The Fully Integrated Backpacker Treehouse Resort – Kadir’s Treehouses

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposThe most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.

Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposAfter two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses.  While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –

Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.

At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.

Turkey Treehouse HostelThe nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.

So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.

During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)

Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposWe stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.

What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!

Volubulis – Roman and Carthaginian Ruins in North Africa – Slideshow

Its been 11 years since I first visited Volubulis in Morocco back in 2009.  I look forward to returning someday.

Since coming to Morocco a year ago, I’ve wanted to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis. Each time I’ve planned to go, something has kept me from it, until now.

Before the slideshow, I should give you a bit of historical background :

Volubilis is an archaeological site in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fez and Rabat along the N13 road. The nearest town is Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. In 1997 the site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In antiquity, Volubilis was an important Roman town situated near the westernmost border of Roman conquests. It was built on the site of a previous Carthaginian settlement from (at the latest) the third century BC, but that settlement overlies an earlier neolithic habitation.

Volubilis was the administrative center of the province in Roman Africa called Mauretania Tingitana. The fertile lands of the province produced many commodities such as grain and olive oil, which were exported to Rome, contributing to the province’s wealth and prosperity. Archaeology has documented the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman period.

The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD but, unlike some other Roman cities, Volubilis was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD. It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids: a number of these simply bear the name Walila.

The texts referring to the arrival of Idris I in 788 show that the town was at that point in the control of the Awraba tribe, who welcomed the descendant of Ali, and declared him I

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mam shortly thereafter. Within three years he had consolidated his hold on much of the area, founded the first settlement at Fez , and started minting coins. He died in 791, leaving a pregnant Awraba wife, Kenza, and his faithful slave, Rashid, who acted as regent until the majority of Idris II. At this point the court departed for Fez, leaving the Awraba in control of the town.

Volubilis’ structures were damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes.

In 1915, archaeological excavation was begun there by the French and it continued through into the 1920s. Extensive remains of the Roman town have been uncovered. From 2000 excavations carried out by University College London and the Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the headquarters of Idris I just below the walls of the Roman town to the west. Excavations within the walls also revealed a section of the early medieval town. Today, a high percentage of artifacts found at Volubilis are on display in the Rabat Archaeological Museum.

Fire on the Mountain – Visiting the Ancient Chimera in Olympos, Turkey

One of the highlights of visiting Olympos is a trip to see the fantastic Chimera fire on the mountain. These fires have been burning for tens of thousands of years and even when you douse them, they quickly reignite. It’s not a huge surprise to find that numerous tales and legends have grown from these – but by far, it is the Greek story of the Chimera and Pegasus which is the most well known. Rather than retelling again (it’s in the video above) – here it is from the most prevalent source on the internet:

Homer’s brief description in the Iliad is the earliest surviving literary reference: “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”.

Hesiod’s Theogony follows the Homeric description: he makes the Chimera the issue of Echidna: “She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay”Chimera Fire Turkey

Sighting the Chimera was an omen of storms, shipwrecks, and natural disasters (particularly volcanoes).

The Chimera finally was defeated by Bellerophon, with the help of Pegasus, at the command of King Iobates of Lycia. Since Pegasus could fly, Bellerophon shot the Chimera from the air, safe from her heads and breath.

It’s said that the people were so happy at the defeat of the beast that they held a special games to celebrate and lit the torch commemorating the games from the flames…yes, the Olympic flame comes from here.

While most of the treehouse resorts will organize trips to see the Chimera – since we had a car (and a baby) we opted to drive ourselves. The winding road took about 45 minutes from Olympos and then the hike of 5 km or so was another 45 minutes – be sure to bring a flashlight and to wear shoes with good grips since the trail can be treacherous – especially in the dark which is the best time to experience the magic of this amazing spot.

Off the Beaten Track in Paris – Get your Baton in Gear!

Paris off the beaten track
…Eiffel Tower…Louvre...Champs-Elysées; been there, done that – it was fun, but there’s more to Paris than this. The City of Light is full of wonderful hidden gems; you just need to know where to find them. Join me on a little tour, away from drunk English, moody French and bossy Germans, and discover off the beaten track in Paris.

Sewers of Paris
Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer networks in the world and you can now see it with your own eyes! Take a tour down under to learn more about the history of this huge sewer system. Definitely a different view of the city.

Goutte d’Or
Take metro line 4 and hop off at Chateau Rouge. The nearby Goutte d’Or district has a lot of inhabitants of African origin. These people know good food, so whilst wandering around, make sure to check out one (or more) of the many restaurants. Also not to miss is the street market at Rue Dejean, which is held every day but Monday.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Great Mosque of Paris
The beautiful Mosque of Paris was inaugurated in 1926 to honor the North African countries that had helped France during World War I. You’re most welcome to visit the Mosque and join a tour of the building, the courtyard, the Moorish garden and the marble Turkish baths whilst enjoying a cup of mint tea.

Le Marais
Le Marais owes its beautiful buildings of historic and architectural importance to its former inhabitants, the Parisian aristocracy. When they moved to a different district, Le Marais became home of Paris’ main Jewish community. Nowadays, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most popular districts, housing art galleries, fashion houses and uber trendy restaurants.

Sainte Chapelle
Everyone knows Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur, but Paris has a lot more beautiful churches that are well worth a visit. Sainte Chapelle is one of them. Located at Île de la Cité, this stunning structure is a prime example of ‘rayonnant’ Gothic architecture. Both interior and exterior will blow your mind, but the real show-stealers are without a doubt the huge stained glass windows.

