Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Turkey

My Top 10 of 2019

With the New Year upon us it’s time for my yearly top 10 travel destinations of the past year. It was another epic year of travel. I spent 103 days traveling outside of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a few fun weekend trips exploring Saudi thrown into the mix. More on that in a bit. I took 14 separate trips, which for someone who’s terrified of flying is no easy feat. I visited 15 different countries, 6 of them new to me. 5 of those were solo trips. A few of the trips were with friends and several were with my guy. I visited Dubai 3 times because who doesn’t love a quick weekend escape to Dubai. Liechtenstein was my 82nd country.

2019 was the year I became a puppy mom. We rescued a super cute puppy who is a saluki mix and he’s quite honestly the best memory for me of the year. I ended the year twisting my knee on a cobble stoned road in Nice, France that resulted in me having to cancel the rest of my trip. I ended up tearing my meniscus and nearly 4 weeks later I’m still having a lot of difficulty getting around. I did make a travel medical claim for it but am still waiting for that to be paid. I’ll be blogging about my experiences with that whole process later as I get asked a lot about who I get medical insurance through while traveling. This is the first claim I’ve had to make though so I’ll let you know who it’s with and if I’d recommend them in the next couple weeks.

There’s a lot of changes coming up in 2020. I’ve decided not to re-contract as a nurse in Saudi and my current contract will finish at the beginning of February. I’ll be staying in Saudi for a while though as my best friend is flying in on a tourist visa and we are doing a girls road trip from Jeddah up the coast and circling back to Riyadh. I’ll be posting a lot about it on Instagram- I’m sure it will be very entertaining. I’m also looking into hosting a couple weekend trips here in Saudi by partnering with a tour company which I think will be a lot of fun. I’ve already got plans to come back to Saudi under a tourist visa to keep exploring, so Saudi I’m not done with you yet! Anyways, let’s get to my travel list….

1. Turkey

Last January I took a week long solo trip to Turkey. I’d previously visited Turkey back in 2011 and had fallen in love with the architecture. I split my time between Istanbul and Cappadocia. I arrived in Istanbul and spent 2 days exploring the sites on the European side. It was exactly as I remembered it. The sites were stunning (Blue Mosque, Hajia Sophia, Topkapi) and the men were as irritating as my first visit. Truth be told I was pretty exhausted after those 2 days of constantly being followed, cat called and chatted up. Even wearing my headphones did not stop the numerous unwanted advances. I was over it.

I spent 2 nights in Cappadocia for the sole purpose of hot air ballooning over the snow covered landscape. As many things do, this was added to my travel list after seeing some photos on Instagram. Oh the power of the Gram. I stayed in Uchisar which is a quieter part of Cappadocia and fortunately got an upgrade to a suite with a fireplace and a deep soaking tub. I made good use of both. It was super relaxing, and the hot air ballooning was easily one of my favourite memories of the year, despite it being well below freezing. I would highly, highly recommend doing this. I’d hot air ballooned in the spring on my previous trip but I loved the winter scenery.

From here I returned to Istanbul but stayed on the Asian side of the city. Let me tell you this was such a change for the better. It is less touristy and way more chill so I could walk wherever I wanted and no one even looked my way. Yessssss. There’s lots to explore on the Asian side as well and it’s easy to walk over the Bosporus and get back to the European side. Things I’d recommend doing on the Asian side: check out the awesome street art (graffiti murals) in the Karakoy neighbourhood, get a traditional Turkish hamam with massage, and visit the Dolmabahce Palace.

2. Cairo, Egypt

In February I flew for a quick weekend away to Cairo with a group of friends. I’d been to Egypt a couple times before, but had only really got to spend a few hours in Cairo on a layover on the way to Europe several years ago. At that time we did a quick city tour and saw some of the sites via bus, but didn’t really cover much. When you research visiting Cairo most blog posts will tell you one day is enough. Get in see the pyramids and get out. Well I must be the exception because I could’ve very easily and happily spend a third day there.

Besides seeing the pyramids and the sphinx there’s actually quite a bit to see. We visited the pyramids mid morning and the crowds weren’t insane. You can enter into the larger pyramid but be warned it’s very muggy once you’re inside. If you are at all even remotely claustrophobic I’d give it a pass. I did it but the entire time I wished I could’ve gone back in time 15 min to before I’d agreed to it and said no. Once you’re in it’s hard to abort the mission if there’s a lot of people in it. You’ve been warned! Also I just want to say that I had the best time interacting with the local people. I was handed a baby for photos. Toddlers were pushed at me to have photos taken. They were terrified, I was loving it. Some young guy climbed part way up the pyramid and held his baby out in a cringe worthy Michael Jackson moment to show us his baby. But over all the locals were very welcoming and I felt safe. I do realize that Egypt is not the most stable of countries and that anything can happen at anytime, but I really enjoyed it.

