Incredible India Part 1 - Pune

 
thetravelhub_india_pune-4409.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Pune, India, May 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My first stop on a 18 day tour around India would be Pune.

Getting There:

I fly into Mumbai with flydubai. Where I can, I prefer to fly with flydubai as their rates are always the best and I dont tend to need add ons like inflight meals or entertainment, so I prefer to pocket the savings.

I had originally planned to fly into Chennai, however the team playing in Chennai had been forced to move their games due to ongoing protests that had begun to affect the cricket games. So, instead I moved my flight to land in Mumbai and transfer from there to Pune, where Chennai would now play their home game.

Landing at Mumbai airport was far less dramatic than I imagined. Perhaps it was because it was 6:00am, but there was almost no crowd and getting through immigration was really quick. As Australian passport holder, I require only an online visa to enter India - be aware you need to complete this process at least 4 days prior to travel and the online form is quite long. You dont really receive any offical visa or even a pdf - only an email which you can print and take with you.

I spoke to a lot of people about internal transport in India. I had initially intended to use trains as my main way of getting from city to city, however was warned against this for several reasons - there can be long delays, lots of cancellations, they are extremely crowded during holiday times (when I was there) and that using private cars can be far easier. In some situations, even the process of booking train tickets can be a frustrating process - see the review on Agra! So, with that in mind, I actually found using Uber to be a really reliable way to get around India! It was safe, relatively clean and not too expensive. I caught an Uber from from Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport (Sahar International) (map) to Pune for Rs3,600 ($50) and it took just over 3 hours. It was an easy drive and we stopped on the way for food. 

Local Knowledge:

I always like to stay connected when I travel - partly to keep up on social media and sports results (no seriously.....), but mostly to remain contactable for family. So I try and get a sim card in the country I land in and load it with internet data. India was one of the more difficult places I have found to get a sim card - so be prepared to use your home sim and pay for some roaming! The shop at the airport weren't open until 10am which was the first problem. Next even at teh shops in Pune, I required a letter from the hotel (police clearance form), my passport, the print out of my visa and a passport photo - so have all these things with you. Even when purchased, the sim card took 2 days to activate. The coverage from my Vodafone sim was average at best. The only positive was that the internet was very cheap!

Where To Stay:

I stayed at Hotel Saga Plaza (map) and found it to be overall very disappointing. The hotel is quite dated, with old furniture and fittings. The rooms are adequate and if you are just looking for a place to sleep it may be sufficient. The disappointing aspect for me was that the staff appeared to show very little interest in their guests, to the point of ignoring you at the front desk - which is not something i had encountered to that extent in many hotels before!

Depending on your budget and expectations, I would likely look elsewhere in Pune. For the same price you are likely able to find somewhere better.

What To Do:

Pune is largely an academic city, with many top Universities. As a consequence the city is home to a lot of younger people either studying or working.

I found the easiest way to get around in most cities in India was via rickshaw - they are cheap, easy to find and for themes part faster than anything else. 

I caught a rickshaw to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (map) - which is a quirky collection of everyday items used in Indian life  - everything from spoons, typewriters, doors, artwork and statues. Its an interesting look back at how cultures in Indian have lived over time. Cost is Rs200 for foreigners and extra to use a camera (Rs500). The museum is open from 10am to 5pm.

From there I went to Shaniwar Wada Fort (map)- a palace once occupied by the Peshwar rulers. It was built in 1732 and largely damaged by fire in 1828. The huge fort walls and remained as did the enormous gateway, which was built so large because at the time, the rulers would arrive to the palace on the back of elephants. It is an easy walk around the walls of teh fort and lots of local families come of an afternoon to enjoy the gardens. Entry is Rs200 for foreigners and the gates are open 9am to 5pm

thetravelhub_india_pune-4459.jpg

Somewhere unique to visit close to Pune, which I dignity have time for is the Osho Meditation Resort. There are a long list of conditions, costs and procedures associated with entering the resort as a day guest. It is a luxurious property based around the practices Oshu (Bhagwan Three Rajneesh) a flamboyant "guru" who advocated sex as a pathway to enlightenment!

There is a fun nightlife scene in Pune and somewhere nice to visit on a weekend evening is Classic Rock Coffee Company (map)- a really laid back venue that hosts a lot of live music, including from local performers. It has a very chilled atmosphere and is a great place o go for a drink with friends or to meet people.

Eating:

Pune is a great place to try some traditional Maharashtran cuisine. Definitely find a restaurant serving traditional Thali style meals - you are presented with a large metal plate and the server will come and offer a range of foods which are placed around teh plate and eaten by hand. The dishes are vegetarian and range from very mild to moderately spiced. You will generally have rice, a range of dal, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and breads. It is an experience in itself to not just try the food, but the serving and eating. I ate at Shabree (map) and the food was full of flavour - definitely worth a try when visiting Pune.

There are a number of street food options everywhere in Pune. For the most part during my stay in India, I resisted the temptation of trying the genuine street food from the small stands. I normally love sampling all sorts of street food when I travel, but since i had a tight schedule and cricket games to get to, I didn't take the risk!

Pune has quite a strong food culture with cuisines from all over the world.  It is home to India's only dedicated food magazine - Trofii, so this will be a good start if you are visiting Pune and looking for some culinary inspiration!. I was lucky enough to have dinner with the magazine's director & editor, Vidhya (Instagram: @vidhyatiwari) who shared a lot of insight into the food scene in Pune and India.

Must Do:

My favourite thing to do in almost any city I travel to is to get out and walk around. I will usually try to find out where the local markets are, as thats usually the best place to find as many local people and get a great insight into a city's culture.

Shree Shiva Chhatrapati Market (Pune Yard Market) (map), the local market in Pune is relatively small and is not somewhere to visit for vegetarians or those who get a little queasy. Compared to some other markets I would visit in places like Bangalore, this market isn't really a on the same level. But for me its more about getting out, walking the streets, meeting local people and chatting with them about their lives.

Must See:

My main inspiration to visit India this time was the cricket! So my first IPL really was a highlight! Due to circumstances, this match had been shifted from Chennai to Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. The stadium isn't actually in Pune and the traffic getting from Pune to the ground meant I probably could've stayed in Mumbai and driven from there! That said, the experience of being in the crowd for a game featuring MS Dhoni's Chennai (who would go on to win the tournament) and Virat Kholi's Bangalore was unforgettable. The atmosphere in the stadiums is intense and the passion the fans have not just for teams, but for individual players is incredible. If you love sport and even more, if you love cricket, make a point of visiting India during the IPL!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

A huge concern for travellers visiting India is staying healthy! For the most part I avoided getting really sick by only drinking bottled water/juices/soft drinks (make sure the seals are genuine and haven't been refilled), not drinking ice cubes, avoiding salad and not eating at the small food stands. I still ate at a lot of local restaurants and cafes and had few issues.

I did take with me all the precautions in terms of electrolytes and immodium in case there was an issue, I got me vaccinations up to do date before I flew and was cautious about hygiene. Standards in India will range from genuine 5 star luxury to literally seeing people defecate in the street next to a restaurant! If you are careful and do a few basic things, you should be fine. I will write a blog on "staying healthy in India soon".

Excess Baggage:

Whilst I never felt unsafe in Pune, or in India for that matter, taking care when crossing roads and in traffic is a priority! The roads are busy, nobody indicates and a short toot o the horn is the only warning you will get as a rickshaw or taxi flies past you!

thetravelhub_india_pune-4416.jpg

Istanbul, Turkey - One City, Two Continents, A World of Culture

thetravelhub_istanbul_blue mosque-.jpg
 

Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual
Family

 

Destination: Istanbul, Turkey. April 2018

Inspiration:

I had visited Istanbul around 5 years ago and loved the unique culture, architecture and atmosphere of the city. This time I had the opportunity to take a group of Dubai based social media personalities to experience Istanbul as part of The Travel Hub's curated travel.