Paris off the beaten trackButtes Chaumont
If you feel like getting out of the city crowd, why not head to a lovely public garden? With all its attractions, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is more than just a park. There are several cliffs and bridges, a huge waterfall, a lake and several beautiful gardens. An absolute must-see is the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian style monument, situated at the top of a 30 meter high rock.

Lapin Agile
If you’re looking for some entertainment and queuing for Moulin Rouge is not your idea of fun, a visit to the Lapin Agile might be just the thing for you. The Montmartre cabaret owes its fame to renowned artists like Picasso and Apollinaire. Sit down at a wooden table and enjoy a range of French songs, some dating back decades.

Buddhist Temple
Do you like surprises? Take a metro to Paris’ Chinatown! At the Avenue d’Ivry you’ll find the Buddhist temple L’Amicale des Teochews de France. Just around the corner is the beautiful decorated pagoda of the Temple de l’Association des Résidents d’Origine Indochinoise, which is hidden in an underground passage that looks like a parking garage entrance. The best things are found where you don’t expect them!

Catacombs
Deep down beneath the beautiful streets of the city, you can check out the remains of 6 million people in Paris’ catacombs. Based in the underground tunnels of what once were Paris’ stone mines, this unique museum is more than worth a visit, if you can deal with some smell and cold. Visits aren’t recommended for young children.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Passer-Through-Walls
In the Montmartre district, at Place Marcel Aymé, you’ll find a famous statue called Le Passe-Muraille (or The Passer-Through-Walls). The sculpture is based a short story of French novelist and cross-genre writer Marcel Aymé, about a man who discovers he can walk through walls. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the neighborhood.

Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Paris: leave the flocking to the sheep, and you’re bound to enjoy a different perspective of the city…you’re also less likely to get fleeced. One more thing – if you happen to pass boulangerie Paul on Rue Buci give a little wave – chances are I’ll be sitting outside sipping a frappe and trying to guess your nationality.

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Real Santa ClausSanta Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

Earlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Santa Clause was born in the town of Patara, Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Real Santa ClausIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

In the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

Real Santa ClausAfter he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

Top Three European Christmas Destinations

Christmas in Europe is delightful, no matter where you go. The marriage of old world charm with unique traditions makes for a lovely holiday. Here are my picks for the Top Three European Christmas Destinations of 2019.

1.Copenhagen, Denmark – Tivoli Gardens

Christmas in DenmarkChristmas in Copenhagen is nothing short of enchanting, especially in Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, originally opening on the 15th of August in 1843. It is a popular attraction throughout the year, drawing well over four million visitors annually. But you haven’t experienced Tivoli until you have visited for Christmas.

A complete and total fairy tale, every holiday season the park and gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland unlike any other. There are over four miles of decorative lights, in addition to almost two-thousand fairy lights used to illuminate over four hundred trees. The glittering weeping willows and the giant Christmas tree are a spectacle to behold.

If you are traveling with children, they will be delighted by the forty-five meter toboggan run, the chance to sit with Santa in his sleigh, and by Pixie Ville. Pixie Ville is home to Tivoli’s mechanical pixies and elves, and you can watch them frolicking in the snow, ice skating, and settling down in their igloos. You can catch a further glimpse at the pixies preparing their celebrations when you chug by them on the Christmas Express. Keep an eye out for Santa and Mrs. Claus!

Even if you’re vacationing without wee ones, Tivoli is still worth the visit. The Christmas market is made up of over seventy decorated stalls that line the garden walkway. Here you can purchase a wide variety of handmade Scandinavian gifts and delectable treats, like iced donuts, caramel apples, and warm, mulled wine. Enjoy your treats as you tour the impressive ice sculptures, and then work off the calories by dancing the evening away to some live holiday music.

If you plan on making the trek to Copenhagen this year, you can expect to see the usual Danish décor replaced with a Russian theme. This includes a brightly colored reproduction of the famous and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Visit Tivoli between December 26th and 30th, and end the evening with an impressive fireworks display.

2.Rome, Italy – The Vatican

Christmas VaticanThis is not a trip I would recommend for families traveling with small children. The late hours and long masses are sure to make them sleepy and restless. However, for those wishing to celebrate Christmas in a deeply religious fashion, midnight mass at the Vatican will provide a moving experience.

You will need a ticket to attend this mass, as it draws quite the crowd. Tickets are free, but it is best to request them in advance to avoid rushing around, or worse, not being able to get in. Even the lines to present your confirmation and pick up your tickets can be extremely long, so dress accordingly. December in Rome can be rather chilly, another reason you may want to avoid bringing wee ones to this event.

The Pope will preside over two Christmas masses. The first will take place at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24th. The second will take place on Christmas day, December 25th, at noon.

 

 

 

3.Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Germany ChristmasCan you think of anything more charming than a Bavarian Christmas? Maybe it is just because I grew up with rum balls and nutcrackers, but I find Christmas in this part of Europe absolutely magical. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and you won’t find another market like the one in Nuremberg.

Every holiday season, on the eve of advent, the market is officially opened following a prologue from the Christmas Angel. Dressed in golden robes with golden, flowing curls, the beautiful Angel ends her speech with, “You men and women, you who were once children, too, be a child again today. Rejoice when Christchild now invites you all to see this market. Whoever comes to visit will be welcome.”

You will find nearly two-hundred stalls selling their wares. From handmade crafts, ornaments, candles and wreaths to fruit cakes, spicy gingerbread, and mulled wine. This is the perfect spot to find a unique ornament that you can cherish for Christmases to come.

Children love the Christkindlesmarkt, and not just because the place is crawling with irresistible sweets. A ride on the steam train or around the old fashioned carousel is fun for the whole family. The House of Stars offers a plethora of ever-changing children’s activities, and every Tuesday and Thursday, the Christmas Angel will be there to read their favorite fairy tales.