So here’s what you shouldn’t miss…. Visit the Muhammed Al Pasha mosque and Saladin Citadel. The mosque is stunning with it’s picture perfect archways and the views overlooking the city are spectacular. Visit the Valley Temple of Chefren near the Sphinx and take some cool pillar photos. Check out Zooba restaurant. I’m a big foodie and this place serves local street food. The restaurant is small but well worth the wait. Try koshari my favourite Egyptian dish made of chick peas, lentils, rice, pasta, fried onions and a tomato sauce. So yumm. Visit the Egyptian museum which was looted during the Egyptian revolution of 2011- about half of the stolen items have now been returned. The museum is amazing. Don’t visit Cairo without going. A new larger museum is scheduled to open in 2020. We also visited the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar which is colourful and bustling and pretty overwhelming. This is the place to buy your Egyptian souvenirs from. Had we had an extra day we would’ve done a Nile river cruise and also visited Saqqara and the pyramid of Djoser. Next time…..

3. Tunisia

Tunisia had low-key been on my list for a while, but after seeing Instagram posts about it on fellow blogger Expat Panda’s Instagram it skyrocketed to the top of my list. So last March I spent a week exploring this stunning country. First off, it was all the things I loved about Morocco, with out all the things I hated about Morocco. It was stunning architecture, and the cutest little hotels that looked like they were designed solely for Instagram. I loved the food and the patterns of the dishes and the largely unpopulated tourist sites. I also loved that at no point during the trip were we grabbed or followed or yelled at or sexually leered at.

I organized us a driver for the time that we were there and we had a pretty jam-packed itinerary except for the last couple nights where we checked into a fancy hotel in Tunis. Here were the highlights from that trip: Spend some time exploring the Medina of Tunis- stop at the small museum called Dar Lasram. We stumbled upon this building as it was next door to where we stayed and it has stunning tile designs and archways that won’t disappoint. Visit the UNESCO site Ruins of Carthage and marvel at the Roman technology. The nearby amphitheater is very well preserved and dates from the end of the first century. Sidi Bou Said is an adorable town and an absolute must as the whole place is varying shades of blue. Photographers will fall in love.

The town of Kairouan makes for a nice stop en route to Sousse. The mosque there is one of the largest Islamic monuments in northern Africa. Don’t miss the smaller Mosque of the Barber. It’s beautiful. Spend a night in Sousse and try the fish couscous and explore the Medina. On the way to Sfax stop at the El Jem and tour the 3rd century UNESCO Roman Amphitheater. It’s impressive and the third largest Roman amphitheater in the world. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. There were maybe 5 other tourists there when we visited- that’s exactly how I like it!

For you Star Wars fans there are several places to visit where filming took place- I’d recommend Matmata and Medenine as those were the ones we saw, however there are several more. Take the ferry over to Djerba Island. If you like urban art than stay in Djerbahood where there are 250 murals that were painted in 2014. Many are faded, but I loved exploring the town and coming across these artistic delights.

4. Taif, Saudi Arabia

In March I also took a weekend trip with a big group of friends to see the Rose Festival in Taif. Taif is located southwest of Riyadh and is an easy 1hr flight. The Rose Festival takes place from mid-March to the end of April each year. This is the time of year that the Damask roses bloom. These roses are world famous and the oil is quite expensive and is used in many popular perfumes like Lancome and Givenchy.

If you visit during this season you can visit the rose farms and learn how the oil is collected, see the roses in bloom, and buy a dizzying array of rose products. But that’s not all there is to do in Taif. You can take in the breathtaking views of the Al-Hada mountains and see the equally famous red butted baboons. I’m not a fan of monkeys so I tend to steer clear and watch them from afar. The regional Al-Shareef museum is well worth a visit and gives you a historical perspective of the area. You can take a cable car down to the village of Al Kar and take in the mountain views- this was a highlight for many in our group.

A visit to Taif should also include a trip to the local market. Honey from this region is said to be the best in Saudi so definitely take some home with you. We feasted on local Taif bread that is made of 7 types of flour, and ate some of the best chicken of my life prepared in a traditional Yemeni way. For those of you Saudi based I’ll keep you posted on an upcoming weekend to visit Taif in March or April to see the roses. You won’t be disappointed.

5. Kazakhstan

So if you’ve been following my blog for a while then you know I like to visit some off the beaten path locales. Kazakhstan was one of 2 “Stans” I was lucky enough to visit in 2019. For a week in June, Boobae and I flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was the first of the two Eid holidays and the flight schedule and price was right. We based ourselves in Almaty and did day trips from there. We also ate some fantastic food (not Kazakh food) and sipped wine to my hearts content.

