Sunday, June 28, 2015


Day 3
We awoke on Thursday and headed across the bridge to Asia for our flight to Cappadocia.  We arrived with not much fanfare to Nevishar airport and headed out to our Avis rental car.  There at the counter was a European gentleman trying to convince the car company to give him a car for free because of his airline miles even though he had no credit card.  The car company was willing to give him a car for a handwritten note and 100 euros (seemed like a good deal to me but they were still arguing when we left).  As we headed to the car park the Avis attendant reminded me that the Ford fiesta was a manual shift and a diesel vehicle (I though he said his name was Manuel, but I figured it out).  We loaded up and took off without much fanfare to Uchisar where our cave hotel was.  The landscape was insane, it looked like massive droplets of lava from the sky were there with gnomes living everywhere.  It was like Utah on acid.    We drove our car to the Uchisar castle, there we continued to go up and down the windy cobblestone streets looking for our accommodations but no luck.  An otopark guy (parking lot attendant) told us our hotel was up around the corner but it was just a similar name not our hotel.  We gave up and abandoned our hotel next to a spice peddler at the foot of the cave castle.  There were sat down to a panoramic view and a doner kebob hoping things would become easier after we ate.  The proprietor of the lunch spot was a cowboy hat man wearing a t shirt with a picture of himself in the outfit he was currently wearing upon it.  We fueled up and the cowboy took us around back of the castle and showed us our hotel which was just down the cliff.  Not sure how we were going to get the car there we decided to drive back down and around the cliff to the other side. A half hour later we were on the other side of the castle where we saw a sign for our hotel on a cobblestone street pointing basically straight up.  I put the car into first gear and gunned it up and around that curve and we slide into our beautiful mountain top cave resort!  There we watched the sun set off of the sandstone with a lovely bottle of white wine served by Mustafa.      
Day 4
We woke up and was served an amazing breakfast on the lawn overlooking the lava pillars!  Food just kept coming out; yogurt, honey, soft cooked eggs in bread, bread filled with feta, coffee and fresh squeezed juice.  After an indulgent breakfast we headed out to the Goreme Open Air Museum.  These lava pillars were inhabited by people in 3000 BC in 1200 AD priests fled to the Capadokia region and made churches complete with frescos in these caves.  There were churches upon churches in these hills.  After touring the underground churches we headed to a nearby town where they were having a Friday market.  We walked around the market looking at the goods and then grabbed a Turkish ice cream by the river.  We booked our balloon for the next morning, we were concerned about safety since there had been a crash that morning of a balloon.  Our balloon company assured us that the crash was just a, “technical problem” and not their company.  The “technical problem” involved the pilot catching on fire, but we were assured that it would not happen to us.  After securing our balloon ride we headed off to explore the Rose Valley and the Fairy Chimneys.  After getting out of the car and hiking around into various alcoves I heard my name being called.  I turned and look and saw a girlfriend of mine that I knew when I was a nanny in 2001, who currently lives in Lithuania with her husband and three children.  What a small world I haven’t seen her since 2003!!!  After hiking up to a fantastic view point we headed back to our hotel for another great dinner. 
Day 5
At 3:30 AM with the call of the Mosque we awoke and headed out for our balloon ride. We hopped in the basket with our 10 closest friends and took off into the sky.  Our pilot Mustafa (I know everyone right?) sent us soaring over the beautiful landscape.  There were 100s of other balloons floating about.  We watched the sun rise as we grazed across the world.  It was epically beautiful.  One and half hours later we landed and deflated the balloon and drank sparkling wine.   After our amazing trip above we went back to our hotel for another amazing breakfast.  We then headed into Goreme to do last minute souvenir shopping. Laden down by Turkish towels and lamps we headed back up the hill to eat another dinner. 
Day 6
Another breakfast and we headed out to the airport.  We drove to the airport and continued to drive and look for the airport and circle around it through the Turkish countryside.  We tried to return the rental car 40 min before the flight, which basically resulted in me ditching the car in the parking lot and running in.  The check in attendant was not worried and we handed them our luggage.  After a super bumpy flight we returned to Istanbul.  We grabbed a cab and headed to the Hilton by the airport, our cabby was extremely lost, chain smoking and Goggling as he careened across the highway.  We made it a little wind blown to our hotel and are settling in for dinner and our flight at 3 pm.           

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Istanbul or Constantinople?