Getting There:

We were very fortunate to be looked after by flydubai and flew Business Class from Dubai to Sabiha Gocken (SAW) airport.  Often, the business class option with flydubai is comparable to the economy class fare on other airlines, meaning you can enjoy all the perks and comforts of business class without blowing your travel budget just getting there! The list of destinations offered by flydubai seems to grow every month, to learn more, check out the review on our website (click here).

There are 2 international airports in Istanbul, Attaturk and Sabiha Gocken. It is important to know which one you're flying in and out of, because quite literally Attaturk is in Europe and Sabiha Gocken is in Asia! Both are a little way out of the main area of Istanbul. Hotels will often provide an airport transfer or this can be arranged through your booking. Both our hotels provided transfers which saved any need for searching for options close to flying. Otherwise, we found Uber to work really well in Istanbul - cheap, efficient and clean. I would definitely use Uber in preference over the local taxis, which were for the most part rude and lazy. The Ubers are often actually quite luxurious - large vans with leather interior!

Local Knowledge:

Often when you travel, it helps to have certain things on the ground looked after for you. We used a service run by Istanbul Tourist Pass to assist in a lot of the logistical details during our visit. The website and app based platform provides a number of services that will make your visit to Istanbul easier and save you money. 

Staying connected online was an important feature for our group and we were provided with a portable "dongle" that provided unlimited wireless internet for multiple devices. Whether you're using this for social media, keeping in contact or simply searching for somewhere to eat nearby, having internet access is becoming essential for modern travel.

The pass also allowed priority access to things such as boarding the hop-on-hop-off Bosphorus cruise, which can be a huge advantage during busy months when these can get crowded. Similarly, we booked our guided tours of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern through Istanbul Tourist Pass and our private guide provided priority access, avoiding the lengthy queues and saving us hours of waiting in lines.

Istanbul Tourist Pass is an easy way to plan your your activities in Istanbul as well as a great way to save money if you're looking at experiencing a number of the attractions! 

Where To Stay:

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet: (map)
We spent the first 2 nights in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, staying at Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet. This property was opened in 2017 and is stunningly appointed in traditional Ottoman design, which really sets the atmosphere for where you are staying. The interior has been expertly handcrafted and the detail of the workmanship is an impressive feature.

The rooms are beautifully furnished and the bathrooms in particular are themselves an "instagrammable" highlight, with each having a unique Ottoman mosaic. If you are really looking to indulge, there is a glamorous Sultan suite that takes luxury to the next level. Your booking will even include private use of a Bentley chauffeur during your stay.

Ajwa has just opened the first of its neighbourhood apartments which provide a wonderful alternative to staying in a traditional hotel. The 4 bedroom apartments can be shared amongst a group or a family and have features including a small "winter garden", private Hammam and your own kitchen facilities which can come with staff.

The breakfast at Ajwa Hotel is a wonderful selection of traditional regional cuisine and in the evening you can dine at the Azerbaijan inspired Zefaran Restaurant. The food is richly traditional and the view back over the Sultanahmet area creates the perfect atmosphere.

The Afiya Spa is the ideal opportunity to enjoy a traditional Turkish Hammam, so after a day wandering through the Grand Bazaar you can return and be fully refreshed ready for your next day of exploring the cultural sights. 

Perhaps one of the best features of this stunning property is its location within Istanbul's most popular tourist area - Sultanahmet. It is one of few hotels providing 5 star luxury in this more traditional neighbourhood. The convenience of being able to walk straight from the hotel doorsteps, through the colourful streets and a short distance to the iconic Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia is a wonderful convenience.

Park Hyatt Istanbul - Macka Palas: (map)
We then stayed 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Istanbul, which is located in the heart of modern Istanbul, close to the trendy shopping and dining areas The hotel is everything you come to expect from a Park Hyatt property, with beautifully appointed rooms that are much larger than what you will find in most hotels. 

There is a rooftop pool and bar that is an oasis in the city, especially during the warmer months. The perfect place to relax and enjoy a poolside drink. The fitness centre is excellent if you are a traveller who likes to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

To upscale your stay at the Park Hyatt, you can consider the Presidential suite, which is more like an apartment than a hotel room. In addition to the stunning bedrooms, there is an upstairs sunroom perfect for unwinding with a good book and a large balcony with stunning views back over the iconic Bosphorus.

The breakfast at the Park Hyatt is something to absolutely ensure that you have included in your booking! You have the availability of a buffet breakfast along with selections from the menu including a variety of egg options, pancakes and local favourites such as Kuvurma & Menemen. 

A feature we found in both the Ajwa and Park Hyatt hotels was the staff were incredibly warm, friendly and accomodating. If you are visiting Istanbul for a 4 or more days, I would definitely recommend staying a couple of nights in Sultanahmet and then a couple of nights closer to Taksim. This allows the perfect opportunity to explore the best areas of Istanbul. I couldn't recommend these 2 hotels more highly based not just on the quality of the rooms, but also on the service they provide!

What To Do:

You can essentially separate Istanbul into different neighbourhoods and devote time to visiting each of these separately when travelling to the city.

Sultanahmet: (map)

My favourite area to explore in Istanbul is without doubt the "old" area known as Sultanahmet. It is here that much of the historically and culturally significant buildings can be found, but also where you will find a lot of the authentic places to eat, shop and just generally explore! A huge benefit of staying at the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet was the ease of walking from the hotel to any often highlights around this neighbourhood. Even the streets themselves are entertaining to wander through with camera in hand.

The Grand Bazaar (map) is an enormous traditional market with over 3,000 shops. You can buy almost anything here for a price that you will agree upon with the storekeeper. They are far more experienced with bargaining than you, but its entertaining to test your skills. You can definitely find great quality and good deals if you know what you want and have the time to wander through. Be aware the Bazaar is closed on Sundays and public holidays! Its opening hours are 8:30am to 7:00pm. We bought small souvenir bracelets, plates and scarves at a relatively cheap price. You can wander through most of the Bazaar in under 2-3 hours.

There is another small Bazaar close to the Blue Mosque - Arasta Bazaar (map), which is nice to walk through. It has several of the similar style of shops as the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar but on a far smaller scale. If you dont like crowds, this might be more appealing.

Not far from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Bazaar (map) and this is the place to do some gift shopping! You can buy all variety of Turkish sweets (Turkish delight, baklava, nuts, dried fruits), a huge range of spices and every sort of tea you can imagine. Again, the price you pay will come down to your bargaining skills, so you dont have to settle on the first offer! It will take you less than an hour to wander through the straight Spice Bazaar.

We used a guide arranged through Istanbul Tourist Pass to take us through the main historical buildings of Sultanahmet. Even if you normally like to explore places yourself, I found having a tour guide around Sultanahmet really helpful. Firstly the history is quite complex and involves several different phases. Secondly, it saves a large amount of time being able to fastback the queues and know what areas of these very large buildings to visit. 

First we went to Topkapi Palace (map) - now a museum, it was once the residence and headquarters for the Ottoman Empire. The details of how the Sultan of the time lived during the Ottoman time is fascinating, as is the evolution of this role through history. The Palace is divided into distinct areas that at one time, separated different the classes. It is interesting to learn about the history and relationships of the Sultan, his family, associates and workers who all lived in the Palace. Much of the Palace is now a museum, containing a huge number of mostly Ottoman and Islamic artefacts. Entry is L40 and opening hours are 9am to 6:45 (April-Oct) 4:45 (Nov-March).

