30 Sep

Flexibility Takes Us To Northern Turkey

Sinop Peninsula We’re sitting high on a hill on the Sinop peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea. It’s midday and the call to prayer floats up from the town below. I’m getting used to hearing it now but it still sounds ancient and haunting…even more so as I gaze out over the hillsides and villages in the distance imagining this occurring five times a day for centuries.

We hadn’t planned on coming to Northern Turkey and the Black Sea coast but circumstances saw us with some time to kill and so…why not.

Luc, Nicole, Jason, Gillian and Lisa We landed in Istanbul a week ago with only one day to spend before heading to Ankara to secure our India visas at the embassy there. A stroke of luck saw our time here overlapping with friends from home. Lisa and her family are also out traveling the world. It was amazing to catch up with them amid the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Talking about home and travel under the ancient Galata Tower while sipping raki was surreal. The kids were excited to tell us about their adventures and eager to show us the Istanbul they had discovered in their week here. It was a great afternoon/evening and comforting to see faces from home.

The next day we took a comfortable bus to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. It’s not a tourist destination by any means but the Indian Embassy is located there and we have need for an Indian visa. Our first attempt confirms that we do not yet have all the pieces we need and so we spend the afternoon arranging for flights into, and out of, India. It seems strange to have to purchase flights into and out of a country that we are not yet allowed into and yet there is no other way. We will just hope that it all turns out as it should.

A further issue unfolds when the man behind the gate tells us the visa will be ready in 10 days. Ten days? We had thought it would take four and, as even that was a long time to spend in Ankara so we had planned on heading to our eastern most point for that time. But 10 days was even too much for that. And so, with flexibility and spontaneity being our guide, we pulled out the map and thought that the northern coast might be a good place to cool our heels.

As we move north, through Kastamonu and Boyabat, the culture becomes more conservative. We had seen plenty of women in headscarves, and an abundance of men in the cafes, salons and restaurants in Ankara, but in these places it was even more pronounced. In Boyabat we saw very few women out at all, and certainly not in any of the restaurants so, for lunch,we settled on a bag of chips and a Pepsi in the bus station as we waiting for our onward bus.

We talked about how much more conservative it might be as we moved even further north but we wanted to see the landscape and reach the Black Sea coast so we pressed on. We would manage the culture, and our lack of language, as best we could.

Sinop surprised us and proved to be a very relaxed, cosmopolitan, port town. The restaurants and cafes that line the harbor still have men outnumbering women, but there are women and they are not all covered and sipping tea…some are actually enjoying a beer! I still feel more comfortable when I am covered completely (long pants and sleeves…covering my hair would be inappropriate as a western woman, except when in a mosque), and I ensure that I don’t meet the gaze of men, but I like it and don’t feel so much of an intrusion.

We are still stared at though as we are definitely the only western tourists here, but people are more than friendly…we only need to look confused for 5 seconds and invariably someone will ask where we are trying to go! School children we pass practice their ‘hello’ (and some practice the other dirty English words they have been taught…I wonder if they know what f*ck you means?), and, although most people don’t speak any English, they are more than happy to read the questions I write out in Turkish and pantomime a response.

Pontic Tombs in Amasya, Turkey Coming to the north has been an exercise in flexibility, culture and tolerance. The landscape has been stunning, the history too deep to imagine, and the people are kind. I’m glad that India’s slowness prompted us to get off the beaten track and explore a region that we would have overlooked otherwise.

26 Sep

Into The Warm Embrace Of Family

With warm and welcoming hugs Jasons’ family welcomed us into Germany and showed us all their favorite places in this fabulous country. It was nice to stay in a family home, eat home cooked meals and have the planning done for us…we relaxed right into it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Heiko, Fritzhof, Yana and Thees First stop was Hanover where J’s second cousin Heiko lives with his wife Jana and their two young boys, Fridtjof and Thees. Lonely Planet says that the only reason to visit Hanover is for the annual tech fair that occurs there, but I disagree whole-heartedly.

Heiko showed us around his city, visiting new and old areas, stopping in at various art shows and galleries along the way. Our own wandering showed a city with a good mix of old and new architecture (more new than old as the city was leveled  during the war), with lots of pedestrian walkways, lakes and parks to relax in. It’s not be a city that has big sights to see, but instead is a city that takes time to relax into and discover.

I enjoyed it and loved spending time with the family – the boys cracked me up and as the weekend progressed I realized more and more how much alike J and Heiko are…looks, mannerisms, interests…I had not thought that second cousins could be so much alike.