Michelle and I left terminal five O’hare after devouring a lovely plate of nachos at Bin 51.  On our plane was about 50 teenagers heading to Paris to study art, but it didn’t matter because we were in Economy Comfort on Air France which was a lovely little pod of luxury.  We were given wine, bread and movies as we flew over the ocean.  We had a layover in Paris were we enjoyed the accommodations of the Air France lounge where there was no shortage of chocolate croissants and cappuccinos.  A short three hour flight later we were in Istanbul!  We took a taxi over to the Beyoglu neighborhood where we found our apartment for the next few days and Liza! We enjoyed a bottle of wine and some Kefta in a crazy alleyway cafe. 
Istanbul is crawling with cats.  Everywhere you look are street cats.  When we headed out the next morning at the end of our steep street was a Julius Meinel sign and a small coffee shop.  The owner ousted the cats from the chairs and we were served up cappuccinos and delightful yogurt, honey and granola.  We were fueled for the day and we headed to Old Town to catch the sights.  When we arrived we were greeted by men who informed us that the Topkapi Palace was closed but they could take us to their carpet shops, we politely declined and made our way to the tombs of the Aya Sofya.  Aya Sofya is an old (like super old built in 537) church that was converted into a mosque, and later converted into a museum.  The tombs were buildings were all sorts of sultans, his wives and his children.  Each tomb was decorated in mosaics and the tombs were felt covered caskets that were arranged according to size, the largest the sultan, then his wives then his children in pecking order.  The boys’ tombs had turbans on them!  After hanging out in the beautiful tombs we went into the Aya Sofya, ay ya ay! Beautiful large ceiling and domes, incredible that it had been built so long ago!!!  It was awesome to see the frescos of Christians past with the art of 18th century Muslims side by side.   
Blue Mosque view from Aya Sofia
After the church it was onto the Grand Bazar! Upon entering there were shops for as far as the eye could see.  We spent time wandering the winding rows haggling for lamps and Turkish bath towels. We were famished from our adventures so we hit up a Doner Kebob shop and had fresh lamb with pita bread.  Across the street we spied the famous Hafiz Mustafa bakery across the street, we strolled across to sample the Turkish Delight and coffee.  It was an experience, but the sticky, gelatinous, nutty “delight” was less than delightful and the coffee thick as tar; we came, we did, need not repeat!  The other items we sampled at Mustafa’s was AWESOME, such as the pudding and cakes.  Doner Kebob’s though, the JAM!!!
Turkish Coffee? Delight?
After stuffing our faces we headed to the spice market to grab some spices.  We sampled pomegranate tea and purchased loads of spices!  We then made our way on foot back to our apartment across the Ataturk bridge.  On the bridge were tons of fisherpeople spending their after work time casting giant deep sea fishing poles off of the bridge.  These fisherpeople were not just your aging old men with graying beards, oh no this was an after work happy hour with fashion similar to Logan Square hipsters, I expect after they catch their fish they’ll grab their fixies and ride home to fry it up with some PBR.  Pretty crazy scene.  We made it back to our hotel and headed to a wine bar to gossip about the day and drink some Turkish wine!!
Day Two

Our late evening at the wine bar made an early start on Wednesday not practical so we journeyed out we went back to the Topkapi Palace and it was open, we strolled through the grounds and pictured what it was like to live here in 15th century 4,000 people deep.  It was rumored that the harem housed at least one woman for each day of the year and at one time a emperor had 112 children.  The palace people rarely left the grounds and were feasting on amazing food that ‘Merica would not see till at least the 1800s.  

Blue Mosque Selfie
After our palace aunt we ran into of course another carpet dealer.  He was a man in his mid 50s who lived in Sarasota Fl who of course would give us a good deal because you know we are from his country.  We headed to his warehouse which was a 200 year old skinny house that was seven stories high, with a crazy windy staircase with massive amounts of carpets and crazy old antiques.  There we learned about carpets, did you know you can light real wool on fire and it won’t burn?  One rug later we needed to check out the water source for the Aya which is the Basilica Cistrern which was a cistern that was into repurposing before it was cool.  There the Emperor Justinian in 532 went around and had his people grab columns from all over the Roman empire to hold up the cistern, he even hauled in two medusa heads that he installed upside down and sideways.  This creepy underground place now houses water and is home to tons of carp.  After our subterranean visit we finally made our way to the Blue Mosque, this beautiful holy place was pretty epic.  The Muezzin was chanting the whole time because of Ramadan, which created an amazing feel to this mosque.  Outside of the mosque 100s of people were gathering around with picnics awaiting the fast to end.  We headed back for our dinner of lamb shank and more delightful Turkish wine.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Life's a Beach