The Basilica Cistern (map) is an impressive underground chamber built in 532 during the Byzantine Empire. It was used to store water that was delivered via aqueducts, supplying the Great Palace. When the Byzantine vacated the Great Palace, the cistern was closed and forgotten about for centuries to the point nobody in Istanbul knew it existed. In 1545, it was rediscovered when rumours of people collecting water and even catching fish from their basement lead researchers to locate the huge chamber. The symmetrical marble columns are impressive, as is the feeling of walking through the dripping chamber on a hot day in Istanbul. There are currently restoration works being done and the water has been drained from the majority of the cistern, leaving a uniquely exposed floor. Normally the floor is covered in water and you may recognise it from the scenes in the movie Inferno. Entry is L20 and opening hours are 9am to 6pm. The lighting inside the cistern is very dull, so look to use long exposure settings on your camera to create striking images (especially if the ground is full of water),

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (map) is one of the most fascinating buildings in the world, let alone in Istanbul. Not only due to the architectural brilliance, but also because of the story it tells in relation to Istanbul as a city. Commissioned as a Church in 537 by the Byzantines, it became a mosque in 1453 during the Ottoman rule and since 1935, has been a museum. It is one of the only places in the world where you will see elements of Christian and Islamic design, artwork and traditions co-exist in the same building. Many of the original Christian mosaics have been painstakingly restored and this work continues, at considerable expense. Opening hours are 9am to 6pm (April to Oct) & 4pm (Nov to March), entry is L40 for adults.

thetravelhub_istanbul_hagia sophia-2860.jpg

Unfortunately, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) (map) was closed inside for restorations when we visited Istanbul, so we could only see it from the outside. At most times, you are allowed to enter and do a tour inside the Blue Mosque (outside of prayer times unless you are there to pray). It is one of those buildings, that you can get so many different perspectives from different places and it can look quite different depending on the time of day. We even found a small carpet shop that allowed us to take photos from their rooftop terrace which offered a really unique view of the Blue Mosque. See below for my favourite places to view/photograph the Blue Mosque.

thetravelhub_istanbul_blue mosque-3229.jpg

Probably my favourite place in all of Istanbul is the area between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - Sultanahmet Park (map). Especially on a warm spring day, there is a wonderful atmosphere with so many people coming to spend time there. Street food vendors selling Simit and roast corn on the cob, the fountains going and the gardens full of colour........all that between 2 of the most impressive buildings. On the East side are some restaurants and a traditional Turkish Hammam, Ayasofya Sultan Hammam (map). If you're looking for somewhere to have lunch, try Mihri Restaurant (map) at the North of the Hammam an get the Pide!

Taksim & Istiklal Caddesi:

In contrast to the "Old Town" of Sultanahmet, the area around Taksim Square is much more modern - everything from the architecture to the atmosphere. Taksim Square (map) is a large area that itself is relatively unflattering. It can be the site where people congregate for political rallies, football games etc. However the streets that run off Taksim Square are of more interest to the visiting tourist. In particular, Istiklal Caddesi (or Istiklal Avenue) (map). It runs from the Northern end at Taksim Square right down to the Galata District. The street is lined by boutiques, department stores, cafes and restaurants. Istiklal seems busy no matter what time of day or night you visit. The atmosphere the night we visited was wonderful - the 2 larger football clubs in Istanbul were playing a big game, so lots of people were out watching the game and afterwards, celebrating/commiserating the result. You will find a number of known retail brand stores as well as lots of local boutiques and traditional shops. The food scene along Istiklal street is fantastic if you want to sample authentic cuisine. There are lots of narrow streets and alleyways that run off Istiklal and have there own little vibe - you can take a wander up Sahne Sk (map) for example with its market-style stalls, traditional food and boutiques - see Sampyion Kokorec below in "where to eat". There is a red tram which runs the length of Istiklal and provides more of a fun photo opportunity than a genuine mode of transport. 

I would definitely suggest visiting Istiklal in the early evening and walking the length, stopping from time to time to sample different eateries or dining in one of the terrace restaurants.

thetravelhub_istanbul_istiklal-4060.jpg

Bosphorus:

The Bosphorus is more than just a stretch of water for the city of Istanbul - it has shaped the city's history and defines who the city is. The narrow Bosphorus Straight runs from The Black Sea in the North, to the Sea of Mamara in the South. On the east bank is the continent of Asia and on the west, Europe. This geographically made the Bosphorus Straight and Istanbul, hugely important and is one of the reasons it has been a critical city in the development of civilisations through history. 

Now, the Bosphorus is a busy waterway, with people commuting under it, over it and across it as part of their daily life in Istanbul. You can just sit on the banks and watch all manner of vessels travel up and down - from huge shipping containers to small fishing boats. For so many locals in Istanbul, spending time on the banks of the Bosphorus is part of life.

thetravelhub_istanbul_bosphorus-.jpg

The best way to experience the Bosphorus is by getting out on it! There are a huge variety of options and itineraries. For simplicity and convenience, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off cruise through Istanbul Tourist Pass. By booking through the website, the confirmation is sent to your mobile phone app and this serves as your pre-booked ticket. We quite literally skipped past the huge queues and collected our ticket from the side office at the dock at Kabatas (map). Many waiting in line had to wait for the next boat as the queues on bright sunny weekends can get quite busy! The boats leave the dock at Kabatas Dentur every hour from 11:45 through to 16:45 (you can also start your cruise from Besiktas). The whole loop takes around 1 hour 40 minutes, but you can hop off at any of the stops along the way and visit attractions such as the summer palaces of the Ottoman Sultans in Beylerbeyi. We chose to hop off in Emirgan (map) for a traditional Turkish Breakfast as Emirgan Suitis (see "Eating" below). Emirgan has a long stretch along the Bosphorus where hundreds of people come sit, walk and enjoy the views. There are people fishing from the banks, street food vendors, cafes and parks. A short walk in from the cafes is the huge Emirgan Park (map). On a nice day it is full of people playing, having a picnic or just enjoying the sunshine and green. In April the park is home to the International Tulip Festival. All the neighbourhoods along the European side of the Bosphorus have their unique charm and if you have the time are definitely worth visiting. 

Galata Tower:

The area to the South of Istiklal is Galata and is dominated by the tall cylindrical Galata Tower (map). Built in 1348 you can climb the tower to get a view across the city - however, be warned, the queues acan be very long in the tourist season!

Galata Bridge:

Word of note! When you put "Galata Bridge" in Uber, be sure you dont select the Galata Bridge in Bulgaria, as it becomes difficult to explain the situation with the driver if they dont speak English! For some reason, a lot of the Uber drivers didn't know where Galata Bridge is and you may be better referring to it as Galata Koprusu (MAP). The bridge spans the Golden Horn and as a visitor to Istanbul, I think its a hugely important landmark for several reasons.

Firstly, it links the traditional old area of Sultanahmet with the more modern area of Istanbul. If you are feeling adventurous, you could potentially walk all the way from Taksim Square, down Istiklal, through the Galata District, over the Galata Bridge and into the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. It would take you around an hour..........if you didn't stop along the way, which would be nearly impossible.

Secondly, the area around Galata Bridge is in its own right a great place to visit. On a weekend, huge numbers of fishermen will line Galata Bridge, casting their lines over the side. On a level below them on the bridge are cafes and restaurants that will literally look out through the fishing lines. Looking up the Golden Horn from the bridge you will have a view of the beautiful Suleymaniye Mosque to your left and then over to the Galata Tower to your right, making it a wonderful spot to compare 2 sides of Istanbul.

If you walk down onto the old side of Galata Bridge, there are a number of floating "restaurants" cooking fresh sardine sandwiches which are a must try!

thetravelhub_istanbul_galata bridge-4177.jpg

There is a tunnel under the road that leads you to a walk-through Bazaar selling lots of spices and arabic sweets. If you keep walking South from here you will find your way back to the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar and then eventually back to the Blue Mosque! You can also walk easily from here to the Suleymaniye Mosque (map) which overlooks the Golden Horn - there is a terrace behind the mosque with great views. It isn't the largest of the Ottoman mosques, but is definitely one of the more beautiful. The area around the Suleymaniye Mosque is also interesting with its very traditional wooden houses.

Eating:

If you love a place where you can walk around eating from small street stalls, calling in at cafes and sampling traditional cuisines...........you will love Istanbul!

