Sheet Music & Toilet Seat Art – 13 of Bologna’s Offbeat Museums

A visit to Bologna, Italy is usually characterized by great food, exploring the wonderful architecture, perhaps doing the Portico walks, checking out the tall towers, and perhaps enjoying music, art, or cinema at Bologna’s many festivals.

Offbeat Art in BolognaHidden in the midst of all of that, are several wonderful offbeat museums that are definitely worth your time.  First of all, near the train station and slightly away from the center is a museum filled with works that just about no one thinks of when they go to Bologna – Modern Art.

The Museum of Art Moderne Bologna or MAMBO is bursting with treasures both inside and outside. The Museum covers Italian Art from World War II to the present.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna opened in 1975 in the spaces specially designed by artist and architect Leone Pancaldi; it was born in the atmosphere of intellectual fervor that pervaded the city at the beginning of the Sixties. Before GAM’s opening, more than a decade of events, exhibitions and competitions had taken place in hope of its construction, culminating in the opening activities joint under the title “A museum today.”

Inside you’ll find a wide array of rotating exhibits and a wonderful permanent collection that ranges through such an eclectic mix as tribute to New York break dancing videos to Toilet Seat art (which, by the way, the security seems a little uptight about – when I began lifting the lids to see the symbols painted under them, a very upset guard began yelling at me in Italian and then followed me the rest of the way through the museum – my contention is that there was art under the seats, so obviously the artist intended it to be seen!) Due to the close scrutiny, I was unable to take a photo of this wonderful toilet seat display.  Shit!!

Mambo museum in Bologna
A shot of the wonderful Marcel Boadthaers at MAMbo in Bologna, Italy

When I visited there was an immensely interesting  Marcel Broodthaers  temporary exhibit which highlighted his artistic path and how it developed over the course of an extraordinary career that lasted just 12 years, from 1964 to 1976. Titled, Marcel Broodthaers. L’espace de l’écriture, the exhibition was extraordinary.

Another Bologna Museum that I found to be well worth my time was the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca Della Musica (International Museum and Library of Music). While this was a small museum, for music lovers it is a must see.  Tucked away inside the 16th century Palazzo Sanguinetti, this museum was designed to hold the musical objects of the city of Bologna, but quickly grew to become an international library for sheet music! With wonderful murals, a delightful old curator, and plenty of old instruments – you won’t be sorry if you pay a visit.

Offbeat Art in BolognaThe frescoes alone are worth the price of admission as they are meticulously restored 18th century examples of Neo-Classical and Napoleanic art that are unlike just about anything else in the city.

Here is a blurb from the museum’s website:

The first and most important intent was to bring awareness to the greater public of the rich variety of musical heritage that the Comune di Bologna owns and has kept for a long time. Until now, much of this heritage remained confined in warehouses for various reasons – the first and foremost being the lack of adequate space – and was only brought out occasionally for temporary expositions.

The museum’s core musical collections were created by Franciscan Father, Giovanni Battista Martini in the 1700’s who was not only a great scholar and collector but also the teacher of Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. In addition to enriching his library day after day, gathering manuscripts and musical works of various kinds, Padre Martini collected portraits of musicians.

Offbeat Art in BolognaFor me, the most fun was to see the instruments: lutes, flutes by Manfredo Settala from 1650, the pochette, various little violin, the ghironde, the serpentoni, the extraordinary series of horns and cornets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally, the tiorba, which is in the shape of a khitára.

So, as you can see – Bologna offers much more than just food and architecture. Here are a few more museums you may want to explore while you are in the heart of good living.

1) The Tapestry Museum in Villa Spada
2) The Leccaro Collection of Modern Art
3) The Herb Museum
4) Missionary Museum of Chinese Art
5) Civic Medieval Museum
6) Museum of Comparative Anatomy
7) The Toy Soldier Museum
8) Resistance Movement Museum
9) Industrial Heritage Museum
10) The Communications Museum
11) The Museum of Bee Keeping

If those thirteen museums aren’t enough for you, there are about fifty more within the center of Bologna and that ought to keep you busy!