Hurry, Hurry Our next stop was Seesen where Frank and Heike were jumping up and down with excitement on the train platform as we arrived. We were quickly whisked back to their beautiful backyard (complete with Canadian flag in our honor) to immediately sample some of the local brew – what a welcome!

The following day they took us on a  hike to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Hartz Mountains. It was a beautiful hike (complete with a beer stop at the ‘ranger station’) into an area of the mountains that has only been accessible since reunification. The tank tracks we walked Old Reich Tankway along were a constant reminder of the border patrols that used to occur in this area and from the top we could see for miles and miles – it was stunning. Beer and currywurst were the reward at the top before we hiked the 2.5 hours back down.

Frank and Heike also took us to visit the 1000 year old city of Goslar. Located not too far from Seesen, it was a nice drive through the country to get there. Goslar was extremely pretty and, being a UNESCO Heritage Site, is well preserved. They knew of all the best, and secret places and we had a wonderful time there.

Our time in Seesen came to an end all too quickly, but Berlin was waiting and we were looking forward to it, and our apartment, there.

Welcome Drink With Hanno And Annette Our last stop in Germany took us to the small town of Friedberg, where another warm welcome awaited us. Hanno and Annette welcomed us into their home and showed us around even as they prepare for their own big trip to Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. It was great to hear about all their past travels and the plans for this next one.

Hanno Prepares The Radish Our first full day there saw the weather clear just enough to warrant a visit to the Andechs Monastery. The walk to the monastery was nice…through fields and meadows with great views…and the monastery itself is a stunning example of a typical Bavarian Baroque church…but it’s the beer they brew here that was the real draw! Smooth, dark and strong – it is the perfect accompaniment to the traditional pretzels, radish and pork shank that we also enjoyed.

Annette Checks Out The View It was back to the mountains the next day for a visit to the German Alps and a fairy tale castle. The clouds were lying low that day but we headed up the cable car anyway hoping to break through on the way up. Within 100M of the top we could see the sun start to shine and then ‘pop’ we were above the clouds and within the peaks of the Alps. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. With mountains as far as I could see and a puffy cloud layer below, the view was mesmerizing.

Neuschwanstein Castle We hiked down through the clouds and valleys, traversing across a bit to reach Neuschwanstein Castle – the very castle that Walt Disney is said to  have modeled Disneyland on. It truly is a like a fairy tale…rising  up out of the mountain with turrets and walls and a grand demeanor. In the distance lakes dotted green, green valleys and small villages with their red roofs added to the fairy tale setting. It would not have been surprising to see Cinderella or Snow White here. It sounds cheesy I know, but it was very ‘once upon a time…’. The inside was, as Annette says, ‘very kitsch’ but fabulous all the same…what else would I expect from a fairy tale castle?

We had dinner that evening high upon a mountain across the valley where we had fabulous views of both Austria and Germany. A fabulous end to a great day.

Oktoberfest Cheers And then there was Oktoberfest. Our last day in Germany spent in Munich watching lederhosen and dirndl dressed men, women and families enjoy the largest beer drinking party in the world. It was absolutely huge! At least nine ‘tents’, each holding up to 7,000 beer-swilling partiers and that doesn’t count the thousands out in the grounds wandering around. Amazing! We had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed our huge 1L beers (although I could have done without the hangover for the flight to Istanbul the next day!!).

We loved our time in Germany and, certainly, the warmth, generosity and hospitality of J’s family made it all the better. There is nothing like the warm embrace of family to make time go by all too quickly – we will have to return to spend more time and see more of this beautiful place. Thanks to all of you who took us in, served us your amazing food and beer, and showed us your favorite places – we loved it!!

23 Sep

Berlin…More Than It’s Past

Berlin is a vibrant, youthful, energetic, evolving city. It is more than its past and, although history looms large here, it is redefining itself and moving forward quickly into the future.

Dinner, Berlin We settled in here quickly, once again finding an apartment in a neighborhood outside of downtown. A place where we could get a sense of the city and it’s people. I love the densification of cities, and our neighborhood was a good example. Streets lined with small 5 story apartment blocks whose ground floorsThe Little Pub, Berlin held bakeries, cafes, pubs, corner stores and various shops. The grocery store was just down the block and the cutest little pub ever was between it and home…yes, seriously dangerous!! Getting to the sights was no problem as the metro was only a 5 minute walk away and on it, and the busses, we could easily get where ever we liked.

We started our visit with a walking tour of the city. Walking tours are our favorite as they get us into the city and let us interact with the guide and other participants on a level that bus tours do not. During this tour we got a sense of the size and scope of the city and some very valuable history lessons (our guide, although American, had studied German history for 10 years…she knew a lot!!).