Almaty is a really green city with tons of parks so it’s great for just leisurely strolling. The Opera House is a really cool building and Zenkov’s Cathedral has a real fairy tale air to it. We did a food tour which was essentially a walking tour that included food and we visited the Green Market. I love to visit markets when I’m traveling to see the fresh produce and mix with the locals. On the food tour we also visited a local restaurant to taste some local dishes. If you are vegetarian skip along to the next paragraph. I hate to say it but Kazakh food was just not great. First they eat horse and I just couldn’t get my head around it. Boiled meat with no seasoning is never good and fermented camel milk tastes exactly how it sounds. I’ll leave it at that.

We visited Big Almaty Lake which has stunning mountain views and the turquoise waters of this natural reservoir are the perfect backdrop for photos. We visited Tamgaly-Tas which is a canyon set alongside a river to see some petroglyphs. As it turns out the petroglyphs were at a place hours away called Tamgaly. This particular travel day was a bit of a miss as our driver had no idea where we were going and in the end we saw some stunning scenery, but none of the actual things we had set out to see. Such is life.

We visited the Museum of Rare books which involved us getting quite lost in a huge historical building but we eventually found what we were looking for. We visited a nomadic cultural center with traditional Kazakh people wearing traditional clothes and learned about the culture and traditional sports like archery and horsemanship. The best thing we did though was visit this abandoned hospital that treated WW2 veterans. It was creepy and I loved every second of it. So that’s Kazakhstan, but obviously it’s a huge country so there’s loads more a person could explore.

6. Al Soudah, Saudi Arabia

In August I flew to the Asir region of Saudi Arabia which is in the south, bordering Yemen. I was invited to attend the Al Soudah Season festival and was super pumped to explore a region of Saudi I hadn’t previously visited. The festival was held on Al Soudah mountain which is about a 40min drive from the city of Abha. This is the highest point in Saudi Arabia and the landscape and mountain views are spectacular.

If you visit the Asir region make sure you venture down to the village of Rijal Almaa on the valley floor. This historical village was on the trade route from Yemen up to Mekkah and it is on the tentative list of upcoming sites to be awarded UNESCO status. The village consists of around 60 palaces made of clay, mud and wood and you can wander from the better preserved ones into the ruins. I was fortunate enough to explore with fellow blogger Blue Abaya and we took a bunch of photos. Late afternoon really is the best time as you will the perfect light. Apart from Al Soudah festival, there is also the “Flowerman Festival” which took place in August of 2019. 2020 dates not yet released.

7. Mauritius

In August we escaped the oppressive Saudi summer for 7 nights of “winter” south of the equator on the island of Mauritius. I booked our trip so we stayed on every side of the island. We stayed 2 nights on the west coast, 3 nights on the northern coast at a rather disappointing all-inclusive, 1 night on the east coast and 1 night on the south. Mauritius is a seriously stunning country. It was winter while we were there so the temps were like 20-25C which to me is perfect. Here were a few of the highlights….

Our taxi driver in Port Louis named Kalam was the absolute best. He had a pet bird named Bebe who sometimes drove with him but also had a slightly jealous side (Bebe not Kalam) and I was so all about that damn bird. Boobae wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was, but I’ll tell you that 4 months later I’m still getting whatsapp pictures of Bebe. We spent an afternoon exploring the capital city of Port Louis- if you go, make sure to visit the UNESCO site of Aapravasi Ghat. It’s an absolute must and tells the history of slavery on the island. This is extremely important seeing that 70% of Mauritians today are ancestors to these indentured laborers.

If you are a foodie than choose your all-inclusive hotel based off the food reviews otherwise you might end up disappointed like me. Food is a big part of travel for me, and I don’t want to eat every meal at a buffet that feels like it’s some distant cousin’s wedding. The drinks however were very on point. Make sure to sit and watch the sunset every day. Mauritian sunsets are amazing and I took photos every single evening.

As I mentioned we spend 1 night on the east coast and besides that damn bird Bebe this was my favourite part. We stayed at this boutique hotel called Salt of Palmar and although it wasn’t cheap it is seriously my favourite hotel. Like ever. And no I’m sadly not getting paid to say that. This place was so aesthetically pleasing, the colour scheme and decor were totally my jam, and the food was out of this world. Like no joke. The entire concept of the hotel is to locally source everything and be environmentally conscious. There are no single use plastic products. Every guest is given an aluminum water bottle that they can fill up around the resort. I vow to return and stay there again.