 

Eating Horse Flesh in Chiasso Switzerland

Ah yes, Switzerland. A day of banking, Swiss cheese, chocolate, yogurt, smoked meat, and a bit of yodeling. I did it all in Chiasso. Cliche, yes – but oddly enjoyable.

My first pic of SwitzerlandThe day trip from Bergamo to Lake Como had cost me just a few hours and 6.25 Euro so I decided to splurge and take a trip across the border to Chiasso, Switzerland.

The train fare was 1.30 Euro and the trip took less than ten minutes as we slowly went under a mountain. I’m told that the Swiss love to make tunnels every bit as much as Koreans like digging. Anyway, it was a nice tunnel and then we were in Switzerland!

I set off on a whirlwind tour. I visited a shop that sold Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Watches but didn’t buy one because I don’t wear a watch and I only carry a carry on bag and so a knife would have been confiscated. After that I walked through the streets breathing the fresh Swiss air.

Swiss International Air Lines
Since I was in Switzerland, it seemed appropriate that I do some banking so I visited the ATM and got 50 Swiss Francs which I wasn’t entirely sure was enough to buy anything but wondered if it was a lousy conversion rate…didn’t know. But, I did some Swiss banking.

Chiasso Shopping CenterNext stop was the grocery store, because even though there were restaurants, I wanted to eat real Swiss products for lunch and I needed to see how much the beautiful Swiss currency would buy…so, I grabbed a Swiss shopping basket and walked through the Swiss aisles getting Swiss products – and by the way, I was hungry – but managed to control myself.

I bought some Swiss yogurt, some smoked Swiss horse meat, a big block of Swiss cheese, and three bars of Swiss chocolate (but no Swiss Miss).

I walked through the streets which were filled with now mostly closed shops since (and I never knew this) apparently the Siesta is a big deal in Switzerland. I decided not to visit the big International Duty Free Shopping Center but instead sat in a very green and clean little park eating my yogurt, cheese, horsemeat, and a bit of the chocolate.

Discover the joys of smoked horse!

Park in Chiasso, SwitzerlandI have to admit, I’d never eaten horse before but this particular cheval fume seche coupe was incredibly delicious. The Swiss yogurt may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The Swiss cheese was ever so good and then the chocolate – my goodness. I was so overwhelmed with the very Swiss-ness of the situation that I did a little bit of yodeling (after looking to see that there was no one else in the park).

Finally, I decided to end the day in Switzerland in a spectacular fashion by walking to Italy. No border check, no nada nothing. I was afraid my Swiss Chocolate and Cheese would be confiscated, but all was well. By the way, the price for my groceries was 8.75 Swiss Franks which ended up being about 6 Euro – amazingly affordable!

If you would rather spend more time in Switzerland, here is a list of Chiasso Hotels or you can take the train a bit further to Lugano.

The walk back to Lake Como took a bit longer than I expected (since I had to go over the mountain the train had gone under) but I still had time to enjoy the beautiful place while munching on a bit of horseflesh before I had to catch the train back to Bergamo.

5 Ways to Experience Florence like a True Florentine

Florence, Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance: with over 70 museums and over 60 churches there is so much to see in a limited about of time and you should see as much as humanly possible. But amidst your museum hopping take some time to live like the locals do and enjoy il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). Take in all the city has to offer with the top five ways to make the most of your time in Florence.

Florence, Italy1.Move Away from the Tourist Traps

When it comes to Italian food and dining options, convenience and location are top priorities for site seers & Florentines know that. Top tourist destinations like the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria are lined with quick and tasty dining options but they’re often more expensive and less authentic. Wander over a few streets and you’re sure to find a quaint trattoria or osteria that will not only be less crowded but also less expensive.

