Life Underground

April 28, 2012

Imagine living eleven stories below ground – in an underground cave city with 50,000 of your closest friends.  It would be difficult to envision life in darkness, illuminated only by oil lamps and having to traverse a maze of tunnels and staircases etched out of a soft volcanic rock (called “tuff”).  Co-habitating down there with chickens, horses, and probably a token society weirdo or two, it’s amazing the lengths these Christians went to hide from the Romans in the Byzantine era.  Very narrow and winding hallways made attacks difficult, and large round stones were situated in key doorways to roll and block an intruder from advancing.

Life down below the ground in the Cappadocia region of Turkey included chapels, a school, winery – all of the essentials for life in the 5th Century and each carved out of the rock many levels below ground for its specific purpose.  According to a very knowledgeable tour guide, there is even a honeymoon suite or tiny private nook for newlyweds amongst the group sleeping quarters.

Think District 13 in The Hunger Games, but without elevators, electricity or Katniss.

Any claustrophobes still reading?  Well count me among you (no shame!), and I wasn’t actually aware just how claustrophobic I was until I was faced with climbing seven stories below ground with only one way out and hundreds of tourists blocking that route.  I made it about two levels down before I hit my personal emergency button and exited, leaving James alone with the camera to capture the Kaymakli Underground City.

The one photo I could muster in the Kaymakli Underground City before evacuating for fresh air. Note James is ecstatic, while I am having a panic attack.

When I saw the photos James emerged with, I was glad I didn’t stay and venture where he went – he had to crouch to even get down one winding staircase (those clever Byzantines! If I was Roman you’d be safe!).  Observe:

Long, winding staircase hundred of feet below ground in Kaymakli Underground City.

This could be a private home, a meeting place, a classroom – my guess is a death chamber. Who could live here?!?!

NO THANKS. I’ll just get killed by the Romans instead.

So after this initial panic situation, James was a bit concerned how I might react to the next TWO underground cities he had on the itinerary.  One about 10 times the size of Kaymakli.  Our solution was to find a local guide to take us around and point out what the heck we were looking at down there as well as to provide the quickest escape route possible if necessary.  Luckily, you can hire such guides right outside the entrance of the larger underground cities (Derinkuyu), and we found Mustafa who was happy to show us around for a mere 30 euro (quite a bargain).

For some reason I felt much safer with a local guide, and was able to venture a bit deeper than I had at  Kaymakli, which felt crowded and chaotic.  Derinkuyu was by far the best of the underground cities, but likely because Mustafa really brought it to life by describing the purpose of every nook and cranny in the carved city (including a place to store eggs).  Since this city was much larger, some of its rooms were also quite sizable, and Mustafa (who was well-versed in guiding claustrophobic tourists 8 stories below ground) kept us in the larger areas.

Large dining hall in Derinkuyu.

I can breathe down here…sort of.

Claustrophobia aside – really, this is just incredible.

I haven’t written much about it yet, but the Cappadocia region in Turkey is really one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.  Even traveling to Africa or Australia, I never felt so far from home as I did in this land of fairy chimneys, hidden cave churches and cities, hot air balloon rides and incredible rock formations.  And, this is the map the entire region uses (car rental places, hotels, etc):

Not really helpful and definitely not to scale.

What a fun adventure!  More to come on Turkey and Cappadocia…

Travegrl Von Trapp

April 26, 2012

It’s been a few months since my last post and I still haven’t shared all of the amazing things I experienced in Turkey.  But, I’ve been a bit distracted and think I have a good excuse this time.  James and I are expecting our first child!  Current sentiment: equal parts elation and terror.  What will my new travel life be like with a tiny +1?  Things have already changed!  For example, going on a vacation while pregnant eliminated a few places we might have considered under other circumstances, due to activity level, food, alcohol consumption…But, I’m looking forward to this exciting new chapter and can’t wait for what’s in store!

So, after careful consideration, we decided to take our last “child free” vacation (is it?!), or at least, our last “vacation as a family of two” to Austria (Salzburg, Vienna) and the Czech Republic (Prague).  Cue: The Hills Are Alive…..

Hills! Alive! Yodeling!

Why this region?  Well, even though Italy has been on my list for ages, I thought it might be considered torture not to be able to partake in the wine and local soft cheeses (though I’m sure some pregnant women may enjoy those things in moderation – on vacation I’d want to gorge and enjoy as much as possible!).  Some adventurous areas like Norway / North Pole even seemed a bit ambitious. In Austria we can see some amazing scenery, architecture, and James can enjoy many a beer in Prague (Pils beer was invented there!).

I’ll be almost 6 months pregnant for this vacation, and I’m curious how well I’ll be able to get around / climb cobblestone hills to castles / stay awake.  James has thoughtfully researched and prepared an aggressive itinerary of activities including exploration of ice caves in the Alps.  He assures me senior citizens easily conquer this trek.