We spent a day touring to the south of the island. We visited the temple of Ganga Talao, the Black River Gorges, the Chamarel waterfall, went zip lining and saw the changing colours of the Seven Coloured Earth before spending our last night in a lovely bungalow with what is quite possibly the best view on the island over looking Le Morne. It was a lovely trip.

8. Armenia

In September I took a solo trip to Armenia. I based myself in Yerevan and explored it a couple days and then booked a lovely guide to do day trips out of the city. There is a ton of things to see in Armenia. For me it was pretty similar in landscape to when I visited Georgia (the country) and the food was pretty similar. I’m sorry to say though that I preferred Georgian wine to Armenian. I visited so many monasteries on this trip but these were the standout sites from the trip….

Sevanavank Monastery dates from the 9th century and overlooks Sevan Lake and that area is beautiful. I loved the white stones of Haghartsin Monastery complex from the 10th-13th century. It was interestingly recently renovated by the ruler of Sharjah in the UAE. The day we visited it was rainy and foggy which made it all the more cool as you pretty much drove out of the forest and then bam the monastery was visible. If you are in the town of Dilijan make sure to stop at the restaurant Tava. You won’t be sorry.

The 13th century Noravank Monastery is tucked into the red rock cliffs and I image it would be spectacular in the winter when the ground is covered in snow. Zvartnots cathedral ruins date from the 7th century and are well worth a stop, and they are a UNESCO site. Geghard Monastery is build into the cliff and the acoustics inside are amazing. There were professional singers singing while I was there and it literally brought tears to my eyes. It was a really moving moment. The Temple of Garni dates from the 1st century and is the only remaining pagan temple in the region. It is fantastic.

If you go to Armenia be sure to learn about the history of the country. Specifically the history with Turkey and the Armenian genocide. It is heartbreaking, but pertinent to understand how territory shifted, so that what is present day eastern Turkey actually used to be western Armenia. There is also a lot of biblical significance to this area. Mount Ararat is where Noah’s ark is said to have rested after the great flood. Also if you go I highly recommend Sofi the guide I used. It felt like I was traveling with an old friend!

9. Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan was my 81st country and the highlight of this past years travels for me. I’ll be raving about this country to anyone who asks me the question “where should I travel?” for a long time coming. I’m a big lover of Islamic architecture and I absolutely love tiled patterns so Uzbekistan was high up on my list. In October I spent 10 days traveling solo across the country. It is quite easily one of the safest countries I’ve visited. The only time I felt even remotely unsafe was with the lack of street lights in the old part of Bukhara- but that was just my over active imagination and not a genuine threat to my safety.

I flew into Tashkent and spent a night there and then flew to the small town of Khiva to the northwest of Tashkent. I spent 2 nights here and I’m glad I planned the trip this way. As I moved closer back towards Tashkent the cities got larger. I loved exploring Khiva. All the tourist sites are compact and easy to walk to. Every which way you turn is a photographers dream. The building courtyards are decorated in varying patterns of blue, white and turquoise tiles and I couldn’t get enough of it. Also fun fact: Uzbekistan food is really good. Khiva is known for pumpkin dumplings and this green dill pasta topped with like a tomato stew. Both were really good. Be sure to try Plov in every city- it’s a very traditional dish from the region made of rice, with meat. Each city has a different variation and I actually quite liked it. Make sure to walk the old city walls of Khiva at sunset.

From here I visited Bukhara which is larger and therefore the historical sites are more spread out. The highlights from here were: learning about the Jewish history of the city, and visiting the Kalyan minaret and mosque. The archways are amazing and you’ll want to take a bunch of photos. Go early in the morning prior to the tour buses arriving for the best pictures. Bukhara is known for its fancy pottery and it’s the place to buy dishes. Which naturally I did– and I’m total shit at bartering so I probably overpaid, but I love them. Just outside of the city is Sitorai Mohi Hossa the Emir’s summer palace. It is well worth a visit and the main entrance gate is the most colourful I saw in Uzbekistan.

I took the train from Bukhara to Samarkand. The complex of Registan is made up of three large madrasahs and was the heart of the ancient Timur dynasty. They date from the 1400-1600’s. The Gur-e-Amir complex dates from the 15th century and if you have the chance to visit at sunrise I would recommend it. You’ll have the whole site to yourself and the caretaker will likely unlock the door so you can see the gold ornate inner chamber before opening hours. It’s fantastic. My most favourite spot though was Shah-I-Zinda complex which has the most colourful mausoleums I’ve ever seen. So. Many. Photos. If you like abandoned places there’s a place called Ishratkhana which is an abandoned mausoleum from the 15th century located a little ways out of the main city center. It’s pretty cool.