After making to Akumel, that evening we enjoyed beverages on the ocean at a funky little bar decorated with crazy skeletons that has tree houses and swings for seats.  On Wednesday we enjoyed some beach time, Laura swam with sea turtles and we got some reading in.  Today we are off to enjoy a lagoon and find some more cenotes.  
The lagoon was a beautiful preserved area where the water was crystal clear.  There were steps built in around the lagoon so you could enter at different points.  The water was so clear and there were so many fish that you didn’t even need to snorkel.  Marley and I rotated between the different sets of steps to get various views of the lagoon.  Marley really enjoyed kicking her feet in the cool water.  That afternoon we returned to the hotel and bummed around on the beach for the rest of the day.  Friday our final day of our trip we headed out to do some final souvenir shopping, we went back to Tolum because we had seen some items there we wanted to purchase.  We had lunch there and then set out to find another cenote.  The cenote we arrived at was built up like a pool with deck chairs around it and a zip line into it!  There were several families there and it was a fun and vibrate place to be.  After cooling off in the cenote we headed further down the road to bargain for some folding wooden chairs.   After going to two places we acquired two giant wooden chairs that were wrapped up in some twine and garbage bags.  We now were rolling with a car seat, two backpacks, two adults two wooden chairs in a tiny car that makes a VW bug look spacious. 
We then headed to the Tulum beaches to enjoy one last afternoon on the beach.  Marley loved putting her feet in the sand but wasn’t as excited with the waves as before.  We finished out the day with a wood burned pizza on the beach. 
Saturday was a epic travel day we woke up super early squished all of our possessions into our tiny car and headed to the airport.  Because we rented from such a super small car rental place we circle several times looking for it.  We finally got rid of the car and entered the airport which was wall to wall people.  Trying to navigate through the people with our stroller and our rolly cart with these giant chairs was insane.  We got our chairs saran wrapped and checked them and were off with our upgrade to the US.  Of course our crazy chairs got lost in ATL and were delivered the day after we returned.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Temple and Shhhhhenote

The next morning we woke up and headed out immediately for the ruins of Tulum.  The Mayan’s had built these ruins on the edge of a cliff right next to the ocean, talk about a view.  We were the first people in the parking lot and we headed into the ruins.  We climbed through the walled city and walked around the ancient ruins.  It was pretty crazy to picture the Mayan’s here building this and living here and it is still standing!!!  Exploring was pretty hot so we jumped into the ocean and it was Marley’s first dip in the Atlantic.  All the other tourists really liked her swimming hat!  After our ruins exploration it was getting really warm so we headed to eat lunch on the beach at a hotel in Tulum.  The hotels in Tulum on the beach are situated between rock cliffs so you feel nestled in between giant rocks and white sand beach.  People had built small cairins along the rocky cliffs and they were really beautiful to look at with be background of the crashing ocean behind it.  After lunch Marley and I took another dip in the ocean, this time with much less people.  She LOVED the waves and watching the birds.  After two dips, a ruin and lunch we headed back to the hotel for naps.  That afternoon we hung by the pool and ended the day with a meal of AMAZING mole sauce. 
The next morning we packed up the car and headed out to Chizen Itza.  To break up the car ride we decided to stop at a cenote on the way.  We saw several signs for “Mayan Cenote” and followed the signs there.  When we got there we found out that this cenote was $50 and included rappelling in.  Since no children under six were allowed we decided to continue our quest to find another cenote.  We saw signs for “Dolce Cenote” it wasn’t in the LP but we decided what the hell and continued down the road on our quest for cool and refreshing water.  When we pulled into the parking lot we were the only people there, we paid our $7 admission and headed into our private cenote.  It was EPIC, there were stalactites that were almost three stories long.  We headed into a massive pool of fresh water in a cave that was at least five stories tall.  We swam in the cool water and enjoyed the beauty of this natural wonder.  After our cooling dip we got back on the road to Chizen Itza.  We needed some lunch after all that swimming so we stopped at a roadside rest stop and ordered two of the chicken dishes.  When they arrived they were MASSIVE.  One was grilled chicken seasoned with adobo sauce and the other was like a country fried steak, both were served with beans and fresh tortillas.  Even after eating till we were full there was so much food left.  We then got back on the road and finally arrived at our destination.  When we pulled in a golf cart greeted us that wisked us away to the front desk.  The grounds were enormous with little bungalows that the windows were made of stained glass.  From the lobby you can see a view of the ruins.  We took a dip in the pool and ate a small dinner and headed to bed. 