 

10 Great Oddball Things in South Korea

Someday when I stop traveling, I might actually catch up with myself.  While I was in South Korea, there were a number of odd things that really caused me to go “Hmmm….you don’t really do this or see this kind of oddball stuff anywhere else…”  I’ve been meaning to put together a post of them all since then…and finally, it’s time. Enjoy my 10 Great Oddball Things in South Korea

Sun Cruise1) The Hotel shaped like a ship – while I didn’t stay there, I paid a short visit and just thought – wow, this must have been expensive to build. Located on a coastal cliff in Jeongdongjin and opened in 2002, the resort  is a specially designed cruise ship on land. It is 165 meters in length, 45 meters in height, and 30,000 tons in weight. The Sun Cruise has 211 rooms, both condominium and hotel style, a Western and a Korean restaurant, revolving sky lounge, a night club, a karaoke, and sea water pool. It also offers 6 state-of-the-art function rooms for seminars and workshops.

2) Jimjilbangs – For usually less than 10 Euros you can check into a jingabong for 12-16 hours. They are open 24 hours.  Part bathhouse, part social club, part hotel, and part something else entirely – they are my favorite thing in South Korea.

3) The North Korean Submarine – I know, it’s not terribly exciting. A bunch of North Koreans got their submarine stuck on some reefs and abandoned it. This prompted a deadly manhunt that lasted over a month (25 of the 26 crew members were shot dead and the South Korean casualties, civil and military, tallied 17). It’s just odd that it is sitting there. Oh, yeah, and by the way, there is a US Warship there too…I don’t think it was abandoned though.

4) Going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. Okay, this might be the oddest of them all. It’s about $50 but when you travel a lot you need to take care of your teeth and why not have it done in a place where you don’t know the language. I’m pretty sure they cleaned my teeth. It felt like it anyway. (Thanks to the Vagablond for the teeth tip)

5) Sokcho’s North Korean Village and ferry – Sokcho is interesting by itself but when was the last time you got pulled across a body of water (by hand) by a North Korean exile?

 

6)  Karaoke (whatever it’s called in Korea – I think it’s Norebong-ing) Anyway, it’s not like in the US. You and your friends (or just you) rent a private room and bring your own drinks. No audience. Definitely not recommended that you go by yourself. I went with a Dutch girl from the hostel and we had fun once we had drank enough.

7) Underground Shopping, Museums, etc -Koreans love to dig tunnels and you will find an amazing world beneath your feet when you take the time to look. This is especially true in Seoul and around the DMZ.

8) Love Motels – These are really cheap hotels generally and themed. Unlike karaoke, you can actually go to these by yourself, just make sure the walls are thick enough that you don’t hear the people who didn’t go by themselves. By the way, don’t be surprised if they offer you a menu of women to choose from – not required.  These are a great budget option (the love motels, not the women)

9) The Penis Park. It’s a beautiful natural park next to the sea – filled with dicks. Seriously, a must see place but not for the shy or easily aroused.

10) The De Militarized Zone – No trip to South Korea would be complete without visiting a war zone.  The war is still active and the DMZ is still being tunnelled under. You can visit at a few locations and even set foot in North Korea. Why not?

 

7 Offbeat Adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Old China Cafe KLWhile in Kuala Lumpur back in 2011, I did more than just drink beer and watch street walkers, I also saw some very cool places and attractions you might not have come across.

 

The Old China Cafe

Old China Cafe was a great lunch of Malay-Chinese cuisine and had an interesting feel. Finding it was the hardest part but a friendly guy sniffing glue on the corner pointed me in the right direction. I’m lucky to have been in China before it’s modern transformation…this reminded me of that.

From their site:

This building was the guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. The guild was set up at the turn of the century and moved to this part of Chinatown in the 1920s.
As the guild members prospered, the founding members moved to this building in 1930. The two large mirrors that face each other are traditional feng shui mirrors that Chinese believe would perpetually reflect the good luck when the first rays of the morning sun light up the interior.

Even the interior doors still have wooden latches. This type of pre-war (World War One/1914-1918) shophouses may not last forever. Already several in the neighbourhood (Jalan Panggong, Jalan Petaling and Jalan Balai Polis) have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition.

Old China Café tries to maintain a semblance of the Chinese community’s old social life which will soon fade into history.

Bukit Nanas ParkBukit Nanas Forest Reserve. Sitting in the center of ultra-modern, ultra-urban Kuala Lumpur is a rainforest preserve where you can hike across wooden bridges, see monkeys, and get your feet muddy on tropical trails. Since 1906 the 11 hectares of the preserve have been a beloved spot for locals and visitors to get away from it all by heading to the city center. Great trails and for tree lovers you can check the signage to discover Kapur (Dryobalanops aromatica), Keruing bulu (Dipterocarpus baudii), Jelutong (Dyera costulata), Meranti pa’ang (Shorea bracteolata) and Rattan (Calamus manan) and many other trees. A botanical herb garden, orchid area, nature center, and jogging trails all make this a more than worthwhile nature stop in the center of the city.

Ain Arabia is a completely neat idea to me. Sure, Malaysia is a Muslim country, but it’s not an Arab country. If, however, you want to experience the Arab world of the Middle East while visiting Southeast Asia, the place to head is Ain Arabia. The street is located at Jalan Berangan in Bukit Bintang. Oddly, the area seemed to be filled with mostly Arab tourists and I’m told that during the month of Ramadan, many Arabs come from stricter countries to avoid the enforced fast. Since I lived in Morocco, I found the Sahara Tent Restaurant and the Berber laundry service to be more than a little bit odd.