I ended the trip by taking the train back to Tashkent. I ended up meeting an older Egyptian/British retired doctor at the train station and we chatted the whole train ride. We both had similar travel styles and it just so happened that his next couple of trips are to Ethiopia and Armenia (places I’ve been) so I was able to offer him advice. We even ended up being on the same flight back to Dubai so we chatted at the airport and still keep in touch. In Tashkent I hired a great local guide named Aziza and we walked some 19km around the city. She was awesome and we saw the main sites and made our way through the Chorsu Bazaar. Again, I love visiting local markets. Tashkent subway stations are some of the nicest in the region and they are well worth exploring. The Hotel Uzbekistan has really impressive city views from the top floor. It really was a jam packed 10 days.

10. Sicily, Italy

In November we flew to Palermo Sicily to meet up with my best friend and her boo. We spent two nights there and explored the nearby town of Monreale which was stunning views of the city below. We did a tasting menu at A’Cuncuma Restaurant which was delicious. We drove to Trepani and spent a night there. Drive up the hill overlooking the city to the town of Erice which has great views and some really cool graffiti murals. Stop by La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico which has yummy pastries. From Trepani we drove towards Agrigento. We stopped off at two really cool spots. In 1968 this area was hit by an earthquake that destroyed several towns. The site of Ruderi di Gibellina is a large scale landscape art exhibition by deceased artist Albert Burri. The entire destroyed city was covered in concrete with sections mapping out the streets and alleys. It is a large scale memorial and I’ve never seen anything like it. The nearby town of Ruderi di Poggioreale is largely in ruins and uninhabitable, but you can still explore it. Please note though- many of the buildings were in varying state of collapse so caution is needed.

In Agrigento we spent a night and the highlight was the Valley of the Temples which is exactly as it sounds. It’s a nice rolling walk past 4 temples in varying state of ruin with the ocean in the distance. Just lovely. From here Boobae and I returned to Palermo for 2 more nights where we had some downtime and explored the city. If you haven’t been to this part of Italy, add Sicily to your list!

So that wraps up my top 10 of 2019. I hope it gave you some new ideas for travel destinations! I wish you all a happy, healthy year in 2020.

Solo Female Travel

Ok so lets talk about solo female travel for a bit. I wrote this post back in January while on a solo trip to Istanbul and it’s a bit of a vent about my experience while traveling there as a solo female. If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m a pretty seasoned traveler. I’ve been to 77 countries now and at least 30 of those have been on my own. I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia off and on for over 5 years, and I’m pretty comfortable with being in cultures other than my own.

Anyways, I was in Turkey back in 2011 and the one major memory from that trip was how aggressive the men were. Like following you down the street, bombarding you with questions. Not as aggressive as Morocco was. In Turkey no man ever actually put his hands on me, but they were pretty annoying none the less. You’re probably reading this thinking, hang on, someone in Morocco put their hands on you? Yes. More than once. I couldn’t wait to leave. I figured this time Turkey would be different. I mean I’m 40 for god sakes. Surely past the age limit of trying to be picked up on the street. Boy was I wrong.

Now some women who read this will be saying to themselves- hey I traveled to Turkey and Morocco and had zero issues. And to you lucky ladies I say “good on ya.” Living in Saudi Arabia I’m used to not blending in. I mean blonde hair stands out. Same goes for India, all of Asia and the Middle East. One time in Syria I thought I was kinda fooling people because I kept getting asked if I was Russian which I thought was kinda cool until I learned that was code for “working girl”. The most surprising place I blended in though was Ukraine. People kept asking me if I was a local which I took as a compliment because everyone knows Ukrainian women are hella hot.

Whoah. Totally off track. I wrote this while sipping wine by the fire in Cappadocia watching the sunset so you can see how I could easily become distracted. So I arrived in Istanbul fairly uneventfully. I checked into my hotel and made a brisk walk over to the Hagia Sophia because I’m told it closed at 1700. It was like 1610. I got to the entrance and the gate is shut but there’s this helpful chap leaning against the gate who tells me it will open again in the morning at 9am. I stupidly assume he worked there. He asks where I’m from. I’m like Canada. He’s like where are you going now. And the light bulb flashes on in my head. I’m like oh just over to the Blue Mosque. And he’s all, but let me show you something over here and points across the street. And then he gets more insistent saying just 2min 2min. I’m like no. Thank you and I walk the opposite way.

So off to the Blue Mosque I go. Over the next 15min this scenario will repeat itself a couple more times. Hello. Where you from? What’s your name? How long you stay in Istanbul? Now mind you my body language and very active resting bitch face are giving off I’m quite certain zero signs that I’m wanting to be approached. How about I don’t want to tell you my name. Or what country I’m from. Or how long I’m staying because newsflash I don’t want to be talking to you. It’s all so annoying and ruined what should have been a pleasant afternoon.