The next day we returned to town to get a better look at some of the sights and to visit the German History Museum. A great museum, even if overwhelmingly large – I enjoyed it, and learned a lot (which wasn’t too hard as my German history was lacking). Berlin has many other museums and galleries displaying numerous exhibits that are famous perhaps worth visiting, but I am in Germany and so decided to focus on German history and exhibits. We’ll view Roman or Greek or other artifacts if and when we visit those countries.

Reflected In The Reistag Mirrors We also visited the Reistag with its impressive glass and mirror dome (symbolizing transparency in government). It is lined with a spiraling walkway to the top where great views of the city can be had. The audio guide was worth it (well, for one it was free) as it explained all the sights that could be seen. Moreover, the climb was a good chance to play with our reflections in the mirrored column in the center of the dome.



We took two day trips out of the city:

Riding Through Potsdam On Sunday we visited Potsdam with a bike tour. Potsdam is a beautiful refuge from the city with stunning buildings and gardens but really, for us, it was all about the bikes. We had a blast riding around on the cruiser bikes through the old city and, although it poured rain, we had smiles on our faces the whole day.

On Tuesday we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. A more somber outing but a worthwhile one.

Oktoberfest Primer-3 The rest of the time we wandered around as we like to do in a city, got a primer for Oktoberfest to come in Munich, and enjoyed living in our little apartment. A week well spent.

20 Sep

Memory Studies

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial

Memory studies is a new, and upcoming, branch of history concerned with how people, countries, and cultures remember the tragic events of their past. In the past, history has been written by the winners. Memory studies challenges this approach and places emphasis on all perspectives being remembered rather than just that of the victor. Being in Germany, a country with such a recent history, and Berlin in particular, brings this branch of history into focus.

For how long should a country pay homage to a past done wrong? Should a country be forever defined by the heinous crimes committed by those now gone? Do those that live there now need to be always reminded of what happened? Every country has some distant past memories that have since turned into history, when is it time to move on and let it fade with time?

These are questions that Germany is struggling with. On the one hand no-one should forget what happened lest it ever be repeated again. But, on the other, if the wound is forever left open it will never heal.

Nowhere is this struggle more evident than in Berlin. A city that continues to rebuild and redefine itself since reunification in 1989. I think they are striking a balance between moving forward and paying homage to the past.

  • The wall no longer exists except for a few remembrance pieces and a brick trail on the ground throughout the city that subtly marks where it once was.
  • Hitlers’ bunker is now a parking lot with just a small placard marking the historic events that occurred there.
  • New construction is everywhere – so much so that I suspect that if I returned to the city in just 2 years it would look different again. (Our guide said ‘Paris will always be Paris, but Berlin continually changes…you must come back’).
  • There is a huge memorial to murdered Jews in the center of the city – although large, it is subtle but very powerful.

One thing I wasn’t sure of before we arrived was whether or not we would visit a concentration camp. Firstly I didn’t know if I wanted to see and be faced with the horror that it would be, and secondly I was struggling with whether that is how my trip to Berlin should be defined.

In the end we decided we should go as, although I believe that a countries past should be allowed to heal with time, not enough time has yet passed for Germany with regard to the Holocaust. Let me be clear. I am not saying that past events should ever be forgotten, only that time can ease the acuity of the pain.

Work Makes You Free, Sachsenhausen

And so we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was not as bad as I had thought it would be. It certainly told the story of those that were sent there, and those that didn’t return, but it could not convey the daily living conditions and terror. It was moving however, and I will always remember stepping into the barracks thinking about all the men and women that lived, and died, there and seeing the execution trench and crematorium. It was enough.

Seeing the wall was more emotional than I thought it would be. I hadn’t realized that the juxtaposition of the East and West was so dramatic. That people in apartment blocks, right next to the wall on the Eastern side, could look over and see the people in the apartment blocks just over the wall in the West. A constant reminder of what they could not have. So close…and yet so far.

Remains of The Berlin Wall

Germany is an interesting place to visit because its past is so recent, so tangible, so accessible. It is certainly not the only country struggling to manage an horrific past, but it is the one that is actively in the process of trying to do it the right way. Other countries in the world should be taking note, owning up to their own misgivings, and finding a way through it with such grace.

12 Sep

Culture Change

Germany Countryside Compared to the South American countries we have visited, Germany is small. There are no 8, 10 or 15 hour bus rides…trains whisk us where ever we want to go within just a few short hours and with the beautiful countryside whipping by, well, there is just no time to write. And so it has been 10 days since I have put any thoughts down.