2.Make it to the Market

The San Lorenzo Market is a must-see for anyone seeking a true Florentine experience. Lined with vendors selling everything from scarves to produce, the market is where you’ll get a true feel for Florentine lifestyle. The market is also a great place to interact with the locals and pick up any souvenir you could possibly imagine.

3.Check out the View from the Top

Winding through the narrow streets it’s often difficult to fully comprehend the beauty of the city that surrounds you. The Boboli Gardens in the Pitti Palace, and the Bardini Gardens have great views of the city but perhaps the best view of all of Florence comes from Piazzale Michelangelo. This small piazza is at the top of a hill and provides a picturesque look of Florence at sunrise and sunset. In the heart of the city, you can climb to the top of the Duomo or the Campanile for another great perspective.

4.Save Room for Gelato
No trip to Florence is complete without indulging in gelato, multiple times a day. When looking for an authentic gelateria, pay attention to the color of the gelato. Flavors should resemble the actual fruit they come from. That means banana should be slightly grayish and pistachio should be a pale green, not florescent.

5.People Watch

A favorite passtime of Italians, people watching is an enjoyable way to not only truly experience Florence but also way to give your feet a break from pounding on the cobblestone streets. Find a bench in a busy piazza and take in all of the families, fashion, and tourists that wander by. Side note: Piazza della Signoria is my favorite place to people watch!

 

Bulgaria – Interesting and Surprising

Travel around the world and you certainly find some surprises. While my round the world trip is a slow motion adventure, I have to admit that Bulgaria is one of my favorite surprises.

Before I start talking about my own adventures, it’s more than worthwhile to introduce you to some of the great resources that exist here. Spend a little time reading these articles and you will see why Bulgaria is far more interesting than you might have imagined.Bulgarian map

This article on Eccentric Bulgaria perhaps isn’t fair to all of the people of this country, but certainly it paints a picture of what part of the national psyche is like. This is a country that likes to pickle and display the hearts of it’s national heroes, even when they have bullet holes in them.

In Haskovo during this past Orthodox Easter, thousands of citizens spent the holiday in tents. Some even slept in their cars. The reason was not some weird local custom, but people’s belief in the predictions of astrologist Emil Leshtanski. Shortly before the holiday, he foretold an earthquake as devastating as the one in L’Aquila. When the promised cataclysm did not happen, Haskovo’s citizens threatened to take legal action against Leshtanski.

Bulgarian poet's heartsBut it’s not just the oddness of Bulgaria that has enchanted me. The warmth and beauty of the people and landscape (even though it is in fact very cold at the moment) has really made me happy to be here.

Have a look at Great Places in Bulgaria and you will see that this is a country of mountains, waterfalls, monasteries, beaches, nature, and beautiful ancient cities.

And then there is Bulgarian folk music. I’m an instant fan. Like Turkish Art House music, it touches my soul in ways that I would never expect.

As a funny side note. I want to tell you all that I never know what the hell is going to happen in this life. I don’t know what I will do, but I trust that if I pay attention, the right decision will become obvious. In this case, after I made the decision to come to Bulgaria (and I had really no idea why I made that decision, it just felt right) I requested a couch in Sofia. I got no reply so I posted in Last Minute Couch Requests and a nice guy offered to host me. When I looked at his website, what was it called Vagabond.bg! Later, sitting in a restaurant with friends before my train from Istanbul to Sofia left, a Mexican song came on just as I was telling the story of the Bulgarian vagabond hosting me. The lyrics of the song …Vagabond, Vagabond, Vagabond. I’ve no idea what the song was, but there it was. And since arriving in Bulgaria, I’m in the flow and I’m certain that it’s where I am meant to be at this moment.

And just in case you want more information, here is the Sofia Travel Guide, history of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and a great free resource for learning Bulgarian language.

The Vatican Museums – Three Paintings Out of Hundreds Not to Miss

Hand of GodThe three pictures in this post are some of my favorites though I took  hundreds. These pictures from top to bottom are more interesting though – read on to find out why.