So later that night I’m walking to a restaurant that the hotel recommended. And I accidentally miss the street. No biggie, it’s all very close to my hotel. As I’m turning around I walk past this dimly lit area where some men are sitting outside. I keep walking. Suddenly I hear…where in Canada are you from? Now I’m not wearing anything that would identify me as a Canadian. And people always just assume I’m American. So I turn back and it’s the same dude from outside the gate of the Hagia Sophia. And so I say near to Vancouver and turn to walk away and he’s like of I’ve been to so and so. And I’m like cool. And he’s like where are you going. And I’m like for dinner. And he’s like meet me for a drink after. And I’m like I can’t. And he’s like why not. And now I’m getting irritated. Because I just really want to say fuck off guy. (Sorry Pops but swear words get my point across better.) So I say because my boyfriend wouldn’t like it. To which he says well he’s not here is he. And so I just meekily say no and walk briskly away.

And then I get pissed. Because I’m so sick of taking this type of shit. As women we are taught to be polite otherwise you’ll be labeled a bitch. And men put us in this position. Like my body language is telling you I’m not interested. And I’m trying to walk away as you talk. So it’s kinda a no-brainer that I’m not down for this convo. And yet they persist. If I want to talk to you, you’ll know. Like I’d maybe make eye contact. Or look in your general direction. I’m a solo traveler so I pretty much know what I want to see and when I want to see it. I do not require random dude on the street’s opinion. And if I do I’ll ask. Sorry for this long vent but it’s annoying as fuck. And after several incidents like that it just made me want to hide in my hotel as opposed to being followed or chatted up by random dudes.

To be fair it’s not only Middle Eastern countries that this happens in. There was the time a friend and I were followed back to our hotel in Barcelona. Or the time in Cyprus where a Nigerian guy tried to follow us home and we quite literally had to run (like actually run) away from him while yelling at him to try and shame him into not following. I’ve had numerous incidents over the years while traveling where men have blocked my way. Often it’s to try and chat or show me something in their store. Either way it’s not ok. Then there is the grabbing that happens. And this has happened to me both in North America and while traveling. Sometimes it has been my wrist being grabbed onto to try and pull me into a store. Other times it’s more sexual in nature. A hand on my ass. A leg rubbing closer or against mine on a plane or train. Sometimes the acts cause me to take a pause as if to ask myself “that can’t really just have happened.” And yet they did. And because I’m a women they will likely happen again.

And I’m kind of at a loss for how to deal with it. Never travel again? Not an option. No more solo travel. Also not an option. I already take what I think are a number of necessary but saddening precautions. I carry a whistle on my key chain. I travel with a door stopper that I will put under my door in a hotel or hostel if it’s feeling at all dodgy. I have perfected the unwelcoming resting bitch face. If I’m in a crowded place sometimes I will put my headphones in to act as a deterrent to random dudes coming up for a chat. Oddly, this did not work at all in Istanbul and they would still come up. Sometimes I will just hold my phone up and pretend to have a conversation to lessen the chances of having unwanted interactions. I think what’s going to have to happen is that I’m just going to have to be ok with being labeled a bitch. As women we are socialized to be polite even with unwanted attention. And if we aren’t polite and thankful that some random stranger has just tried to chat, or asked us out, or said something sexual to us we are often met with being called the dreaded “B” word.

So that’s the vent. I debated whether to post it but I think it’s important to show that travel isn’t just about getting the right shot for instagram. And in no way do I regret solo travel as a woman nor do I think that women shouldn’t travel on their own because for me it has been hugely empowering. I’m also in no way saying not to travel to Morocco or Turkey. Those were just my experiences as a western looking woman. I just wanted to bring to light issues that female travelers face.

Safest of travels…..


Top 10 Middle East- Part 2

Earlier this week I shared with you Part 1 of my¬† top 10 favourite places in the Middle East, so here’s the second half…..

6. Muscat, Oman

Oh-man!!! Where to even start about Oman. It’s an amazing country. If you’re at all nervous about visiting a country in the Middle East I would say Oman would be the easiest. I loved it, and truth be told I immediately started looking into nursing positions there after my trip, but alas, there weren’t any at that time. We organized a week long tour that took us all over the country. The Omani coast is spectacular and there are tons of wadis (natural swimming holes) that you hike into and are really cool to explore. The city of Muscat is built around a harbor surrounded by the Al Hajar mountains to the west. There is a beautiful corniche to wander along, the Old Muttrah souk to explore and many great restaurants. We spent an afternoon visiting the Grand Mosque which was colourful and ornate. Ladies you will need to cover your hair and wear long sleeved tops. Somehow this slipped my mind and I had to spend $30 on an ugly striped mens long sleeve shirt to be allowed in. Sometimes I suffer from complete Middle East amnesia and forget about prayer times, or cultural practices. Showing up at a mosque with a tank top was one such occasion.

