way from Joburg. I knew I wanted to go back but had no idea when such an opportunity would arise – months, years, maybe never. I guess the travel gods heard my prayer. Because a few weeks ago I received an invitation to attend an international conference called the World Tourism Forum, as part of a global delegation of bloggers, during the first week of February. Guess where the World Tourism Forum takes place? That’s right. Istanbul. Istanbul! The conference lasts for three days but I’m going to stay for a week afterward. (See? I meant what I said.) I haven’t made specific plans […]

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