There is absolutely no shortage of street vendors selling roast cobs of corn, roasted chestnuts, Turkish ice cream, fresh squeezed juices and of course, the Turkish equivalent of the bagel, Simit. You will be hard pressed to walk around most of the busier areas of the city and not find one of these mobile options.

In every Bazaar, from a small strip of stores through to the Grand Bazaar, there are countless stores selling Turkish sweets - baklava, Turkish delight, nougats, etc. Some are almost sickly sweet and you just have to censor the thought of calories and convince yourself that all the walking is burning it off. If you walk through the Spice Bazaar, there is no shortage of options and if you have the time/patience, you can sample whatever you fancy in the different stores and then bargain for a better price. There are a chain of stores called Hafiz Mustafa that are excellent for traditional sweets. Make a point of calling in to the store at Taksim square (map) and sitting down for a tea and some baklava...........you wont be the only person, its hugely popular. If you have a sweet tooth for chocolate, stop in at Tarihi Meshur (map) on Istiklal Caddesi and pick up some chocolate coated nuts. Another place for traditional deserts is the restaurant Saray Muhallebiisi (map) and the syrup dripping from the in the windows is sickly sweet!

The length of Istiklal Caddesi is a wonderful place for food. There are many terrace restaurants and bars which have seats overlooking the street, making them a perfect spot for dinner and watching everything go by below. Many are small and authentic with a cosy atmosphere. 

If you want something a little more upmarket and with a view to match, try 360 Istanbul (map) - more of a fine dining restaurant and the views are spectacular.

There are also a number of very authentic restaurants to try in the Taksim/Istiklal area. Tarihi Kalkanoglu Pilavcisi (map) serves hot dishes like Kavurma and beans - try the Karisik. Further down is Sampiyon Kokorec (map) - a well known local restaurant that specialises in traditional delicacies of Midye (stuffed mussels) and kokorec (sheeps intestine sandwich). The mussels are very nice, but I can honestly say the kokorec, despite the description, is actually really good! Its beautifully spiced, has a hint of chilli and the taste of "intestine" is not over-powering at all. A must try! Another local delicacy in Istanbul that tastes much better than it sounds are "wet hamburgers". At the top of Istiklal is a shop called Kizilkayalar Hamburger (map) - they sell doner kebabs and burgers. The hamburgers may not look much in the window, but they are surprisingly nice and its more than tempting to get another!

Near Galata Tower is Anemon Galata (map) - a hotel with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Golden Horn. Lovely spot for a drink, tea or coffee in the late afternoon or evening. 

As mentioned, close to Galata Bridge there are a number of floating restaurants that sell fresh fish sandwiches (map). The fish is cooked in front of you and placed in a fresh bun with lettuce and onion. Add a god squirt of lemon juice and a shake of salt and you have a very tasty snack to keep you going as you continue exploring.

thetravelhub_istanbul_galata bridge-4177.jpg

There are a huge number of options around the Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia. For a nice traditional Pide, stop in at Mihri (map) at the Hagia Sophia end of the Ayasofya Hammam. Its a nice place to stop for lunch in the middle of your day in Sultanahmet. Pide is like a flat open pizza/calzone and with a  choice of toppings. The service perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but I think its a great place for lunch if you're doing the tours of the museums.

On the other side of Hagia Sofia (opposite the Basilica Cistern) (map) is a restaurant called Green Corner Cafe. The tea and coffee is quite good, although the food quite basic - kebab, chicken tawook, salads, etc. The staff were very entertaining and its a really nice spot for lunch our afternoon tea.

When you are exploring the Grand Bazaar for the day and need somewhere for lunch, the best place to try is Havuzlu Restaurant (map). This place in the heart of the bazaar is no-frills and serves home-style Turkish meals. You order from the warmer and the waiter will bring everything to your table. I recommend the roasted chicken and spiced meat-balls. There is also a good selection of vegetarian options.

If you want somewhere in Sultanahmet with an incredible view, look no further than Seven Hills Restaurant (at the top of Seven Hills Hotel) (map). Its a nice spot to come of an evening and you have wonderful views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - one of the best views in the city actually. The staff weren't great and the seafood in the ice box" could've done with having some ice in there. They do make a nice traditional tea and the view itself is worth going up for a drink! Go here for the view alone, its worth it!

thetravelhub_istanbul_food-2168.jpg

The restaurant at the top of Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, Zeferan, serves traditional Azerbaijan cuisine (map). The food is wonderful with a strong emphasis on grilled meats and fresh ingredients. Certainly try the Pilaf - an Azerbaijan specialty of rice in a crispy outer layer. The view from the Zeferan restaurant is equally as impressive and gives a great look back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood and across the Sea of Mamara.

Part of our Bosphorus cruise was to take us to Emirgan to enjoy one of the best Turkish Breakfasts in Istanbul at Emirgan Sutis (map). An absolute must for anyone visiting Istanbul is to enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast! It comprises of a huge spread of dishes ranging from a selection of breads, cheeses, honey and olives, to hot meals like egg dishes (Sucuk), Kavurma with meat and a delicious mince filled pasty known as Borek. Of course all this is accompanied with the customary Turkish tea! Emirgan Sutis came very highly recommended and it didn't disappoint, however if you're planning to visit here on a weekend, be prepared for a wait! They don't take bookings, so I would advise getting there a little earlier and putting your name down, then enjoying a stroll along the banks of the Bosphorus if you need to wait.

thetravelhub_istanbul_food-3715.jpg

If you are staying at the Park Hyatt Istanbul Macka Palas, you will be able to construct your own Turkish breakfast each morning. The breakfast here is excellent and includes your choice of a hot dish such as Kavurma. Just around the corner from the Park Hyatt, and walking distance from Taksim Square, is the Grand Hyatt Istanbul (map). Their restaurant 34 offers an all day menu of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine. There is a lovely outdoor dining area that is perfectly suited to relaxing on warmer days and even when it cools down, in front of the open fire. The food is fantastic and I can definitely recommend the grilled octopus. They also have a great selection of Turkish desserts.

Must Do:

See Istanbul from the water! The Bosphorus has such importance to the city of Istanbul, through history and even now as it divides the uniquely different Asian and European sides. If you visit Istanbul, it is almost essential to view the city from the Bosphorus. The easiest way to do this is on one of the many cruise ships that go up and down the straight. We used our Istanbul Tourist Pass to catch the hop-on-hop-off boat from Kabatas, close to the Park Hyatt. The round trip takes you along both shorelines and you can see the different architecture on the Asian and European continents. We jumped off for a Turkish Breakfast at Emirgan. If you have time you can include a cruise of the Golden Horn and even out to places like Princes Island.

thetravelhub_istanbul_bosphorus-3403.jpg

Must See:

You won't visit Istanbul without seeing the Blue Mosque, so listing it as a must see almost goes without saying. However, it is truly one of those buildings you can find yourself looking at many times in the day and appreciating it in different ways. My top places to view the Blue Mosque include:

1. Sultanahmet Park (between the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia). Especially in the mornings when its quiet and again in the afternoon with the atmosphere of the crowd. (map)

2. A rooftop cafe such as Seven Hills in the evening around sunset. (map)

thetravelhub_istanbul_blue mosque-.jpg

3. From a residential terrace/rooftop, close to the Arasta Bazaar. (map)

thetravelhub_istanbul_blue mosque-3224.jpg

4. From the water.

5. For dinner from Zeferan Restaurant at Ajwa Hotel (map), giving you a stunning view back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. Especially just after sunset when the streetlights are taking over from the natural light.

thetravelhub_istanbul_ajwa hotel-2226.jpg

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Plan your itinerary of things to see & do by areas. Each neighbourhood has its various things to experience and its best to really focus on that area for an entire day or at least a morning/afternoon. Even if you use the hop-on-hop-off bus (which I have done previously and really enjoyed), you will find you need an entire day as a minimum for Sultanahmet and at least an afternoon for Taksim/Istiklal and then a morning at least for the Bosphorous and so on.