Brrrrr....

Denial much?  We’ll see how that goes!  Either way I am sure we’ll have some amazing experiences to share upon our return…

And I am so excited that my dear old traveling buddy, Tanya, will be able to meet up with us in Salzburg since it’s just a hop, skip & jump from her current home base of Zurich.  So I’ll have some extra hands to push me up those hills.

 

 

Views From 30,000

January 10, 2012

I literally stumbled upon this link recently and had to share these photos – it’s a collection of 100 interesting views out of airplane windows.   Can you recognize some of these regions without looking at the captions?  Below are some of my favorite shots:

Cape Verde, Africa

 

New York (slightly biased to this view)

 

Cape Town, South Africa

 

Rio

Well Hello N’Awlins

January 8, 2012

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you probably have a vision in your mind of live, boisterous jazz; females with semi-loose morals begging for colorful beaded necklaces; gawking men hanging from balconies in the French Quarter with said necklaces; and – essentially – debauchery galore.

You’d be right.

But you may not know about some of its other charms:  incredible mansions, horse-drawn carriages, old-time trolleys, multi-level wrought-iron balconies overflowing with lush plant life, rich history and even a cemetery that looks romantic in the rain.   New Orleans can offer a completely different experience if you’re aged 22, 42 or 102 – and there is certainly something for everyone.  On a long weekend trip to this famed locale – my first ever – I was determined to experience it like I was ageless.  That meant a fair share of jazz clubs, fried seafood, museums, mansions, shopping, iconic New Orleans concoctions (both liquid and solid), some…let’s say “bead-related activities,” and all around general soaking in of the culture.

The French Quarter is defined by hundreds of balconies that are truly charming and truly New Orleans

In doing research for this trip, TripAdvisor was again a go-to resource for finding moderately priced and conveniently located lodgings.  James and I (and our traveling companions Mike and Laura) settled on the one-of-a-kind Le Pavillon Hotel just a few blocks outside the French Quarter.  This iconic hotel – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – is over the top with massive crystal chandeliers, a rooftop cabana oasis, highly attentive service, and is certainly worth a try if you want that old-time Louisiana feel.  And who wouldn’t want to be treated at 10pm every night with a complimentary peanut butter and jelly bar, ice cold milk and hot chocolate?  Click here for the back story on that one!

Le Pavillon Hotel Lobby

I’m also lucky to know a few people who are originally from Louisiana, and were more than happy to offer up suggestions of “must do’s” in New Orleans.  The lists were actually a mile long – and those were just the highlights of the city!  You can’t really go wrong whether you focus on eating, drinking, sightseeing – or all three.  A couple of my don’t miss suggestions:

Cafe au lait and fresh beignets (glorified donuts) at Cafe Du Monde.  Here’s a tip – bypass the long line (can you say tourist trap?) – which is actually for take-out – and make your way into the cafe, where you can grab your own table and order from the overly simplified menu.

Beignets and Cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde

 

Order a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House.  First, a little history about Napoleon House – this is a New Orleans landmark made famous when its first occupant, Nicholas Girod (mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815) offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile.  Famously, Napoleon never showed, but the name stuck.  Honestly, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but as soon as you step in – if you happen to go when it’s open – you can tell there’s something special about the place.

Napoleon House (credit - NOLA.com)

A Pimm’s Cup is a gin-based mixed beverage with 7-Up and a slice of cucumber – perfectly refreshing on a hot day in New Orleans.  Explore the bar and make sure you try to get a table in the courtyard out back.  And if you really want a treat – order a muffuletta sandwich, which is a New Orleans specialty made on Sicilian bread with a marinated olive spread.

I realize the tips above are both food-related, but I’m probably underplaying the role that food played on this trip.  I’ll share some more highlights from New Orleans soon!

Dust Off That Passport

January 7, 2012

Oh my.  I’ve been downright neglectful of my little blog, missing even the rare reader comment (one from a startup international travel magazine that wanted to use my missives, no less)!  My apologies.

What have I been up to?  Well, let’s just say I have a lot less spare time than I used to (demanding job, new puppy, and family stuff)…but I haven’t been completely out of the travel world.  In fact, in the last year I’ve had some amazing travel adventures, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them!  And remember that new Canon G12 I got about a year ago?  Turns out it’s one of the best cameras on the planet (says moi!), and you’ll get to see some incredible photos that I shouldn’t even really take credit for (thanks, vivid setting!).

So get ready!  Some good stuff’s in store, including luxury cave hotels, underground cities, incredible sights, some fun food finds, going off the beaten trail and even local jaunts with some helpful tips and pics.

Can You Guess Where This Is? You'll Find Out Soon!