Secret Cenote
We set an alarm and headed early into the ruins to beat the heat and the crowds.  These ruins were amazing  built so high in pyramid shapes.  The acoustics of the place were unreal, you can hear a whisper from one end of this large field to the other.  It is crazy to think that these ancient architects could design such an amazing structures when we have concerts halls that you can’t hear with speakers.  After exploring the ruins we headed to the Mayan cenote which was insanely crowded but still beautiful.  This cenote was completely open at the top and had vines and waterfalls coming down.  It was too deep for Marley to enjoy so we took turns and then headed back out.  After ordering too much for lunch the other day we learned our lesson and at this little road stop we ordered one dish of the signature Poc Phoc.  It was pork pounded thin and marinated in orange juice soooooo yummy and served with freshly ground corn tortillas.  After a near scare of running out of gas we made it back to the coast and settled in a new town of Akumel. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mexico or Bust

Since I last went on a out of country journey we have added a new family member to our pair of two.  So now I have married an Indian and had his baby!  Six months after Marley entered the world it was time for our baby girl to get a stamp in that blank passport of hers.  My traveling friend from before I had a baby Laura Mullkoff agreed to go on an international adventure with the Peanut and I.  After two hours of planning we headed to Mexico, the trip started out on a high note with an upgrade to first class!  We landed in Mexico and cleared immigration in record time.  The adventure really began in the car park of the car rental facility.  In order to rent a car we needed to have a credit card hold for the value of the card, neither of our credit card companies were willing to authorize a $7000 bill from Mexico.  As we were trying to figure out cellular service (yea we were renting a car from a place that didn’t have a phone) Marley blew out her diaper with an Epic brown movement.  Here was the moment I was waiting for having to change a diaper in a country that doesn’t have those fancy tables that come out of the wall in restrooms.  I quickly set up a changing area for Marley on the ground and used a pack of wipes to get fecal matter out of all of her rolls and every inch of her car seat.  We finally got a car (the size of a match box) and we loaded up and were off to Tulum.  Our lovely rental place also didn’t have a map so we were working off a Lonely Planet and a print off of google maps (half the ink because laura’s printer was out).  Once we set off down the road we realized that our car had no gas.  We pulled over to a gas station with an attendant, opps we have no Mexican Currency!!! They don’t have pay at the pump and only take cash.  The attendant said he would take US dollars (of course) but in our two hour planning session we didn’t look up the exchange rate.  We are extremely out of traveling shape and underestimated Mexico!  All gassed up ($30 USD with 15 M in change) we drove 150 km down the coast hoping to find our hotel.  Once we entered Tulum which is a happening little backpacking strip with lots of taco stands we looked for our hotel.  Well driving around randomly didn’t pan out too well and asking store owners didn’t work either.  The people who spoke Spanish we couldn’t understand and the people who spoke English didn’t know where they were.  One internet store, one taxi driver, two stops at hotels and one acquired bad map we made it to Villa H2O where we arrived in a lovely room.  We then headed out to a late night taco joint drank our Mexican sodas and enjoyed freshly made tortillas (all for the small amount of change from our gas station experience. 

The next morning we ate breakfast pool side and swam.  We walked into town and found an ATM and espresso.  We had a great lunch and headed off to Gran Cenote.  Cenotes are prevalent in this area and are basically large caves filled with fresh water.  It was an amazing escape from the warm weather where we could swim from cave to cave and look up and see the bats hanging over head and the fish swimming below in crystal clear water.  Marley was reluctant to get in the cold water but once in she was loving the cool water and all the amazing things to look at.  That evening we headed to the beach to dine on the rocks as the sun set.  We finally got our first margaritas of the trip and had a superb evening!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Partels Do Barca

After a uneventful evening train at the border changeover we meet a family of five on their European vacation, we thought they were pretty hardcore traveling across Europe on trains and such with three kids!!! We arrived in Barcelona to a bright and sunshiny day were we made our way through the narrow streets, shopping, eating tapas, drinking sangria, and buying espadrilles.  Today after spending the morning at the laundry mat (clearly our Spanish/Catalan/Gujarati is not the best, and yes Sankat’s language is the default after trying Spanish and almost everyone in stores speaks it, crazy huh?) we headed to the Picasso museum which is in an old castle where each small room reveals another stage in his life through text and art.  Pretty impressive place.  Who knows what Barcelona will have in store for us over the next few days!!!   
Sagrada Famalia
Saturday morning we woke up to a downpour and decided that with the crummy weather we would hit Barcelona’s most popular tourist destination, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s incomplete life work.  This amazing cathedral has been under construction for over 80 years.  Gaudi took his inspiration from nature and created modern art.  The church was super impressive and worth the 45 minute wait, while we were waiting the sun came out and the stained glass was unreal as the rays shown through into the chapel.  We decided to make it a Gaudi day and took the Metro across town to his park, which was a piece of land purchased by a count for Gaudi to make a miniature village.  The project was cut short and left unfinished but still impressive (I guess unfinished was his theme). 
Reggae Band in Gaudi's Park