When you are in Rome, whether it’s for a day or a week, one thing you have to do is visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If the ticket price of 15 Euros sounds a little high, let me assure you, it’s not. What you will see inside is worth every penny and more.

I’d like to introduce you to some of the wonders that I came across as I wandered through this incredible collection of the world’s most wonderful art.

As in much classical art, there was an abundance of angry dudes and sexy nudes – and there was a bunch of art too.

 

1) Despite the angry security guards saying ‘No Picture, No Video’, nearly everyone was taking photos in the Sistine Chapel. That included me. When I showed this picture to my wife she was disgusted “Aggghhh, how obscene to think you could depict God in a painting. You can be sure that painter is in hell.” Not exactly what I was thinking as I looked at one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

Coming in, you find a staircase and as you wind your way up it, you will notice that there are more than a few canoes and canoe paddles from the many places that Catholic missionaries have landed, converted, and conquered. For some reason these struck me in a bad way…although it was a magnificent collection of canoes. Moving on…

 

2) Vatican paintingsWhen I first saw these saints painted in the niches, I thought they were real people. A photo can’t capture just how three-dimensional some off these paintings are…astounding.

If you are only going to visit one museum in Rome, certainly it should be the Vatican Museum. Add in a trip to the Colosseum, and a stop in Vatican City and you’ve followed the Vagobond itinerary to see Rome in a day. It wasn’t built in a day, but I feel like these three stops and the transport between them give you a good chance to get a feel for the what was once the capital of the Roman Empire and is still a masterpiece of a city.

The price of the Vatican museums might seem kind of steep at 15 Euros but when you consider that it includes some of the most famous art the world has ever produced and the celebrated Cistine Chapel, suddenly it starts to seem more reasonable. Museo Vaticani is a must see.

 

 

3) I’m not a religious man and I’m nowhere near Catholic, but this painting spoke to my soul. Note the hanging bodies, the monk, pleading and the people in the background seemingly just having a chat…this was real life. It lives on.

Powerful and amazing.

Vatican paintings

Ephesus Efes – Classical Mediterranean City – Swelled with Tourists

Ephesus Efes Selcuk TurkeyEven though we followed the good advice to go to Ephesus (called Efes in Turkey) late in the day to avoid the busloads of tourists from cruise ships, we still found it to have a population that may well have been in excess of what it held when it wasn’t a ruin.

Lots of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tourists were there. We were surprised to see two young Turkish girls go up to a Korean group and ask to have their picture with them “Can we have a picture with you? My friend is a big fan of Koreans.” Really, that’s what they said…in English. Then they all posed together for about fifty photos.

We had brought a lunch with us. We picked up a huge sandwich and some fries for 5 lira from a Libyan guy in Selcuk and then caught the minibus out to the site for 4 lira each. The entrance fee was 20 lira per person (2010) which you would think would include seeing all the ruins, but they want an additional 15 lira each to see the terrace houses which are well preserved and have some great mosaics, I know this because I looked at pictures of them on the internet after we chose not to pay the extra 30 lira.

While Efes is magnificent and I don’t regret seeing it, I have to say that because of the crowds and the high fee, it isn’t something that I would consider a must see, in particular if you have spent time in other well preserved classical cities (such as Volubulis in Morocco) .

People have been living cities in this area for about 8000 years. At about 1050 BC, it was a port city for the Greeks called Apasas. In about 300 BC, one of Alexander the Great’s generals changed it to Ephesus. For the Roman’s it was the capital city of the state of Asia. It was founded as a city dedicated to the Goddess Artemis who represented hunting and the moon.

The Romans called her Diana. Ephesus stopped being a port city when the sea receded about 600 AD. The city was also controlled by the Persians during its long history.

Ephesus Efes Selcuk TurkeyWithin the city there were an amazing number of statues that I am surprised have not been looted. Hanane said she thought they were all fakes. I didn’t want to believe her. Her reasoning was that things couldn’t be that old – my emotional response was that of course they could be.

