Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

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.


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.



Paris…Sans “a Plan”

November 4, 2010

My trip to Paris last month had some unexpected additions: 1) my mom and aunt and 2) an elevated terror threat after several bomb scares evacuated the Eiffel Tower a few days before we arrived (sigh).  Other elements included daily fresh baguettes, stinky cheese (in a good way), buckets of sancerre, champagne, and several croque monsieurs.

This trip was unlike any other I have taken before, with no real “plans” to do anything in particular except enjoy the city and Parisian culture.  And I would say it was a success!

First purchase: fresh baguette and fromage

Rewinding just a bit – how did my mom and aunt get involved?  Well, I was telling my mom the details of my planned long weekend in Paris and she sounded wistful as I described plans to stroll the cobblestone streets, take photos in sepia, sit at cafes and peoplewatch, and just soak it all in.  She was lamenting about how she and my aunt got screwed (for lack of a better word) out of their trip to Europe this spring when the whole Iceland volcano situation happened. They never rescheduled their trip and she was pining for Paris (she’s been a few times). I was shocked when she initially invited herself onto the trip because she isn’t known for spontaneity or for spending $800+ on a plane ticket for – essentially – a 3-day trip. But, I was thrilled she was even remotely interested and immediately started looking for a bigger vacation apartment that would work for the four of us.

I searched several vacation rental sites for our Paris abode, and came to the rescue again.  We rented a massive 2-BR flat in St. Germain des Pres (6th arrondissement), which is known for two famous cafes, Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore, and fabulous shopping (our apartment was above Ferragamo and across from Prada).  It was the perfect home base, despite the 5 floor walk-up (and lugging my own, my mom’s, and my aunt’s suitcases up and down said staircase).  We were able to easily walk to the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Louvre – you name it, all the tourist attractions you could want that we weren’t actually planning on going into.

We were also lucky to have amazing, warm weather, so we walked the entire city for 3 days and explored some unexpected corners.  I’ll share some more tips on Paris soon, but here are some favorite shots of the city from this trip:

Back in the Game

September 9, 2010

Just like that, I have two fun trips planned in the next month.  One domestic, one international. Both involving catching up with dear friends from college – I am very excited!  And it’s about time.

I’ll head to Washington D.C. in a couple of weeks for a long weekend, and then a couple of weeks later I will spend a slightly longer weekend in…PARIS!  It’s kind of funny to come full circle on my very first international trip – I can’t wait to see how my perspective – and the city – has changed since then!

One thing is for sure – I won’t be running up the Eiffel Tower this time.  I’ll save that “special memory” for my teenage endurance days.

1665 steps...maybe walk instead of run this time?

So far, I have a flight booked and need to find lodgings in Paris – I’ll be comparing private apartments for rent to hotels and their reviews on, and hope to find something in a hip location that won’t break the bank.  Should I pick a boutique hotel like the chic Hotel St. Germain or a slice of Parisian heaven with a terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower? Time will tell.

Some people dread this part of the planning, but I see it as shopping for (temporary) real estate!  What will my Paris home be like (for 4 days)?  Besides, if I have loud neighbors, I know I won’t be staying very long anyway, and if it’s amazing then I can always come back to amazing escape.  Maybe in another 16 years?

“HVAR” Some Pictures For You…

August 12, 2009

So I really missed out when my friend Tanya went to Hvar as part of a trip to Croatia in June (for a wedding). I would have loved to have tagged along, but I just couldn’t fit it in this year. That part of the world is really just so gorgeous, and I hope I can make it there someday! Don’t these photos just make you instantly relax??

I believe this is in Dubrovnik.

I believe this is in Dubrovnik.



The view from Tanya's hotel in Hvar

The view from Tanya's hotel in Hvar (!)

I can almost picture myself sitting there having a cocktail!

I can almost picture myself sitting there having a cocktail!

If you’re in the mood for Hvar, here’s how to get there! (Hint – The most gorgeous places are never that easy to get to…)