From a hill in the park we could see the sparkling ocean we realized we had not set foot in it yet and we headed for the beach.  The beach seen was a complete shit show that makes North Ave beach look like amateur hour.  There were tons of bachelorette and bachelor parties going on, in the States girls usually are the ones dressed up and doing ridiculous challenges here in Barcelona the men are all about the theme party.  The big deal is for the bachelor to dress in some ridiculous outfit (usually like a woman) and the attendees would wear matching outfits of some sort.  We saw an entire Baywatch crew complete with rescue devices with the groom in a one piece and enormous fake boobs!!  After some people watching at the beach we headed back to the hotel for some tapas, sangria and bed. 

Hanging out on the Field
On Sunday we headed to Camp Nou where the Barcelona football (soccer) club plays.  The season is over so Sankat head to settle for a stadium tour instead of a live match.  We started in the museum where we saw the history of football then we saw the locker room, field, press box and the stands.  On our way back to the metro we stopped by a high school football match to watch for a bit. That evening we walked back to the beach to explore the boardwalk further.   It was Sunday so there was a little less of the drunken frat boy scene and more of the families enjoying their day at the beach.  We walked the full length of the beach and enjoyed time sitting out by the ocean. 
Cooking Nerds
On Monday, our last full day in the city, we enjoyed a lazy morning of hanging out grabbing coffee and last minute souvenirs.  That evening we took a Spanish cooking class.  We joined four other couples from the US in a intimate kitchen lead by our Chef Kim (a guy).  We learned to chop vegetables make sauce, soup, a dessert and of course paella.  Hopefully you guys can come over to our house and have a Spanish meal prepared by us!!!
On Tuesday morning we tried to navigate the Barcelona metro system to the airport, we got lost transferring from the metro to the suburban line but ended up in front of the Gaudi apartment that we had missed!!!  Of course our flight was delayed to Ireland due to a strike in France.  Once our flight finally took off it was an hour longer than usual due to the airspace restrictions over France and for only 8Euro we could buy Pringles, Sprite and a water!!!

Now onto Ireland!!!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

From Champagne to Paris to Barcelona in 24 hours!

Dunkers for my Champange
After our visit to the French open we hopped on the high speed train to Reims, in less than an hour later we jumped off the train and headed to our hotel.  Reims is a super cute little town with a great square and of course the token Notre Dame cathedral.  An extraordinary amount of WWII went down in Reims including the surrender of Nazi Germany in a small school across from our hotel.  There we visited the map room where Eisenhower planned many battles (the original maps are still on the wall) we saw the actual place where WWII came to a close.  As we wandered through the town in and out of amazingly restored buildings with great Art Deco architecture.  We also spent a few hours at the Mum champagne tour learning how champagne is made, and of course the difference between champagne and sparkling wine. 

On Wednesday we headed back to Paris and waded through the crowds of the Louve so that we could see with our very own eyes the La Joconde aka the Mona Lisa.  The Virgin and Child hall was pretty overwhelming with 100s of pictures of the Virgin Mary and naked chubby babies, the Mona Lisa was pretty creepy with her eyes never coming off of us as we moved around the room

Mona Photo Bombing Us

even though there were 1000s of tourist paparazzi snapping her picture, and the Winged Victory was gorgeous!!! That evening we met some of Sankat’s classmates for a quick supper before we grabbed our night train to Barcelona. 

The Front Yard our Barcelona Hotel!!!
After a uneventful evening train at the border changeover we meet a family of five on their European vacation, we thought they were pretty hardcore traveling across Europe on trains and such with three kids!!! We arrived in Barcelona to a bright and sunshiny day were we made our way through the narrow streets, shopping, eating tapas, drinking sangria, and buying espadrilles.  Today after spending the morning at the laundry mat (clearly our Spanish/Catalan/Gujarati is not the best, and yes Sankat’s language is the default after trying Spanish and almost everyone in stores speaks it, crazy huh?) we headed to the Picasso museum which is in an old castle where each small room reveals another stage in his life through text and art.  Pretty impressive place.  

Who knows what Barcelona will have in store for us over the next few days!!!