5 Word Travel:

One of my favourite cities

Excess Baggage:

Whilst Istanbul has some wonderful areas for walking around to explore, in particular, Sultanahmet, there are also some neighbourhoods that are a little harder to reach. The hop-on-hop-off boat and bus services in Istanbul are a great way to see some of these area! It is probably the best way to visit the less touristy Asian side of the Bosphorus if you want to tick the box of being in 2 continents in a day. You could easily spend weeks visiting Istanbul and its many unique neighbourhoods and then doing day trips to some of the places not far from the city. I think as an absolute minimum you need 4 days in Istanbul to experience parts of the old and new areas, less than that and you will feel you have missed things..........which might be a great excuse to come back!

Walk Like an Egyptian - Egypt

thetravelhub_egypt63.jpg
 

Contributor:
Cat

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @flatworldtravel
Website: www.travel.flatworldonline.com

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Couple

 

Destination: Egypt. April/May 2018, 10 days

Inspiration:

A professional friend owns a small travel company and was planning a group trip to Egypt. Since this was somewhere we really wanted to go we reached out to her and her business partner about working with them and creating content for them to use on their website and social media. since thats what we do- create photo and video content it was a win win for everyone! The group ended up with 8 of us total which was perfect to capture and travel around easily.

Getting There:

We flew from JFK airport into Cairo on Egypt Air. Then once there we had an organized tour with a driver and 2 different tour guides.

Local Knowledge:

Besides the pyramids which I will talk about later the whole area is just cool. It is so different from the US and Europe. The culture is very prominent and so is the Muslim Religion. We loved hearing the Call to Prayers everywhere. But not everyone is Muslim and it didn't appear to be overly strict. The people (not the vendors at tourist places) were super nice and just enjoyed talking with us. They don't see as many Americans and they all wanted to talk to us about what is happening here. 
The vendors however can be Very aggressive. We decided we had to take a "hard politeness" approach. A term I made up to describe it. We always to to be respectful to people especially when traveling, but this was Intense and really started to get us down. We understand that some of the places in Egypt we were are very poor and we understand the hustle. Go with an openness and try to be firm and polite. 
The over attention from men even while walking with my 6'2 black husband was a bit much. Again I just tried to be polite or ignore it. Al could have earned a lot of camels for me lol!!
 People ask me if I would  have felt safe being a woman there by myself. I can't really answer that for everyone since their experiences are all different. But I would honestly say I would not go back there on MY own. I never felt unsafe, as a matter of fact we hung out with a local man and visited his house. We joked and said we are either being kidnapped or in for a great night. Probably not the smartest thing to have done- but it was a blast. But I never would have done that if it was just me!

Where To Stay:

For our time in Giza we stayed at the Marriott Mena House in Cairo and Loved it. I mean whats not to Love? Step out on the balcony and see an Amazing pyramid right there! So freaking cool. The rooms were really nice, the pool perfect, and the food was really good. 

We then stayed on a Nile River cruise for 4 nights. Having done 2 cruises with Ama Waterways (The Mekong River one we worked with them creating content) this never compared. But of course not as Egyptian River Cruises are less fancy. This one was pretty basic and the food not something I could really enjoy. As a pescartain most meals were very heavy meat based. And not wanting to eating the salad since I knew it had to be washed, there wasn't much for me to eat. My husband didn't have any problems but even he said the food was "just alright!"

When we returned back to Cairo we stayed in the Kempinski Nile. It was really nice and we could even walk to Taahir Square from there. Their breakfast buffet was my favorite!! They also have a great jazz bar but it was way too smokey to stay long. Being from the US we aren't used to people smoking indoors anymore. 

What To Do:

Where to being! I mean after all you are talking about the EGYPT! The ancient land of the Pharaohs, King Tut, Cleopatra, the Nile River and Gods and Goddesses! It is all great. The Valley of the Kings to see Tutankhamen's (and others) tomb. and later going to the The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum or Museum of Cairo and seeing things that were in the tomb. 4000 year old cheese and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Luxor Temple was super cool and so was just walking around Luxor and Aswan. One of my favorite temples was the Temple of Horus at Edfu, dedicated to the falcon-headed god of the sky as well as mummified crocodiles in Kom Ombo . One of my favorite activies was a early morning hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. It was just incredible!

Eating:

Overall we aren't too impressed with food in Egypt. As I mentioned I dont eat meat and most meals were pretty basic. Of course most of them were included in our tour so we didn't really get to venture out on our own as much as we normally would. But the fresh squeezed OJ from the street vendors is the BEST!!!! OMG! you have to try it. Especially when it is hot and dusty. They also had some really interesting snacks. All kinds of different flavors like chicken or kabob flavored Doritos. And I haven't eaten a Twinkie in over 30 years Im sure- but they were are snack on the hot air balloon ride! I did have some great hummus the first day at a place Al and I wandered into- but after that the hummus was mediocre and buy the end I was so sick of it I just couldn't eat it anymore. As mentioned we did Love the breakfast buffet at the Kempinski and actually at Mena House too.

Must Do:

Get out of the tourist attractions and walk around Cairo and the other smaller places you visit. While all the attractions are AMAZING and of course you have to see it all- make sure you are seeing what Egypt today is all about. Get out there and enjoy the locals. Talk with people or jsut smile and say "hi!"

Must See:

OMG! this one is the hardest Always!! But especially with Egypt. Every trip we make one 12x18 metal print of what symbolizes that location. This one everyone thought it would be a pyramid. While Yes- that is soooo Very Egypt, that is just one part. We chose a scene that I took while cruising along the Nile River. A glimpse into what life is like living along the Nile River.

Number 1 Travel Tip:

I wrote a whole blog post on travel tips to Egypt. But my #1 thing- KNOW that vendors are going to approach you, follow you, and not take no for an answer at Least the first 4 times! If you know that, you can be prepared. And really there is no need to get ugly or threaten them Its not going to change things and they are just trying to make a living. Tourism is down and they see especially Americans as rich. And to them you are. You can afford the luxury of traveling far to visit their beautiful country, stay in nice hotels, take river boat cruises, and eat out! Being respectful goes a long way and earns you way more Good Karma points than being rude and nasty!

5 Word Travel:

bucketlist
ancient
different
incredible
blessed

Excess Baggage:

So being a Huge rescue dog and cat advocate I had a really hard time with all the homeless dogs and cats. There were more than in any other trip we have taken. We like to check out a local shelter if we can. And if not we look up ones who helps with these issues and make a donation when we get home. We made our donation to Chance Animal rescue All- the horses, donkeys, and camels just don't look that great and don't seem to be treated too nicely. We did a camel ride at the pyramids in Giza. I really tried to enjoy it (and I even asked the travel agent ahead of time what she knew about the conditions, etc). But it really made me sad. Its a catch 22. The animals help them make money and often get food before they do I was told by our local guide. (maybe I just want to believe that) Without them income would be even more scarce. But even knowing these things- it still made me sad and I would never do it again.

Kittila - Its Cold Up There - Finish Lapland

Thetravelhub_Levi Ski Slope_lapland.jpg
 

Read a review on one of the more unique destinations to visit - a land of ice, snow, adventure and beauty..........Finish Lapland.

 

Contributor:
Nicola

Nationality:
British

Social Links:
Instagram: @nikkiinwanderlust
#nikkiinwanderlust

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
backpacking, luxury, adventure, relaxing - all types!

 

Destination: Levi, Finish Lapland - Finland

To get to Finnish Lapland, we took a flight to Kittilä via Helsinki. While at passport control in Helsinki, the customs officer looked at my boarding pass and said in an ominous voice “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”.  Little did I realise, that this was a massive understatement. 