Cosmo's World KLCosmo’s World Theme Park gives you a chance to experience a theme park but without having to go outside so you can enjoy the air conditioning. The park is located at Level 5, Berjaya Times Square. It fills 380,000 square feet and has separate theme parks for adults and children called Galaxy Station and Fantasy Garden. Sorry, the Fantasy Garden is the part for kids…Still, you have to love indoor roller coasters and a ride called the DNA mixer sounds like it is much more adult than it really is.

Little India. Indians are one of the three main ethnic groups in Malaysia so Little India makes sense. For those looking for an Indian experience without going to India. This works. Jalan Masjid India is one of the oldest parts of the city and dates back to 1870 when the Indian mosque was built.
Little India is the heart of a thriving neighborhood built up around the mosque. It is filled with colorful flowers and garments and is easy to reach. Just get off the tram at Masjid Jamek Station or walk from China town.Bales of saris, shops heaped with gold, traditional pharmacies and gorgeous glass bangles fill the shops and delicious aromas come from the many restaurants which offer tasty Indian snacks like samosa, ghulab jamun and vadai.

KL Bird and Butterfly ParksThe Bird and Butterfly Parks. The Bird Park and Butterfly house are located in the Lake Gardens, a 60-hectare reserve since 1888. It is the world’s largest free flight, walk in Aviary. The butterfly park has over 6000 butterflys and more than 120 species…and they are alive not stuck to pin-boards.

National Planetarium. I’m a sucker for planetariums. I just love them. It’s the blue domed building above the Lake Gardens and has a space museum that includes replicas of ancient observatories. The planetarium shows were in English and not only interesting, but fun. Of particular note was the very nice juxtaposition of traditional Islamic architecture with the space age. Very nice.

Making Tortellini and Tagliatella in Bologna, Italy

Two of my favorite things to do when I travel are to meet cool new people and to cook! This trip to Italy back in 2012 checked off all the boxes.

Italaian cooking class in ItalyOne of the highlights of my trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy was the chance to work with Chef Federica at Podere San Giuliano Agriturismo and finally overcome my fear of making pasta from scratch.

Not incidentally, I was also very happy to sample her 50 Special Pignoletto which she named for those days when she was a teenager and she and friends would jump on their Vespa 50 Specials and ride into the hills of Bologna where they would drink…what else? Pignoletto!

Italaian cooking class in ItalyI woke up early while the rest of the Blogville residents slept off all the wine from the night before and caught a bus out to Podere San Giuliano where Chef Federica met me, we then had coffee, and she walked us through the process of making a classical Bolognese Tortellini and Tagliatella for which Bologna is especially well known.

This is the dish that takes the name Bolognese and oddly, the people of bologna don’t actually eat spaghetti – instead they eat this delicious rolled and cut pasta which should be 8 mm when cut, cooked and served on the table. There is actually a golden sample of the perfect dimensions which is held in the Palazzo della Mercanzia in Bologna!

Italaian cooking class in ItalyFor the Ragoul (the sauce) we needed chopped the following:
1 carrot, an onion, and some celery stalks

We then melted bacon fat, seared the vegetables and added minced meat and allowed it to cook and brown before pouring approximately 1/2 cup of white wine (because the red changes the color of the ragoul) and fresh tomato sauce which was grown and processed on Podere San Giuliano. After that, we left the kitchen so the sauce could simmer for the next two hours while we made the pasta.

Much to my surprise, the pasta was made using only approximately 2 cups of flour and two eggs. Pile the flour in the center, create a bowl in the center, add the eggs and begin mixing with the fork.

After a ball of dough is made, that is when you begin rolling it out. A nice trick Chef Federica showed us is to let one edge of the dough hang over the edge as you roll the other edge, thus allowing gravity to assist you.

Tagliatella is said to have been made to celebrate the beauty of Lucretia Borgia who was married to the duke in nearby Ferrara. Watch the video to see me combing her hair!

We rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled – and then we folded the pasta over on itself a number of times and cut it into the 8 mm strips – that’s when we took this video.

Italaian cooking class in ItalyWe allowed the pasta to sit for approximately an hour before cooking it and to my surprise, the cooking took only 1-2 minutes. This is fresh pasta and so it doesn’t need to re-hydrate like dried pasta.

After that, we removed it from the vat – Chef Federica says that you need to boil pasta in large volumes of water to get it to taste the best. By the way, my mother’s method of cooking until the pasta sticks on the wall is considered brutal – you actually don’t want it to be that sticky so stop a few minutes earlier, Mom.

Finally we settled on the patio for a beautiful lunch in a perfect setting.

Organic Retreat in Le Marche, Italy

Exclusive for Vagobond by Melissa Ruttanai.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelA local belief states that the Romans preferred to march to war across Le Marche, so their troops would arrive at battle well fed and fueled for victory. The Italian region of Le Marche is famed for vineyards and farmsteads spanning from the Adriatic to the Apennines. At La Tavola Marche, a farm inn and cooking school, chickens cluck cheerfully while the cat Piccolo stalks through flowerbeds with his uncle, Buster.