The gorgeous Library of Celcius makes the perfect photo opportunity, for everyone, and no one got a solo shot while we were there. In fact, we saw some guys who were intentionally photo  bombing people’s shots at the last second. At one point the library contained 12,000 scrolls. The Goddesses of goodness, thought, knowledge, and wisdom ( Arete, Ennoia, Episteme, and Sophia) grace the exterior.

A short way up we found the Roman men’s toilets near the Roman brothel. The toilets were of an ingenious design with a hole on top to go in and a hole on the bottom to wash in. Apparently there were brushes that sat in a trough of running water that ran around the toilets. No divider walls. I can’t say what the whores were like.

The Great Theater was indeed great and we were amazed to eat our lunch at the top and hear the whispers of Chinese tourists on the stage floor. It was built to hold 24,000 people and is the greatest theatre of the ancient world. Personally, I think it deserves a better name.

The Gate of Hercules was also quite nice to admire too as were the many statues. As we wandered around and looked at the statues, I began to think that maybe Hanane was right and that many of the statues at Ephesus are indeed fake. It just seems strange that conquerors and ancient souvenir hunters would leave such beautiful treasures out in the open. On thinking about it, I think they are fake too.

 

7 Architectural Wonders of Florence, Italy that are not to be missed

Florence. Perhaps no other city in the world evokes as many cultural, artistic, and architectural visions as the capital of Tuscany in Italy.  Home of the Renaissance, this city filled with museums, palaces, and churches holds a huge number of the world’s cultural treasures. Perhaps, the most important of  Florence’s sites are the Baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Cathedral, but the San Lorenzo library is certainly the finest example of Michelangelo’s architectural gift and should not be missed.

Those who are on last minute holidays or seeking the Italian Renaissance, need only look upon the palaces, buildings and squares of Florence for each of them are masterpieces.  Many of them built by the most admired artists of all time. In Florence, when you want to see the work of Michelangelo or Brunelleschi – there is no need to go indoors to a museum.

1) Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped plaza in the heart of Florence that serves as the historical and cultural center of the city. While unremarkable in terms of design itself, it is the surroundings and the history of this piazza that make it a must visit location.  Surrounding the piazza you will find The Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzao Vecchio, the replica of Michelangelo’s David, statues by Donatello, Cellini and others and as if that isn’t enough, the Piazza marks the place where both  return of the Medici family was and the famous Bonfire of the Vanities took place. The radical priest, Girolamo Savonarola who burned the books and treasures of the Florentine elite was later himself burned in the square – the exact spot is marked.

2) Palazzo Vecchio which literally means “Old Palace” is still the focus of the piazza. It was built in 1302 asthe seat of Florentine government and is still used for the same purpose. As such, only portions of it are open to the public. This was the original palace of the Medici family. The clasic blocky castle-like architecture is not centered on the tower for a reason, it was actually built around a tower which is far older and served as the substructure of the current tower.  This is a Romanesque building with many Gothic elements.  Inside is a treasure trove of courtyards, salons, and more than a few priceless artistic works.

3)Ponte Vecchio is a wonderful closed spandrel bridge which crosses the Arno at its narrowest point and is believed to have been first built in Roman times but is first mentioned in the year 996. The bridge still has shops along side it and a hidden walkway along the top so that the Medici didn’t have to expose themselves to the public when crossing. It was originally constructed in wood but wasdestroyed by a flood in 1333 and rebuilt of stone in 1345. Culturally interesting is that right on the bridge is the place where the concept of bankruptcy was born. The statue of Cellini in the center is surrounded by a small fence festooned with padlocks. Lovers will lock the padlocks and throw the key in the river to bind them together forever. A sign surrounded by locks forbids the practice. Urban legend says that the tradition was started by a padlock shop owner on one side of the bridge. Smart move.