We stayed in Levi, which was a twenty minute drive from Kittilä, and checked into Hotel K5.  We arrived quite late, so after trying out the sauna in our room, we relaxed with some glögi by the fire in the hotel bar.  The centre of town is a short walk away from several restaurants, the ski slope, and a snowmobile rental shop.  As it was January, the sun never really rose above the horizon, and the temperature dropped to -35°C! As soon as we got outside, our eyelashes and hairs on our face would freeze! So if you plan to come at this time of year, pack thermals and good winter weather gear! 

 Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

One evening we rented snowmobiles and went out and explored the forest area.  There were loads of trails, and we spent a few hours getting lost on them and then finding our way back. It was so much fun. The snow was so deep and lakes were frozen, making it perfect snowmobiling conditions.  This is one activity that you must try if you go anywhere with good snow! 

 Snowmobiles in the evenings

Snowmobiles in the evenings

The ski slope in Levi is lovely. It’s not too busy, and isn’t pretentious like other ski resorts can sometimes appear. It has a chilled vibe and has an amazing bar and restaurant at the top with a beautiful view and roaring fire - perfect for Après Ski. 

 The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

A short drive away was a company that offered husky rides. What a fantastic experience, and another activity that we would definitely recommend. The huskies were beautiful and well looked after, and took us for an amazing ride through beautiful forests and countryside.  Another short drive away was the Arctic Snow Hotel - we didn’t stay there but were lucky enough to be attending a wedding in the Ice Chapel. It was such a unique and beautiful place - each room is decorated differently, and the art work involved in creating the hotel and chapel each year was astounding.  

 Alternative modes of transport in the snow

Alternative modes of transport in the snow

 Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Lapland was such a brilliant destination. There were fun activities, and the scenery was stunning and the snow was beautiful - it actually sparkled like glitter when it fell and the flakes were star shaped.  We’d recommend Lapland to everybody - it’s such a unique and beautiful part of the world. Just make sure that you take some warm clothing. Remember, “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”. 

 Star shaped snow flakes.........

Star shaped snow flakes.........

The Apple Isle - Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

 
Amanda Ross - Yachts.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Amanda

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @missamr
Twitter: @missamr

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Planned & organised

 

Destination: Hobart, Tasmania - Australia. Early February for 5 days

Amanda Ross - Editied.jpg

Inspiration:

This was only one of two Australian States I was yet to cover. I was here for a sporting event but spent sometime checking out what Hobart had to offer. Everyone was telling me how pretty and scenic Tasmania is so I had to see it for myself.

Getting There:

Flew to Hobart and then hired a car to travel around Hobart.

Local Knowledge:

Take the Top Decker tour and the driver will go through all of historical past of Tasmania.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in West Hobart at Fountainside Apartments and I would give it 10/10. Great location, easily fit 10 people in our apartment and was in walking distance to central Hobart, Constitution Dock and the Salamanca Markets

What To Do:

While I was there we drove to Mt Nelson, out to what was the Cadbury Factory (which you can no longer tour), walked to the Salamanca Markets. The highlight would have been the Salamanca Markets. If there is a Cruise ship docked, go to the Cenotaph to get a great view of the dock and the boat. We also bought a ticket for the Top Decker Bus that did a loop around the Hobart District and it took me to all of the main areas of Hobart and was a great way to see what Hobart had to offer. Take the Top Decker Bus out to Cascade Brewery and have lunch and a beverage as the gardens are beautiful.

Eating:

Tasmania is renowned for their seafood and it is every where in Hobart. From Oyster Bars to Seafood Punts along Constitution Dock. Hobart has a very strong food scene however, most places are packed out on weekends or any time a cruise ship (or two) is docked. It is more expensive than the main land for seafood but all other food prices are comparable to the main land. From asking a local we found this amazing burger place called The Standard and it was one of the best meals I had while in Hobart.

Must Do:

If you are only in Hobart for the Weekend, you must go to the Salamanca Markets as it has a great taste of Hobart and Tasmania all in a 1km area. From fresh truffles to Fresh Oysters. Give your self time to walk through the markets but go early as it becomes very busy.

Must See:

My must see part of my time spent in Hobart was the Cascade Brewery.

Amanda Ross - Editied-23.jpg

Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you travel here, take layers as it can go from 30 degrees to 16 degrees over night. I would also take notice of any traffic signs as they are very different to main land.

5 Word Travel:

Amazing Scenery with friendly locals.

Excess Baggage:

Hire a car if you can and spend more than 4 days in Hobart/Tasmania. We didn't get to see any more than the central part of Hobart and wish I had more time there. It is only 2 hours from the top to the bottom of island but it takes you days to explore everything Tasmania has to offer.

A City In a City - The Vatican

Snapseed.jpg
 

Contributor:
Aadam

Nationality:
South African

Social Links:
Instagram: @teaandtravels1922

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Couple travel

 

Destination: Vatican City

What do we say about this country within a city? What words can we use to justly describe this place? 

The Vatican is a city state surrounded by Rome, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and I have to admit that when we planned our trip to Italy, the Vatican wasn’t high up on my list of must sees, mainly due to people telling us that crowds inside are crazy all the time and you get pushed and shoved through without being able to admire much. 

So imagine our surprise when we get there to discover that it was the total opposite, we were the last group for the day so other than us it was empty, like literally, they were closing doors behind us once we’d taken our time to view the majesty of each room, every turn more awe inspiring than the last!

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 5.52.06 pm.png

 

From tapestries entwined with gold, to life like sculptures and not forgetting the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel, housing frescos done by Perugino, Ghirlandaio & Botticelli as well as the ceiling Frescos depicting the last judgement by Michelangelo.

My advice for anyone visiting the Vatican is to go with a tour guide. There are hundreds of guides offering tours in a vast number of languages and they’re a fountain of knowledge for you to quench your thirst at. 

What we did intend to do and sadly missed out on was to climb up the spiral staircase inside St Peters Basilica, the architecture and views are supposed to leave one stunned. So please do give it a go if you’re heading there and we can read your travel hub reviews on it.

 

 

Bucketlist Travel Review - Yellowstone NP, USA

 
Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 5.51.44 pm.png
 
 

Contributor:
Kayla and Silas

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Adventures of Kayla and Silas

Website: www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com
Instagram: @kaylaandsilas

Age Group:
19-30 years
30-40 years

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Spontaneous
Explore
Food

 

Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Late September, 5 days

Inspiration:

A friend of ours ask if we would go with him to Yellowstone. Having never been there before, we both quickly agreed! We all wanted to get in some hiking, enjoy the quiet of nature, and have fun hanging out together.

Getting There:

Yellowstone is not easily accessible. We drove there (17 hours!), but you could fly into a nearby city and rent a car or R.V. It seemed nearly half the cars on the roads inside the park were R.V.s, so that is really common.

Local Knowledge:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both unlike anything else I've ever seen! Here's what I already wrote about how amazing these places are:  https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/02/12-Reasons-to-Visit-Yellowstone

 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb in Driggs, ID. It was delightful, however we had a pretty long drive into the parks every morning. I think it would be preferable to stay inside the park unless you only need a couple hours of sleep. We found everything was booked when we were looking, so you'll need to make a reservation as early as a year in advance of your trip if you want to stay in the park!

What To Do:

We packed a lot into our time at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here's our recommended itinerary: https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/09/A-Week-in-Yellowstone-and-Grand-Teton-National-Parks

Join our Patreon community here: www.patreon.com/kaylaandsilas Subscribe to our channel! http://bit.ly/2FFgx6E Earlier this year we took a road trip with our...

Must Do:

You need to watch at least one geyser BESIDES Old Faithful. They are just amazing.

Must See:

Grand Prismatic Spring!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

The park is BUSY. Bring as much as you can -- toilet paper and sanitizer for unkept bathrooms, picnic lunches for when restaurants are busy or you get too far from a main service hub (or you just want to save money), and a map so

5 Word Travel:

Gorgeous, interesting, unbelievable, breathtaking, exercise

Excess Baggage:

Don't get close to the animals! We saw a lot of tourists putting themselves in dangerous situations, but park rangers suggest keeping 25 yards distance to all animals and 100 yards to wolves and bears.