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7. Experience Bedouin Life and see the Desert, Jordan or Oman

The deserts in the Arabian peninsula are spectacular. Be it Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Oman the sand is the most beautiful shade of red or orange and stretches out towards the horizon. If you’re visiting the Middle East it would be a shame to pass up seeing the desert. Bedouins are the local nomadic people, and many still live in the desert although this is much less common than it was even 50 years ago. I would recommend the Red Sands in Saudi Arabia. It’s a great place to ride a camel or go ATVing in the sand dunes. Wadi Rum in southern Jordan is a huge tourist attraction and attracts trekkers, climbers and people like me who visit for the day. We had a local guide and were able to interact with some of the local people which I loved. You can stay overnight in one of the Bedouin camps which I would’ve loved to but we ran out of time. Wadi Rum is surrounded by really cool rock formations and literally every direction you turn is a postcard perfect view. Oman also has beautiful desert areas. We visited Wahiba Sands which is south of Muscat and spent an afternoon 4x4ing over the sand dunes, drinking tea with a Bedouin family, and standing around while our guide tried to fix a flat tire in the soft sand. This had us asking that age old question…….How many Bedouins does it take to change a tire? Good times.

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Wadi Rum, Jordan

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Wadi Rum, Jordan

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Wahiba Sands, Oman

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Bedouin mechanics, Oman

 

8. Istanbul. Turkey

Istanbul is a vibrant colourful city. It’s a great landing point for traveling in Turkey and you need at least 3 days to do it justice. Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus strait and essentially has one side in Europe and the other in Asia. It is a hugely historically significant city that was once a Christian city under Roman rule until it was conquered by the Ottomans and then converted to Islam. There is a ton to see, and so much excellent food to eat. When I went I stayed in the Sultanahment area (old town) which is easy walking distance to the big tourists attractions. Many of the hotels in that area have beautiful rooftop views, so you’ll get to eat your breakfast with a birds eye view of the Blue Mosque. The big highlights of Istanbul for me were the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topaki Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. The best and I seriously mean the BEST thing I did while in Istanbul was visit the Basilica Cistern. It’s a huge 6th century cistern from the Byzantine times and the lighting makes for beautiful photos. As you can imagine it’s dark and a bit creepy but really cool to explore. Me and my overactive imagination would cringe at the thought of being trapped alone down there though. When you go be on the look out for the 2 carved Medusa pillars.

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9. Qal’at al-Bahrain, Bahrain

To be fair there’s not a ton to do in Bahrain apart from shopping and drinking, but it does make a great weekend trip to get away from Saudi Arabia. Who knew that there were actually touristy things to do there? Well there’s a fort that also happens to be a UNESCO heritage site believe to date from 2300 BC. The outer fort is well preserved as are some of the archways and the inner portion looks very much like an archeological site. If you need a break from clubbing and shopping in Bahrain take an hour and go explore the fort. There are great city views from there.

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10. Islamic Arts Museum. Doha, Qatar

I’ve already raved about my love for this museum in a previous post which you can read here. I tend to get kinda bored in museums an my eyes glaze over and I’m far too lazy to bother with reading any of the signage around. This museum was the exception though. I love Arabic patterns and think that visually Arabic is such a beautiful written language. The museum is bright and open and laid out very well. If I’m ever back in Qatar I would check out this museum again. Oh- the best part. It’s free. I love free.

Well that wraps up my Top 10 Middle East recommendations. I could’ve easily made this a top 30 list though, as there are so many wonderful places worth exploring in this region.

Have you traveled in the Middle East? What were your top picks?

Top 10 Middle East- Part 1

I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on travel in the Middle East, but I sort of am. Self proclaimed of course. To count I’ve traveled within Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Oman. Even though I would love to go to Israel I have not yet been as having an Israeli stamp in one’s passport can create numerous problems traveling to the above countries I’ve mentioned. For security reasons I have not been to Iraq, Afghanistan or Yemen. I’m planning a weekend trip to Kuwait this spring and I’m super excited as I’ve just booked a trip to Iran in April. I’ve wanted to visit Iran for years and decided this spring was the time to do it. So anyways that’s where I’ve been. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite places in the Middle East, as it is a truly fascinating area of the world, and even though there are safety issues I still think if you have the means and curiosity you should go. Originally I was going to post this as one long post, but after seeing how long it actually was when I finished I’ve broken it into 2 parts. Enjoy!