I am loving Germany just like I knew I  would. It’s easy here. We come from a European culture so I understand how and why everything works. Although I speak almost no German it is easy to get around as most people speak English (I confess I am terribly embarrassed that I must rely on their English skills to help me…in the future I must become fluent in another language). The food is fabulous and familiar and I see people drinking beer everywhere.

It’s not fair to compare South America to Germany as they are not trying to be like each other, but I’ll do it anyway:

  • I can flush the toilet paper in Germany – no more stinky bin beside the toilet.
  • There are a bazillion different beers in Germany and, from what I can tell, they are all fabulous.
  • Wine is cheaper,  and better, in Argentina.
  • In S.America I can cross the street where ever and whenever I want (although I may take my life in my hands). In Germany everyone waits for the ‘ampelmann’ – no jaywalking here…must obey the rules.
  • Germany is clean…no litter, no side-of-the-road garbage dumps, no dog sh*t everywhere.
  • We have family in Germany. There is nothing like staying with family and feeling their warm, welcoming embrace especially after being on the road for three months.
  • S.America is definitely cheaper.
  • Germans do not eat near the amount of beef that Argentineans do. Pork and wurst are king here.
  • S.American buses pick up snack vendors from the side of the road. They get on the bus with their basket of cakes, cookies, ice cream, corn-on-the-cob, empanadas, gelatin, meat-and-beans-in-a-bag…whatever they made in their kitchen this morning…and sell to the bus patrons. The driver pulls over a few miles down the road to let them off. This, I’m sure, is inconceivable to the Germans although I had some tasty snacks from the bus ladies.

South America and Germany are very different from each other in many, many ways…sometimes the German aspects are better and sometimes the S.American aspects are.

02 Sep

Three Month Check In

Not only is today the end of our travel in South America, but the end of our first three months on the road. Time for a little review of what’s happened, what’s going well and what’s not, and answers to a few questions I’ve been asked.

  • Morning Sun, Paraty Traveling is easier than I thought it would be. The actual act of getting around, finding a placed to stay, having a meal, seeing the sights…is much easier than I thought it would be. I don’t know how hard I thought it would be, but it’s been easy even without knowing hardly any of the language. We rely on Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, Hotelz.com, Google, and countless travelogues for information…we don’t always get it right, but it isn’t hard. I hope this part continues.




  • Cresting Dead Womans Pass Traveling is harder than I thought it would be. I knew that it wasn’t going to be all sun drenched beers on the beach, that I wouldn’t always be in a good mood, that not every day at home is great so why would that change on the road, but the reality of it hit me a little harder than I was expecting. Probably magnified by own anxiety I found myself frustrated more often than I expected and I found that I was taking it out on Jason more often than not. I thought about it a lot and determined that it wasn’t because I was homesick but that rather I was just uncomfortable and anxious and I obviously needed to deal with it better. We talked about it and realized that we were at our worst when we didn’t have a plan, however short term that plan might be. Once we realized this we started planning a little bit more and things have definitely gotten easier again. I hope this part continues too.


  • Budget Screenshot Traveling is more expensive than we had planned. I won’t go into this too much as I’m planning a post to specifically talk about the budget. Suffice it to say that if you click on the budget link you will be overwhelmed by red font. We have talked about this plenty too and are acting on it in a way that helps us manage the money anxiety and no, it won’t involve putting a ‘Donation’ button on the website!


  • After an Afternoon By The Pool, Colca Canyon Do we like it? Yes, absolutely! Have you seen the smiles on our faces? Neither of us is even remotely homesick (sorry guys!). We are continually interested in the new place we are going and learning about the history and culture that we are faced with. We, obviously, feel that we are only scratching the surface of every place but it makes us connected to every single place we have visited and therefore forever interested in what happens there.

  • Official Start of the Trail Are we meeting others? The short answer is no, we are not meeting as many other people as we thought we would. We think we know why and sometimes we try harder but mostly I think we’ve just come to terms with it. Maybe this will change as we change countries, maybe not. Again, I’m planning a post about this specifically.




In The Crowd Are we traveling ‘off the beaten track’? This means different things to different people. I don’t think we’re ‘off the beaten track’ – we’ve been visiting major cities and sights and all the ‘must sees’ within them. To me, ‘off the beaten track’ means getting away from all other tourists and being on our own…no, we haven’t been doing that. We may often be the only ‘white’ tourist around but there are always other tourists around. However, we have stopped in some pretty small towns and have rented apartments in regular neighborhoods to get a feel for a city…to me that’s a little bit off the beaten track, but you won’t find me out in the jungle without a guide trying to communicate with the natives to get some dinner and a bed!

I know that as we continue to travel, our  expectations, frustrations, realizations and style will continue to evolve. This is us at the three month mark…I’ll check in again at six months and see where we’re at.