Health begins in the soil where alfalfa, grains, and carrots grow. At La Tavola Marche, owners Ashley and Jason Bartner focus on organic, traditionally prepared meals. He is a classically trained alumnus of the French Culinary Institut. She is a foodie and columnist for Taste Italia. Together, they’ve created an agriturismo that crosses a Roman feast with heart-warming hospitality.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelThe Farmhouse
La Tavola Marche sits atop a green knoll, crowned by a 300 year-old farmhouse renovated into guest rooms and apartments. A nearby spring feeds directly into the pool and pipes, providing mineral rich waters for cooking, bathing, and swimming. Down a stone path, the garden produces over 80% of their cooking ingredients, including zucchini with tender blossoms, strawberries, fava beans, parsley, and potatoes. Each morning Jason waters the plants for over two hours, twining tomato vines around traditional bamboo stakes and staving off fungal invasion with organic probiotics.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelWhile Jason razes a virtual symphony of succulence in the kitchen, his wife Ashley tends to the chickens and monitors her cache of homemade liqueurs. House specialties focus on digestives created from local ingredients like green walnuts, plums, and cherries. By using seasonal fruit, Ashley packs vitamins and minerals into traditional after-dinner drinks.

The Feast
On a typical evening, dinner encompasses five courses. In the stone courtyard, white votive candles cast a romantic light. The rooster calls his hens home. Housecats greet each other after a day playing in the fields. As Jason garnishes plates, Ashley sweeps dishes out to the tables. They are almost too pretty to eat.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary TravelWith no less passion than her chef-husband, Ashley describes each platter with gusto: ripe melon wrapped with salty prosciutto, lentil salad with cucumber and shaved cheese, and garden-grown fava crostini. Primo and secondo courses playfully utilize what is locally available and at its height of freshness: hearty tagliatelle traditionally handmade without salt, roasted veal breast of puntine di Vitello. Table wine is locally made and bottled at the farmhouse. Just when you’ve reached maximum stomach-capacity, dessert and digestives appear to finish the meal with a sweet finale.

With their belief in healthy cooking, Ashley and Jason willingly provide recipes for their meals as well as cooking classes in the farmhouse kitchen. Don’t miss their Thursday night pizza parties. Visitors should take advantage of agrotourism and country lifestyle in Le Marche. Here, farmers chop wood for winter. Neighbors help weed each other’s gardens. And the moon rises over pre-Roman ruins. In La Marche, wine embodies the spirit of life while homemade meals remain at its heart.

La Travola Marche Italian Culinary Travel

Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour A Melting Pot of Flavors

Pasadena Food TourStory by Linda Kissam for Vagobond.com

What could be better than to taste your way through historic Old Town Pasadena, California?

Thanks to the popularity and growth of food-obsessed walking tours and local Melting Pot Food Tours (based in Southern California) tourists, visitors, and locals can get to know the unique culinary neighborhood that makes up this special city.

On a beautiful June weekend morning, Melting Pot Tours treated a team of press people to an unforgettable 3-hour, 1.5 mile epicurean excursion to enjoy some of the best off the beaten path artisanal restaurants and unique shops in heart of Old Pasadena.

The tour group met in front of a local wine store and was made up of about 10 people from all kinds of places, ages, and walks of life. The tour started promptly with a quick explanation of the day’s itinerary. The walking pace and amount of information given was perfect. My group especially appreciated that owner/tour guide Lisa kept us on task and on schedule. We never felt rushed, but neither did we feel bored at any time.

Pasadena Food TourOld Pasadena is well known for its food. Delicacies of every variety can be found throughout the city, from dim sum to truffles. Our tour took us to an eclectic mixture of nine great shops, cafes, and restaurants. Each tour is different so you can go multiple times and experience something different each time. Ours took us to an old-world boutique chocolate shop, an award-winning gelato shop, an authentic Mexican torta café, a Mediterranean café serving crispy falafel balls, an edgy Asian fusion restaurant (the group’s favorite stop of the day), an exquisite olive store, a delightful family-owned and operated Peruvian style restaurant, a gourmet tea and herb shop—complete with a tea bar- and an upscale soap shop. If there’s one thing the owners of Melting Pot Tours know—it’s good food!

Pasadena Food TourEach place was thoughtfully chosen to be unique and probably not something I would have found on your own. In my opinion Melting Pot delivered on its promise, “…to entertain and educate locals and visitors alike.” At just $53 (adults) and $28 (children) this is the bargain of the century. I’ve taken similar food walking tours for double and triple the price.

A walking food tour is appropriate for almost anyone, but is best suited to adults with a curiosity about local food, architecture and history. The dining experience will provide enough food to satisfy any appetite. Water is the only beverage served, but you can purchase other beverages if you like. My advice is to wear sun block, comfortable shoes and a hat if it’s a hot day. No time has been set aside for shopping, so you’ll most likely have to go back on your own time if you see a special treasure you want. The route is flat, but if you have knee or hip issues, the course will be a challenge for you. Each stop is less than 10 minutes from the next one and you will be spending about 20 minutes or so at each stop.

Pasadena Food TourTours are given year round (except major holidays). Guides are patient, knowledgeable and engaging. Most are day tours, although April – October an evening tour is added on. Feel free to join an already organized group or you can book a private tour with 10 or more people. Advance tickets are required. So come hungry and be excited about the Old Pasadena Walking Tour, as you eat your way through the best restaurants, and shop your way through some of the most unique shops in the diverse, best tasting city in Southern California, Old Pasadena.

Once you finish your foodie tour, think about strolling back over to the Everson Royce (ER) wine shop and tasting bar (named for owner Randy Clement’s two twin boys). The shop is located across from Memorial Park where the food tour started. April Langford and Randy Clement have created a shop that offers small production, high quality, artisanal wines …and a few surprises. For starters, there’s draft wine – from an eight-tap dispenser to be exact. You can find that treat in the tasting section of the wine shop. The taps dispense four California reds (cooled to 60 degrees) and also four California whites (cooled to 43 degrees). Wines change often, but look forward to small lot beauties such as Butternut Chard, Blue Plate Chenin Blanc, Andrew Lane Merlot, and Hobo Zin.