4) Torre della Pagliazza is also called the Byzantine Tower and the Straw tower. This is regarded as the oldest building in Florence (7th century) though there are several other candidates that might fit that description better, but none of them quite so wonderful as Pagliazza Tower. The tower today has been incorporated into the very nice Hotel Brunellesci but was once accommodation of a different sort – a female prison. This is the origin of the name “Straw tower” – female prisoners were given a bit of straw, a luxury denied to male prisoners.

5) The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) is also said to be the oldest building in Florence though it was built in the 10th century and so is not. Still, it is old and the stories of it being the oldest are based on the fact that it sits atop earlier structures – one even rumoured to have been a Roman temple to Mars. It is particularly famed for its three sets of wondrous bronze doors which have only recently been put back in place after extensive restoration and preservation work was done on them. The three sets were made by Pisano, Ghiberti including the famed East doors called by Michelangelo “The Gates of Paradise”. The Bapistery is built in a Florentine Romanesque style that served as inspiration for the later Renaissance styles to emerge in Florence.

6)The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore also simply called the Duomo of Florence was built from 1296 when the first stone was laid.The dome created by Brunelleschi with its exquisite facing of polychrome marble panels and the cathedral itself designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (who also designed Palazzo Vecchio). The dome is the largest brick dome ever constructed (completed in 1496) and the cathedral remains one of the largest in the world. The competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi was fierce to see who would get the commission for the dome – when it was awarded to both jointly, Brunelleschi feigned sickness until Ghiberti bowed out thus leaving full credit to Brunelleschi. The drama between the two is the stuff of great film and literature. The dome itself is made of more than 4 million bricks and pre-saged the mathematics that were later used to define it. Brunelleschi’s innovations served as inspiration to a young apprentice who worked on the dome’s lanern – Leonardo Davinci.

7) The Basilica of San Lorenzo Library is in the center of Florence’s straw market district and is where most of the Medici family are buried. This building is also claimed to be the oldest in Florence and has a pretty good claim since the church was consecrated in the year 393. The building was designed by Brunelleschi and contains Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. The entire complex serves as an important bridge between the old architecture (pre-renaissance) and the new architecture which followed it.

Imperial Meknes – Off the beaten track in Morocco

Imperial MeknesImperial Meknes is a bit off the beaten track of Moroccan trips that usually hit Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca, and maybe Tangier. In my view – people are really missing out on a true wonder. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with crowds of tourists. The bad news is that Meknes doesn’t really cater to tourists.

Before I get into that though, I should give those who aren’t familiar with Meknes and its history a bit of background (via wikipedia of course!)

The original community from which Meknes can be traced was an 8th century Kasbah. A Berber tribe called the Miknasa settled there in the 9th century, and a town consequently grew around the previous borough.

The Almoravids founded here a fortress in the 9th century. It resisted to the Almohads rise, and was thus destroyed by them, only to be rebuilt in larger size with mosques and large fortifications. Under the Merinids it received further madrasas, kasbahs and mosques in the early 14th century, and continued to thrive under the Wattasid dynasty. Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail following his accession to the Sultanate of Morocco (1672-1727). He installed under the old city a large prison to house Christian sailors captured on the sea, and also constructed numerous edifices, gardens, monumental gates, mosques (whence the city’s nickname of “City of the Hundred Minarets”) and the large line of wall, having a length of 40 km.

Imperial MeknesThe taxi dropped us off in the Place Hedim which reminded me a lot of Jmma el Fna in Marrakesh but without the circus atmosphere or the touts. There were the usual merchants selling hats, fake adidas, djellabas, blankets, and trinkets. The square itself is beautiful and we were approached by exactly zero touts!

From there we wandered into the Dar Jamai museum. This old riad has seen a lot of history and now houses a beautiful collection of Moroccan handicrafts. The architecture, gardens, and displays were beautiful, but sadly it looked as if some of the restoration work was done by second rate apprentices. concrete patches slapped on beautiful zellij and mosaic floors unevenly retiled. Hopefully in the future, all of this will be restored to the quality of work it deserves.

 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

 

%d bloggers like this: