Keukenhorf, the Netherlands

Every spring, there is one place in the Netherlands that guarantees flocks of local and foreign visitors – the Keukenhof, or the tulips garden.

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The metropolis of freedom where everything is legal, including drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam has it all. More… The only city in the world that is split between two continents. It is simply bizarre to explore Istanbul with contradicting cultures. More… An extensive historic centre and the capital of Holy Roman Empire, Prague has everything that mesmerises everyone. More…
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Istanbul, from the Golden Horn to Bosphorus

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Part III Chapter VI-III

Istanbul, from the Golden Horn to Bosphorus


Yerebatan Sarayi Take a measly minute to cut out Old Istanbul City from the scarcely available printed Istanbul map and then season with three-drop of creativity juice you squeezed so hard from your rusted brain onto the map. What you will get is not an oyster plate in an extravagant French restaurant, but what Turks call the Golden Horn.

At first I was purely fascinated by the similarity of its shape to a horn, but then relating the many renowned destinations located within the Old Istanbul City district made me realised why the horn is a golden one.


Mosaic Painting in Haghia Sophia .

How could anyone not love Old Istanbul City? Not only it does accommodate the landmark Blue Mosque, the church-turned mosque Haghia Sophia, the massive underground water cistern Yerebatan Sarayi, the bustling Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, and also the resplendent Topkapi Palace, it is also where the best kebab and balik-ekmek could be found abundantly.



Galata Tower Connecting the Old City to the Modern Istanbul City is the Galata Bridge. Coupled with Galata Tower, these two locations have always been the hottest spot to admire the sunrise, the daylight, the sunset and the night scene of Istanbul, regardless on whether you are revolving around the panoramic viewing platform of the Galata Tower, or standing along the Galata Bridge with hundreds of “fishers”.



Dolmabaçhe Palace In the Modern City, splendid monuments are not lacking either.  These include the Dolmabaçhe Palace constructed alongside the Bosphorus (also is where I got 90% discount on entry ticket, ha!), Otokol Church that overlooks the simply elegant New Bosphorus Brigde, the buzzing Taksim Square and the shopaholic heaven Istiklal Caddesi.




Old Bosphorus and the city On a warm sunny morning in Istanbul, the best indulgence should definitely be a boat trip along the Bosphorus that sails all the way from New Bosphorus Bridge to Old Bosphorus Bridge, which are two absolutely identical bridges uniting firmly Asia and Europe. Not to miss are also the expensive lodges sprawling along the Bosphorus and the fortress of Rumelihisar which I was told to have held concert of Elton John.



Otokol Church and New Bosphorus Bridge And voila! Four paragraphs summarising all the most exciting venues in Istanbul. Bear in mind, it takes days to really digest and appreciate the charm and beauty of these attractions, but it worth the time and apparently the sore feet.

Istanbul, like many other cities in Turkey, crowded. But ironically, the pressure of living is hardly felt. Perhaps it was because I was a tourist. But I was convinced that no matter how busy you are, there is always time for family, for the love one, for friends, for a glass of apple tea under a tree, for an afternoon of fishing on a bridge, for a glimpse of the mesmerising sunset, and a few bites of baklava or Turkish delight.


Golden Horn at Night 

Turkey, with picturesque landscapes, heart-warming people, intriguing legends and history, deliciously healthy street cuisine, and exciting adventurous activities, is at least in my opinion, the ultimate travel destination. I rate the country five-star!


--------------- The End ------------------

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Istanbul, Unravel the Shopping Story

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Part III Chapter VI-II

Istanbul, Unravel the Shopping Story

Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Avenue) It was a love imagination which I had shared in the last entry. The truth is the story could never be true. Why?

Although the distance between Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque is not a moon away, they are not located next to each other. Second, there isn’t any huge square next to the Grand Bazaar. Perhaps not adjacent to the many entries I had crossed under. The only massive square which I had been to was the one next to Spice Bazaar and the New Istanbul Mosque. As soon as I finished typing this sentence, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the right location? Anyway, although there are trams connecting where I stayed to Blue Mosque, they aren’t the historic trams along the Istiklal Caddesi.

But of course, despite all the muddle-headed settings, the most sought after answer really is if there was any fling during my visit to Istanbul. Well, as much as I would love to (Gosh! Turkish people are smoking hot!), nothing happened on my five-day visit. Boohoo!

Baklava Fortunately, there were numerous consolatory historical monuments in Istanbul. But what I found the most fascinating really was the Istiklal Caddesi, or the Istiklal Avenue. According to my host, it is the most sardine-packing (crowded) street in the world. Not sure if the statement can withstand the challenge by Oxford Street and Regent Street in London, or Time Square in New York, but having over three-million visitor in a single day over the weekend, Istiklal Avenue surely is heaven where adrenaline of shopaholics rushes wildly and uncontrollably. Just be careful of a prospective heart attack though.

Inside Grand Bazaar And most importantly, it is also where the historic tram crawls between Taksim Square and Tünel, despite the uncertainty of what the latter has got to offer. And even more exhilarating for me, the abundance of Turkish Delights and Baklava! Oh, and the many bars of Turkish chocolates carelessly displayed on the glass window of any tiny kiosk one could easily spot along the avenue. My chocoholic worms were biting! Hard! Ouch!

Nevertheless, the many bazaars were still the most culturally enriched destinations in Istanbul. Personal preference would definitely be the Spice Bazaar over Grand Bazaar. The colours and the smell of spices, teas, Turkish delights, and many more bizarre offerings were simply irresistible.

Glittering gold in Grand Bazaar Undoubtedly, the Grand Bazaar, as the name suggested, grande (humongous)! But unless with a clear agenda for gold, jewelleries and leather, or maybe even carpets, Grand Bazaar wasn’t at all grand (splendid). And lest you think that your extraordinary bargaining skill in Indonesia will work the same magic here, shop owners tend to get pissed off easily and never hesitate to publicly humiliate you as cheapskate if you make an extreme low offer in the initial negotiation.

Not only souvenirs that constantly haunt you to keep spending, the persistent invitations of the many street meals were also insanely hard to decline. I was especially a fan to the cheap, fresh, delicious, and wait-me-no-more balik-ekmek, or the fish sandwiches. They were two-euro each, but roughly as big as a size ten shoe, absolutely massive! But two at a time was no challenge for me! Of course, kebab! Doner! Gosh! The waistline was expanding!

Balik-Ekmek in the makingIt really was hard to resist the temptation to spend money and more money in Istanbul. Native Turkish used to complain the soaring high living cost in the capital, but from a foreigner’s (a European in this context) perspective, it really was cheap! So cheap before you realise you have burnt a hole in your wallet from the heat of excessively swiped credit card. And that means another boohoo!




Spice Bazaar 1Spice Bazaar 2

Spice Bazaar 3

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Istanbul, the Magic Love City

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Part III Chapter VI

Istanbul, the Magic Love City

A love story in Istanbul When it comes to Istanbul, I used to have this imagination.

It was eerily early in the morning, just about the time when the first ray of morning sunshine cracked the dawn. Dressed in a light buttoned dirty green shirt and in a pair of Prussian blue jeans, I departed from hotel and headed towards the giant square between the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.

Standing in a crowded but far from sardined bright red tram in Istanbul city centre, the so called historic tram that has for years enjoyed the leading role among Istanbul postcards, my mind has already been drifted to the giant square. The excitement of snapping gorgeous national geographic standard photos had already caused an unrecognised adrenaline rush within my body.

Sunset IstanbulI paid no attention to any commuter. I was fully immersed in my own thought.

“Next station, Sultanahmet,” the identical voice of the sexy station calling lady conveyed through the speaker. Sultanahmet, or Blue Mosque, or my destination.

I breathed in the morning freshness. The blend between the apple tea fragrance and the breeziness of ocean injected an unfamiliar sense of ecstasy in me. However, before the wilderness got out of my control, I was tamed by the reverberation of morning prayer delivered from the Blue Mosque.

It was just the way I love about Istanbul, the fight between the buzz, the calmness, the nature, and the artificial to concur the emotion of every human being in the city. It was magical.

Historic Tram IstanbulFollowing the ray of sunlight, I started my main task in the morning, the capture of the prettiest portray of Istanbul. The minarets and decorative façade of Blue Mosque, the emptiness of the giant square and the crowds of pigeons scattering around the square, and the golden lights penetrated through the narrow entry of the Grand Bazaar. The camera had never been so joyous before. Every facet of Istanbul Old City looked absolutely fascinating, from the camera or through the window of my eyes.

Sitting on a bench scrutinising the pictures via the camera screen while blanketing my body with the morning sunshine, something caught my attention. I raised my head with a target in my mind instantaneously. Shouldn’t be too far away. It was seconds before I realised the presence of this gorgeous fella that looked right into my camera with an absolutely seducing smile.

Colourful Istanbul But there was no one. I rose and quickly paced myself to where the fella was standing. My eyes scouted around with no success. Feeling disappointed, I stared at the screen, or more precisely the fella in the screen once more. That’s it?

“First time in Istanbul?” an unfamiliar voice carrying the Turkish accent delivered from my back. I turned around and there was the fella. The thrill of “lost and found” dominated my entire soul. I made a silly smile but remained speechless. The other end, which by now handling an apple tea to me, was nothing but confused.

Unknowing the reason, this imagination casted in my mind since the first time I learnt about Istanbul from television. And thereafter, I told myself, it is where the love of my life will come. Istanbul, it has made quite an impression even before my arrival. Did I experience what I had imagined? You know the answer, join me next time.

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Cappadocia, Ascending to a Quarter Century

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Part III Chapter V-III

Cappadocia, Ascending for a Quarter Century

My hot air balloon is growing! I imagined it would be a glaring ray of light, so harsh to the eyes and even hurtful for just a sneak peek. I reckoned it was a once in a life time opportunity to indulge sunrise at this altitude without the complication of climbing up a hill early in the morning.

Gazing at a distant view, it wasn’t beaming shine from the rising sun. Snow had really hindered the warmth of sunrise from joyfully blanketing the lunar landscape in the land of beautiful horses and it had magically “shortened” the reach of sunlight. But it was still the same viewing ease, the same smooth sail in a serene and calm dawn.

A field of hot air balloons I hesitated for a period lengthy enough to be deemed endless before I eventually decided to splurge 150Euros on this extravagant trip. It was not because of the availability, it was not because Cappadocia was remarked as one of the most beautiful places for it. It was an ascending celebration of a quarter century that I desired to pamper myself with. It was an indelible hot air balloon trip during my 25 year old birthday.

Turkey had always been the country I longed to visit the most. When the opportunity arrived and coincided with my biggest turning point in life up to date – turning 25 – I visited Turkey for a search of inspiration. And when the hot air balloon reached the altitude where I was literally united with clouds, I looked down at the wonderful nature down the little basket I was in. I told myself: Why do we need to get so high up to really understand that we are actually looking for a firm ground to step on?

Uhh! Hot! Hot! Hot air balloon trip was undoubtedly an expensive purchase. While enjoyed my inclusive light breakfast and waited for the balloon to get filled up with warm air in the vast balloon field, I couldn’t help myself but still drowning in the guilt of luxurious indulgence.

However, the guilty conscience slowly faded away when I saw “my” balloon growing from flat to bulgy and it was absolutely impossible to hide the excitement when I was called to start the journey. What was it like ascending in air with hot air balloon? It was identical to the impression of a mountain hike where you were stunned with breathtaking view prior to your knowledge.

Riding on a hot air balloon during winter was surely very distinctive compared to the same flight in summer. There were patchy snow flakes covering the earth surface instead of the exposure of naked volcanic earth formation. However, if your pilot is experienced, sailing along the narrow valley in between the unique lunar landscape would definitely beat the price tag and supply immense pleasure.

Stunning view of Cappadocia from hot air balloon It was the highlight of my planned Cappadocia trip. But it wasn’t without (unplanned) companies. An eager invitation from my host in Cappadocia had seen me sitting in a lecture in university. And before I knew it, I was holding a marker pen teaching English in front of university students.

It was indeed an absolutely bizarre but enjoyable experience and I wouldn’t believe if anyone has had similar experience as me during their ordinary travels. Well, it wasn’t the type of grand lecture hall that can accommodate 500 students without challenge. Instead, it was a lovely middle age rural Greek style house that was transformed into lecture room. But hey, it was the experience that matters!

In the lecture room Did I also mentioned how my host in Cappadocia brought me to the one and only local Greek pub, requested a change of music to song I like, and held a cute little cake in his hands while walking himself through the throng of dancing fellows and sang birthday song to me?

A hot air balloon gift I bought for myself, an unforgettable birthday celebration from my host, and a surprise experience of becoming half a day university lecturer. What more could I ask for the birthday celebration that marks my presence for a quarter century?


Riding along the valley

Mapping in the snow

Champagne toast after a successful ride from the pilot. See the huge tips box next to the champagne glasses?

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Cappadocia, from Uchisar to Ihlara

A Youth Backpacker in Europe

Part III Chapter V-II

Cappadocia II, from Uchisar to Ihlara

Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia There were three prominent colours in Cappadocia, the red, the green and the blue. It was not a reference to the layers of colour vividly crafted on the cliff face of the renowned eerie lunar landscape over the course of centuries that can keep your eyes glued for hours. Neither does the colourful balloons that sailed through the sky when darkness was replaced by grey dawn are applicable in this context.

They were, at certain extent which I would strongly condemn as one of the sadness of commercial exploitation, the coloured guided tours recognised widely across the tourism industry in Cappadocia. Confused if it was a cliché that the challenge to capture the land of beautiful horses on one’s own was profusely immense, or it was just a catchphrase of tour organisers to deceive tourists to surrender their wallets.

Rock Churches in Göreme Open Air Museum Nevertheless, I wet my feet in this tourism dye vat and got myself coloured red and green in two days. To my surprise, it was agreeable that these tours were worthwhile investments, especially when substantial chunk of the payment went to admission tickets, dining in a restaurant and pick-ups that might altogether cost a great deal of hassle if not a bomb.

The red tour focused at areas surrounding Göreme where the biggest attraction was definitely the Göreme Open Air Museum. It was a massive collection of rock churches excavated deep inside the lunar landscape, often with strange names such as apple church and decorated by monotonously coloured frescoes. These frescoes do come in standard format as well. They were either human drawings with eyes dug out – it was said that invaders found the staring from the paintings uncomfortable – or geometry shapes intended for the conveyance of bible knowledge.

Derinkuyu Underground City But what I found to be the most exciting portion of the red tour was the visit to fairly chimneys field, a dominant natural attraction in Cappadocia. It was a combination of volcanic eruption and weathering process that had created this magnificent feature. They looked like mushrooms, and were often disgustedly interpreted as a metaphor for giant penises by my American tour mates. It was sheer unfortunate that the snow had altered the natural colour of these fairy chimneys, though risking broken arms and legs to walk in the fairy valley was still feasible.

On the other hand, snow fall had magically added interesting flavour to the green tour where a 4km hike along the Star WarStarting point of my Ihlara Valley hikes alike Ihlara Valley, located some 50km away from Göreme was the crown of the tour. The snow covered valley along the Ihlara River had undoubtedly magnified the hardship for a smooth hiking, but the impressive surrounding images it helped to produce was unbeatable and deserve undivided attention of hikers. That could be interpreted as an abuse case to memory capacity of camera too.

Also a highlight of the green tour was the 8-floor Derinkuyu underground city. Even with only 10 percent of the entire underground city was opened for public, it was sufficient for visitors to grasp an unforgettable idea of how creatively and intelligently the underground city was constructed in the past as a war shIhlara Valleyelter. With the very lively and interestingly seasoned description from my tour guide, it was hardly impossible to imagine the survival of people for months some 55m beneath land surface for months.

So much about the various tourist destinations in Cappadocia, it really was to convey the idea of why Cappadocia should definitely be prioritised in a visit to Turkey. But my most memorable event in Cappadocia was yet to come. Join me next time for the slowest flight a kilometre above ground and the smallest but cutest cake I had for a quarter century celebration.


Opposite Selime Monastery

Mount Hasan - the volcano responsibled for Cappadocia

Selime Monastery

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