Pasadena Food TourYou can find owner Randy Clement there on most days. You can feel his driving energy and passion for exceptional customer service and value. He also seems to have a knack for choosing the right staff. As Randy told me, “It’s all about customer service; we want to kill our customers with kindness.” I can confirm that. My experience is that the staff is attentive, knowledgeable and engaging.

Once you’ve finished your tasting, there’s a large selection – about 500 bottles – to choose from, from just about everywhere. Prices run from $7 – $2,000 a bottle. Special orders are welcome. Think eastern European wines, Italian, French, Spanish and lots of California wines showcasing whatever you can think of from varietals to blends. Be sure to ask for your 10% off discount off as a participant in the Melting Pot Tour experience.

Until you’re able to take the tour, here’s a quick and refreshing recipe from our first stop Tortas Mexico to tide you over. It was a group favorite.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Compliments of Tortas Mexico Pasadena
www.TortasPasadena.com

Tortas Mexico Pasadena offers an authentic casual dining experience with recipes from the owner’s homeland of San Juan Yucuita in the Nochixtlan District of Oaxaca. They use only the freshest ingredients and each food item is made to order.

Serves 6

This light, refreshing drink popularized in Mexico is a terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for “fresh water”) is to infuse the water with fruit essence without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink. Feel free to experiment with other flavors such as strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups cold water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
Ice cubes

Method

Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

160 calories per serving

Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano of Modena, Italy

Modena, Italy is the city that Italians think about when they think about food. For me, that was enough to make me book a foodie tour while I was there. Sure, there are plenty of beautiful buildings, famous artwork, historical stories – but I was in Modena for three things –

Italian Cheese MasterParmagiano-Reggiano Cheese (this isn’t the Parmesian that comes in a green can, Americans!)

Traditional Modena Balsamic Vinegar

Lambrusco – the famous sparkling red wine of Modena (yes, sparkling red!)

I arranged my tour through Emilia Delizia – out of all the tour companies available, I liked these guys for the way they set up their tours, for the personalized nature of the tours, and also because we had nice interaction via email. All of those things added up to my booking with them and meeting my guide, Gabriele, at 8 am in Modena.

The day began with Gabriele offering a nice overview of the food of Emilia Romagna, the history of the region, and a short drive to a small dairy outside of Modena where Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced. The cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region is both robust and refined consisting of smoked meats, cheeses, wines, vinegars, and pastas such as tagliatella and  tortellini. I had taken a pasta cooking course back in May, so this tour was going to be focused on the wine, vinegar, and of course, the cheese.

Emilia-Romagna really hit the gastronomic big time back in the 1800’s when food writer Pellegrino Artusi when he detailed the region in his book The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well which spoke about the various regions of this and other parts of Italy.  Artusi was a native of the region and described the food as not just being healthy and delicious but also good for the soul!

At the dairy, the cheese master kindly let me view the whole process, ask what may have been silly questions, and take plenty of photos. You may remember the images of huge wheels of cheese falling during the recent earthquakes in Northern Italy – that was the prince of all cheeses, Parmegiano-Reggiano aka Parmesan Cheese.  This cheese is considered such a perfect food that it is sent to outerspace to provide the calcium for astronauts and thus avoid the loss of bone density which comes from extended periods in weightless environments.

Parmesan ParmegianoI’ve always been a big cheese lover, but seeing the process, made my appreciation grow. It begins with the grains grown on the dairy which are fed to the cows that live at the dairy. This is a truly regional product. The making of it goes back to the year 1200 and has remained much the same since that time.  The only place that this cheese can be made and certified is in the small region south of Mantua and bordered between Parma and Bologna. The cows, the grain, and the cheese master all need to be from this region.

The milk has to be fresh from the cow (within two hours of milking) in order to be used. The milk is placed in vats and overnight the cream separates. It takes more than 4 gallons of milk to make 2 pounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano and it is all artisanally made. The milk is then heated in copper cauldrons where it begins to do the work of curdling. Next, the milk curd is broken up into small chunks using a giant whisk, then it is cooked and allowed to cool. The curds drop to the bottom and using a pair of sticks and a large spatula – the cheese ball is lifted out and cut into two masses, dropped into molds and pressed to remove excess moisture for several days.

Next the cheese is soaked in a salt bath for about 20 days before being removed and allowed to age for 1 to 3 years. Only at this point is an expert certifier brought to inspect the cheeses – if they pass, they get the fire brand – this is the ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano Consorzio Tutela’ oval mark you will find on the finest cheeses. Those that don’t make the cut, are marked with horizontal bands which indicate they are of an inferior quality (though still delicious).  We tried a 12, 24, and 36 month cheese – of them all, I preferred the 24 months as the flavor was strong with hints of nuts and sweetness but not overpowering as the 36 month was.  The 36 month is special and should be reserved for specialty cooking – although with a drop of sweet balsamic on top, a single piece comes close to cheese divinity.

Balsamic VinegarOur next stop was a family home where traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena has been made for several generations.  I should point out that the Balsamic Vinegars that most American’s have tried are very different from these.  While most vinegars are made from wine, traditional balsamic is made from unfermented grape juice. Again, this is a product that must be completely regional – the grapes are usually grown by the family who makes the Balsamic.

The process begins with the grapes which are crushed and then added to a battery of hard-wood barrels which impart varioius flavors to the vinegar as it ages – how long? The minimum is twelve years! There are two certifications 12 and 25 years. The process takes place in the attic of the house.