1. Petra, Jordan

It’s no surprise that Petra Jordan is at the top of my Middle East travel list. It’s an amazing place, and a huge site well worth exploring. Also in terms of getting out of your comfort zone Jordan is a really easy country in the Middle East to explore. There are a lot of tourists, and the infrastructure is great. Also I’d say it’s pretty safe. Petra is Jordan’s #1 tourist site and has been the site of many movies- most famously Indiana Jones. The actual site dates from the Nabataeans who established Petra as their capital sometime in the early 5th century BC. The site is massive and you could easily spend an entire day exploring. The walk up to the site itself winds thru rock passages that are narrow but open up into an impressive view of the treasury. It’s best to go first thing when it opens at 6am when the temperatures are cooler and the tour buses haven’t yet rolled in. Once the tour buses arrive it can turn into a real shit show, and as you can imagine the summer months the temperatures are very high and there isn’t much shade. I went in October and even though it was cooler I remember being a sweaty mess by the time we left in the afternoon. My favourite place there was exploring the Monastery on the top. It’s a pretty steep hike, but you could take the lazy but more terrifying option like I did and ride a donkey. The paths are narrow and mine kept losing his footing so I had very vivid thoughts of flying over the side of the cliff and the donkey landing on top of me. It was pretty satisfying though passing all the other tourists who looked like they were seconds from passing out or giving up on the climb as we limbered past fanning ourselves on the back of a donkey. We didn’t have a chance to visit Petra at night. It takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night and the Treasury is lit up by candlelight. I’ve seen photos and it looks pretty awesome.

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2. Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia

I’ve already blogged about my visit to Mada’in Saleh, the sister city to Petra in the northwest of Saudi Arabia. Truth be told it’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited, mostly because it was devoid of tourists. It’s a little unfair that I’ve added it to this list as the only hope you have of seeing it is if you find yourself working in Saudi as they aren’t currently issuing tourist visas. I wanted to include it though because a lot of my readers are ex-pats in Saudi or people considering taking a job in Saudi and those are the people that should be booking their flights to Al Ula immediately to see this site. It’s more spread out than Petra and you’ll need a guide and driver to see it all. You can read what I previously wrote about it here…..

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3. Baalbek, Lebanon

Baalbek is located in the Beqaa valley in northern Lebanon  in an area that used to belong to Syria and is the homeland of Hezbollah. I have to admit it had a very different feel than being in Beirut and I remember there were a ton of billboards with the faces of martyrs on them, which was a little unsettling. Baalbek is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Lebanon and well worth a visit. We did a day trip from Beirut with a stop- off at Ksara winery which was a great way to end the day. Baalbek is a sister site of the Roman ruins at Palmyra in Syria. Construction on the temple of Juniper is thought to have started around 15BC. This temple is the central point of the Baalbek site and is very impressive as you can see.

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4. Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia is kinda an awkward meeting of Flintstone’s prehistoric era meets phallic rock formations. It’s strange but very picturesque. If you’re going, do yourself a favor and book to stay at one of the many cave hotels. You would be insane not to, because where else are you going to sleep in a luxury cave dwelling. When you go I would give yourself a few days to explore. There’s lots of hiking to be done in the area, and the area is scattered with underground old cities and above ground open air churches. Many of the churches are from the Byzantine era and the paintings in them are often very well preserved, except that many of the eyes or faces have been vandalized as they were seen as idol worship when Islam was brought to the region. The churches were largely abandoned in the population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1923. The other thing you should make sure to do is splurge and treat yourself to an early morning hot-air balloon ride. Just do it. You’ll be awestruck by the beauty of the countryside below and it’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences. I loved it, and am even considering going back this winter as I would love to see what Cappadocia looks like covered in snow. I’m sure it looks magical.

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5. The Dead Sea, Jordan or Israel

It’s not often you get into a body of water and come out of it dirtier than you were when you went in, but such is a swim in the Dead Sea. It’s the lowest point on earth and reported to have the highest salt content of any other body of water. It’s almost 10x more salty than the ocean. It’s an experience going for a dip in it because due to the mineral salt content it makes you super buoyant. So you stroll down to the water edge and try to walk in and by the time the water reaches part way up your legs you lose your footing and will end up on your back. It’s a really bizarre experience, but worth going none the less. Don’t make the same mistake and shave your legs ladies before you go, because trust me. Salt stings something fierce and you’ll regret it straight away. There are a bunch of luxury resorts dotting the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. I stayed at the Movenpick which was fancy and lovely. They also had a fabulous infinity pool.

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The second part of my list will come out later in the week……inshallah….

 

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