Ultimate Travel Road Trips - The Garden Route, South Africa

 
Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 7.01.39 pm.png
 

The Garden Route of South Africa is one of the iconic "road trips", taking in some spectacular coast-line. Thanks to Madelene for providing a lovely review from a visit along the famed drive. 

 

Contributor:
Madelene

Nationality:
South Africa

Social Links:
Instagram: @madelene_smuts

Age Group:
40-50
 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
 

 

Destination: Garden Route - Cape Town, South Africa

madelene smuts - FullSizeRender-5.jpg

Inspiration:

The Garden Route has according to the Guinness Book of records the mildest climate in the world after Hawaii. With long stretches of beautiful blue flag beaches it is a well recommend getaway.

Getting There:

As Capetonian this is a loved holiday destination. The stretch of coast which exstend from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape is spectacular. Six hours traveling time from Cape Town per car/bus. Daily flights from Cape Town International airport to George or Plettenberg bay.

Where To Stay:

Accommodation for holiday makers is plentiful. There are many B&B's to choose from, from Central Beach to Sanctuary Beach. The Beacon Island Hotel in the center of Plettenberg bay is a well known family friendly hotel that also offers time share.

What To Do:

Plettenberg Bay offers long days of sunshine and multiple Watersport activities , surfing, suping, canoeing ...... The bay is a display of dolphin activity and for scuba divers a underwater kingdom. Robberg Nature Reserve offers hiking trails for young and old, with the Stone Age Nelson Bay Caves a definite must for the hiking enthusiast. If you are a keen Mountain Biker like me there is more than enough biking trails to choose from, from intermediate to advance and with every uphill the effort offers a big reward - the views are spectacular! Popular Harkeville Forest is a must.

Eating:

If you like lazy lunches there are a few wine farm to choose from witch is less than 20min drive from Plettenberg bay. A must is Bramon and Newstead wines that offers delicious tapas menus. Fish lovers will enjoy The Fat fish and Lookout and the popular Tables restaurant offers the best pizza's in town.

Must Do:

Go for hike at `Robberg nature reserve

Must See:

Sunset at Robberg Nature Reserve

madelene smuts - IMG_2967-8.jpg
madelene smuts - IMG_2861.jpg

 

 

Leon, Nicaragua - Why you should plan a Nicaragua visit

 
BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer-27.jpg
 

Content creators and travel bloggers, Cathie & Al from Flat World Travel give us an amazing insight into one of the favourite cities they visited during a recent trip to Nicaragua/ Read all about Leon here and follow the links to their blog for more on travel in Nicaragua.

 

Contributor:
Cathie

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Website: http://travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Couple travel
Adventure

 

Destination: Leon, Nicaragua, November 2017

BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer-37.jpg

Inspiration:

We were hired to do photos and video for a destination wedding in Cancun in November. We decided to add on to the trip and go to Nicaragua. This was the perfect destination. We found one of our favorite cities on the trip was Leon.  We were looking for somewhere warm to go after the wedding.  And through Instagram and travel blogs we had seen some beautiful photos from Nicaragua. I always had an interest in this country. We started researching it and fell in love with it’s mixture of colonial historical cities that we love to explore as well as beautiful nature to be adventurous in. Nicaragua really does have it all. While we didn’t spend anytime in the major city of Managua we did enjoy Leon. You can get a real feel for city life of the people and not be far from nature and adventure at the same time. And who could pass up the opportunity to go to volcano boarding down an active volcano.!!!

Getting There:

We flew from Cancun to Nicaragua since we already had our flights arranged from Philadelphia to Cancun. Once we arrived in Nicaragua and for our travel around the country we hired private drivers through our various boutique hotels. Because we were traveling with a lot of photo and video gear, more than we normally do since we were coming from a wedding, we wanted to always make sure we traveled in the safest way possible. Even if that meant spending extra. It was also nice to always be in air conditioning and to  talk with the drivers. Well at least try since our Spanish is very limited. Our driver dropped us right off at teh place we were staying in Leon.

Local Knowledge:

Leon is known for being even the most artistic and progressive city in Nicaragua. The people of Leon were the first to support the Sandanistas in the 1960’s and ’70s. As a result, the city and its people suffered some of the worst attacks during Somoza’s crackdown. Their central market was torched, different parts of the city were bombed, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Sandanistas was often tortured or executed. And the United States flip flopped on who they supported, all to the detriment of the people of Nicaragua.
And you can see minutes of resistance throughout the city. From graffiti to beautifully painted murals. Definitely worth visiting is the Museum of Revolution

Leon is also known for its beautiful churches with sweeping vistas of the city, a lively Center Plaza, bustling commerce, and amazingly beautiful volcanoes.

Where To Stay:

BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer.jpg

We stayed at the Hotel Azul for $72 a night. I would consider that a little high for most places in Leon but it had great rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breakfast included. Hotel Azul is a great spot and the location being so close to the main plaza was perfect. We would Totally stay there again!

BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer-2.jpg

What To Do:

Really our favorite thing to do in Leon was just to wander around. Going to the areas where it's mostly locals. We really didn't see a ton of tourist when we were there. We spent hours just checking out neighborhoods around the city just seeing what it was truly like. We also were lucky to come across an amazingly fun festival in the central plaza one night. It was almost all locals there so we could really get a feel of what celebrations are like in Nicaragua. this one was for the "opening of Christmas " "The Festival of Lights" and it was a total party!

and Do check out the Revolution Museum. One of the highlights of touring around Leon was Museo Historico de la Revolucion the ‘Museum of Revolution”. It is so easy to spot with its anti-Bush graffiti still on the front. Once we paid to get in, we also had a tour guide. Of course he didn’t speak any English and our Spanish is very limited. However, knowing how to put together some words and with the help of Google translate, we felt like we learned a lot. And our tour guide was a very interesting man. He fought with the Sandinistas. You could even see on his shoulder where he’d been shot. And he showed us the spot in the building where it happened, this being the old City Hall building. You can still see blood on the walls and the impacts where the bullet hit.

One of the cool aspects of the tour is getting to go up on the roof. As a photographer and videographer, we always aim to get higher whenever visiting a new location. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land and get some killer views. There’s something so surreal about being up on the roof of the museum. And we had a great view to the white cathedral known as Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Eating:

Nicaragua isnt really known for its "culinary delights" but we had some awesome food while there. in Leon we mostly ate at small places that didn't cost a whole lot. I don't eat meat but I am a pescatarian. One lunch place we really enjoyed was Cocinarte. It is a vegetarian place and is located in the oldest house in Leon.  
Another great lunch spot we went to was Pan y Paz French bakery, which was way cheap AND awesome! We didn't expect the sandwich shop to be so good. and there are a couple locations around the city. 
We ate dinner in at Al Carbon, that was pretty cool. Al really wanted some steak and I needed a place with good seafood. We also stopped in at a great rooftop bar at Calle Vicente to take in the local flavor mixed with a few tourists. It’s a great place for having a drink and doing some people watching!

Must Do:

Go Volcano Baording down Cerre Negro. So much fun you will want to hike right back up to do it again. Sadly we were only allowed the 1 time.
You have to do it with an organized tour. The drive was a little more than an hour and you have a chance to go to the bathroom before beginning your climb up (take the opportunity!) Everything I read talked about how easy the climb up was. Of course most articles focus on the fun and safety coming back down the hill on a thin piece of wood. Let me tell you that climb up was not easy. It was hot as hell, even though there was a nice breeze every now and then. It is rocky and straight up for most of it. It’s not the worst hike I’ve done by far, but it certainly is not the easiest either. Plus you are carrying a small cloth bag with your gear and a long thin piece of wood on your back. When you are small like me, it acts like a wind sail!!

BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer-32.jpg

Must See:

Without a dounbt-the rooftop at  Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral). The Basilica de la Asuncion took over a 100 years to build and it is one of the largest churches in Central America. And it is Awesome. There are so many different details in the outside of the building. But the best part is certainly its roof. You need to check the schedule for when it is open and it costs 40 Cordobas to get in, this is less than $1.50 . Is really cool up there. You don’t expect It to look like a Greek city. It definitely looks very Grecian with all its white domes. And it offers wonderful vistas of the city. Just be mindful you will have to take your shoes off once you get to the top of the staircase.. 

BG-Productions-Philadelphia-wedding-photographer-38.jpg

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Take the time to at least learn some basic Spanish. And being polite and patience goes a long way. While we knew some Spanish words such common phrases, nouns and verbs we weren’t good at putting them all together. Also make sure to download Google translate on your phone. This will help you when trying to communicate. You can even hover over text and read the translation in English. Very few people speak English there. Often times, you could find at least one person working at the restaurant who may know English a little better and loves to practice their English with you. Bye-bye been able to communicate somewhatYou definitely have your experiences broadened.

And I know it's only supposed to be one tip but if you're a photographer or videographer don't bring your drone. They're not allowed. And it's just not worth the risk. Just honor their restrictions!

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
colorful
beautiful
cultural
Adventurous

Excess Baggage:

You’re not in Kansas anymore… things just aren’t like you might think. Even with all the above we found people just saying Si ‘(Yes) even when yes shouldn’t be the answer. For example, I may say “no come carne” when ordering chips and cheese and just stopped being surprised when still came with meat which I don’t eat. It seems like trying to get anything different than what they have listed just doesn’t translate. Remember this is a Spanish-speaking country!! So some things just won’t translate to be exactly what you mean.

and oh yeah....In Leon don’t be alarmed by the 6am church bells going off. And then at seven there’s a siren that goes off letting everybody know it is time to go to work. It can be quite jarring if nobody warned you in advance LOL!!

Khanom & Sichon, Thailand

 
20171025_123408_resized.jpg
 

Review of a year round travel destination in Thailand. Explore beautiful empty beaches and stunning waterfall. 

 

Contributor:
Silvia

Nationality:
Dutch

Social Links:
Instagram: @silviatibben

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Flashpacker

 

Destination: Khanom & Sichon, Thailand

Inspiration:

I was looking for a beach destination close to Surat Thani city.

Getting There:

It's about 1 hour from Surat Thani by minivan. Costs are B100 one way. Surat Thani is easy to reach from Bangkok by plane, bus or train.

Local Knowledge:

There are only 2,000 pink dolphins in the world. In Khanom you have a big chance to see some!

Where To Stay:

Hallo Villa, 1000B a night for a beautiful bungalow with lots of privacy, a nice swimming pool and close to the beach. There are enough choises for all budgets in Khanom.

What To Do:

The best way to explore the area is to rent a motorbike and discover many empty and beautiful beaches, waterfalls and the local fisherman village.

Eating:

Try different foods on the night market. Local specialties like massaman curry, papaya salad and sugarcane juice. Nice burgers, German and Italian food are also available!

Must Do:

Samet Chun waterfall. A beautiful waterfalls with many pools and a view over the palmtrees and ocean!

Must See:

Definitaly one of its empy beaches! Rent a bike and discover beautiful bays!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Rent a motorbike, the area is difficult to explore by public transport.

5 Word Travel:

Authentic, quiet, beach, friendly locals

Excess Baggage:

Learn a couple Thai words to connect with the friendly locals, as people hardly speak english in this part of Thailand.

African Travel Bucketlist - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 
Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-18.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Christine

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @liveloveruntravel
Facebook: Live Love Run Travel
Website: www.liveloveruntravel.com

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Adventure
Running!
Budget but also splurge
Backpacking in hotels

 

Destination: Nogorongoro Crater, Tanzania

We first heard about Ngorongoro Crater while doing some work around the house with the Travel Channel on in the background. We both stopped to watch because we both knew we wanted to do an African Safari one day. At the time, we were newlyweds who had only been on our honeymoon and a few ski trips with our college friends together. We were planning to travel, but Africa seemed like it would be one of those trips that waited for after retirement.

However, we started to get serious about planning a trip there when we saw some safari trips come up on Groupon. A few were for South Africa and a few were for Kenya. We knew we wanted to go to Kenya if we were going to visit Africa to see some friends living in Nairobi. We started looking into the trip and ended up booking a three week trip to Africa within two years of first hearing about Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was a must for our trip.

Image 1 & 2: Driving through Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater

What makes Ngorongoro Crater so special? It is the world's largest crater that is intact, inactive and unfilled. The walls of the crater make it more like a zoo as there is less migration here than in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. That means that there is no "bad" time to visit. The animals are there all year. There are some animals that do migrate in and out of the crater, but the majority live there for life.

The crater is also uninhabited by humans. The Maasai are allowed to bring their herds in to graze, but they must enter and exit daily. The same is true of tourists. You are allowed to enter in the morning for your safari and stay for the day, but all of the lodging is outside of the crater. There are no restaurants (you bring your own food) and limited bathroom facilities (which are sometimes overrun by animals!).

Before we could enter the Conservancy Area, we had to wait while our guide paid all of our entrance fees. There was plenty of entertainment in the parking lot with lots of baboons of varying sizes. We watched them chase down people who were standing outside their vehicles to snack, fight each other playfully, and try to scratch the letters off of vehicles. We even watched one fall out of a tree when the branch he was swinging on broke. He was okay other than what appeared to be bruised pride.

 
   
  
   
  
    
  
   Normal 
   0 
   
   
   
   
   false 
   false 
   false 
   
   EN-US 
   JA 
   X-NONE 
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-priority:99;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin-top:0cm;
	mso-para-margin-right:0cm;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
	mso-para-margin-left:0cm;
	line-height:115%;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:11.0pt;
	font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}
 
  This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

 

When we first arrived at the crater, our driver, David, stopped at a viewpoint along one of the crater walls. You could look out over the entire crater. We had seen this view from the Travel Channel show, but we did not expect to see it in real life. You could see some of the herds through my zoom lens even from the top of the crater.

From there, we headed to our lodging at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The dining area and lounge area had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the crater. Our room had a balcony that also overlooked the crater. At night, there were talented performers to entertain guests. Entertainment included music, dancing, and impressive stunts!

A stay at Ngorongoro Crater will require two nights lodging if you want to spend a full day in the crater. You will need to spend more nights if you want to spend more time in the crater. It is a few hours drive to get from anywhere to the crater, and you will want to maximize your time in the crater. After a certain time, the entrance road becomes another exit to ensure everyone makes it out of the crater before nightfall, so arriving in the afternoon means you cannot enter that day. We did a morning game drive in Lake Manyara before heading to Ngorongoro Crater and did not arrive until late afternoon, so we had to wait until the next day for our game drive in the crater.

   
  
   
  
    
  
   Normal 
   0 
   
   
   
   
   false 
   false 
   false 
   
   EN-US 
   JA 
   X-NONE 
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-priority:99;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin-top:0cm;
	mso-para-margin-right:0cm;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
	mso-para-margin-left:0cm;
	line-height:115%;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:11.0pt;
	font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}
 
  Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

The next morning, David, our private guide and driver for our time in Tanzania, met us with boxed breakfasts and lunches before the sunrise. He gave us an option on if we wanted to start early with boxed breakfasts we could eat in the vehicle or if we wanted to wait for breakfast at the lodge. We wanted to get into the crater and start our game drive as early as possible. One thing we did not count on was for it to be cold in the crater. It gets chilly in the crater in the early morning!

Despite staying right at the top of the crater, our drive into the crater still took a little while. The road curves back and forth down the crater wall, and you are in a line of other early risers trying to get into the crater as early as possible. Once you are at the crater floor, all of the vehicles, some private like ours and others hotel owned, scatter, so you feel like you have the entire crater to yourself.