We were met at the gate by Carlotta, the daughter of Giorgio and the newest in generations of Balsamic producers. As we stepped in the house, the overwhelming sweet smell of the Balsamic met us as Carlotta led us to the attic where battery after battery sat slowly concentrating. The barrels range from large to small and over the course of years the vinegar reduces from the open tops – each year a bit of the previous years grape juice is added until after 12 to 25 years – voila! A barrel of a few gallons is ready to be consumed or sold. Seriously, 25 years to make a handful of bottles.

Carlotta walked us through the entire process and showed us the batch her father began when she was born. She is 26 now and so the Balsamic Vinegar ‘Carlotta’ has recently come available. The amazing thing is that the woods of the barrels import a strong taste to the Balsamic so that a Balsamic that was kept in only sweet woods like cherry or ash offers these flavors. Similarly, the Balsamic that sat in Juniper tasted strongly of the berries and aroma of the juniper trees.

Modena Balsamic VinegarThe Balsamic ‘Carlotta’ was sweet and delicious and she confided in us that she likes it best dribbled onto vanilla ice cream! We were able to taste a variety of 12 and 25 year old Balsamics while we were there and then we had the chance to buy a 100 ml bottle. You can imagine how much a 25 year old vinegar that yields only a handful of bottles will cost – the minimum for a 12 year was 45 Euro and this went up to 180 Euro for the Balsamic that won the 2011 best Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena award – which means, it is the best in the world.  To be honest, my wife would have killed me for spending that much on a tiny bottle of anything – so I had to pass, but those on the tour with me were quite happy to buy multiple bottles. I was tempted but could see my wife’s wooden cooking spoon coming at me, so regretfully said no.

By this point, we were all ready to drink a little wine so we then drove out some long country roads to an organic agrotourismo on the outskirts of Modena where we wandered the vineyards, learned the process of the making this famous sparkling red wine.

We enjoyed a farmer style lunch with a local dairy man, a couple of farmers, and the owner of the vineyards. Lunch was a delicious homemade pasta, several types of cheese, smoked meats from the region, and of course Lambrusco. This wasn’t my first time drinking it, and to be honest, I was looking forward to it .

Lambresco Italian Farm VineyardLambrusco is a bubbly red wine that is served young. In fact, in the 1970’s and 1980’s the wine was considered to be the wine of the young – unfortunately, this led to a loss of reputation of what is a very nice wine as it was relegated to the land of those who think of it as inferior.   While there is a lot of Lambrusco di Modena that will please your palette and provide even the most haughty of connoisseurs with enjoyment – this particular vintage wasn’t it as evidenced by the fact that of three bottles opened for nine men, none of them got finished. Or maybe we were all a bunch of teetotalers…

That being said, however, the lunch was wonderful, the vintners were gracious in showing us how the Lambrusco was made, and as an ending to a wonderful food tour it was almost perfect- because what foodie doesnt’ love strolling through Italian vineyards or drinking homemade grappa with the farmer who grew and fermented it?

 

5 Cultural Travel Experiences in Fez, Morocco

Fez is the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. Here are five activities that will give you the ultimate in cultural exploration in this remarkable city.

Artisanal Tour

Fez Arttsanal Tour

Morocco is one of the few places on the globe where you can find artisans practicing their crafts in the same way they were conducted hundreds of years ago. The hard part is finding the real artisans and crafts and avoiding the fakes. An Artisanal Tour is the best way to see the real thing. (http://culturevulturesfez.org/artisanal-affairs/)

Moroccan Cooking Class

Fez

A cooking course is a great way to take a bit of your travels home with you. The Clock Kitchen Cooking School offers authentic courses in a variety of traditional techniques. Chef Souad knows her stuff and is a real sweetheart on top of being able to teach you about Moroccan cuisine.

Explore the Architecture

Fez

Fez is filled with beautiful old riads, houses, and palaces. Some of them have been restored to their pristine condition while others are in ruins. The medieval Islamic architecture of Fez is reason enough to visit this former imperial capital.

Get Lost in the Old Medina

Fez

Watch out for donkeys! You won’t have to worry about getting run over by a car or motorbike in the Fez medina, but donkeys are still the primary means of transport within the ancient city walls. This is the largest car free urban area in the world. Don’t get too lost!

Listen to the Call to Prayer from 365 Mosques

As the spiritual capital of Morocco, Fez has 365 mosques within the city. When it’s time for prayer, you can hear the muezzins (callers) giving the ayden (call to prayer) from all of them. This can be expecially poignant at sunrise or sunset. Since they don’t coordinate their clocks down to the second, there is a surreal, other-worldly quality to the warbling sound. Of course, if you sleep too close to a mosque, don’t be surprised to be woke at dawn!

 

Mummified Love in Andong, South Korea

To celebrate Halloween, here is another monster story, but this one with a twist – it’s a mummy love story. I first shared this back in 2011. Enjoy!

Andong MummyWhen you travel the world you come across wonderful things, but some of them touch you more than others. The story of an ancient Korean mummy and his heartbroken wife hit me hard as I traveled and thought of my wife at home, pregnant with our first child. My own journey here was very random as I had come to Andong with no idea of what to do or see and when the bus passed by Andong National University, I figured it was a good place to wander around since Universities tend to have free libraries, galleries, cheap food, and interesting people who speak English.

It was my good luck to find the free archeology museum where the Andong mummy lives so that I could discover this story. It’s a famous story by now, but maybe you haven’t heard of it yet. Everyone in Korea knows it though and when the mummy was found and the letter with it was read, it touched hearts around the world. On this day, it touched my own.

Andong Mummy Love LetterThe 16th century mummy was found by archeologists in Andong City and identified by researchers at the Andong National University as Eung-tae, a member of the very ancient Goseong Yi Clan. Eung-tae was in a wooden coffin in a earth hardened tomb. The archeologists were very excited to have found a male mummy, not a common thing in South Korea. His beard and clothing were still preserved and they found that he was fairly tall at five feet nine inches, which even today in Korea would put him above the average. On his chest, much to their surprise, they found a letter from his wife, which is actually how his identity was revealed.

The letter was heart-breaking and over the next few years led to novels, films, and even an opera. Here is the text of the letter translated to English:

To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586
You always said, “Darling, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live without you? How could you die before of me?
How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and die ahead of me?
I cannot live without you. I want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where can I put my heart now and how can I live with your child missing you?
Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. I want to listen to your words in detail in my dreams and so I write this letter and put it in with you. Look closely and talk to me.
When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.
You are in another place, and not in such deep grief as I. There is no limit and end to my sorrows and so I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say but I stop here.

Andong MummyThe letter and the mummy made me suddenly aware of the risks I was taking by traveling and being away from my wife and the child she carries. It was at that moment, that I just wanted to go home, to be with her. From there forward, my journey held no joy for me. Certainly I met wonderful people, saw interesting things, and yes, I enjoyed myself, but my heart was no longer in it. I just kept thinking of this woman, weeping upon learning the death of her husband, weeping as her child was born, and struggling through life as a single mom and without the man she had come to depend on.

Perhaps it was for this reason that I didn’t have a desire to take any great risks, to test the limits of my endurance, or to push the limits of my already very limited budget. It would be several months before I would be able to permanently be at home with my wife and our unborn child, but upon meeting the mummy, I made a promise that I would make certain to be there for them. And so, from Andong to Busan, back to Seoul, back to Kuala Lumpur, to Singapore, Jakarta, and back to Turkey I walked carefully and kept in mind that there were two people waiting for me and relying on me. And now, I am home- back in Morocco with my wife and our child will be coming in a month or so. Suddenly, I can relax and much of the tension I felt while away has melted since I know that my wife and child have me with them at this very important time.

Cela Kula – Nis, Serbia’s Skull Tower

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsThe story of the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia is a cautionary tale about power and rebellion. It is called Cela Kula in Serbian which means…”Skull Tower”.

The Serbs were far from happy being in the Ottoman Empire and they had began a rebellion in Nis which sits on the Constantinople Road running through Sofia, Bulgaria to modern day Istanbul. The 1809 rebellion was put down and the skulls of the rebels were used to build a tower as a reminder to anyone else who wanted to rise up against the Ottomans and Sultan Mahmud II.

Here is some of the history from Wikipidia:

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsOn May 31, 1809 on Cegar Hill a few kilometers northeast of Niš, Serbian insurrectionists suffered their greatest defeat in the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804-1813). The insurrectionists’ advance towards Niš was stopped here and, when the far stronger Turkish forces attacked, the battle was ended by the Serbian commander Stevan Sineli, who sacrificially fired at his gunpowder depot in order to avoid surrendering to the Turks, killing himself, the rest of his men, and the advancing Turks.

After the retreat of the Serbian rebel army, the Turkish commander of Niš, Hursid Pasha, ordered that the heads of the killed Serbs were to be mounted on a tower to serve as a warning to whoever opposed the Ottoman Empire. In all, 952 skulls were included, with the skull of Sin?eli? placed at the top. The scalps from the skulls were stuffed with cotton and sent to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as proof for Sultan Mahmud II.

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsThe tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including that of Sineli.

In front of the chapel stands the monument to Sineli, and a small relief depicting the battle, both from 1937. The monument commemorating the battle in the form of a guard tower was built in 1927 on Cegar Hill by Julian Djupon. The lower part is made out of stone from the Niš fortress.

Skull Tower was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.

Like much of Serbia, I found the Skull Tower to be creepy and lacking any sort of contextual explanation – I had to search for that later. To get there I had to walk about two kilometers from the center of Nis. The ever present dog turds and tagging were constant while the sidewalks were not.

Along the way, I stopped to eat the Serbian delicacy Borek, basically a filo dough pastry stuffed with cheese or meat. It was a bit greasy, but overall pretty delicious. I bought a yogurt to wash it down while sitting in a grungy little park with some senior citizens who had no idea what to think of me joining them as they ate their boxed lunches.

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsAt the tower, there was no signage. I walked around it, took some pictures of the external chapel, but the doors were all locked so I couldn’t get inside. By this time, the borek and yogurt had caused my bowels to become a bit upset and I needed to find a toilet so despite my desire to see the tower of skulls, I went towards a dirty little bus station nearby to see if I could find a toilet. At the bus station, the lady asked me if I wanted to see the tower. I explained that I needed a toilet first, but yes, I wanted to see it.

A tiny little dwarf of a woman came out and led me to the very dirty bathroom (which I was very happy to have access to) and after I paid her the very reasonable entrance fee of 100 Serbian Dinar, she led me to the chapel where she pulled out her huge ring of keys and unlocked three locks to let me in. She watched curiously as I snapped some photos and tried to ‘feel’ the place. It felt like I expected, creepy.

When 19th century traveler Alphonse de Lemartine visited Nis in 1833, this was his experience.

“ My eyes and my heart greeted the remains of those brave men whose cut-off heads made the cornerstone of the independence of their homeland. May the Serbs keep this monument! It will always teach their children the value of the independence of a people, showing them the real price their fathers had to pay for it. ”

It made me think of something – which has caused more than a few people to claim I was being disrespectful, but which was, after all, what it made me think of. The Tower of Skulls is a powerful symbol of Serbian Independence – but since I’m a child of 1970s America – the entire time I was there, I was thinking of this….

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